What a day at the races! I’m back with the 2019 edition of the Cleveland Half Marathon race review and recap. Find out what made it so memorable — and what I wish I could forget.
First, let me start off by saying I’m sorry. I realize it’s been a hot minute since I’ve posted anything in this space but life got super insanely crazy for me and I’m just now finally getting a tiny bit of a breather. So I apologize for ghosting the blog. I should have a bit more time on my hands to post now, though. I hope you’ll forgive me.
Second, I ran my 18th half marathon over the weekend at the Cleveland Marathon. If I had to sum it up with one word, I would choose “insane.” Everything about it, from start to finish, was insane. If you’re ready for a roller-coaster, grab a cup of joe and pull up a chair. It’s a doozy…
Before I get into the meat of the story, let me give you the overall review of the race. Check it out:
2019 Cleveland Half Marathon Race Review
I took the rapid down to the race again this year. As much as I hem and haw about it, it’s actually incredibly easy and I made it to the starting line with no problem.
The crowd support seemed better than usual this year. I’m guessing because the weather was spectacular for spectating. There are a few stretches of desolate nothingness but that happens in any race so no different for the Cleveland Marathon.
The course is good. My only complaint is the cobblestone streets, grated bridges, and the famous Cleveland potholes. I always get a little banged up during the Cleveland races and it’s little wonder why.
Sadly this was yet another year that I couldn’t really hang around outside for the finish line festivities. What is it about this race that churns my stomach?! I don’t know! I had plans to meet friends in the beer tent after and, of course, I didn’t make it. Next year, darnit!!
Okay so weather… where to begin. It’s literally the bulk of my race recap so maybe I’ll just save it. I’ll just say this: in true Cleveland fashion, us runners couldn’t catch a break…
2019 Cleveland Half Marathon Race Recap
An Unseasonably Cool Spring
There are a few things you need to know as background to this story: it’s been incredibly chilly this spring. Lots of rain with below average temperatures. It hasn’t been pleasant, to say the least. As a track coach, I’ve been outside through almost all of it. I’ve used more hand-warmers this spring than I did through all of winter if that tells you anything. I’m so done with cold, wet days. So that’s where we’re at — weeks (and months) of training in cold, usually wet, weather.
As we approached race week, my more ambitious runner friends began checking the weather apps diligently and began mumbling displeasure at the predicted temperature of 70˚. Little did any of us realize how much it would climb over the week leading up to the race. As of Friday night, the prediction for race day rose to 83˚F. In contrast, on Saturday morning (the day before the full and half marathons and 10K) the temperature was in the low 50s and rainy. My Kids Run the Nation runners ran a very unpleasant 5K that day. That same afternoon (still Saturday), the temperatures soared into the upper 70s for the first time since last fall.
Running in Warm Weather
While I was looking forward to warmer weather, I concede that warm weather does take a toll in all race conditions, particularly in distance running. There are so many miles to cover and an already taxed body is taxed even more when it has to work overtime to simultaneously exert itself and cool itself down. So while I do prefer warmer temperatures as compared to other runners, I do realize this makes racing and distance running more challenging.
As it is, if you’ve been following me on social media for a while or a regular blog reader, you know I do exceptionally well in warm weather races. I have zero interest in being cold. (There’s nothing I like less if we’re being completely honest.) The warm weather prediction frankly didn’t bother me a whole lot. I actually brought throw away arm sleeves with me to the race because I was worried I would be cold at the starting line!
For only the second time in my running career, the warm weather was not my friend on Sunday. It wasn’t anyone’s friend. Almost everyone I know was off their target by a minimum of ten minutes, most in the 20-30 minute range. More on that later. (Ironically, the only other time warm weather and I didn’t see eye to eye was at the 2015 Cleveland Marathon.)
Race day is here!
Race day started off with the usual pomp and circumstance. A bunch of us met up to take the train into downtown including some old friends — and new (adding names here so I can use them through the post — Ashley, Paloma, Kitty, Julie, and Sara)! We had our snacks, our water, and excitedly chatted for the 40-minute ride downtown.
When we arrived downtown, we got to enjoy lovely, clean restrooms before the start, and then Sara and I headed over to the starting line for the Cleveland Marathon ambassador photo. (Side note: the corral volunteers weren’t so interested in us entering corral A. Maybe my ambassador shirt didn’t quite prove I was an ambassador?)
After some more photos, we separated into our corrals and said our “good luck’s” and “see you at the finish’s.” It was there that I happened to bump into one of my runners, Stacey. It was so great to finally meet her in person and talk about her race day plan. Thinking back on it, we should have taken a picture together. Not sure why we didn’t. Coach fail!
Plan? What plan?
Going into this race, I literally had no plan. I don’t really have big time goals for spring races since the weather is so variable. Knowing I’m a better warm weather runner than most, I was kinda hoping to use it to my advantage. I felt really good through about mile 9. I started off running with Sara for a few miles, then made my way through the course, saying hi to various friends along the way. It was quite fun!
Seeing so many familiar faces is one of my favorite things about the Cleveland Marathon. I saw my frequent training partner and friend, Liz; my long time friend who I chase at every race, Cindy; fellow ambassador and one-third of the Terrific Trio, Melissa; close friend, Ashley, and new friend, Paloma; fellow MRTTer’s, Megan and Michelle; and finally, Stacey!
Running by effort instead of pace
It wasn’t until after I saw everyone that I started to really slow down. The temperature was continuing to rise and I didn’t have any salty snacks with me (facepalm). I focused on hydrating often. A couple times I even dumped water on my head which was really out of character for me.
