The Pro Football Hall of Fame Marathon in Canton, Ohio on Sunday, April 27th, 2014 was my eighth marathon in 22 months. And it would be my second serious attempt to qualify for the Boston Marathon after I came up seven minutes short at the Disney Marathon in January. I signed up for the marathon last month because I really wanted to support my local marathon, after the Canton Marathon disintegrated due to financial issues after its one and only June 2012 race.
To qualify for Boston, I would need a 3:15. But registrants are admitted into the race in the order they beat their qualifying time. In 2011, only those who beat the qualifying time by at least 1:14 were admitted. In 2012, all qualifiers got in. But in 2013, you had to beat the qualifying standard by 1:38 or faster to enter the race. I wanted to ensure I would get in by beating the qualifying time by five minutes. The goal was 3:10. If I failed to beat 3:15, I had no chance at Boston. I improved my chances by every second faster I got. If I got 3:10, I could register for Boston earlier than those who beat it by less than five minutes.
After taking two weeks off from running after the Dopey Challenge and the Disney World Marathon in early January, I had only 13 weeks to train, with the first 10 weeks being the most crucial. Ideally, you'd like a few weeks more. Several things did not go according to plan. The temperatures as you know were 20 degrees lower than normal. I had to run at times in zero degree temperatures, wearing a baklava mask, special thermal brief and four layers of shirts under a jacket. I failed to get enough rest, and got really fatigued in mid-March. After weeks of hitting my necessary paces, I failed to hit my planned pace on a couple of workout runs and could barely jog afterwards. To avoid overtraining, I had to take a day off on a Monday and the following Saturday and Sunday off, skipping a long 20-mile run. And then 23 days before the marathon, I developed pain in my right knee, which my sports therapist later believed was tendinitis of the hamstring where it attaches to the inner part of the knee. I took a Saturday off, took Advil and iced it and tried to run on it for a 21-mile run (6 mile warmup, 10 miles@7:15 a mile, 5 mile cooldown) exactly three weeks before the marathon.
The result was disastrous. As soon as I woke up from my nap after the run, my right knee was in serious pain when I walked. I immediately got a couple of sessions of sports therapy on it. But I had to take four days off, disrupting the rhythms of my taper which was supposed to start that week. On the Friday, I attempted to run four miles on it, and couldn't run faster than 10:40 a mile. On Saturday, I ran the 17.75K south of Washington DC at a decent pace and it felt much better. I ran 20 miles the next day on the second half of the course, 10 of the miles at 7:54 a mile but slowed down as it got dark and I didn't want to aggravate the knee. By Thursday, the pain was nearly all gone. But it re-emerged in a much milder form a week later on a 7-mile run and I was really worried it would play a factor in the race. It did not. But I started feeling something going on in the right knee area late in the race and it flared up a couple hours after the race as the knee stiffened. Now it's very painful to walk.
I slept about five hours before the race, which is more than I got before Chicago (three hours) or before Disney (two hours). I had four alarms set for 4:30 a.m. But it was my big black cat Lando's wailing which got me up at 3:51 a.m. I did a warm up jog outside, stretched, ate two bagels and three bananas, did a quick shower and put on my clothes. It took me forever to get ready. I didn't get to the Stark County Fair Grounds parking area until 6:20 a.m. after 15 minutes of sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. There was a huge line for the shuttle buses, but it moved quickly and by 6:45 a.m., 15 minutes before the start, I was at Fawcett Stadium. One awesome thing about this race, with the stadium restrooms open, there was no wait to use the toilets. I was able to use one just 10 minutes before start time. This might be the first race I didn't have a major bathroom issue before a race.
I then scampered past the Pro Football Hall of Fame to Corral A, quickly took off my throw-away clothes and placed them by a trailer, took an energy gel, drank some water, retied my shoes and turned on my GPS watch. I kept on the arm warmers and the "Runner Girl" knit gloves. After the quick national anthem, at 7:01 a.m., the gun sounded.
