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Race recap: Cleveland Rock N Roll Half Marathon

For weeks, I trained. I ran, stretched, hydrated and fueled. There were good runs, bad runs, long runs, and runs that just marked another day.

But nothing I did could have truly prepared me for the race day experience.

The end result?

I am so proud of this. A 2:35 is five minutes off my (unofficial) goal of 2:30. In reality, I know that just finishing is the best goal for any first-timer. And now I see why.

I had taken long runs, but I had never experienced a long race. I didn't know how it felt to be distracted by so much going on around you, yet exhilarated by the energy of it all. I didn't know how it would really feel to put my heart and soul into a run and feel completely empty when my heart and soul were crushed by the feeling of exhaustion in my lungs and my legs.

But let's back up first.

We arrived in Cleveland Saturday around noon. The trip was smooth, but I wasn't feeling the best as Mother Nature brought me a little gift first thing in the morning. Oh, great timing ... I knew it was coming, but still. Ugh.

Not pictured: Empty beer bottles and Jello shot cups from Browns tailgaters

We had a quick picnic lunch in a parking lot and then planned to meet my sister at the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. Well, the hall of fame isn't much excitement for a toddler, and unless you sit and watch all the videos and read all the exhibit signs, it's a quick tour. Oh well. Once Jan and Rebecca arrived, we met them at the Great Lakes Science Center next door. Thankfully, Kenlee found this a lot more interesting. Too bad my legs and ankle didn't really care for it. (No, that would be the OTHER ankle. I rolled it on what was supposed to be 2-mile shakeout Friday morning. Ugh. I know.)

Before checking into our hotel, we had to stop at the expo for my bib, T-shirt and goodies. Oh, and I needed to buy more Gu because I was out. I think walking through the expo was where the race became reality and I became REALLY nervous. I know it's stupid, but I suddenly felt like a poser. I felt like "real" runners were all around me, and I was just some idiot trying to fit in. I didn't look around long because the more I did, the more inadequate I felt. I'm hoping that's something that happens to all rookies, and next time (foreshadowing!) I hope I won't feel the same.

Despite all that walking around during the day, I decided I still wanted to walk to dinner nearly a mile away at the Hard Rock Cafe. I'm actually really glad we did this because the food was amazing, we saved money on parking, and we saw more of the city that way. But when we got back to the hotel, I immediately started prepping for the morning.

Obligatory gear shot

With my bib pinned and my gear laid out, I tried to lay down for sleep with Kenlee around 9:30 p.m. Kenlee was out in minutes, but not so much for me. Kyle was up watching the Ohio State game in our room, and I alternated between thinking "Shut that damn thing off" and "What's the score?" Hey, at least the Buckeyes pulled off  a victory. I slept on and off when the game was over, and I woke just before my alarm went off at 6 a.m.

As I walked to the starting line a half mile away, I ate my usual breakfast of a Fiber One bar, banana and coffee. I was alone for several blocks, kinda freaked out by being out in the city by myself, but as I turned down 9th, lots of runners joined me in the trek to the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. The port-a-potties were my first stop, as the lines weren't too outrageous yet. Then I found my brother Scott right away.

While Scott and I were chatting, I found Marcia, a local friend who was racing, too. Marcia has run two other half marathons — I think — and she was also shooting for a 2:30 finish. I never did see her after the starting line, but she finished in 2:25! Yay, Marcia!

Jan and Danielle met us at the start around 7:30, and Jan debated going back to their hotel to pee — the lines for port-a-potties were insane by then. Instead, she opted to stop somewhere along the course later, which worked out pretty well.

Scott left us to go to his corral — his long legs were all the way up in three while we were back in seven.

So close to starting!
As we waited for our turn to go, the butterflies and adrenaline were really going. I loved the energy and excitement of the start (especially rocking out to some Third Eye Blind), and the first 2 miles ticked off quickly. By surprise, we saw Kyle and Kenlee just before mile 2. The plan was for both of them to sleep in and meet me near the finish, but apparently my girl just didn't want to sleep after I left. (Maybe she had race day energy, too!)

After we saw them, we started seeing hills. Ummmm, I guess I didn't really understand the course elevation map because I didn't think the route looked as hilly as it turned out to be. Oh well, we pushed through all the hills at that point and just focused on keeping a steady pace. Later on, hills would feel like mountains...

Our pre-race plan was to walk and fuel at miles 4, 8 and 11. We hit mile 4 feeling pretty great, and we had a pretty flat stretch of the course at that point. Around mile 5, however, my bladder was starting to bother me. We passed several stations with port-a-potties, but they all had lines of runners and I didn't want to ruin our time by waiting. Then, just before mile 6, I spotted a potty with a single runner waiting. "I'm going for it!" I shouted as I darted off course. Jan and Danielle followed and we were quick to go and get back in the race.

Also at this point, I finally tied down my stupid tank top. I knew going into race day that it was slightly big on me from losing weight, but it was really the only choice I had for warmer weather (since of course it was in the high 70s in October, what the heck?!). It seemed like the best option, but with the weight of my bib pinned on the front and the weight of my sweat, it was falling down in the front, exposing more of my sports bra than I would prefer. Like, a lot more. So thankfully I was able to tie the stupid thing up to the straps of my Camelbak.

