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Home Run 

Marathon gets a course less coarse.

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After eight years, veteran runner Matt Fyffe became bored with the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon & 10K course: Start with the first five miles downtown, head west into Lakewood and Rocky River, turn around in Bay Village, and make it to the finish line near Cleveland State University. Yawn.

This year, the 26.2-mile race has been revamped, with more than 5,000 runners tackling the entire route within Cleveland's city limits. Kicking off at a new starting point on St. Clair Avenue, the looped course heads west along the lakeshore to the Edgewater Park turnaround. Veering east, it takes runners past Jacobs Field and Playhouse Square. The second leg stretches into University Circle, north on MLK Boulevard to Gordon Park, and west back to the finish line on St. Clair near East 12th Street.

And like any well-prepared marathoner, Fyffe has already checked out the new course. "They're trying to showcase what the city has to offer -- the stadiums, the ballparks, and the museums on the East Side," says the 33-year-old.

And that's exactly what Cleveland race organizers want. On parts of the old course, runners felt alone. The jog down Detroit Avenue on the West Side was virtually abandoned, and the boarded-up buildings didn't show off Cleveland's finer landmarks to out-of-town marathoners (who'll come from as far as Europe and Africa for this year's $16,200 purse). "It was time for a facelift," says Jack Staph, the race's executive director. "The out-and-back type of course was, frankly, becoming boring to runners. We believe this course is going to be fast and exciting."

For Fyffe, that's good to know. Not only has he run 26-milers in Chicago and Cincinnati, he's qualified twice for the granddaddy of them all: the Boston Marathon. "The Boston one is the race," he says. "The crowd support there is absolutely incredible, because you're never alone on that course. If we can get the community to embrace [the Cleveland race] and take more pride in it, I hope that [it attracts] more people."

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