I wasn't really ready for it. I hesitated to cross the starting line for a moment and then ran straight across the mat about eight or nine seconds after the gun had sounded, starting my watch. My biggest concern the first mile which was mainly downhill was not going too fast. It seemed like everyone was going too fast. It was chilly. In the high 30s and sunny, and there were a lot of people running ahead of me. I knew I would eventually pass them. I had my virtual pacer set to 7:11 a mile, as miles as measured by a GPS watch tend to be a bit shorter than miles measured on a course. To get a 3:10, I would have to run 7:15 a mile.
I kept my eye on the pacer screen to make sure I wasn't going too fast. But before I knew it, the five second alert sounded, and I immediately slowed down. I could see the 3:05 pacer, a guy from Kalamazoo named Ken Brooks, just ahead of me. I passed the Mile 1 marker on Harrison and tapped the lap button on my Garmin. 7:09 it said. A little fast. But I didn't panic. We were going downhill.
We turned left from Harrison onto Fourth Street NW and crossed I-77 and took a right at Lincoln then left on Tuscarawas and then a right on Third Street SW. We passed the Mile 2 marker. My split was 7:21. Oops! Too slow -- for a downhill! I tried speeding up a tad, but that was the worst place to accelerate as we approached the first uphill stretch. I slowed again. We were looking into the rising sun. We passed the Ralph Regula Federal Building on our right, the first water stop and then Canton City Hall on our left before turning left onto Market Avenue N and Central Plaza. We passed the Stark County Common Pleas courthouse on our left and then passed the Mile 3 marker. 7:19 - That was a tad better, but not great. That was the second marker I'd missed the split. I knew the next mile would be the toughest of the first half, because we went up a lot in elevation on Market Avenue. It was at this point I shed the Runner Girl gloves, asking a spectator to dispose of them. At this time, I was still struggling to get settled in. My calves were slightly cramped, but I knew they would eventually soften due to the blood flow. I had chosen to run in cotton socks, as my calves tended to cramp when I tried the thin or thicker, spongier nylon, polyester socks.
We approached the first crest of the Market Avenue N hill and we went downhill before it would go uphill again. We turned left onto 25th Street NW, which goes uphill toward Malone University, as a group of people cheered for us.
"Come on Robert," a volunteer shouted. (Our first names are the prominent part of our bibs).
Another water stop. I slowed, grabbed a cup and then quickly took a swig out it and threw it onto the ground. Years ago, when we ran the one and only Canton Marathon, the course had gone right on Harvard and all the nuns in the House of Loreto came out to watch us. This time, instead of going right, we went left onto Harvard rather than going up to Malone. The original course had gone left onto 23rd Street, instead of 25th Street to avoid blocking people going to nearby churches. But I had complained that the bricks were too worn to climb when going up the hill. I don't know if it was my complaint, they changed the course.
We turned left onto Harvard and right on 23rd Street NW, where it was mainly a brick street. Some of the brick was worn, and I was very wary of twisting my ankle on an eroded patch. We passed Mile Marker 5 - 7:17. Because we had just gone uphill, I wasn't panicking, but my virtual pacer indicated I was 23 seconds behind pace. I knew I had plenty of time to make up the lost ground. The next few miles would be downhill.
We left the brick section, went up a hill. I passed an older gentleman while turning left onto Cleveland Avenue. There we were greeted by a pretty big cheering schedule. The next two miles, I was wondering if I was going too fast. I hit the Mile 6 marker near Kempthorn Motor at 7:08. I ran over the 10K timing mat about 90 seconds later at 45:19, or 7:19 a mile. (My all-out 10K at the Peachtree Road Race the previous July was 45:24).
Around 12th Street, where Cleveland Avenue became McKinley Avenue, I hit the 45 minute mark and I took an energy gel, throwing the empty gel onto the ground of the WKSU tent just south of 12th Street and got water from water stop. I then strained to stay on the tangent as McKinley Avenue went off in a different direction. I had thought from the certification map that we would have to turn right onto Fourth Street NW from a cone in the center of McKinley. I somehow never saw the cone, and turned right from McKinley, passing the Mile 7 marker, 7:09.
