Thursday, April 30, 2009

'How I became a serious runner'

Don't forget: "Running the Sahara" -- a documentary about three men who set out to run across the Sahara Desert to raise awareness of the need for safe, fresh water in Africa -- is getting a special screening at 7:45 tonight at Ballantyne Village Theatre.

(One of the runners featured, Greensboro's Charlie Engle, will speak afterward and take questions. He was profiled Wednesday in a great story by Observer staff writer Lawrence Toppman; to read it, click here.)

In attendance tonight will be Rachel Korrin Williams, who last week was selected by random drawing to win a pair of "Running the Sahara" tickets after sharing her personal story about the longest distance she's ever run.

Here's what the 24-year-old Belmont resident wrote in her e-mail:

Well, I have not run a great LONG distance per se, but this is nonetheless a great personal triumph:

I've never been very athletic, never played sports in school, or even gave track and field a fleeting thought. But I started jogging three or four years ago, and in the past three months, I've run three 5Ks. I now love jogging so much I can't get enough of it.

Anyway, I'm a waitress, and I usually get 2-1/2 hours between a lunch and dinner shift. So one day, on my break, I decided to try to run five miles around the track at the gym. The most I had run prior to that was 1-1/2, 2 miles. I threw on my iPod, cranked it up, and took it really slow so as not to exhaust myself -- and I completed five miles!

I was SO proud. I went back to work and told everyone. I was absolutely giddy! (That is until my legs became SO sore later on that evening -- a good kind of sore, though.)

Before I started running, I never felt like I was truly a part of something, but now I feel so much pride when I'm out jogging and another jogger and I exchange waves, or when I pick up my race packet at Run For Your Life, or when I get to mention, "Yeah, I went for a lovely jog the other day."

So yeah, the longest I've jogged is five miles, and yeah, it was only around a crummy gym track, but it was a pivotal turning point in my running career -- at that moment, I became a serious runner.

I can't wait until I can run seven miles, or 10 or 13! My goal is to eventually run a full marathon!
When did YOU realize you had become a serious runner? Shoot an e-mail to me at

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Running down some deals on gear

A few bargains worth mentioning:

  • This is cool in more ways than one: TrySports, a running/cycling/triathlon store in the Blakeney Shopping Center (9830 Rea Road, Suite H), will give a free three-pack of Zulu socks from Balega (a $20 value) to anyone who mentions my blog when they purchase a new pair of shoes. Of TrySports' fitting process, store spokesman Joe Soehnlen says, "We do a complete arch analysis, coupled with a video gait analysis where we use Dartfish software to analyze each individuals running (or walking) gait cycle to determine their true stride pattern and to aid us in determining the correct shoe for each individual. Translation? They'll find a shoe that fits you perfectly.
  • Last week, I wrote about the Road ID, a line of identification tags for runners, joggers, cyclists/bicyclists, etc. Now through May 10, you can get $2 off the $20 price tag when you order yours. Click here to buy; the link should automatically set you up for the discount, but if not, just enter PCAP14 at checkout in the coupon code field.
  • Running Warehouse, a good place to get gear online, is holding a 72-hour, 25-percent-off "progressive" sale on its top-selling running shoes, apparel and accessories. Additional products will be added on Thursday and yet more on Friday. They're also offering free two-day shipping and free return shipping. Click here to take advantage. Sale ends Monday.
  • Run for Your Life is offering customers who have either good golfing skills or dumb luck a chance to win a free pair of WrightSocks, which are known for their blister prevention. The promotion is running during store hours Thursday through Saturday, and is being held in conjunction with "Golf Week." (Can't figure out why the company is doing a golf tie-in, but whatever -- free stuff! Woohoo!) For a store directory, click here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Get ready to chase some skirts

It's a little sexist. But it's also apparently a lotta fun.

Here's Raleigh's Skirt Chaser 5K in a nutshell: All the women who pay the $50 to $85 registration fee get a running skirt (only $35 to run if you don't want a skirt ... but doesn't that kinda ruin the moment, ladies?). Women take off first, most wearing their new garment; the guys are let loose three minutes later. Voila -- boys chasing girls wearing skirts, with the first-place finisher taking home $500.