Jan had been watching our pace with her GPS watch and she reported that we were on track for a 2:30 finish if we could keep things moving. She started throwing out cliche inspirational quotes, and high-fiving spectators along the street, but I just didn't want to waste the energy to join her. I gave a few fives if I was nearby, but I wasn't going out of my way. Around mile 7, we saw Lindsay and Rebecca. Jan and Danielle went to give them hugs I think, but I remember thinking that I had better just wave and keep jogging because my legs were starting to feel pretty heavy.

At mile 8, we walked as planned, and I decided I needed my headphones. I had gone without them to that point so I could talk with Jan and Danielle and listen to the bands along the route. But the music was too spread out and the conversation had sort of died down. Thankfully, I had my phone and headphones in my Camelbak and I could fire up my playlist.

It helped a little, but I wish I would have turned the music up louder to help me focus inward a little more. I needed to find my zone, and I just never got to the place I needed to be mentally. Part of this might have been a lack of hydration. I was sipping during stops but I wasn't sipping much between (and duh, this was the whole point of having a Camelbak!). Again, maybe if I had focused inward a little more I would have noticed I needed to drink. This aspect of the race was something I couldn't have prepared for on long runs when I was all by myself and completely in tune with my body. Also, I think my emotionally stability was wavering at this point due to my period. I didn't have cramps or bloating, but dammit if my hormones weren't taking me on a high-low, high-low roller coaster.

Between miles 9 and 10, we took a steady downhill through a park area in Tremont. At this point, I felt good, but I saw several runners stopped on the side of the road stretching. It was intimidating to see people who looked to be in better shape than me that were struggling. Yikes. How was I going to make it?

Just after the 10 mile marker, there was a GIANT hill. "Ummm, team? Can we change plans?" I asked. "Can we walk up this monster?" Danielle and Jan were, thankfully, in agreement. So were all the runners around us. I think I saw maybe one person try to run up that thing. Good for them.

Soon after, we met another hill that needed walking. I felt sort of defeated needing to stop again, but at that point I reminded myself that I just needed to finish. Though Jan said we were on pace, I tried to keep my mind off the time. I knew 2:30 was slipping through my fingers.

We vowed to keep running after mile 11, but the Carnegie Avenue bridge was a steady uphill that I just couldn't handle. I was trying, oh so hard, to stay up with Jan and Danielle, but they were getting away from me and didn't realize I was falling back. I yelled for them and they turned around to get me, but I was just losing the battle at that point.

I uttered two words that I haven't uttered on a run all year, "I CAN'T!" and then I walked once more. I was so disappointed in myself. They tried to keep me moving, tried to say positive things to get me to the finish, but I felt as though all mental and physical strength had exited my body. They got me running again at the 12 mile marker, halfway across the bridge, but I had to succumb to my inner demons again a quarter mile later, somewhere between Progressive Field and Quicken Loans Arena.

"Go ahead without me" I said, but apparently Team Shenanigans wasn't going to finish separately. "We signed up for this thing because of you," Jan told me. I know she meant to inspire me, but really I just felt guilty. I was the one who pushed us to do this race, and now I was the one holding us back.

Around mile 12.5 or 13, just in front of the Hard Rock Cafe, a spectator brought me back to life. This woman was encouraging everyone, and she noticed us walking when the finish was just around the corner. "You're going to be disappointed when you realized how close you are!" she said. I shook my head and tried to ignore her, but she said "I'm going to count down and you're going to start running again!" She started jogging next to us as she counted down from 10, and I smiled and started running. "Thank you!" I shouted, and I just kept moving.

I only made one more stop before the finish line, and that was when I saw Kyle and Kenlee just a few hundred feet later. I gave Kyle a hug and Kenlee a kiss and started to cry. But then I realized if I was going to cry I couldn't breathe! Haha.

With the finish line FINALLY in our sights, we headed up yet another freaking hill. Danielle apparently still had life in her legs and took off ahead of Jan and I. Right then, I was reminded of the same situation at our very first 5K. I reminded Jan, "Six months ago today, you pushed me to the finish line at Fairview." It was then that I remembered how far I had really come. Not 13.1 miles, but six whole months of miles.

I started crying (again), as Jan, Danielle and I crossed the finish line hand in hand. And then I collapsed into tears as my sister hugged me and we all celebrated.

After that, it was a blur of medals, pictures, food, meeting up with my family and, of course, a delicious free beer.

FINISHERS! Jan, Danielle, Scott and me.

So I know what you might be thinking: what's next? Well, I sure as hell didn't train for and run a half marathon just to stop running. Kyle and I already have a few smaller races planned for November and December, and I am thinking of a 10-mile trail run just after Christmas (this is still up in the air). After that, I'd really like to pick another half marathon for the spring, but I don't know which one.

However, I do know one thing for sure: 13.1 was enough. Several people have asked me when I plan to take on a full, and the answer is NEVER. I can certainly work on getting faster at shorter distances, and I also would love to take on another obstacle race like the Warrior Dash. But running 26.2 miles has ZERO appeal to me, especially now that I barely finished the half distance.

But oh, how I love that word: FINISHED.


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