The Casual Runner

Just Follow The Blue Line: Race Review 2014 Akron Half Marathon

Event: 2014 Akron Half Marathon

Event Date: September 27, 2014

Event Location: Akron, Ohio

Mike 2014 Akron Half Pic A

Posing with my bib and showing off the team CR colors.

 

Why I decided to run this race

The Akron Marathon was the site of my first (rather infamous) race start as a part of a 5 person relay, and I returned last year to run the half marathon event, where I discovered the joys of running the blue line.  It is a race that excels in terms of organization, branding, and execution, so I was all too excited to give the half event another go this year. Did I mention that I looked forward to running the blue line once again?  You see, Akron is one of the few events that still uses the traditional blue line to denote the marathon/half marathon courses. If you have never had the joy of running along with one, you should, it makes the endeavor more enjoyable – it is amazing how something so simple can bring a Casual Runner so much pleasure.

Getting there/the lead-up to the race

This would be my third half marathon in 5 weeks, and two weeks earlier I had logged a PR that, frankly, surprised me. This course was going to prove to be much more challenging than the one where I logged my PR as it has a lot more climbs to it, so I did not anticipate even sniffing that PR time.  However, I did intend to go out strong and push myself to see how I could do compared to my time on this course the previous year.

Mike 2014 Akron Half Pic E

The rather nice swag pack, including some nice finishers’ socks.

The race Expo

Akron holds its expo at the Knight Center in Downtown Akron.  Before you even walk through the doors, you know that this is going to be a class event. The entrance is flanked by both event banners and the official pace car, which bears the name of all registered entrants (my brother and I made the hood this year – last year we were on the rear quarter panel).

Once you enter the doors, you are greeted by an actual blue line (see what I mean? These folks are seriously good at branding).  The blue line runs throughout the convention center and eliminates any doubt as to wear you should proceed, which makes for a relaxing stroll through the expo.  Bib pickup was first, and it was a breeze.  This is a topic that we will discuss in future features, but Akron allows you to pick up bibs for other runners. As my brother was working an hour away that day, I picked up his bib for him, which saved him a lot of time and inconvenience. I was also prepared with shopping lists for other runners who could not make the expo, which they appreciated.

The expo had a good number of vendors and representations by other regional race events.  For the most part, I thought that most of the exhibitors were friendly and engaging, but I can’t help but wonder why some of the exhibitors came across as though they did not have the time to speak to potential customers. While I will not single out anyone specifically here, needless to say, such attitudes do not represent your company well.

The expo was very efficiently run and laid out.  You have to pass all of the exhibitors to get to the shirt pickup, which, as in past years, is quite impressive.

Swag review

You see, the Akron Marathon organizers are not content to give just one shirt, but no, they give out a full variety.  There is one shirt for the marathon relay event, then a different shirt for the male half marathoners, and yet a different shirt for the women’s marathoners, which gained the praises of many of the female runners with whom I spoke. All of these shirts had nice designs.  Additionally, those daring enough to take on the full marathon received a nice running jacket.

As if that were not enough, organizers also included a very nice quality nylon drawstring bag that was branded with the event logo.  As I have said in the past, these are great event gifts to give out to runners, and for me personally, as I love using these when I go to Amusement parks, they are particularly appreciated.

As if this were not enough (I am starting to sound like a late night infomercial), they even gave us very nice custom-branded finishers socks.  What color were they? Well, blue of course!

Mike 2014 Akron Half Pic B

Runners cross over (and under) the starting line.

The gear

The weather forecast called for the low 50s, with sunshine and a quick warmup.  I decided to wear the team colors by debuting my Casual Runner SweatVac dry fit running shirt, which I absolutely love.  The rest of my race kit was similar to what I have been wearing this fall: a SweatVac race hat, Adidas Climalite compression shorts, Hind running shorts, C9 wristbands, and my Saucony natural series running shoes (4 races on one pair of shoes, this has to be a new record for me).  Again I grabbed my Yurbud triathlon series headphones and my IPhone 5S.  This time, I did make a custom playlist (see below).

The pre-race

I stayed at home the night before and made the 35 minute drive to Akron.  Sorry, no White House Fruit Farm donuts this week, instead I had a cinnamon-raisin bagel, two pieces of toast, an iced coffee, and a 32 ounce Powerade Zero (I forgot to buy the full carb stuff, so I made do).

Akron is perhaps the easiest event to get into and out of by car. The course is designed in such a way that the access points from the highways to downtown largely remain open, and there is plenty of parking spots.  I met up with my brother and we went about our pre-race routine and walked to the corrals.  I NEEDED to go to the bathroom. Fortunately, there were a ton of port-a-potties outside of Corral B, no waiting! Who ever heard of such a thing at a race?  When I went to my assigned Corral C, it was a different story. There were a ton of port-a-potties, but this corral must have been larger because there were lines. Oh well, you cannot win them all.

Along the course

The course was the same as last year, so I rather than going through it all again, I will suggest that you read my recap from that event.  But I do want to hit a few highlights from this event that I did enjoy very much.

