Cleveland Marathon – cheering for JD
On the drive to Cleveland, JD says to me “You know, the marathon field isn’t full. You could run this too.” And immediately, the wheels were turning: yes, I had the right clothes and shoes. I could do this. But because I was committed to being there for him, I pushed those thoughts out of my head fast. And thank gosh I did. I can promise you that I did not want to run that race.
We arrived Saturday, checked into our hotel in Cleveland and headed to the expo. It was a pretty good one so we walked around and checked out running products, inquired about races. The minute we stepped outside, we both recognized how hot it was. It was a gorgeous day. Gorgeous, but HOT. I checked weather.com and it was only 42% humidity though. I told JD not to worry – the race started at 7am and he’d be done by 10am. The heat wouldn’t be an issue. (SPOILER ALERT: I was wrong)
From there we watched footy at an Irish pub downtown and then hit up Great Lakes Brewery so JD could stock up on local beer. And by 6pm, we were sitting in an adorable Italian restaurant with my good friend Michelle and her husband Joel. Michelle was also running the full.
By 10pm, we were tucked in bed, lights out. His alarm was set for 4:45am and mine for 5:15am. No need for a late night to keep us from rest.
The next morning, we were out the door by 6am to get to the start by 7am. We were a bit worried about traffic and parking but felt we gave ourselves enough time. Not really. After sitting in traffic we parked at what seemed like miles away. On the walk there, I consulted the weather report and it was 63 degrees (not bad) but 64% humidity. I lied and told Josh the humidity was low. At that point, I couldn’t change Mother Nature so figured lying was my best bet. No need to make him more nervous than he already was. We finally arrived at the Browns Stadium where the start line, finish line, gear check and restrooms were. JD needed the bathroom so we hunted for one that didn’t have lines 60 people deep. How on earth does a race with 20,000 people only have 6 porta-pottys?! We had 28 minutes to spare and the lines were well past that. And the stadium was not any better. He luckily found a urinal though and we raced from there to the start.
Then, another debacle. He had ripped off the gear check part of his bib off which also had corral information. Which meant he wasn’t able to get into the fast starts. So luckily, he sweet talked a woman into letting him get into the corral he should have been in. Finally, with just minutes to spare, he was lined up and ready to go. And because of all the stress and anxiety, he was also pretty fired up. I just knew it would be a great race for him.
After dropping him off at the start, I found a spot where I would hopefully see him right as the gun went off. I held up one of my homemade race signs – this one said “Dial It Up!
I noticed that their first task is to climb a bit of a hill right at the start. Poor things….sure didn’t look fun to me. But luckily, I spotted him and he waved. The race had begun.
The minute he passed, I was on the move. Though I would have loved to drive all around the course to see him, it wasn’t going to be possible. First, our car was way far away. Second, with traffic and road closings, it was just going to be too difficult. So instead, I strapped a backpack on and was ready to run. With a map in one hand and my phone in the other, I started navigating myself to mile 7.
I crossed the Superior Bridge and saw the most amazing spectacle – thousands of runners crossing a parallel bridge. What a sight.
While on the bridge, I realized that walking to mile 7 may not get me there in time to see JD so I started running. My first spectating point was at the intersection of 38th and Detroit. Here in Indy, 38th Street is definitely not a safe area of town. Pair that with Detroit? I was certain I was going to be running into some shady part of Cleveland. But I was there before I know it and other than the thousands of cigarettes littered all over the sidewalks, the area was just fine.
I staked out my point and ended up making friends with a guy cheering for his wife. We exchanged running stories and I learned lots about him while waiting for the runners to arrive. My new bestie and I watched in awe as the leaders passed us. My god they run fast.
Soon after, I received my first text alert that JD had crossed the 10K mark, perfectly paced at 6:41/mile. That meant he’d be there soon. I held my sign up proudly and when I saw him approaching, ran to greet him. He slowed down and I said “no, I’ll run with you!” but this was one of his planned walking breaks to take his GU. As he did, he handed me his sunglasses and said “wipe off.” Well silly me. I thought he was giving me his sunglasses and wanted me to wipe him off. So I took my hand and swept the sweat off his face while he looks at me like I am crazy. “No, wipe my glasses off.” Oh….right. All within a matter of seconds and then he was back to running. And so was I.
I took off back from where I came and ended up near mile 12, my next point to see JD. I wasn’t there but a tiny bit before seeing the leaders come through. Once again, I made friends with the fans next to me. Two guys were cheering for their daughters doing the half. And even better, this man behind me with a thick Indian accent became my cheerleading partner. While I would clap and scream, he followed up with “Good job. Keep going. Keep going.” I loved his energy and it made me smile from ear to ear.
When I spotted JD, I crossed into the road so I could take a picture and run alongside him. He immediately told me he hurt his back going up some crazy hill but otherwise was feeling really good. He said “Come on! Run with me.” So I tried. Really I tried. But damn that guy is fast. As I was sprinting, he pulled away from me and I am shouted “I can’t keep up!” (which spectators apparently found just condescendingly adorable). I sadly told him I wouldn’t see him until the finish and watched him disappear in front of me.