The battle of the sexes -- scheduled for this Saturday, May 23 -- is followed by more flirting at a block party in Raleigh's Glenwood South area that includes free food, beer, live music and dating games.

By the way, the founder of this national racing series is a woman: Nicole DeBoom, who runs this company and is the creator of the fitness running skirt.

Want to run the Skirt Chaser 5K? Click here for more info. Want to say something about it? Fire away.

Monday, April 27, 2009

It's just a number ... or is it?

Tangent of the Day: The bibs for the 13 races I've run (remember, I only started entering events in October) are hung up on a wall of my cubicle with pushpins.

I originally started putting them up at work just -- well, just because it doesn't really fit in with the decor at home. But the more space the display takes up, the more aesthetically interesting it becomes. (To me, at least. Co-workers might not agree.)

Anyway, I'm curious: Do you save your race numbers? Display them? File them? Defile them? Or do you toss yours in a trash bin as you exit the post-race festival?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Girls on the Run: A no-pressure 5K

Want to run a 3.1-miler just for fun? The New Balance Girls On The Run 5K -- set for 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 9 at Dilworth's Latta Park -- is not timed, making it perfect for beginners and families.

Last year, about 1,200 people ran the course, which uses streets around the perimeter of the park. Girls On The Run promotes self-esteem and strong values through health education, mentoring and physical training for girls in the third through eighth grade.

Oh, and despite the name, the race isn't girls-only ... or even girls- and women-only. Yes, gentlemen -- you're invited to run, too.
And although there are no official results or awards, there will be a clock at the finish line for runners interested in knowing their times.

Registration is $20 before race day, $25 on race day. There are discounts for kids under 13 and for families of four or more. Want more info? Click here.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A good half marathon is hard to find

Against the advisement of veteran runner-friends, I recently ran three half-marathons in a span of seven weeks. (Results: 1:52:02 at Corporate Cup, 1:47:39 at ING Georgia, 1:49:44 at RaceFest.)

It's a great distance. It's serious enough to feel like an accomplishment, and allows you to employ more strategy than the short distances -- but doesn't require the punishing training of a marathon (or a long, painful post-race recovery).

For Charlotteans, though, 13.1-mile races become hard to find now that RaceFest is over. The rest of the spring and all of summer seem devoid of them. All I see on the horizon is the Dowd Y Run, a half/5K that goes off from the YMCA at the southern edge of uptown ... on Nov. 7.

In the meantime, if you want to cover the popular middle distance with a race bib and a chip timer on, you're gonna need to make road trip. Not a long and involved one -- but there'll be a little driving involved. Here are some upcoming half-marathon options that aren't too far afield:

  • Well-trained enough to take on one this coming weekend? Saturday's North Carolina Marathon has a 13.1-mile race. And because the event has been moved from Greensboro to High Point, the course will be new to everyone (the 26.2-mile route, by the way, is a Boston Marathon qualifier). Start time is 7 a.m. More than 1,700 runners are signed up, and proceeds will support programs and services to benefit foster children in Guilford County. Registration for the half is $60. For more info, click here.
  • Also being run on a brand-new course is the Inside-Out Sports Classic in Cary, scheduled for Sunday, May 17. The route will cover roads, trails and greenways in Cary and at Umstead State Park. More than 1,000 runners are expected for the half and 10K, with the crowds mitigated somewhat because the half goes off at 7 and the 10K doesn't start until 7:15. Proceeds from the race will support several local causes. Registration for the half is $45. For more info, click here.
  • Then on Saturday, June 6, there's the Charity Chase Half Marathon and Relay in Hickory. If you're looking for something small, this is your best bet: Typically it draws just a few hundred runners. It's also a good one for partners: In the relay division, teams of two run 6.5 miles each. 7 a.m. start, with a post-race party at the Hickory Crawdads' game -- they're a Class A minor-league baseball team. Proceeds will benefit local charities. Registration is $40. For more info, click here.
Know of other interesting halfs coming up locally or regionally? Please share!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Run a 5K ... after a day at the office

A rare evening race is on the near horizon: The Right Moves for Youth's Twilight 5K, scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, May 8, will require a quick change of clothes by the uptown 9-to-5 crowd. It starts and finishes by the Wachovia Plaza in uptown Charlotte.

