This past weekend was a success primarily because I had dumb luck on my side.
I didn’t really know how to feel last week leading up to the race in Cleveland. My other two halves – while I had a blast running them – weren’t fast races and it’s easy to slip into demoralization, like maybe there’s no point to running if you’re going to move like a turtle stuck in molasses. Let the gazelles trapped in human bodies gracefully glide to the finish and the rest of the middle-to-back-of-the-pack folks shouldn’t bother.
Then the smart part of my brain reminds me that if you run you’re a runner, pace really is a “me thing” that no one else cares about, and who cares if I’m not running at the speed I used to – at least I have the cojones to register, book the hotel and go.
So on Saturday morning, I packed up my suitcase with that spirit, said good bye to Marina with the promise her mom would be home the following afternoon, and headed north.
The first stroke of dumb luck came when I was trying to get out of Columbus. My attempt to merge onto 71 north from 70 west was an abject failure – it turns out Saturday morning at 10 a.m. in Columbus brings out all the minivans who drive well below the speed limit, and getting sandwiched between those drivers and the people who think the highway is their personal Talledega means merging into the correct lane is damn near impossible. I got stuck on 670 west to 315 north to 270 east to get back on 71 north. Those motorists weren’t much better.
But getting past the city limits brought the crazy back to a tolerable level. Rain was in the forecast for both my drive up and my drive home, and I was pleasantly surprised by clear conditions. I can handle some rain, but white out conditions is another story. I lucked out on my journey up, and got even more lucky once I arrived to Cleveland. I booked a room at the Westin downtown, and couldn’t get over how easy it was to first get there, and then get into my room several hours earlier than I expected (check in was at 4, but I got there at 12:30 and got the okay to unload my things.)
After unloading my stuff and calling my mom to let her know I got in, it was time to go to the expo and then explore the city. The last time I was in Cleveland was back in 2019, when I ran the full. I deferred my 2020 registration to this year and decided to knock the full down to the half last year, so I was excited to run a new (and shorter) distance. I was also excited to be by myself. Not to say my ex and I didn’t have fun in 2019, but at heart I’m a solo adventurer and will always prefer to explore places on foot by myself.
The expo was exactly as I remembered it. I got my bib and swag bag, as well as a backpack from the Columbus Marathon table that I was able to stuff all of my things in for easier walking around the city. The Huntington Convention Center where the expo was held is right off of Lakeshore Drive. Across from Lakeshore and Route 2 is North Coast Harbor, home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, the Great Lakes Science Center, FirstEnergy Stadium and the USS COD. I stood at the overlook near the county courthouse to get some pictures of the Rock Hall (author’s note: this is a nickname I’m going to use the rest of the post) and thought, Why don’t you just walk down there and go see it yourself?
So that’s what I did. I walked all over the Rock Hall, getting my picture taken with my bib in the C. I love water and the harbor was perfectly calming and exciting. The Rock Hall wasn’t crowded, but there were a ton of visitors in town. I forgot how much I love people watching until right then. It was humid but overcast, which lead to one of my favorite pictures of Lake Erie from Voinovich Bicentennial Park.
I dropped off my expo items in my room before heading west (I think?) towards Lindey’s Lake House in Flats East Bank. Three years ago we got lunch there, and while I don’t remember what I ate, I do remember how beautiful it was eating and then walking along the Cuyahoga River.
Here’s where Dumb Luck Round Two came in. I heard thunder on my walk to Lindey’s and I didn’t think to bring my umbrella, since it was supposed to start raining until 6 or 7 p.m. and this was about 3:15. I got into the restaurant and seated at the bar just in time for the rain to start up. Since I was feeling good and treating myself, I decided to order a cocktail called the Lake Breeze. Regrettably I didn’t take a picture of the menu to tell you all what was in it, but it was delicious and paired nicely with fish ‘n chips
I strolled around Flats East Bank and back to the hotel for a third, final walk. I wanted to go find the chandelier in Playhouse Square on Euclid Avenue, but I was starting to get tired and didn’t want to walk too far away from the Westin. Instead I walked through the Arcade at the Hyatt Regency Cleveland hotel. The Arcade is a gorgeous 19th-century atrium with glass vaulted ceilings and decked with marble and gold details. It’s also a popular wedding destination in Cleveland, so unsurprisingly there was a reception going on as I was wandering through the Arcade. I sent a picture to Mom and told her we’ll be coming back.
