It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to accomplish in 2014. I had such an amazing year last year, how could I possibly top it?
I set a few competitive (and maybe a little aggressive) goals for the 50K, 100 mile and 100K distances and got very selective in which races I picked. I wanted to start the season with the Green Jewel 50K, in which I ran a 5:17 last year. This race was a bit of a gamble for accomplishing my sub-5:00 50K goal. It’s a road race, so I wouldn’t have to deal with technical trails and a ton of hills, but early March in Cleveland means it could be snowing and 20 degrees (like last year) or 60 and sunny. Even though I’d rather run a sub-5:00 50K on the trail, I was so happy my coach and I picked a road race early in the season to go for after this tough winter, since I didn’t spend much time at all on the soggy, slushy trails.
My training leading up to the race was pretty consistent and strong. I had a few issues with sickness early on in January and crappy weather for the past few months that forced me indoors a few times, but after training in anything from below 0 degrees to snow to ice to inside on the treadmill, I was ready for whatever the day was going to throw at me.
I got up around 6 am race morning, drove to the finish line and caught the shuttle for the 9 am start. I talked to a few guys on the bus about the race, other races we’ve done and are doing. I was a little nervous. I had gone back and forth about what to wear and was afraid it was going to be too cold. At the start, it was mid-30s and mild and would get colder and start snowing as the day went on. I lined up with my friend Jess, who was running the relay with her husband (they won the coed relay in 3:45!). We talked a bit about running and the race and how cold it was. I was shaking cold and questioning my sanity a little bit, but I kept repeating to myself that this was my day and no matter what, I was running under 5 hours and I was going to PR.
About a mile or two in, I started talking to two women who I had been running with pretty much the whole time. Turns out I had met them briefly before at a Run for Regis training run in late 2012. Marlene was running her first 50K and Jen, was out supporting her for the first several miles. Marlene mentioned wanting to run between 8:45-9:00 miles, which is exactly what I was shooting for too. With aid station stops and maybe slowing a bit in the last few miles, that would put us somewhere between 4:30 and 4:50 and comfortably under 5:00 at the finish. Deciding to run the rest of the race together was easy – we were determined to finish with a good time and have a good time doing so.
The course is mainly a paved All-Purpose Trail that connects much of Cleveland’s huge park network together into the “Emerald Necklace,” nicknamed that for the green lines painted on the path, hence the name Green Jewel. Last year it was covered in snow, having snowed overnight and during most of the race. It helped provide some traction, but made for slower times. This time around it hadn’t snowed since a few days prior, but had instead warmed to 50+ degrees the day before, melting the snow, which then froze overnight. So for the first half of the chilly morning, we dodged iced, slipped around and slowed a bit, but we were still able to maintain a good pace.
The race is point-to-point from Rocky River to Brecksville and lends itself to be able to have friends and family easily follow you the entire time. Marlene’s husband, her five younger kids and dog drove the course and stopped to cheer for us at several points along the course. It was so great to have someone there, especially since Patrick was at home waiting for our new dryer to be delivered and couldn’t cheer me on. Though we had just met that morning, I started to look forward to seeing my new friend’s kids at each aid station and was so happy when they drove by and cheered out the window for us.
I don’t remember much from the race, as usual. We talked a lot about our lives, why we run, our families, our pasts and whatnot. Marlene was running for cancer and for her friends and family members who have passed or have been affected by it. It hit close to home, as a family friend of mine had announced the week before that she is fighting brain cancer. When the race got tough in the late miles, especially on the hills, we thought of them and I kept reminding myself that I was lucky I got to be there that day, doing what I love.
With about four miles left, Marlene’s friend Judy met up with us to run the last few miles with us. Having her there was such a pick-me-up and it was so nice to just listen and zone out a bit. We had slowed down, but not by much and a time under 4:50 was still in sight. We finally reached the entrance to the Brecksville Reservation, which took us off the road and back onto the all purpose and it meant we had about a mile left.
“Do you think we can finish in 4:45?” Marlene asked. I looked at my watch. 4:36 and some change. We had to run about an 8 minute mile after 30 miles of pounding and up and down hills for the last seven or so miles.
I said something like, it had to be quick, but we can do it. We started running harder and stuck together, as we had the whole race. There was a guy slightly ahead of us that we tried to catch, but I didn’t even care. At that point, all I cared about was seeing Marlene’s kids again, making the turn into Oak Grove and getting to the finish line.
Two of Marlene’s daughters were waiting for us before the turn into the trailhead. They ran behind us with Judy and all I remember is hearing “oh my God, you guys are running so fast!” We turned the last corner and there was the finish line! We crossed, hand-in-hand in 4:45:36. Good enough for 6th and 7th females overall and the top spot for me in the female open division. And of course, a big 32 minute road 50K PR. But all of that paled in comparison to the experience of finishing Marlene’s first 50K with her. I can’t think of another way I’d rather have started my 2014 ultra season!