The line is drawn.
Starting, stopping and intersecting at the heart of the city, a 26.2-mile long powder blue streak will be trampled this weekend by 10,245 pairs of shoes carrying men, women and children running on inspirational (and sometimes silly) stories.
There are relay teams running against cancer and addiction, a squad of five dads with 26 kids between them and a group who thought it funny to say — in their team name — that they met on Craigslist. Before their father, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, passed at 70, a team of five siblings found comfort and committed to stay together while running the Towpath Trail. Another pack called “Chafing our Dreams” describe themselves as “some out of shape siblings trying to finish this race.”
Some runners are lifelong friends. Others met while passing a baton along the line. After kneeling at the finish line last year, two are returning as newlyweds.
There are 16 "heroes" ages 4 to 16 with heart-tugging tales of enduring unthinkable and unfair ailments, from premature birth to limb amputations and failing hearts. Nothing, apparently, will keep them from standing as motivational beacons on either side of the blue line this Saturday.
And there are the neighbors who will shower the runners with encouraging claps, cold water, Swensons milkshakes in North Hill, marshmallows in Firestone Park and block party music in West Akron.
As Bill Considine, the CEO and president of Akron Children’s Hospital and a steady community advocate, says: “Really the blue line is a line in the community that brings everyone together.”
With a fittingly long name, the Akron Children’s Hospital Akron Marathon, Half Marathon and Team Relay presented by FirstEnergy returns this week for a 16th annual tour of this All-American City.
“This is a community event, it's all about the community,” said Anne Bitong, executive director of the Akron Marathon Charitable Corp. “A lot of people think the Akron Marathon is about just running. And it’s so much more than that.”
The tagline for this Saturday’s half and full marathons, team relay races and a Kids Fun Run Friday night is “More than Miles.”
“There’s a story behind every single runner in the race,” said Bitong.
Some participants began 16 years ago as children who intend to finish the full 26.2 miles this year. Many run for their health, shedding a body’s worth of weight over the years. Others run for the loved ones they’ve lost and the support they’ve found along the trek.
For a second year, the revamped course first takes runners up the orange-barrel-lined Main Street to North Hill then back downtown via the Y-Bridge. Race planners who support Akron’s revitalizing public infrastructure projects met with the city five years ago to chart a course that complements the annual progress of sewer and road work, especially for out-of-towners wondering what’s up downtown.
Back downtown, the course cuts east on Exchange Street across the southern edge of the University of Akron then south on Brown Street to Firestone Park. Back up Main Street by a $51 million state renovation of the city’s central highway interchange, the course heads uphill, westward along Market Street to connect the dots between Stan Hywet, Firestone High School, Fairlawn Country Club, Hardesty Park and Portage Country Club.
The course ends with a reverse lap around the diamond inside Canal Park Stadium. After touching third base, runners will spill into the outfield beside food and beer tents at a finish-line extravaganza from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The half marathon cuts out the West Akron leg. The full Saturday course will block vehicle traffic at various times and locations from 4 a.m. on. To see where and when the runners will hit each part of town, visit https://bit.ly/2purb9r. For information on traffic delays, go to https://bit.ly/2puAxC2.