Chicago Athlete was once again on the road to close out the spring marathon season. And close it out we did, with a party weekend in Cleveland. The Cleveland Marathon race weekend is an incredible experience and one to include in your schedule next year. With over 8,000 runners participating in the weekend festivities, it was a party, unlike any other. The drive is between 5 and 6 hours from Chicago, although traffic through Indianapolis can add 1 to 2 hours if you go at the wrong time. So, try to leave early on Friday morning if you are able, to avoid the congestion…maybe! It’s seriously so unpredictable!
The Cleveland Marathon weekend of events took place on May 19-21. The expo was open on Friday and Saturday and held at the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland.
The large convention center was located right in the downtown area and was walkable from most of the hotels that runners stayed at. It was a smaller expo, but complete with beer samples, running gear, and probably the most unique race swag I have seen all year.
I purchased a sweatshirt that is colorful and fun, and is so soft to the touch. We spent about an hour at the expo, visiting the vendors and grabbing my Ohio-shaped race bib! There were short lines and low crowds, so it was easy to navigate around.
There was a 5K and a 10K that took place on Saturday morning. Both events began at 7:30 AM right in downtown Cleveland. It was a very rainy morning and rained throughout most of the races. With temperatures in the high 50’s, I still was able to race in a tank and shorts. But I was certainly soaked at the end!
The rain did not damper the excitement at the start line. Runners geared up to run the shorter distances at higher levels of speed. The race wove through downtown Cleveland, featuring sports stadiums, and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame before circling back to the start/finish line. All runners received a short sleeve, technical T-shirt and a finishers metal. There were bananas, water, and all types of salty snacks at the finish line as well.
I generally don’t run the shorter distance races, but I thoroughly enjoyed this experience. It was very well organized and corrals were used, which helped to space out the walkers from the sprinters. I was able to build up my speed without congestion on the course. I thought the aid stations were appropriately placed, and even through the rain there were spectators out cheering us on.
These races were stand alone, but also part of the challenge series offered to runners. I selected the 10 K and full marathon options for the weekend. Runners have the ability to select any combination of the two days worth of races (5K and 10K on Saturday and Half and Full on Sunday). I always enjoy challenge series events because they allow me to connect with the race and city a bit more.
On Sunday morning, the features were a half and full marathon. Both distances began at 7 AM together at the same start/finish line as the 5K and 10K events the day prior. This was helpful for me, as I knew what to expect for my big race day. I had already done a test run and knew what time I could leave the hotel, make a last porta potty stop, and comfortably enter my corral.
The race used a coral system again, to space out runners and allow for distance between paces on the course. There was a great pace team to support the runners at all different speeds. I always like to start out with a pace group and participate in the conversation for the first part of the race. It is a nice distraction and a great way to get to know local runners.
Both races started promptly at 7 AM and runners set out to weave through the streets of Cleveland. The course was brand new this year, entirely within the city limits. It was a true tour of all that Cleveland has to offer.
We ran past sports stadiums, the Rock ‘n’ Roll, Hall of Fame, countless restaurants and local shops, residential streets, and even the house featured in “A Christmas Story”. Throughout the race were numbered signs noting many of the local landmarks. Runners were encouraged to remember the numbers of the landmarks they liked best for post-race voting. It was a great distraction from the pain as the miles tacked on.
With over 60 turns in the full marathon course, several runners were nervous before the event about their times being impacted. I was not trying for a time, but was a bit nervous about how the turns would feel on my body, and if I would be able to zone out at any point in the race.
It was a completely different experience from many courses I have run, which have long out and back stints. I found it very enjoyable, and appreciated all of the work that went into the course planning. I can’t imagine the number of permits and street closures that the race directors had to work with local law-enforcement on.
I thought the course was incredibly well marked, with full support for runners. Aid stations were available with Nuun, water, and gels. Porta potty‘s were placed throughout the course. Volunteers lined the aid stations to provide assistance and medical support was available every few miles. Spectators were consistently cheering throughout the entire course.
With very little of repeat in the route, I was constantly looking at new scenery. I loved getting to know the City of Cleveland on foot as I tacked on the 26.2 miles. I applaud the race directors in this innovative course, that may look a bit odd when laid on paper, but, on foot was a unique, charming experience, that I hope will be repeated in years to come.
I did not find my speed to be impacted at all with the turns, and my body did not feel any new pain or different pain than it normally does in a marathon. If I had wanted to zone out, there were times throughout the course where I would have been able to, but I stayed connected to the people and City of Cleveland the entire time.
I enjoyed looking at homes, mentally, noting which ones were for sale, and to check on Zillow later, making notes of restaurant districts so I wanted to visit later, and observing the distinct differences in the streets, we were running on. Some were paved, others had cobblestone, and bridges had various footing challenges for us to tackle.
