Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Go ahead, give it one more tri in '09

The final race in the TrySports Triathlon Development Series will take place at 7:30 a.m. this Sunday at the NOMAD Aquatic Center in Huntersville. It's a sprint tri -- 250 yards in the pool, 10 miles on a hilly bike course, then a hilly 5K.

According to the race site, a whopping 622 athletes are signed up, with 178 open spots remaining. Beneficiary is Garrett's Wings (details here), "a non-profit creating communities of comfort and non-medical care for families caring for a terminally-ill child." Registration is currently $75, plus $10 more if you're not a USAT member. The race tees are long-sleeved technical shirts.

There's also a pre-race pasta dinner at Harris Road Middle School that sounds pretty cool: It begins at 5 p.m. this Saturday, and features keynote speaker, Sheila Taormina, who won a gold medal in the 4x200 freestyle relay at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. She also competed in the 2000 and 2004 Olympic triathlons, and at the 2008 Beijing Games (in the modern pentathlon).

Proceeds from the dinner will benefit the Batten Disease Support & Research Association (details here). Cost is $15 in advance ($10 for ages 3-12) or $20 at the door. Pre-registration page is here. The pasta dinner is open to everyone, not just Take Flight athletes.

Also worth noting: Organizers are offering a "Race for Free" program for athletes willing to go the extra mile for Garrett's Wings -- here's how it works:

  1. Sign up to fundraise by clicking here.
  2. Raise a minimum of $150 to qualify for free entry; there are additional rewards for reaching greater fundraising goals.
  3. If you don't already have a Set Up Events profile, create one here.
  4. Send the following information to info@garrettswings.org: Set Up Events profile name, date of birth, and shirt size.

If you have already registered for the Take Flight Triathlon, or if you register but don't hit your fundraising goal until after Sunday, you'll gain free entry into the 2010 race.

I'll be there, so say "hey" if you see me...

Odds + ends for my running friends

A few interesting nuggets to pass along on this gorgeous fall day:

Run For Your Life in Dilworth is kicking boys to the curb and hosting a women-only "Diva Night" next Monday, Oct. 5, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Enter to win raffle prizes (including a yoga gift certificate and wine); enjoy pizza from Luigi's (winner of The Observer's 2009 Pizza Tournament); and be pampered by a variety of professionals, from a massage therapist and an acupuncturist to a Mary Kay representative and a Moving Comfort representative (who'll fit guests for sports bras). The store is at 2422 Park Road. For more info or to reserve a spot, call 704-358-0713.

Some of you may recall the piece I did in May on Sue Falco, the colorectal cancer survivor who is trying to establish a Get Your Rear in Gear race in Charlotte (there are already events in several other U.S. cities, including Raleigh). Well, after a few months, she and her race committee have come up with a sponsor and an agreement with Queen City Timing ... but they now need an experienced race director. If you are one (or know of one), please contact her at sue.falco@yahoo.com.

Jason Ackiss, the visually impaired runner who I profiled last week, sent me a brief e-mail Monday following up on his Hit the Brixx experience Saturday: "50:13 was my time, which was an 8:08 average. That last hill got me. I pulled my hamstring over the summer, so only trained for this race about six or seven weeks. We didn’t get hardly any hill workouts in preparation for this, and it showed. All in all, not bad. I am pleased with my results."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Race for the Cure keeps thinking BIG

Uptown Charlotte becomes a sea on pink on Saturday morning, when the 13th annual Komen Charlotte Race for the Cure sends thousands of runners and walkers down Tryon Street in the name of the cause.

I caught up with race chair Dena Deiger today to get info about the new event site and course, their plans for dealing with possible record crowds, and the special survivor-related happenings on tap.

Q. What's the record number of participants for the Charlotte event, and what are you guys looking at numbers-wise for Saturday?

Dena Deiger: We had 14,200 there last year, which was our record. We hope to have 15,000 this year – we need all the help we can to get to reach that number. ... There will be 800-plus survivors (running or walking).

Q. Tell me about the new course -- which starts and finishes in the heart of uptown -- compared with the old one, which started in Gateway Village. Why the change?