Registration is $17 ($20 on race day), $12 for kids in grades K through 12. Walkers can register, too, and a free 1K Kids Fun Run will follow at 8 p.m.

And -- not surprisingly given the time of day and night of the week -- there'll be a post-race party beginning at 8 at George Herman, which is located at 144 Brevard Court in Latta Arcade, across the street from the plaza. One free beer ticket per person (runners get in free, non-runners must pay $3, additional donations are welcomed).

All proceeds for the event benefit Right Moves for Youth, which helps Charlotte-Mecklenburg students improve their attendance, behavior and performance.

For race details, click here. To register, click here.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Retracing one man's steps in Boston

Like many other runners -- from hardcore enthusiasts to weekend wannabes -- I've dreamed about qualifying for and participating in the Boston Marathon.

So on Monday, during the race's 113th running, I periodically dorked out at my desk to follow the action on a Beantown TV station's Twitter feed. When it was over, I did what I've done a half a dozen times since I started distance running more seriously: I used Runner's World's training calculator to figure out how fast I could run a marathon, in theory, based on my half-marathon PR. Its answer? In just under 3 hours and 45 minutes.

And if I did that, I'd miss qualifying for the 2010 Boston Marathon by ... half an hour.

But while I was daydreaming, Ed -- a guy who I sometimes run with (we're both part of the University City Road Runners club) -- was making his first-ever trip along the Hopkinton-to-Boston route.

This morning, I woke up to find Ed had e-mailed a recap to everyone in our group, and I enjoyed it enough that I asked him if I could share it with readers of my blog. He consented, but asked that I only refer to him by his first name.

And so here it is, one local man's play-by-play rundown of his Boston Marathon experience. Hope you find it inspiring -- or, at least, a nice little afternoon read.

Well, after all the preparation, it almost seems like a letdown to try to describe the actual event.

We spent the weekend up at my wife sister's place in New Hampshire, and Sunday evening they put me to work in the kitchen, preparing tortellini and sausage (in a white sauce) for 10. Aside from eating too much sausage, a pretty good meal for the night before. The only bad part was they ran out of red wine, and I had to drink a glass of white zinfandel (horrors, I know).

Went to be around 9:30 p.m., and actually slept pretty well until 5 a.m. Had a banana and some bread, and we hit the road at 6, arrived in Hopkinton right around 7 a.m. This actually worked out beautifully; my wife drove right up to the school and dropped me in front. On the way back to 128, she said the cars were already lining up so we just made it.

I walked down to the mostly empty staging area, consisting of a couple of huge tents, open space, porta-potties, and a PA system blaring music and announcements. It was almost deserted when I arrived, so I grabbed a discarded cardboard box to sit on, and camped out under the tent. Chatted with a few Northerners, from Canada and upstate New York, and slowly got pretty cold. Several people brought cheap pool floats and blew them up and had a nice comfy place to lie down -- good to remember for next time.

Around 8:00, the lines for the bathrooms got pretty long, so I decided that I better get in line so I wouldn't be pressured for time. The lines turned out to be really long. By the time I got to the front of the line, my back muscles were sore from trying not to wet myself. In retrospect, this was quite nearly the worst part of my day.

OK, finally 9:10 or so. I was feeling cold -- temps were in the low 40's, but the wind was kicking up a bit, and I had been sitting around for over two hours. I pinned my bib on my short sleeve shirt, then my long sleeve shirt. I put on my garbage bag and headed up toward the baggage busses. At the busses, I noticed a lot of people wearing singlets, tanks, and the like. Now I'm uncertain about my gear choice ... short sleeves? layers? gloves? I finally decide to go with my original choice -- short sleeve top, no gloves, big ol' garbage bag (contractor grade) until the start. I hand my bag up into the appropriate school bus, and stroll down to the starting corrals. It's about 3/4 of a mile, which I realize is the first chance to move around I've taken. First sign of nerves: I go to the wrong corral and have to be directed to where I belong.

I arrive in my corral just as the national anthem starts. The folks from the local charities are cruising the edges of the corrals, collecting additional clothes. I was unable to find a needy contractor to take my garbage bag, so I tucked it into the fencing as the announcement went out that we were underway. There was an uphill grade from the corrals to the start, so we had a good view of the crowd as it started and stopped a few times before we actually got going. At about 6 minutes past 10 a.m. I crossed the start and was underway!

