Today was a great day for a marathon. The weather was perfect, in the low 40s at the start of the race, at 7am, and it only got up to the mid 60s by the end. It was my second time taking on the Akron Marathon, and fortunately I fared much better this time than I did two years ago. Not to say that it was easy though. Running 26.2 miles is never easy, especially when it involves what seems like a lot more uphills than downhills.
Fortunately we made it down to Akron and found parking with a good 25 minutes to spare. I’m usually super-early, but Akron isn’t a huge event and I know my way around fairly well. Which is a good thing, because the exit I was planning to take was closed for the race. I spent my 10 minutes in the line for the obligatory pre-race port-a-potty stop. In the starting area, I managed to get near the 3:40 pace runner, which I was going to try to stick around since that was my stretch goal for the race. But once the race started, I lost track of him and don’t remember seeing him again.
I tried to avoid the “sprint out of the blocks” habit that I have in distance races, and managed to do fairly well. I found myself hitting almost exact 8 minute miles for the whole first half of the race. In fact, I hit the halfway point (13.1 miles) in 1:44:30, which is a 7:58/mi average. There were a number of interesting sites along the way, including a number of local marching bands, about 30 hippies of all ages hanging out in front of some house singing songs, and a group of old ladies hanging out in lawn chairs, one with a sign to wish her a happy 88th birthday, which I did. One thing I love about Akron is the people. Lots of people come out, many setting up chairs out front of their houses, and cheer on total strangers like they would their closest friends.
The fluid station coverage was good, averaging about one every 1.5 miles or so, and I made sure to grab something at each one to try to avoid dehydration & muscle cramps. I also choked down some GU energy gel about 4 times, to try to get some carbs in my system. My halfway point time was awesome for me, but things got a whole lot tougher shortly after that. Once we finished the 4 mile stretch on the towpath trail (part of the Cuyahoga River valley), it was time to climb out of the valley, from about mile 17 to 22 (see elevation chart). I managed to run the whole thing (well, at times it was slow enough to arguably not be running), but it took a lot out of me.
Miles 23 & 24, when we go out by Stan Hywett Hall & Gardens, I was pretty wiped out from the hills, but I kept putting along, barely. Fortunately, mile 25 is mostly downhill on Market Street, past Highland Square, and I was able to approach a more running-like pace. The last mile had some tough uphills mixed in with the downhill, but it helped that the last quarter mile, before entering Canal Park, was jammed with cheering fans. Once I hit Canal Park, I made a pretty good sprint from the outfield to the finish line, and I crossed the line in 3:44:57, a new personal best. That beat my previous best, from last year’s race in Detroit, by over 4 minutes, and beats my 2005 Akron time by 22+ minutes. So needless to say, I was pleased.
About 30 feet after I stopped running, my stomach let me know it was not too happy with my end-of-race sprint, and decided to empty it’s contents about 6 or 7 times. Not exactly what you want to happen at the end of race, let alone in front of a stadium full of people, though hopefully most of the them were watching the finish line instead of me. A volunteer was nice enough to grab me some water which made me feel a bit better, and after about 5 minutes I was up and ready to leave. Needless to say, I opted not to claim my 3 free Michelob Ultra beers. I did grab some food, but didn’t end up eating until about 3 hours later. Of course by now, I’m super hungry and looking forward to a feast at the Chinese buffet this evening.
So despite my little situation after finishing, I was happy with how things went. While I did expect to beat my old Akron time, I didn’t think there was much of a chance to beat my best time overall given the very non-flat nature of the course. I think Akron is a great event, and I’ve really enjoyed both my experiences there (other than the mass chaos inside Canal Park in the area where runners meet up with family, which took me like 25 minutes to claw my way through, while trying not to get trampled). Like after my last race, I’m contemplating stepping away from marathons for a while. Five seems like a good number to me. No matter what, I plan to keep running. I haven’t lost my passion for that yet.