Best. Marathon. Weekend. Ever! That’s the super short recap of my 2018 Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon Weekend, which is basically my Christmas. I wait for it all year, and now that it’s over, I’m bummed and already dreaming of next year. This is going to be a long post, so if you’re planning to read it all, get comfy.
For the past 6 years, my Marathon Weekend kicked off on Friday. I take the day off work and spend it enjoying the Expo and VIP Reception. This year, I did something a little different and worked the Information Booth, which was intimidating for me because talking with strangers stresses me out (hello, introvert here!). I have to admit it was much more fun that I envisioned and would definitely sign up again next year. Thanks, people, for being super friendly and understanding when I didn’t have all of the answers!
After grabbing race packets, I did a once-around through the Expo, with the plan of spending more time on Saturday after the 8K (more on that later). Every single time I go to the Expo, I always think to myself, “Why didn’t you bring more money?!” Seriously, just take it all. I want everything!
After making my way back to the hotel, it was time to get fancy for the VIP Reception. This year, the other ambassadors and I decided to up our outfit game because why the hell not!? I felt bad for my dad, who was waiting down at the bar, because I took FOREVER, no thanks to my straightener that wanted to crap out in the middle of curling my hair (yes, I actually did my hair and did not wear a side braid). We arrived fashionably late but had time to grab some delicious food and drinks before it was time for the annual ambassador picture. Cheese! My only wish for the night was having more time to visit with the other ambassadors. Sorry, guys, I wasn’t being snooty or trying to ignore you. Dad and I got wrapped up smashing food, or, more specifically, I got wrapped up smashing desserts. Those little strawberry shortcake things were delish!
The night wasn’t over after the VIP Reception. Dad doesn’t get much of a chance to go out, and I definitely wanted to make sure he had a good time. Seriously, the poor guy needed it badly! A group of us went to Flannery’s and made friends with some of the people from the Pittsburg Marathon and Running USA. Shout out to Brian (who my dad kept calling Ryan), who was so friendly and absolutely awesome. After Flannery’s, Dad and I weren’t ready to call it a night, so we stopped at The Butcher and the Brewer for the fabulous Albino Stout, one of my top 5 favorite beers, and Corner Alley. When in CLE…
Saturday morning came very early. Oh yeah, we were running an 8K! I love that the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon moved the Saturday races to downtown because we were able to walk a few hundred yards to the start line at Public Square. There, we met up with my friends Dan and Cory, who were also planning to run the 8K. Of course, I was also happy to see Andrew and Debbie, who are ambassadors with me. An unexpected surprise was seeing my college friend and ZTA sister, Tisha, and her wonderful daughter when we lined up for the race!
Our race strategy is 1. Have fun and 2. Do a combination of running and walking. I was so proud of my dad because we ran .65 mile before starting to walk, the farthest we’ve gone during this race. Along the course, we saw Melissa and her family. Melissa, another wonderful ambassador friend, is ready to have a baby any freaking second! I loved that she was out there racing!
For me, the race flew by. I loved having this time by myself with my dad to talk and enjoy each other’s company. Living an hour away and with busy schedules, we don’t usually get time together. Dad, I look forward to this every year. And you rocked that race! Way to finish strong!
Afterward, we celebrated our accomplishment at the JACK Casino, followed by lunch at Winking Lizard. It’s a good thing we stopped there because we made friends with Don, who came with his running group from Wisconsin to run CLE! I love that people travel for my hometown race! I sometimes take that for granted because of living so close and always participating.
Saturday came and went with me sleeping for most of it. The week before the race was crazy busy, and we kicked it pretty hard Friday night and Saturday morning and afternoon. I was bummed I didn’t have a chance to hit up the Expo again AND I missed out on my pre-race ritual – food court chicken teriyaki from Tower City. Don’t judge my food choices. At least I had fun watching the Cavs! Then it was time to lay out my flat Steph, start packing up my stuff, and get some sleep, which didn’t happen because CLE was hoppin’ after the Cavs win.
I was up early Sunday morning to get prepped for the race. I was honestly a little nervous because I knew I wasn’t as well-trained as I had been for past races. Damn broken back and C. diff! I reminded myself this year was all about having fun and enjoying the experience with no time expectations. Walking to the Q, I tried filling my head with all my positive mantras, most importantly, “And though she be but little, she is fierce!” (which is also my newest tattoo).
Seeing the other ambassadors and race staff really got me excited. We are like a little family, and I can’t say how much I have appreciated their motivation and support these past few months. We snapped our annual pre-race pic, and then it was time to line up. This race was happening whether I was ready or not. As I stood shivering in the rain and cold, I again thought to myself how much of an accomplishment it was to even be here lining up.
a little Oiselle love and Stephanie power at the start
Then, we were off! The plan was to go out easy for the first mile or so, which is pretty much what you have to do anyway until the crowd thins out. In the past, I would get annoyed with having to run slower and dodge other runners, but this year, I couldn’t care less. I was more worried about dodging puddles because the thought of running a half in soggy shoes sounded less than appealing.
The first few miles were a blur and went by so quickly. I felt great where I wasn’t overexerting myself but still respectable time-wise. I can’t exactly remember the mile, but I met up with my sons’ former wrestling coach, Brian, and chatted it up with him. He was running the same pace as me, so I asked if I could hang. I prefer to train alone, but having someone to race with is always fun for me. The miles clicked by with a steady pace, and I felt incredibly strong. Since this race was all about fun, I high-fived the kids cheering us on along the street, commented to spectators about their awesome signs (the Kluber one was my fave #swoon), drank a Dixie cup of Summer Shandy around mile 9ish, and tried to soak in the entire race experience. It’s been a long time since I’ve had this much fun along the course and felt no pressure.
Before I knew it, we were at the bridge heading back to the city, and I could hear the spectators cheering at the finish. I kicked it in and crossed the line with the biggest smile and a time of 1:48:53! I did it, my first significant race post-injury and illness! I got a little emotional when Brittany, my friend Andrew’s wife and RACM volunteer extraordinaire, hung the medal around my neck. While this wasn’t a PR for me, it was my third fastest half and my fastest CLE half. Now it was time to celebrate post-race with a well-earned beer and friends!
I was still riding the race weekend high on Monday when my family shared something awesome with me. I had no clue the media was taking pictures after the race, but yours truly was printed in The News Herald and The Morning Journal and in the online photo gallery for the Journal. The look on my face says it all about my entire Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon experience.
As I sit here writing my recap, I’m sad this year’s race is over. The Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon has my heart. It is and will always be my favorite race. I am already looking forward to next year. I plan on working my ass off during the rest of this year and next, and I will be back in racing shape for the full, my favorite distance.
Before I end this lengthy post, I want to thank Jack Staph, Ralph Staph, Joan Freese, Kayla Henderson, and the rest of the absolutely fabulous people who worked tirelessly to make the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon great. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to promote your race for the past six years. You have become family to me, and I have so much love and respect for you. Ambassador friends – I loved being on this journey with you! I’m happy to have shared this experience with some of you for the past few years and equally as happy to have made some new friendships this year. Family and, specifically, Dad – I know you think all of my running is slightly crazy, but I love your unconditional support. I wouldn’t have made it this far without you. And Dad, this half was for you. We have all had a challenging year, and with taking on the Challenge Series, I ran this half in your honor. I hope you are proud. I love you. And I think you are turning into one kick-ass runner!