Every year, the Cleveland Marathon comes through town, offering multiple race distances PLUS two-race "challenges", allowing you to run each day and earn extra bling. The 5k and 8k events take place on Saturday, so this year I missed them while in Columbus for work; the full and half marathons, plus the 10k, are on Sunday. The Marathon also boasts a surprisingly exciting expo on Friday and Saturday (with pre-race packet pickup required). I made it back from Columbus with a few hours to spend at the expo.
Picking up my packet was at first a little confusing. They require you to look up your bib number, which could be found online or in one of their printed booklets that were on tables right as you enter the expo, but then you have to find the pickup tables, which were hidden alllllllll the way in the back of the expo behind curtains! I can understand placing the pickup tables in the back, because then you can guarantee your exhibitors that everyone will have to walk around a bit when they visit for pickup rather than grabbing at the front door and leaving, but hiding behind curtains was a little odd. Emails had said I would need my ID to pickup, but no one checked anything, I just gave them my race number and received my bib and goody bag (with actual samples in it, not just coupons). I went around another corner to pick up my shirt, and again no one verified my sizing despite all the emphasis on "NO shirt size switching" throughout the registration and email notifications. Once I had my race materials, I spent some time (and more than a few dollars) browsing vendors and making new connections.
Race morning had me worried. Not because I'm nervous about the run anymore, but because the forecast was dismal, predicting rain and low enough temperatures that there was talk of snow. I had a little trouble sleeping and found myself watching the weather throughout the night, which gave me plenty of warning when it did in fact snow, and more than just a dusting: I actually had to get out early to clean my car off before heading downtown! Snow turned to rain on my drive, and I hit road closures an hour earlier than advertised, so I had to make up a new route on the fly in the middle of an early morning downpour. It was a bleak morning, and I wondered how many people would actually show, especially when I pulled into the Tower City parking lot to find it almost empty.
Once I went through the tunnel to the Q, where the start line was set, I realized the full and half marathons were most likely filled with dedicated runners who weren't about to let the very Clevelandian weather scare them away. Thousands of participants were milling around in the Q and along Ontario street where we'd be starting - and somehow, out of the sea of people, I heard someone calling my name as I stepped out of the building. As luck would have it, my cousin Brooke was running the half too, and happened to spot me early! We met up, headed to gear check, took a last potty break, and found our start corral. The rain was letting up, and before we knew it, Cleveland Rocks was blasting over the speakers and the race had begun!
With the weather holding off for a while, I got to thoroughly enjoy the first half of the course. We ran past the LeBron banner then turned down Euclid to run through Playhouse Square under the beautiful chandelier. We crossed the Lorain-Carneige bridge, which features the Guardians of Traffic, huge sculptures from the 1930s that were actually featured in the Towpath Half as the subject of the photo awards. After the bridge, we split from the 10k runners and headed into Tremont, the area where my office is located. As we ran by Lincoln Park, we hit the first of several advertised "neighborhood parties", which ended up basically being little more than a couple speakers blasting music. I'm assuming the original plans for a more robust party atmosphere were squashed due to the weather, which started to turn sour again once we passed the park.
As the rain turned into pelting hail turned into snow then back to hail, we turned onto Train Ave and began what ended up being the worst section of course: a long, steady uphill under sketchy bridges and boring foliage. I had been under the impression we'd be running through Ohio City, which would have been MUCH more interesting, and miles 6.5 through about 9 were tough mentally because they were boring. Uphill wouldn't have been so bad, I could handle the weather as long as I was moving, but I signed up for this race to run through the city, not on an industrial street with a bunch of trees. Could have been worse, but definitely not what I was expecting.
Finally we made it back to some more interesting scenery, and while there had been spectators all along the course (braving out the weather like champs), the spectator support surged in the final few miles. We split from the full marathon around mile 9 I believe, and reached the shoreway just before mile 12 in the middle of more rain. About a half-mile later, one of the "party" speakers was set up in the middle of the shoreway, and this is where my race nearly ended. I have an interesting and rare condition called hyper-acusis, in which the shattered pieces of choclea in my ears (compliments of many concussions and ear infections) misrepresent the vibrations of low bass sounds and send neurological signals that create some semi-serious heart issues like v-tach arrhythmia. Lay man's terms: when the bass is bumpin', my heart has trouble pumpin'. As soon as whatever song it was came on, the bass hit me so hard I threw up immediately, and I'm pretty sure I blacked out too because I don't remember the rest of the shoreway.
Thankfully, I DO remember coming down the West 6th exit towards the finish line. It was particularly memorable because the sun came out! Adding to the moment of bliss was crossing the finish line with the winning marathoner (yup, he lapped me) AND snagging a PR! With my time of 2:14:45, I cut about 30 seconds off my Sunburst half marathon time, even in the awful weather and hilly course. I didn't actually learn about my victory until long after I crossed, because even though I finished in sunshine, it only took about 30 seconds for the weather to come back in FORCE. I barely had enough time to snap a pic with my coworker Shannon, who had completed the half right around the same time as I had, before having to RUN across the field to pick up my gear check bag in the middle of the worst hailstorm I've ever seen. My face hurts just thinking about the giant pellets coming at me sideways off the lake...