Mile 1 -- kind of slow going, with a lot of people feeling out their pace. We left the small town of Hopkinton, and were in a rural area when I realized that my long and painful wait for the porta-potty may not have been adequate for the entire race. At about half a mile in, there was a wooded area at the side of the road with several folks stopping for a rest break. I decided that I would have to go at some point, and this was as good a time as any. Business (or other euphemism) taken care of, I got back in the crowd and crossed mile 1 at 8:50. I had printed out a pace chart for a 3:20 finish that took the course terrain into account, and my mile 1 pace was supposed to be 7:22. So here I am, 1 mile down and 1.5 minutes slow.

Mild panic sets in ... how do I make this up? Right away? Over the first 10 miles? 15?

I decided that I would pick up the pace gently, and see how it went. Here was the strategic error in the race. I was not firm in my resolve to make the time up slowly, and regained the time in the first 5-6 miles. I then managed to get my pace back to where I wanted it, and hit the cruise control. The next 8 miles or so were pretty uneventful. The scream tunnel through Wesley was very impressive ... those kids can make some noise!! I refrained from kisses, despite lots of signs encouraging otherwise.

As I went through miles 10-16, I realized that my erratic running over the four weeks leading up to the race was going to give me some trouble (the week in France, followed by my calf bothering me, with too much inactivity in the last week). My legs felts kind of tight, and even though I was able to keep my pace up through mile 18, I was pretty sure the end was near.

The hills, as predicted by Jack and others, were tough. I was able to pass a few folks on the first two hills, and then did well on Heartbreak Hill ... the crowds really filled in for the second half, and there was great support for Heartbreak Hill. I made it to the top, and the fatigue really set in. The last five miles are, I regret, a bit of a blur. I remember that my legs were really heavy, and I found a new way to be tired! Not calves, but quads. Most interesting, I mused, as I forced myself on.

Finally, in the city proper. People were 3 and 4 deep at all the barricades, and the mood lightened considerably. I was passing a few folks, but more were passing me. As we passed mile 25, there was a group of army infantry with heavy packs marching in a double column. "Very cool," I thought. I then made the final turn onto Boylston, and saw the bright lights at the finish line. It was at this time that the infantry column broke into double time and started to pass me. "Less cool," I thought, still punctuating carefully. I managed to keep my feet moving until the end, and then it was over. We filed along rather slowly, collecting water, space blankets, and eventually trading my Champion Chip for a finishers medal. Note to self: bring spare chips if you want more medals.

Still very organized, lots of help, and medical staff everywhere. In my area, people looked pretty good, although there were a few folks in wheelchairs with cramps. I found my baggage bus with my stuff, and a nice volunteer helped me root around for some warm clothes, since I had started to shiver pretty badly. I then went out to meet the family, who said they had a great view from the bleachers and got to see the soldiers running past me.

We walked to my friend's house in the area, I took a quick shower, and then we were in the car for the next day and a half. Still very difficult to get in and out of the car, but I'm improving as of today. Probably more entertaining episodes will come to me, but that's my report for now.
Oh, in case you're wondering, Ed's official time was 3:25:58.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Nightmarish run? It could happen to you

Ever gone out for a morning run and wound up in the ER? No? Me neither. Not many of us have.

In fact, I'd never even known a runner who had a mishap while out on the road -- until two Saturdays ago.

The scenario was this: I went out with a dozen or so people from my running group with a loose plan to do about 12 or 13 miles. My knee had been giving me a little trouble thanks to some interval training a few days earlier, so I was toward the back of the pack.

Not long after coming over the top of a reasonably big hill, I saw one of the guys come to a stop about 150 yards ahead of my subgroup; he hunched over as if out of breath for maybe three seconds, then took two steps, and dropped like a sack of sweet potatoes.

We rushed to his aid to find he'd sustained many cuts to his head and body as a result of the fall, but worse, that he was unconscious and unresponsive. We could barely detect his pulse, and his lips started turning blue. Fortunately, a nearby cop was flagged down quickly, a motorist loaned us two cellphones to call 911, and by some small miracle, we run with a nurse who was able to administer CPR.

Moments later, medics arrived, stabilized him, and set the guy on a path toward a happy ending: He was treated at the hospital and released, with medical tests revealing no significant findings.