There was also quite a bit of elevation change that I was unprepared for. I had thought the course was flat, similar to Chicago. It was not. There were several hills that ran for .5 to 1 mile in length. They were subtle, but long in their impact to the legs. I would not classify this course as being easy with the elevation, challenges, especially coming later in the race.
As runners wove back into the downtown area to cross the same start/finish line, where we had begun hours ago, we were greeted with cheers, music and a DJ, calling out each of our names. Volunteers had medals and lots of post-race goodies to refuel us.
It was an easy walk out of the corral as a headed back to my family. I have so much positive feedback about this race. The course itself was thoughtfully crafted with runners in mind and provided a scenic tour of the great City of Cleveland. The people were kind and supportive in all regards. The marathon is smaller, but still has a big marathon feel to it.
It is an easy drive for Chicagoans to make and a great way to close out spring marathon season. I highly encourage you to put this one on your schedule for 2024 and watch for registration to open. The challenge series allows you to run both Saturday and Sunday and select distances that fit your running ability at the time.
The weekend would not have been complete without a visit to two great attractions in Cleveland. Whether you are traveling with family or not, these are two attractions you do not want to mess on your weekend in town.
My family and I began at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
This pyramid shaped building looks small from afar, but as you approach, you realize its true magnitude. A tour bus from Johnny Cash greets you as you walk through the exterior patio area. Upon entering the building, you are greeted by helpful staff that directed us to begin at the bottom level. With over 50% of the exhibits, the basement could take hours to explore everything. Everywhere you look there is memorabilia from musical artists and groups throughout the years.
Many of the exhibits have music playing from the featured artist or band. Most of the exhibits are enclosed in glass to protect the clothing, musical instruments, or other items that have been placed in the display. Throughout each floor of the hall, there are different items to focus on. One floor even included musical instruments that you could learn to play by watching a quick tutorial video.
We also visited the Greater Cleveland Aquarium, which is the most unique aquarium I have ever visited. (Sorry, Shedd.)
The Aquarium is built into the ground floor of a historic brick powerhouse that once generated electricity for streetcars. Just steps away from the Cuyahoga River, its distressed brick walls, exposed ductwork and reimagined coal chutes and chimneys juxtapose Northeast Ohio industrial history with immersive habitat theming and a strong conservation message.
The building has been preserved, and the aquarium has taken great steps to keep the integrity and character of the building.
The display cases are intertwined with the brick and piping of the building.
In addition to an array of family friendly programs and education opportunities, Greater Cleveland Aquarium is known for its child’s eye-level exhibits, 360-degree views and species diversity. The Aquarium’s seven galleries are home to 3,600 animals representing 250 fresh and saltwater species.
We even had the chance to learn about the incredible amount of work that goes on behind the scenes to keep the sea life protected, healthy, and safe. The filtration systems and high attention to detail show through in the cleanliness and pristine functionality of the facility. Visitors truly have a magical experience in this historic building.
Sharks and stingrays glide above visitors in a 175 foot sea tube that encompasses a walkway. The aquarium also houses an 11,000-gallon stingray touchpool where visitors are allowed to pet stingrays as they circle about. Visitors truly have a magical experience in this historic building. This is a must-see for anyone visiting the Cleveland area. Parking is ample and easy to access and there are adorable restaurants tucked away surrounding the aquarium. We visited Heck’s for a delightful outdoor dining experience which offered lots of healthy food options for my pre-marathon dinner.
There are many hotel options in and around Cleveland for families to enjoy. We stayed at the Westin Cleveland Downtown, which was the host hotel for the Cleveland Marathon. Its location was ideal. It was a block away from the start/finish line, BUT the block itself was not used in the race, so you could still get your car out, move around, etc. during race times. The hotel was gorgeously decorated and featured a restaurant on the main level.
The rooms were clean and large for a city hotel. And, there was a huge fitness facility in the basement of the hotel.
There was also a mini-fridge and two bottle of complimentary water. There was no microwave, so take note of that and skip the microwave popcorn, if that is a hotel staple for you! The hotel was within walking distance of the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame and several restaurant districts. We also found a restaurant called The Winking Lizard Tavern which was connected by walkway to the hotel. The menu was robust and had something for everyone in my family, which is a hard feat to muster.
One more honorable mention of this trip is Colossal Cupcakes. This adorable bakery had cupcakes galore, although none were gluten free, which would have been a bummer, if they had not had macaroons on hand. The flavors we tried were pistachio, cotton candy, strawberry, cake batter, and vanilla. I would highly recommend a trip to this bakery, which has oversized, decorative seating and is a sparkling candy land to enjoy.
All in all, it was a fantastic weekend in Cleveland. Thank you to the race staff, volunteers, spectators and public safety who made this event so incredibly special and enjoyable for runners and their active families. Keep your eye on registration for 2024!