State # 7: Ohio (AKA When Will I Ever Learn…?)

While Cincinnati’s  popular Flying Pig Marathon in May was the one that everyone raved about as being a total blast, it came at a bad time of year for me to travel and I decided to research other options for Ohio. In the end, I chose September’s  Akron, Ohio as my Ohio state race, due to the fact that it got incredible reviews and many running magazines had voted it for various awards such as best swag. But of course there WAS an ulterior motive behind choosing Akron, and that was only after I crossed the finish line would I earn THAT reward!

After Hatfield-McCoy came a LONG, hot summer of training, and it was pretty difficult. Summers in PA are ridiculously humid and hot, and if you don’t get your long runs in at sunrise, you’re in for a pretty miserable experience.  Hydration is so incredibly important, and heat exhaustion is a dangerous risk. I always had to carry a hand-held water bottle and make sure I was able to refill it; I usually made sure I drank water every other mile. Not only is it hot, but the trails are filled with bees, gnat clouds of Biblical plague proportions (I have run so many times with a gnat lodged in my EYE for several miles), snakes, snapping turtles and other fun critters. Makes you long for crisp Fall weather more than ever!

I also learned to love using honey as a training run fuel. It really worked great. Easy to consume and economical, honey is a simple, natural sugar with lots of beneficial properties that can’t be found in more refined sugars. It is even been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, which is a plus when you are a distance runner that might have struggles with muscle and joint pain. So I would carry honey packets in a Spi-belt or keep a honey bottle in my car for a fuel stop and consume it directly from the bottle. Within ten minutes I always felt a positive boost of energy!

I decided to try something new for Akron. Now here is where the needle scratches on the record, the music halts, and heads shake in pity. As an experienced marathoner, I never, ever should have tried this new idea unless I tried it during a dress rehearsal run, but I did it anyway. While it seemed silly, I decided I would carry a honey bear on the race course. No expensive gels, but just pure, natural honey as a fuel whenever I needed it, what better fuel could I use to excel in a marathon?

I had high expectations of this race. I was ready to try to BQ again. I had good success with Hatfield-McCoy, a very difficult race, and Akron, while hilly, was nothing like that race in terms of elevation changes. I knew it would be a piece of cake and psyched myself up for a PR.

From start to finish, the things with this marathon that usually can stress us out were very smooth. Packet pick-up and parking were a breeze. I got a REALLY nice Brooks running jacket instead of a tech-shirt, and the expo was more or less painless except that they make you stay in line and go through the entire expo rather than just beeline to packet pick-up. Slightly annoying but really not that bad. We got to our hotel and relaxed for the night, for the race was the next day and we didn’t have a lot of time to sightsee or enjoy what we saw of Akron, which at first glance looked like a very nice mid-size city, much like Harrisburg.

Race morning we drove from our hotel to the start and expected horrible delays with traffic and parking. Again, this went without a hitch and we were pleasantly surprised that everything was such a breeze.  We stood in the dark waiting for the race to start, while I had my honey bear in hand. It was a cold morning, around 40 degrees, but there was a lot of enthusiasm in the air. The Goodyear Blimp hovered overhead and after the National Anthem the race began with a small fireworks display. Not Disney caliper but certainly a pleasant surprise! And we were off.

This race definitely went by in a blur, and I certainly couldn’t give you mile by mile descriptions, so I am just throwing in a quick paragraph from my marathon review: “The course itself was really never dull; I ran past the Firestone plant, through the lovely Akron University campus, a crushed gravel towpath on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, the refreshing Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens (one of my favorite parts) and a triumphant finish in Canal Stadium. The residential neighborhoods also had plenty of enthusiastic spectators, especially children wanting a high-five.”

Beyond the description of the course itself, all I can say is I started off way too fast (my usual arrogant blunder) and got slower and slower as the race continued. My first ten miles were a quick 8:10 mile clip, but soon I started feeling a tweak in my ankle and realized I had to swallow my pride and slow down or risk not finishing.  I slowed my pace, but soon ran into other difficulties.

