Cleveland Marathon 2012: The Mobile Cheer Unit

One of the fun things about being pregnant is that I put my own running goals on hold and can spend my time running helping others’ achieve theirs. This past weekend was the Cleveland Marathon and I’m not lying when I say I was excited to set my alarm for 5:15 to head downtown even though I hadn’t even entered the race.

Many many people got quite a Cleveland experience on Sunday! Image via

Now me and the Cleveland Marathon have had our differences. Back in 2008 I wrote a post on my personal blog about the race and ended up meeting with the race director to discuss my suggestions. While the race director has implemented several of the changes I and others advocated for, as well as other improvements since then, there are still some issues with the race that I believe will never truly be what it could be because the people running the race and promoting the race are not directly connected with the Cleveland running community and don’t even realize how disconnected they are. There are also still lingering logistical issues, but in the race’s defense much of that has to do with the race’s growing numbers (like all marathons during this neo-running boom) and the city’s lack of cooperation. Like many other concerned Cleveland runners before me I attempted to MAKE the race into what I believe it could be, but quickly realized no matter how hard I tried the race directors and I are just not on the same page about the things that matter most to me. So, since I love running and I love the CLE I have made peace with the race and accept it with its flaws.

Anyway, enough about that. This season I coached my friend P and my plan called for me to meet up with her, head to the start and see her off on her 26.2 mile adventure! That part went fairly according to plan save for a major pedestrian jam trying to get to the 4:10 pace group. When you have ~20,000 runners you need a more organized line-up system than a free for all, but hopefully they’ll figure that out next year. Anyway, we got close enough and waited and then we were off. I ran with her for about .25 miles or so and then made my way to the sidelines. The plan was to meet again later in the race. I watched P disappear in the swarm and made my way back to the start.

Me and P before her big 26.2 adventure!

I was planning to meet Clove by the starting line after the marathon, but the 10k was starting from the same line a mere 15 minutes after the marathon start. Since the marathon started late and took eons to clear out the 10k’ers didn’t line up until after their reported 7:15 start time. I watched my faster friends and other elite runners at the front of the start who were clearly irritated by the lateness. And then the announcer said, “Runners…” and they all got ready to go! But the announcer continued “good news! Just 10 minutes to the start!” Oh boy! You should have seen the eye rolls. It was pretty funny, although I would have been mighty irritated too if I was racing.

During that whole 10k debacle I was scanning the crowd for Clove. She texted me and told me she was by the DJ booth and I was right across the street from it and still couldn’t see her. Then I noticed a sign and it said, “I’m With Salty.” “That’s weird.” I thought. “Someone’s dad is called Salty too.” Thinking the sign was meant for one of the runners, I didn’t think to study the person holding it. But then I got curious and looked and suddenly realized it was Clove! HAHA. I can be a little dense!   We have never met in person and in most of her photos she’s in running clothes and a ponytail so the chick in the jeans and the long hair didn’t register! FINALLY!

Of course I'm the only Salty!

After the 10k runners (finally) started we ran to the corner of the street and were finally together for the first time. It’s so funny when you’ve never met someone but when you’re together for the first time it feels like you’ve known each other forever. Anyway, we had some time to kill before we were to head to our checkpoints so we made the logical decision to go stuff our faces at the VIP brunch. It’s nice having connected friends! So we ate and chatted and then were off to spectate. After seeing a few sub-1:30 half marathoners have to slow down for cars a cop let through at an intersection (SERIOUSLY!) I spotted my friend and teammate CV and gave her some cheers and then headed up a couple of blocks just in time to see Clove’s hubby running by the 12 mile mark right on time for his sub-3 attempt.

Cheesin' in between cheers.

Once Mr. Clove passed we strolled on down the course and cheered and chatted as I waited for Salty-friend Michelle. I decided I’d meet her around 13  and then run 4-6 with her as she attempted to run 3:30 before meeting back up with P who was planning to finish about 40 minutes after Michelle. I said goodbye to Clove as Michelle came up right on time and we were off. It was warm, but it didn’t feel too bad to me since I was just starting on my run but I could tell all the racers were feeling it. About 1.5 miles on our way I spotted a guy with ice and sprinted ahead to grab some. I stuffed in my sports bra and ran back to Michelle and company to distribute it. I wish I had more! But it was definitely a temporary help.

Our 3:30ish crew still intact around mile 14.

Within about 3 miles we lost our company and it was just me and Michelle. We weren’t chatting so much any more and I didn’t want her to waste her energy so I didn’t say much at all. I didn’t complain as I wanted to about the incredible distance between water stops we were now encountering. We passed a stop around mile 17 and then there wasn’t another one until 19.5!  At that water stop I sent Michelle on her way alone to finish the job. While our pace did slow over the 6.5 miles we ran together (we started around 7:55, but ended up averaging 8:04) we passed runner after runner after runner. I think we were passed by one guy the whole time! She was on and I could tell. I am eager to hear from her how those last miles went!

