Yesterday at 11:46am, David and I crossed the finish line of the Cleveland Marathon.

A lot took place before that statement could be made, though. We trained for 18-weeks, starting with small three and four-mile runs with “long” five to six-mile runs on the weekend, and building up to our one and only 20 miler.

Then race weekend came. We drove up to Cleveland on Saturday morning, arriving at the Expo by 10:30am. Being a pretty large race (10,000 runners total in the three events), the Expo was impressive. Around 50 vendors put on quite the display giving out free samples of granola, protein bars, yogurt, peanut butter, jelly, energy drinks, runner’s gel, protein-packed donuts etc. Needless to say, we stocked up. There was even a health station where you could get your blood pressure taken, a body fat analysis, and have your glucose and cholesterol levels tested. Too fun!

After wandering around for a bit, we picked up our racing bibs, t-shirts and goody bags. It made me think of Megan’s post about race t-shirts. The marathon shirts were black and dry-fit, while the halfers got a red cotton one. Not sure about the 10K racers–did they even get shirts? Poor people. Oddly enough, the prize for winning the 10K ($1,500) was larger than the marathon ($1,000). Hm.

One of the pace team leaders (the race provided pace runners that you could stick with during the race based on the time you wanted to finish in. For example, there was a 4:15 pace group that, if we stayed with them, would finish in four hours, 15 minutes) was giving bus tours of the course for free, and we immediately jumped on board. It was a beautiful day in Cleveland, and the course was equally gorgeous. Part was through a park, part on bike path, and part right along Lake Erie. We were going to be running by the Browns’ stadium and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. What could be better, right?

Shortly after the tour ended, we headed back to the hotel to get off of our feet before David’s parents arrived. We sorted through our goody bags determining what we would keep (i.e. sample sizes of icy/hot, sun screen, lotion, hairbands) and what we’d throw away (umpteen brochures for other races, coupons for random brands of granola bars, Kotex pads–ha!).

David’s parents arrived, and we headed back to the Expo where we met up with Mike, (our trainer from the gym who also ran in the marathon). Mike was aiming for a Boston Marathon qualifying time (had to beat three hours and 15 minutes to do so), but we were not. Maybe one day!

The race sponsored (after we paid for it) a pasta dinner, and boy was it tasty! I ate more pasta that night than I have…ever. I figured I’d need the energy. After Mike, David and I sat down, the other tables started filling up, but not ours. We thought we had the lonely table until a group of four joined us–all from Pittsburgh. We all laughed together at the “hills” in Cleveland (compared to Pittsburgh) and talked about North Park, etc etc. It was a lot of fun.

David and I went to bed at 9:00pm Saturday night since we knew we’d have to get up at 4:30am to get ready, pack up, eat, meet up with our pace groups, and walk to the start by 6:30am. A relevant side note: when we left the pasta dinner (held at a different hotel), we heard some really loud music and saw lots of high schoolers in exquisite attire: prom night.

So, back to the story, we went to sleep. Around 1:30am, I woke up to the sound of people running up and down the halls screaming obscenities. Yes, you guessed it. Prom kids. I looked out of our room’s peep hole and saw a group of guys and girls–all with beverage bottles (you know the type) in their hands–sort of stomping around and arguing. David was able to sleep through it, so I went back to bed in hopes I could do the same. Then 2:00am rolled around. More yelling and heavy steps. David woke up and called the front desk; the concierge assured us that he’d send security up. Shortly after, it got quiet.

Then at 3:30am, back to it. By that point, David and I just prayed for deep sleep and ignored it until our alarm at 4:30am.

Despite not the best night of sleep, we woke up excited and energized about the race. We got dressed and headed downstairs. Remember the beautiful day before? The morning of the race was anything but. It was in the 40’s and raining–not drizzling, raining. We donned garbage bags for warmth and to keep dry, then headed out to the start. We saw some friends along the way (a coworker of David’s, the Berry Anns, Nathan’s sister, Melinda) which got us pumped up. The start was sort of depressing since we stood there in the pouring rain waiting for 7:00am to roll around.

Then the horn sounded and we were off to “Cleveland Rocks” playing in the background. The marathoners and halfers all started at the same time, and with nearly 5,800 total in both groups, the first few miles were pretty crowded. The course was more flat than hilly, but it did have a few climbs. The first of which was in between miles two and three (climbing up the hill by the Browns’ stadium).

David and I were trying to keep a decent pace, and the first 12 miles or so flew by. For those of you who are not runners, that may be hard to believe–after all, that’s about two hours of running. Trust me, though, once you get in the zone and have tons of spectators cheering you on and are in a group of 100s of other people doing what you’re doing, it passes quickly.

Around mile three, the rain stopped, and we discarded our trash bags. The overcast skies gave way to sun around miles 10 and 11, and the gorgeous weather was back!

Then at mile 12, the halfers took a left-hand turn to go to their finish line while the marathoners kept going straight. Things started to get tough for us a few miles later.

Without the large group of people around us, the run started to get a little lonely, but we kept right along trucking. There were 18 water/powerade stations along the way and two Hammer Gel (GU, essentially), and not being used to hydrating that often, David and I over-hydrated a bit causing me to have to stop at a porta-john. Ugh! Granted, it was like a 60 second stop, but enough for me and David to both be aware of the lactic acid building up in our legs. I’ve heard of people running marathons and (sorry for the details in advance) using the bathroom “on the run” without missing a stride, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that. I’m not that hard core.

Anyhow, we got right back to running and were still at a pretty good pace by mile 18. Then we turned onto the bike path along Lake Erie and the wind said “hello.” Not just any wind, might I add, but a nice gusty headwind for over five miles–you know, the kind you could probably lean pretty far into without falling. Intense! We walked/ran those five miles, but kept pushing.

By that point, it was really just a race to finish. We no longer care about how long it took, but just that we finished strong! From mile 23 until the end, the streets were covered with people cheering, and that pumps just about anybody up. We made the turn right before mile 26, and just had a half-mile straightaway left. We could see the finish line. All of the burning in our legs faded at that point, and we finished holding hands. It was intense.

As soon as we crossed the finish line, I was completely overcome with emotion, and David and I hugged for a while. We received huge medals for completing the race and immediately wore them around our necks with pride. We then joined up with David’s parents and Mike for pictures and lots and lots of juice, bananas, water, pretzels, etc. So good! Oh, and let me just add, the shower after the race was the best I think I’ve ever had!

A few huge pluses:
1. We had tons of people praying for us; thank you so, so much! God was definitely keeping us going!
2. A lot of our friends and family were tracking our progress via text message/email, and knowing that pushed us forward.
3. We saw David’s parents cheering us on at the start, mile 11, mile 23, mile 25 and at the end. It was such an encouragement for us and made the race that much more enjoyable. Thanks Mertens!

All in all, it was an incredible experience. Was it hard? Uh huh. Did it hurt? Yeah. Are we sore? Oh yes. Are we tired? Absolutely. Would we do it again? Without a doubt. When? December 6…Kiawah Island.