First, I need to address my biggest disappointment with this event.  Last year organizers introduced a corral start, which frankly, was not all that different than the previous mass start as they just release all of the corrals without any real staggering.  I am a big fan of staggered starts as they reduce congestion and risk of injury.  This year, I noticed the congestion to be much much worse than last year. Once I started, it took nearly two miles for the crowd to start thinning out.  In fact, the first mile took a full minute longer than the pace group that I started with because there was no room to pass.

Race Icon. Once again I enjoyed running the Y Bridge in the pre-dawn hours. It is a gorgeous feature in this course.  On one side you get to look out over the valley, and on the other you get to see the elite runners coming back into downtown, which makes for a fun atmosphere.

The crowds in downtown Akron were as supportive as they always are, but this year the residents of the Firestone Park neighborhoods came out in much greater numbers than they had last year.  I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge just how much the runners appreciated their support.

Mike 2014 Akron Half Pic D

Runners on the downtown portion of the course, approaching the finish chute.

Unexpected Magic. It is amazing how, along 13.1 miles of course, one can find people they know in the crowd. I ran into my brother’s mother-in-law just before mile 7.  I did not know that she was going to be there, but when I saw her, I stopped and was rewarded with a hug (although I was a sweaty mess, she did not seem to mind). Also, in the first mile I randomly saw 2 of my former colleagues – Deb and Carla – who logged several miles of their own, as I would go on to see them 3 more times on the course. I was very impressed with their commitment to covering some serious ground to supporting the runners that day.

Ok, so this one is not really a TMI alert, though, for a minute, I thought that it could be.  Just before mile 8, I felt something running down my leg, and it kind of freaked me out.  I looked down, but did not see anything.  I continued on, and a few seconds later, felt it again, but this time it was worse.  I moved to the side of the road so I could stop without being in anyone’s way, and I saw a large amount of a clear liquid oozing down my leg. I had no idea what this was, and then…oh yeah, I’m an idiot.  You see, I had just pass through a GU station, where I received three packets of GU.  I was not due to take one for another mile or so (according to my race plan), so I put them in my pocket.  Yeah, I did not look at them, at all.  You see, the volunteers had cut off the tops to make it easier on the runners, and I put three open gel packets in my pocket, all of which emptied into my pocket, seeped through the material and proceeded to run down my leg into my shoe.  Fortunately the next water station was not too far away, and I was able to stop and clean myself up a little bit.  This just goes to show, unexpected things will happen during events, just accept them, adjust, adapt, and move on.

Speaking of water stations…the volunteers did a great job this year.  All of the stations were efficiently run and I never saw any congestion or had any problems getting ample hydration. Hats off to the volunteers.

Just like last year, the last mile of this course rocks.  After crossing the Y Bridge for the 4th time (twice each direction), the course goes into down town and takes a couple of turns to get you onto Main Street, where the crowds start to grow larger.  Race Icon.  Volunteers direct you into the finishers chute, which takes a sharp right turn behind the right field wall of the Akron Rubber Ducks’ minor baseball stadium (Canal Park).  A quick left turn and you are through the wall and it’s a mad dash across the outfield towards first base, with thousands of supportive fans and a festive atmosphere willing you to finish. It is one of the best race finishes I have ever experienced. Well done Akron!

Mike 2014 Akron Half Pic C

The festive finish line and finishers’ village, a trademark of this event.

The SMOpinion

There is no cheaping out on the medals for Akron. As always, they change the design every year and they incorporate the blue line (I am still a big fan of this, in case you cannot tell).  The custom ribbon is also noteworthy as they seem to spend just as much time on it as they do the medal itself.  All in all, this is an SMO worthy of this quality event and deserving of a place on anyone’s bling rack.

The post-race experience

Other race directors can learn a lot from what Akron does at the finish line. Not only is the stadium finish exciting, but it allows all of the runners to congregate in a finishers’ village complete with live music, plenty of food, beer, and massages.  I was not hungry so I did not check out the food and drink options, but I did grab some bottles of water (which was available in abundance) and spent some time mingling with other finishers and watching fellow racers come into the stadium.  Many runners chose to sprawl out in the well-manicured outfield grass and soak it all in.  All in all, it makes for an enjoyable post-race experience.

I should note that organizers unveiled a new race series for 2015, and hinted at a re-designed half marathon course.  Though, I was assured that the stadium finish would remain.

Playlist Peak (Note: this new section was added at the suggestion of a reader, we appreciate your feedback and suggestions)

It has become a tradition to start off every race with the theme from The Muppet Show followed by Home by Phil Phillips.  These were the first two songs to randomly play on my shuffled playlist during my first race and I have kept it a tradition ever since.  Similarly, I finished my first race with Ever After by Carrie Underwood and the closing fanfare from Disney’s Fantasmic! Thus, when I put my playlist together for this race, I made sure to start and finish with these songs.  If you find music that works with you, stick with it (did someone say “superstitious”?).

Looking back now

I am glad that I had another chance to follow the blue line, and I enjoyed myself during this event.  Will I run it again next year? Honestly, I have not decided.  I am always looking to try new events, and having run this event twice, it may be time to move onto a new challenge.  However, I will keep my eye on the offerings of the newly-unveiled Rubber City Race Series as well as what else is on the calendar for 2015.

 

Looking for more about this quality event? Well you are in luck, head on over to our YouTube Channel and check out the latest all along the course video.

 

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