Michelle focused. My camera, not so much.

After she left I waited next to the water stop and quickly realized they needed some help. So I volunteered and put on some rubber gloves and handed out cups. So many more racers were now walking rather than running. Many needed 2-3 cups at the stop. If they only took one cup I tried to get them to take another just because it had been so long since they had anything and could be a long time before they got anything else! Runners were suffering bad and I felt for every one of them. But the 4:10 pace group was due to be in to the station soon so I had to give up my gloves and step back and wait for P. While I was waiting I ran into a friend I went to Boston with back in 2007. It was nice to have some company. I also saw Kristy who was having a rough time. I’ve been there. I know how hard it is to keep going when things aren’t going your way, but she was toughing our her first marathon finish!

I finally saw the 4:10 group, but they came and went with no P. I started to worry. I worried about P. I worried that maybe she dropped out. I also worried about myself and Boo Boo. As the time wore on the temps went up. I still had to go 7 miles back to downtown Cleveland! So I had to make the excruciatingly difficult decision to head back with the 4:25 pace group with or without P. I never did see her but it was time for me to head back.

I ran with Rick the 4:25 pacer for about a mile. He was all by himself! No group left! I felt pretty good as we ran along the lake, but then we turned to go back into the city and went up a hill in the sun and I started to not feel so great. I started to walk every now and then. I saw friends and I stopped to chat. I cheered for EVERYONE! Everyone out there running or walking was a freakin’ rock star. It was so brutal out there! I couldn’t imagine running 26.2 in that. I was on my way to 15 with a 45 minute break in the middle and I was getting pooped! I was tempted to take a shortcut and run straight to downtown rather than follow the meandering course, but I figured being a pregnant lady running alone in the hood was probably not the smartest move. So I kept on. I am so glad I borrowed a handheld water bottle. I don’t think I could have made it without it! When we were within 2 miles of the finish I saw a girl crumpled on the side of the road with her boyfriend tending to her. I stopped and urged her to keep moving. “Walk as slow as you need to go, but keep moving forward. You have come too far not to finish!” Then I saw another man sitting down and told him the same thing. He got up and kept going. I hope they finished!

As we got closer to the end and back into civilization (whoa miles 22-24 were GROSS. Nasty industrial area and TERRIBLE pot-holey roads. Sure, I used to tempo over there with my downtown crew, but to include that in a race to highlight our city–um no! As my friend Matt so kindly informed me, “they found a dead body under one of those bridges a few weeks ago.” Yeah, it was that nice!) I was getting excited for everyone. I congratulated everyone I passed after mile 25 and encouraged the crowds to celebrate these amazingly tough people! Finally my turn off came and I kept on running to Key Tower where my shower was waiting. I gotta say. That shower felt pretty good!

I got a text from P after I was dried off. She finished around 4:45! YES! Kristy ended up with a 4:14 and Michelle was 3:36:07. 48th woman overall with a BQ! CONGRATS EVERYONE!

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Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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  1. What a great support system you were for so many people out there! I’m sure it helped them immensely.

    Yeah, there are definitely some kinks that need to be worked out with that race. It’s a fast course, and that’s nice, and it seems like the crowds get into it pretty well, too. It was very interesting to me to compare running cultures from Baltimore to Cleveland! I grew up in NE Ohio, but I was never a runner there, so this was a good taste of what the running world is like there.

    Next year you’ll be running it?

    1. I was just heading over to your site to see how things went for you. So sorry I missed you. I saw a woman in an Oiselle singlet from the back and thought it might be you, but it wasn’t. I’m watching your video now (slow connection and currently “buffering”). I just heard anemic! GIRL! That’s probably what’s going on, plus nasty hot Boston recovery and I’d say a 1:51 ain’t bad working with 50% of yourself! Come back next year and I’ll cheer like crazy for you and we can share a post-race beer!

      I will probably do the 10k next year as I think the 10k will be my goal distance for the year. The following year the race should be on my birthday so I might just have to do the full then! I’m scared though. I am honestly nervous about making this race my goal marathon because of the weather and the race is just unpredictable. We’ll see how it goes next year before making any decisions 🙂

  2. This was an absolutely perfect description of that awful day! Now that I see your pictures here I realized that the adorable pregnant girl who jumped in to help/run with her friends was YOU!!! How funny! I was with the 3:30 group until we got passed by the 3:35’s around mile18!!! (WTH???) When the guy said we needed to speed up to finish on time I mentally flipped him off and watched him and one other guy run away from me… Those last miles were just terrible. So I told myself to just keep going, no matter how slow, because if it hurts now, just imagine how much worse it’ll hurt WALKING to the finish line!?!? I completely agree with you about miles 22-24… There has got to be another road to take to get back downtown!!! Considering how dehydrated, delirious, and disappointed I felt, I was glad to have finally crossed the finished line in 3:42…. With all of that said, I’m now deciding whether or not to torture myself next month in Canton??? I can only imagine that a marathon in June will feel like running straight into hell!!! 😉 LOL!

    1. Nicole – I was passed up as well. The 3:30 group blew past me around mile 21. When I say blew past me, they were literally almost sprinting. How screwed up is that!!! I was so disappointed with the pacers. I even talked to the women in charge of them at the expo because I was concerned about them going out to strong (which they did – my 1st 4 miles were at a 7:45-7:50 pace, and they were a good distance ahead of me). Then, at mile 24, I was passed by the 3:35. Fortunately, I still had some gas in the tank, and was able to pick up my pace a little and they ended up not being to far in front of me. Are you running Canton to try and BQ? I am running the relay there. At least it isn’t too far into June and the start time I believe is 6 am, yes?

      1. Ok, I’m glad you noticed that too! My watch was averaging 7:49 until almost the 10k, although it was quite a bit ahead of each mile marker. I guess I’m glad I didn’t try to stay with them to catch back up because “sprinting” through mile 21 wasn’t even fathomable to me at that point! 😉 I was barely shuffling! Glad you were able to tough it out and finish strong! I actually got my BQ last year in Columbus, thank God! And yes, 6:00 am start, so I’m hopeful for decent temps! Good Luck to you there!

    2. The pacer’s for the CLE marathon are not pro-pacers like some other races, but local runners volunteering (at least for the most part). I think they were all really nervous about making it in on time with the heat. That being said, as a runner that kind of stuff messes with your head and freaks you out! I ran with a inexperienced pacer and it destroyed me and I had to DNF! He was a 3:10 pacer and we dropped a 6:40 11th mile! NO! He finished in over 3:15 so it hurt him too!

      Good luck if you do Canton. I’d love to hear what you think of the race. I’ll be pulling for unseasonably cool temps!

      1. I give every pacer credit for doing what they do! I’ve been fortunate up to this point to run with some great ones who taught me so much during those few hours, kept my mind sane, and brought me in on time! I may actually use your idea and have a friend waiting along the course in Canton for the last stretch! Hoping for better results and cooler temps next month!

  3. Salty was my lifesaver!!! So much so, that if I were to have any more kids, and we were blessed with a girl, I would name her after her!!!!

    I am still on such a high and in shock & disbelief. I seriously cannot believe I did as well as I did. From mile 18 on to about 24, I dealt with bouts of mild nausea. Not enough that caused me to stop or walk, but so much so that I had to force myself to drink gatorade/powerade and take my blocks. All I really wanted was water, but knew I needed more. I averaged from 8:30-8:45 from miles 20-22. Luckily, I found my husband and good friend a little past 22 and they stayed with me until the end. I started to pick up my pace around mile 23, and averaged 7:50- 8:00 the last two miles. I just wanted to finish with somewhat of a buffer before the BQ cut-off time.

    As Salty pointed out, there were many disappointments along the way. But, I have nothing to compare it to other than another Cleveland Marathon (when it used to be sponsored by CVS) eleven years ago. I am planning to run the Akron full in September, and, of course, Boston next year. Salty is so right when she says that this marathon could be so much better than what it is. But, I cannot complain. I achieved a goal, that for me, I thought was something I would never be able to do. Having gotten through that race, I am now confident that I can do better. I have set my sights on that 3:30 or better for Akron (and praying for cooler weather -PLEASE).

    1. I think Salty could work for a boy too! Haha. You’re too much! It was my pleasure to share a little bit of your amazing day!!!!

      I’ll be in Akron too! But I won’t be able to keep up by then. Simple maniacal cheers will have to do 🙂 You have a 3:20 in you RIGHT NOW. You are incredibly strong. Recover and get back to training and I GUARANTEE you are going to run some crazy PRs this summer. Next stop is a sub 20 5k!!!

      1. Thank you Salty:)!! Sub 20 5k is definitely on the menu for this summer. I have one the first weekend in June, but not expecting much for that one, with it only being two weeks after the marathon. But, definitely later in the summer and fall. My training partners think I have a 3:20 in me too. Hopefully one day. I’ll start with shaving 5 minutes off for now:).

