(Posted June 2, 2021)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
About seven weeks ago, Michael Poe received a text from Scott Akers, a fellow graduate of London High School’s Class of 1988, informing him that their hometown was hosting a marathon and a half-marathon. Akers, who lives in Massillon, planned to run the half and wanted to know if Poe would join him.
Poe, a Worthington resident, said he couldn’t pass up the chance to run in what was likely the first ever certified marathon/half-marathon to take place in London. Many groups have hosted 5K races and the like in London but nothing in recent memory that comes close to a 26.2-mile race or a 13.1-mile race.
“It was a way for us to support our hometown and a chance for Scott and I to get together and catch up,” Poe said.
The friends ran the whole 13.1 miles together, along with Poe’s running partner, Andy Shelton of Columbus. Poe and Akers ran track and cross country at London High School. At the time, the high school didn’t have a track, so they trained on the cinder track that once was part of Merri Mac Park. Nostalgia hit when they pulled into the park early on the morning of May 29. The marathon/half-marathon served as a fundraiser to benefit improvements at the park. As such, the race began and ended near one of the park’s baseball fields.
While the trio didn’t set any speed records with their run that day, they did come away feeling charged about the event and its potential, especially for attracting runners looking for a spring marathon. There aren’t many such opportunities on the Ohio racing calendar, Poe said.
“If the race director plays his cards right, he probably can get a lot of people from this area who want to do a full marathon,” he said.
That race director is David Mars, a recent London transplant and former elite runner who pulled the event together in two months’ time. That concentrated effort resulted in a field of nearly 200 runners, three-quarters of which ran the half and the other quarter the full. Most hailed from Ohio and the rest from 10 other states including Georgia, North Carolina and Florida.
“I heard, ‘We’ll see you next year,’ probably a hundred times. I was happy to hear people say it’s something they would do over again and again,” Mars said following the race.
The course took runners a short distance through town then onto the Roberts-Pass portion of the Ohio To Erie Trail bike path where they spent most of their time. The out-and-back setup included turn-around points just past Glade Run Road for the half marathon and just before Georgesville Road and Battelle Darby Creek Park for the full marathon. Mars had made sure to promote the course’s flat nature, a big draw for runners looking for fast times.
“It was an awesome course, and one of the first opportunities to race (in person) since the pandemic,” said Chase Hampton, 24, of Dublin who won the men’s half marathon in a time of 1:07:52.5 (5:11 mile pace). “All the volunteers were awesome. It was exactly what you would hope for in a race to run fast.”
Sarah Biehl, 27, of Columbus set a personal record with a time of 1:16.43.2 on her way to winning the women’s half. She, too, liked that the course was “super flat.”
Mars was particularly impressed by the half-marathon field.
“We had 19 finishers under 1:15. There was another half in Ohio on the same day where the winner of their race would’ve been 19th in our race,” he said. “I’m really thrilled with the quality of competition we were able to attract. It was on a much higher level than you would expect at a 200-person race.”
Jake Gillette, 34, of Goshen, Ind., said the tree-lined bike path made it easy to get into a groove for the full marathon even with the day’s windy conditions. He cruised to a 2:45:58.4 finish time, good for first place in the men’s division. The women’s division winner, Katie Bennett, 38, of Atlanta, Ga., said she, too, “got in the zone” on the straight-line course, clocking in at 3:13:04. This was her first race since the pandemic hit and her seventh marathon. She said it was a good “rust buster” for the Boston Marathon, which she plans to run this fall.
Madison Killian, 19, of London was one of 17 runners from Madison County to participate in the race. It was her first half-marathon and her first race of any kind since running track and cross country at London High School. She found out about the race on Instagram about a month ago.
“I’ve always wanted to run a half and a full,” Killian said as to why she entered. “My longest run going into it was 10 miles. I thought, ‘What’s another three more?’”
While the last quarter-mile proved to be challenging for her, Killian finished with an impressive time of 1:38.44.5, placing her 16th in the women’s division of the half-marathon.
Harvey Lewis, 45, of Cincinnati said he had a blast running the full marathon. He enjoyed the British theme. A bagpiper played at the start of the race, and British flags and themed mile markers lined the route in a play on London, England, vs. London, Ohio. But in a twist from what most long-distance runners prefer, he had hoped for hot weather rather than the England-like 40-some degrees the day offered.
Lewis is training for Badwater, a 135-mile race in July that starts in California’s Death Valley and ends at 8,360 feet elevation at the trailhead to Mount Whitney. It’s deemed “the world’s toughest footrace.” Harvey won the race in 2014.
He came close to winning the marathon in London. He had the lead at the 20-mile mark before Gillette pulled ahead. He finished with a time of 2:49:50.
Each of the runners who turned out for the London marathon/half-marathon had their own stories to tell, and Mars is happy both they and he have another one to add to their lists.
“I’m blown away with how well it went,” Mars said. “I’m thrilled with everyone we got to work with. The city and the police chief were great. All of the volunteers were awesome. It’s a great picture of good things happening when you get people working together.”
Though he was exhausted from this first go-around, Mars was already thinking about next year a few days after this year’s event. With more time to plan and spread the word, Mars thinks he can bring in 500 runners next year and raise $30,000 to $40,000 to benefit Merri Mac Park. This year, the race raised $10,000.
“I’m humbled by what it is we want to accomplish (at the park). We’re not there yet, but I feel this money will go toward getting the ball rolling. We’ll gain momentum off of this to be able to raise much more money.”
Mars’s wife, Sarah, is a member of the Merri Mac Park Miracle board, a new community volunteer group that is working in tandem with the city of London to make improvements at the park.
Chase Hampton (1:07:52.5)
Sarah Biehl (1:16:43.2)
Jake Gillette (2:45:58.4)
Katie Bennett (3:13:04)
MADISON COUNTY FINISHERS
Madison Killian, London (1:38.44.5)
Andy Scaggs, London (1:45:12.6)
Dennis Dahlberg, London (1:57:06.5)
Jacqueline Dahlberg, London (1:57:06.5)
Cheyenne Dodge, Mount Sterling (1:58:45.9)
Tom Possley, Plain City (2:03:58.9)
Nicola Dickinson, London (2:18:23.4)
Jody Pickett, London, (2:30:43.1)
Stephanie Wenning, London (2:35:07.3)
James Sinclair, London (2:35:48.9)
Jessica Scholl, London (2:36:23.7)
Jarod Rinehart, London, (3:16:54.8)
Klaire Rinehart, London (3:16:55.4)
Ashley Horstman, London (3:46.37.3)
Bill Knox, West Jefferson (4:25:45.2)
Matthew Sanders, London, (4:43:58.5)
Ryan Wolfe, London, 4:53:15.6)