Usually in half marathons, I start to chip down the time around miles 9 and 10. I know I only have 3-4 miles left and won’t be too uncomfortable for too long. When I got into position to start doing this, I realized I couldn’t safely do so. The desire was there but I knew I would be asking for trouble if I continued to push the pace. Instead, I treated the last three miles like I would the last six miles in a hot weather marathon. I walked much more than I normally do, I stopped at every aid station and got two cups of water. I even started picking the pretzels out of my chocolate trail mix for any semblance of salt.
It’s hot, guys…
I’ve been running for the better part of a decade. I’ve run in all sorts of races. Hot weather, cold weather, hot and rainy weather, cold and rainy weather, snow, sleet, hail, damn near tornadoes. You name it and I’ve run in it. I’ve only run in hot weather for marathons. (Not purposefully, that’s just how things shake out for me.) So I’m not an inexperienced hot weather runner by any means. In fact, warm weather is my jam. I thrive in warm sunshine.
In all my years of running and racing, I’ve never seen so many ambulances and medics on a race course as I did on Sunday. It was a humbling experience and a harrowing reminder that we are not immortal and our bodies are very much affected by the world and conditions around us. When I would hear an ambulance approaching, I would do a head to toe mental check on my status to make sure I wasn’t overdoing it. If I felt like it at all, I pulled back. It was disconcerting to say the least. Every siren, every call to move right, was a reminder of how quickly things could take a turn for the worse.
Riding the struggle bus can be dangerous
As I was in my final approach toward the finish line, there was yet another ambulance racing away. It made it difficult to turn on the game face to cross the finish line strong. I remember passing a medic vehicle with first aid and a stretcher ready, and a bunch of people with expressions of shock and horror on their faces. Never in my life would I have imagined what really happened.
I crossed the finish line none too soon and as soon as I did, I couldn’t figure out if I needed to go to the bathroom, shove salt in my face, or puke. I was also starving and I just didn’t know what my body needed — clearly I wasn’t in the best of shape. Coming off a very cold, very rainy spring took its toll on many a runner at the Cleveland Marathon — including me.
Finish time: 2:21:27
Brunch and some bad news
I made my way toward the hotel where the VIP brunch is held. Before heading in, I stopped to put some things down and rearrange all the things I was juggling. As soon as I did, one of the elite marathoners came over to me to ask where to go. Between our different languages and his physical (and probably mental) state, I wasn’t comfortable letting him walk in by himself. I wasn’t sure if he was going to collapse or get lost or what, so I escorted him through. I had seen enough chaos over two hours to risk letting him go in alone.
Just to be sure, I asked him repeatedly if he was okay and he kept responding that yes he was. Because I’m a mom and a coach, and maybe a little overly cautious, I told the people at the desk checking us in that he might need attention. You can never be too careful.
After being worried about everyone’s safety and well being except for my own, I finally turned inward. I took a moment and found a restroom and took care of business. I changed out of my soaking wet clothes. After washing my hands and face, I promptly piled a plate full of food and, wait for it… barely ate any of it! I chugged cranberry juice which is something I never do, and ate all my fruit. But the bacon? Eggs? Muffin? I couldn’t stomach it!
While we munched and rehydrated, we talked about how brutal the race was, how we all struggled but how we were proud we finished. Sadly, we also learned that someone collapsed and ultimately passed away just 400 m from the finish line. Remember that scene of terror and sadness toward the finish line? Moments before I ran by, Taylor Ceepo passed away. She was just 22 years old.*
Better running days ahead
I’m proud of myself and all my friends, and especially Sara, for pushing through such tough race conditions. We raced smart, dialed back when need be, and despite disappointing race times for a lot of us, achieved what many people only dream of. Sunday, May 19, 2019 will go down as one of the most bittersweet memories and races I’ve participated in.
Other weekend highlights
The weekend leading up to the race was pretty great. Friday night kicked off the festivities with the VIP dinner and Saturday was the 5K race where my elementary school runners ran some of their first 5Ks ever. The weather wasn’t the best on Saturday morning and those kids showed grit as they crossed the finish line with teeth chattering and smiles on (most of) their faces!
Cleveland Marathon weekend is one of my favorite times of the year. And despite the challenges presented this year, I still cherish the memories made and lessons learned. Spending time with my fellow ambassadors and some of my favorite friends always sweetens the deal. I’m already looking forward to next year!
Have you run a hot weather race with tons of ambulances?
What’s your favorite hometown race?
I have tried incredibly hard to keep my review and recap of the 2019 Cleveland Half Marathon succinct and to the point. I’ve grappled for a few days with the untimely death of 22-year old Taylor Ceepo, just a quarter mile from the finish line. I’m a storyteller and I like to convey my experiences through my stories and blog posts. It would be shortsighted if I left Ms. Ceepo out of the story but I want to tread carefully so I don’t disrespect her, her family, or cheapen the tragedy that comes with losing a member of our community no matter how far removed we are from one another.
On the one hand, I wanted to present a fun, enthusiastic recap of the race. And on the other hand, I felt an immense weight of making sure I acknowledged and respected Taylor Ceepo, her friends, and most importantly her family. This is why it’s taken my so long to post my official recap and review.
I don’t take her death lightly and I know most of us in the running community are still grieving her loss.
Rest in peace, Taylor. You are gone but certainly not forgotten.
Linking up with:
Fairytales and Fitness for the Friday Linkup
Runs with Pugs for RIOTS linkup
Kooky Runner for Tuesday Topics