At this point, I was averaging 7:16 a mile. I was seven seconds behind in pace, but 3:10 was still in reach.
I went up a hill by Timken High School, crossed Fulton and then went downhill on Fourth Street right where a pack of dogs had chased after me more than three weeks before. This time no dogs. I turned right onto McGregor, went up a slight uphill, turned left onto Seventh Street NW and then right onto Monument Drive NW, a hilly street by a series of Canton parks with lots of potholes and cracks that inclines toward the right on the right side of the street and the left on the left side. I stayed on the right side. You probably noticed I haven't talked too much about the runners around me, as I tend to be in my own zone when racing. But there were plenty of half marathon runners around me. It wasn't a crowded race and congestion was rarely an issue.
We passed the Mile 8 marker just north of 12th Street NW as I was going up the hill. 7:14. I was still on track as I reaped the benefit of the downhill on Fourth Street NW. But between here and the end, each successive uphill section just killed my pace.
I continued up the hill, confused whether the tangent line went along the street's right side or left side. After half a mile, I had to go to the left side to get water from the water stop. I then went down the center line, leaning toward the left and then aimed for the right side for the turn up a steep embankment to Fulton. I slowed down, tailing this guy wearing a half marathoner shirt. Then turned left onto Fulton. It was difficult to run on the tangent line and there were several patches of potholes. But the steep climb toward Fulton cost more more time than I realized as we passed Mile 9 marker: 7:29. "Oh oh! I thought.
I tried to speed up. We made the left turn onto Stadium Park Drive NW into Stadium Park, right by the Pro Football Hall of Fame we had started from. Several people were cheering for us on both sides of the street. We ran over a timing mat where a photographer was stationed on a platform over the course. I wasn't really in a mood to give a big smile. There were several runners ahead of me. I was trying to focus on running the tangents of Stadium Park, which winds back and forth south. This stretch is relatively flat. I passed the 10-mile marker. 7:15. 16.2 miles to go. I was still on pace, but I was getting mentally tired. Could I keep this up? It was after this point that my Plan A of beating 3:10 started unraveling.
We went uphill slightly, crossed 12th Street NW, and then went downhill. Stadium Park then winds left and then right. I tried to stay on the tangent line which curled onto the right side of the street. But the water stop was on the left side. I gritted my teeth in frustration and had to veer left to get water and then back right back to the tangent line. Then came a steep, but short uphill section under some trees. We then had to go right toward the McKinley Monument (officially the McKinley National Memorial where President William McKinley, who was assassinated in 1901, and his wife, are entombed. We then curled around toward the McKinley Museum and then quickly turned left, now going downhill. I made a mistake going onto the right side, forgetting that the road curves left. I had to correct myself, adding some distance to my run. Then I turned to the right and started making the ascent on the hill of Seventh Street NW. This is where I remember switching places a couple of times with a local runner named Michael Green, who was doing the half marathon. The hill took its toll. I passed the Mile 11 marker. 7:25. "Oh crap!" I thought.
We then turned left onto Lincoln, which goes slightly downhill as I tried to speed up to make up for the loss in time. But then we turned right to go back the way we came onto Fourth Street NW. I had to climb uphill toward the bridge over I-77, cross the highway and then turn right back onto Harrison Avenue. We had enjoyed going downhill Harrison the first mile of the course. Now, we had to pay for it. In addition, with the open highway, there was nothing to shelter us from the cold headwind of about 8 to 10 miles per hour. I took the right to avoid going on Lake Boulevard. For the half marathoners, we were approaching their final mile. I passed the Mile 12 marker - 7:28. I knew I was losing the pace. But I felt there was little I could do about it. With 14.2 miles to go, I didn't feel confident enough to accelerate while going uphill.
