The Trilogy is comprised the April half marathon (with 5 mile and 3 mile options), the June Ten-Ten (10 miles or 10k), and the October marathon (with half and 10k options). Any runner completing a race on each event day earns a special award after the final race. Last year, I'd run in June and worked in October, but this year I was able to enter all three events. Somehow I still managed to work on every race day, since of course my company times the event and I just can't stay away, but I just love being a part of every Towpath event I can get my hands on!
October in Cleveland can be a risky time for weather. We lucked out on Towpath Marathon day last year, with perfectly clear skies and crisp fall morning temperatures - and thankfully, we had that same luck again this year! It was a little chilly in the parking lot before the race, but I at least had some coworkers waiting to start the race with whom I could hang out and chat while we waited for the signal. With three separate race distances, two separate starting lines, and a finish line nowhere near any of the starts, it's a bit of a logistical nightmare for race organizers to coordinate. Our half marathon starting line had to wait for the full marathon to give us the go-ahead via phone before we could start. We were just a couple minutes late, surprisingly close for how much of a margin for error and delays we have at a race event like this.
The half course starts with a nice long downhill as runners descend from the local Brandywine ski resort onto the Towpath in the valley below. Unfortunately, it's at the start, which means there's too much congestion to really use the downhill to my advantage. On the other hand, refusing to weave probably kept me at a more reasonable first mile pace so I could save the energy for later. Even so, my first mile clocked in at 9:12, which is pretty fast for me even in shorter training runs! I put on the brakes a little bit (not hard once we hit the barely six foot wide Towpath) for a slower second mile at 9:32. Little did I know that second mile would be one of my slowest all day...
I have to say, I LOVE fall racing - and apparently so does my body. I flew through this course. Mile four was an 8:26, which used to be a fast 5k split for me! I had multiple substantially sub-9s, felt like my fueling strategy was exactly on, and though the path was pretty narrow, found myself passing pretty consistently. At one point shortly before the turnaround, I saw one of my social media running buddies crushing it at the front of the pack, and got an extra boost for my own legs. I was on pace to not only PR, but to land my very first sub-2 hour half marathon, a goal I though was still considerably out of reach only a month ago when I booked my latest PR of 2:10:ish at the Boy Scout Half. The entire course is almost completely flat; I had no obstructions ahead of me but my own endurance.
Well, everyone hits a wall somewhere, right? My wall threatened around mile seven, shortly after the turnaround, when my legs started to feel a little sluggish and the rising sun started to activate a little humidity along the canal. Fortunately I was not the only one who felt the specter looming! A few other runners around me started banding together for some conversation and encouragement as they too started feeling the burn. I latched onto them and held on for dear life over the next six miles! Sometimes we talked, sometimes we cheered each other on, sometimes we got a little separated, and sometimes we just ran quietly together. It was exactly what I needed to keep my feet moving. I didn't walk once in this race (short of taking a few steps to drink at a couple aid stations) and though my mile 11 was my slowest, it was still only 9:36. That's right: my slowest mile in this whole half marathon was still ten seconds faster than my average pace at my last PR race.
We got within sight of the finish area and suddenly I was way ahead of our little pack. I felt like I was literally flying. Though my GPS was telling me I had already passed 13.1 a while ago, it was also telling me that I was WAY ahead of my PR. Though I had apparently already lost the opportunity to officially sub-2 (but would have if my GPS 13.1 had been the race finish), there was no reason to waste any more time in crossing that finish line. I blew through the last stretch, pumping my arms to get the crowd cheering, and couldn't stop beaming when I saw 2:03:20 on the clock! Almost eight minutes faster than last month's PR? Yeah just TRY to get me to stop smiling!
Post-race felt incredible, almost like I hadn't actually just run 13+ miles. I bounced around the finish area for just a bit, but headed quickly to the garage where my company had set up a live results station. Since most of the staff had been on site since the wee small hours of the morning, I offered to take over their positions for the remainder of the race. Very little of it was hard work; mostly I manned the results station, answered questions, and schmoozed with runners until the last marathoner finished and it was time to pack up. There's not really any better way to spend a gorgeous October afternoon than helping at a favorite race, is there?
Towpath Marathon Half Breakdown
Organization: Yup, biased on this one, Hermes and Canalway Partners are always great. I promise it's well-earned praise, though! You could talk to just about anyone there and they'd agree. Putting on a marathon is no small feat, and it's even harder to coordinate additional distances at the same time, and it's even harder to do it on a park path that is never wider than 12 feet or so. The fact that we can consistently put on amazing, top ranked events (#2 most beautiful marathon in the country, thanks Runner's World!) with the small staff teams at both companies and the natural limitations of the venue proves that these organizations know what they are doing at the highest level. Volunteer support was incredible and ample, directions and communications were very clear throughout, we started practically on time... The only thing I can't really comment on firsthand is the expo, which I didn't attend because I grabbed my bib while I was prepping them at the office. If I see someone else's notes or get some feedback, I'll be sure to update here.
The Course: The Towpath runs along the Ohio and Erie Canalways, covering over 100 miles between Cleveland and Akron - and every last inch is as gorgeous as you'd expect a national park to be! There's a reason this is ranked one of the most beautiful courses in the country. Though I know the full marathon course passes many more "landmarks", the half course still has some unique and interesting scenery, including several old locks and the ruins of an old paper mill. The only real drawback to Towpath races is that the path is pretty narrow at some points, which makes a three-race, out-and-back course setup a little congested at times. Waiting a few more steps to pass isn't the worst thing in the world, though! I love the gorgeous run, many people do long training runs on the Towpath because of the absolute minimal motor traffic issues, and it's a great place to hold a race!
The Swag: Depending when you register, you might pay up to $90 to run this race, which is a little steep compared to some of the cheap-o half marathons I've run this year, but I almost never mind paying a little extra when I can clearly see where my money goes. Early bird pricing gets you down to $60, which is more on-par with other races I've run recently. Still, every penny is well-spent, whether it's on the super-soft tech shirts (short sleeve for the half, long sleeve for the full), the custom medals, the extremely appreciated ample aid stations, the great post-race food (subs of various sorts, lots of fruit, fancy electrolytes, etc), a free beer for finishers who drink, the extra award you receive if you complete the full Trilogy (that super classy glass beer mug in the photo)... PLUS proceeds from the Towpath races go towards the maintenance and preservation of not only the trail itself, but all the parks, landmarks, and history it touches. Money well spent, for sure.
The Bottom Line: I was honored to have the chance to complete my first Towpath Trilogy, especially in such a glorious fashion! These races will forever hold a place in my heart for the life-changing experiences I have had through them, and I will always be an advocate for this series. If you're in the area for any of the races, please come join me and some of Cleveland's best race organizers for a few miles of American history!
What races hold a special place in your heart? Have you had a life-changing experience thanks to specific details of an important race? What are your favorite running conditions?