Sunday, May 20, 2012

2012 Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon

Official time: 3:56:19
Pace: 9:01

Lucky. Lucky and fortunate. Blessed with good friends. Smart and prepared. Pengo did not merely break his Personal Record, he destroyed it. I have completed one previous marathon, in 2006. My time then was 4:15:28.

A friend had provided me with a VIP Parking pass. It also featured breakfast in the VIP lounge … which began at 7:30 and concluded at 11, so that wasn’t much use. However, driving past all those suckers into a lot right across the less-traveled street from Browns Stadium was a great time and stress saver.

Using Browns Stadium as the staging area was a very good idea on somebody’s part. Previously, the CLE have used the Galleria. Browns Stadium feels much more athletic than the Galleria, and much less like a homeless shelter.

However -- and I know New York has spoiled me for this -- but the “Cleveland Experience” is cheap. I mean, pocketbook cheap. Yesterday at the Red Nose Run, some hapless prole had to put up with the carping from one of the participants about the eight dollar parking fee at the I-X Center. I piped up that I had walked a mile not to pay it, and was informed that I was not alone in that endeavor.

Today, as in my previous CLE experiences, I was disappointed to find absolultely no free stuff at the starting line. Hey, you know what? No. It’s not NYC, they do that in Akron too -- AKRON -- there is stuff to eat and drink all over the place. This morning, however, I forgot to have coffee before departing, and realized soon after there were no coffee shops open at 5 AM. Concessions were open at the Stadium, but you had to pay for them.

In April I proclaimed -- on this blog -- that I thought, maybe, perhaps, I might try to break four hours. I followed another runner’s blog once, as he prepared to, and failed, once again, to make 4:00:00. His training was sound, was there some magic to four hours? And yet, I have been doing great. Easy on the long runs, moving swiftly, to problems (except maybe a broken foot who knows.)

The night before I had the dinner of a clown; I took the kids to Bearden’s. Belly-full of fried meat and potatoes. Even then I thought, I am screwing myself, there is no way I will sustain on this.

Yes, there was pre-race depression. I felt very alone. This is only compounded when you arrive at the staging area and see how many teams there are. In fact, I knew a lot of people racing today. There were friends who offered to run with me during training. But I don’t know. It is a solitary thing with me. Anyone who knows me well knows I am a solitary guy.

There were 20,000 racers, a CLE record. And it was challenging to cram them all into the lane behind the stadium. I stood near, but not next to the 4:00 pace guy. It took four minutes to cross the starting line, which made keeping track of my time challenging (I don’t wear a watch.) Keeping up with Pace Leader was a pain. Others clustered around him, and when he tried to make way through the pack, it became a little dangerous. I tried to stay away from him, but keep an eye on him, but finally chose to just get ahead of him -- and stay there. As long as he never passed me, I would make it.

Almost immediately I felt the need to pee, this in spite of making several trips to the bathroom prior to the race. Apparently, strain on the system made the men’s toilets on the lower level of Browns Stadium overflow, or at least fail to flush anymore. But the urinals worked fine, and I thought I was all right but I’m never all right, and I asked myself how long I could go without having to stop and take a bathroom break.

When the race began it was in the sixties, and after dawn soon began to climb into the 80s. In spite of wanting to just keep going, I stopped at every water table. In the past, I would get either water or whatever electrolyte drink offered. Today I drank one, took one, walked and drank, and several times had a third. Making sure I did this, every single time, saved my ass. The ambulances began cutting through the course before we reached Tremont.

Back at mile four, at West 110th Street (“Almost Lakewood”) my folks had brought the kids to cheer me on, and I stopped to thank them for being there. Those were easy days, the single digits, and I was calm and cool. I would see them at the finish line.

Maybe I should have worn my sunglasses, or a hat with a visor. The city streets were unforgiving, and emerging from the Edgewater neighborhood, the trees stopped. The crowds are growing for CLE and that’s nice, though many of them move from the Shoreway to Detroit -- that’s great, let them, but it gives an exaggerated sense of turnout. I think I saw Anne McEvoy six times, though I may been hallucinating.

When did handmade signs of support become so tart?

Don’t Pee Your Pants 

Band-Aids on Nipples? I’m Into That. 

Welcome to Ohio City. Please Be Quiet, We’re All Hungover. 

The sign reading “Don’t Pee Your Pants” was held by a ten year-old.

Previously I have run two CLE Half-Marathons, in 2008 and 2010. During those runs the organizers provided music every couple miles in the form of stereo units blasting excellent, classic rock artists (and also some U2) but this time there were numerous actual bands, lots of them teenagers, which was so much better, they made me really happy. There were some kids off the Shoreway who just couldn’t keep a steady rock beat, they were adorable.

I have avoided the CLE Full Marathon, in fact derided it, because of the second half. I have been dreading the second half for years. And I was not disappointed. Our paths diverged at West 6th Street, the 13.1 milers heading for their final reward as the real runners moved into the danger zone. It appeared as though, for every one marathon, there were ten halfers peeling away. And just like that the crowds stopped. There were so few of us.

Or perhaps it just looked that way, because they were surging towards a two-hour victory, while the 26.2 mile freaks were dropping like flies. Crowds picked up at PlayhouseSquare, but just as quickly trickled to almost nothing passing CSU. We were blessed with holy water at Trinity Cathedral and pressed on … down Euclid Avenue. Millionaire Row, into the sunshine, not a tree in sight.