Grabbing our bags was just the beginning of our epic journey back to our vehicles. Brooke and I had both parked near the starting line, not considering that the weather might be even worse after the race which ended on the other side of town from the start. We did the best we could to stay in underground garages if we could, but most of the journey had to be up on the streets, in the wind, hail, and rain. I had to ditch my post-race chocolate milk when my fingers became too frozen to hold on, and I actually had a panic attack thinking I had frostbite. Never in my life have my fingers hurt so badly from the cold. We got into the building where she had parked; I ducked into the bathroom to use the hand drier to warm up, but it only dried me out too fast and caused my fingers to SWELL, making them hurt even more. Finally, I got enough blood flow to my hands to feel a little better and calm down. We found her car, she drove me over to where I had parked, and I was able to get home with the heat blasting!
Post-race recovery became more of a battle to warm up than to tend to my aching body. I went to brunch and celebrated my finish with a Dutch baby pancake before I passed out for most of the rest of the day. I pulled on my favorite compression sleeves, and have spent most of the week wearing my new Telic recovery flip flops, a combination which seems to have me in excellent shape, physically. Recovery is coming much easier to me now, though of course the additional training is what earned me the PR. I'm still a little energy drained from battling the elements followed by a long work week, but my next race is just a couple weeks away, and promises to be equally hilly. With better weather conditions and a few hill repeat days before the race, it's possible I could knock a few more seconds off my time, but I won't be holding my breath! Mostly, I just want another excuse to pound down a Dutch baby...
Despite the weather I'm actually already registered for the half again in 2017! They suckered me in with a special registration bonus: early entrants receive an "I Survived 2016" shirt that features the Cleveland skyline with weather icons representing the incredible range we experienced during the race. It was too funny and memorable to pass up, and the options were to order one straight up for $30 or get an early registration price of $50 that included the shirt, which I thought was pretty much a no-brainer. Even if I end up unable to run next year, I'll still get the race packet shirt PLUS the "I Survived" shirt, and that's good enough for me. See you next time, Cleveland!
Cleveland Rite Aid Half Marathon Breakdown
Organization: Though packet pickup was a little confusing and my schedule had me cutting it close for the two day window for pickup, everything moved very smoothly at the expo. Race day was about as smooth as it could be, all things considered. Gear check was quick and efficient (and managed by the former Hermes employee who's departure had left the vacancy I filled, ironically), race instructions were very clear both prior to the race via emails/website and through announcements on race day, volunteers seemed knowledgeable and eager to be helpful, and the post-race festival area was easy to navigate. A lot of people's memory of the race will be tainted with the awful weather, and I know at first all I really remembered was the hellish trek back to the car, but in all honesty, the race is incredibly well-run.
The Course: As I mentioned before, some of the course got a little stale, but the parts through actual downtown Cleveland were very cool. I clocked the course about a half-mile long, though, and Brooke's GPS seemed to agree... It's one of those things that makes me wonder what my actual 13.1 time would have been and how much more of a PR I would have had! We tried to run all the tangents, but I suppose a few missteps might have added some distance. Aid stations were ample and intelligently located - THANK YOU to vocal volunteers who clearly designated which cups were water and which were Gatorade! Many runners will tell you this is incredibly vital at an aid station for a longer race, and we definitely appreciated it! I could have done without some of the giant speakers, BUT that's a very personal and rare issue; most other runners probably loved having those spots out on the course. The hills presented a challenge but weren't bad enough to make me hate the entire race, so kudos on finding the right balance!
The Swag: My race registration came with a very nice Brooks technical shirt, a goody bag that had more than just advertisements (a few samples, even small ones, are always a nice surprise), and a neat little medal with a spinning guitar when I finished. Thanks to a promo code, even registering a little late I paid under $100 for the event, but with the exception of the Marine Corps Marathon, it's still the most expensive race I've run. With a high quality shirt, an interesting medal, a major city shut down for a couple days, and the months of planning that go into executing an event like the Cleveland Marathon, I suppose those race fees are justified! Of course, I'm going to say make the race photos free, but MarathonFoto is never going to let that happen at major races like this. I thought about buying my finish line photo, but alas, their photographer was standing on the ladder with her camera hanging around her neck, and no finish line photos were taken of me. The best photo from the course is almost completely whited out for some reason, so I will skip the mid-run photos for this race (I didn't take any myself because I didn't want my phone getting wet).
Bottom Line: Well, I'm registered for next year already, I guess that says something! Though I'd love Train Ave to be removed from next year's route, the rest of the experience (hail excluded) was pretty amazing, and I even had a few moments when I unexpectedly teared up from pride and excitement. Any race that can move me emotionally (in a good way) deserves my support, and with an early registration fee of $50 that includes extra goodies, this race is definitely on the calendar for 2017.
Will I see you there??