Dena: We have changed the course due to the communities’ support of this great cause. We had to move the expo and ceremony because we were outgrowing the Gateway Village area. In the offseason, we met with members of the city to determine where we could move the race and “grow into an area.” We chose this area because eventually the one parking lot will be a great park (Romare Bearden, in Third Ward) that will accommodate events like ours. In addition, we wanted to get a start line that was wider than two lanes. Although I don’t run often, I have done my best to educate myself on what makes a good 5K. One of those items is having a wide start line, along with not making too much of the course an out-and-back route, to help “thin” the crowd. I haven’t run it – nor do I think your fans would like to see that sight right now. I can tell you it has some points of interest along the way – the new museum and theater at the Duke campus on Tryon Street and the Panthers Stadium, to name a few.

Q. I haven't run it either, but we can see from the map that the start and finish set up several blocks apart. This just easier logistically because of the size of the crowds?

That is correct. We tried to flow out one side of the expo/stage and funnel back in the other. In addition, we are trying to get all participants across the start line as quickly as possible and not overlap the course in too many areas.

Q. Speaking of the crowds ... do you ever get complaints about congestion in the races? Last year, I heard from people who'd hoped to run the non-competitive event but were disappointed because the sheer volume of walkers made it a frustrating stop-and-go affair. As for the competitive 5K, I felt like runners did not line up as smartly as they do at other races (i.e. faster to the front, slower to the back).

We tried to alleviate the congestion with a three-lane start this year and the fourth lane open next year when the Duke building is done. We also hope that there will be enough room on the course (wider until Third/Fourth Street) that people will be able to get through the crowd. We do tell people that walkers should stay toward the back … we will make sure to make that announcement again.

Q. And because of the sheer size of the race ... in your opinion, should runners view this as a great cause and a shared experience first, and a race second?

Yes, especially because we hope to continue to grow this race over the years to fund finding a cure, it would be hard to say this is a race first … unless you consider this a race against time to find a cure. As you will see this year, we have taken into account competitive runner feedback to create a better experience for them.

Q. Also, considering the number of participants, how early should runners plan to arrive in order to have plenty of time to park, get their packets and/or chips, etc.?

The competitive runners go off at 7:25. If you are a competitive runner, you should have received your ChampionChip and your bib. Therefore, you will not have to pick it up. I would park outside the areas of the race or take the LYNX this year. I would suggest the runners get there 30 minutes early to find their way around.

Q. In what ways will runners be able to show their support for survivors in their lives, or honor loved ones who've lives were taken by the disease?

Many have formed teams and will be wearing their own personal team T-shirts. There will also be pink back signs ("In Memory of" and "In Celebration of") ... anyone can write their loved one's name on it, and safety-pin it to their shirt.

Q. What types of special ceremonies or activities are planned for survivors and/or others affected by breast cancer?

To start off the morning, there is a survivor village area where breakfast is available, and there will be a group survivor photo at 7:20 in survivor village. New this year, each survivor will get a ChampionChip to wear, and as they cross the finish line, their name will be recognized as a survivor. There will be a survivor recognition ceremony around 9 a.m., following the awards portion of our ceremony. All the survivors come up based on their number of years of survivorship, we will read a poem, have a moment of silence, and then let them release their balloons. The number of balloons each survivor is holding is based on the number of years they have been a survivor. This year, we made the switch to environmentally-friendly balloons and string!

Q. How much money does the Charlotte affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure hope to award this year, and how will the funds be used?

The Charlotte affiliate hopes to award $1 million in local grants. The grants cover education, screening, diagnostic treatment for women and men in our nine county service areas. In addition, 25 percent of the gross annual income of our affiliate funds research on a national level.

Q. Anything else you want to add?

I just want to thank all those that are participating and volunteering this year to make it a great experience for all. Hundreds of people volunteer their time to make this a successful race. As you all know, money is a lot tighter for people these days, but we must remember that breast cancer doesn’t care about that. It is more important now to raise funds to educate and fund mammograms and care for people that have to choose between buying food for their children, or visiting a doctor because they feel a lump.

* * *

Register for the Race for the Cure through Friday at the Komen Charlotte Web site. Through Friday, it's $30 for the noncompetitive run/walk and $35 for the timed/competitive 5K. There is no race-day registration available for the competitive 5K. All the details about the race and related events are here.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

'Hilly' Brixx race a Hit with runners

In the days and hours leading up to Run For Your Life's Hit the Brixx 10K and 5K races, runners seemed to be worried about two things: 1) Would it rain? ... and 2) Would the hills prove as tough as they were rumored to be?

