Five years ago, Brian Polen wasn’t a runner.
One year ago, he wasn’t the owner of a specialty running store in Wooster.
Two months ago, he wasn’t the race director for the Akron Marathon.
Now Polen, a former engineer, is all three, and his face will be among what’s new at the marathon this year.
Polen admits he had to hit the ground running, pun intended, when he started his new full-time job July 15.
His job description covers all angles of “course and runner experience,” he said — from making sure Akron’s streets are ready for the Sept. 28 event to making sure volunteers are ready to assist the expected 15,000 participants.
“I’m learning and doing at the same time, and it has been fun,” Polen said in a recent interview.
Polen, a 33-year-old Wooster native, said he started running five years ago to “get healthy and get in shape,” and ran his first Akron Marathon that year. At the time, he was supervising a production facility for an automotive supplier.
Then last October, he and his wife, Tammy, became speciality retailers, opening Vertical Runner in their hometown.
He has organized several activities, from group runs to 5K events, and his immersion into the running community was among the reasons marathon officials were impressed.
“The passion he has for the Akron race and the Akron experience, coupled with his charismatic personality and his experience in the running community, just made him that special candidate we were looking for,” Executive Director Anne Bitong said.
Polen replaced Jim Barnett, who served as race director for the marathon’s first decade and is now a member of its board of trustees.
Other changes await runners and spectators for the 11th Akron Marathon:
On the course
Organizers said the marathon has gotten so big, they’ve had to make adjustments at the starting line.
For the first time, runners will be separated into three “corrals” based on their expected pace.
“In the past, we basically had one big chute of runners and there was some suggestion for people to line up based on their pace, but nothing was enforced,” Polen said.
People confused about where to be in the lineup often ended up in front of much faster runners, causing log jams as thousands of people attempted to pass them.
“We will have some blazingly fast people there this year,” Polen said.
Bibs will be marked with each runner’s corral number, and as usual, a chip in the bib will mark the runner’s official starting time when he or she crosses the starting line.
There will also be something new at the end of the course, Bitong said.
Runners, spectators and volunteers will be able to upload personal snapshots of the race onto the Akron Marathon’s Instagram site. The photos will form a slide show on the big screen at the finish line in Canal Park.
“We’ll get live updates throughout the day,” Bitong said, “and we’re really encouraging our volunteers to be mini reporters out there.”
The Austen BioInnovation Institute has teamed up with the Akron Marathon to analyze the health benefits of the event.
Event organizers asked participants to fill out a health impact survey last year, but this year’s effort will include pre-race surveys matched to post-race outcomes conducted by medical professionals.
The goal is to collect data on everything from weight loss to how many participants were able to eliminate medications because exercise eradicated some borderline illness.
“Part of our mission is to promote health and wellness, as well as economic impact and promoting the region,” Bitong said. “We want to show there are benefits to focusing on your health.”
This isn’t the first year runners have used Akron to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team trials, but there might be a record number of them here this year, Polen said.
Based on running times that some folks have put on their registration forms, organizers are guessing about 10 of them are Olympic hopefuls.
Polen credits changes to the half-marathon course, which was made “faster and flatter” last year. “The word got out,” he said, “and more people have identified our race to run for that qualifying time.”
To get invited to the trials for the 2016 Olympics, a man must finish a full marathon in 2:15 or a half-marathon in 1:05. For a woman, those respective times are 2:37 or 1:15.
The Akron Marathon is on pace to do what it did last year: sell out.
More than 90 percent of the available spaces in the half and full marathons are filled. The event can handle 2,000 full- and 4,500 half-marathon runners.
Even the five-person relay teams are on pace to fill up, Polen said.
There’s a limit to how many are accepted because of logistics, such as the need to order supplies, and to help manage the traffic jam that can occur at the relay exchange zones, which occur on the same route as the 26.2-mile marathon.
Registration is also underway for the one-mile Kids Fun Run.
To register, visit www.akronmarathon.org.
Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis.