Cheering at the Cleveland Marathon

This past Sunday was the Cleveland Marathon, and while Mark was not running it, we knew several people who were – including my friend Vin and twitter friends Jenna and Michelle. This was going to be the first time Mark would be on the spectator side of things since he started running, which was interesting. As I said before, this isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve cheered at several marathons in many cities.

The entire week before I kept saying “We need to make our plans for Sunday” and he’d kind of shrug and say, “we will”. Ha. He’s never done this before so I didn’t push. On Saturday I dug out a couple of my laminated signs and got poster board to make a few more.

FINALLY, on Saturday night after the kids were in bed we started to plan our cheer attack. We pulled up the course map, Google maps, a list of road closings, and cheering stations. Of course each one of these bits of information were on different webpages – the Cleveland Marathon site wasn’t much help. We did find that Cleveland.com had a good resource page with links for everything we needed.

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Race-spectator planning, more complicated than you’d think it would be.

By the time we had it done (nearly 2 hours later) Mark was tired and a bit shocked at how much effort it took. But, before we went to bed we had our bags packed, signs made and route plotted.

Bright and early on Sunday morning we loaded up the kids and headed to Tremont. We easily parked behind Sokolowski’s and set up at the corner of W 13th and Abbey just before the 10-mile marker. This was a GREAT spot to see both full and half runners. Easy to get to, there were other people cheering nearby and shade was plentiful if you wanted it. It was also pretty easy to see they runners as the came around the corner from W 11th.

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One of my favorite cheer signs ever – always gets laughs

We saw Vin who was in great spirits and gave us high fives and a very sweaty hug. Having not ever met Jenna in real life, every woman with a green tank top on got a good look over. When we saw her she was on the other side of the road so we burst into shouts of “Go Jenna” and I waved her sign around above my head.

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Once we saw Jenna and Vin and Mark got to see some of his running mates, we packed up our things and headed to our next spot at E 40th and Chester at mile 16. Again, having planned our route the night before, it was easy to get to this spot. We found street parking on 40th and walked 2 blocks to a shaded cheering spot. This was a pretty good place to cheer with easy access to parking just a couple of blocks away. The kids were hungry so we set them up with snacks, mounted a sign on the stroller and started cheering.

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The stroller hasn’t been used in a year, but came in handy on Sunday

I must say that it was here that I started to feel sad about how my city appeared during this marathon. There was a pile of rubble in the road right in front of us and a half a block down there was tire debris strewn near the curb. We were near a cross street that had weak traffic control so people were zooming across in front of runners even though the intersection was closed. Those that did stop to turn around weren’t given good instructions about how to get around and often ended up back at the stop sign confused and angry about being stuck. The lack of thought about things like sweeping the streets and providing clear directional signage just makes Cleveland look amateurish compared to other marathons.

photo 1-4Vin, looking good just over halfway through his first marathon

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Random rubble pile, in the running lane of the street – not cool, Cleveland! 

After Vin and the others went by we carted our stuff back to the car to head to our final destination: E 33rd and St. Clair at 24.5 miles. After getting stuck in a parking lot-like traffic on E 55th (I couldn’t see but I don’t think they had any alternative route for traffic where St. Clair was closed – nothing was moving at all except for cars turning around to head back north. It was a mess), we finally got to Hamilton which runs parallel to St. Clair and parked in a lot facing the course at the corner of 33rd. This was an AWESOME spot. You can literally tailgate from your car here. This should be an “official cheering station” next year.

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I made this sign after Mark lost his first toenail. Runners are gross.

It was brutally hot and there wasn’t anyone else cheering nearby and I felt awful for the runners. They were coming up a long, hot stretch of nothingness – mostly empty storefronts and warehouses with no shade anywhere. I also couldn’t believe that there were large box trucks parked on the street here that the runners had to run around. Again – couldn’t the Marathon Organization do something to clear the side of the street the runners were on? This intersection did have a more forceful guy directing traffic (“Get off your phone and get the hell off my street!”) but there were still some close calls as idiots played chicken with the runners. It wasn’t until a cop showed up that the cars stopped going across the course.

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Outtake of photo above, but it shows people being stupid

About 70% of the runners were walking through here. We were cheering and reminding them they were less than 2 miles to the finish, trying to keep them going. Lots of them had cramps… lots of them were complaining about the heat, the many potholes and the boring route. “I hate this course!” was heard often. I felt so bad for them – we kept reminding them a water station was just ahead.

I finally saw Vin walking and I walked out to meet him. He was cramping pretty badly and was drenched in sweat. I walked with him for a block then Mark ran/walked with him for the next mile. On his way back to us Mark saw his friend Michelle, also walking, so he joined her for a bit.

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Michelle aka “RunnerMommy” – drove up from Cincinnati and ran a marathon with bronchitis. BAD. ASS. 

By the time he got back the kids were D.O.N.E. and were waiting in the car. It was close to noon so we took off for home, getting the finish results via text on our phones.

