Cleveland Marathon winner looks to defend title for third year

by Maddy Holman

Hudsonites might have caught a glimpse of Ashton Swinford in December as she dashed by the competition and snagged first place in the local Frosty 5-Mile race for the third year in a row (and with a 2023-course personal record of 28:53.)

But they might not have realized that they were also witnessing the running gait of a two-time Cleveland Marathon champion. This month, Swinford prepares to “flee to the Cleve” once again, to defend her title on Sunday, May 19.

Swinford credits her late-bloomer love of running to a stint on the cross-country team at Ohio Northern University. Her athleticism, however, was already prevalent during childhood, when she reached level 10 – the highest level – of the USA Gymnastics Junior Olympics Program.

“My athletic journey started as a gymnast in second grade, and I stuck with gymnastics throughout all of high school,” she said. “I thought I was going to do gymnastics in college, but after my senior year, I decided, ‘I feel satisfied. I did what I wanted to do. I’m healthy. I want to focus on school.’”

While studying biology at ONU, Swinford began making friends with members of the university’s track and cross country teams. After some convincing, she joined the track team as a sprinter, but it didn’t take long to discover her knack for distance running. 

“Being a gymnast made me a pretty good hurdler and sprinter,” she said. “But the team convinced me to start trying longer distances. I joined the cross country team for social reasons, and from there, the rest is history.”

In 2018, Swinford and her husband welcomed twins into the world. She had continued running and was inspired by the women just like her – amateur runners with a diversified life outside of running – that she witnessed qualifying for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Less than a year after the babies arrived, Swinford could run a marathon non-competitively with a casual 3:12 pace. 

“Post-collegiately, and one of the things that I’m most proud of, is that I’m actually a much better runner now than I was in college. I have stuck with it, and each year I tend to get a little bit better than the year before,” she said.

Her budding distance prowess combined with an admiration for fellow “normal” runners competing on the world stage was the impetus for Swinford to start competitive running again. In 2019, after training harder and going further than she ever had, Swinford ran a marathon in 2:58, only 13 minutes shy of Olympic qualifying time. Her personal record marathon time is 2:44, which she ran at the Columbus marathon in 2023. 

Originally from Bowling Green, Swinford settled in the Cleveland area with her husband in 2015, after obtaining her graduate degree in physical therapy from the University of Dayton. Now a Hudson resident, she splits her time evenly between the roles of parent, part-time physical therapist and avid runner. She has mastered the art of multitasking: She fits in runs while her kids are in morning preschool, for example, and sometimes even squeezes in an afternoon workout.

Swinford’s community in Northern Ohio extends beyond her immediate family to her chosen family, CLE Racing, an “elite female running team representing Cleveland.” She serves as one of the team’s captains and values the supportive environment whether it’s race day, a group trail run or a kind comment on the group’s Facebook page.

“We all live in different parts of the Cleveland area,” Swinford explained. “We’ll meet at different parks or trailheads to train together and talk about races we want to do. We do volunteer events by supporting other local running events. It’s been a whole lot of fun to have a community of people with the same interests as me who can support each other in our running goals.”

Swinford looks forward to competing alongside her teammates in the upcoming Cleveland Marathon. Before the challenge of safeguarding her title in “The Land,” however, Swinford and some of her teammates are headed east to participate in what she said is the “first race people ask about when they learn you’re a marathon runner” –  the Boston Marathon.

“I’m glad to finally say that I’m finally doing my first Boston Marathon,” she said. “I don’t have a strong time goal because it’s such a tough course. I just want to finish feeling really good about myself.”

Despite her excitement to compete in Boston, Swinford’s most anticipated race is still at home, in Cleveland, which she refers to as “my hometown race.” As she crosses the finish line this May, Swinford hopes to run to victory with some of her biggest sideline fans: her CLE Racing teammates, her husband and, of course, her twins. ∞

A former runner at Ohio Northern University,
Ashton Swinford began running
competitively post-college after the birth
of her twins in 2018. Photo submitted.

On our cover (photos): Hudson resident Aston Swinford hopes to win her third consecutive Cleveland Marathon this month. She was first female finisher in 2022 and 2023. Photos submitted.