There’s a new start line for this year’s Akron Children’s Hospital Akron Marathon Race Series — Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens.
The move for the start of the marathon, half marathon and team relay, all to be held on Sept. 28, from its original downtown Akron start is not in reaction to construction anywhere along the course, but because race officials said they wanted to improve the event. The finish line will remain at Canal Park Stadium.
The redesign of the marathon and half marathon course will allow for a net elevation drop of 300 feet.
That should help runners — especially elite runners who are looking for a personal record or a qualifying time for other races such as the Boston Marathon — to shave minutes off their race times, said Akron Marathon Race Director Brian Polen in a phone interview. In the past, some runners have opted not to run the Akron race, he said.
"We are known as having a pretty challenging course in Akron,” said Polen. “We’re in Summit County. We have hills everywhere.
“We want to make our course faster and more runner-friendly, whether you’re an elite athlete or a first-time athlete. The course is set up for you to be faster,” he said.
By moving the start line to Stan Hywet, runners will be starting at the highest point and “we end up with a net downhill course,” said Polen.
In a press release, Sean Joyce, president and executive director of Stan Hywet, said, “Each year, the Akron Marathon brings the city and its neighborhoods together to support the runners that participate. Being part of one of those neighborhoods, Stan Hywet, a national historic landmark, is happy to step up its support and kick off one of the best marathons in the country.”
The change doesn’t come without challenges. But race officials are confident that a partnership with Metro with 40 buses shuttling runners from downtown parking spots to Stan Hywet from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. will get racers efficiently to the new starting line.
The race start time has also been pushed back from 7 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. to allow for smooth transportation of runners, and because the sun doesn’t come up until about 7 a.m., race officials want runners to be able to see the beauty of the Stan Hywet grounds. It also improves the safety of runners since residential streets aren’t as brightly lit as downtown Akron, Polen said.
Half-marathoners will also get a chance to experience West Akron, which they didn’t experience before, he said.
While there are some changes to the course, much of the course is like previous courses or courses of years past before other changes, he said.
While there have been 10,000 runners on race day, those at the starting line are 1,500 marathoners, 4,500 half-marathoners and 1,000 runners who are the first leg of the relay, said Polen. So 7,000 runners need to be transported to Stan Hywet.
There will also be a special location on Garman Road for runners who are not transported by Metro to be dropped off close to Stan Hywet without the vehicle getting stuck in traffic, Polen said. There will be no parking allowed at Stan Hywet, and while spectators are encouraged to come cheer marathoners, the shuttle buses from downtown will be only for runners and the block around Stan Hywet will also be limited to runners only.
Among other highlights and changes:
• There are some new and old and returning neighborhoods. For example, runners will travel down Eaton Avenue between Merriman Road and Portage Path instead of Mayfair. Runners will also return to the full length of Castle Boulevard in West Akron, which was part of the course three years ago. Ever since the course bypassed Castle, “we’ve been contacted by residents of Castle asking for us to come back. There are lots of trees and shade and it's flat,” said Polen.
• A highlight of mile 22 is runners will be able to go on the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail and run over the floating bridge of Summit Lake with what Polen says is a spectacular view. “We had to leave the Towpath Trail about five years ago due to the tunnel project and it's been challenging to get back there.”
• The first substantial hill of the first half of the marathon won’t come until mile 9 on Garman Road, instead of around mile 5 on the old course.
• In the second half of the marathon, runners will go south on South Main Street instead of north, which is easier, Polen said. “The final 10k of the race being downhill or on the towpath is incredibly fast and flat."
• The relay legs have been updated with both shorter and longer distance options.
Registration opens Wednesday at www.akronmarathon.org.
Beacon Journal reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or email@example.com. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and www.ohio.com.