We crossed 13th Street NW and had to go up another steep incline. We were passing Don Scott field of McKinley High School on the left. My 1:30 alert went off. I took my second Honey Stinger energy gel out of my belt pouch and squeezed the honey into my mouth and threw the packet onto the ground by a volunteer, asking her to please throw it out. It was at 17th Street and Harrison that the approximately 600 marathoners went left onto 17th Street and the approximately 2,300 half marathoners went straight on Harrison. Volunteers were directing us to go left onto 17th. (The two leaders of the half marathon had gone the wrong way on 17th Street before realizing their mistake but still won the race).
I hit the 20K timing mat at 1:31:02. The second 10K, I ran it in 45:43 or 7:22 a mile. We went west on 17th Street, which slightly goes uphill past the high school. I read later in the Cantonrep website that a sheriff's cruiser was blaring music. I don't remember. I turned left onto Clarendon Avenue, tried to avoid the patches of potholes and moved along the tangent to the right side and turned right after a block on Helen Place. I then shed my arm warmers asking a spectator to take care of them. Helen goes uphill. I knew I was about to hit the halfway point but would miss my planned split of 1:35.
I turned left onto Broad Avenue, trying to dodge some uneven pavement.
All those uphills took their toll. When I hit the Mile 13 marker, my watch said 7:33, or about 1:35:17, I knew I would have a tough time beating 3:10. It was still possible. But I would have to negative split the course. In other words, run the second half faster than the first half. I had done it in the Chicago Marathon in October running a first half of 1:40:40 and the second half in 1:38:45. But the Chicago course was much flatter, there were several hills coming up, and I wasn't feel as good at the halfway point of this one as I did in Chicago.
I looked at my watch as I crossed the Mile 13.1 mark. 1:36:00 on the dot. I was a minute behind pace. I had my work cut out for me. My half marathon PR by the way is 1:35:22 set in August.
I then went downhill, passing Lehman Middle School on my left and crossed 13th Street NW. Then I had to go uphill on Broad Avenue. I ran along the center of the road, unsure where the tangent line actually was, because the certification map indicated there would be a cone in the middle of the intersection with Tuscarawas Street. I somehow missed seeing the Mile 14 marker on Broad Avenue. And I saw no cone on Tuscarawas. I made the turn right onto Tuscarawas and went into the left lane, so I could catch the turn left onto Maryland. I think a police officer was trying to encourage us.
It was on Maryland that I realized my watch said 1:45. It had been nine minute since the halfway point. I had missed the Mile 14 marker. I tried to avoid being rattled. I grabbed water at a water stop on Maryland. (The water stops were almost always located a half mile after even-numbered mile markers and sometimes odd-numbered mile markers). We were going up the right-hand lane as Maryland has a grassy median in the middle.
I turned right onto 13th Street SW, passing the Mile 15 marker. The split was 14:29. Or about 7:15 a mile. I hadn't gained any ground. But I hadn't lose any either. But then I had to go uphill on 13th Street up to Raff Road - going west toward Perry Township. At Raff, police officers were trying to allow vehicles to cross intersections before I crossed. I crossed and the road finally flattened out. On 13th Street SW, the water stop was on the right stop, but the volunteers were so far out onto the street, it pushed me off the tangent line. I passed the 25 kilometer marker near Whipple Avenue, crossing into Perry Township from Canton. After a block, I turned right onto Delverne Avenue NW and passed the Mile 16 marker. My watch split said 7:22.
It was at this point that I began letting go of 3:10. I was continuing to lose ground. I would have to run 7:08-7:10 miles the rest of the way, and with 10.2 miles to go, I didn't think I could do it. I began thinking of settling for beating 7:15 and having some chance at Boston. It was at this point on Delverne that I passed two men, literally running between them as we ran against the wind. They were talking about slowing down.
Ahead of me by about 15 to 20 seconds, I could see a tall dark-haired woman running ahead of me. I found out later it was Michele Sollenberger, 51, of Akron, long dark haired woman with dark or blue shorts. For much of the next eight miles, I could see her way off in front in the distance. We made the turn left onto 7th Street SW. Here the route weaves north, south, west and then north, west, south again through a pretty flat neighborhood.