Anyway, I bring this all up because it's a good segue into a recommendation for Road ID. It's a $20 identification tag popular among runners and cyclists that can be engraved with your name, emergency phone numbers, and medical info like allergies and blood type. (I have a wristband, but there are also belt, ankle and other styles. After the incident, several runners in our group vowed to make it a priority to order their own.)

A Road ID -- or something like it -- could be useful for people who run with a partner or a group; if you get struck by a car, faint from exhaustion, fall, etc., your companion(s) can more easily track down loved ones and disseminate information to first responders. (In my group's case, the fallen runner had his info on dog tags, and we had no problem reaching his wife via cellphone number listed.)

And if you're running alone, an accessory like Road ID could be VITAL. For obvious reasons.

I'm not asking you to run out and spend your money on this thing just because I think it's a good idea. I'm asking you to remember that you never know when your morning run could turn into a trip to the ER -- that it's better to have the info on you and not need it, than to need the info and not have it.

Do you run with any ID, or do you not bother? Got stories of scary running-related medical emergencies? Any similar or related products you want to recommend? Do you have other safety tips for runners? Please share.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

And we're off to the races ...

Readers have tipped me off this week about a couple of local 5Ks. These are smaller races, which mean they're less-intimidating for novices and can translate into faster starts (and finishes) for more advanced runners. Oh, and they both support good causes.

A reader recommended the GBS/CIDP 5K, which is on Saturday, May 9, at the Morrison Development at the corner of Sharon and Colony Roads. This one benefits the Guillain-Barré Syndrome/CIDP Foundation International. (GBS and CIDP are inflammatory disorders of peripheral nerves that can cause weakness and paralysis.)

The 5K run goes off at 8 a.m. (walkers start at 8:05), followed by a "Miracle Mile" event at 8:30 and a 26.2-yard kids dash. Entry fees are $20-$30 for the 5K, depending on how soon you sign up; "Miracle Mile" registration is $15, kids dash is $5.

According to the brochure, "We call this the 'Miracle Mile' because so many of us affected by GBS/CIDP thought we would never walk again, much less complete a mile! It is truly a miracle that these folks are walking – please join us in celebrating their success at the finish line! Anyone can participate in this … run, walk, skip and help celebrate other’s 'Miracles.'"

To view the full brochure, click here. To register, click here. Says the tipster: "I've run it and it's awesome. It's a great race for a personal record."

Meanwhile, the third annual Our Boys 5K -- set for Concord on Saturday, June 6 -- is a fundraiser to support the nonprofit Batten Disease Support and Research Association. (Batten Disease is a group of genetic disorders that affect children and ultimately are fatal.)

The race starts at 8 a.m. at Harris Road Middle School (1251 Patriot Plantation Blvd.). More than 150 runners participated in 2008; prizes will be awarded for age-group winners, plus there will be children's activities and a car wash (weather permitting).

Race hosts are Chris and Wendy Hawkins, whose two children both are affected by the disease. For more on Batten Disease, visit For more on the Hawkins family, visit And to register for the race online, click here. Cost is $20 per person for the 5K, $50 for a family of four, or $10 for the 1-mile fun run.

* * *

I'm planning to sign up for the Great Harvest Bread Co. 5K on Saturday, May 2, and am already registered for the Right Moves for Youth Twilight 5K on Friday, May 8. What's on your race calendar right now?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Win tickets to 'Running the Sahara'

Interested in attending the "Running the Sahara" screening and Q&A (with co-star Charlie Engle) that I told you about in this previous post ... but haven't yet bought tickets?

Well, here's a chance to win some free ones, courtesy of NYC-based Nehst Studios, which is distributing the film.

Send me an e-mail with "Running the Sahara" in the subject line, and tell me about the longest distance you've ever run in your life -- as well as what inspired you to cover that ground, and how you felt afterward. I'll pick my favorite response and award its author with a pair of tickets to the April 30 event in Ballantyne.

