I flew back home to Ohio to run the Cleveland marathon, which was a total win-win situation for me because 1. my parents live just outside of Cleveland and 2. this race was #25 on Operation Jack‘s list of 60 marathons this year. From the beginning of the year, I knew I wanted to run at least one marathon with Operation Jack and raise money for this awesome charity.
I arrived in Ohio on Friday afternoon and enjoyed relaxing at home, seeing my parents, grandma, and brother. On Saturday, my brother and I drove into the city and went to the expo. There, we met up with The Man himself (Sam) from Operation Jack. United had temporarily lost his bag (including running shoes and clothes) but he was in good spirits and we had a fun time wandering the expo.
On race day morning, my family and I woke up bright and early and got to the race early to meet up with Sam again. We took a quick picture and went our separate ways at the start (because this guy is way fast).
My bro and I wandered our way through the crowd at the start, and found ourselves standing right near the 3:40 pace group. I remember looking at the pacer and the girls my age next to him and thinking in awe “wow, those girls are gonna qualify for Boston…” and then thinking “what the heck am I doing standing this far up?!”
My secret goal time for the marathon was anything under 4:20. I knew I’d be ecstatic if I broke 4, but I didn’t want to put that kind of pressure on myself.
The start was packed but full of positive energy and the announcers were a lot of fun, getting the runners all pumped up.
Next thing I knew, we were off! My bro and I agreed to run the first 3 miles together, so when we passed the first port-o-potties at mile 1 and he wanted a quick pit stop, I stopped with him. I figured, hey what the heck, I can stop for a minute or two! About 2 minutes later, we were running again and passed the 2 mile around 19ish minutes.
We got back in our groove and comfortably ran through the 3 mile around 28 minutes. I don’t have a Garmin but I figured we were going about a 9 min/mile pace, which I was comfortable running but I didn’t want to start too fast (and I had no idea how my ITB/knee was going to hold up), so I told my speedier brother it was okay, he could take off and run his own thing. We high-fived, he wished me luck, and he took off!
Around mile 6 or so, I started feeling my knee. It wasn’t a sharp pain like it used to be, but it was dull and present. Nothin’ to break my stride or happy spirits! The positive energy from all of the spectators was absolutely amazing and I clicked off the miles with a huge smile on my face. The weather was perfect (mid 50s, sunny, a little cloud coverage) and I was just SO happy that my ITB wasn’t hurting that much! My mom and family friend, Pat, were cheering at mile 8 and it was awesome seeing them there :)
We ran through the west side of Cleveland first, through a few parks and tons of fun spectators. Bands were playing loud drums, cheerleaders were chanting, little kids were holding their hands out to high-five the runners. It was so cool. I was totally pumped about all the enthusiasm and the pretty course.
Every time I passed a mile marker and clock, I tried calculating my time, but we all know I can’t do math and run at the same time. Instead, I calculated what the 9 min/mile pace time would be and I realized my times were faster than that! I kept asking myself “How’s my ITB? Should I slow down?” but everything felt comfortable and in control, so I just kept running how I felt!
For a good chunk of the race, we were running east literally ON the highway, which was actually really cool. Lake Erie was to our left and the city skyline was to our right. I loved the views!
Just before the half, we passed the Cleveland Browns Stadium. My sister (who couldn’t make it because her hubby was arriving back home from overseas. YAY!!!) sent me a text asking how I was doing, so took a quick picture and wrote “almost st the half! feeling great!” (texting and running = super hard). I was signing “I love you” in the picture, but part of my hand got cut off.
Just before 13, the half marathoners split from us. I passed a chick holding a sign that said “Chuck Norris never ran a marathon!” Hilarious.
Miles kept flying by… 13… 14… 15… 16… 17… My dad sent me a text just before I hit 18 saying that he was at cheering at mile 16. I smiled at how off he was, and then realized that he was trying to follow me because I told him I thought I’d be running near the 4:00-4:20 pace groups. I texted back saying I was near 18 and could see the 3:40 group just in front of me! I couldn’t believe that I seriously was right behind the 3:40 pace group. I didn’t feel tired, I wasn’t hurting, everything felt good!
My mom and Pat were there at 18 and I shouted out to them “only 8 to go!!!”
Just past the 18 mile mark, we ran under a bridge. I cruised along, inching closer and closer to the 3:40 group. I caught them just as we were coming out of the bridge and my mom got a picture.
