Sunday, May 17, 2009

Cleveland Marathon race report

This year’s 32nd Rite-Aid Cleveland Marathon was a tough race. The organizers rolled out a new course that was supposedly going to bring more tail wind. Anyone who’s run the Cleveland Marathon over the past few years knows that this race is notorious for its fierce wind coming off of Lake Erie. Despite the new course, the wind was definitely a factor at this year's race, delivering seemingly non-stop gusts of 20-30 miles per hour. As a relatively tall runner (6’2”, 168 lbs.), the wind was pretty hard on me. I battled through the 26.2 miles, never quite getting into a groove, but still managed to finish 34th overall with a respectable time of 2:59:01 (6:49 pace). This marked my third consecutive sub-3-hour marathon, but it was not a marathon PR.

Before I go any further, I want to congratulate the Cleveland Southeast Running Club president and my friend, Frank D., who at 52 years-old broke 3 hours for the first time with a 2:56 at Cleveland. On the heels of a 3:00:13 at the Boston Marathon only a month ago, Frank ran a very strong, determined race at Cleveland and all of us in SERC are happy for him. He’ll be running in the Burning River 100 on August 2 and will surely do well.

The Cleveland Marathon was begun in 1978 to promote health and fitness in Cleveland. The race also raises money for Cleveland Marathon Charities, a 501(c)(3). which has donated more than $1 million to local charities since its inception in 1977. CMC donated over $60,000 in 2007 and 2008 alone to various non-profits involved in health and wellness. You can see where these donations go by clicking here.

The Cleveland Marathon is kind of a figure-8 course run through a number of urban areas in and around the city. It starts at East 9th Street and St. Clair Avenue and goes west along Erieside (around the north side of Cleveland Browns Stadium), south along West 3rd and West 6th streets with a stretch on Prospect/Ontario, and then west on Lorain/Carnegie, Detroit Avenue and Lake Avenue. Then you wind around and follow Edgewater Drive (passing Edgewater Park, where the NorthCoast24 will be held on Oct. 3-4, 2009) to the Shoreway and North Marginal. You then head up East Boulevard and then back down the beautiful Martin Luther King Boulevard in University Circle, turning west onto St. Clair Avenue, with a stretch on Euclid Avenue, and eventually crossing the finish line on Lakeside downtown.

The good: Save the ferocious wind, the sun was out and it was beautiful with the temperature going from the high 40s to low 50s--perfect. I liked the course. It offered a nice view of Cleveland with a long stretch along the scenic Lake Erie. The races were also pretty full, with the half-marathon actually selling out. Only a few years ago I could drive up and park about 100 feet from the start. Not this year. This is, of course, a good sign because it shows growth. As far as my time, while it was 4 minutes off my goal, I broke 3 hours and anytime you break 3 you’re doing something right. The race was also well-organized with ample volunteers, security and traffic-control personnel, plenty of water drops and two strategically located gel stations. Also, and as always for the Cleveland Marathon, the finisher’s medal and tee-shirt were high-quality. Finally, I saw the legendary Bill Rodgers at the expo. That was pretty cool.

The bad: The wind was pretty awful. It seemed like everywhere I turned wind was in my face. The stretch along the Shoreway Bridge, where I felt like I was in a wind chamber, was horrendous. This was no one’s fault, of course. Another bad was my inability to get into a groove. Some days you have it; some days you don’t. I’m just glad I had enough to cross in under 3 hours. No worries--the time to peak isn't now; it's at the approaching Mohican Trail 100-Mile Run.

The ugly: The crowd support was pretty much null and void and embarrassing to this Cleveland-area resident who wants so badly for our city and region to move past our reputation as a joke. Next to the 2007 Erie Marathon at Presque Isle, this year’s Cleveland was the loneliest marathon I’ve ever run. Maybe there was a memo to the city’s residents telling them not to come out and join in the festivities. Also, the speakers blaring rock music every mile or so, with no one around, was a missed opportunity. As we live in the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, it shouldn’t be hard to line up some tribute bands and a party every mile to really make the Cleveland Marathon an event no one will want to miss. Have an Elvis impersonator and some bands playing the rock music you want to hear in the city of Rock ‘n Roll—songs by Alice Cooper, the Beetles, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, AC/DC, etc.

During the last 6 miles I had serious doubts about being able to finish in under 3 hours. As I ran the hill up to East Boulevard at mile 17, I felt some burn in my legs and, for a second there, wondered if I was about to run out of gas. But I recovered and stayed on pace. The stretch down MLK (mostly mile 20) is always tough for me for whatever reason. I managed to regroup mentally on St. Clair Avenue, but then when I got onto the 40th Street/Euclid Avenue/East 18th Street stretch, things got ugly as the wind was blowing me in all directions and some idiot motorist pulled out in front of me and (fortunately) got tagged by the police officer directing traffic. The wind on East 18th was particularly bad and it was only through experience and resolve that I held it together. Needless to say, I was quite happy when I crossed the finish line—no more wind to fight.

What I Learned from the Cleveland Marathon
This was my 12th marathon and I'm still learning a lot about racing 26.2 miles. While I’ve been putting in some serious mileage and decent track work over the past few months, my tempo runs haven’t been as consistent as they should have been, and this showed in my Cleveland Marathon performance. My splits were:
  • 10K (6.2 miles): 41:00 (on target)
  • First half: 1:28:06 (about a minute off)
  • 30K (18.6): 2:06:21 (about 3 minutes off)
  • Second half: 1:30:55

I can run 7:30 pace for a long, long way, but when I’m pressing for 6:40 pace I have to have put in the necessary tempo running during training to maintain such a pace. If I’m ever to go south of 2:55 in a marathon and hopefully break 2:50 one of these days, I have to emphasize lactate-threshold workouts (a.k.a., tempo runs) just as much as high mileage (long runs and two-a-days) and VO2 max (intervals) workouts. Plus, the one-week taper may not have been enough. All of that said, the Cleveland Marathon, while important to me, was not a key event on my calendar, so I’ll take my 2:59.


For the week, I ran 58.5 miles, including the Cleveland Marathon, and will look to recover in the coming week with a goal of 60-65 relaxed miles. If I’m feeling really good by Memorial Day weekend (my favorite weekend of the year), I may adjust my goal upward just a little. Then next week I begin a two-week high-mileage cycle to wrap up my Mohican Trail 100-Mile Run training and go into a two-week taper for the big event. My goals for those two high-mileage weeks are 90+ and 100+ miles, respectively, but no goal is more important than STAYING HEALTHY. That means continued emphasis on stretching, ice baths, good dieting, etc.

Onward and upward!


  1. Congrats on a great run and another sub-3. You're in a groove now. Great race report. I love "The good...The Bad...The Ugly." You nailed it. I want live bands, even if they are only once every four miles. Better that than the lame PAs. Thanks for the kind words about me. I had a really good day.

  2. Congrats to you Wyatt. I enjoy and am motivated by your messages. I just ran the Wilmington, DE marathon (state #32). My goal was to beat Tony G, I did!