Thursday, May 15, 2008

What Makes a Good Marathon? Part II

I'm back with more on the Cleveland Marathon. In my last post I forgot to mention what happened last year. Along with a full marathon, Cleveland includes a half and a 10k. Way back when this 10k was one of the premier road 10ks in the US. In fact, the world road racing record was set here in 1996. Back then the 10k course was pancake flat. That course was changed sometime after 2000 (the last time I ran that course) around when the full marathon course changed to incorporate more of the city. Anyway, last year the fastest 10k runners were lead off course somehow. Kenyans and Ohio's best runners ran up to 2.5 extra miles through the desolate and deserted flats before finally making it back on track. What a mess! The race director offered the approximately 70 runners who were lead astray free entry into this years race and only about 20 accepted.

The Plain Dealer had another article about the marathon yesterday. Apparently, the course has been changed due to city demands as well as allegedly to prevent last year's 10k debacle from happening again. Besides that, the race director claims these changes will make all three races faster. I looked at the 10k course and it looks like they changed it back almost to the original course, except they kept the loop around Brown's Stadium which then adds a long hill between 3.5 and 4.5 miles. I don't know why every downtown race must include this in its route. The article mentions the world road 10k record was set on the former course but that is totally inaccurate. The world record was set on the original course started on Euclid outside Cleveland State, went West for a few blocks and then went out east to about E45th St and then turned around. It had many fewer turns and was virtually a pancake. THAT was a blazing fast course. The new course with the Brown's Stadium nonsense is not. Faster than the last few years, yes (particularly last year when the fastest people were lead off course for up to 2.5 miles!) But still not the lightning fast course that drew the top talent back in the day.

As for the half and the full, I highly doubt changing miles 7-12 from the old portion of the course that wasn't all that bad to begin with is going to make a huge difference in the full marathon. There used to be a slight climb between miles 9 and 10 that was a bit challenging, particularly in the half. Changing from the longer and less steep Carnegie Bridge to the shorter steeper Detroit Bridge probably is a wash. In the half there would be less distance to cover once you hit the downhill on the bridge, so picking up the pace for this year's half would come later in the race probably. Not a huge deal, but something to consider when half-marathoners are planning a race strategy.

Again, I don't think these changes will substantially effect the marathoners who really get it miles 19-24. Four miles very possibly straight into a Lake Erie headwind, followed by the same obnoxious hill after Brown's Stadium that the 10k runners have to deal with. That sucks. A marathon in Cleveland needs to finish heading West to East and preferably away from the lake to avoid that nasty wind. It would also help to not have the biggest hill between miles 23 and 24. There has to be a way to balance the demands of a scenic course with a runner-friendly course.

I also read the race director will be adding more bands. It sounds like the bulk of that is at the finish--who cares! It's really needed along the course, particularly along MLK Blvd and the shoreway and along the annoying twists through downtown over the final few miles when the marathoners are tired and there's virtually no one there to cheer them on.

Year after year I hear the current race director on the defensive. He makes changes to the course, tries to accomodate walkers, etc, adds a half-marathon, puts a guitar on the medals, adds a couple of bands at the start, basically minor changes in his attempts to fix fundamental problems. I don't know the history of his involvement in the marathon and frankly I have never heard of his involvement in the Cleveland running scene beyond this race. I don't know how things were handled in the past and whether past leadership was any better. However, I do know that this could be Ohio's best marathon by far and it's not. I also know that there are a lot of people like me who would love to be engaged in a conversation on how to get our marathon back on top. Jack Staph, if you read this, I'd love to talk.

As always, if you have any suggestions for making Cleveland's marathon, half-marathon, and 10k a better race or generally what makes a great marathon event please leave a comment!


Viper said...

Great couple of posts on the Cleveland Marathon.

I'm running the half for the second year in a row. I'm a n00b to marathoning, but what doesn't appeal to me about trying the full in Cleveland is mostly the lack of support.

The whole second half of the course is like no-man's land. The first half through Westside is a lot of fun.

Cleveland doesn't treat it like a major event, like Akron for instance. This is the first time I've noticed articles in the PD leading up to it. And I think that is only because the reporter ran it last year.

Viper said...

BTW--congrats on your pregnancy! Somehow I imagine Peanut is already faster than I am.

Adeel said...

The best races are well-organized and run like a competition. As focus shifts to walkers, bands and the aesthetics to the course, you've got a problem.

Many of the most popular and most hyped marathons are awful, garish displays of commercialism and spandex-covered adipose, such as Marine Corps or Disney World.

I don't think the course needs to be as flat as possible for the marathon to be good, but intentionally running into the wind is dumb.

joe positive said...

well now I'm really glad I won't be there. Except I won't get to buy you a beer either. Then again, you're probably not drinking beer at the moment. Tell you what: if peanut's born by 9/27, and if you're in Akron for some reason, I'll buy you a beer then :-)

E-Speed said...

The problem with adeels comment is yes Cleveland has tried to draw walkers/joggers, but they aren't giving them a quality product either. It's lose lose for everyone out there. You can't promote a walker friendly course then start opening intersections to traffic at the 4 hour mark.

Save your money and run Cinci, Akron, or Columbus!!!

by the by great post Salty definitely touches on many of the reasons I decided not to race here.

Brett S. said...

Great post. Cleveland was my first marathon ever last year and it was the worst of 4 in the last year. I actually joked about the ROTC working water stops. I thought they had called out the national guard because the neighborhood was that bad. So I ran the half today because it seemd to be a much better supported race last year. Well the new course sucked I think. I missed running up to the Jake and the old historic bridge. I even got a free warm beer at the finish. I then headed over to the top of the hill you mentioned close to mile marker 24 to cheer on those trying to qualify for Boston. I have to tell you the looks on everyones face getting to the top of that hill made me remember last year. I just kept telling them that they had hit the top of the hill and it was mostly flat for the last 2.4. Hell even with hills I loved Akron and won't do the full Cleveland Marathon again.

Papa Louie said...

We need more voices like you to promote a high quality marathon in Cleveland. I ran Cleve. Marathon over 15 years ago and haven't had the inclination to run it again. I've run the new 1/2 marathon course and finished 3rd overall. I had to call/email the office and ask if I would win a prize for my finish. After maybe 3 months they finally mailed me a medal that had no recognition of the race or results on it. I was very disappointed so I decided never to run the half again and I chose to run the 10K the following year. Well, you know what happened last year to us lead runners. I would not have signed up this year but I did take the free voucher and had a better experience this year. I did finish 1st in my age group but I have no idea if I will get an award.
I guess one of my quibbles would be if they could give nicer awards to us age groupers to help keep the quality of the field up.