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Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Big Day

My First Half Marathon! It was the best of times, it was the worst of times (seems like I've heard this somewhere before). In the two days prior to the race, I had been feeling some pain in both heels. I feared that I might have an injured Achilles or maybe a plantar fasciitis problem. I had skipped my planned Friday run as a precaution, but when I woke up at 4:30am on race day the pain was still there. I got dressed and headed out of the hotel for a quick pre-dawn run through the empty streets of downtown Cleveland. Nary a soul in sight with the exception of a couple workers hosing down the sidewalks around Progressive Field in preparation for the Indians-Marlins baseball game later that day. I worked up a decent sweat but the heel discomfort remained. I did not train 5 months to let this day end in a scratch, so I decided I could handle this. I later discovered the reason for the pain. During my last run on Thursday, I ran with a pair of running shoes that I've been breaking in. The Reebok's had deep wide grooves in the heel that I can only surmise were for cushioning and inside these grooves I discovered that I had picked up a grape sized stone in the heel of each shoe. Apparently I had bruised both heels during that last workout.

After the morning shakeout run, I headed back to the hotel room for my usual breakfast of Oatmeal with Craisins, ground flax and Silk then headed down to the race with son in law Brad who was also running his first half marathon.  We were among the first runners to arrive at Cleveland Browns Stadium and headed to the 9:00 pace group starting area where I was to meet my OSF Everyday Athletes teammates for a pre race photo shoot. Only two of us made it there because the rest of the team had difficulty finding parking close enough to the race.

Brad and I before heading to starting line.



By 6:30 the crowd was starting to swell and I had already run into several groups of friends and exchanged good lucks and well wishes and managed a few photos.
Bill Tobia and Chrissie Barrickman-Vendetti
Sebastian Ornelas, Shawn Van Buren, Erik Van't Veer


6:45 - Time for some pre race fuel in the form of Gatorade Primer. People are flooding in now, not leaving much room for any kind of jogging and you can feel the excitement building. The DJ is getting everyone pumped up.
6:55 The National Anthem plays, I can't believe the time has arrived. Since the first of the year I've logged 480 miles in 96 workouts in all kinds of weather.
7:00 The gun goes off and the crowd roars and NOTHING. It seems like 5 minutes before our pace group begins to move and then its only for about 25 yards. After a little longer delay we begin to move, at first just a slow march, then a little quicker jog.
7:07 We finally reach the starting line and I start the watch. The race has begun.

Mile 1: I'm putting lessons learned from previous spring races not to go out too fast. That was pretty much an impossibility anyway with the crowd of runners. We made our way around the stadium and head up an incline of about 150 yards making our way to Lakeside Avenue, then turning west towards the entrance ramp of the west shoreway. Once on the shoreway, I could not believe what I saw. A mass of humanity shoulder to shoulder on the freeway for as far as you could see. Now I understood why it took us 7 minutes to make the 200 yard trek from our corral to the starting line. The pain in the heel was tolerable and was non existent as long as I was landing on my toes and not my heels. I pass the Mile 1 flag at 10:35, right about where I wanted to be. I got in with a 10:07 pace group hoping to run 2:12:30 and I was only a few seconds off the pace.

Mile 2: The second mile was mostly downhill as we are on the back side of the shoreway bridge heading into the near west side neighborhoods toward Edgewater Park. By the time I reached the two mile mark, I was running free of pain and so relieved that the heel was ok. I also was able to make up the deficit on the pace group with the help of the mostly negative elevation gain. Second mile ticked off at 9:31.

Mile 3: Still running without pain and maintaining sight of the 4:25:00 pace group that I was in. The temps were starting to rise and I take in some water at the first aid station without having to lose much time. I'm feeling good and am pleased to see my neighbor Christina wave as she passes by. Christina is a faster runner than I and the fact that I was with her 3 miles in gave me some confidence. Pass the mile 3 flag at 30:46 (10:15 pace), a little bit slower than the 10:07 pace group but I'm happy considering the heat.

Mile 4: I pass a young couple wearing t-shirts with writing on the back. Hers said "Getting Married" and his said "Next Week". We were now running through the shaded streets of Lakewood, but the heat is starting to wear on me. I took in more fluid at the 4 mile aid station and the fourth mile slows down to 10:40. I've resigned myself to the fact that I would not be running anywhere close to a 2:12:30 today and decided to pursue the goal of finishing with a smile on my face and not worry about the time.

Mile 5: I'm able to pick up the pace slightly (10:29) perhaps from the energy of the crowds that are forming along the route. I'm taking in the energy from the crowd and start giving high fives out to the locals.