At this point, I switched my cheering gears to wait for my friend Michelle to reach mile 12. I had some time so I texted her husband to see where he was stationed. He then responded by calling to tell me that due to the heat, Michelle dropped out of the race at mile 6. I was gutted for her. I can’t imagine how hard that was. So I threw the sign I made for her in the trash to eliminate the load I was toting around and decided I needed to find a good place to cheer for strangers.
And I did. Right around mile 12.5, the marathoners and the half-marathoners split off. I rounded that corner and stood right where the marathoners were going. Nothing against those doing 13.1 that day, but I wanted my energy to be for those who were facing double that distance in the heat. Speaking of, the heat was bad. The sun was blazing. It was only 9am or so, but every runner was drenched in sweat. I did the only thing I knew how to do. I cheered my ass off.
I held up my sign that read “Make the Cleve your bitch!” and screamed non stop. The best part were the people that really loved my sign. At least 4 spectators took pictures of it. And runners seemed to take it to heart. I was getting high fives left and right. Multiple marathoners looked at me and laughed as they read it. And at least ten people said “YES! I am going to do that!”
Because I was at the breakaway point for marathoners, I noticed a lot of blue bibs (marathoners) defecting to the half. I didn’t blame them. This was rough. But what totally inspired me, and I truly get choked up even thinking about it….were the runners who turned that corner. Every single one of them who knew they had at least 13 more miles to run. Who felt the heat and knew it wasn’t getting any better. Whose determination and commitment made them turn that corner. And I greeted them with the biggest smile and the loudest cheers possible. I called out people’s numbers “That’s right 980! You got this. Looking great. Stay strong!” Every person who had a name on their shirt got a personalized cheer. And even the people who didn’t glance my way were screamed for. These people were my heroes that day and I wanted them to know it.
I had received JD’s status updates and he had run a 1:27 half marathon (6:43/mile pace). And at the 30k, he had slowed down a bit to a 7:00/pace. That meant around 9:40am, I needed to head to the finish to make sure I saw him. I ran that direction, alongside the half marathoners, cheering for them the entire way. And then I found a great spot, nestled about 1/4 of a mile from the finish. There were huge crowds. On the left side of the road were the half marathoners. On the right, were the very few marathoners that were finishing under a 3 hour marathon.
And every single one that passed me, I screamed for. At this point, I was in the road with the runners. These elite runners? They don’t even glance my way. They are focused and determined, but it didn’t stop me. They are incredible and I was so proud of each of them.
But then I got mad. Really mad.
Here these marathoners were, finishing under 3 hours in scorching heat. On a hilly course. Looking truly like death. And the crowds said nothing. They didn’t cheer. They just stood. So I lost it. I stood right in front of a crowd of at least fifty and screamed “Hey people! See these people running right in front of you?! They just ran 26.2 miles in this god forsaken heat. We need to cheer for them! Start clapping and start yelling.”
And then I looked at their blank faces. And realized that I could have just started a mob. They didn’t look pleased. I made some enemies. So I did what all good warriors do. I retreated! And fast!
I moved up a bit in front of another crowd, one I hadn’t just pissed off. And I resumed my cheering. I got louder. And then I noticed that a half marathoner had gone down just minutes from the finish. She wasn’t responding. She was one of four people I saw being taken away on stretchers due to heat on Sunday. My god it’s scary.
One look at his face and I knew he was doing what I do every time I see him at a tough spot in a race. I cry. He was on the edge. So I ran beside him. And we together, took off for the finish. And those stupid spectators? The ones who hated me and didn’t cheer? They were going to cheer for my boy. They had no choice. As we ran, I waved my arms up and down and screamed “This is my husband! Cheer for him! He ran 26.2 miles in this heat! cheer!” And this time? They did.
Maybe it was the crazy girl wearing a backpack and carrying her phone screaming at them that made it. Maybe it was the sight of JD pushing with all his might to get to the finish. But they cheered. Everyone cheered.
I am sure JD was embarrassed that I yelled for every new group we passed but I didn’t care. At one point he said “Where is the effing finish lie? Show me the finish line.” I pointed it out to him and said “We are almost there. Kick it into high gear” but I noticed he didn’t. He couldn’t. He had nothing left. And later he told me that had I been within an arm’s reach, he would have punched me for saying the “high gear” thing. Oops.
We made it across the finish line together. And then the tears came. From both of us. What he did was so amazing. So stinking amazing. 3:03:52 and the temperature was 81 at the finish line. He is a rockstar.
We made our way through the finishing corral and I grabbed two popsicles to cool him off. As I put them on his neck and arms, I knew he was so angry. Angry at not getting the PR he wanted (2:55). As we walked to the car, there was a lot of silence. This is the man that gets pissed when we lose an intramural softball game, so this was a tough pill to swallow. But as we saw more ambulances pulling people off the course on our walk back, I think he finally got it. That heat was no joke. It wasn’t a day for personal bests. In fact, he got 70th overall this year. Last year? His time would have gotten him 89th. Everyone was slower this year. I did try to help by saying “That was the hardest thing you have ever done. Right? You have to be so proud of yourself.” His response “No, the physical therapy after I got shot was harder.” I laughed and said “You win every conversation when you throw out the ‘when I got shot’ card!”
By the time we were back to the hotel, I think he started to feel better. He is in the best shape of his life. He ran a smart race. He held onto that goal pace until mile 20. But sometimes, mother nature has other ideas. She didn’t make it easy for him. But he won in the end. He is still a hero.