The Canton Marathon was just my second full 26.2-mile run, but I've been taking part in races for close to 10 years now (I'm a late-blooming runner), and I was really pleased with what I saw in this year's inaugural run.
- Parking and shuttle buses: Having run in Akron's relays and dealt with the inconvenient parking there for several years, the free Stark County fairgrounds parking and shuttle bus service ran incredibly smoothly, at least from my there-and-back experience. I know late arrivals meant the race was delayed 20 minutes, but I found that a small inconvenience when compared with not having to worry about where we were going to park or walking a half-mile to get there.
- Starting point: Grouping the runners by time in corrals near the stadium and the Pro Football HOF before having everyone march down to the actual starting line in the park struck me as a good move. Much easier to get everyone organized up there where there's more space and more restroom access.
- The course: I know, I know - the hills. They were, to put it mildly, a challenge. And I muttered NSFW curses under my breath on more than one occasion. But I loved the opening stretch through downtown's parks and streets, and the northward trek on Market as the sun came up, and the crossover through North Canton where family and friends got to see me and my brother pass for the first time on Sunday. Running over the Hall of Fame Bridge was a cool experience, and all along the way, the spectators and residents made the run unforgettable. And finishing in Fawcett Stadium, hearing our names echo over the field while people cheered? Worth every blood-blistering mile.
- The medals: I'd seen the pictures and loved the design, but I was completely unprepared for how big and heavy these things are. Very impressive.
- Food and drink: An abundance of water and aid stations was a huge and important benefit, and though I saw reports that one aid station ran out of water, every place I grabbed a drink (which was at most of the stations) was staffed by friendly and efficient volunteers. Post-race, everybody expects water and bananas, but the sliced apples really hit the spot. And the cookies. And the potato chips. And the peanut butter, beef jerky and beer. And, yes, the bananas, too. Beats the dry bagel I've gotten at the close of some races.
I know Akron's got the bigger marathon, but if the Canton organizers continue with the things they're doing right, work on the things that need improving, and keep playing up the ties to the Pro Football HOF, Stark County's event has the potential to give its neighbor to the north a run for its money.