Mile 6: The shade from trees lining Edgwater Drive and Lake Ave have given way to the concrete jungle of Detroit Avenue and the sun is unleashing its energy sapping rays. I approach the six mile aid station thinking I'm glad I carried a bottle of water and a bottle of Gatorade in my running belt. We are almost at the half way point and I realized I hadn't taken my GU Gel at the 45 minute mark that I had planned and we are 60 minutes into the race. I rip open the Gel package and suck it down in time to get a couple of cups of water to wash it down at the aid station that I walked through this time to maximize the amount of fluid I could get. By now my legs are feeling heavy and it shows on the clock with a disappointing 11:25 sixth mile, almost a full minute off the previous mile.

Mile 7: The pace slows even more to 11:38 and I'm starting to have doubts about even finishing.

Mile 8: Really starting to become a mental battle now. The infusion of energy from the GU Gel hasn't kicked in yet and I'm seriously consider walking the rest of the race. I had "Hit the Wall". Just before we get to the Mile 8 aid station when I'm feeling the worst, I see the Dunn family. The Dunn's made the 60 mile trip from Ashtabula just to watch the race. They had set up lawn chairs on the tree lawn on a nice shady street in Cleveland's Ohio Village. They recognize me and shout out some encouragement. "Your looking good Bill" is what I heard, but "I'm feeling like crap" is what I'm feeling. I want to stop and walk but can't do it hear in sight of friends from back home, so I plug on to the next 8 station. Mile 8 split 12:00

Mile 9: I again walked through the aid station so that I could take in a 2nd cup of fluid and I think that the GU has kicked in, because I'm was able to resume running at slightly faster pace (11:53) for mile 9.

Mile 10: Pace improves a little more(11:42) as I pass through the neighborhoods of Tremont. The 10th mile ends with a nice steady descent into an industrial valley on the west banks of the Cuyahoga River, but finishes with the sight of an unexpected killer hill. 

Mile 11: The start of mile eleven begins with the most demoralizing sight in the form of a hill taking us from the river valley back up to Lorain Avenue. The course was advertised as one of the flattest and fastest courses in the country. The hill was only about an 1/8 of a mile on the map and the elevation gain was only about 70 feet, but it felt like a climb up Mount Suribachi. I made it about 20 yards up the hill and decided to join the rest of the masses and walk the rest of it. As a result, the pace fell off considerably (12:51).

Mile 12: Only 2.2 miles to go. I can do this. The last half of mile 11 I had joined up with Traci Kitnoja, a runner from our local running club and we ran together for a little over a half mile while crossing the Lorain-Carnegie bridge. We chatted about this and that and it really helped to take my mind off the race. I was getting a 2nd wind now, but when I reached the aid station at the start of the 12th mile I was disappointed to find out that they were out of water. I still had one sip of water left in one of the bottles I had carried with me, so I finished it off and headed on my way. Despite the dry oasis, my cadence had picked up and I was feeling stronger than at any point in the race so far. The streets of downtown Cleveland were lined with spectators and the slow constant parade of runners passing me by was replaced with me passing runner after runner. I passed the 12 Mile mark with an 11:01 split, almost 2 minutes faster than the previous mile.

Mile 13: 1.2 miles to go and still feeling strong. For a brief moment I had a sick feeling that I missed the split where the half marathoner and full marathon courses splits off. I looked behind me at the runners I had just passed, then looked down at my own bib, relieved to see the colors matching. We turn north on East 9th street and I see the wonderful blue waters of Lake Erie ahead of me. I can smell the cool water of the lake and best of all, it's all down hill from here. My pace quickens even more and when I make the turn on to Erieside Avenue for the final couple hundred yards, I break into a full sprint passing scores of runners on my way to the finish line. With 50 yards to go, I'm thinking I started my kick too soon as my legs are starting to feel the fatigue of the sprint. I manage to dig a little deeper and cross the finish line with my arms raised high in the air and semi collapse into the waiting arms of my niece Lizzie who had finished about 15 minutes prior. Almost 25 years previously I was holding Lizzie over the baptismal fountain as her godfather. I fight back the tears and give thanks to my creator for giving me the strength to finish.


I Did It
Recovering with Lizzie


Finish time 2:30:49


After about 30 minutes of recovery time and consuming all the liquid I could, I called my friend and baseball teammate Cliff Packer to thank him for his advise and suggestion. Cliff is a Doctor for the Veterans Administration and when I called him after my heart catheterization last summer, he suggest that I research and consider a life style change in lieu of the coronary bypass operation that was suggested to me by the doctors at the Cleveland Clinic. I did the research and made the necessary changes to my exercise and eating habits. Ten months after I was unable to run 60 yards without being out of breath, I can now call myself a marathon man, or at least a half marathon man.



Brad, Bill, Annie, Emily and Lizzie





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