This year’s Akron Marathon will feature five men hoping to qualify for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials and a dozen runners who already own a local marathon title.
Sharing the streets with them are a pair of 10-year-old Cleveland-area school girls and an 86-year-old Akron man who isn’t ready to put away his running shoes.
Here are some of the folks to watch in Saturday’s race:
Bella Kirchner and Aislin Keenan hold the distinction of being the youngest registered competitors in this year’s Akron Marathon.
Each 10 years old, they are part of a relay team that includes Aislin’s mom, Maggie Keenan. Also running is their teacher, Jackie Hawley, and her husband, Brian.
The girls attend the Campus International School, on the campus of Cleveland State University, where Maggie Keenan operates an after-school club called Girls On The Run.
“It’s a self-esteem program where running is the hook,” she said.
Both girls have run 5Ks before, but the Akron Marathon will push them farther than they’ve ever gone. Bella has been assigned a 3.9-mile leg; Aislin is tackling a 4.6-mile section.
“Running makes me strong and makes me feel good,” Aislin said.
At age 86, Bernie Kamenir of Akron ranks as the most mature athlete in the Akron Marathon.
Still a working architect, Kamenir was in his 60s when he first started running for recreation.
“A friend who was a marathon runner got me started,” he said. And when a group of friends formed a relay team for the first Akron Marathon 11 years ago, Kamenir joined them.
He has run in the event every year since, and will cover a 3.9-mile section of the course Saturday.
“You run to live, and you live to run. It’s healthy for your body,” Kamenir said.
Even for an octogenarian, it’s more helpful than hurtful, he said: “It’s a privilege to be able to do it, and I’ll do it as long as I can.”
Akron Marathon organizers say changes made to last year’s course made the half marathon a faster race, and that has created a buzz in the Olympic community.
Athletes can qualify for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials based on how well they run a certified half marathon, and there are four men running this year with the goal of beating that 1:05 qualifying time.
“With changes to the course and having a large group of guys all trying to run a fast time, then I think you will see a few people crush the course record,” said Aiman Scullion of Kent, who placed second in last year’s marathon but is using this year’s half as a springboard to the Olympic trials.
Canton native Ryan Kienzle said he’s not entirely confident he’ll hit his goal because his training is a bit behind.
“It takes a special day to run the qualifying time, and patience is key,” he said, adding, “This year seems to be the most competitive yet.”
Chris Horvat, from Cleveland Heights, said he’s looking forward to his first half marathon in Akron. He has been training with a group of runners from Cleveland to Canton who competed against each other in college and “use that bond to our advantage by helping each other with workouts when we can.”
“Given the right conditions and runners going after a similar goal, I’ve been told the race has the potential of being very fast,” he said.
Past winners return
A dozen champs who already have bested the full 26.2-mile Akron Marathon course are back.
They include all four victors from last year’s women’s and men’s open divisions (ages 39 and under) and master’s divisions (ages 40 and up.)
Look for these bib numbers to be at the front of the pack again Saturday:
• F1 — Shanna Ailes Istnick, Kent, (women, 2012).
• F2 — Ludmilla Stepanova, Kentucky (women, 2010).
• F50 — Kristy Kenna, Akron (women’s masters, 2012).
• F54 — Connie Gardner, Medina (women’s masters, 2008).
• 14799 — Becki Michael Spellman, Akron (women, 2011, running the half marathon this year).
• 1 — Richard Kessio, Toledo (men’s open, 2012).
• 6 — Geoffrey Kiprotich, Toledo (men’s open, 2010).
• 10 — Joshua Koros, Michigan (men’s open, 2007).
• 16 — Richard Chelimo, Toledo (men’s open, 2009).
• 50 — Sergey Kaledin, Oregon (men’s masters, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012.)
• 52 — Damon Blackford, Akron (men’s masters, 2005).
• 11015 — John Piggott, Virginia (men’s masters, 2006 and 2007, running the half marathon this year.)