Running is all about the numbers. Distance, time, splits, mileage, pace, they all mean something. But one number stands out, a milestone, a goal, a number to crush. After 3 years and 15 half marathons, I finally met my goal. On Sunday, at the Cleveland Half Marathon, I finally ran a sub 2:00 half marathon.
After I ran the Medina Half course last weekend I had doubts about running sub 2. I had put in the miles, and I’d been faster in my races. But the Medina course had me second guessing everything I had done this year. So with the few days leading up to Cleveland, I decided my best shot at running sub 2 would be there. Inside I was bursting to tell everyone that I was going to give it my all on Sunday and hopefully see that little “1” on the front end of my finish time. But instead I kept it to myself, scared I was setting myself up for failure.
Friday after work I went to the expo, and quickly made it through with just a shirt and a few Sport Bean Recovery Beans. As I went down the last aisle, I ran into a familiar face, Coach Kara, my favorite high school coach, and pace coach for Cleveland Marathon. We spoke briefly, and I told her of my goal, hoping to get words of wisdom. She believed I could do it, and handed me two pace bands. If I stayed between the splits, I’d get it.
Sunday started at 3am for me. I already had everything laid out, so I ate an extra helping of breakfast, stretched, read my previous Cleveland race recaps, and may have shed a few tears. By 4:30, I was on the road and made it to Brunswick to meet up with Jeanne and her neighbor Laurie. By 5:15, we were on the road and making our way towards Cleveland. The drive was fairly easy and we avoided most of the traffic, but I couldn’t help but feel nervous the closer we got.
After we parked, we made our way to the bag drop and visited the port-a-pottys a few times to get rid of all last minute nerves. We lined up in corral C, mentioning the plan to possibly stay together, and hopefully get me in under 2. The gun went off and we walked toward the start until it was finally our time to run. This was it, I was going to give it everything I had in these next 13.1 miles no matter what.
The first mile, as always was congested, and we were dodging and weaving to find an open space in the crowd. We quickened our pace and tried to get to where we needed to be, instead of starting out too slow and playing catch up. I was a little nervous I was going out too fast, but I knew it was easier to slow down later than speed up when I was worn down.
Everything felt great, and I was keeping up with the pace pretty well. Jeanne was a little ahead of Laurie and I, but we had her in sight and I wasn’t too concerned about being left behind yet. I was taking sips of water after every mile, and by mile three, the crowd had started to thin out just enough that we weren’t running into each other anymore.
Laurie and I kept running together, checking our watches every quarter mile or so. We knew we were still ahead of pace, but I was feeling good, so we kept with it. I took a sport bean after mile 4 even though I felt I didn’t need it yet. It was around this point that I noticed I had pretty much zoned out on the race. The miles had ticked by quickly, but I hadn’t really been paying attention to them. I was so focused on staying ahead of pace that I blocked everything else out. It was a blessing really, I wasn’t analyzing every second of the race, instead I was just there, running it.
By mile 5, I started to wonder what exactly I was doing. My pace had been under 9 for the entire race, yet my legs were feeling great, and I felt oddly comfortable. It was a surreal feeling, but knew that it could change at any mile. As we checked our pace, I mentioned that I’d rather have a little extra time, than cut it down to the wire at the finish. So we would keep going until we needed to slow down.
We were approaching the 10k mark, and I saw Sarah out of the corner of my eye. I yelled hello, and waved, and went on my way to the 10k mark, hitting it at 55 minutes. We continued on our way, half of the race behind us, hoping my legs could keep up for the second half of the race. Any while my splits were still sub 9, I was completely surprised at the times I was hitting. I was well ahead of my normal pace, and still 4 minutes under the 2 hour mark splits on my pace band. We caught up with Jeanne, but after about a mile together she veered off towards a port-a-potty. I was nervous to be left alone, but Laurie stayed with me, and kept me on pace.