I had to look out for a patch of rocks and potholes on the street. We then made a quick turn left onto Delverne. The tangent line aimed right. Of course, the water stop was on the left. With the street being very wide, that meant expending energy to veer left and then veer right. I wonder if all this veering added a quarter mile at least to the distance. We returned to 13th Street SW, turned right, passed Manor Avenue which was coned off and then turned right onto Ellwood Street. We passed the Mile 17 marker. 9.2 miles left. The split was 7:26. We had just run a flat mile albeit with some wind and I had a 7:21. It was at this point that I knew 3:10 was out of reach. Instead of having the chance to register earlier, I would be fighting just to merely qualify for Boston and have a chance during that anxious week in September when everyone enters and then gets ranked by time, with no idea how fast is good enough to get in.
We went north on Ellwood, turned left again on Seventh Street NW, turned left to go south on Miles Avenue all the way toward 15th Street SW. I tried to speed up. (The original course would have gone south on Fairlane to 15th Street but there was a hill there, and the course change spared us the hill). Some residents were sitting on lawn chairs watching. The race organizers had hoped that a lot of people in these neighborhoods would gather outside and cheer us on. Some definitely did, and I'm grateful for that, but there was not the crowd turnout as originally envisioned. It was more peaceful.
We made the turn right onto 15th Street SW and then right onto Western Avenue SW. I saw the 18-mile marker ahead. The split was 7:26. "I'm fading," I thought. I was shifting toward 3:15 and the line between a chance at Hopkinton, where the Boston Marathon starts, and staying home next April.
We turned left onto 13th Street SW. For some reason, the other runners were running on the right side. I stayed on the left side, on the tangent line. We went up a hill and then turned left onto Bergold before making a right onto 15th Street SW. Here the tangent line is on the right, but the water stop was far on the left and a port-o-potty was on the right. I tried to contain the feeling of frustration as this constant veering off the tangent line was disrupting my rhythm. (To be fair, not clear if a property owner wouldn't allow a water stop on their property). I went left to get water and continued.
I crossed the 30K mat and another photographer. My 30K time was 2:16:33. The last 10K I had run 45:31 or averaged 7:19 a mile. Slightly better than the second 10K. "Twelve kilometers to go," I thought. I made the right turn onto Brooklyn. The road went uphill toward 13th Street SW where I made a left turn. I knew the tough part was coming up, as I tried to dodge the patched potholes on the left side of the road.
We crossed Perry Drive and start making our way uphill toward Perry High School. I realized, I had failed to take my third energy gel as scheduled three minutes ago. I took the third gel out and squeezed the energy-giving honey into my mouth and swallowed and took a swig of water out of my bottle. Volunteers were handing out gels and I threw the packet at a volunteer's feet and asked him to throw it out, seeking to stay on the left side on the tangent line. I passed the 19 mile marker. My watch said 7:14. I had some hope.
Thirteenth Street continued to climb. I eventually reached a water stop on the left just before the high school where the employees of Second Sole, the specialty's runner's store. The store employs runners who are among the best in the nation. I grabbed a cup of water from Bob Fay, a young, tall man in his early 20s who's sold me many pairs of shoes the past two years. Molly, a 26-year-old runner who had run 3:03 at the Boston Marathon six days earlier said she called my name. I was so out of it I didn't hear her. I learned later that the employees were trying to figure out what was that mysterious red stain on the back of my shirt. I had no idea it was there.
I continued to run west on 13th Street, staying just to the right of the shoulder line. Then we turned left to run onto the Perry High School drive loop. Originally, the loop hadn't been on the course, but they added it so the course would make the distance. The problem is not only do you have to run down the loop toward the high school entrance, you have to run uphill to get back to 13th Street SW. Some students were cheering for us. On the left, they had constructed a makeshift wall to symbolize the wall we were all going to be hitting.
