If I heard this song one time during the Cleveland Marathon on Sunday, I heard it 20 times. Or maybe 30.
But that was just fine. The song does rock. And so does Cleveland. And so did my race.
As I wrote yesterday, I finished in 3:48:07, crushing my goal of finishing under four hours.
It was my best time in five years. I never hit the wall. It felt soooooooo good.
After struggling so hard in the last few years, it was a sweet day. It rocked!
During the last six miles, I passed scores of runners — maybe hundreds — who had apparently gone out too fast and then run out of gas.
Hey, I’ve made that mistake plenty of times. It was nice to run a smart race for once.
For the first 17 miles, I ran alone, striking up conversations with various runners and just enjoying the scenery and the energy. I kept my effort steady. My pace varied between 8:30 and 9:15, depending on the hills and the wind.
At mile 17, I heard a pace group coming up behind me. When they caught me, I saw it was the 3:50 group, with about 20 runners. I decided to jump in and feed off their energy. The group, led by a guy named Brett, had great camaraderie, giving each other lots of encouragement and sharing laughs. I stayed with them until mile 24, when I realized I still had plenty of gas in the tank and could push harder. I peeled off and ran ahead, finishing a few minutes before them.
I finished 638th out of 2,788. That put me in the top 25 percent.
Here are a few race highlights:
Most scenic stretch: A beautiful, shady section through the Edgewater neighborhood between miles 8 and 10. It was great to see all the beautiful gardens and century-old mansions on the lakefront.
Least scenic stretch: The blighted commercial section on St. Clair Avenue between miles 21 and 23. Man, was that depressing. Ugly isn’t strong enough word. We passed block after block of boarded up buildings and graffiti on walls. It was probably the most depressed section of any marathon course I have ever run. On top of that, this section of road was filled with chuckholes, and the street had absolutely no shade.
Coolest sights: Running past my own high school; running within a stone’s throw of my sister’s house (she was on vacation in Italy, and didn’t catch the race); and running by all three professional sports facilites (Browns, Cavaliers and Indians).
Un-coolest sight: Running uphill, into the wind, on concrete for several miles on the West Shoreway.
Biggest surprise: Running into an old friend, Darris Blackford, at the expo on Saturday. He was staffing the Columbus Marathon booth. Darris and I worked together as reporters at the Lake County News-Herald 20 years ago, and now he’s an elite marathoner and the new race director of the Columbus Marathon.
Second-biggest surprise: Running into a stiff headwind between miles 13 and 17, as the course ran east along the lakefront. The winds usually blow from the west; in fact, the course was rerouted a couple years ago to take advantage of the prevailing winds. I expected a tailwind during this section, and had to really push it here.
Best smell: The scent of muffins as I ran past a bakery in the Tremont neighborhood.
Worst smell: The stink of rotten fish as I ran past an old industrial section of the lakefront.
Best Music: Three-way tie between the the St. Ignatius marching band, playing in front of the school near Mile 5; an energetic percussion group playing “Stomp” rhythms on trash cans and drums near Mile 7; and of course “Cleveland Rocks.”
Worst Music: “Running on Empty,” which was playing on loudspeakers at two different points. Hey, I like Jackson Browne as much as the next Baby Boomer, but I don’t want to think about running on empty. I felt full of energy, and wanted to keep it that way.
Biggest joy: Realizing in the last two miles that I would crush my goal and possibly set my best marathon time in five years — then crossing the finish line and seeing it come true.
Biggest disappointment: Starting too far back at the starting line. It took me forever to pass slow runners and walkers — two miles, probably. I should have known better, and positioned myself closer to the front. Then again, maybe it was a good way to start slow and finish strong.
Best decision: Not to carry a camera. Hey, there’s a time for taking pictures and a time for running hard.
Worst decision: Chugging chocolate milk at the finish line. I immediately got the worst stomach cramp. It was painful to walk a half-mile back to my car.
Best bonus: I ran the race on my 51st birthday. It was a hell of a way to ring in another year!
Biggest absence: I never saw Drew Carey. He wasn’t there, but it would have been the only way to make the day complete.
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