My half marathons have always gone pretty well. I trained for them, I worked hard, and I never felt the distance was unmanageable. Yes, I may have even said “just a half” a time or two. But after this weekend’s race I will never say “just a half” again.
Any race of any distance is an accomplishment. Whether it’s your first one-mile fun run or your 36th full marathon, you’ve worked hard and should recognize and respect that.
Why am I saying all of this? Let me recap my Cleveland experience and you’ll understand why not only every race distance is humbling but how this was truly the most Cleveland race ever.
2016 Cleveland Half Marathon
All week last week I had been mulling over what I should do. Do I race this sucker even though I had very little speed training, or do I make it a fun run and just hang with my clients running the half and 10k? I really didn’t know what to do. On the one hand, I wanted to race. I may be a middle-of-the-pack runner, but I’m extremely competitive with myself and I wanted to win. Win what, I’m not sure. I wasn’t going for a PR, but a course PR would be nice. On the other hand, I just wanted to chill and have fun.
After going back and forth with my coach, we decided I should race it. Race evening came and I still wasn’t 100% convinced but I had my race card ready to go, filled out with my goal times.
My friends and fellow ambassadors had been stalking the weather all week. When I saw the high for Sunday was 50˚ with 90% chance of rain, I knew this race would be tough. I don’t do well when it’s cold and let’s face it, rain just ruins everything. The “feels like” temperature for the start was going to be 29˚. I had four different outfit combinations picked out and opted to make a game day decision.
After a fairly restful sleep, race morning arrived. I could hear the rain pouring down and opted for my rain resistant half zip and a second long sleeve shirt underneath. Needless to say, when my friend Julie picked me up and it was snowing and sleeting on the way to the train, I wasn’t surprised. Annoyed? Yes. Surprised? Not really.
This was the first time I had taken the rapid (what our public transport train is called in the ‘Land) downtown for a race and I must say, it was hugely un-stressful and I will definitely do that again for any other downtown races. It was particularly awesome because throughout the inclement weather we were inside literally until gun time. If we had driven we would have had to be outside for quite a while. And believe me, there’s nothing worse than being cold before starting a race.
By the time we were downtown and getting off the train, we were now four people. Julie, Julie, Carole, and I made our way through the crowds and headed to the indoor, FLUSHING, heated!, bathrooms. A few photos later and we headed to the corrals. Unfortunately I missed the photo opp that I coordinated due to the crowds and cold, so that was a bummer, but when I scurried by I didn’t see anyone else there either. I may have also been in the wrong place, come to think of it. Ah well, next year I’ll make it!
I ran with Julie (my friend and client) for the first three miles or so. I had given her a race plan as well and knew that while we were running faster than her plan, she was more than capable. On the first bridge, we were separated by a few people and when I looked back she looked like she was doing well.
It was at this moment I decided to go for it and race. I was feeling surprisingly strong and the weather was actually quite perfect.
Until it wasn’t.
About a mile later was when all hell broke loose and the skies opened up. Hail, sleet, rain, thunder — waterspouts!! — even small periods of sun. All possible weather occurred in the two hours of my run. It was insane. I was so angry at the world (and so thankful I decided to run with a visor!) that I kept running faster and faster. I just wanted the race to be over!
Fueled by anger and cold, I kept a really solid pace for a while. But when I suspected I should start chipping down my time I had no idea where I was on the course. Not only had the course changed from previous years but I also hadn’t been paying attention to the mile markers. When I thought I was at four miles it turns out I was at six! I was ready to finish this thing.
“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”
I stopped for water at about mile 7 or 8? I really honestly can’t even tell you. Between the sleet squalls, the 25 mph winds, and not knowing the new course at all, a mile-by-mile breakdown is almost impossible. The second time I stopped for water it was ice cold. There is literally nothing more than I hate than being cold and that includes ice water. (I’m a freeze baby, what can I say?) At the second water stop, I must have been around mile 11 or so, my quads cramped up fairly badly. I’m not entirely sure why as I never felt stressed or in pain. I didn’t feel like I was running out of my comfort zone. I assume the cold was getting to me but it’s anyone’s guess.
Around mile 12 I knew to look for my friend who was spectating and cheering. When I saw her she said I looked strong and like I was doing well. That may have been true when I saw her. But 500 yards from the finish line and this entire race would change.
That’s right. 500 yards. I could see the words “FINISH” on the finish line banner. I could see the American flags. I was getting ready to sprint it in. I had a lot of juice left in me. I was ready to go. And then my IT bands flared up. Both of them. It was like the finish from hell. The race from hell, really. I called my husband, desperate to not hobble across the finish line a second year in a row. I was near tears. I’m not sure what I was expecting my husband to say or how to help me, but I called him anyway. He told me to walk. He said it wasn’t worth the risk. We both remembered what happened last year and I agreed — 100% NOT worth it. But I had my pride and sometimes pride overrules any logical thinking. I walked for what was probably only about 15 seconds but felt like an eternity — and then I ran. I didn’t run hard and I was almost in tears, but I ran across the finish line.
Finish time: 2:05:49
I was freezing, I was upset, and I just wanted to go home. It was possibly the worst finish line crossing in my running career. Last year I was injured from the start. I should have DNFed and I foolishly didn’t. So I knew crossing the finish line last year wouldn’t be as epic as I wanted it to be. But this year. This year was different. I was having a great race. I felt fantastic. Yes, I was pissed as hell that the weather sucked. But I felt really good for the entire race. To have an injury pop up within feet of the finish line was humbling, upsetting, and destroying.
The sleet squalls, as I found out they were later, kept coming. It was brutal. Words can’t even describe the hell we ran through on Sunday. Some people have dubbed this race “epic.” My friend Andrew coined it “#themostClevelandraceever.” I say it sucked. It was brutal, it was hard, it was epic, and it was most definitely the most Cleveland race ever. And it sucked.
I had created throw-away mittens from old socks. I hadn’t planned on running in them. If I had known how cold and awful the weather was truly going to be, I would have worn legit mittens or gloves. The socks I had were cotton. If you know anything about me, you know I never wear cotton in adverse conditions.
When I got my medal, blanket, water, and a banana (all of which were frozen), I called my husband and found a place to wait out of the wind. I had to ditch the sock-mittens. They were wet and cold, and I could no longer feel my hands. I ditched them on the sidewalk. As I made my way toward my husband I realized I couldn’t hold my water or banana anymore so I ditched those, too. There was a post-race brunch I was hoping to attend but by the time we got to the car, I was so frozen solid and in such a deflated place mentally that I decided I just wanted to go home. We cranked up the heat, I stripped off all my wet clothes in the car, and we went home.
Call it sleep deprivation, call it reaction to the cloudy skies and awful weather, call it hormones. Call it whatever you want. But I cried a few times after the race on Sunday. It turns out not only were my IT bands injured again, but I reinjured my stress reaction I suffered last fall after my half marathon PR. The CLE course was very uneven — tons of potholes and puddle-dodging — which is undoubtedly the reason for my IT band reaction. And I’m sure I was over-striding as I wasn’t paying much attention to form since I was just trying to run as fast as I could so I could be in a nice warm car.
Looking back on it now, I had a pretty great race on Sunday and I should be proud. I did really well with no speed work all season, and I felt strong. The finish will stick with me for a while, though. And I will never, ever say “just a half” again. Anything can happen out there and the 2016 Cleveland half marathon proved it.
I don’t normally buy race photos but I might this time. My friend was right. I look strong and determined in them and I’d love to change my memories into strength and perseverance instead of agony and defeat.
There were a lot of PRs this year — and a lot of misery. Cleveland, you never surprise me. Last year it was in the 80s and humid. People dropping left and right. This year? The complete polar opposite. 20s and sleet squalls. At least now I can say I
can have run through anything everything.
And here’s the good stuff. The entire weekend was amazing – from the VIP Reception with fellow CLE Ambassadors, Elites, and sponsors, to the Expo, to the crazy, crazy race on Sunday – it is a race that will not soon be forgotten!
Thank you for all of your continued support throughout this journey. Without all of you – friends, family, coach, unofficial training partners, running buddies, fans, and avid blog followers – I wouldn’t be where I am today. Love and thanks to my husband for all the early morning support again and again through training cycles, to my friends who ran with me all those miles (David and Noemi, I’m looking at you) for no reason at all, and for all the great texts from friends and family over the weekend. Thank you.
I’m done racing for several months now. My fingers are crossed that this is a very speedy recovery. I’ve got one huge fish to fry come October and ain’t nobody got time to be injured!
TALK TO ME!
What was your WORST finish line experience?
What was your BEST finish line experience?
Linking up with My No-Guilt Life, Marcia’s Healthy Slice, and MCM Mama Runs for Tuesdays on the Run, and HoHo Runs and MissSippi Piddlin’ for the Weekly Wrap. Also linking up with Nicole, Annmarie, Angelena Marie, and Michelle for Wild Workout Wednesday.