A Marathon - CLE Style

Want to know why you should run the Cleveland Marathon with me on May 20, 2018? If you’re looking for a race that’s tough, a little gritty, completely unpredictable, a game changer, inspiring and filled with a community of people coming together in every way - this is it. In essence, this race is, well, just so beautifully Cleveland. 


This will be my third time running the full Cleveland Marathon and my fourth time running at least a portion of this race (I ran the half in 2012). I’m also pleased to announce that this is the very first year I will be participating as a Cleveland Marathon ambassador.

I love this race for so many reasons. It’s both my first half and first full marathon. The course is beautiful and takes you all through the city and some of it’s suburbs. Every time I see the crowd of people coming out in every kind of miserable weather imaginable to cheer runners on, I can’t help but smile. Running in a city built from hard work and inspired by the concept of "the underdog" definitely puts a little extra pep in your step. And then, of course, there’s the fact that running and finishing this race has meant so much to me and brings me to tears every time.

At the starting line of the 2016 Cleveland Marathon - my first full.

At the starting line of the 2016 Cleveland Marathon - my first full.

The first time I ran the full Cleveland Marathon was in 2016. For anyone who ran or came out to show your support, you’ll remember that that was the year we saw every possible kind of weather on marathon day. I’m a slow runner and I finished that first year in 4:54:55, just below my goal time of being under 5 hours. In those 5 hours, it rained, sleeted, snowed, hailed, was extremely windy, and by the end of the race, the sun was out. I layered up the morning of race day but was still soaked through to the bone by the end of the race. My feet had blisters from my shoes getting soaked. My hat even blew right off my head as I crossed over the Shoreway bridge and neared the finish line (shout out to the good samaritan runner who caught it right out of the air and handed it to me - it's still one of my favorite hats). 

I will truly never forget my first marathon - not only because it was my first and in my home, but also because it was so insanely miserable. But, I got through it and at the end? At the end there was sunshine, which was pretty metaphorically perfect for that particular year in my life.

Just before the hail started....

Just before the hail started....

In 2016, I ran that first marathon - and I’ll run them all from now on - for my mom. My mom has had stage 4 metastatic breast cancer since I was 13 (now 26) and that year, it spread to her brain and formed a Twinkie-sized tumor. As soon as they found it, the doctors rushed my mom to surgery to remove the Twinkie tumor. Talk about the scariest, most miserable 5 hours of my life - not any marathon - but waiting in the hospital waiting room to find out if my mom - my hero - survived an extremely risky surgery. And if she did manage to survive, we didn't know right away if she would be able to talk or function normally or even remember who we all were because she was at very high risk of there being damage to the brain from surgery. But, when all was said and done, and she was not only okay, but stronger than ever, I decided to run my first full marathon and fundraise for a cancer organization in honor of her. If my mom could get through 13 years of cancer and a brain surgery, I could run for 5 hours. I raised about $4,000 that year and honestly, I’m almost thankful that my first marathon was so difficult for me and that the weather was so incredibly insane. It proved that I can face hardships and come out on the other side, just like my mom.

My second Cleveland Marathon in 2017 was no picnic either. I had an extremely difficult year in my personal life this past year as well and my training suffered. The weather was only slightly better but the real problem for me in 2017 was when my foot hit some uneven road and my knee blew out at mile 20. I pretty much had to walk the last 6 miles and finished with a time I am not very proud of. Still, I got through it and am proud to have completed two marathons so far in my 26-year-old life. 

And here I am, ready to take on my third Cleveland Marathon and my third year of Miles for Mom, my personal fundraising campaign. The past two years, I've raised about $7,000 for different cancer organizations. It's my goal, however, to raise $30,000 by the time I'm 30. This year’s goal is $10,000 for Bright Pink, an organization that works to teach women how to be proactive about their own health so they can better prevent breast and ovarian cancer. (Click here to donate)

I have no idea what the weather will be like on race day this year or if I'll manage to get through it injury free, but there’s one thing I do know for sure: it’s that the Cleveland marathon is and always will be my favorite race and one that I think every person who is able should experience. It's the grittiest, most unpredictable, inspiring race and it's filled with underdogs striving to do something great - just like Cleveland.

Leah Backo