I need to go back to why trying anything new on race day is never a good idea: the honey bear idea was a disaster. The temperatures stayed in the low 50’s and it was way too cold to get a sufficient amount from it when I needed it. It was stubborn and viscous and near impossible to consume.  Throughout the entire course of the race I don’t think I consumed more than 200 calories, almost half of what I usually consume. Everything seemed to be going wrong, I felt like I kept hitting walls, and the hills were bringing me to a shambling walk.

By the end of the race, I was spent and miserable. My tweaked ankle was bothering me, and the up- and downhills were murder on my knees. We had a final LONG downhill to get back into the city of Akron where a stadium finish awaited us, and every step felt like a railroad spike going into my legs. While Hatfield-McCoy’s rolling hills really worked in my favor for an awesome sub-4, this race’s rolling hills just made things worse. Chris was close to the finish line and saw me, and I think he could immediately tell that I was having a really bad race.

I finished in 4:15, same exact time as DC. My 8:10 minute clip turned into a 9:50. I was underfueled and taxed by the hills. Again, my overconfidence got the best of me. It was a crushing defeat.

I got an incredible goody bag from the Akron marathon volunteers, and while the food was 90% gluten-filled (and handed immediately to Chris to enjoy), the awesome finisher’s hat is something I still use to this day. It’s one of my favorites. The medal was also an incredible quality and it was nice to sit in the stadium for a bit, bask in the sun (even though it was only around 60 degrees), and enjoy watching the finishers.

Once we got back to the hotel, it was time to get moving for the next portion of our weekend, and my ultimate reward. A Five Guys burger and fries? Well, yes, but it’s even better than that.

Let the fanfare commence, we were  heading to Cedar Point!

For those of you who don’t know, Cedar Point is THE roller coaster capital of America. While it’s no Disney World, it still ranks up there with one of the best amusement parks I have ever visited. Even better, it was completely decorated and themed for Halloween, one of my favorite times of year. The weather was perfect and we really lucked out that we were able to go, so we drove to Sandusky, Ohio that afternoon and crashed in the hotel to recuperate for the next day. Initially I was wanting to go to the park that NIGHT…thank goodness we held off. Instead we got to the hotel and both slept a good 5 hours! Much needed recovery indeed.

The next day was spent hand in hand like little kids, riding terrifying coasters, going through haunted houses, and watching shows in the park. It really was a fantastic day. Sure my feet hurt and shins hurt, and I probably did far more walking than I should have, but it was worth it.

I loved the experience so much I’m hoping we can go there again after I run the Ann Arbor Marathon in June. Just keeping my fingers crossed for good weather!

Akron was the first of three marathons that I ran in the Fall of 2012 in order to qualify for the Marathon Maniacs. I can assure you that the next two go a lot smoother than this one did.

My Results
Official Time: 4:15:38
Overall Place: 726/ 1629
Sex Place: 202/ 649
Division Place: 33/ 111

Lessons Learned

  • I don’t know if I will ever get this right, but start conservatively and STAY that way. You would think after DC I would have known better, but nope, I went ahead and made the same mistake again and it cost me a lot of valuable time. Never start off too fast, and stay consistent with your pace.
  • Never, ever, EVER try anything new on race day. Ever. The honey bear, while economical, cute and a proven, effective running fuel, was a big mistake. I never thought about the fact that the temperatures would have prevented me from getting the much needed calories during the race, but I was VERY underfueled and wiped out from the experience. Luckily I now can use Honey Stinger gels, which are made of honey, water, a little salt and come in portable gel packets. Perfect for what I need and even in cold weather I can hold one in my hand for a few miles until it’s warmed up and can be easily dispensed.

2 thoughts on “State # 7: Ohio (AKA When Will I Ever Learn…?)

  1. I’ve heard great things about Akron, I’ll get to it eventually. LOVE Cedar Point!

    I wore Injinji socks for the 1st time during a marathon. Worst blisters of my life, and 30 min. slower than I planned. I threw them away immediately after crossing the finish line. Amazing what we have to do sometimes in order to learn a lesson, LOL!

    • Lessons learned indeed, we all have our stories to share! Akron IS a great race and I would definitely recommend it to anyone for a smaller Ohio race. I know Flying Pig is the big one, but I prefer the smaller ones, and even Akron was a bit crowded for my own tastes!

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