The answers:

1) There was precipitation Saturday morning, but unless you were concentrating really hard, it wasn't noticeable. If anything, the thin mist helped make the 64-degree start actually feel like 64 degrees. Pretty cool, literally and figuratively.

2) The hills? Hmm. It depends on who you ask. Let's come back to that.

Now, if you took a pass on Hit the Brixx, you missed a pretty great event. Generally very well-organized, with the lure of all-you-can-eat pizza and pasta, plus a couple of free micro-brewed beers (good-sized ones, at that).

The thing that really makes HtB unique, though, is the staggered start times for the 10K and the 5K. With 80 minutes between starts, it was easy for 10Kers to finish in time to do the 5K. It also allowed 10Kers who didn't double up to be there to cheer for friends kicking to the finish in the 5K (i.e., if the races were run simultaneously, 10Kers would still be running when 5Kers crossed).

In all, more than 800 people ran the 10K, versus about 475 who did the 5K -- and if you keep an eye on the local race calendar closely, you're probably aware that the longer distance is so popular because it's rarely offered in the Charlotte area.

Anyway, about that course: Race director Ashleigh Lawrence of Run For Your Life earlier this week rated the 10K route an 8 on a 1-to-10 difficulty scale. I might not have rated it quite that high ... BUT ... it was certainly no walk in the park. And I thought a good bit of the challenge was negotiating all the turns. By my count, there were 18 over 6.2 miles, and since courses (correct me if I'm wrong) are certified based on the insides of turns, runners who took them wide probably wound up adding some distance.

As for those hills ... maybe it's all about expectations. I never got a chance to pre-run the course, but I'd heard from several people who had, and most warned of the climb in the final miles. So I planned for the worst, frankly.

That meant holding back early and hanging for two miles with a friend, ticking off a 7:30 then an 8:03. After the second marker, I turned it up and did a 6:53 for Mile 3. Then I backed off a little again (7:06 for Mile 4, 7:11 for Mile 5) in anticipation of a tough finish. But I felt like the only truly challenging climb was that steep riser in the homestretch on Seventh, right before the left onto Caldwell (a few blocks from the finish). In fact, I covered the sixth mile in 6:48 -- my fastest of the day including the 5K I did later. Crossed with a chip time of 45:24, a PR by more than two minutes.

But don't take my word for it, necessarily. Caitlin Chrisman, who smoked me (and almost everyone else -- she was the top overall female finisher in 37:27), had a different viewpoint: "The course was pretty rough, with the first mile blazing fast due to the downhill and the last 2.5 miles an ugly incline that seemed to get steeper as each second ticked away on the clock."

And Billy Shue, who finished in 36:36 and placed eighth overall, said: "I felt very prepared for the uphills with the training I've been doing, but they were still challenging."

Meanwhile, late this morning I heard from a reader who said they "didn't notice any hills." "I tried to pace myself the first half so I could be a little more ready for them the second half. The next thing I knew, the race was over. What happened to the hills that this race is supposedly known for??"

I'm not positive, but I believe this reader finished in over an hour. So my best guess then is that maybe the "elites" -- hey, they're elites to me -- are just big babies. (I'm TOTALLY kidding, guys -- haha :) ... . But seriously, I'm interested to hear other feedback, so please comment if you have thoughts.