I took another sport bean at mile 8 and noticed my hips had a small twinge. They were starting to get sore, but I tried to block it out. I couldn’t let anything get it my head. Eight miles down, five to go, the countdown was on.
I was finally back into familiar territory in this part of the race. I enjoyed the moments of shade and tried to keep my pace consistent. I couldn’t help but think back to the Hermes 10 Miler and the Flap Jack 15k, I had done great until the end, and hoped that my body wouldn’t start to shut down by mile 10. I hadn’t pushed myself this hard in a race of this distance before, I was starting to enter the unknown and I had no idea how my body would react.
That thought left my mind as I saw Elayna and Marissa on the side of the course between mile 9 and 10. I was beyond excited to see them, and was quickly overcome with emotion. I started to cheer up and before I knew it, I was running over to see them. I attempted a weird side hug, but my legs steered me back on course. Not even a minute later, my emotions got the best of me and I started coughing and gagging. I couldn’t throw up, not with so much left in the race. I did whatever I could to get back into a normal pace, and about a half mile later, I was finally good again.
It took a while, but I was back on pace. At this point, my hips started to ache more and I was concerned as we approached the last two miles. I knew there was some incline, but my legs weren’t ready for it. I tried to focus on my watch, telling myself that I’d come so far, I couldn’t let the last few miles break me down.
The next two miles were hard. For the first time all race my pace was over 9 minutes, and by a lot. The combination of the inclines, my sore hips, and running a pace I wasn’t used to for 11 miles hit me hard. I mentally started to break down, questioning if I could do it. Every time I reached the top of the hill, I’d see another. Laurie helped to push me along, and it helped me more than she could ever know. I didn’t want to give up, but it was hard. So I kept telling myself, I’m going to do it, I’m going to break 2. I had to do whatever I could to keep the momentum up.
As we reached the last hill, I could feel my pace start to pick up, and after two incredibly hard miles, I finally felt confident about breaking 2. I had worked so hard for the first eleven miles, I wasn’t going to let the last two get to me.
I took advantage of the decline and the straightaway as much as I could. The crowds were getting louder, and I could feel the city pulling me in. Knowing the course showed up long on my watch, I kept staring down to see what I hit when it turned over to 13.1. When 1:55 was on my watch, I couldn’t believe it. I had never seen those numbers together, and honestly never thought I would. I couldn’t help but smile.
I started to pick up my pace, knowing I was so close to the finish, yet I still wasn’t done. I started to fade and veered off to the right of the crowd. I didn’t feel myself, and couldn’t control what would happen next. Instead of running towards the finish with a smile on my face and hands up in the air, I was throwing up, over and over as I made my way to the finish until I finally got there.
I got sick again, but I was finally able to walk it off. I grabbed my medal, met up with Laurie, and finally looked at my watch. 1:58:00. I had done it. I broke 2 and ran a 7 minute, 55 second PR. And I had left everything I had on the course while doing it.
We found Jeanne and got a group picture before grabbing food and taking a seat in the sun. And although I was excited, it hadn’t quite hit me yet. But I soaked in the moment as much as I could. After a while we made our way back to gear check, then the car, and we were back on the road towards home. I made sure to stop at Panera on my way home to grab a cinnamon roll that would be my reward for making it through another long run. It wasn’t until I pulled in the garage and turned off my car, that everything hit me, and I finally cried tears of joy.
I couldn’t have asked for a better day on Sunday. The weather was perfect, the course was greatly improved and for most of the race, my run felt effortless. I didn’t know what I’d feel the first time I broke 2, or when it would happen, but I’m glad that I did it at the race that started it all.
I can’t help but admit that there is a feeling of what now. This number that I held up with so much admiration and fear is no longer there, a feeling of being a little lost. I don’t know if I’ll break 2 again, or if it was a one time thing. But one thing is for certain, I’ll never forget the day I finally broke 2 hours.
Garmin Time: 1:58:00
Age Group 25-29: 148/726