I struggled up to return to 13th Street SW. We made a quick left and then a quick right onto Wrexham. We crossed the 20 mile marker. My watch said 7:40. "Oh s--t!" I thought. The wheels were coming off. I could see Michele up ahead with some male runners farther ahead than ever. Any more splits like those and Scooby, the 3:15 pacer who can run a 2:44 marathon from Austintown would be catching up to me. I had met him Saturday afternoon at the pasta dinner at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. When he told me he was the 3:15 pacer, I realized that effectively he was my Balloon Lady. If he passed me, it was Mission Failure.
I remembered my first marathon when I left the 4:30 pace team at Mile 5 only to have the 4:30 pacer, an outgoing woman named Krista catch up to me at Mile 20. It was the most humiliating and despairing moments of my life. At the Disney World Marathon in January, I had started fading from a 7:40 pace to an 8:10-8:25 pace from Mile 20 through Mile 24 but just getting things back together to accelerate to 7:30 a mile and fending off the 3:25 pacer who nearly passed me at the 24 mile marker on the boardwalk to Epcot. I finished in 3:22:11.
I felt I couldn't go any faster. Yet I didn't feel I was hitting a wall or that my glycogen stores had run out. I had carboloaded heavily the prior three days. Eating pasta or bread often as soon as my stomach made room for it.
Mile 21 to 26.2
We went east on Tuscarawas Street W, passing several police cars that were blocking traffic. I ran on the left side by the cones. I thought what would happen if a motorist swerved out of control in the other lane striking me. But at least the fricking marathon would be over. We went up a hill. Then down a hill. There was a water stop on the right. I slowed for the water. Then made the transition to the right side to catch the tangent line by an OfficeMax. I was only able to preview run this stretch of Tuscarawas once in April as the busy traffic and lack of sidewalks make running here when the road isn't closed very dangerous. We made the right uphill on Sippo. I passed the Mile 21 marker. The split was 7:29. That was better than 7:40. But I had surrendered another three seconds to Scooby, the 3:15 pacer to catch up.
We then made a left onto 12th Street SW. I knew the tough part was coming up. This was the last downhill portion for a while.
We crossed Perry Drive again. Made a left onto Saratoga. And then faced a bitch of a hill going up Saratoga. It was here that Hannah Alderfer, a 23-year-old woman from Dover who works at Concorde Therapy, passed me. She had pursued a negative split strategy, which worked very successfully for her. She was going about 7:31 the first 10K but then accelerating to 7:28 a mile after 20 kilometers and then 7:24 after that but then she poured on the jets and speeded up to 7:17 a mile. Going about 7:30-7:40 a mile, I could only just passively watch her run by.
We crossed Tuscarawas Street W and continued north on Saratoga. Alderfer shot by Michele and some faltering male runners and turned right onto Aurora in the distance. I never saw her again. I would finish 1:47 behind her. Saratoga has a lot of potholes. I veered right and made the right turn onto Aurora Drive. Now it would be hell.
We went up a steep uphill before crossing the 22-mile marker. This was the pinnacle of despair. The split was 7:38. Scooby had gained 12 seconds on me the last mile. If this continued, Boston was done. We crossed Woodlawn going slightly uphill. And then veered right to curve around toward the back of the Fisher Foods and Whipple Avenue. I knew there were several hills coming up. As we approached Whipple, I was trying to speed up but felt something was holding me back. I saw police cruisers up ahead as police officers were directing traffic on Whipple. I struggled to find the path through the cones and crossed Whipple back into Canton and ran through as cars stopped to my left and my right. We were going by the back of the shopping plaza with the Chinese buffet. Another uphill, and I was on Valley View and Aurora was over with the post office to our right.