Other random things worth noting about Hit the Brixx:
  • I received several minor complaints, particularly from front-runners, about how it could have been clearer when and where to turn at points. The consensus: Arrows or markers of some kind would have helped.
  • Another common complaint regarded the lack of water stations. Unless I'm wrong, there was only one, somewhere between about 2.5 and 3.5 miles. There should have been at least two places for runners to re-hydrate.
  • No complaints, meanwhile, about the beer: Carolina Blonde, spiced with pumpkin, in generously sized cups. Runners were allowed two apiece. And the pizza and pasta lines, which spilled out of the uptown Brixx location, moved reasonably well. Pasta was decent; the pizza itself was not the chain's best effort -- but then, Brixx doesn't typically have to deal with crowds this big, so I don't blame them for making what was easiest.
  • There was also a lot of love for the Snickers Marathon bars being passed out near the finish line (volunteers at that booth weren't being stingy, either -- one of them handed a friend of mine four).
  • Updates on a couple runners I've profiled recently: Kevin Collins, the Ironman who has agreed to run multiple races in a cheetah-print running skirt, finished the 10K in 59:09. And Jason Ackiss, the visually impaired runner who's training for a half-marathon, knocked out the same race in 50:13. Well done, guys.
  • Other notable 10K performances by friends of the blog: Jay Holder celebrated his 26th birthday with a 34:39, good for fourth overall. Twelve-year-old Alana Hadley was the second-fastest female (38:08), and Danielle Walther was the fourth. Bill Shires won the men's masters title in 35:39. And two guys I did part of a long run with just last week -- Mark Cox and Eric Reiner -- finished third in the male masters division and first in the men's clydesdale division, respectively (times: 37:04 and 41:01). Complete 10K results here.
  • Other notable 5K performances by friends of the blog: Rebecca Thomason, in her first race since coming back from a stress fracture in her foot, won the women's overall in 19:19. Shue, perhaps the most improved runner in Charlotte in 2009, ran a 17:47 to finish as the second overall male. And a regular training buddy of mine, Tim Friederichs, was the top male masters runner in 19:12. Complete 5K results here.
  • I also PR'd in the 5K, with a 21:22. So I think my new plan is to warm up for every 5K with 6.2 miles at a 10K pace!
So how'd it go for you?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Matthews man just 'running in the dark'

For Jason Ackiss, the Hit the Brixx 10K isn't about the free pizza, or the free beer. He's not stressing out over the challenges that the hilly final mile might present.

No, the 33-year-old Bank of America project manager is viewing Saturday's race quite simply as an opportunity to see how fast and efficiently he can cover 6.2 miles -- while moving among a massive crowd of runners who he won't be able to see.

Ackiss, who is blind in both eyes, ran his first 5K earlier this year with a guide, and is using Hit the Brixx as a tune-up for the Dowd YMCA Half-Marathon on Nov. 7. He lives in Matthews with his wife of eight years; she is also blind, but their 2-year-old son has perfect vision. They have two Seeing Eye dogs, neither of which run with Ackiss. ("Seeing Eye dogs are trained to help me navigate while walking," he says. "Running would be asking too much of them.")

I caught up with him this week to get his story. It's a good one.

Q. Can you talk to me a little bit about the extent of your visual impairment?

Jason: I have very little light perception now, so in essence, I am totally blind. I had enough vision to read the chalkboard and textbooks in school until the fourth grade. I did have to sit at the front of the classroom, so I never had perfect vision. After fourth grade, I could read large-print books, but was told that my vision would most likely eventually completely go away. I learned Braille in the event I did lose all of my sight. It stayed "as is" until my last semester of college, when it began to slowly deteriorate. Over the next three years, it was lost completely. So – I have been essentially totally blind for about seven years.

Q. How long have you been running, and what prompted you to start?
I ran track in high school, but did not run after graduation. I had a treadmill that I used for exercise (just walking), but I never ran on it. What actually prompted me was a cross-country skiing trip my wife and I took. I got out of breath while skiing, and that frustrated me. I also had put on some weight since I got married, so … I began to run. I have been running for about 2½ years now.

Q. I'm told you just started running with a guide this year. What are some of the challenges of running on a treadmill versus running with a guide?

Running on a treadmill is fairly safe. The one I have has the arms on the sides, so I would just hold onto them. This worked great while walking, but wasn’t ideal for running. My form wasn’t too good because I had to hold on, so my body was tense while running. ... Running with a guide is much easier because I can use a natural running motion. There is also the added motivation of having someone to run with, which seems to make the time and distance go by more quickly. My guide simply tells me when there are changes in pavement, dips in the path, when turns are coming, etc.

