Thursday, May 31, 2012

I Survived the 2012 Cleveland Marathon: A Coach's Story

I coached the Cleveland Marathon on May 20 with Team in Training.   It was a long, hot, fun, insane day and you all know I spare no detail when it comes to my race reports.  If you want the short version: we all survived.  If you want the long version, continue on.

The day before the race was a hot one and Sunday was forecasted to be in the high 80s.  So much for that "lake effect" up north.  The coaches tried to pass along some extra tips and advice to the runners and walkers to deal with the heat.  There is only so much you can do though with that kind of heat.  We went to bed and hoped for the best.

On race morning at 5:00 am it was already 60 degrees.  Oh boy.  We weren't going to need to wear our trash bags or extra layers that's for sure!
That's a whole lotta purple!

All of the TNT participants met up for a group photo before making the 3/4 mile trek from our hotel to the Browns Stadium for the start of the race.  Having a large marathon with 20,000+ runners/walkers start at a stadium that can accommodate 70,000+ people?  Genius.  It was bathrooms galore!  Four of us girls walked right into a bathroom; no line!  That right there was worth the registration fee for sure (though as a coach, I'm not technically registered).  The team stayed together for a little while before disbursing into their appropriate corrals.

This is my first time at this race so trying to find my way around the course as a coach was a little bit of a challenge.  I typically cut the course so I can get in front of the faster runners so I can try to see everyone at least once or twice and then hop onto the course with those who need some extra encouragement or just a friendly face.  I was going to watch the start from the sidelines and then start making my way out towards mile 11-12 but when I realized I was going to travel the first 1/4 mile of the course anyways, I figured I might as well start with some of our teammates. I jumped into the corral somewhere with the 10:00-10:30 pace group with some of our runners.  I cannot run that pace at all but knowing it would take awhile to clear out and get up to that pace, I'd knew I would be jumping off the course before I was trampled.  Cue the banana.

As a coach, I spent a lot of time of the course.  Usually more time that it takes me to actually finish the race myself.  The reason being that TNT coaches do not come off the course until the very last TNT participant finishes.  Because of this, I have to pack my fuel belt with enough water/fuel to last me at least 8 hours.  I will miss a meal.  And I have trouble eating breakfast that early in the morning so my breakfast is usually pretty light.  I have to be prepared to get hungry.  I had my Shot Blocks and I was carrying around a banana.  Not expecting to actually start with the runners, I entered the corral while still carrying a banana in my hand.  I was expecting to cut the course, walk out to mile 11-12 and camp out for a little while waiting for the race to get to me.  I was going to enjoy my banana at that time.

It quickly became a joke that I would end up carrying that banana for all 26.2 miles.  I was even CHALLENGED to hold onto it until I actually crossed the finish line.  I won't lie, I love a challenge and I couldn't help but think how funny it would be to cross the finish line with TNT while carrying a bruised and mushy banana.  Anyways, as the National Anthem was sung and the gun went off, the banana made the trek across the start line.

Side note: The Cleveland Marathon starts uphill.  Rude!  Not nice, Cleveland.  My heart was pumping as I tried to hang with the 10:30-11 pace group until we got to the top of the hill and I jumped off the course.

Some other coaches and I hung out on the side of the course until the entire field got across the start and up the hill before making our way to 11-12.  I still had the banana.  We made a stop at a port-a-potty.  My fellow coaches guarded my banana while I went. We settled in at 11-12 and waited for the elite runners to get to us.  I tucked my quickly bruising banana into my Fuel Belt so I could clap and cheer for the runners.  Once our first TNT participant ran by (flashing us a HUGE smile all while running a 6:30 mile or something crazy fast like that) and us coaches went nuts cheering (we didn't even bother jumping onto the course with him because he's too damn fast for any of us), the other coaches headed out to get onto the second half of the full marathon course.  I was stationed to stay on from 11-12 and then make sure everyone finished the 1/2 marathon before heading out to the full marathon course.  The TNT coaches do our best to spread out all over the course so our participants can see us as often as possible.

I was standing on the sidelines cheering on the runners when our second runner came through.  I yelled out to him and he just yelled back that there was a runner down behind him.  Not thinking twice, I just started running backwards on the course.  About a block up the road was a runner laying on the sidewalk.  There was someone kneeling by him and pouring water on his head.  It was clear no one had called for help yet so I called 911.  Within a minute I could hear a siren but I had to give a description of the runner because they had already received multiple calls about runners down and were trying to make sure that ambulances got to each person.  I saw an ambulance at the next intersection and started running towards it.  The driver saw me but he couldn't pull out onto the road because there were literally thousands of runners on the road.  Acting fast, the driver pulled up onto the sidewalk and drove towards me.  I jumped out of the way and pointed to the runner on the ground.  As I jumped out of the way, my banana fell out of my Fuel Belt.  And was quickly run over by the ambulance.  I couldn't help myself.  I busted out laughing.  Even though there was clearly an emergency, I couldn't help but think of the ladies' challenge to keep the banana all day.  In my defense, that runner on the ground was talking and was coherent.  He was overheated and ended up being fine and I knew this before I started laughing at my poor squished banana.  I knew that runner was safe before I took this photo as well:
Oh well.  It was fun while it lasted.  It was probably a metaphor for what the rest of the day would hold.  It was only about 90 minutes into the race (so about 8:30 am) and people were already dropping in the heat.