Valley View goes uphill slightly. The Mile 23 marker was at the end of Valley View. 7:28 - better. But another two seconds awarded to Scooby. Somehow I had to get things together. Boston was slipping out of my grasp, slowly but surely with more uphills to go. I tried pushing just a little bit more. I realized that my right knee, which had been largely cooperative, was now aching. My calves burned with the constant pounding. "Only 3.2 miles to go," I thought. "Come on, only 3.2 miles to go. Just a little jog." It was only three miles. A little run to Everhard from my home and back. But mentally, it felt like 10 miles. We went uphill several blocks past Harter School. Several of the streets crossing Third Street were brick and the brick was deteriorating resulting in uneven pavement that could snare an ankle. I gingerly stepped over the brick. There might have been a water stop. I don't remember. It wasn't until after Harter that we got a gradual downhill toward Wertz.
Ahead, I could see I was reeling Michele in. She was faltering. So were some other runners. Third Street NW inclines a bit to the left, increasing the strain to stay on it. We turned to the left on Wertz. The 24 mile marker was a few hundred feet ahead. To our left, were the Stark County Fairgrounds where we had all parked our cars. I'm sure several people thought about going to their cars instead of the finish line at this point.
It was at the 24 mile marker that I passed Michelle. "Good job," she said to me. She would finish 36 seconds behind me and win her age group. I grunted thankfully in response as I could barely speak. There was a man walking right in front of me. I had to veer around him. The mile split was 7:25. I had gained a second on Scooby.
I knew at this point that Boston could be decided. It wasn't enough just to barely beat 3:15. Given the pattern of the last year, to have a decent chance of getting into the race I needed some pad time faster than this to give me a chance. How fast I ran these last 2.2 miles would decide how much pad I would have. I knew 3:10 was well out the window. But I had to run these last couple of miles as fast as I could. I might never have this chance again. A lot of people I had met through the Dopey Challenge group were no doubt following my progress. Through me, they saw a chance that they themselves might qualify for Boston. I couldn't let them or myself down. Plan A had failed. But I could salvage Plan B. I knew if I could get to the Mile 25 marker with a time of 3:05 or better, I had a chance. But it would not be easy. Most of the remaining course through Canton Township and Plain Township went uphill over a course of several hills followed with a downhill finish. The last uphill ascended to Fire Station #3 in Plain Township and then it was all downhill from there (until the rise before the Fawcett Stadium finish).
I was doing what I could to keep the negative thoughts out of my head. I can do it, I thought. I haven't hit the wall. My times did fade a bit but not spectacularly. I was pushing myself going north on Wertz trying to dodge the patched potholes. I was afraid my right calf muscle would pop. Just a couple more miles. Hang in there for a couple more miles. I could see myself approaching the turn to the left toward the intersection of 13th Street. It was sunny and still cool.
I crossed 13th Street and hit an intimidating uphill. There were five blocks, six blocks until the right turn onto 16th Street NW. I pushed and pushed. People who had finished the half, their finishers blankets wrapped around them were walking back to their cars. A group of three women were in my way. I kept running at them and they scattered. I saw 15th Street. Two more blocks. Then one more block. Then the turn right onto 16th Street. People were there cheering, urging me on.
The street went gradually up the hill and then steeply. I could see the traffic on Broad. I reached the Mile 25 marker at Broad. My split: 7:17. I didn't even look at my Garmin. I looked at the mile marker clock. It said 3:04:00. (My chip time was 8-9 seconds behind the clock, but I forgot that). The train was leaving for Boston, and I had about 10 minutes to catch it. 1.2 miles to go.
I started north on Broad, which would go uphill, downhill a bit then uphill a bit again. On the left, half marathon finishers were walking south on Broad. I passed Sal Hernandez, 55, of North Canton who had slowed down and would win his age group. He urged me on. I was going up and up. I dodged these group of girls - half marathon finishers. on the road running along the center line of Broad, struggling up that hill. I could see Fulton in the distance. It seemed so far away. I saw police cruisers on the side of the road. I saw the sign for 20th Street. Five block. Then the sign for 21st Street. Four blocks. "Where are you 25th Street?" I thought. "Where are you?"
