Think you can’t run the Akron Marathon?
With a little imagination, you can. Let’s do it right now.
Picture yourself standing in the middle of Broadway in downtown Akron, right near the National Inventors Hall of Fame School.
Having trouble seeing yourself? That’s because thousands of runners and spectators are filling every inch of pavement.
Ah, but there you are, just a few yards from the starting line, wearing a yellow bib because you’re running the full 26.2-mile course with 2,000 other hopefuls. Another 4,000 wear the silver of the half-marathoners, while the vanguard of 1,200 relay teams have donned pink bibs.
It’s a good time to make a last stop at one of the portable johns, rehydrate yourself, then assess the weather. Sunglasses? Hat? Long or short sleeves? You decide, then hand your bag off to a volunteer who will transfer it to the finish line for you.
OK, the announcer on top of the Morley Health Center parking deck is counting down the 7 a.m. start.
That’s the bell. Let’s go!
Folks are bumping elbows as you make your way forward, but no worries. The timing chip in your bib isn’t activated until you cross the line.
Right this moment, friends and family who signed up online to track your journey are getting an automated text message stating you are on your way. Five more times this race, your chip will send them a progress report. Pretty neat, huh?
The straightaway before you is a gentle downhill, but what goes down must come up, so resist the temptation to dash.
Follow the blue line that has been sprayed on the asphalt and it leads you over the All-America Bridge, hovering 300 feet above a beautiful green valley. The rising sun illuminates the sky off your right shoulder.
Course designers have taken you over here as a nod to Akron’s North Hill neighborhood, but you won’t stay long. Three quick lefts and you’ll be back at the Y-shaped, divided bridge.
On the southbound return trip, you see the north side still filled with oncoming runners. It’s a kindred moment, to be sure.
The bridge deposits you on High Street, so continue past the Akron Art Museum and the John S. Knight Center. Good thing you held back because here comes that slight uphill climb to the Summit County Courthouse. The fans who cheered the start on Broadway have walked en masse one block south to greet you here.
Stay to the left. Those relay teams are going to take over the right for some important business. Just after crossing Cedar Street by the Akron Beacon Journal, organized chaos ensues as the second-leg relay runners leave their corrals to find teammates and accept the transfer of a slap bracelet.
You just stay focused on your own race as High continues south and merges into Main Street. You can lock into a good rhythm as you pass the old Firestone headquarters, the new Bridgestone Americas Technical Center and Firestone Stadium, home of the Akron Racers.
As you turn left onto Wilbeth Road, I hope you made the right decision on what accessories to wear. If it’s a clear morning, you’ll be headed directly into the sun.
Leaving the urban center behind, you enter the proud Firestone Park neighborhood, where residents are cheering you from their front lawns. Let’s make a left onto the boulevard and loop the shield-shaped park.
The trip up the north side of the park is your first real challenge. The incline doesn’t look like much, but seven miles into the race, you’re feeling it. Hopefully the music of the Garfield High School band will invigorate you as you turn left onto Brown Street.
Another long straightaway with a gradual ascent takes you back toward town and the University of Akron campus.
You spot the next relay hand-off coming up at the corner of Brown and Crouse. As you pass it, you notice the road is suddenly filled with a new batch of energized athletes.
That could have been a real mental downer, but thankfully the relay teams have been marked with those double-sided bibs to remind you they are not the pack you’re trying to keep up with.
After passing East Exchange Street by the university’s InfoCision football stadium, a bicycle guide suddenly appears to lead you over the brick walkways of Buchtel Commons and past the Polymer Center and E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall.
Some runners are breaking away during this fast leg, but you’re in it for the long haul so just hold steady.
The bike leads you back to Broadway, where the pace cars are waiting to take over the procession again. As you pass the starting line for a second time, those loyal downtown fans are back cheering you on.
This time just before the Y-Bridge, turn left and make your way to Howard. The hill down Howard is too steep to be exhilarating and your feet pound the asphalt hard, but North Street comes up quickly.