I couldn’t believe I was running with the 3:40 group, at a pace that felt reasonable! I swear, running at altitude must have seriously helped my training. I considered sticking with the group, for moral support, but I felt really good and I didn’t want to break my stride. So, I slowly pulled ahead of them.
There was a bit of a hill around 20-21 and I started feeling tired. I’m sure my pace slowed. The hard part wasn’t running up the hill, it was running down it. My knee started to really hurt me. Any time the grade was flat or slightly uphill, my knee didn’t hurt. The second the grade was even slightly downhill, the painfully familiar pick-ax to my knee feeling came back. I shortened my stride and tried running on my toes to compensate, and fortunately the downhill bit was short.
At 3:10, or around my mile 22, I sent Sam a text saying “you better be done by now :) ipm ahead of the 340 group!!” Before the race, I bet Sam that he’d be done in exactly 3:08 and he asked me to text him after 3 hours to let him know how I was doing and what time I thought I’d be in by. He sent me a text back saying “YEAH!!! Boston! I went 3:08 — you called it!” I was so excited that Sam ran 3:08 exactly, and then my next thought was “wait, holy crap, I could qualify for Boston?!?” That thought hadn’t even crossed my mind! Until that moment, I was honestly just running one mile at a time, hoping my knee wouldn’t buckle out. But as soon as Sam put the thought of qualifying for Boston in my head, I knew it was ON.
By miles 21-24, we were out of the pretty parks and back into the city. Spectators lined the streets and I don’t remember much other than my dad on his bike, riding next to me from time to time. He would stop, cheer for me, then ride ahead. I could feel my knee hurting more and I was getting really tired. Those miles were the twilight zone.
Mile 25. I had a Come To Jesus Moment. I was hurting, tired, my knee felt numb. I looked at my watch and saw the time: 3:30. I had 10 minutes and 59 seconds to run 1.2 miles. Oh lord, I was hurtin’. Then I thought to myself “Erin, you’ve run competitive XC and track since you were in 7th grade, this is no different! You are MINUTES away from qualifying for THE Boston marathon! Your best friend qualified for it, your other best friend LIVES in Boston. You WANT this. Suck it up! Only 1 more mile! Only 1 more mile!!!”
I heard the 3:40 pace group leader right behind me, and it was magical. He was like my very own personal cheer leader. He had only one or two other girls with him at this point, and he was shouting to the crowd “These girls are going to Boston! Let’s get them there! Come on!” He looked over at me and yelled “come ON!!” I fought with myself, mentally, to get my head in it. To push even harder. To stay with him.
“Only 2 more minutes! I just need 2 more minutes out of you!” He yelled. The crowd was screaming and cheering and it was all a blur. I looked forward and saw the finish line, not 200m in front of me. I looked at my watch: 3:40:01. I had 58 seconds to cross that line.
I closed my eyes, fought the nausea, and started sprinting my heart out. I wanted more than anything to cross that line before the clock ticked over to 3:41.
I sprinted through the finish line, side by side with the pacer.
I looked down at my watch: 3:40:31 (unofficial)
I started balling right then and there. I leaned forward, put my head in my hands, and cried my eyes out. The pacer gave me a pat on the back, I looked up and smiled (while still crying), and tried to thank him but could only mumble. I couldn’t believe I qualified for the Boston Marathon.
Once I pulled myself to together, someone handed me my finisher medal and wandered to the end of the shoot to find my family, brother, and Sam. Sam and my brother had amazing races, too. This was my brother’s very first marathon ever, and he ran a 3:29!!! And Sam with his incredible 3:08. It was an amazing day.
I looked at my official times online and here they are:
Official Chip Time = 3:40:29
Pace = 8:24.7
10K Split = 53:55
Half = 1:51:10
30K Split = 2:37:16
Overall Place = 499/11789
Division Place = 16/663
My second half took 1:49:20, which means I negative-split! :)
Other than the incredible amounts of sore that I feel and my (now) gimp knee, I still can’t believe I ran the Cleveland marathon in 3:40:29… I qualified for Boston, baby!!! I’m in disbelief.
Oh, and you better believe I’m going!
If you want to read about Sam’s race, including his side of my story, check out his race recap here. Thanks to everyone who donated to Operation Jack!