For many runners on Saturday, the sixth annual Road Runner Akron Marathon was a job. It was about finishing the race in first place, taking the prize money and moving on to the next professional race.
Then, there were the area runners such as the Zupke family, aka Four Teachers and an Apple, who entered the race as a team.
For the record, Birhanu Wukaw Zeleke of Washington, D.C., was the overall winner, finishing the race in a time of 2:23:13. Denis Voronin of Cincinnati was the state’s top finisher in sixth place, and Damon Blackford of Akron was the area’s highest finisher in 10th place.
In the women’s division, Sarah Plaxton of Highland, Mich., won in 2:57.56.
Oxana Khokhlova of Cincinnati was second (2:59.16), Cindy Kasper of Stow was sixth, Ashley Mortenson of Canton was seventh, and Connie Gardner of Medina was ninth.
In the 8K USA Women’s championship, Katie McGregor was second. She is a Willoughby native and University of Michigan standout runner now living in St. Louis Park, Minn.
For most entrants like the Zupkes, the race meant building a bond through their training and competition.
For starters, the team consisted of Bob Zupke, a principal at Firestone. His sister Cheryl Burley, a teacher at Akron’s Hatton Elementary, and her husband Bill Burley, a teacher at Erwine Middle School in Coventry, were joined by Tim Carroll, a teacher at Buchtel and assistant cross-country coach at Firestone, and Amy Zupke, the ‘’apple’’ of the team.
Why? Because she works for the Apple Store at Legacy Village.
“It’s cool to participate in something that keeps growing every year, and especially because it takes place in Akron,’’ she said. ‘’I remember watching it one year from the backyard, seeing all the runners pass on the towpath, and thought it was really cool to see so many people running in it.’’
Amy Zupke said she usually runs the the Akron Home Run for the Homeless every Thanksgiving morning.
“I figure that since I survive those four miles every year, then I can crank out my 3.1-mile leg of this relay in the marathon.’’
Bob Zupke has always wanted to participate in the race but couldn’t. At least he had a good excuse.
His son, Bobby, a freshman at Ohio State, was a cross-country runner at Firestone.
“I have wanted to run a leg in the marathon since the first year, but wasn’t ever able to because Bobby was always running in the McQuaid Invitational in Rochester N.Y.,’’ the elder Zupke said.
And Zupke knows that running a full marathon is a humbling experience.
“I don’t think that I could ever complete a full or a half-marathon, so this is the only way that I could participate. I don’t really like to run, but I do it to fight the getting old thing. I have been running about three days a week for the last two months just trying to relieve stress and stay in shape.’’
Carroll is a man who wanted to set an example for his athletes. If he wanted them to push themselves to the limits when they competed, he had to show them that he was willing to do the same.
“I was running five to six days a week for most of the summer, but have been running seven days a week since mid-August,’’ he said.
Cheryl Burley said, ‘’The atmosphere of the marathon makes running exciting, especially for some of us that are not everyday runners.’’ Support along trail
Jeff ‘’Tripp’’ Banks is an Akron native who said he really didn’t understand the pageantry of the marathon.
“Wow,’’ Banks said as he watched runners file into Canal Park. ‘’Look at how the fans are in this stadium and cheering on the runners. This is great. It makes you appreciate everything that the runners did to get ready to run 26 miles, which I couldn’t do.’’
David Lux, a certified public accountant with Apple Growth Partners, was the first to concede that there was no way he could have finished a 26.2-mile race or even have been part of a relay team.
But Lux said he had to be on the marathon trail to encourage his co-workers.
“When you’re in an office setting, you really don’t know who is capable of what,’’ Lux said. ‘’Seeing my co-workers running and sweating, you can’t help but respect that. So that’s why I came out to support them.’’
Topping the hill
There were three wheelchair participants in the race who showed incredible determination, especially when it came to Heart Rate Hill, one of the most challenging parts of the course, a steep incline on Garman Road at the 22nd mile.
The wheelchair participants faced that hill and didn’t allow gravity to hold them back. And as they made their way up the hill, fellow runners gave them a pat on the back or offered an encouraging word.