Road Runner Akron Marathon: A race with a personal touch
In this age of voice-mail, automated teller machines and other technologies that have, for better or worse, contributed to our increasingly impersonal society, the 5th annual Road Runner Akron Marathon (Sept. 29) provides a refreshing change: a race that prides itself on the personal touch.
Posted Saturday, 28 July, 2007
Much has changed in the years between the ancient Greek Phidippides hoofing it from Marathon to Athens and the invention of GU energy gels. But much has stayed the same when it comes to what we look for when entering a road race. Sure, PRs are swell, but so is being treated well. And you certainly will be at the Road Runner Akron Marathon.
No, race director Jim Barnett won't make like the marathoning tooth fairy on race-day eve and place chocolate GU energy gels under each runner's pillow. But Barnett will do just about everything else to ensure an enjoyable experience for each race participant. And that includes greeting every runner as he or she crosses the finish line with a congratulatory handshake and thank-you. That's 5,000-plus finishers and sweaty palms and a lot of "personal touches," but that truly is the Road Runner Akron Marathon's modus operandi.
"Every decision we make (in planning and putting on the event) is based on the question: Is it good for the runners?" Barnett said.
As far as greeting every runner at the finish line, Barnett said the practice started in the race's first year when he shook hands and greeted the first runners to finish the race.
"Next thing you know, more runners kept coming and I just kept greeting everyone until the last runner finished," Barnett recalled. "I feel blessed with the opportunity to say hello and thank the runners. But this is just one of many things that take place on a personal level."
The "personal touches" include sending e-mail thank-yous to all race entrants, answering every inquiry with a personal, not auto-generated, e-mail reply, and putting runners' names, not just numbers, on their race bibs. Like the sit-com "Cheers," everybody will know your name at the Road Runner Akron Marathon!
"It is just another way to further personalize things," Barnett said of inscribing names on bibs. "Around mile 18, runners can start feeling a little mushy. If someone yelled 'Go (random) number!' the runner may ask, 'Is that me?' Instead, people are calling you by name. And that makes runners feel good."
Runners also feel good when they get "stuff" at road races. Mission accomplished at the Road Runner Akron Marathon, where "registration gets you" a pair of $90-95 Brooks running shoes (yes, free shoes), a long-sleeve tech shirt, a Running Times magazine subscription, a goodie bag, free food and Michelob beer at the "fantastic" post race party and more.
"We ask the question, 'What would we like to have after a marathon?' " Barnett said. "Most people would say a good T-shirt and a great medallion. And we give those plus more. A couple of years ago we decided to reallocate the prize money funds to buy shoes for the runners. It's just another personal touch."
Okay, first off, the Road Runner Akron Marathon course is not pancake-flat, for there are some hills in the late stages of the race. But it is not the second coming of the Mount Washington Road Race. It is, in fact, strikingly scenic, well supported, and marked with a blue line that extends the entire 26.2 miles.
Runners will enjoy panoramic views of the Little Cuyahoga River, cross the All-America Bridge, travel through parks, past museums and the old Firestone building and onto the 4-mile Towpath, a crushed limestone path considered to be one of the most eye-pleasing parts of the course.
"The course itself showcases the best of Akron. The Towpath is a historic trail that follows the Ohio and Erie Canal and is very beautiful," Barnett said. "It's a little over four miles (from about 11 to 15 miles) and it gives the runners a nice break from the hard surface."
After exiting the Towpath, runners will pound the pavement through West Akron, where they will be greeted by some of the largest crowds on the course, then return to downtown Akron, past the 25-mile mark near St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, the alma mater of Cleveland Cavaliers hoops hero LeBron James, and towards the "Olympic-style" finish at Canal Park, home of the Double- A baseball team, the Akron Aeros.
"Runners enter Canal Park in (right) centerfield and, as they run toward the finish line, their images are shown on the new scoreboard," Barnett said. "And as they cross the finish line, the public address announcer calls out their names. Runners feel like they just won in the Olympics."
The race course is fully supported with 20 fluid stations, five GU energy gel stations, entertainment spots, portable restrooms, and clocks and markers at every mile and 5K. And cheering fans. Lots of them.
"Throughout the year we are proactive in the community talking about the race. We tell people that race day is a wonderful opportunity (for them) to be ambassadors of the city of Akron and we ask people to come out and support the race. And they do," Barnett said, noting that local newspapers have estimated race-day crowds of 80,000. "Because of the blue line on the course, we have what we call 'Blue-line families' on the route. The blue line goes by their houses and the families host parties on race day with bands and everything."
For detailed course information and to see an impressive video (accompanied by music) of the entire Road Runner Akron Marathon course, visit: http://akronmarathon.org/course.asp
Not just a marathon
In addition to the 26.2-mile race, a half marathon has been added to the Sept. 29 race menu. A two-person relay (15.5-mile and 10.7-mile legs) and a five-person relay will also be held. Prize money is awarded in the marathon to the top five male and female finishers ($2,000, $1,000, $500, $250, $100) and also to the top three male and female masters ($1,000, $500, $250).
Runners will pick up their race packets, T-shirts, goodie bags and final instructions at the University of Akron Health and Fitness Expo at the John S. Knight Center in Akron on Friday, Sept. 28 (the day before the race), from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The expo is free and open to the public. The expo provides a final registration opportunity for the next day's race. For information on the expo, visit: http://akronmarathon.org/2005-expo.asp
As for fueling up on carbs for the full marathon, half or relay, the Summit Athletic Running Club will host a pre-Road Runner Akron Marathon pasta party on Friday, Sept. 28, at St. Bernard's Social Hall, 44 University Ave., in downtown Akron. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., with dinner and program at 7 p.m. For information on the pasta party, visit: http://akronmarathon.org/2005-pastaparty.asp
While in town for the Road Runner Akron Marathon, runners should check out the sights of Akron, for there's plenty to see in "The Rubber Capital of the World."
"Akron is a great little city. We are about 18 miles south of Cleveland, Ohio. It's an exciting place," Barnett said, noting the many restaurants and museums that dot the city landscape.
To see what's going on in Akron, visit the City of Akron attractions website at: http://www.ci.akron.oh.us/attract.html
Several hotels are conveniently located near the Road Runner Akron Marathon start and finish, and also in proximity to area restaurants and attractions. These hotels are also offering discount rates to runners participating in the Road Runner Akron Marathon. For information on accommodations, visit: http://akronmarathon.org/accommodations.asp
Now in its fifth year, the Road Runner Akron Marathon is still a relative New Kid on the Marathoning Block. But with over 2,500 volunteers, terrific community support and a race director and support team that understands what it takes to put on an event for runners, the race has staying power.
"When we started the race, our initial goal was to be in the top-25 ranked marathons in the country and have over 5,000 runners," Barnett said. "Last year we had about 5,800 participating and I think we are probably (ranked) in the top 25."
And with its personal-touch philosophy, the race will continue to improve and gain popularity, for runners in the Road Runner Akron Marathon are viewed as not just numbers, but runners with names (on the race bibs) who deserve to be treated well on race day.
"We care about all the runners on a personal level," Barnett said. "That's important to us."
For information on all aspects of the 5th annual Road Runner Akron Marathon, including on-line registration, volunteer opportunities, detailed course description and more, visit the race's website: http://akronmarathon.org