Despite my frustration in my time (three minutes slower than my goal – what the…), check-off 2014 as another amazing Akron Marathon experience. I honestly could not speak more highly about this event. From the race expo, to the gear, to the course, to the crowd support, to the finisher’s party – this race is awesome. If you are looking for a full marathon experience in Northern Ohio – Akron is your race.
I cannot get over how perfect the weather was for race day. Of course the morning was a little chilly at 4AM, but we bought $2 sweatshirts at Goodwill to toss once we warmed up, which ended up being mile 1. By 10AM it was a beautiful 65 degrees and the sun was out. Some runners complained about the heat, but running in warm (even hot) weather is what I live for.
The first half of the race was a piece of cake. One of my best friends, Nicole, ran until mile 9 with me. We chatted and laughed and I didn’t even notice what mile we were at until I saw the mile 7 flag. She has had a series of running and crossfit injuries, so we decided she’d run the first two legs of the relay with me and then meet me at the final and fifth relay to run me into the finish line.
Mile 5 was one of my favorite marathon “moments” both last year and this year. As we turned down a road that faced east, you suddenly found yourself on a wide road with a beautiful view of the sun rising. It was gorgeous and there was an orange glow on everything. I wanted to take out my phone and snap a picture, but I didn’t want to fumble with my arm band. I reminded myself to soak in the moment of the race. Seeing the shadows of runners all around me, the sun shining brightly, hearing shoes hit the pavement, feeling the excitement of the race. A few days after the race I was excited to find a picture on Instagram of the exact same spot that another runner took during the race. The image below is by hdonze and sums up this part of the race.
Nicole jumped off at the relay at mile 9 and I had to have a mental pep talk with myself. This is what all those training runs were for. This moment right here was what I truly enjoyed. What I thought about all year. What inspired me…
We ran through the cheering students at the University of Akron and I picked up with a pace group running 10:07. This middle part of the race is usually where you start looking around and realizing you’re running with the same group of people, but no one is really together. In my head I refer to these people as “race characters”. (Am I the only runner who names the other runners around them? I think half the fun of long distance races is meeting and seeing other runners out there.)
• “Tough Mudder” a guy wearing a tough mudder shirt
• “Two camel back sisters” two women both wearing camel backs and looked like they could be related
• Two guys in black shirts that kept passing one another, but I think were running together (or at least trying to)
• A “rehab runner” which from conversations I heard, was an ex-drug addict who now runs instead of getting high – props to you girlfriend
• “Tattoo” which was a guy covered in military (maybe Marines) tattoos
• A girl running in a dress
• A mom who had really cute shoes on
I was doing great until we hit the tow path. I mentally tried preparing myself for this section of the race, considering it’s only like three miles, but it still felt like FOREVER. I tried slowing down to really enjoy the run and focus, but every time I tried to remember last year and thought “Yes this must be the end” it wasn’t the end. It just kept going. By the time I was officially about to go crazy (and get super claustrophobic), the path opened back up to the road and I saw the crowd. Thank God! By this time I had to pee pretty bad and I knew we still had a small climb to get to the relay 4 zone. Just as I turned my music on, I heard my mom and fiancé suddenly screaming at me. I looked over to see them and my heart leaped. Just what I needed! I waved like an idiot.
“How are you feeling?!” Screamed my mom.
“I have to pee so bad!” I screamed back and waved and smiled some more.
The exchange in relay 4 is exciting, but as soon as it’s over, it’s over. The park is then quiet and long. The road is big so you can spread out, but it almost seems to make it go more slowly. I remember fighting this same battle last year. Just keep moving. You’re fine. I knew there was a hill coming up called “Rally from the Valley” and I knew that once we hit 18.5 the course was going to turn fun again.
