Runners guzzled water, soda, sports drinks, smoothies, lattes and beer in Canal Park stadium downtown Saturday morning at the finish line of the sixth annual Road Runner Akron Marathon.
Wearing shiny mylar warm-down capes and finishers’ medallions, they munched muffins, sandwiches, chips, apples, oranges and bananas.
The race was the largest one yet, with nearly 10,000 runners, 3,000 volunteers and an estimated 120,000 spectators cheering along the 26.2-mile route and inside the stadium.
But the large turnout did cause a few logistical problems. Although there were plenty of refreshments at the end, a pack of runners overwhelmed the pit stops on Wilbeth Avenue, where runners fueled up with water and GU.
GU is a sweet goop in a palm-size foil pouch called GU Energy Gel. It provides a quick carbohydrate boost in several flavors. The race had chocolate and vanilla.
After the main group of marathon and half-marathon runners had been passing for about 40 minutes, volunteer Abbie Dilullo, 17, found herself with the last of the GU.
“Vanilla! Chocolate! Vanilla!’’ Dilullo yelled as she handed out the packets.
Well, not so much handed out as offered tentatively on her open palms — 10 or so at a time — like one might feed a ravenous squirrel.
“You’ve just got to let them grab it,’’ Dilullo explained. “If you do it one at a time, they won’t get it.’’
Then she handed out the last one. Fellow volunteers Elisa DiMeo, 13, and Margaret Melhus, 12, searched the empty boxes.
They’d started with about 1,100 packets, but the runners were still coming, reaching for GU, asking for GU, being told there was no more GU and that water was at the next station.
The girls apologized profusely. This was the first GU station — located at the 6.2-mile marker on the southern end of the course.
“Do you have any GU?’’ one woman panted. “This sucks.’’
Further up Wilbeth, in front of the Firestone Park YMCA, the Bridgestone/Firestone volunteers manning the water station ran into the same problem. They emptied their supply of 5-gallon plastic water jugs and volunteers had to dash into the YMCA and fill coolers with tap water.
“We took these coolers into the Y and improvised,’’ said Bob Weber, who was among 22 Bridgestone/Firestone volunteers working at the station. “It was the peak of the traffic. We thought there was going to be a problem. People were furious.’’
Their team leader, Mary Ann Roach, said they had volunteered at every marathon and had never run out of water before.
She thanked the YMCA for helping them out in a pinch and runners still got a cup of water.
“You just stand there and yell out what you’ve got and try to stand out of the way,’’ she said. “No science. Just supply and demand. Demand and supply.’’
So what happened?
First, the GU. It’s a glucose replenisher that is really meant for the half-marathon and full marathon runners.
Most marathons have two GU stations, if any, Jones said. Akron had six and stocked most of the 7,000 GU packets at stations where runners were likely to hit the infamous ‘’wall’’ of exhaustion.
“Ultimately, the GU is much more necessary on the back half of the course,’’ said spokeswoman Julie Jones.
However, relay participants who are running much shorter distances think they need it, too, said the marathon’s executive director, Anne Bitong.
Water shortages affected the station in front of the Firestone Park YMCA and another station because last-minute registration, especially for the half-marathon, threw off the water projections, Bitong said.
“It was a 20-minute window out of six hours that stations 4 and 6 were without water,’’ Jones said, although the Firestone station kept up with tap water from the YMCA.
But glitches aside, runners thrive on more than GU.
In between the GU station and the water station on Wilbeth Road, four relatives of runner Matt Overstreet sat in lawn chairs and cheered for every single runner who passed them.
They waved American flags and shook rattles and blew party horns with tassels like it was New Year’s Eve, even for the stragglers.
“That’s what it’s all about — not just the ones you love,’’ said Overstreet’s mother, Pam Vaughn. His aunt, Patty Mothersbaugh, and aunt and uncle Rose and Jake Ukrainiec also cheered.
Runner Beth Sterrett — who snagged a GU “vanilla something or other’’ — remembers getting a lift from Overstreet’s cheering section before she reached the water station.
“You don’t want to let them down,’’ said Sterrett, who ran the half-marathon.
That means not walking in front of the cheering crowds. And certainly not downtown, where the crowd packed in against the barricades to cheer the runners.
“I felt like a celebrity,’’ she said.
Alex Jovanovic of Cleveland, who ran the half-marathon in his debut Akron race, was impressed by the overall organization.
“This is really well run,’’ he said.
As for GU, he said, no thanks. He’d rather have water.
“It doesn’t agree with me,’’ he said. “It’s too dense.’’