Sunday, October 11, 2009

Our big ol' Thunder Road preview

In about 60 days -- well, 60 days, 18 hours, 57 minutes and 51 seconds, according to the countdown timer at http://http// -- Charlotte will host the fifth running of the Thunder Road Marathon.

Despite its name, the Dec. 12 event also features very-popular 5K and half-marathon races for athletes who aren't ready for/interested in running 26.2 miles. But the marathon is certainly the big draw: In 2008, more than 1,000 runners crossed the finish line, making Thunder Road one of the larger marathons in the Southeast; it's also the only annual marathon in the Charlotte area.

I recently got the opportunity to bounce several questions off D.C. Lucchesi of Run For Your Life, which has put on the race since 2005. Whether you're already signed up and several weeks into training for Thunder Road or still thinking about whether to pull the trigger and sign up, his answers provide a whole lotta information about the event that should give you a very good sense of what you're getting yourself into.

Q. Could you start off by giving me a little history about the race?

Charlotte's Thunder Road Marathon is celebrating its fifth year. That's quite a milestone. We've experienced double-digit growth every year, and we've carefully managed that growth to make sure we can maintain a quality runner, spectator and sponsor experience. Bringing the marathon back to Charlotte in 2005 was really a "supply and demand" issue. Charlotte had gone nearly two years without a hometown marathon. ... We saw it [creating a marathon here] as a way to give back to the running community -- and the city -- which have been so supportive of us over the last 20 years. Having the Thunder Road Marathon in town provides thousands of dollars to local charities, and more than a million dollars into the local hotels, shops and restaurants each year.

Q. Why December? Less competition? Coolest time of year? Easiest from a logistical standpoint?

Early December was chosen for a couple of reasons. For one, fall and winter are the height of marathon season. There's no reason Charlotte shouldn't be able to host a marathon people put on their race calendars. Plus, the December date means local runners won't have any really long training runs until the weather cools off some, and folks coming from the East and Midwest won't be running through the worst of winter to train. Charlotte's weather in early December is historically ideal for marathoning: highs near 50 and lows above freezing. Very nice.

Q. You mentioned that you get tons of great feedback from folks who've run it. What are the top three things they like about it?

In no particular order, the comments we hear most are about the organization of the event, the beauty of the course and the hospitality of the folks here in Charlotte. The Thunder Road Marathon course is almost like a tour of the city. People are really taken by the beauty and diversity of it all. Even for folks who live here, it may be the first time they've ever seen some of these areas on foot. It's really an eye-opener.

Q. I read an interview with RFYL owner Tim Rhodes recently in which he described Thunder Road as offering a "BIG marathon experience without all the hassle." Can you go into some detail about what that means to you guys, and how that plays out in the execution of the event?

At Charlotte, you're going to get a lot of those big marathon touches -- like your name on your bib numbers, a certified Boston-qualifier course, and loads of on-course entertainment. Plus, an opportunity to earn two finishers medals in conjunction with the [Dowd] YMCA's November half marathon. And how about catered and heated VIP seating at the finish for your family and friends? Yep, we've got that, too. But you'll also get that feeling that we're putting this thing on just for you. And we are. We want to make the experience as individual as possible. It's easy to find a volunteer to help or answer questions. Parking's a snap -- or you can take the light rail right to the start/finish line. There are plenty of affordable hotel rooms just blocks from the start/finish, too. Right now, we're big enough to provide lots of amenities you'll find at major marathons, but you won't feel like you're lost in -- or just one of -- the crowd.

Q. Tim also was quoted as saying "the course has some hills, but nothing too 'killer.'" Yet when you bring this race up to most vets of this race, the first thing they remark about is the hills. Thoughts of your own on the difficulty of the course's hills?

Hills of any sort are pretty much unavoidable in Charlotte. Besides, flat is for sissies. Honestly, though, this is probably the fastest marathon course you could design in Charlotte and still get a good look at the city. There are no "heartbreakers" here, but there are some hills. They're certainly more noticeable on the back half of the course -- or maybe we're just more tired when we get that far. Given all that, we decided to embrace what we've got.

Q. Has the course always been the same?

The course has been roughly the same each year. We've given it a couple of tweaks since 2005 to expand the finishing area and make more room for the half-marathon. Runners start in uptown Charlotte and wind through some of the most beautiful and historic neighborhoods in Charlotte -- including Myers Park, Dilworth, Plaza-Midwood, NoDa and Wilmore -- before returning to the uptown finish. We get lots of comments on the beauty of this course every year.

Q. I only ran the half last year, and I agree that was a beautiful route. But one complaint I heard from marathoners was about the second half of the course's sparse crowd support and lack of scenery as it wound through NoDa and Wilmore. Do you guys have a plan to build spectator interest, number one, and number two, how would you respond to those who might wish for a prettier second half?

Certainly you're going to see more spectators in the first part of the course, since the full and half-marathon runners will run alongside each other for 13 miles. The half-marathon has been a very popular and well-received portion of the Thunder Road Marathon. We're grateful for that. You probably won't be able to entice family and friends of half marathon finishers to get back on the course at say, mile 18, but for the folks who are out there, we want to make sure they're having a good time, too. You'll see plenty of entertainment out there -- bands, DJs and the like -- plus, the folks in neighborhoods in the back half of the course in Wilmore and NoDa and Plaza-Midwood always come out to party. As for folks wanting a more scenic second half, ask Thunder Road Marathon veterans how much those neighborhoods in Wilmore and North Davidson and the Plaza have changed in just the five years since we've run the course through there. It's really been something to see.

Q. I also personally felt like the NASCAR and music themes could have had more impact/oomph. Any plans to up the ante this year?

Yep. We've got a whole committee devoted to just overseeing the stock car theme. The start and finish is right up in there next to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, too. We want to make sure we're really taking advantage of that connection. And before we even started booking entertainment for this year, we had bands from '08 who asked to come back this December.

Q. What other big changes are in store for runners this year?

This year, we're giving technical tees to all our full and half-marathon runners. That'll be special, since we always have great T-shirt designs. Plus, we're announcing the entry cap at 3,500 for the Jingle Jog 5K that starts right after the Thunder Road Marathon and Half-Marathon. Those are biggies, for sure.

Q. Alright, I'm sure there are people who are still on the fence out there. Here's one more chance to sell them on it. Take it.

First, to the Thunder Road Marathon veterans: Thanks for all of your support over the last five years -- we could not have done this without you. We hope to see you back again this year! Next, to all the marathon vets who've yet to run their hometown race: What are you waiting for? Find out why folks from all over the country are coming to your hometown to run. Chances are, at least parts of it will be new to you, too. Lastly, to those considering Thunder Road as their first marathon: We're flattered, of course. And we want you to know we've been there, too. You never forget your first one. We want you to have such a good time here, you'll run back and tell all your friends.

Q. And finally, give me your No. 1 tip for first-time marathoners.

Race like you've trained. That is, set reasonable goals based on the time and effort you've been able to commit to the training. And be ready to adjust them on race day.

The official Thunder Road Web site is accessible by clicking here.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info. Plan to run the half for my first and looking forward to it.

Anonymous said...

This will be my fifth time running Thunder Road. I live in Charlotte and take pride in supporting our marathon. The race has grown leaps and bounds since year one. As the numbers of participants have increased, the quality of the race has continued to improve. In addition to easy parking, you can also take to Lynx light rail to the race. The finishing metals are outstanding. When you cross the finish line you get your name announced and there is beer at the finish line!

Anonymous said...

I have run Thunder Road Marathon several times. The hills are definitely a challenge with more in the first half of the race. The second half of Thunder Road has less hills, but quite a few turns in the NoDa , Plaza-Midwood area. Has anyone ever thought about reversing the course and running the NoDa section first and Myers Park / Dilworth as the second half. You would certainly feel less alone on the first half of the marathon because of additional half marathoners and full marathoners would feel have more crowd support on miles 13 to the end!

Anonymous said...

I am a slow runner and finished last year in over 5 hours. There are sections of the second half of the marathon that I felt I was the only runner on the course. There were certain areas on North Davidson and Central Avenue, where I was concerned about the safety of the neighborhoods. I am planning to run the marathion this year, and I hope there are plenty of Police for traffic control and volunteers to halp point runners in the right direction. Hopefully this will make me and other runners not have to think about the safety of neighborhoods we are running in.

Anonymous said...

I would hate to see what D.C. Lucchesi calls a heartbreaker hill. The best I remember Trade Street from Johnson & Wales up to Tryon St at mile 17 and Hawthorne Street hill at mile 24 are both pretty tough!

Anonymous said...

Why is the race on open for 6 hours? There are many runners who are in the 5 hour range and we sometimes feel that we get dirty looks from Police for running slower. Just think of the additional runners and walkers you could get if the finishing time was extended. Myrtle Beach has a 8 hour time limit.

Anonymous said...

Ever thought about starting the race earlier? Most of us runners are up early on Saturday' s doing long runs. 8:00 seems late for a marathon. Start early and finish early!

Anonymous said...

If you're racing the marathon 8am is more than early enough for a start time. Racing at that time requires being up at 5am to get ready. I'm sure it's a bit different if you're doing a run/walk or just trying to finish, but I would really hate to be getting up at 4am to get ready.

Also 6 hours is more than enough time for the course to be open. If you're concerned about finishing in under 6 hours then either find a marathon that is open longer or work on training harder and getting faster.

DC Lucchesi, Run For Your Life said...

This just in... seriously! I've just been told registration figures for this year's Thunder Road Marathon are WAY up versus this time last year. Registration for the full marathon is already nearly 40% ahead of schedule, the half is nearly 70%, and the 5K is more than 200% -- yes TWO HUNDRED percent. We're expecting the 5K and half marathon to close out sooner than last year with caps of 3500 and 4000 respectively. Also, we've announced a cap of 2000 for this year's marathon. Get in early, folks! This one's turning into a hot ticket! You can register at any of the three Run For Your Life shops, or online anytime at

Anonymous said...

I took my marathon application into the RFYL store. I later went to the Thunder Road web site to check on my registration and to see who else was registered. I did not see my name. Some running friends said their names were also not showing up. Can you shed light on this?