Cleveland weather is extremely volatile and can change wildly, so when preparing for this race it helps to run in a wide variety of conditions to ensure you know how you will handle the weather come race day. This year we had no days anywhere close to the heat we saw on race day. There were no days even within 10 degrees of the race day weather, and most were at least 20 or more degrees cooler. Running in this heat brings out many challenges including major challenges with muscle cramps, sun burns and hydration. Throughout the race the medical teams from University Hospitals in Cleveland did an amazing job to aid the participants. From vaseline for chafing issues (which I totally used) to cooling packs for the overheated. These workers had their work cutout for them when it came to handling heat stroke and more serious issues as well, since this was the second hottest Cleveland Marathon on record.
Despite being an amazing and top ranked medical center, there was at least one event these caregivers could not fix. During the half marathon race, just a few hundred yards from the finish, a runner and recent college graduate a runner collapsed. Her name was Taylor Ceepo. Rather than try to put my thoughts here, I would like to refer you to my friend and fellow Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon Ambassador Andrew Hettinger's post entitled "A Grieving Community" Andrew expressed my exact sentiments over this awful turn of events for Taylor. The Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon has helped organize a way to honor Taylor through donations to The Children's Miracle Network, which was an organization Taylor helped raise money for while in college. Although nothing will replace Taylor to her loved ones and friends, I feel finding an impactful way to honor someone's memory is a worthy endeavor. I hope every runner donates something to her memory, as it is for a good cause and because this could happen to almost anyone. Throwing out some good karma, thoughts and a few spare dollars can only help us all.
Thank you to the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon team for taking this initiative in Taylor's memory.
After a tragedy such as this happens, I always think "What can we learn from this?" Clearly, no one wants to have a repeat of something like this. With that thought in mind, here are some of the ideas I have to hopefully deal with adverse elements, particularly heat. In no way am I criticizing Taylor or any other runners. I just believe the one of the best things we can do is learn from our past experiences and move forward from it, what other choice do we really have?
Be Humble. It is super important to try to take a conservative approach to running, especially longer distances. No one has ever one a marathon in the first mile, but they have lost it. It's important to know what you have done in the past, so that when you start a race you line up with the right pacers. Going out to fast can ruin the later part of the race, if you make it there. In my mind, it's better to play catch up later when you know how you are feeling than to have to try salvage the race when you are completely spent. Show respect for the distance, no of us do these races because they are easy.
Most bigger marathon races have pacers, use them! They are always awesome runners who are much faster than the times they are pacing. They will get you to the finish or at least help you do your best. I use one almost every year at Cleveland and they are awesome!
Learn and Listen to Your Body. If you listen to one thing you listen to while running, please make it your heart. Your heart can tell you so much about your run. If it is beating to fast, dialing it back is a good idea. Walking or "power hiking" are not bad words and will never disqualify from a race. Running your heart rate too high for too long will. I have run for a long time, but have found using a good running watch with a heart rate sensor is a great unbiased judge that will tell me if I am pushing myself too hard. The watch never lies and helps me be humble and listen to my body instead of my ego.
I really had to dial back this year, since it was so hot. One amazing thing about the Cleveland Marathon is the fan support. During what is usually the hardest part of the race, miles 14-20, there was tons of crowd support. Many of them offered extra water for the runners or even brought out hoses to mist us off. This is one thing that makes this race so amazing, the crowds! Cleveland isn't Boston or New York, we're our own breed. Our fans know this and embrace this and the difference they make to help us is amazing. So many of them offering support helps a ton in these hot conditions and really makes it easy to keep your body in running form during the race. The crowds had everything including water, sports drinks, oranges, beer and even the blessing of ice. They were amazing!
Train Smart. Make sure to train adequately for whatever race you are doing. If it's hot, train in heat. If it's not hot outside, at least train inside on a treadmill. If the race has hills or mountains, train with hills and mountains. Training smart will help you learn about your body so you can listen to it on race day. It will also mean that you are more confident and better prepared in case something unpredictable happens.
Adapt. Every race has something that will happen that you can not predict. It could be a trail race that gets flooded the night before. It could be falling and twisting an ankle at mile 1 of a marathon. Maybe you didn't sleep well the night before due to nerves. It could be someone else needing your help. Whatever happens in a race you need to be able to adapt. That may mean abandoning the hopes of setting a PR or losing your race goal. It is always more important to finish in one piece, without any serious injury when possible. DNF stands for did not finish, it doesn't mean you didn't give that race hell with everything you had. DNF doesn't mean you stink, it means you learned something that day. DNFs can and will happen, it's how you adapt to what happened that matters.
Back to the amazing support that is there for the Cleveland Marathon. I saw quite a few medical tents and medics on bike throughout the course, especially the later parts. This sort of adapting to the heat shows how serious the race director took the conditions and the length they go to to really make sure everyone was safe. Despite the tragedy that happened, I have to applaud the great lengths they went to.
Evolve. Things go wrong, the only thing we can do is learn from them so that next time we are better prepared or can handle them. If someone never evolves, they will never get better. That can mean slowing down, choosing shorter races, trying a new coach or routine. The important thing is that a lesson is learned and we come out better for it.
Be Supportive. Cheer on your competition. Maybe they trained more and are actually better than you. This doesn't mean you are a lesser person, it means they earned it. If you see someone fall, help them up. I would look at someone who took a DNF to help a hurt or downed runner with much more respect that I would a champion who passed by the same runner to set a record. Distance running isn't like other sports. We don't dunk on each other, we don't tackle each other and we try to stop one another in any way. We may pass each other but that effort should always be celebrated, as long as it is done fairly. Reflecting to the early topic discussed in this post, I'm glad I heard that others immediately tried to help Taylor. I'm sad it didn't save her life, but I'm happy those who could tried.
Hug Your Loved Ones. They show up to support our crazy hobbies. They deal with us when we get cranky from not running. They deal with us when we are gone for hours on end mindlessly running because we have to. They are also our biggest fans and make us happier than anyone to see them at the races. They will wait hours for us to show up and ask us if we are OK while seeing us for 5 seconds at some aid station lodged between two mountains that required 4 wheel drive and a dirt road to get there. Hug them because there is that chance that what happened to Taylor could happen to any of us. I'd hate to think we missed that chance to spread our love while we could.
My wife and dog standing in the rain during the 2018 Cleveland Marathon waiting for me
My wife and I at 3:30am to start the Leadville 100
My wife (glowing with happiness might I add) and I at mile 40 of the Leadville 100
Despite the extremely high temperatures, I was able to finish the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon with a time of 4:21:30. This time was by far my worst time ever at Cleveland, but this was NOT my worst race ever. Upon finishing, I met up with other runners I know and several of them were in rough shape. Dizziness, muscle cramps and extreme fatigue were common among everyone. Salts stains where apparent on everyone's clothing and skin. I kept moving, enjoyed a post race beer and eventually went home. I kept moving the next day and despite the rough day running, I was totally fine. I was a little sore but not nearly as bad as I have been in the past. Being humble and respecting what the race was that day really did my body right. Without much soreness, aside from some blisters on my toes, I went running 2 days after the race and felt fine. Had it not been from a lot of my past experiences and lessons from running, this race could have been physically disastrous. Learning how I need to run was key to making the Cleveland Marathon a celebration of running, like it should be, instead of a miserable one. I hope that some of the above ideas help those who need to hear them.
2019 Cleveland Marathon Medal, 2019 8K medal
(not pictured: the Challenge Series medal)