Monday, May 24

Don't call it a comeback

On May 17, 2009, I watched the Cleveland Marathon.

That certainly wasn't how I'd planned to spend the morning; I had registered in December with the full intent of completing the course for the first time since 2005. Instead, I ended up not running so much as a foot of the race, as I watched a friend finish from a few selected spots along the course, including the finish.

As regular readers of FCF's racing coverage know, the reason is that I had surgery on May 15, 2009, and could barely walk, much less run 26.2 miles. I suppose I could have put off the operation until the week after and maybe faked my way through the half-marathon, but I wasn't well-trained because of the injury, and figured the sooner I got on the road to recovery, the better off I'd be when triathlon season rolled around. As it turns out, I wasn't quite ready for the first couple of tris, but I was closer than I would have been had I pretended like I could run the Cleveland race.

As I hobbled to and from the 2009 race, I resolved that if my knee healed properly, I'd re-up for the 2010 edition and take care of some unfinished business from 2009.

As I've written previously, I came back from the knee operation with a vengeance, crushing every personal record I'd ever set: 5K, 10K, half-marathon, Great Race, Olympic triathlon, Sprint triathlon, you name it. And so, in December, I threw my name in the hat once again for the 2010 Cleveland Marathon. This time I wouldn't be denied. Plus, I got this cool pair of gloves for registering early and it was only $55. Score.

I never really stopped running during the winter, even after tri season ended in early September and I ran my final race of 2009 at the Pigskin Classic in late November (right before Ohio State mauled Michigan for the 6th straight year). I shifted more of my training indoors for weights and cycling, but kept running periodically even in the snow and cold.

This paid off when I started my training in earnest in February. If you want to be a decent distance athlete in northeast Ohio, you simply have to get used to running in poor conditions, and I sure did that. There's no way to prepare for a bad-weather run; it's going to suck, and you just have to deal with that. I just strapped on my running tights and winter hat, loosened up a bit, and got it done. My favorite part of snow running: this giant pile of snow that the City always constructed near Cleveland Browns Stadium that I relished jumping over/through/onto when I reached that spot in my run.

The weather would clear up here and there, as for my 12-mile run around the city and assorted other jaunts, but it would always drop back down just to remind me that it could. I executed some pretty classic runs while in Norway as well, piling up up a career-best 45-mile week in the Norge that was highlighted by my epic 17-mile run through Oslo and a 10-mile mission to recover my iPod, which I had left at my previous hotel.

Throughout the training, I had a few aches and pains, as I suspect most avid runners do. The arch of my right foot had a little two-week fit but stopped bothering me about two months before the race and never resurfaced. The surgically-repaired left knee never gave me any bother, nor did the right knee that's historically been the more painful of the two. My right hip area, now that's another story. It's a weird injury because of how non-specific it is; sometimes the hip flexor, sometimes the outside of the hip, usually the buttock, sometimes the hamstring, occasionally the lower back. I'm out of alignment and I know this, but what to do? No matter - I got through the training (fnishing the long weeks by setting a PR in the Cleveland 10-miler on a day when I should have done 18) and declared myself ready for the Marathon.

One more misstep, of course: I played softball for the first time in about two years the Wednesday before the race. For all the distance work I've done, I haven't spent much time on speed work and haven't been playing actual sports, so the explosive components of my muscles have been quite underworked. Well, except for Wednesday, when I played a doubleheader as hard as I could and paid the price the next day.

And the next.

And Friday.

Just for fun, Saturday too.

By Sunday, it was mostly gone but not 100%, but I figured the fatigue that was in store for me during the race would easily override any residual soreness from softball. I was right.


I didn't have any beer for the seven days prior to the race - how's that for dedication to my craft? Got up at 6 am feeling as well as I was going to, and at 6:40 walked the entire two blocks over to the start line. It was about 45 degrees out, and never topped 55 degrees, but I went shirtless because that's how I roll. I did not regret this decision.

At 7 am, it was on. Check out the race course:

My plan was to set a pretty fast pace and back off if necessary. my previous time was 4:07:43; I knew I'd beat that easily as long as my hip area didn't completely sell me out. That's a 9:30 pace. Started off heading north and running around Browns Stadium, where I saw my first band of the day, playing a hard rock version of...wait for it..."Hava Naguila." Alright, then.

Headed south towards Tremont as I weaved my way through various runners and edged my way past the 4:00 and 3:50 pace teams, as well as some people who were walking the marathon, or perhaps the half marathon. Now look, TFB readers know how much I abhor writing all caps, so know that I'm not doing what I'm about to do lightly. Ready? DON'T START NEAR THE FRONT IF YOU'RE PLANNING ON WALKING THE COURSE. I will never understand how these people can be this stupid and/or inconsiderate.

Anyway, I cruised along with the pack through Tremont, where I heard "Stayin' Alive" and "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)," both of which effecively quickened my pace. I was hitting 8-minute miles at this point, cognizant of the fact that I wouldn't be able to maintain it all race but still comfortable with the speed. We made our way through Ohio City, onto Detroit Ave, and headed for points West. After clearing Edgewater Park, we returned East along the Shoreway, where I got my first taste of an unusual East to West wind. It's usually the other way. Plus, since the Shoreway is elevated and right near Lake Erie, there's no escaping the wind's wrath.

Thank goodness for Bert and Ernie.

There were two people along the side of the road on Route 2 sporting giant Bert and Ernie costume heads and equipped with a boom box playing dance music as they gyrated hilariously. I cannot say enough about the joy these two individuals brought me in our brief encounter. I'd sign up for next year if I knew they'd be back. If only there were some way to properly recognize them for their humanitarian efforts.

Anyway, I made my way back Downtown, past Browns Stadium and the Rock Hall once again, and crossed the half-marathon line next to the waste of a perfectly good shoreline that is Burke Airport. I was sitting at 1:46 at this point, averaging 8:10 miles. Yep, still not sustainable, but why not keep trying?

Well, turns out that the wind was hanging around at points East as well, and was none to happy to see me trying to race. The next three miles on the Lakefront Bikeway were rough, running right into the sun and a stiff wind. I know, photons don't actually slow you down, but running towards the sun is harder, and that's the way it is. I was still at a good pace, but 8:10 was quickly becoming a thing of the past. Finally, around Mile 17, we turned into Rockefeller Park, but the damage was done. I knew I had to run about 10-minute miles to break four hours, which I was pretty sure I could do, but by the same token it wasn't going to be easy.

Two things happened at Mile 19:
1) I walked for the first time
2) I decided I wanted to go home

Fortunately, thought #2 was consistent with my objective of finishing the race, since I live right near the star/finish lines, and the walking didn't get me down too much. I knew I needed to, and I was so far ahead of my time goal that I could afford it. Do I wish I could have run the whole way? Sure, but walking advances you as well. I walked about 100 meters every mile the rest of the way until I reached Mile 25, which I think was a decent plan.

People kept cheering for us and saying, "Great job, runners! You look great!" Funny, I didn't feel great.

I also saw a sign that read "They have BEER at the finish!" and one that said "Go Cavs!" only "Cavs" was X'ed out and they'd written "Runners" below it. Nice. Also: "Chuck Norris never ran a marathon." He doesn't believe in evolution either, so that's two up I have on Chuck. I imagine Ben Stein hasn't completed a marathon either. Or a thought. I'm getting distracted - this was a approximately how much my mind was wandering late in the race as well.

After the excursion in the park, we got back on City streets and started our return voyage towards the finish line. I was down with that. Around this point, I heard someone play "Runnin' on Empty" by Jackson Browne, which made me want to hit said DJ. What's wrong, didn't have "We're Not Gonna Make It" by the Presidents of the United States of America? Sometime between here and the finish, I also heard "Stayin' Alive" and "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)" for the second time each, which delighted me. It's hard to imagine a scenario where one hears too much C+C Music Factory during a race.

Man did I ever want to finish when I hit Mile 25 near Cleveland State. This was for sure the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, and I absolutely wanted it to be over. I was comforted by the thought of seeing friends and family at the finish, which was enough to get me there in the end. Gave the fist pump as I crossed the finish line with a full-body sigh of relief, and it was over.

I finished in 3:54:47, knocking 13 minutes off of my previous effort. Here's me finishing, in a picture that strikes me as really funny because the ladies in front sort of dominate the frame while I'm off wandering in the background. I would direct your attention to their red bibs, which were what half-marathoners wore. So they didn't beat me, in case that's what you're thinking - I ran twice as fast, twice as far. Just so we're clear.

3200 people started or at least registered for the race, and only 2315 finished, so I beat over a quarter of the field just by attrition. I managed 790th place overall (66th percentile), 601st among men (58th %ile), and 106th in my division (52nd %ile). The average time for all marathon finishers was 4:18:47; for men it was 4:08:35, and for men 30-34 it was 4:03:42. All I really strive to be in life is slightly above average at things.

My splits really tell the tale of the race. Here's my pace for various segments of the race, given in kilometers (1.6 km ~ 1 mile):
0-10: 8:02
10-21: 8:09
21-30: 9:04
30-42: 10:23

Yep, the wheels really fell off there over the last quarter of the race. If I could have just kept shuffling along, I could have dropped my time below 3:50. The thing that bothered me the most about having to walk was doing so in front of the cheering fans. Not that they were specifically cheering for me, of course, but they took their time to come out and support the racers, and here I am on a Sunday stroll walking leisurely past them. I still don't think my strategy was bad, but walking is not fun in a race. I did finish relatively strong for some family members, shown below:

Despite my slow late-race pacing, I'm really happy with the day, even if I know I left at least five minutes on the course and neglected to have so much as one post-race beer! I'll do another one of these things, and I'll beat that time. Just not anytime soon.

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