CLEVELAND — Runners from across Northeast Ohio laced up their shoes for one of the first major races since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
The Towpath Trilogy half-marathon and five-mile race kicked off Sunday at the Cleveland Metroparks Ohio and Erie Reservation.
For many runners, the sound of the horn going off to start the race was one they’ve waited to hear for a long time.
“It’s just great to be out. It’s great to be out amongst a lot of people,” said Mark Durno of Fairview Park.
The second leg of the trilogy, the Twilight Ten-Ten will take place on Friday, June 18. The trilogy concludes with the Towpath Marathon on October 10.
“There’s just something special about getting out here and being in one of the true gems of Cleveland, which is the Metroparks,” Durno said.
It's been a marathon on its own to get back to the point of running an in-person race. While it’s not quite up to speed, it’s a great first step.
“It’s been a slow build with racing. Back in the fall, they did some smaller races,” Durno said. “They kept the social distancing very strict, and it was all time trial start. We’re doing a similar thing today, but there’s more people.
The pandemic forced the trilogy to alter its plans last year, leaving a void in funding from a race series named after the very trails it supports.
“What it has supported to this point is the development of the towpath trail in Cuyahoga County,” said Mera Cardenas, executive director of Canalway Partners. “By this summer, the towpath trail in Cuyahoga County is going to be complete. And it’s a regional, 90-mile trail that connects all the way down to Zoar.”
Since the pandemic started, the race has either gone virtual or accommodated for social distancing by limiting the field, removing early signup, and staggering start times. At its core, the Towpath Trilogy is about reconnecting runners with the towpath in 2021.
“I’m a transplant to Cleveland so to run on the Towpath in different areas is something I’ve been wanting to do. So, this gives me the opportunity to do that,” said Jackie Caputo of Brecksville.
With the finish line of the pandemic in sight, it felt good to be at the starting line on race day.
“As we start to inch closer and closer to that endpoint with the pandemic, we can see the racing community to inch closer and closer back to normal racing,” said Durno.