AKRON, Ohio — Thousands of runners are celebrating after crossing the finish line of the annual Akron Marathon.
More than 6,000 people participated in Saturday’s race. The route wrapped through the city to end at Lock 3 Park.
Because of the pandemic, each runner had to provide a negative COVID-19 test result 72 hours before stepping up to the starting line and participants were broken into 14 heats to allow for more distance between people.
Those who laced up said they missed the atmosphere of the event last year when the race went virtual and they were glad to be back in person.
“It’s so nice,” said Heather Roszczyk, who completed the half marathon. “People come out in their front yards and they’re all throughout the course cheering. And, I mean, it just means so much as a runner to get that burst of energy, so we really appreciate it.”
The steps taken toward the finish line impacted other runners differently.
They led Keith Johnston and his teammates toward a healthier path.
“We always joke about it, running is the best therapy, all that sort of stuff,” he said. “And it turns out it’s true. It’s not just a joke.”
Johnston’s been running seriously for about 12 years.
“Kind of had that midlife crisis ‘come to Jesus’ talk with my doctor,” he said. “It was time to get in shape.”
He said he lost about 50 pounds and the cravings for some of his addictions.
“Moving, running, walking makes you happier, makes you think better, helps you make better decisions,” he said.
He started the group Running 2 B Well six years ago to help others take steps toward improving their own mental health.
“There are so many people that tell me all the time, ‘this group saved my life,’” Johnston said. “And they’re not kidding. Because relapses and overdoses are through the roof right now. And so are suicides.”
At 59 years old, he joined fellow members in the Team Relay at the Akron Marathon.
“I’m just coming off of getting treatment for throat cancer, so I’m thankful that I can run again,” Johnston said. “But mostly I’m gonna be thankful for all the people in our groups that are achieving some success in their lives.”
The group provides a platform to support one another to keep up the pace toward their goals.
“You cross that finish line and you’re like, ‘I just won the Olympics, baby!’” Johnston said. “And it doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of the pack or all the way in the back. You feel great about yourself.”