On Sunday I ran the Cleveland marathon, my first attempt at that distance. In short, I survived it reasonably well, finishing the race in 4:07, not far from my “A” goal of four hours. I finished the morning happy with the results of my training and under the impression that ratcheting up my performance the next time around (ahem!) will be quite feasible.
Supergolf slid into a probably-legal  street spot a bit after 6:00 for a 7-am start. There was still lots of close parking available; we camped out and watched a medium-sized downpour. (I must have been in a triathlon mindset where arriving an hour early is pushing it; setup here consisted only of pulling on runners and sauntering into the madding crowd.) 50F would have been about perfect without the rain, but I generate heat pretty well, so I stuck with my planned outfit: an ancient EMS tech T and my cheapo Adidas outlet-store shorts. This was the largest race mob I’ve encountered; the marathon and half-mary started together with about 6000 runners. I was surprised how quickly the herd spread out to leg-extending distance after the bell; it took me almost 3 minutes to reach the starting line, but was up to a full stride shortly thereafter.
The rain eased up after only a few minutes; as I recall, it was still sprinkling at the mile 2 water stop (enough for an easy joke about getting wet from careless cup-throwers), but not much thereafter. It remained pretty cloudy for 90 minutes or so, then ambient brightness increased slowly from there. The first couple of miles were downtown and semi-jovial; I passed lots of people (as usual, I started too far back) and trashbag-poncho-wearing wimps chatted while transforming their gladware into slippery road hazards. From downtown, the race continued onto the (closed to traffic!) Route 2 Shoreway, a stretch of elevated freeway with nice views of Lake Erie, the flats district and the Cuyahoga River. I don’t remember any of that; I do remember that the pavement was grooved parallel to my direction of travel (with approximately eight grooves per width of my left shoe), the painted lane markers were still slick from the moisture, and my passing-to-being-passed ratio was between six and seven. This is typical: miles 4-5 are difficult, then my legs would start to get into their long-run groove.
And, they did. By the time we came down from the highway, past Edgewater and into Lakewood I was in a running mood. I lived between 8:30 and 8:45 for the next several miles, passing a few more people, but I’d found about the right pace surroundings by this point. There was a good crowd gathered at and around the turnaround at W. 117th (we had run West from downtown, then went South a block and turned East to run along a parallel road back toward the city). I had been running with Nic until I took a short break for weight optimization near mile 5, but caught back up with him and Emily at about mile 9, as we approached the Detroit Rd. bridge back into downtown.
Somewhere amongst obsessively checking my Garmin for pace (and playing the game where I check my circulating O2 partial pressure by seeing how long it takes to calculate my average pace from total time and distance) during this interim, I thought about how much sexier my ankle muscles were than at the beginning of my training in January: another indication that my brain had switched from glucose as a fuel source to that funny steam coming up from vents in the street. I have put my ankles to good use, though: I’ve run about 350 miles so far in 2008 ; I wonder how much I’ve run in the first 27 years of my life combined? Anyway, I am probably in the best physical shape of my life, and like the idea that I still have lots of room for improvement.
Mile 10, right before the bridge: a small pep band. Blue marching uniforms, shiny Sousaphones, 4/4 arrangements of 70s pop tunes, oh my! They noticed one runner hollering a “Go Band! Yeah!” as we jogged by, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.
The half-marathon crowd started to speed up as they approached their turnoff; I sped up a bit, but mostly resisted the herd mentality and looked around for blue bibs to stick near. The trip through downtown was quick, and a few miles later I could see the familiar clock tower of the BRB. Around the art museum and botanical gardens, past CIM and onto MLK we went. MLK was closed to traffic as well (I wasn’t sure, since it has nice paths alongside); most of the street is well-shaded, but the open sections revealed that the sun had come out in full. I chatted with a group of first-timers also timidly still aiming for four hours for much of the MLK leg, and said hello to Janet, with whom I had the fortune of doing a training run a few weeks ago and who would have been far ahead of me under more favorable circumstances. I felt rather not-like-I-hit-a-wall through miles 18 and 19 and made the turn onto the lakeside running path back toward downtown.
At mile 20 I checked my watch for a finishing-time prediction: I had 10k left to run and was just over three hours. I think it took a good mile to synthesize a quotient, during which time I also decided that the likelihood of keeping up my 9-minute pace (9:05 average at the 30k mark) was quickly diminishing. I felt some of the 21-mile wall that marathoners describe, but also found that the headwind threw off my stride a bit. It was time for a few calories (my last 2 clif blocks; I chewed 2 at mile 8 and mile 15 as well) and a water stop. I wasn’t sure if Señor Asthma (my alveolae are Spanish) was bugging me or not, but an albuterol assault helped significantly. So, either I was having trouble or I have a great suggestion for next year’s Tour de France contestants.
[Photo: running back toward downtown, ca. mile 22]
Around mile 22 I walked through a water stop and saw someone quad-stretching by bending their knee and holding their foot up behind them. My oxygen-deprived cingulate cortex said “ooh, that would feel good!”, and before I could intervene my knee passed about 30 degrees of flex and instigated a hamstring cramp the size of, well, my hamstring. Given the options of starting to run again or fall to the ground crying, I elected the former; this worked well, as my the time I’d run through the cramp/pain, I had another mile under my belt.
From there on we were back in downtown. I caught up to Joe H., who also runs with the Lyndhurst Second Sole group and with whom I’d been exchanging cruise-control settings all morning; he was nice enough to wish me luck before taking off. I kept my slow jog until a short uphill near Browns stadium, which I walked, then picked up to “if I’d been running like this the whole time, I’d have finished before breakfast” pace for the last couple of miles through the crowd. The final quarter-mile or so was a straight stretch to the finishing arch; the gratuitously overamplified PA and cheering clumps of spectators or long-finished half-marathoners gave me plenty of energy for a final a tempo stride to the end.
[Photo: the home stretch]
[Photo: almost there]
And that was it . I grinned, I t
hink; it took a few seconds to realize I was in as much non-injury, exercise-induced pain as I’d even been in, but not so much that I minded or doubted for a moment that what I’d done was a bad idea. I clicked ‘stop’ on my watch, grabbed a water and a chocolate milk and wandered into the crowd.
 I worry too much; by 30 minutes later cars were parked in much less-legal spots all around us.
 For a better training summary, see my training summary graph. I aimed for a (increasingly-long) long run each week, which pops up above the cluster of midweek faster runs. I’ve apparently learned how to run faster as well: a linear fit to the pace for all of those runs reveals that I would have run 5.9 mph on New Years Day and am increasing by 0.006 mph per day. That underestimates my gains, of course, since I would run faster yet if eight miles was still my “long, slow” run, but gives me an excuse to use Excel for a blog post nonetheless.
 And, here’s the gmaps view of the course, as reported by my GPS track.