Ecstasy and Agony: Inside My Head During the Cleveland Marathon

Inside my head during the Cleveland Marathon, my first marathon…

Starting Line: Here we go. Here we go. Here we go! Five years of running and my first marathon! Oh my lord it’s cold. It’s May. I know it’s Cleveland but it’s May. Why is it so cold? Where is everyone? It’s 20 minutes until the start. (Note: everyone is inside Quicken Loans Arena, warm, unlike me, who is freezing in the cold waiting).

Ok, we’re finally almost there. Everyone has left the warm embrace of the Q. The VIP’s are getting in their good lucks and thank you’s and YES! Here we go! Everyone is moving forward, I’m underneath the banner and I am off!

Miles 1-2: I’m up front. Not too much congestion here. That’s good. Can’t wait until the construction on Public Square is done. The designs look beautiful. Legs are feeling good. I’m trying to keep my pace easy and slow right now; do not want to start out too fast like the half marathon last year. Turns are a little tight, slowing me down, but that’s ok. I feel relaxed. Relaxed is the name of the game today. Stay relaxed and kill it at the end.

Miles 3-4: Oh man, here’s the wind the weathermen were predicting. And it’s hailing now (wind and hail/snow would be an awful pairing all day – when the wind hit, snow and hail were not far behind).

Miles 5-7: Tremont, you are one of my favorite parts of this race. I love your crowds, the tight knit neighborhood feel. This right here is one of the best reasons to run this race, this section with these people right here. This is ecstasy. Running ecstasy.

And I’ve picked up a running pal who, like me, is hoping to qualify for Boston, and only three weeks after he ran his first Boston Marathon. Let’s settle in and pace each other for awhile. Still feeling good, feeling relaxed. This is exactly how I wanted to feel at this point in the race and I have someone to keep me moving forward when things get tough. Only good things can follow.

Mile 8: Nope, plenty of bad things can follow. Here’s the wind and snow again, and something else, some discomfort in my right hip…

Miles 9-10: Oh man oh man oh man oh man, this discomfort in my hip cannot be good. Is it my flexor? My adductor? I’m not sure but it’s this nagging ache toward the front of my hip. I’m talking to my running pal from Columbus trying anything to take my mind off of the building pain. Please please please let this not get any worse. Just give me another couple of strong hours. It’s all I ask for.

Mile 11: Mother Nature, you and I are going to become mortal enemies right here. That latest wind gust had to be 25 mph or more. I feel like I’m running in place. God bless the people out on the streets supporting us. I’m miserable and I’m moving. They have to be miserable, just standing there. But they’re toughing it out. Thank you so much, folks, you’re helping to keep me going right now.

Miles 12-13.1: Pain in my hip seems to be subsiding. I feel good again. I feel great. The wind has died down again. I started to pull away from my running buddy. Good luck my friend, I hope you qualify for Boston and get back there. I’m feeling ok so I’m going to push this a bit and make my own run at a BQ. Holy hell, I just run my third fastest half marathon ever. Strong and relaxed. Strong and relaxed. I don’t feel like I just ran a fast half marathon. The miles in training paid off. Well, I’m halfway through this thing (this, in retrospect, would be the high water mark of this race).

Miles 13.1-16: This was the start of the section I was dreading when I saw the winds would be bad. A solid five miles directly into the wind. Here it is again. Fresh bout of hail/snow. God bless the spectators. So many helping us push forward. There’s a pace group up ahead. Is that the 3:05’s? The 3:00’s?!? Holy cow, am I stalking the 3 hour pace group? Oh man let this hip pain stay away, I’m feeling so good right now. I could do this. I could actually do this. Legs are beginning to feel a little heavy. Expected that though. Just focus on getting to the next mile. Always the next mile. You knew this was going to test you. Just please stay away, hip pain. PLEASE!

Mile 16: Nope. It’s not staying away. That is awful, that is horrible. Just keep pushing, just keep pushing, keep moving forward, keep forward, see if the pain goes away again.

Mile 17: Pace just dropped a bit, not too much. Maybe it will be alright. The turnaround is coming soon. No more headwind in a half mile. Oh jeez, that’s a rough gust of wind. Such a lovely parting shot before I turn around. Oh god, the outside of my right hip just tightened, and now it feels as bad as the front of my hip. I have how many more miles?

Mile 18: There it is. Time to stop and walk. Oh my lord the pain is excruciating. Where was that med tent I saw earlier? Mile 19? There goes my running buddy from earlier. Good luck, my friend. Get that BQ. It’s not going to happen for me. Just keep moving.

Miles 19-21: This is agony. Running agony. That wind might be at my back but it is still a killer. Gusts and gusts and gusts. And it’s at its worst when I stop to walk. I am so cold. My shirt is soaked. My hat is soaked. My gloves are soaked. I cannot feel my thumbs. But only my thumbs. Weird. Was that thunder? Was that actually thunder? It’s snowing again. Thunder snow in May. My god, Adam, if you finish this race it’s one you’ll never forget. How can you forget the time you ran a marathon in thunder snow in May. Still a lot of spectators out. Folks, I’m freezing. A tip of my cap to you for sticking it out, watching us. This stretch seems to be going on forever. Where is the turn onto Edgewater?