Q. How has running with a guide changed your perspective on running?

Running with a guide has been more rewarding than I thought it would be. I felt like I would love it, and had set some goals for myself. There is some aspect of obtaining the freedom of running without fear of running into things – being serious there, not trying to be funny. Anyone who has run consistently knows how it gets in your blood. Well, I quickly reached that level. If I do not run, my body just feels out of whack, which in turn just messes up everything else. I pulled my hamstring this summer, so wasn’t able to run for about six weeks. I wasn’t clinically depressed, but was just off. Know what I mean? All that is a very wordy way to say that running with a guide has been very rewarding. My treadmill just wasn’t cutting it any longer.

Q. Tell me a little bit about your guide.

My guide is David Large, who is a barber in Matthews. I have been going to him to get my hair cut for about two years. Somehow, running came up in a conversation one day. Dave has been running for about 25 years and has competed in many marathons, most recently the Boston Marathon in April. I mentioned to him that I was interested in finding someone to guide me while running, and he said he was interested. After he got back from Boston, we started up. He is good for me to run with because he is faster than I’ll ever be and he has run more races than I’ll ever run. I will never have to worry about running too fast for him or running farther than he can. As a result of his experience, he is able to help me to increase my times and distances.

Q. Do you have a goal for Hit the Brixx?

There are two things I’m looking for. Number one, we’re targeting eight-minute miles. Number two, we are also using this weekend’s race to prep for the [Dowd YMCA] half-marathon in November. Since Dave and I have never run a race together, we wanted to get one under our belt before my big goal for the year, which is the half. We want to get comfortable with moving in and out of crowds of runners, as well as getting to and holding a pace.

Q. What are your long-term running goals?

After [the Brixx and the Dowd races], who knows? At the very least, I want to keep running as it is now a part of my routine. Knowing how I am put together, though, I expect I will continue to enter races and try improving on my times.

Q. Do you acknowledge that you might be a source of inspiration to others, and do you feel comfortable in that role?

I do realize that I may be looked upon as a source of inspiration to others. I am fine with that. I think some people have a hard time imagining that a blind person can get out and run. I’m not sure if this is because they feel that a blind person physically CAN’T run, or if there is another preconceived notion they have. The only thing I’m doing differently than any other runner is running in the dark. We do our distance runs at McAlpine, and many mornings it is very dark when we start. Dave has confessed that he has closed his eyes before and ran for several strides. All he said was, "Wow." I haven’t quizzed him as to what exactly he meant by that. Anyway, I am fine with being looked upon as an inspiration. If my running gets someone who isn’t currently exercising off the couch and running, then that’s great.

Q. What's the best piece of advice you could give to other visually impaired people who would like to take up running but are afraid to try?

There are always treadmills available, so if you want to run, there is an opportunity. Starting off slowly is fine; I remember when I ran a mile without stopping for the first time since high school. I felt like I had accomplished something; and I had. Now I never run less than three miles at a time. If competitions aren’t your thing, then just run for your health. ... If treadmills aren’t your thing, then ask around, and I’m betting you could find someone who would be willing to run with you. ... Why not run? It gives you something to do and beats sitting at home all of the time.

Slight course changes for Hit the Brixx

Due to construction on Armory Drive near American Legion Memorial Stadium (next to CPCC), Run For Your Life this week made some alterations to both the 10K and 5K layouts.

Click here to see the current official 10K map, and here for the 5K route. Changes are pretty minor, and won't affect the lengths of either course.

See ya out there Saturday, and good luck!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

And we're off to the races...

Hit the Brixx may be the big race in the area this weekend, but it's not the only race in the area. Here's what else is on tap:

1st Annual Catawba College Athletics 5K Run and Walk: Race starts at 9 a.m. Saturday on the Catawba campus at the Abernathy Gym on Yost Street. The first 100 runners get dri-fit shirts, and every participant gets a ticket to the Catawba/Mars Hill football game slated for that evening. All runners get food and drink from sponsors Chartwell’s and Cheerwine; the Catawba Chief’s Club is also a sponsor. Proceeds support Catawba College Athletic programs and Rowan Helping Ministries. The race is supported by the Salisbury Rowan Runners, Salisbury Parks and Recreation, and the City of Salisbury. Race fee is $20 through today, $25 thereafter. Details: Craig Tunbull at 704-637-4475 or cturnbul@catawba.edu.

Bradfield Farms 1st Annual Sprint Triathlon: This one should appeal to budget-minded triathletes: Registration is just $10! It's taking place in the Bradfield Farms neighborhood off I-485 in the Reedy Creek/Harrisburg area, and will cover sprint distances (500-meter pool swim, 12.5-mile bike, 5K run). Race starts at 8 a.m. Saturday. There's also a "Mini Triathlon" for kids 13 and younger that costs only $5 and has distances of 100 meters in the water, three miles on the bike, and one mile on foot. Sign-up sheets are available on the Bradfield Farms Web site (click here) or by e-mailing Enos at kellirealty@yahoo.com.

Salem Lake Trail Runs: According the the Web site for these Winston-Salem races, "the 30K course is a flat and scenic course beginning and ending at Salem Lake -- five-plus miles on asphalt Greenway, 13.5 miles on hard packed dirt around Salem Lake. ... The 10K course is point-to-point on a hard-packed dirt trail around Salem Lake. Nearly all 6.21 miles are on hard-packed trails." The 30K is reportedly a terrific tune-up race for fall marathoners. Start is at 8 a.m. Saturday. Cost is $25, or $30 on race day. A portion of the proceeds will go to support the trails and facilities at Salem Lake.

If you're more up for spectating this weekend than competing, consider the ITU Duathlon World Championships, set for Thursday through Sunday in Concord. The USA Triathlon event will feature more than 750 age group competitors and 150 elites racing on a 10K run/40K bike/5K run course in and around Lowe's Motor Speedway. See site for details.

Also, don't forget Amy Peacock's One Day ChiRunning Workshop, where she'll teach you everything you'd ever want to know about the style designed to help make running more effortless (and promises to make runners less prone to injury). The daylong session is set for Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 1115 E. Morehead St. Cost is $175.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Run a race, then stuff your face

If the organizers of the Hit the Brixx 10K/5K are trying to suck up to runners, well, they're doing an awfully good job.

Reasons to love it: The gun for the 5K doesn't go off till 9 a.m., making it one of the most humane annual 3.1-mile races for Charlotteans who have trouble getting up early on a Saturday. The event offers runners who love a good challenge the opportunity to take on both a 10K and a 5K back-to-back. Then there's all that free pizza and beer – and, of course, it's not just any pizza ...

This morning, race director Ashleigh Lawrence of Run For Your Life gave me the latest scoop on the wonderfully unique/uniquely wonderful Hit the Brixx races, set for this Saturday at Brixx Wood Fired Pizza (225 E. Sixth St.) in uptown.

Q. Sorry to cut right to the chase, but how does the free pizza and beer work??

Haha -- that is the important part, right? There will be a buffet inside of Brixx pizza at the end of the race in which runners, with their bibs, will get into for free. Family and friends can get in for $5. In the past, Brixx has provided various pizzas – all signature dishes – as well as pastas. There isn’t a limit on the food; however, there is a limit on the beer, which will be set up outside of Brixx, similar to how runners have seen it at our past races – a beer truck with a tap right on the side! Each runner, age 21 or above, can receive two beers. Yummy Carolina Blonde!

Q. I've heard some people say they're worried there won't be much pizza and beer left after the 5K [which doesn't start till 9 a.m., 75 minutes after the start of the 10K]. Can you reassure them for me?

I can assure you that Brixx pizza does a great job of preparing their food for the expected number of participants. We do our best to predict how many runners will be there, how many of those runners will want to eat, how many of their friends and family members will eat, as well as how much they will each eat. As I’m sure you can imagine, we can’t predict it exactly. But Brixx does a FANTASTIC job of keeping up – as the supply gets low, they throw more in the oven! Runners shouldn’t worry about getting food!

Q. How many runners are you guys expecting?

Our numbers have really been growing for all of our races, not just Grand Prix. Because of that, we are looking at an 1,800 person event. That’s 1,800 between the 10K, 5K and the Fun Run.

Q. Are more people signed up for the 10 or for the 5?

As of right now, it’s close to double for the 10K – however, the longer the distance, the more common early registration is. Many of the 5K participants will sign up later in the week. The trend in the past, though, is that about 55 percent do the 10K and 35 percent do the 5K. The other small percentage is made up of people that do both the 10K and the 5K, and Fun Run participants.