It was a fun day and I’m thrilled to have been able to cheer on our friends, and make a few other runners smile with our signs. But, overall, I was kind of disappointed in my city. I was dismayed to hear of injuries due to un-marked potholes or broken concrete. I was sad to see the debris on the road and trash on the sidewalks where we cheered. And disheartened to see so few cheering on the sidelines (compared to what I’ve seen in Columbus, Cincinnati and other towns). No, Cleveland will never be Chicago, Baltimore or the Twin Cities – all known for their scenery or great crowds – but we can at least send the street sweepers through the course and do more to encourage a crowd.

We’re better than this, Cleveland! There are 360 days until the 2014 Cleveland Marathon…. Put May 18, 2014 on your calendar now and join me on the sidelines to cheer!

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How to Cheer at a Marathon

I’m not a runner. I never will be. I tried it for a while but I hated it. But ever since Mark started the C25K program nearly 3 years ago, he’s been addicted. That means the kids and I have cheered at a LOT of races – 5k, 10k, half and full marathons – we’ve done them and I have a few tips for anyone who wants become a professional run spectator like me. I probably should have posted this last week, before the Cleveland Marathon, but now you’ll know what to do the next time a crazy friend or family member says they are running a “mary”.

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Cheering with my cousin & his family at the Oktoberfest Half in Grand Haven, MI

Here’s what I take when I cheer, especially with the kids:

  1. Snacks – race cheering is all about waiting for hours to watch someone run by in 30 seconds. Snacks and drinks are a must.
  2. Noise makers – it doesn’t matter what it is, if it’s noisy take it. We usually take 2 cowbells with us. Side note: why are cowbells a marathon tradition? Just to be obnoxious? This time I also took a tambourine (from the toy box), in the past I’ve taken whistles, maracas and once, a harmonica.
  3. Something visual – pompoms are always in our bag. Small flags work, too.
  4. SIGNS – of course make them for all of your friends running. But make some generic ones for runners to enjoy why you’re waiting. They really do like them. My other tip is to laminate a few with clear contact paper – this will protect them from rain & water stations and makes them sturdy enough to keep for a few races. (You’ll see some sign repeats in the photos).Image
  5. Course Map – this is critical, especially when the races’ website crashes on race day (cough *CLE Marathon* cough)
  6. Distractions – race spectating is a hurry-up-and-wait game. It can also be totally boring. Take a book, a phone, and if you have kids with you, toys. They will save you.
  7. Camera – I don’t lug my big camera with me because I’d rather cheer when I see my runner then have a camera in my face. I do, however, try to snap a shot or two on my phone or a point and shoot.
  8. Pack all of this in a backpack and wear comfortable shoes. You’ll likely be hoofing it for several blocks at each cheering spot. Take a stroller for little kids.

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Cheering at the Shaker Father’s Day 5k

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Cheering with friends is best – at the Blossom Time Run with the ClassyChaos Crew

When it comes to long races (half-marathons and above), I like to move around and catch my runner(s) a few places on the course. Here’s what I do pre-race.

  1. Print course map and look at recommended cheering spots. Almost every long race will have some “official cheer stations” and these can give you a good idea of where you can easily part near the course. I don’t normally cheer at these official spots, but go a mile or so on either side.
  2. Find 3-4 areas I want to cheer that are 5-7 miles apart, which gives me about 35-60 minutes to get from place to place. (Unless your runner is crazy-fast, then you’ll have to scale back to 2-3 areas).
  3. SCOUT YOUR CHEERING SPOTS. This is critical – something that Mark learned this past weekend. Where can you park? What streets will be closed? What’s the best route from A to B; can I walk or should I ride? I can spend more than an hour pouring over Google Maps looking for parking, access to public restrooms, and how everything interconnects. Don’t forget to look for a list of road-closures in the area. Even better – drive the course the day before and find your spots – I do this for out of town races so I can learn the area a little better.
  4. Print driving maps for each section (i.e. map from cheering spot A to cheering spot B) AND have a phone/gps with you on race day in case you run into any obstacles.
  5. Sign up for up for text alerts so you know where your runners are on the course. You’ll start to get anxious without these updates… remember that even if you know their usual pace, they may be slow for the first few miles before the pack thins out.

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Finish line cheering at the Perfect 10-Miler

Race Day!

  1. Have your runner(s) text you a photo of what they are wearing that day. This gives you something to look for in the herd of runners. This was critical for me finding Jenna on Sunday.
  2. If you are cheering with a group, you can all wear matching shirts, hats, headbands – something for your runner to look for.
  3. Let your runner know where you will be. I’m not talking exact locations, but “somewhere between miles 9 and 11” will give them something to look forward to.
  4. Dress in layers – most races start early when it’s chilly but warm up fast. And don’t forget your sunscreen!
  5. If you want to see your runner cross the finish line make sure you arrive at least 35 minutes before you anticipate them crossing. This is the most crowded area, it’s hardest to find parking and people will be jockeying for space on the curb.
  6. CHEER! Cheer for everyone – shake those noisemakers and randomly yell encouragement. Many runners have their names written on their shirts so use it when you cheer.

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Cheering at the Flying Pig Marathon with my parents

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Cleveland Fall Classic Half Marathon cheering squad – this one is ALWAYS cold!

That’s about it. All my knowledge about being a good cheerleader for the runners in your life. Have something to add? Put it in comments!

 Coming soon… our Cleveland Marathon Cheer Experience.