Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon
draws record participation


CLEVELAND, OH--For 24-year-old Debra Browning, it was having the courage to begin a journey that drove her to the finish line of the 32nd annual Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon, Half-Marathon, & 10K.

Months of training, check. Running shoes and moisture-wicking socks, check. Family cheering from the sidelines, check. Cool and clear weather for race day, check. Browning had all of these components, but it was her perseverance and life experiences that clinched her two-hour half-marathon goal for the May 17 event.

But it wasn’t an easy endeavor. During her senior year of high school, a few traumatic events, including the passing of her father, set Browning down a challenging path. Following in the footsteps of her late father, who had worked as an administrator for a juvenile court, Browning became a juvenile boot camp instructor for a few consecutive summers following her graduation. Browning trained more than 20 juveniles in areas such as physical fitness, life skills, and community service. But the personal hardships Browning had faced began to take their toll, and before long, Browning found herself 100 pounds overweight. That’s when Browning decided it was time to make her own health a priority. The road to reaching her fitness goals had its challenges, according to Browning, but it was one worth traveling.

Inspired by strong support from family and friends, as well as her inner motivation, Browning went from 214 to about 110 pounds from February 2007 to the fall of February 2008.

“Learning about losing weight the correct way was so difficult,” Browning said. “Once I got the hang of that, it was (and still is) a challenge to eat anywhere other than my house, where I fix my own food. However, that’s a part of life, so I had to learn about portion control, flexibility, substitutions, etc.”

“The boot-camp job is one of the best I ever had,” Browning added. “It taught me to keep pushing. When I am doing a 10 miler, and I get a stitch in my side, or get tired around Mile 8, I can keep going. I went from being very overweight and barely able to fast-walk a half-mile, to running a half-marathon fairly easily.  I was able to train for it, and I want to do more. It’s so amazing to know what my body can do.”

Browning was among a record total of about 12,400 runners and walkers who had registered for the Cleveland events, which also included a first-ever 5K to benefit the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, and a kids run, according to Jack Staph, executive race director. The races continue to grow in numbers as this year’s half-marathon sold out with approximately 5,000 registrants, Staph said.

“More and more women are running half-marathons,” said Staph. “We have sponsors that give us unconditional support. It brings a lot of people to the city.”

With near ideal conditions, thousands of participants discovered just what they’re capable of accomplishing on race day. This included marathon winners Joel Stansloski and Jackie Baumgartner, both newcomers to the Rite Aid Cleveland event, but veterans to the sport.

Stansloski, a 23-year-old from Tulsa, Okla., ran 2:27:37 to take the win, followed by Andy Martin, 34, of Bend, OR, (2:31:20), and 32-year-old Dave Mooney, of Peninsula, OH, (2:33:21), respectively. Stansloski, an assistant manager at a running specialty store in Tulsa, secured his victory after breaking away from the competition for the final 10 miles.


“Through 16 miles, I was just feeling good and took off,” said Stansloski, a native of Wooster, OH. “I found a real good rhythm. There was good crowd support the last four to five miles.”

Martin who had run in the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials, was hoping for a better outcome. “I was frustrated I didn’t make a move at the beginning of the race,” he said. “It was a pretty flat course.”

In the women’s field, Baumgartner, a 25-year-old Oak Harbor, OH, native, who now resides in Manhattan, NY, captured the win in 2:57:49. Baumgartner, a medical researcher, beat her personal best by 10 minutes. She finished ahead of Shanna Ailes, 30, of Kent, (3:08:17), and Madison, OH, native Melanie Lenk, 27, of Wilmington, NC (3:08:36).

“I just feel great,” Baumgartner said after earning her first marathon title. “It was a perfect race for me. It was a goal of mine, but I didn’t know how realistic it was.”

For Ailes, months of training had made her goal a reality. “I had high hopes that I’d finish in the top five based on my training,” said Ailes, after finishing seventh in the marathon last year. “I felt the course was more difficult this year with a lot of gradual hills and the wind was bad at the finish.”

A new official course was designed this year, however, to help keep the wind mostly at the runners’ backs. All three races started in downtown Cleveland, taking all participants toward the lake, past the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and other notable city landmarks. The full and half-marathoners passed by Cleveland’s three professional sports stadiums before heading west to east along the shoreline. A new finish area brought all the athletes within proximity to the lake and Cleveland Browns stadium.

The Cleveland Marathon began in 1978 with the original course beginning at Cleveland State University, traveling west to Bay Village and back. The marathon is one of the 50 oldest marathons in the country, and has been redesigned over the years to incorporate the city’s sites, meet athlete needs, and accommodate the growing number of participants.

Half-marathoner Andrew Gordon, 39, of Reminderville, OH, enjoyed relaxing with his family after finishing in 1:46:43.

“It’s amazing,” Gordon said. “This is the first run I’ve done with a crowd like this. There were tons of people. I saw parts of Cleveland I didn’t know of.”

In the half-marathon, 25-year-old Chris Paulett, of Bath, OH, claimed victory in 1:13:57, just beating out Aaron Apathy, 23, of Parma, OH, in 1:14:29. On the women’s side, Melissa Milstead, 24, of Wilmington, NC, ran a 1:27:14 to narrowly defeat Elizabeth Hansen, 27, of Euclid, OH, who finished in 1:27:52.

Dereje Tadesse, of Ethiopia, dominated the men’s 10K by maintaining an early lead and finishing in 28:55. Ernest Kebenei, 25, of Kenya, was runner-up in 29:07. The women were paced by Emebet Bacha, 28, of Ethiopia, who won in 32:28. Jane Murage, 22, of Kenya, finished second in 33:07.

When all was said and done--medals awarded, hugs from families and friends given, and spirits replenished--there was a lingering sentiment among the city’s streets. It was a sense of excitement for the sport and pushing yourself to new limits. As Browning simply put it, “I’m officially addicted.”