He was a lone trumpet player, wearing a yellow-hooded sweatshirt and sitting on his front stoop in Akron’s Firestone Park neighborhood.
As the lead runners in Saturday’s Akron Marathon passed by his house, the man stood up, put his horn to his mouth and blasted a call into the chilly September air.
The musician’s spirit and “charge” call summed up the tone of the day as Akron was overrun with about 16,000 runners and volunteers. The ninth annual race was watched by an estimated 100,000 people through the day.
While the race officially kicked off at 7 a.m., runners and volunteers and an army of Akron police officers who were patrolling the streets and blocking intersections had taken over downtown almost like an occupying force by 5:30 a.m.
The runners headed north on South Broadway from the starting line at the National Inventors Hall of Fame School.
They eventually filled both lanes of the All-America Bridge, as the faster runners had already made the turn at Summa St. Thomas Hospital on North Hill and were running south back toward downtown while the majority of the field was still heading north on the Y-Bridge.
It took about 8 minutes for everyone to simply start the race.
Everywhere one turned, there were rich stories to be heard on a crisp morning on the second day of fall.
A group of 20 runners called Cardiac Athletes gathered for pictures at the start of the race, having come from nine states across the country. All had undergone some type of heart surgery and all were in Akron to run the marathon, half marathon or relay.
Jeff Hardisty, 51, of Eugene, Ore., who had a triple-heart bypass, was on a relay team.
His father died of a heart attack at age 46; he had his own heart attack at 46. “I have family history,” he said.
“I thought I was alone, and then I discovered Cardiac Athletes. These are my people.”
Runner Jeff Burke, 50, of Stow, arrived at a city parking deck near the starting line at 5 a.m. and spent 45 minutes making the contraption he would carry during his marathon race,
The retired Air Force first sergeant, who served more than 20 years active duty and in the reserves and had tours in Saudi Arabia and Kyrgyzstan in recent years, attached a wooden frame with a series of flags, including a POW-MIA, American flag and a flag that features the symbol of all the branches of the service, to a military backpack that he wore. He called it a tribute pack.
“It creates awareness and helps people think of all the sacrifices made by our veterans during a time when thousands of people are enjoying the freedoms that veterans have fought to earn for hundreds of years,” he said.
Burke, who finished the race in 5 hours and 36 minutes, said he likes to see the reaction of the crowd along the race course.
“I love going through the neighborhoods and seeing people having barbecues and big-screen TVs who make a day of it,” said Burke, who is an investigator for the state.
Members of the Ellet, Garfield and St. Vincent-St. Mary high school bands and the Kenmore High School Madrigal Singers stood along the marathon course, playing and singing for the runners.
There was an Irish band playing tunes near Firestone Park, too.
Crowds of people filled the sidewalks along the race course.
One couple sat in lawn chairs with their two boxer dogs and watched.
Runners passed aid stations along the 26.2-mile course, and volunteers passed out 260,000 cups of water. Racers and volunteers had the opportunity to use 308 portable restrooms in the event sponsored by Time Warner Cable.
Race officials said there were 11,086 adult marathoners, half marathoners and relay team members, and about 2,000 more children who took part in a Kids Fun Run, plus about 3,000 volunteers, about the same numbers as last year.
Woman’s first race
One of the racers, Kristin Brustoski, who because of spina bifida, uses a wheelchair full time, took part in her first race Saturday, on a relay team with the government agency where she works.
She did the first section of the relay, about 3.5 miles, in 40 to 45 minutes.
“It was cool,” said the 24-year-old woman from Fairlawn.
“I had a hundred people pat me on the back, all kinds of people.”
She said the feeling of being sandwiched in the middle of such a huge throng of runners was incredible.
“It was a good rush to be in the middle of a sea of people and hearing everybody running at the same time. It was a real cool sound,” she said.
As runners made their way on the race course, they passed block parties and family parties. They saw people in bathrobes, and even ran past a home on Wiltshire Road in West Akron where religious songs were sung.
Machine makes bubbles
Up the street from that spot was Eric Ball’s bubble machine.
Ball, 53, has been making bubbles his driveway for the race since the first marathon in 2003. Now he owns an $80 bubble machine.
Ball wore a Wile E. Coyote suit, in honor of the former name of the race, the Roadrunner Marathon. “It’s lots of fun,” said Ball, who said he is in a transition period after a 20-year career in marketing and communications.
“It helps to have people on the way cheering you on and picking up your spirits for the next mile or so.”
One of the runners he cheered up was Barry Goldmeier, an unconventional marathoner from Rockville, Md., who not only ran the entire marathon, but also juggled five bean bags the whole way.
“I have to stop to see where I’m going” along the way, said the 47-year-old statistician for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in Washington, D.C.
Asked why he runs and juggles, Goldmeier, who finished in about 5 hours and 42 minutes, said, “It’s just what I do.”
The race course, with relay runners scattered at stops along the way and partyers everywhere, had a Dr. Seuss feel to it from the well-known book And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street because there was such a mix of people and runners to watch.
Couple runs together
For runners Marci Clemens and David Frederick, the Akron Marathon will always hold a special place in their hearts.
They met each other in 2008 when they wound up on the same Bridgestone Law Department relay team in Akron.
They are still running together and plan to marry in November.
Clemens, 27, an attorney, who lives in Marion and works for the Ohio 3rd District Court of Appeals, ran the second leg of a Bridgestone relay team.
Her fiance, Frederick, 29, of Cleveland, who works for the Justice Department, ran the last leg of another Bridgestone relay team.
She said the race and the entire community were a sight to see.
“Everybody is pumped up,” she said. “It inspires you to see thousands and thousands of people from out of town, navigating their way in the streets in the dark before the race.”
She said there is an energy level that is unreal at the Akron Marathon. “It is almost like an infection,” she said.
“We feed off of people. You strike up conversations with people you don’t know.”
As runners passed through neighborhoods, families in lawn chairs with cell-phone cameras clapped, cheered and snapped pictures and video and texted friends about what they had just seen.
Volunteers handed out glasses of water and other items for the racers.
“Water, water, water!” yelled one volunteer on Brown Street near the University of Akron.
A proposal at the finish
After Mike Beck, 36, and Lisa Teti, 27, of Cuyahoga Falls, finished the half marathon together, he pulled a ring out of a pocket of his water bottle, got on his knees at Canal Park, where racers finished and where two dozen family members and friends were watching, and made a bold statement and asked her an important question.
“I love you with all my heart,” he said. “Will you marry me?”
Teti, a pastry chef and cake decorator at Akron’s West Side Bakery, didn’t hesitate. “Yes,” she said.
Beck, a letter carrier, then stood up and raised both arms in happiness.
Across the race course, people had fun with signs.
A sign at the bottom of the hill on Garman Road, approaching Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, designated the steep Garman hill as “Heart Rate Hill,” a twist on the famous “Heartbreak Hill” at the famed Boston Marathon.
And one sign on the route was inspired by a running mother and told the story of a proud child.
“My Mommy Is Faster Than Yours,” the sign read.
For more about Cardiac Athletes, go to www.cardiacathletes.org.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or email@example.com.