As I saw the giant hill approaching I also saw an open porta potty. I jumped at the opportunity and was in and out in less than 20 seconds. Just that brief break gave me the boost I needed and unlike in 2013, I ran the entire way up the hill without stopping! A nice man stood at the top screaming “Pump those arms! Let them pull you all the way up to the top! You got this!” which was just the encouragement I needed to keep moving. At the top of the hill was a marching band and twirlers and I grinned as I passed them. I saw mile 19 and knew I only had about 1.5 miles to go before Nicole joined me again. This part of the run is through a beautiful neighborhood and the street is lined with people and snacks and loud music. This is also one of the best places for signs. Once again I told myself to take in the moment of the race – the runners around me that I suddenly viewed as fellow comrades and not competition, the cheering families on the side of the road, the little kids holding out high-fives to runners, the roar of music, the signs for free beer and the aching I started to feel in my quads. I loved every minute of it. I felt alive.
At mile 20 I felt my eyes grow moist and I teared up for a brief moment when I saw the flag. My quads were sore. Very sore. I was also bored. I needed something to think about, so I looked for Nicole on the side of the road. Finally I saw her standing with my mom and fiancé. I once again waved like a crazy idiot. She fell into step with me and we continued running. Around mile 22 I asked Nicole to tell me a story. I asked her to talk to me about anything to keep my mind off my aching quads and also to keep my mind from screaming “STOP. I’m bored and your legs are tired!!” So we started talking about our weddings. Soon we were at mile 23. I took in another power gel and knew that we would soon be making a left turn and heading back towards the city, which is also one of my favorite parts of the race. I mentally tried to picture it, knowing that my mind needed to get in the right place if I was going to finish this thing. Before I knew it we turned and saw the street lined with people cheering. You could see tall buildings in the distance. I teared up again watching the mile 24 flag blowing in the wind. I was so emotional and tired. This part of the race was fun though. Nicole and I talked openly to other runners around us and to the amazing cheering supporters on the sidewalks.
“TWO MILES BAY-BAY!!” Shouted a tall black girl, holding up two fingers on each hand, “JUST TWO MILES GIRLS!!”
Nicole and I laughed. It was the boost I needed and I screamed “Wooo” at her in appreciation. I couldn’t believe the support from total strangers, a concept I completely love about marathons.
Nicole told me to pick it up a little as there was a slow incline and somehow I managed to pick up the pace. I was surprised at my body, but I have been doing HIIT two times a week for the last several months and I silently thanked myself for that. At mile 25 I felt the wheels starting to come off, but somehow managed to keep a decent pace. I was feeling 300% better at mile 25 this year compared to last year. We were so close to the finish line that I could hear “The Wobble” playing in the stadium speakers and I deliriously said “I want this song to play every hour on the hour at my wedding”. And Nicole just agreed “We can arrange that.”
The street was lined with people and the energy was intense. I knew that the best and most emotional part of the race was just head.
“Where’s 26!?” I screamed to Nicole.
“Four more stop lights girls!! Keep going!” shouted a guy on the sidewalk to us.
Nicole counted the stop lights one at a time (and they seemed to fly by). “I see it!!” I screamed as I saw a tucked away mile 26 flag. I was sprinting and fighting the urge to throw up. We went down a tiny hill and turned into the stadium. The light filled the finish line straight away and I sprinted into the stadium – dying, screaming and probably making the ugliest face ever.
I crossed the finish line and I stopped running for the first time in over 4 hours. We stood there catching our breath and smiling at the crowd.
I did it again! My second marathon. Twenty six point freaking two miles.
We began our zombie walk limp over to get our medals and the post-race food. I looked around and took in the sights and excitement of the stadium. Other runners flipping out over their accomplishment, the music booming over the speakers, people celebrating and high-fiving, the medals clanking on our necks.
Running a marathon is emotionally, mentally and physically exhausting, but it’s a feeling that is so unique, painful and wonderful that it somehow leaves you wanting more. Even as I stood at the finish line, my quads shaking, my muscles aching, and my body ready to throw itself on the floor, I still heard a voice in my head that said “I want to do that again.”