by Rosalie Murphy

Akron Marathon runners will follow the Blue Line through a new course this fall.

The 2019 race day routes — the marathon, half-marathon and five-person relay — will start at Stan Hywet instead of Downtown.

The opening miles of the race will traverse Northwest Akron, with runners climbing up Merriman Road, heading west to Fairlawn Country Club, running east on Wiltshire Road, then running down Hawkins Avenue, up Castle Boulevard and down Portage Path.

Runners will descend Market Street toward Downtown, instead of climbing it toward Highland Square as they have in past years.

Next, marathon and relay runners will continue across the All-American Bridge into North Hill. They’ll sweep back through downtown, run south on Main Street through South Akron, and turn east on Firestone Boulevard through Firestone Park. At Garfield High School, they’ll head south on Brown Street.

Then they’ll take Wilbeth Road west to the Towpath and follow the trail north through Kenmore, across the floating bridge over Summit Lake, and into downtown.

The finish line remains inside Canal Park, where it’s been for the last 16 years.

“If you’re an experiential runner, how much better an experience can you have than coming into Akron, being bussed to a national landmark like Stan Hywet… and finishing on the Towpath? You’re going to leave with a really neat Akron experience,” race director Brian Polen says.

Brian says the new route will be faster and easier than the last. Runners used to have to climb 1,100 feet, and the difference between the starting and finishing elevations was only 60 feet. The new course has only 800 feet of vertical gain and a net drop of 350 feet.

“Starting at mile 10, we’ll go down Market, so [half-marathon] runners will have about 300 feet of loss over their final 5K. If you’re looking to PR, what better than the hardest part mentally and physically of the race to be the easiest portion of the course?” Brian says. “It’s amazing how fast the course is now.”

Brian believes the faster course will attract not only first-time marathoners — about a third of race participants in recent years — but also elite runners looking to qualify for the Boston Marathon or the Olympic trials.

Relay runners make up a huge portion of marathon participants, too.

On the last course, each member of five-member teams ran a similar distance. This year, the distances vary a lot more. The relay begins with a 12.2K run from Stan Hywet through Northwest Akron. The next runner runs a 10K down Market Street and across the Y Bridge. The remaining runners complete a 5K through North Hill and Downtown, a 10K into South Akron and a final 5K on the Towpath.

The Akron Metropolitan Regional Transit Authority will bus runners from downtown parking to the start line at Stan Hywet. A fleet of buses will be on hand to get everyone to the start on time, organizers say.

“We want our runners to be able to focus on their race and not worry about the day’s logistics, so we’re working with partners like METRO and others across the city to ensure easy and seamless transportation options,” says executive director of the Akron Marathon Charitable Corporation Anne Bitong.

Brian says he does not expect any changes to the other races in the Akron Marathon Race Series, which includes the National Interstate 8K and 1 Mile in June and the Goodyear Half Marathon and 10K in August.

Registration for the Akron Marathon Race Series opens Wednesday, Jan. 9.

Rosalie Murphy is Editor-in-Chief of The Devil Strip. The photo at the top of this story is by Christine Batten.

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