I hung out at my post and jumped onto the course as each of our runners passed.  Once those crazy fast people go by, I can jump onto the course at least for a few yards to run with our participants, give them a pep talk and then jump back off the course.  And as the pace slows down, the longer I can spend with each person.  It's just the way it is.  I give it my best, that's for sure!  When some of my last full marathon runners passed by, I ran with them all the way through mile 12 and through the 1/2 marathon split.  This is when I really realized the extent of the traffic control situation.  When the race first started, myself and the coaches I was with at mile 11 actually had to yell to a cop to get him to stop traffic because the wheelchair athletes and the elite runners were coming.  He was still letting cars go across the race course!  When I made the split off onto the full marathon course, it was a side street with NO traffic control on the alleys.  Normally these small side roads/alleys are controlled by race volunteers rather than police.  This particular road had nothing.  So this meant that cars were driving on the road with the racers.  I was pretty annoyed.  I ran with them for a little while and then jumped off the course and started to head back to the 1/2 marathon split.  While walking backwards on the course, the racers and cars were each dodging each other.  It was a disaster.

I tried to simmer down as I walked back on the course.  I was looking for my 3 walkers by this time.  They were all doing the 1/2 marathon and I was really glad.  It was just too hot out there to be walking a full marathon.  While walkers certainly don't have their heart rate as high as runners, we are out there longer.  More time in the sun.  More time overheated.  If I would have been signed up to racewalk the full that day, I am fairly certain I would have cut off with the 1/2 marathoners and called it a day  I found two of my lovely ladies and while they were tired, they were both still smiling.

That is until the Cleveland Police had an epic fail.  It's a miracle I didn't get arrested or hit by a car.  This particular police officer was knowingly allowing cars to make a turn down a one lane street (one lane was closed for construction).  This one lane road was the RACE COURSE!  There were cars following right behind the people in the race!  I ran backwards on the course to the next intersection and had "some words" with the police officer.  His response?  "I have to let the cars through, they are going to the Marriott.  They have an address."  WTF?  What kind of a response is that?  And my response to him?  "Then you are going to be involved in a situation because someone in this race is going to get hit by a car."  I turned and ran back down the street to catch up to my walkers.  Just then a mini van tried to make a turn onto the course...from the damn Marriott parking lot of all places.  And then I made what might have appeared as a stupid move but I was fired up.  I stepped in front of the van, pointed at the driver and yelled "No, turn around!"  Luckily for me, he listened while all of the van's passengers stared at me.  Don't mess with this mama-bear/coach when it comes to keeping her walkers safe!  Some of the walkers nearby seemed a little stunned and one actually yelled to me, "that was hot."  Not sure what that meant but whatever.

Once my last 1/2 marathoner was through the finish chute, I made way backwards on the full marathon course.  Only to be met with one person being hauled into an ambulance and then no fewer than 4 people being attended to by the medics on bikes all within mile 25-26.  Oh boy.  I immediately started firing off texts to the other Central Ohio coaches who were at mile 15-16 to see if they had seen any of our participants.  I won't lie.  I was really worried about all of our participants.  It was HOT and it seemed like those last couple miles of the course had not one speck of shade.  I even spend some time cuddled up with a brick building because there was a slight overhang and it was providing about 6 inches of shade.  I am not being dramatic either.  I made my way back to mile 25 and hung out near the water stop.  There was no way I was going to wander around the course and not have access to water.  By that time, I had been on the course for about 4.5 hours and had consumed 64 ounces of water.

I will say that the city and the race directors stepped it up and kept the water flowing.  On the first half of the course, it seemed like the volunteers were struggling to keep up with the crowds but I think they figured it out.  And then out came the hoses.  They hooked up garden hoses to the fire hydrants and had COLD water filling the cups and spraying down people as they ran and walked by.

Nice job water stop volunteers!!

Something that I noticed right away was the number of people walking at this point.  I am a walk coach so I'm used to seeing lots of walkers but this was only 4-4.5 hour into the race.  4:30 marathoners RUN.  And there was a whole lot of walking going on.  That actually made me feel better because that meant lots of people were listening to their bodies and not pushing the pace too much.

