Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Brain Baker: The 2013 Cleveland Marathon - My Last

Running with Ladd at about half way               photo by Christine Ganz
It's twenty miles into the Cleveland Marathon, and I'm having a bit of an epiphany: I'm going to make it. My second thought comes in on the heels of that one: it's not going to be pretty.

My watch tells me that I made it to this point in 2:40:19; an eight minute per mile pace. Were I to continue at this pace, I'd finish the race in close to 3:30. 3:30 had been my goal all along, but at this point, I realize that that goal may as well be 2:41 as far as that's concerned. The relentless sun and heat had gotten to me, and I had already been slowing down slightly with every mile since eleven. After trying with all my might to make it at least to mile twenty as close as possible to my goal pace, I had done it, but I am thoroughly used up.

Now with just ten kilometers to go, I know that I can walk, if necessary, and still make it to the finish. And finishing is far more important than any particular time or place. As noted in an earlier post, this is the second time I will have completed my first hundred marathons. Not that I want to slow down; quite the opposite. I still want to run a decent time today, and I mostly want to get out of this sun and heat. But I'm experienced enough to see the writing on the wall: it's going to be a very long, hot six miles. I don't see how I can possibly avoid slowing down further.

The reason the main epiphany itself is so important, however, is because there had been times, especially recently, where the outcome had been still very much in doubt. Now it wasn't - I'd get there no matter what.

The day had started only a little more hopeful. It was already warm when I arrived downtown at 5:15 am. I met up with a gaggle of Medina County Road Runner club members for the annual group photo by the wind turbine. It was nice to see everyone. Then Ladd Clifford and I made our way through the crowded Browns stadium, over to the starting area. Once there, we met up with several additional friends and chatted away until the gun went off.

It was already quite warm and humid, but at least the sun was behind some clouds. Ladd and I had planned to go out with the 3:30 pace group and "see what happens". Ladd wanted to do 3:25, but I'd convinced him that negative splits were the way to go. "We can always pick it up after half-way and make it in 3:24." I said. He listened, but for some reason seemed a little dubious. Ladd and I had run good parts of the Cleveland Marathon together each of the past three years. It had worked out well for both of us, so why not do it again?

Naturally, once we started running, we forgot all about any and all plans, got well ahead of that 3:30 pace group and wound up on the heels of the next one, the 3:25 group. This felt fine at the time, but having gone out too fast for perhaps 85 out of my 99 previous marathons, I was a wee bit concerned.

I became a little more concerned when the sun came out to stay about an hour into the run. This is also about the point where there is no more shade on the course. At about mile eleven or so we approached the Lorain-Carnegie bridge and that 3:25 group got ahead of us to stay. It was simply too much work to try to keep up with them in the heat and the slight uphill grade of the bridge. Ladd didn't seem too concerned, and I was trying to enjoy the huge iconic statues on the bridge whilst huffing and puffing my way along.

We spotted a few friends cheering us on, and passed the half-way mark in 1:42:40. How's that for being on pace for a 3:25? But that heat was already beginning to take it's toll. I seemed to be working harder and harder. And now the pace would get even a little slower. By about mile 16, I told Ladd to go on; to not let me hold him back. He wasn't feeling his best either, but he did get ahead of me.

Will Bertemes was running with the 3:30 group as they came up from behind me. That's always discouraging to be passed by a pace group. I stayed with them and ran close to Will for a while, but they eventually left me behind. Scenic Rockefeller Park is always one of my favorite parts of the course. It's pretty and offers some much needed shade. Shade that had been missing for the past hour or so. It's also the location of the twenty mile mark. Around here I passed Ladd again. He was having some cramping problems. I also passed Larry Orwin, who was in exactly the same predicament. I was sad to think the these two guys were not going to make their time goals. I wished them luck for the remainder of their runs.

Not that I was going to make my own time goal. I knew there was absolutely no way that I was going to be able to continue at that eight minute pace, so I started thinking about trying to make it in 3:40. I'd have an hour to cover the final 10K. That would be quite doable, I thought. So long as I didn't stop and walk.

By mile 21, every muscle fiber in my body is telling me to stop and walk. But I know that if I do that, even my new modest time goal will be out the window. More importantly, stopping to walk will keep me out in this sun that much longer. There is simply no easy way out of this. The only direction is forward. Now that we're out of the park, that sun is back to doing it's job of killing me.

I pass Will and run by spectators Jeannine Nicholson, Lloyd Thomas, Vagn Steen and Kevin Jones. They all cheer me on, and Vagn even runs with me for a bit.

Miles 22-24 are a blur of heat and continuously slowing pace. I want to walk, I want to walk, I want to walk. But I don't. I have another epiphany: I may never have this feeling ever again. You know the one: the feeling that you're part of a death march in hell;  the feeling of being so hot that it seems as if your brain is baking. 'Brain Baker', in fact, seems to be a good term for this entire race. Especially for me, with my lack of attic insulation. In retrospect, I really don't know whether I'll have the feeling again, but it will be less likely, as I'm doing races of shorter duration than marathons.

Will passes me again. I spot Connie Gardner at mile 25 as she stops at the aid station. She had passed me, and now I am almost about to catch her again. I am on the other side of the road and don't  have the chance to say some stupid smart remark to get her mad at me, as I have been known to do. I don't have the energy to say anything anyway. As she starts up again, she gets ahead of me to stay.

I had been slowing more and more, and now only have eleven minutes to run the final 1.2 miles and finish in under 3:40. On any other day, a one mile run at nine minute pace would be a piece of cake. Today, I'm not so sure. I'm no longer sure why I thought that latest particular time goal was important anyway.

As I make the turn onto East Ninth Street, I feel an enormous sense of relief. Even though I still have 3/4 mile to go, it's nearly all downhill. I pick it up, nearly falling forward. I try to catch Connie and Will, but to no avail; they, and nearly everyone else around me is sprinting now too. I make the final turn and head for the finish. The official clock is ticking past 3:40, but my watch, started when I crossed the start line, is still in the 3:39's.

I can't possibly describe the relief it is to stop running. The heat had been almost unbearable. Even so, my body temperature must still be high. I'm guzzling water and not cooling down. I finally do as I'm driving home with the windows open.


The immediate results show me in fourth place in my ancient age group. Examining the data a little closer, it appears that they have both my gun time and chip time at 3:40:13. My chip time should be about 50 seconds faster, and this difference would put me in third place instead of fourth. I send a note to the Cleveland Marathon, and they do eventually correct my time, and now list me as third. Once again, I'm not entirely sure why any of this is significant. John Wooden, the basketball coach of the UCLA Bruins in the 1960's and 1970's was concerned about his team getting too full of themselves as they marched toward another NCAA championship. He told them, "Remember that there are 500 million Chinese who don't even know you are playing." I think about this whenever I'm tempted to take myself seriously.


So that's it. I'm done. With marathons, that is. And I'm not the least bit unhappy about it.
The whole gang before the start      Photo by Marsha Clifford 

To see a list of those hundred marathons, please click here.





1 comment:

Dan D. said...

Congrats on your finish and #100! What a journey! I suppose now there are billions of Chinese who don't know, but that is some accomplishment regardless.

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