There it was. I turned right onto 25th Street. Last hill. A young man was walking toward me on my right side. I was going to run right into him. He quickly got of the way. There were firefighters and paramedics at Fire Station #3 on the left, watching (in case I or other runners collapsed). Up. Up. Up. Then I got over the crest and pushed my way down. Right on Clarendon. More half marathon finishers walking back to their cars, some cheering me on. Left on Woodward. Quick right on Blake. I didn't even look at my watch. I knew not that much time was left. I turned right on Barr. The Mile 26 marker. I didn't look at the split. (It was 7:08). I dashed south on Barr. People may have been rooting for me. I couldn't hear them. I saw a volunteer in the distance. He directed me toward the right. I sped by him toward the gate of Fawcett Stadium. I knew any possible window was closing. A volunteer pointed me to run on the right-hand lane, for the full marathoners. I felt my grass hit the artificial turf of the stadium. The announcer was calling my name. I turned to the left, saw the finish line on the 50-yard line. The clock said 3:12:47. Some people were cheering and crossed the line and stopped my watch.
I looked at my watch. I couldn't believe it. 3:12:40. (I ran that last 0.2 miles in 1:28). I had held on to beat Scooby. I was hobbling. My calves were screaming. I tried to move forward. A volunteer asked if I was OK. "I'm Ok," I said. A volunteer handed me my medal and I passively accepted it and hobbled my way forward. Someone else put the fleece finisher's blanket on me that I had seen on the people returning to their cars.
I hadn't guaranteed a spot. But technically I was a Boston qualifier. In June 2012, when I struggled to finish my first marathon at Fawcett Stadium in 4:49:48, this outcome was unimaginable.
I forgot that my result had been instantly beamed to my Facebook page and dozens of Facebook friends were congratulating me. I got a picture taken of me and grabbed water, a banana and a Subway sandwich. I checked my phone, which had been on my water belt the entire time. The result had been texted to my phone, making it more real to me. In a race with 593 finishers, I was 36th place, the 30th male and 9th in my age group and gender.
Naomi and Kisha, two women I had met at the Tilted Kilt on Friday night, had promised to wait for me. They had run the half marathon and finished about 20 minutes before. They were there as promised and demanded a picture which I happily obliged. A police officer snapped it for us.
Part of me was happy I had BQed. But part of me was disappointed that I had fallen short of 3:10.
By this point, I could barely walk. I went to the medical tent, where a therapist used a stick on my calves as I lay on my stomach on a bench. I winched and screamed in pain as he worked the calves really good. "I'm going to have to be mean," he told me. Later, I sat with ice bandaged around my calves. It was then that Megan Smith, my Dopey Challenge from the Florida Keys called to congratulate me. Her sister Crystal Campbell in Tampa texted me. I looked on my Facebook app notifications page. It was filled with 70 notifications. Sue Lawrence, a Dopey friend, was posting that she was just in tears. Amy Shapiro was leading a mass congratulations thread. Someone else posted my time and splits on the Dopey Challenge Facebook page. My boss tweeted that I had qualified for Boston. Even now, it's tough to imagine how much how I did meant to other people.
I hung out at the stadium a while, nearly freezing in the chilly air. Thank God, I gear checked some warm clothes. It was a struggle to walk up a hill to get to the shuttle bus and get back to my car. I went to Bombay Sitar for a buffet Indian lunch and ate alone while reading all the Facebook messages on my phone. After sitting down for an hour, the right knee stiffened and now it hurts worse than the calves. I didn't have time to go to the post-race party at Jurzee's Sports Bar. I went instead to Second Sole to chat with Nik Schweikert and Molly about Nik taking the wrong turn at the end of the half, which he won anyway in 1:10. And I had to put up with Molly theorizing falsely that the stain on the back of my shirt was due to a third nipple on my back. Silly girl! I don't know if I'll ever catch up to her though.
I've been very fortunate in life. I've had a lot of awful disappointments and things not go my way. But I've been very lucky with the things I've been given in life. The time you run in a race is not the most important thing in life. But it's an inspiring benchmark of an accomplishment you once never would have possibly imagined.