It doesn’t get easier; you get stronger.

Before race day, when people asked me how fast I hoped to finish my third marathon, I’d tell them, “well I’d love to be around 4:30 but I’ll take anything under my previous PR of 4:54:55.”

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Then race day came along and I just didn’t feel like I had trained hard enough to run a 4:30 marathon so my hopes weren’t very high. I had skipped a lot of runs due to the unbelievably high amount of stress and long work hours I was dealing with and in general, some anxiety issues. But on race day, I said screw it, and I decided to try for it anyway. The race started and mile after mile, I held steady 10 minute mile splits. Then mile 18 rolled around and I was still hanging with the 4:25 pace group - and what’s more, I was still feeling strong. I couldn’t believe it. 

I should take a minute here to talk about my pacers who were pretty damn awesome and who I owe a lot of the success of this race to. I never really utilized pacers in previous races, mainly because I hadn’t yet learned to hold a steady pace and my splits were all over the place. But I knew I had been better about maintaining paces this training cycle even though it was still something I was concerned about. So at the start of the race, I headed towards a spot in my corral near my goal pacers. I stood next to Elise and Vince, the 4:25 (10’06” minute mile) pacers in my corral at the start and I told them- “You guys are goal #1 for me. So if I can stick with you for most of this race, then I’ll be pretty happy with my finish time.” 

They were amazing. They held steady paces and threw out tips to the runners surrounding them along the way. Things like, “Don’t use up your power on the downhill, let gravity be your power to get you down” and “shorten that stride on the uphill,” etc. At mile 18, I was pretty excited to still be at their side, matching their strides and feeling so strong. I learned their names along the way and chit chatted to pass the time. I was super bummed I didn't get a picture with them at the end of the race but I had finished a few minutes after them and couldn't find them at the finish line.

My phone had died at mile 19 and without my music, I died a little bit as well. My pace slowed just slightly for the final miles. Still I knew, that with just 7 miles to go, I was going to PR this race. 

There was a new hill at mile 24 that I wasn’t expecting which would have killed me a bit more if it hadn’t been for my girl, Michelle. She had finished her half marathon run and hopped on a UH rent-a-bike to chase down and cheer on all of her run friends. She found me, walking about midway up this mile 24 hill, and yelled out “Leah Backo, you better run up this hill right now!” I was so happy to see her smiling face that I hardly noticed that I was running the second half of that hill. I gave her a brief mid-stride sweaty hug at the top and said “Michelle, I think I’m on track to PR!!!” And off I went.

I crossed the finish line at a sprint after seeing her again at mile 26, something I never had the energy or extra kick to do in previous races and finished strong with a 4:31:10 time.

After the last two marathons I ran, I was ready to collapse. This time, I felt amazing. Sore and tired sure, but so incredibly happy and proud of what I’d just accomplished - a 23 minute PR.

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I want to give an extra special shout out to my mom and dad for all of their support leading up to this day and for being there for me in the rain once again on race day, for my Aunt Dena for holding her “Go Leah Backo” sign at the start of the race and meeting me at the finish line to cheer me on, for my girls Kerri and Kalli for making and holding signs for me and cheering me on, obviously for Michelle for telling me to push harder and sprint towards that PR, for Elise and Vince who showed me how to hang with a pacer and who made me believe that I can accomplish a 4:25 marathon one day, and for everyone else who’s donated to Bright Pink or who has sent words of encouragement to me. I truly couldn’t have done it without you guys!

Ill run Chicago in October and I think I’d like to try and break 4:30. But Cleveland will always be my favorite race and a race that’s near and dear to my soul. I’ll see you next year for another PR, CLE.  

I'll be continuing my fundraising efforts up until October when I'll run Chicago. Consider donating $26.20 for the 26 miles I crushed yesterday.

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Leah Backo