Q. So only the pretty hardcore runners do both, I would imagine.

Last year, we had 65 people out of a total of just over 1,500 sign up for both. It is a small percentage, but part of that reason is because in order to do both, you must finish the 10K in about an hour so you have time to transition to the start line again. For some, that’s cutting it close. Either way, those that do both seem to really enjoy the option and have a lot of fun with it! [Note: People doing both will use the same bib and the same chip, Lawrence says.]

Q. Can you rate the two courses for me, with 1 being the easiest and 10 being the hardest?

I would rate the 10K at about a 8. There are a lot of gradual hills that you don’t necessarily notice until you’ve been on them for a couple minutes, and then you’re like, “Wow.” The 5K I would rate about a 7 – but that’s partially because it’s a shorter distance, so it’s more manageable. For both races, it’s initially downhill, but then the final ¾ mile is tough uphill – especially on Seventh Street between McDowell and Davidson. Keep that in mind as you are coming around Park Drive and Armory.

Q. Lots of interest obviously in the free pizza and beer, but are there other cool perks or race amenities that runners would want to know about?

With this being a Grand Prix event, as always, we will have a ton of giveaways right before the awards ceremony – one-hour massages from Evolve Body Therapy, Carowinds tickets from PowerAde, Run For Your Life gift certifcates, etc. Another perk that is different from other races is that because of the two events, there are essentially twice as many awards to give out. So that increases some people’s chances of placing, which is always a nice change!

Q. Is there a charity that's a beneficiary of the race?

This race benefits supports Kids Path, a pediatric care program of Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region. This specialized program helps children and teens coping with long-term or life-threatening illnesses through services tailored specifically to them and their families’ needs, with the goal of helping them achieve a sense of normalcy during their illness. You can get more info here.

Q. And finally ... best place to park on Saturday morning?

I would recommend taking the light rail, to be honest. That way, runners don’t have to worry about dealing with traffic or road restrictions. Otherwise, area parking decks are open at prevailing rates – just be mindful that the closer you park to the start/finish line, the sooner you may need to be there because of road closures and restrictions!

* * *

The 10K starts at 7:45 a.m. Saturday ($25, or $35 on race day); the 5K starts at 9 a.m. ($20, or $30 on race day). Cost to do both is a steal: $30, or $40 on race day. 5K walkers head out at 9:05, then the Kids Fun Run is at 9:50. For more details, click here. To sign up, click here.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Odds + ends for my running friends

A few interesting nuggets to pass along before heading into the weekend:

One Blue Ridge Relay team's race ended in tragedy last weekend, when a runner abruptly bowed out of the race and was found dead -- of self-inflicted stab wounds -- a short time later. Click here and here to read local news reports. (Thanks, A.C., for the tip.)

Amy Peacock is leading a couple of upcoming workshops on ChiRunning, a method that proponents say helps prevent injury and fatigure. (Click here for my original introduction to Peacock and her philosophy.) Sessions will be held Sept. 26 and Oct. 24 at 1115 E. Morehead St. For more info or to register, click here.

If you're looking for a way to log and manage all of your training data online, check out RunningAHEAD.com. Free to use, it allows you to create and map running routes, generates route elevation profiles, can import data directly from your Garmin GPS watch, and displays your accomplishments on Facebook. (Thanks to A.H. for this one.)

Why is this man putting on a skirt?

For many Charlotte-area runners, the upcoming Hit the Brixx 5K will be remembered for all the free pizza and beer they enjoyed after crossing the finish line. But Kevin Collins will remember the Sept. 26 uptown race as the first one he ran while wearing a running skirt.

Believe it or not, it won't be the last. The 45-year-old financial analyst is promising to wear the skirt again -- in addition to sporting a mohawk -- at the Oct. 3
Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. And he's just getting warmed up.

I first learned about Collins thanks to Stacey Irwin, coordinator for the local chapter of
Team In Training (the largest fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society). She e-mailed me last month to report: "We have a coach who is doing something quite amazing, and potentially embarrassing, and I wanted to see if you would be interested in helping further his embarrassment for a good cause." (How could I not be??)

Collins is training for the
Ford Ironman Florida on Nov. 7 and also raising money for Team In Training through the Janus Charity Challenge program. He promised his friends, family and colleagues that if they helped him raise $7,500, he would run a local 5K and the run portion of the Ironman in a running skirt. At last count, Collins was at $8,500.

