CLEVELAND — The last Cleveland Marathon was held downtown in May 2019. This weekend, nearly two and half years later, thousands of runners are returning for the in-person event.
Christie Davenport picked up her bib number at Friday’s expo, step one of 26.2 miles.
“Whether I run, walk or crawl across the finish line, the plan is to get across the finish line. That's my only goal,” she said.
Sunday will be Davenport’s first full marathon. She's confident her 18-week training program has her ready, and she's got a secret weapon-- Christie's mom will be with her in spirit.
"It's hard to talk about her and not smile,” said Davenport. “I always say that she sparkled...everybody in our family and friends would say that she sparkled.”
Shirley Green died after complications from a stroke April 2020. Christie funneled her grief into the road, starting a streak in May 2020 where she ran a mile or more for 124 days straight.
“That's really what set me on my journey to, to sign up for a marathon and commit to it,” she said. “I know grief can take a toll on people, whether physically and mentally, emotionally, all of those things. So running really helped all three of those things for me.”
When she saw the Union Home Mortgage Cleveland Marathon was back: “When I saw that it was live and in person this year, I signed up as fast as I could. I was so excited."
“It feels very strange to be doing it in October,” said longtime Race Director Jack Staph.
Returning runners will notice COVID safety protocols abound. All volunteers will be masked, and those serving refreshments will also be in gloves.
The course is different, with the full marathon making two loops of the half marathon course through downtown and Cleveland’s near west side.
Also, with competition from other races this time of year, fewer runners are registered. Pre-pandemic, the races attracted about 18,000 thousand participants.
"We're probably about 50 percent of what we usually have,” said Staph. “But other than that, we tried to do everything to make it as original as we've always had it for 43 years.” The race plans to return next year to its tradition date, the third weekend in May 2023.
“It's going to be a safe race for everyone,” he said. “It's special because it was the hardest one we've ever worked on. We had a lot of hills to climb….We couldn't put this on without our sponsors. Both their human and financial resources, the guidance that they give us. University Hospitals was with us the whole time talking about the [COVID] protocol and helping us develop it. And Union Home Mortgage is all about people first.”
The finish line celebrations will include Meijer food contributions and Great Lakes Brewing Company beers, as well as Truly hard seltzers
Davenport knows she'll have support along the way. “I think it just really brings, not only Clevelanders together, but everyone together to achieve a huge goal,” she said.
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Editor's note: The video in the player above is from a previously published, unrelated story.