From the Arcade I wandered Fourth Street and came back to the hotel for some good night calls to Mom and Grandma and an early bedtime. My Garmin app said I had walked roughly 8.6 miles total on Saturday, and this was the day before I had 13.1 to run. The 7:30 bedtime as the rain was coming down was one of my best ideas to date.
The race recap
I spent a long time talking about Cleveland, didn’t I? Now I gotta move on to the race.
Remember all those miles I walked on Saturday? I gave myself some mighty blisters. My left heel was fine, but my right one was (and still is) smarting a bit. Covering it up with band-aids and layering my feet up with Vaseline before my socks didn’t make too much of a dent, so who knew what would happen during the race.
7:00 AM snuck up on me and I wound up jogging to my corral as the National Anthem was halfway through (whoops.) At this point, I was glided, gelled and bandaged up, so whatever was going to happen was going to happen.
Once the race started, the self-inflicted tourist injury didn’t matter. Nothing else did, but feeling the breeze, sunshine and finally getting to run the race that was three years in the making. I was re-introduced to Cleveland during the first four miles, running under the chandelier in Playhouse Square and heading down the hill on 9th street toward the North Coast Harbor, running past Rock Hall and First Energy Stadium all over again.
Our group ran towards Progressive Field and then made a left to run across the Hope Memorial Bridge. For the longest time I called the bridge the Guardian Bridge, since there’s four pairs of statues sculpted with a pair at each end of the viaduct, and I thought that’s what they were called. Unfortunately the pictures I tried to take didn’t turn out with the heavy mist around us, but I can tell you passing the statues and running over the Cuyahoga River reminded me how small I am and in a way, I felt safe in the presence of the statues, like they were guardians there to watch over all of us.
Miles 6 through 9 took me through Old Lorain, the arty neighborhood of Tremont and up the hill on Mile 9 towards Ohio City. During this stretch of the race I started to get tired, and the hill at Mile 9 pretty much kicked my ass. This was also the point in the race when the temperature dropped and the wind picked up. I had an idea to pack a sports bra, my usual running tank and my running crop top so come Sunday morning, I would have the option between the bra and tank or my crop top depending on how hot and humid it was going to get. However, I discovered Sunday morning my sports bra was still in the dryer. So crop top it was, and up until Mile 9, the crop top was a good idea.
Actually, it was a good idea throughout the race, since I didn’t feel overheated and was comfortable there. I just didn’t anticipate the temperature dropping and the headwind.
The last 5k was the hardest part and I wound up taking more walk-run breaks than I would have liked, although the race did seem to go pretty quickly. Miles 10 and 11 were both a blur and went on forever. I couldn’t wait to see the Mile 12 banner, since from that point on, all I had to do was run over the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge, run down to make a left and then a right to the finish line.
And before I knew it, I had completed the Cleveland Half Marathon. My time is nothing to brag about – 2:43:12 – but that’s okay. I finally ran the Cleveland Half. After three long years, I made it back and got to run again. That’s all that matters.
And as a final stroke of dumb luck, remember the wind and sudden cold? There were some rain storms predicted during my race, which managed to hold off until after I got my shower in my room. Those storms lightened up when it was time for me to roll out of Cleveland and held off for me to get home safely.
All-in-all, Cleveland was a great race and a great weekend. I had a blast during the first half and got humbled on the hill at Mile 9, and I got to re-fall in love with the ‘Land. Can’t complain there.
And as a final note to anyone thinking of running Cleveland next year – 1.) Do it and 2.) I can’t recommend the Westin Downtown Cleveland enough. I also recommend Lindy’s, but I kinda don’t want to encourage everyone and their brother to go there. Otherwise, I won’t have a seat at the bar next time I’m in town.
I hope you all enjoyed tonight’s long recap. Until next time.
Yours in writing and running,