  4. Great recap! Sounds like a really brutal race! I’ve read nothing but great things about the human perseverence in this event despite a bunch of horrible logistics and poor planning and execution by the people in charge. I’m definitely glad that I didn’t run in this one, but I really wish I would have come to support the people I know who did. That support is what is so great about the running community. Great job!

    1. The crowd and community support for the CLE Marathon has improved IMMENSELY over the last few years. The problems with this race are pretty complicated. The city isn’t as supportive of the race as other cities are and as I said I think the RD’s are disconnected from the running community and don’t understand the details that are important to runners. But in it’s defense it’s really improved A LOT lately and I truly hope it continues to grow and get better every year!

  5. You’re an awesome friend! I ran the half and damn, parts of it were miserable. My running buddy and I walked from the finish to 24 to support runners in general and specifically our friend. It was SUPER pot hole-y and definitely seemed a little borderline unsafe.

    Overall, I enjoyed the race but after doing the full last year in the pouring rain, I think CLE and I need to take a break. Both years I’ve done it, they’ve run out of things, an dI really felt like my feedback fell on deaf ears. (Literally, I got no response whatsoever.) And goodness knows what kind of weather I’d be inviting if I did it next year!

    1. I’m sorry you experienced such terrible customer service! Congrats on finishing last year in the rain! Curious: have you taken a break from all marathons or just CLE? Thanks for the comment!

      1. No, just CLE for now! Well, really, spring marathons in general. I’m shooting for the Indy Monumental in November.

  6. I loved reading this post! Thank you so much for getting out there and cheering for the runners. It was a brutal race. I’m not sure if I saw you or not (and I’m not sure I’d remember if I did–I was a little delirious by the end) but it sounds like you really helped a lot of people. 🙂

  7. It was a brutal day out there! I was so glad to be there cheering on all the runners though! I gave away all my frozen towels which were no longer frozen by mile 25!

    1. That was so nice of you to bring those out! I’m sure you helped many many runners finish. I think that’s good for some PR karma after baby 🙂

  8. Great post! I had been with the 4:25 group until about mile 15.5 and had to drop back. After I felt better, I saw pretty much everyone else I had started with along the way to the finish. Such a tough day!

  9. Great post! There are definitely a lot of issues with that race…it’s quite sad. The start is just a mess… I tried recommending to them to have assigned corrals when I had dinner w/ the RD and PR person months back. I’ve been to many smaller races that do that. I don’t understand why they don’t. They want it to be an “elite” race but they don’t do things to make it that way. The last miles back was rough.. the potholes and crap scenery. Pretty gross. If I didn’t live here I’d be like WTH.

    Thanks for all of the support again… I hope my next marathon is way better than this one! And hope to see you again soon.

    Ps. Glad you didn’t take the shortcut back too… being pregnant in that heat and in the ghetto… scary, girl.

    1. Yeah. I don’t think they understand what an “elite” race is or how CLE could be that. They don’t engage the established CLE running community (and seem to actually have disdain for it which I really don’t understand!) and rely heavily on the fact they they’re the only game in town. Again, though, they have improved A LOT over the last few years and seem to be committed to continuing to improve at least on some level. It’s just a bit frustrating to know what kind of marathon our CLE running community is capable of hosting and the one we have. This isn’t a new issue. A group of runners tried to start a competing marathon back in the 90’s. They only lasted 2 years, but that was the catalyst to move the Revco, CVS, Rite Aid (or whatever!) back into the CLE city limits. It used to start at CSU and then run out to Rocky River and back.

  10. Awesome post – really hit on a lot of thoughts I had. I’ve been thinking a lot about my experience this week, and my biggest issue (besides the weather) keeps going back to the start. 20,000 people doing two different races, complete without a strict corral system or a wave start, created a mess. There were way too many people at the beginning that should have been farther back, and people who were in the back that should have been closer to the start. The water stops were congested as well, which simply making them longer or always on both sides of the road would have helped. I feel like there’s some potential, though, for this to be a must-do race.

    1. I could not agree with you more David. There were only a few stops were they had water or powerade on both sides. It was such a disappointment. The first few stops were so congested because of running both races together. This race would have been so much better if they had a staggered start. Frustrated or not, I keep coming back. I love my city:).

  11. Putting in a corral system takes a lot of effort: need to have people provide prior race times and verify them and then also implement a system for race day. The race had a predetermined number of runners that it was going to allow run (or so they say–I am cynical and wonder how much of the “we’re going to sell out any second now!” is marketing hype and how much is actual working out the numbers for knowing how many runners the race can accommodate). Since they had a predetermined cap you’d think they’d have some idea how to handle that many people, but apparently not? Or maybe they just underestimated the cluster ____ 20,000 people would be wrapped around Browns stadium?