I finally started seeing some of our participants and got the chance to run and walk many of them into the last 1/4 mile (and then running backwards on the course until I found someone else).  Once we passed the 5 hour mark, I started feeling a little weird.  My stomach was churning every time I ran but when I would stop to walk (or to hide in the shade), I felt like I need to take a nap and call it a day.RIGHT.THEN.  Not exactly an option at that point.  But then a wonderful thing happened.

A local business, Checker Bar Ice Cream, took notice of the melting people running and walking by, dragged a table out their front door along with a cooler FULL of ice.  I grabbed handfuls and started stuffing them in my sports bra and rubbing them on my neck.  I was simply overheating and the ice made me feel better right away.  I passed by the business several times with my TNT peeps, grabbing cups of water and handfuls of ice for them.

Again, with my mama-bear instinct with my participants, I was shoving ice down the shirts of people I barely knew.  I also gave a salt packet to some random dude who was hanging onto the race fencing less than 1/2 a mile from the finish line.  His legs had cramped so badly he couldn't move.  He had a medic with him, holding him up but for some reason, I went over anyways.  I asked if he wanted the salt and he immediately took it while one of our stand-in TNT helpers dropped down and started to massage the calf and then knee of a complete stranger.  It's what we do.

I once again headed backwards on the course until I made it back to about mile 25.5.  My stomach was still being weird for a little while.  I decided to make a pit stop at the porta-potties.  Even been in a full porta-potty on a 90 degree day?  Not pleasant.  They were also out of toilet paper.  Son of a!  Then I remembered my emergency stash of tissues.  I've mentioned my Fuel Belt numerous times before.  I carry everything but the kitchen sink everywhere I go but even more so on a day when I'm coaching.  I even ADD an extra pouch to my belt when I'm coaching.  You gotta have somewhere to put those salt packets and band aids....and cell phone....and lip sunscreen....and an inhaler....and sometimes even a banana. of our other coaches was waiting outside the porta-potty watching my FuelBelt (I don't recommend taking one INSIDE a porta-potty...too much of a risk of dropping it) when I jumped back out and dug out my tissues!  I may or may not have sang Hallelujah.  Too much information?  That's how I roll.

Finally, just when I thought I was going to melt into the pavement on St. Clair Avenue in Cleveland, our last TNT participant reached mile 25(ish).  She was already with a couple other coaches and was picking up more along the way.  Eventually, I made it to the finish chute for the last time that day.  There were 5 coaches walking in with our last participant who was one TOUGH cookie!

Some 8+ hours after my morning started, I ended the day with approximately 14 miles.  And by some miracle, I didn't get any sunburn!  Thank you Neutrogena SPF 55!  I sweat buckets, ran through a hose a couple times, stuffed ice down my shirt and yet the sunscreen still held up all day!  I wasn't even paid to say that.

After chowing down on some finish line food, we made the trek back to our hotel.  We had long missed check out so we had left our bags with the front desk before the race.  We wandered back into the Renaissance Hotel dripping in sweat....and nowhere to to clean up except the lobby restroom.  I really didn't want to make the 2.5 hour hour drive home sitting in my own nastiness so we did the best we could in the restroom.  There were several of us in there trying to rinse off in the sinks and changing into dry clothes in the stalls.  Not my classiest move but definitely necessary.

Several hours earlier, while still on the course, one of our helpers mentioned how yummy a popsicle would taste right in that moment.  And I'm not kidding you that I was fantasizing about popsicle for the rest of the race.  So on the drive home we made a pit stop so I could get gas.  While I filled the tank, my partner in crime, Lisa, was inside the gas station.  She came out with this wonderfulness:

The Mega Missile was for me.  Lots of jokes followed.

Back on the road and one happy camper!  Note to self, popsicles make a great post-race snack.  Especially when said race takes place at the thresholds of hell and you cannot seem to cool off!

At the end of the end of the day, ALL of our TNT participants finished.  Some got a PR.  Some got a PW.  But they all finished SAFELY.  That was a win considering the conditions.  They also raised a ton of money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and in my opinion they are all real heroes.  THANK YOU TEAM IN TRAINING PARTICIPANTS, YOU ROCKED MY WORLD!


  1. What you don't know, is how much YOU ROCK!!! Seeing your friendly face and little deely-bobs, was a saving grace to us melting marathoners. :) ALL of the TNT coaches kept us going and made sure we had everything we needed. You guys are amazing!!! Can't thank you enough! :) GO TEAM!


  2. Wow, you are a rockstar coach girl! Nice work, glad to hear everyone survived. I'm glad I ran my marathon in January, I can't imagine 80+ degree temps!

  3. I <3 Team In Training coaches!

  4. Wow is all I can say! I've been out there and can relate, with the exception of the police and traffic. Great job Coach, there will be something extra in your check1 LMAO.........