My Cleveland Experiences

……..or how I learned from my racing mistakes!

I have run the Rite Aid Cleveland Half Marathon twice, once in 2009 and again in 2011. Each race was a completely different running experience for me.  I thought I’d share what I learned in the hopes that my mistakes and what I learned from them can help other runners.  Here are my Cleveland stories:

2009 was my first attempt at any significant distance.  After running my first 5K in the spring of 2008, I decided it was time to train for something bigger, something better.  I followed a beginner’s training plan, focusing on using the treadmill at my local YMCA for most of my running.  I rarely ran outside.  I relied heavily on the babysitting available at the Y to keep my young kiddos occupied and outdoor running was just plain tough in Cleveland!  Living near the lake didn’t help-I constantly felt as if I was battling the wind and my lungs were just not well-developed for it.  So, my training was OK, but not amazing.

Fast forward to race weekend-I hopped downtown to pick up my bib, got home, tried to sleep and woke up on race day ill-prepared for what Cleveland had to offer.  Temperatures were low the morning of the race and the wind blew steadily.  I had no idea what to wear, so I put on my race shirt (eek!), cotton leggings (eek twice!) and a zip front running jacket that had a hood.  Once downtown, I realized how underdressed I was.  Runners around me wore headbands, gloves and full-length pants.  On the old race course (pre-Brown’s stadium days!) runners used the lobby of a local hotel to stay warm and use heated restrooms.  I joined the crowd and felt the angry eyes of hotel employees resting on all of us unexpected guests.  Runners around me started to shed layers and I just stood there, anxiously hoping I had done enough to prepare.  Oh, and breakfast?  I had breakfast-a yogurt smoothie.  For some insane reason I woke up that morning and decided to try something completely new.  On race day.

The race flew by.  I remember little, except for a hill that seemed to continue for a mile.  I focused forward, listened to music, and ran.  My husband told me later that he saw me at one point on the course and tried to wave and call my name, but I appeared unreachable, in some type of far-away zone.  As I neared the finish line, Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” carried me through.  I walked through the finish area, stunned, sobbing.  I found Phil, by some small miracle,  and he handed me Starbucks and we walked to the car.  I was exhausted, elated and unsure of what to do next.  I didn’t understand chip time, knew only that I had finished around 2:30 (chip time=2:27:11) and was thrilled to death to be done.  My biggest reward?  The best finish line photo of my life.  I’m not smiling, I’m not laughing, but every emotion I felt is plain as day on my face.


Now, 2011 was a different story.  After a soul-crushing DNF in 2010, I decided to come back for 2011’s half marathon.  Two years had taught me more about running than I thought I could know and the differences helped immensely.  First, I followed the exact same training plan.  I was coming off an injury and needed to consider myself a beginner again; however, my running was a solid mix of indoor and outdoor training.  I learned to deal with the wind, my lungs got stronger and my running improved.  Second, I embraced the walk/run method.  I settled in to a ratio of 8 minutes of running to 1 minute of walking.  It worked for me, and though some purists frown upon this as “not really running” I disagree (and generally frown upon purists).  Finally, I came to this race to have fun, to embrace the city that had been my home for my entire life, to spend time with friends, to see the new course that promised to be better and faster, to start and end a race near the home of the Cleveland Browns, the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame.

I started race morning with my new regular pre-run breakfast of toast with peanut butter and jelly (carbs+protein+carbs).  I drank my routine cup of coffee, packed my water and safety-pinned a couple of Gu packs to my waistband.  I arrived to the race after carpooling with friends, with a bag packed with extra clothes, checked said bag when the time came and enjoyed warming up inside the stadium.  I wore comfortable clothes that I had ran in many times.  My new Garmin was programmed to simply alert me to my 8/1 minute ratios and would not display my mileage, pace or any other information.  When the time came, I readied myself for the starting line, more prepared than I had ever been for a race.  The weather was not ideal, a little rainy, but I didn’t care.  I was ready.

Now this race, I remember.  I remember the first three miles and how amazing they felt.  I remember loving the new course.  I remember seeing great crowds of people, despite the terrible weather.  I remember trying to thank every volunteer that I had contact with. I remember the lady in front of me who was racing barefoot, my friend’s parents who followed the course on bike and cheered us on.  I remember hitting mile 10 and seeing the clock there and thinking “Holy hell, I’m doing great!”  I remember laughing as we came back in to downtown.  Laughing out loud because I was having such a great time.  I hit the home stretch and felt amazing.  The crowd near the chute was cheering loudly (a benefit to coming in near the same time as the men’s marathon finisher!) and I was thrilled.  Chip time:  2:18:22.  9 minutes faster than my first attempt.  I met up with my family, got hugs from my children and my husband.  I saw friends, ate the post-race food and felt like I was walking on air.  It remains the best race experience I’ve ever had.

So here’s what I hope runners will take away from my Cleveland experiences-

  1. Train like you will race.  Or, DO NOTHING NEW ON RACE MORNING.  Wear the clothes you love and feel the most comfortable in.  Eat what you always eat.  Drink what you always drink.  
  2. Be prepared for the weather.  Cleveland has erratic weather-it could be 45 and rainy or it could be 75 and sunny.  If it’s cold, be prepared to layer up and shed layers as you can.  If it’s hot, be prepared to adjust your hydration/fueling plans and lower your race time expectations.
  3. Come here with friends, carpool when you can, plan when and where you will meet your family/ride post-race.  Coming alone and need a friend for this one?  Send me an email and I’ll do my best to help you connect with other Cleveland runners or I’ll be there to help myself.
  4. Embrace this city.  If you’re not from around here, WELCOME!  Cleveland has amazing restaurants, great local breweries and wineries, one of the best free art museums in the nation and sports teams that are working on being great, too.  🙂
  5. Celebrate the entire time you are running this race.  Don’t wait for the celebration at the finish line-talk to people around you, thank volunteers and policemen, clap for the bands along the course, hi-five a kiddo in the crowd.  Then, join the finish line celebration!  Grab the amazing free food, wear your medal and spend some time basking in the post-race joy.

41 days until you get to create your own Cleveland experience!  What do you have planned for your experience?