While I'm not a huge fan of the actual city of Cleveland, the Greater Cleveland area has many wonderful things to offer; primary among these are the many parks and preserves that surround the city. Thanks to the Canalway Parnters, this weekend I had the chance to run the Ohio/Erie Canal Towpath, a beautiful stretch of historical parkway that runs along over 100 miles of canal locks, landmarks, and cultural heritage. I remember fieldtrips to the locks as a child, and trips on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railway which was also on the route this weekend, so it was a fitting return for me while I ran the Towpath Ten-Ten, the second in the Towpath Trilogy of races from Canalway Partners.
The Towpath Trilogy, which includes a half marathon, the ten-ten (choice of 10k or 10 miles), and a full marathon, is a tradition that has been built from the first Towpath Marathon in 1992. Created to raise awareness and funding for the expansion and maintenance of the Towpath Trail, the trilogy's proceeds exclusively benefit the Canalway Partners and their mission to preserve this expansive piece of Ohio history. I've run for some great causes before, but this particular race really hit home for me. Even if you're not interested in running the Towpath races, I would strongly urge you to consider donating to the Partners, to help preserve not only a marvelous strip of natural space, but also hundreds of years of history from America's roots! You can also volunteer at any of their many events, to help lend a hand to this excellent partnership.
ANYWAY. Back to the race. Despite the lovely setting, the weather was less than ideal for the entire morning. We started with heavy cloud cover and sticky warmth, which is never a good start to a race day - especially in a valley that won't see much by way of wind or natural ventilation. I met up with my cousin in the parking lot, which was almost a mile from the starting lines. Race emails leading up to race day had stressed repeatedly how important it was to arrive early, and had advised participants of the distances (0.7 miles to the 10-miler start, a full mile to the 10k start), but somehow the warnings hadn't really sunk in, and we were running a little late! By the time we turned the last corner for the starting line, the race had already begun!
We wouldn't have been able to keep up anyway.
Thankfully, the miracle that is chip timing allowed us to relax and start a few minutes behind without feeling rushed. It didn't take too long to catch up to the back of the pack, but it also didn't take too long for the clouds to open and start dumping water on us. It rained for much of the first two miles, but I have to be honest, the cool water was actually rather pleasant. If only it hadn't been such heavy drops! Once the actual rain stopped, though, we hit muggsville. Humidity was over 80% for the majority of the run, and the valley air was excruciatingly still. Had the sun come out, it would likely have been unbearable, so for once I appreciated the overcast sky, but still! Humidity is the worst.
We gutted out the first five miles with minimal walking, except while crossing the two suspension bridges on the course. While I found the bridge views and appearances to be very interesting, I was not a fan of the very, very noticable swaying motions we experienced while crossing! Neither myself nor my cousin had experienced that much bridge sway before, and certainly not during a run, so we played it safe and walked to allow our bodies to better anticipate the motion. After mile five or so, the humidity finally started to take its toll, and we initated a run-walk split, slowing our pace for one minute every time we hit a mile marker. Miles seven through nine actually went surprisingly quickly, even with my first-ever mid-race bathroom break, but during that final tenth mile, soreness reared its ugly head and we had to walk just a little more than we had intended. This was a training run for both of us, so neither of us regarded the need to walk as a weakness; instead we were trying to take care of our bodies and adjust as needed.
Doesn't matter how icky the day is, this is always
a ray of sunshine at the end of a run!
We crossed the finish line in 1:53 and change, a surprisingly good time for us considering the difficulty we experienced with the humidity. While not as impressive as my half marathon a couple weeks prior, it was still a solid time and I'm quite proud! We claimed our medals and meal tickets, and quickly cleared the finish line area. Back in the parking lot (another half mile or so from the finish) was the post race food: a full brunch spread from Quaker Steak and Lube! We made it back to the restaurant just in time to catch the tail end of the age group awards, which led into some live music from a very talented man with a guitar. We loaded up our plates with bagels, scrambled eggs, sausage, some divine macaroni and cheese, and whatever else we could fit, then settled into a booth and started the long recovery process. I found a few minutes to pay my compliments to the race director, then we wrapped it up and headed home to rinse away all the sticky!
Oh man. Yes please.
Organization: Easily, the highlight of this race's organization was the volunteer work. I've been to many race events by now, and I've had a wide range of volunteer experiences, from total disinterest and unhelpfulness, to day-changingly positive. The Towpath Ten-Ten was day-changingly positive, thanks to ample attentive helpers all over the course. I think it is especially relevant to note how smoothly the aid stations (which were plentiful, thank goodness) were run: different colored cups to distinguish water from Gatorade, loud and clear vocal distinctions from the cup holders, and, most importantly, eye contact like woah. It's so frustrating to come up to an aid station and have an inattentive volunteer who doesn't realize you're trying to take the cup out of their hands. Not so at the Towpath - every volunteer was actively looking to connect with approaching runners, so they could adjust and provide the most fluid hand-off possible. And while every race will have good volunteers mixed in with the average or poor ones, to have an entire race with lots of stations that are ALL equally well manned is a testament to organization. I'd also like to note that pre-race communication was clear, and that my late start was totally my own fault! I had plenty of warnings!
Weathered but DONE! I've looked worse after races. Maybe.
The Course: I've already rambled about the beauty of the Towpath Trail, but I have yet to mention how well marked the course was. True, the trail is mostly a straight course with few turns or offshoots, but every mile was clearly marked and the two race distances were easy to distinguish from the signage so no runners saw the 10k's four mile sign (which was the 10 miler's seventh mile) and panicked! Once again I was reminded how spoiled Chicago's flatness has made me, as some of the course experienced elevation changes, but nothing severe or insurmountable. The bridges were probably the largest incline areas, and the hill was less noticable when focusing on the awkward swaying. It would be nice to find a more parking-convenient starting location, though with the nature of the trail I can appreciate the difficulty in finding the proper place to start two race distances that rely on a certain turn-around point. Overall, a very scenic course with enough little challenges to keep the path interesting over an extended run.
The Swag: Runners in the 10 miler received a technical shirt, a medal, and the post-race brunch for cost of $40-$50 (depending on how early they registered). This might be one of the best valued races I've seen in a while, especially considering the race length, the quality of the swag (the shirt is really nice, even if it is cut a little short), the high level of organization, and the charity aspect of the race. I'm impressed with how much value was packed into a tidy package. The 10k cost ranged from $30-$45, but those runners did not receive a finisher's award, which skews the value of the shorter race only slightly. I really like the medal! It's got the little guy on the mule, a reference to the barge pullers that would frequently travel down the trail (hence, towpath). I was also surprised by the quality of the brunch, and though I didn't eat nearly as much as I put on my plate (it looked so gooood), everything that made it into my mouth was delicious. It was also surprisingly nice to have a designated "chill space" after the race that wasn't a bustling tent festival. We could ease into comfy seating and just relax for a while, which is a value all in itself!
The Bottom Line: I plan to be involved in future Towpath Trilogy events for certain, whether it's running or volunteering. I was thoroughly impressed with this race, and with the people involved, not to mention my excitement for the associated cause. I haven't been thrilled about my Chicago departure, but experiences like this one remind me of all the joy and excitement that waits for me back home. I will definitely find my way back to the Towpath soon, and I hope to see you there with me!
What brings you back to your favorite childhood memories? Do you have a soft spot for particular races or events that have impressed you in the past? How about suspension bridges - anyone else find that swaying thing to be a bit distracting?