Deadline is 6 p.m. Thursday, April 23. (Again, for full details about the movie, click here.) Good luck!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

CPCC promises flat, fast, fun race

The spring 5K race season starts in earnest this Saturday with the CPCC Skyline Run -- and I've got the scoop on what to expect of this race from Kaye McGarry, who has been its volunteer chairperson since 1996:

Q. How many runners are participating?
A. We expect more than 1,000. We would love to top 2008, when there were 1,406 registrants. Registration for the 5K is $18 through Thursday, $20 Friday, and $25 on race day. Fun Run cost is $8. [For registration details, click here.] Proceeds from the race raise funds for student scholarships and other student needs.

Q. I’ve been told that the 5K course is flat and fast, and beautiful to boot. True?
A. You heard right: The course is flat and fast. And yes, the scenery is lovely. We start and finish on the main campus of CPCC. Many folks have just not seen the beauty of the quad on main campus in the spring, when the flowers and gardens are at their peak [she adds that runners and spectators who stick around campus after the race can catch the final day of CPCC’s six-day ArtsFest. Click here for a full schedule of events]. As for the course, we love to keep to the neighborhoods – and the ones runners will go through in Elizabeth are beautiful. [For a peek at the route, click here.]

Q. Tell me about the team competition.
A. Teams of three or more can compete in the Men, Women, or Mixed categories; a minimum of one female time must be included in a Mixed team’s total. The three best times for each team are totaled to determine the team’s time and place. Teams can be made up of friends, neighbors, co-workers – they must include a team name when registering, and can wear T-shirts or carry signs to promote the group they represent. The first-place team in each category will receive a gift certificate for a “V.I.P. party” at Jillian’s Billiards Club on East Bland Street.

Q. Fun Run details?
A. The Fun Run starts at 7:30 a.m., followed by the 5K start at 8. The Fun Run is a ½-mile run for ages 12 and under. They go around American Legion Memorial Stadium next to CPCC – so do not go on public streets. Every participant will receive a blue ribbon, with an extra prize going to the first-place boy and girl finisher. The entry fee has remained at $8 and includes a T-shirt – because we want to encourage families to come on out by making it affordable for everyone. Oh, and Sir Purr, the Carolina Panthers’ mascot, will be the official starter for the Fun Run as well as the 5K.

Sir Purr with Kaye McGarry (from

Q. Anything else you want to mention about the event?

A. The 5K is also open to walkers, wheelchairs and baby joggers. We'll hand out plenty of door prizes while waiting for the results. Before and after the race, runners and spectators can listen to bluegrass music from the Flat Possum Hoppers, who were also with us last year.

* * *

Turns out some other weekend plans will prevent me from getting out there and taking a crack at my 5K PR of 22:38. But it sounds like it'll be a great day for those who can make it: Saturday's forecast calls for sunny skies and a high near 83 (so probably around 60 at the start). Are you in?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

At RaceFest, hill after hill after hill

Remember when you were little, how you'd complain to your dad about something and he'd say, "When I was a kid, we had to walk barefoot to school in the snow, and it was uphill both ways!"

Anyway, this popped into my head more than once Saturday morning during Charlotte RaceFest: Despite the fact that I was wearing my Asics GT-2140s, despite the fact that the weather was gorgeous, the half-marathon course I ran with more than 1,000 other runners felt ... like it was uphill both ways.

I'd been warned about the two hills in the last three miles leading back to the finish near SouthPark mall, but it was two others -- a mile-long one on Sharon View between Miles 7 and 8, and another short, steep ascent on Valencia Terrace -- that did me in.

Still, I set out to break 1:50 and I pulled into the finish chute in 1:49:44. (Official results are up at the RaceFest site.) So I can't complain. (Ya hear that, Dad?)

A few random notes:

  • The post-race beer kept flowing for a good long time. A friend told me that last year, the kegs were dry by the time she finished the half in under two hours. Saturday, it looked like 13.1ers who came in between 2:15 and 2:30 should easily have been able to pick up both of their allotted free brews.
  • Two friends who finished RaceFest's 10K in just over an hour told me that after finishing, they turned to see an Ethiopian runner cross the line. The women high-fived each other and said, "Hey, we beat one of the Ethiopians!" ... The guy had just run the half-marathon.
  • A couple of racers recognized me from the blog, so they deserve shout-outs. One, Jonathan, caught me afterward and told me he did a PR of 1:44 (if you're reading this, congrats again, man!). The other guy breezed by me in the final third of the race and just hollered, "Hey, it's the Observer Guy!" I guess the point is that I'm glad runners are finding this blog. Please tell your friends about it!
So ... how'd RaceFest go for you? Did you think the hills were brutal, or am I just a wimp??

P.S.: Got some follow-up info from Neil Howard, one of the RaceFest organizers. He says "water at the finish line is an element that we'll address next year, as well as tweaking the Port-a-John scenario both on the course and at the start and finish lines." He also thinks "there may be a number of factors that influence the course next year ... one of which is the pushback we've been getting from some neighborhoods about how this type of event really restricts movement for folks on a Saturday (morning)." Just under 2,400 runners came out, which was a new record for the event.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Want to go on a 4,300-mile run?

Seen a good running movie lately? Me neither.

Sure, there were the two Steve Prefontaine biopics in the '90s, the great Pre documentary "Fire on the Track," and, of course, "Chariots of Fire" -- which is now 28 years old. But beyond those flicks, there aren't many films runners can turn to for inspiration.

So it was so exciting to receive word this week that Charlotteans will get the opportunity to see "Running the Sahara" on the big screen; the feature-length documentary -- narrated by Matt Damon -- follows three ultramarathoners on their 111-day, 4,300-mile attempt to run across the African desert.

According to the synopsis, "their goal is to run through Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Libya, and Egypt, anticipating two marathons per day, for eighty days ... without a day off." The documentary also calls attention to the clean water crisis in Africa (in fact, proceeds from the ticket sales for this event will benefit H20 Africa).

And the Charlotte event is more than just a screening: One of the runners in the film, North Carolina native Charlie Engle (pictured below), will be a featured guest at the one-night-only engagement at Ballantyne Village Theatre on April 30.

Here are the details:

WHEN: Thursday, April 30. Screening begins at 7:45 p.m.; a live Q&A with Engle will follow the screening.

WHERE: Ballantyne Village Theatre, 14815 John J. Delaney Drive.

TICKETS: General admission is $18, and includes the screening, the Q&A and concession specials. $35 VIP passes add a pre-screening reception (at 7 p.m.) and a gift bag with a DVD of the film. To purchase tickets, click here.

For more information on the film, click here.

Know of a great running movie? Share it. Would love a recommendation for Friday night, to get me psyched up for Charlotte RaceFest!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

RaceFest has steep hills, free beer

I was hoping to get this up earlier, but I'm just glad to get them up at all: A few bits of news and notes from Neil Howard, one of the organizers of Saturday's Charlotte RaceFest:

Q. How many runners are registered?
A. At 2,000 right now and could get to 2,500 [by Saturday] ...

Q. I hear from veterans that the course is hilly. True?
A. First part is pretty flat, with a big hill at 10.5 [for half-marathoners] and another one -- not so big -- right before the finish. So the strategy is to make sure to have enough for that hill. There are six aid stations with Gatorade and water. [For a peek at the route, go to the RaceFest site and click on "Course Map."]

Q. Post-race beers: Free?
A. Beer is free for runners (there'll be eight kegs of Michelob Ultra and Michelob Ultra Amber), and we'll have a live band as usual. There also will be oranges and bananas at finish line, as well as water and Gatorade.

Remember: You can still register for the 10K ($40) or the half-marathon ($50), but only in-person -- either from 3-9 p.m. Friday or from 6-7:45 a.m. on race day, at the Doubletree hotel at SouthPark, 6300 Morrison Blvd.

Forecast is for 52 degrees and sunny at the 8 a.m. start. Hope to see you out there!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

And we're off to the races ...

News and notes about upcoming events:

  • One of the city's biggest annual races, Charlotte RaceFest at SouthPark, is this Saturday. Last year, 800-plus runners finished the 10K, and more than 1,100 completed the half-marathon. Online registration for 2009 is closed, but you can register in person from 3-9 p.m. Friday at the Doubletree hotel in SouthPark (6300 Morrison Blvd.). Cost in $40 for the 10K, $50 for the half. I hear the RaceFest course is challenging (i.e. hilly), with a big climb at the end. The weather Saturday is forecast to be mostly sunny, with a high near 75.
  • The Marine Corps Marathon, arguably the most popular 26.2-miler among casual and first-time marathoners, has almost reached its capacity of 30,000 registered runners (98 percent full at last check). Race day is Oct. 25. D.C. is 6.5 hours from here, but I know about a dozen people who've run it before and the consensus is that it's well worth the trip. If I weren't trying to get into New York, I'd be all over this.
  • The Morrison YMCA in Ballantyne, which puts on an annual 5K, just announced that it is adding a 10K as well as a post-race Fun Run for families this year. Race day is Saturday, May 16. Register online at, or in person at any Run for Your Life store (or at the Morrison Y).
I'm in for the half at RaceFest, and I'm also registered for the Right Moves for Youth Twilight 5K on the evening of May 8 (7 p.m. start uptown!) and the Tri-Latta Triathlon in June (my first tri!).

What do you guys have on your race card this spring?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Keeping track of your mileage

Want to calculate how far you've just run? Here are three very different methods for getting the job done:

1. Do it the old-school way: Get in your car. Drive to the starting point. Reset the trip odometer to zero. Traverse your route. Note mileage at finish point. Realize you've wasted gas. After all, why drive when you can ...

2. Just hop online: Simplest no-frills site is Google Maps, which has a distance measurement tool that tallies mileage as you click out your route on its street maps. Similar software drives sites like (which I've used) and Favorite Run (which was recommended by reader Greg Frampton); both let you keep a log of your daily/weekly mileage, save favorite routes, track calories burned, and more.

3. Make an investment: If you're no longer a beginner and are starting to get serious about training -- maybe you've signed up for your first half-marathon, maybe you're on your second pair of $100-plus shoes -- you might want to consider a GPS watch. They use the same receivers as car navigation systems to pinpoint your location down to a few feet, giving you extremely accurate readings of distances covered. And because satellites are tracking your every move, a GPS watch can also tell you how fast (or how slow) you're running. They can even record changes in elevation.

I'd recommend Garmin's Forerunner 305; retail is $300 (available at Dick's Sporting Goods, REI and other stores around town), but Amazon's got it for $175. Once you run with a good GPS watch, you'll never run without it.

Now, all this said, there's a caveat ... and that is ... don't get too obsessed with how many miles you're running, especially if you're just getting started. Just get out there and try to keep moving for 20 to 30 minutes a day (or every other day even), whether you're running, jogging, or just taking a brisk walk with a few jogs mixed in. Trust me -- there'll be plenty of time to obsess over your mileage later.

Do you keep track of your mileage? Got any other tips?

Monday, April 13, 2009

On my mark, get set ...

I started running seven months ago. And while I'd love to be able to say I had some compelling backstory -- like that I have an artificial limb, or that I weighed 250 pounds and my doctor said, "Get fit or die" -- I can't.

In fact, my story is about as ordinary as it gets: I was about to turn 35, and I realized it'd been about a decade and a half since I'd done physical activity on a truly regular basis (no, I don't count 60 minutes of co-ed softball once a week for a couple months a year).

The good news is that I still have the metabolism of a hummingbird. I'm 5-foot-7ish, and have never carried more than 155 pounds on my frame despite the sedentary lifestyle and a pretty unbalanced diet (my idea of the perfect meal is beef jerky with a side of Jelly Belly candy).

I also was blessed with natural speed -- rarely used, but notable enough that I often find myself at the top of the order on my softball teams because the guys in the 2, 3 and 4 spots know my legs can help them pad their RBI totals.

So ... while I almost died of exhaustion after running less than a mile my first day out, within two months I was managing 25-minute 5Ks. In February, I broke 23 minutes in a Dilworth race. In March, I breezed to a 1:47:39 in a half marathon in Atlanta. Earlier this month, I applied for the New York City Marathon.

Anyway, my hope is that this blog will serve a variety of purposes. But mainly, I plan to:

1. Spread the word about interesting races in our city and our region.

2. Provide tips. About the best places to run in and around Charlotte. About great deals on shoes and gear. About cool stories or features on running-related Web sites.

3. Offer helpful solutions for common (and uncommon) problems, with assistance from local experts whenever and wherever I can get it.

4. Give N.C. runners a place to share. Because even though you might not have an artificial limb, even though you might not have a weight problem your physician thinks could be fatal, if you run, you're welcome.

Hope to see you around, whether it's on the blog or out on the road.