The race that haunted my dreams has come and gone, and I’m thankful for that.
I got to my hotel after 11pm Friday night exhausted after 8 hours of wedding fun in Westlake. I was ready to shower, take some Tylenol to easy the soreness in my legs and crash. After I laid out all my clothes and stuff for the next day, I showered and got into bed.
The reason I got a hotel room in Akron is so I could get a few more hours of sleep and be super close to the start line in the morning. Sleep a couple block from the start line, I STILL had a dream that night that I could not make it to the start line on time. Really? The night before the race I am having this dream? You’ve got to be kidding me. Now, Akron has always confused me. For the past three years that I’ve gone to Akron, I always get turned around when traveling south on 77 and come across that blasted interchange. I never seem to know north from south, east from west. That city tricks me every time. I wake up with my alarm at 5am to get ready so I could be on time to meet Jenine close to the start line. I braid my hair, do some early, pre-raec tweets to fellow #dirtyrunners who are also running Akron and pump myself up with some music from Pandora. I head out of the hotel at about 5:50 and head down to the start line. There are a couple of other runners from my hotel who are also heading to the start line. I start to see more people the further down the street I walk. I know I need to get to Broadway where the start line was. So, thinking I know which way I need to go, I turn and start walking in the way I THINK Broadway is. As I’m walking, I’m passing other runners going in the opposite direction. I think that they are part of a relay team and walking towards their relay point. I have my phone out and Google Maps pulled up tracking to make sure I’m going the right direction. The further I walk, the more people are passing me. At this point I am getting really confused and frustrated. I stop, look at the buildings around me and realize that none of them look familiar in relation to where I should be. So, I turn around and start re-tracing my steps. Then I see this sign on the sidewalk that points to the direction of different locations including the start line. Yup, going the wrong direction. My dream almost came true! I feel like this city has it out for me. As I’m walking, in the correct direction, to the start line and I’m telling myself you will not let this city get you, you will make this city your bitch!
Once I turn on Broadway, I see the start line sign lit up and start getting really exited for this race as runners are already lining the sidewalks and freckling the start corrals.
I meet up with Jenine at our designated meet up spot. We chat, use the restroom and drop my gear bag off at the drop off spot. As the clock ticks closer to 7am, we head towards our spots in the start corral.
We wish each other luck, hug and go our separate ways. I make my way to University to take my place near the 4:40 marathon pace group (10:18/mile). I figure that this would be a good group to stick near since attempting to PR this race would be nice, but nothing I expected. After all the pre-race ceremonial stuff, they rang the bells and the race began. It took about 5 minutes before I crossed the start line and was running down Broadway towards the Y-bridge.
The weather was perfect- 58 degrees and overcast. I kept a good pace and close with the pace group I started with. I began to notice that there were lots of people participating in the marathon relay. I knew the relay was popular, but the amount of people running it was crazy. I knew that the Akron course was hilly, but we really didn’t hit one until mile three. It was the first of many that would challenge my legs throughout the course. I chugged along up the first hill like a champ, remembering that I was out to make Akron my bitch. One would think that after you went up hill, the downhill would soon follow. Not so much. Akron is a lot of uphill with a flat plateau, followed by another hill. The first relay exchange point was around mile 3.5. The exchange area was really nice because they had all the relay runners go to one side of the street and half/full marathoners go on the other side of the street so there wasn’t a traffic jam. I soon realized after this first relay exchange point, I would soon come to despise these relay runners down the road. It was so annoying pushing myself up these hills as my knees and quads were screaming at me, especially around miles 8 and 9, when these relay runners would pass me with fresh legs and not being tired.
One personal goal I had for myself was to push myself to run as much as possible and really try to limit my walking to through water stations and when it felt absolutely necessary. This actually was not as hard as I thought it would be since I was constantly surrounded by people and kept pushing myself to keep shuffling along even when I wanted to walk. Especially during the hills. I kept thinking to myself “why isn’t Akron flat?” At one point along Firestone Blvd near Firestone Stadium approaching a pretty big hill, I actually said this out loud as I was running between two men. The one guy, who was running the full, said that he was waiting for the downhill, but said I looked strong running up the hill we were tackling. Nothing like a boost of confidence to fuel me to keep going. That hill was the hardest because it was a slow, gradual incline and my legs felt toast afterwards. But I kept on going and pulled out some Gu to suck down.
After the 10k point, the miles just seemed to tick by. The people of Akron were great and came out to support everyone. The first time someone called out my name I almost stopped in my tracks. It caught me off guard and caused me to turn and look. Then I remembered that my name was on my bib (duh!). But thats definitely the best thing during big races like this since I didn’t know anyone standing along the course, but hearing your name called out is definitely encouraging. As we got closer to downtown again and ran part through the University of Akron, I was a feeling a little fatigued, but mentally, I felt strong. I knew that these last three miles of the half are always the toughest and seem to drag on, but I can do this. We ran down University and made a right onto Broadway, running through the start line area again. Instead of running back over the Y-bridge, we made a left turn to a welcomed downhill stretch (thank you God!). I had run this stretch before about a month before when I did a 12-mile run with NEOFit. We past mile 12 marker with a steep downhill run. I was so thankful that we would not be running back up that hill since it was a monster and I didn’t know if running up even a quarter of it would be possible. After the downhill, the course made a left-hand turn towards the towpath. This is where we said goodbye to the marathoners and relay teams as they headed south and us halfers turned north on the towpath to head back towards Canal Park. I knew this part of the towpath a monster hill, but I NO idea is would be a mountain. After we crossed a covered bridge, we turned a corner and there was a yellow sign that said “5% grade”. I tried my best to shuffle along as best I could, but this hill would be the only one I couldn’t pound down. I pumped my arms and power walked up this crazy hill. I was not alone as other runners were doing the same. There were signs along this hill with quotes and words of encouragement for us during this hard point of the course. I read each one, smiled and pushed on. One sign read, “This seemed like a good idea 16 weeks ago.” and I literally laughed out loud. I then thought to myself, “yeah, probably for those who this is their first half, but this ain’t my first rodeo.” That little mantra helped me switch between walking and running the rest of the way to the end of the towpath and back onto the roads of downtown.
Of course, the last mile feels like the longest mile EVER! An older woman even asked me why the final mile feels like it takes forever to get over with. I quickly replied, its all mental and pushed ahead. As I approached Canal Park, the crowds along the sidewalks were thicker and their loud cheers helped me push through the pain and into the park. The straightaway towards the finish line in the park was covered in some weird canvas tarp to cover and protect the turf of the field. It was uneven and made me a little uneasy about breaking into a full out sprint towards the finish line. I approached the finish line, threw my hands up pointing to the clock as I finished in 2:26 by the clock, and 2:21 with chip time.
No PR on this dance, but I conquered a tough, hilly course and was victorious on how mentally strong I felt through the race. I thought back to how I felt as I split off from the marathoners. In a little more than a month’s time, I will be making that journey. Making the journey of 26.2 miles with 40,000 strangers all working towards the same goal-to earn the title of marathoner. I am so glad there isn’t multiple races during my marathon.
After I received my medal, heat blanket, got my photo taken and food, I met up with Jenine and Bill. After sitting down for a few, replying to texts, tweets and Facebook comments, I made my way out of the park to head back to the hotel and shower.
I don’t know if the Akron half will be on my race schedule next year. I’d really like to do the marathon relay with a group of friends just to experience something different from a race standpoint.
33 days and counting until 26.2 in the Nation’s capitol!
<i> I have added purpose to my running. I am running to raise money for MS. I am a quarter of a way to my goal. Please help me Outrun MS and raise $500 before Oct. 30. Please visit my page and donate to such a great cause! </i>