Turning left into Cascade Valley Park, you see the silver bibs breaking off to the left. They’ll take a different route to finish the final two miles of their half-marathon.
You, on the other hand, follow another bicycle volunteer in the opposite direction and onto the peaceful Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail.
The shade-covered park offers four miles of solitude. Still, you might like the fact signs offering encouragement have been posted along the trail. There are some fans at a couple of water stops along the way. Hope you’re staying hydrated.
Leaving the towpath, you pass a statue of an Indian portaging his canoe to the Cuyahoga River. Local runners call him the “buff Indian” in admiration of his six-pack abs.
Cross the tracks — one of several railroads that have adjusted their schedules this day so as not to interfere with your pace — and make your way west up Portage Path to Sand Run Metro Park.
That flat and easy towpath was the calm before the storm. Now it’s time for the “rally from the valley.”
A relay exchange takes place at the entrance to Sand Run, and this leg is so challenging, they’ll be kept to under 3 miles. You’re going to have to dig deep yourself, because you’re running that 3 miles and more.
The blue line that has been your visual aid is gone for now. The park won’t allow it, but you won’t get lost on this closed, two-lane winding road.
Here’s where you need to “run the tangents.” That means keeping a straight line to the inside of each curve to reduce your steps. No doubt you’re also thinking about that ford ahead. You might have always gotten your wheels wet driving through here, but a temporary bridge erected over it will keep your feet dry.
You’re feeling pure exhaustion at the end of the parkway when, ugh, another 1,200 fresh-faced relay runners join you on the road. Don’t be discouraged. They are not your competition!
The blue line has reappeared, so just follow it down Revere Road and stay to the right. You’re going to start sharing some roads with Saturday morning traffic.
At West Market Street, a dozen new cyclists slip into the stream, but they’re not here to guide you. They’re here to follow. For the final seven miles, signs they carry alert fans as to who the leaders are.
Since this is your imagination, let’s put one of those bikes in front of you!
A loud and large crowd carries you down West Market back toward town, but it’s a short stretch before you turn off and weave through residential Wheaton and Wiltshire roads.
Pass Firestone High School (you probably recall Challenger astronaut Judy Resnik and rocker Chrissy Hynde went to school here), enjoy the serenade of the student band, and turn left onto Garman Road.
Ahead lies the 22-mile mark and “Heart Rate Hill.” The climb is a brief one, but it spikes your heart rate to its highest level this day. Hopefully you recover enough to enjoy the impressive gates of Stan Hywet Hall.
Follow the bicycle guide left into the estate, loop the manor built by Goodyear’s founding family and thread the opening of the carriage house.
Hang a right onto Portage Path and enjoy one of Akron’s most historical tree-lined residential neighborhoods. Be forewarned: Block parties abound here and the beers and margaritas are flowing freely. Opt for water and continue past Portage Country Club.
At West Market, you’re at the highest elevation of the course. If you have anything left in your tank, it’s time to spend it. Pick up the pace as the downhill grade continues for a mile, past fans filling Highland Square’s coffee houses and cafes.
Momentum carries you up and over the hill by St. Vincent-St. Mary High School of LeBron James fame and into another descent.
The downtown skyline greets you as you continue to Main Street and make a right into the home stretch. Pass the federal courthouse, Cascade Plaza, Civic Theatre and Lock 3 Park.
The downtown fans are still here, lining the road for your final push. The pace cars are replaced with a motorcycle escort that leads you to Canal Park.
Fans are streaming into the front entrance, but you’re lured down a path behind the park.
There, you burst through an opening at center field, running the last few yards over the ballpark’s green field as 9,000 screaming spectators welcome you.
Your name echoes from the speaker as your arrival is announced and you shake hands with race director Jim Barnett, who stands at the finish line to personally greet every participant.
Congratulations, you made it!
Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis.