A gym bag always sits in David Gilbert's car just in case.
After his daily two-hour morning workout, Gilbert, president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, never knows when he will get the opportunity to squeeze in a quick run during the day. Gilbert is seemingly always training.
For most, running is a way to stay fit. But for Gilbert, it's a passion that has inspired him to run nearly 20 marathons and, in the past few years, compete in triathlons.
"It is such a great mental release - most of the time it doesn't seem to me to be work," Gilbert says. "For whatever reason I've been fortunate enough to just have a love for it."
Growing up, Gilbert's primary sport was tennis. But as a senior at Cleveland Heights High School in 1984, a friend encouraged him to run around the track one afternoon. After a mile and a quarter Gilbert had to stop.
"I thought I was going to die," he remembers. "And that wasn't acceptable."
David Gilbert, president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, in front of his many marathon and triathlon numbers.
Photo by Eric Mull
Months later, Gilbert was running his first marathon on the East Side of Cleveland. The race, called the Six Cities Marathon, no longer exists, but Gilbert remembers it vividly.
When asked how he did, he shakes his head and answers, "Not well.
"It was hard. It was very, very hard," he adds. Gilbert completed his first 26.2-mile race in four hours. And 48 hours later, he knew he needed to run again.
So six months later, he completed the Cleveland Marathon, shaving 40 minutes off his previous time. His best time was at the 2002 St. George, Utah, marathon where he crossed the finish line in 3 hours, 17 minutes.
Gilbert recalls the runners were driven 26 miles by bus into the mountains before dawn. The race wound out of the mountains and back toward the city with scenery Gilbert tries to describe as he sits in his corner office in the Terminal Tower. He stares off into the distance as he recalls the desert setting.
"There were these huge mylar balloons like 20 feet in the air marking each mile," Gilbert says. Each mile marker reminded the avid runner to take it one mile at a time - and made it easy to see the next goal as the flat plain made the next marker visible.
"It made the miles peel away," says Gilbert, refocusing his eyes. It's no wonder why the race yielded Gilbert's best finish time to date.
Running has given Gilbert a chance to see parts of the country he never would have witnessed otherwise - he chooses some marathons based on their locations. St. George, Carmel, Calif., and Denver are just a few of the more scenic races he's completed.
"It's more a race against yourself," says the head of the nonprofit that has been credited with bringing more than 60 sporting events and $164 million in revenue to the Greater Cleveland area. "There are people who are great athletes and I am not one of them. I've always been good, not great. And I'm fine with that."
For more than 10 years, Gilbert has been running with the same group of friends - making his daily routine much more social than physical. They run together on Saturdays for an average of 10 miles, but have traveled as far as 22 miles.
When he's training he'll push himself to around 40 miles a week, but that average has dropped in the last two years as he picked up an interest in triathlons. Now Gilbert mixes up his routine adding biking, swimming and weight lifting to his regiment.
Gilbert's office is full of sports memorabilia - balls, hats and posters signed by the likes of Jim Brown and Billy Jean King. There are bobble heads of Indians and Cavs players and medals matted and framed from the International Children's Games.
Gilbert has added to this collection as leader of the Sports Commission, a nonprofit he started nearly eight years ago to bring amateur sporting venues to Cleveland and thereby boosting the city's economy. The commission will bring anything from tae kwon do to swimming competitions and has begun to host its own signature events including the Continental Cup, an international youth soccer tournament and the FirstMerit Patriot Bowl at Browns Stadium.
This year, the organization will bring home seven more events than it has in years past - totaling 11 national events this year. Their most recent hot ticket event, the NCAA Women's Final Four in April, has been created with generating more than $25 million in revenue for Cleveland.
To date, Gilbert has run 19 marathons across the country and shows no signs of slowing down. Before the year ends, he plans to run two marathons, competing in three triathlons this summer, and with luck, a century (100-mile) bike ride.
"My wife always asks me when I'm going to be done," Gilbert jokes. He tells her he'll stop when he runs a marathon with one of his kids.
While not quite a marathon, Gilbert and his 9-year-old daughter ran their first 5K together earlier this year. And Gilbert, a father of two with a number of athletic accomplishments to brag about, couldn't be more proud of her.
"It was so much fun and she did so great," Gilbert says, smiling. "She didn't even stop at all."