Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Akron marathon pacer report

This year was my fifth year pacing the Akron Road Runner Marathon. This well-organized race, which features full and half marathons, a two-person relay and five-person Ekiden relay, has become a great community affair. In its sixth year, the city of Akron has embraced the event and in my mind, it falls a close second to the Flying Pig as Ohio's best marathon event.

Also included on this day was the USATF Women's 8k Championship which no participants were able to view since that race started 30 minutes after the marathon. Sara Slattery beat Katie McGregor for the title.

After working 10 hours at the expo at two booths, I missed the pasta dinner. In part honor to DanQ (who was among the KR contingent here) and part out of convenience, I fueled up with dinner at Skyline Chili which was nearby the hotel. After the normal pace team meeting, it was off to sleep before an early wake up before the 7 AM start.

In past years, I was assigned the 3:40 group and this year I moved up to 3:30 (8:01 pace.) The pre-race weather report indicated high humidity and 55F at the start. Not exactly ideal for racing, but not entirely bad.

The race has grown in size and I had trouble getting to the start early enough to talk to the 3:30 hopefuls. So I just lined up and answered a few questions from the runners, rather than give a short talk like I normally do.

The race started on time and I noticed right away that there were many more runners than in past years. My 3:30 group was at least 35-40 runners. And my first mile was SLOW in 8:25. Oops. At least that's better than 25 seconds too fast. No one in the group seemed to panic and by mile 3 we were back on pace. Perhaps the first mile marker was off.

With no wind, the humidity was stifling. I was concerned because this hilly course is already difficult enough and 90% humidity would certainly take its toll later on. Luckily a breeze picked up after about an hour to make the air feel a little better.

The first relay exchange point came at 10k and boy was it crowded! And the water station was placed too close to the relay exchange, which further complicated traffic congestion. In future years, I think they'll have to have water stations on both sides of the road because it was dicey trying to get a water cup.

The course tours Firestone Park in miles 6-8 and after the 15k relay exchange point enters the University of Akron. Miles 9-11 are mostly downhill as we return to downtown and decend to the Towpath Trail. As usual, the pace picks up significantly down this hill. Miles 11-15 are along the scenic Cuyahoga River on the dirt Towpath. We hit the half on time in 1:44:50 and I could tell that some runners were in over their head with miles at 7:55-8:00. This is normal.

After the Towpath, the course passes the 25k relay exchange point and enters the teeth of the course with three gradual uphill miles from 16-19 along Sand Run Parkway. Marathoner attrition is normal in this section but on this day my group was larger than past years. I still had 15+ runners after reaching the top of the hill.

As is common in marathon pacing (at this race), most runners who are capable of the pace go ahead after mile 20 and those who are not fall off the pace. I still had 6-8 runners with me through mile 21, but the steep hill prior to Stan Hywet gardens (mile 22) took out most of those still hanging on. Three runners remained with me.

The beauty of the Akron course is that if you can hold it together to the end, miles 24 and 25 are a gradual downhill along Market St. One can naturally pick up the pace without added effort. In an effort to keep those last couple runners with me, I lost about 45 seconds to the pace by mile 24, but easily made up the time on Market St with a couple 7:45 miles which felt comfy.

The Akron finish is great fun as the final 100 yards are in Canal Park baseball field. You enter the stadium in center field and run across the field to the finish line. Crossing the line in 3:29:57, I was happy to be done and hung around until the 3:40 pacer finished. My runner of the day award goes to a 58-year old woman in my running club who ran with me through 18 miles. She finished in 3:33, PR'd, and won her age group. All this as a training run for Richmond in November!

All-in-all, another successful year for the Akron marathon, although if their numbers keep growing they'll have to do something about adding water stations. I'm not sure the Towpath section is wide enough to support additional runners.

Road marathon #24 in the books and now less than 4 weeks to go to goal marathon. Recovery seems okay and I look forward to some final sharpening workouts before I tackle my own marathon PR.


Blogger Blaine Moore said...

That's some good pacing there! Too bad you didn't have time to give your normal pre-race talk to the folks in your group.

Good luck next month on your PR attempt!

11:07 AM  

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