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start line Akron Marathon
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Stacy Rhea running along Peninsula Pine Lane
For Kent resident Gideon Oswitch, the day of the Road Runner Akron Marathon is “just like Christmas morning.” The 45-year-old human resources manager and father of two has finished the 26.2-mile race each of the event’s seven years, and he plans to return this year on Sept. 25. “My entire year’s running revolves around this event,” he says.
What keeps him coming back? It’s “the little things” he says, like a hand shake from the race director for each and every finisher. Things like an easy-to-navigate race expo, free parking and an Olympic-style finish in Canal Park. It’s the swag the finishers get, like Brooks running jackets in 2009.
Oswitch isn’t alone in his appreciation for the event. Runner’s World magazine named the event a runner-up for “best value” races in its 2009 reader’s choice awards. Since its inaugural year in 2003, the event has grown from 3,500 participants to more than 10,500 in 2009. Runners can choose from the marathon, a half-marathon, a relay and even a kids’ fun run.
Anne Bitong, executive director of the event, says that the organizers had to put a cap on participation in some of the distances for the first time in 2009. “We’ve been pleasantly surprised at our growth,” she says. “This has become the largest single-day sporting event in the area. Often we find that people come out one year as a spectator, return the next as a volunteer, and then come back the following year to run the event.”
That was the case for 30-year-old Akron resident Brad Kramer, a magazine editor. “I started running in 2006 and my first race was a 10K,” he says. “The Akron Marathon course came right past my house, and I watched it go by one year. That led to a steady progression in the length of my runs and the following year, I ran the marathon.”
The Akron Marathon is at the heart of what has become a booming running scene in and around Akron. From growing running clubs to races and everything in between, these days, Akron’s hills are alive with the sound of running.
In good company
Stow resident Stacy Rhea is one of the local runners you’re likely to see out and about on Akron’s roads and trails. She’s also all about getting area women out there to join her. The 42-year old multi-sport athlete is editor of Ohio Sports and Fitness and one of the founders of Grunt Girl Racing, an all-women’s multi-sport club dedicated to taking the intimidation factor out of racing. “We know what its like to be new to sports,” she says. “We want to help women who are new to running or cycling and get them out there in a non-competitive environment.”
To that end, the group has established a variety of events aimed at getting women out on the local trails. “We have regular weekend training runs of varying distances scattered throughout the area,” Rhea explains. “We also have social events at places like the Winking Lizard in Hudson, where women can meet the group and learn what we’re all about.”
Grunt Girl is just one of a growing number of running clubs in the area. Hudson’s Vertical Runner sponsors a variety of training runs, as does the Summit Athletic Running Club and area Second Sole locations. All keep updated schedules with different runs and events posted on their websites, and all work with the Akron Marathon to help runners prepare for the race as it gets closer.
Oswitch, who has been running for the past 26 years, has been witness to the explosive growth in area running. “When the marathon first started, I’d go on training runs on the course with several friends,” he says. “We wouldn’t see too many other folks out there. Now when we go out, there are runners all over the place. The same holds true for the Stow-Kent bike path. Twenty years ago, I wouldn’t see anyone out there. Now it’s crowded, which is a good thing.”
Kramer has noticed a spike in attendance at local races of all distances. “There are also a growing number of events on the calendar,” he says. “You can find a local 5K just about all the time now.”
That’s good for the overall health of area residents, as well as for the economy. The Akron Marathon is keenly aware of this fact. “Our mission and philosophy has been to provide a world-class event that promotes health and fitness, galvanizes our community and promotes economic development,” Bitong says. “Eighty percent of our runners come from a two-hour radius of Akron. However, we had representation from 41 states and four countries last year. Once an out-of-town runner travels to Akron and experiences the 125,000 spectators along the course and the hospitality of our enthusiastic volunteers, we have them hooked.”