And no more bands. And no more flags. Few water stops. Miles went by without markers or timed devices. And there very few people. East East 55th and Euclud Avenue (real precious) we cut north and turned onto Chester. The Chester I have been dreading for four years. And I was not disappointed. A desolate March into the sun. One of the traffic volunteers suggested we get onto the sidewalk for the sake of shade, but it was already clogged with slow people, I stayed in the street.

Approaching the University Circle United Methodist I wanted to make an “oil can … oil can …” joke, but didn’t know who to make it to. (Get it? Oil can?)

And so, we had made it to Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Only in Cleveland would the city commence resurfacing of a major throughway the day before an internationally attended marathon. Don’t get me wrong, the street is a mess -- they should have done this a couple months ago. As of today grooves had already been cut into it and there were scores of orange barrels and cones making what is supposed to be the most scenic part of the journey -- THE REASON WE SUFFER THROUGH CHESTER AVENUE-- something of an obstacle course. And damn if it wasn’t even shady.

Now we are on mile nineteen. I passed mile eighteen without even thinking about it. I mean, at least it was marked, but I was feeling pretty all right. Volunteer Martha was biking down that stretch, making sure people were all right. She was a force of positive thoughts and comments … it was like those emergency respondres who came to my house when I called 911 when the boy’s head was broken. They guys were calm and cool, there’s no emergency here, everything’s all right, it’s going to be fine, this will be taken care of. I loved those guys. Martha was all, “Great day, huh? You people are amazing, you look really strong.” I asked if she could do something about the large, white, hot thing in the sky.

I know this stretch. I train this stretch. Knowing Chester was behind me was such a relief, but I knew it wasn’t going to be like previous long runs. We wouldn’t just be heading out North Marginal to the Rock Hall. At East 55th we left the cool breeze of the lake and the men fishing off the piers and headed back into the blocky desert of industrial Cleveland, blinding hot light and cruely busted up pavement. And this is where my troubles began.

Some time just after passing Anne McEvoy -- (?) -- I hit the wall. At mile 22. On a hot, bleak, crushing morning, this guy -- a 43 year-old man, with a sore foot and a shameful dietary schedule -- hit the wall at mile 22. This is where luck, connections and training fall away and all that was left, for four and a half miles, was an emotional and mental determination which I am finding hard to describe. But it was mine. It wasn’t about bragging rights, it wasn’t about impressing my children. It was about being able to tell myself, I did this.

I still needed to pee. The desire to void has not subsided for the entire journey, and I never stopped. I told myself it was in my head. I wanted to stop, that was a reason to stop. And if I finished at 4:00:01 because I just had to go to the bathroom, I would never forgive myself.

Every time I slowed to drink -- had to walk then, to try and run and drink would surely have made me cough or gag -- it reminded me of stillness, and I took off again with a vengeance. Unlike in New York, where I had spent the last five miles getting passed, this time I was the one passing others.

At mile 23 I saw a young woman, in her twenties, much fitter than I, leaning againt a phone pole and vomiting. How does that happen? When does that happen? Could that suddenly happen to me? Every time I felt weary I had torn a gel from my waistband, or pulled one from my pocket and eaten it, usually a quarter mile from the next water stop. I had never taken in so many artificial food substances, or drank so much water on a run. Had I been doing the right thing, or would my abdomen rebel? Am I well right now, or making myself sick?

Chin up. Into the sun. Keep going. Over four hundred and fifty miles in training. Too much time, too much effort, to stop, to ever stop.

Heading down East 9th Street, descending towards the rock hall. Big crowds, and I knew it was almost over. Turning onto Erieside, the clock was seconds away from 4:00:00 -- which I knew was the official start time, not my start time, and that I had done, or was about to. Regardless, it was there in front of me, a clocking counting from 3:59:45 and I had to shave as many seconds as possible.

I sprinted past this guy … who just as suddenly sprinted past me. That’s okay, fellah, it’s your day, too. But I was charging flat out for the last .2 miles. They tell me I looked good.

Crossing the Finish Line at 4:00:13 I felt … fine. Tired, sore, but fine. I drank the water, ate the pretzels, took the chocolate milk for the kids. It was only rounded the corner out of the corral and seeing and speaking with Karen did I realize what was going on.

This was one of those marathons. Not as bad a Chicago 2007, for example, but a scorching run where no one made their time. No wonder I passed a lot of people, there were plenty of runners who decided, no doubt in their own best interest and justifiably so, that this was not going to be the year. Karen is working to qualify for Boston, but today was not the day for her, nor for so many others.

Time for me to rest now. Let my feet heal. Listen to my body. Eat better, I hope. Will I run another marathon? No idea. Couldn't say. Wouldn't say no.

How I accomplished my goal, I do not know, I can only guess. Foolhardy determination, training, the support of family, friends and strangers, and luck.

Week 18 Total: 10 + 26.2 miles
Marathon Training Total: 470.2 miles


Corrie said...

Great blog post. Congratulations on finishing and on your amazing time. You are an inspiration!

pengo said...

So are you, Corrie!

Henrik said...

Wow. That is phenomenal. Congratulations!