Mile 22: There it is. Four miles left. Walk. Jog. Walk. Jog. Pain pain pain pain.

Mile 23: Oh thank you, Lord, the Shoreway has arrived. Man, I was hoping to hit this stretch feeling so strong, ready to test myself through those last three miles, to see if I could hit that fast finish. Not today. Oh well. Finish this first marathon. Get that medal. Oh man, my knee hurts now too.

Mile 24: Gotta stop and walk for a sec. These last two miles may take until June. There’s a guy stopping next to me. He wants to pace it out together. Ok. Maybe a friend here can make this go by faster. Turns out this guy, Chris from Michigan, he was hoping to BQ too. Tried and missed in Toledo a few weeks ago. Guess today isn’t going to end the way either of us wanted it to. Ok, Chris, I’ll keep moving with you. Can we walk a sec? Ok. Thanks. Jog again. I can see the banner for Mile 25. We’re almost a mile away.

Mile 25: Oh Lord that tailwind just flipped back and hit us in the face, as we go up a hill. Mother Nature, we will never be friends again. This is lower than low. Way to kick a man and 15,000 of his running friends when they’re down. I want this to end. I’m so close. Chris, man, let’s get this over with. I can see the downhill. We’re going to see the finish line here any moment!

Mile 26: It’s there it’s there it’s there! Less than a quarter away. Let’s wrap this up and get warm. Wait, Chris found his wife. Wait for him. No, it’s ok, Chris, I’ll wait. We’ll cross together.

Finish Line: It ends. Mercifully. Quick picture, Chris. Thank you, my new friend. You helped make the end possible. I am cold. So so cold. I don’t think I will be warm for a week.

Mile 26.3 and beyond: Since Sunday I’ve had some time to decompress, bundle up in about five layers, and I have these initial thoughts about the race. In the coming days I will more carefully detail what I think went right in training and what I think happened that led to the race going so wrong. These, however, were the things that stood out the most after finishing this Most Cleveland Race Ever.

1. In the days after the race many posts on the race’s training group’s Facebook page described the many triumphs and personal bests runners achieved on Sunday. I continue to be amazed at all of my fellow participants. Sunday was a brutal day to run in and yet the fact that so many persevered and excelled is testament to the spirits of the runners I had the pleasure to share this race with. We will always be connected by this race. Congratulations, again, to everyone who survived Cleveland.

2. Sunday was truly ecstasy and agony, hence the title of this post. I finished my first marathon. It’s impossible to complain about that. The distance is humbling; it takes so much effort to prepare for. But this will always be a race that carries a great deal of disappointment. My training went so well. It predicted a very fast time. That half marathon split was achieved with me feeling relaxed and strong, totally within myself, exactly how I wanted to feel during the race. After the eight-mile disintegration of my hip adductors was the worst ten miles of running I can ever recall. It was a slog of walking and jogging. The temptation to walk away was strong. The medical tents were right there. But this was my first marathon. I had to finish. And I did. I think I hurt my IT band to cap it all off, but I finished.

3. Hey Mother Nature… ::censored obscene gesture::

4. No really, it snowed on us. In May. With winds that gusted at 25 miles an hour. Mother Nature and I are in no way cool right now.

5. The event, the volunteers, the spectators, it was all so well done. The respect I have for the people that stood outside to cheer us and support us cannot be overstated. I was freezing and I was moving. I can’t imagine how cold it had to be for the many who stood out there for hours and brought us home. It was moving.

6. One of the things I love most about running is that provides you endless opportunities to set things right, to get better. Sunday was an accomplishment, but one that did not meet my lofty expectations. It is Friday now. I have regained the ability to walk again. I feel ready to try a short shakeout run tomorrow. Most importantly, I have had time to think about the things that went right and wrong in my build up to this race and I’ll be sharing my thoughts on my training in the next few days. My injuries show I have imbalances and weaknesses to work on if I want to go the distance in the times I envision. I will. I’ll get more efficient with my mobility, add to my strength training, and find ways to improve that I hadn’t considered before this race. And I’ll run. I’ll pile on the miles when I’m ready. My fall race is only five months away.

7. Five days later and the end of the race, when a perfect stranger took the time to stop and slog through those last two miles with me, remains my favorite memory of Sunday. I suspect it will remain a top running memory for a long time. At Mile 24 I knew I’d finish, but this incredibly kind gesture had an oversized impact on my ability to get through those last two miles. I will forever be thankful for his kindness. Chris, someday soon I’ll see you at Boston. Thank you.

One thought on “Ecstasy and Agony: Inside My Head During the Cleveland Marathon”

  1. That was extremely well written! I finished way behind you, but it was also my first marathon and I feel like your description of the race could almost be my own. Thank you for putting it into words. Best of luck to you in your fall race and your pursuit of the BQ. My next is in November and I can’t wait to avenge this one!


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