Q. How did this all start?

Kevin: I received an e-mail one morning at work about a co-worker’s son being diagnosed with leukemia. I didn’t know Brian Gray very well because he was in a different department, but we had traded e-mails once or twice. Still, you hate to hear anyone’s kid is sick and fighting a deadly disease. As it turns out, Brian and I were in the same continuing education class that morning. During the break, I approached Brian to ask how his son was and if he would let me help out. I learned a bit more about his sons Matt (4 years old) and Alex (2). I learned that Matt was diagnosed in August 2008 and received a bone marrow transplant from Alex before Thanksgiving of last year. I knew then I would be racing in honor of the Gray boys, if their parents would allow it. I told Brian a little bit about the volunteer work I did with TNT and how I wanted to help out. It was a go from then on.

Q. And so how did things get from there to the point where you were talking about rocking a funny haircut and women's clothing?

Kevin: The next day, I signed up for the Janus Charity Challenge through the Ironman Florida Web site. Since I have done so many fundraisers in the past -- TNT, 24 Hours of Booty, MS 150 -- I needed to come up with a plan to entice people to donate to my chosen cause once again. Plus, it’s a tough economy; so you have to give folks a little something for their effort. I certainly can’t promise I’ll be on the podium or guarantee anything to my donors. The only promises I can make are that I will give it my best shot and I can make you laugh in the process. So I told my family, friends, training partners, co-workers and anyone else that would listen: "If you help me reach $5,000, I will wear a mohawk as I taper during the three weeks leading up to the race. If you help me get to $7,500, not only will I wear a mohawk, I will wear a skirt during the marathon portion of the Ironman race." ... Right now, my fundraising total is at $7,728.

Q. So that made it a done deal, the mohawk and the skirt. For the Ironman. But then you decided you just couldn't wait to put on that skirt, huh?

Of course, you can’t try something new on race day. ... I’ll being wearing my brand new cheetah print skirt at Hit the Brixx 10K next weekend. The big haircut is the following week, when I’ll sport the mohawk and skirt at Race for the Cure.

Q. Meanwhile, you've put up even more challenges to potential donors, right?

If I make it to $10,000, I will dye the mohawk purple the week of the race and rock the skirt for an additional local race [like the Jingle Jog 5K in support of] Girls on the Run in December. If somehow the fundraising total reaches $14,060 -- which would be $100 for every mile of the Ironman -- well ... I’m open to suggestions.

Q. Funny business aside, how serious of an athlete are you?

At this point, I have completed two Ironman races out of the dozen of triathlons I’ve competed in. I’m usually in the middle of the pack. And a few years ago, I did the Chicago Marathon. I’m an average runner that prefers cycling and swimming, but I do run a couple of times a week. I just enjoy exercising, being healthy and challenging myself. ... Six years ago, I did the Latta Triathlon with Team In Training, and enjoyed it so much I came back for the Honolulu Triathlon. Then I became a fundraising captain while I was training for a century bike ride in Lake Tahoe. The following season, I was a mentor for the marathon team. And I’ve been a triathlon coach for three years; always as a volunteer like the rest of the coaches. This is my fifth time fundraising for TNT.

Q. Can I ask how little Matt is doing?

Matt Gray is doing great! His hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes have all grown back. He is on the road to becoming a regular little boy. The Grays are planning to meet me at Race for the Cure so I can get a picture of Matt with a smile and me in a skirt and mohawk. My family and friends have been asking for pictures ever since I hit the $7,500 mark.

Q. OK, tell me how can people help.

I’ll accept donations on my Web site [click
here] or at the race. I’ll have a little baggie to carry any checks made payable to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I’ll be the guy in the cheetah print skirt with the purple Team In Training tri jersey. I don’t think there will be two people dressed the same way.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Run Like a Girl... plus... run naked!

A couple races set for this Saturday that I've been meaning to tell you about. (Better late than never, right?)

First is the for-women-only Run Like a Girl 8K, to be held out at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in West Charlotte. The five-mile run/jog/walk will benefit the HERA Women's Cancer Foundation (which focuses on ovarian cancer), "as well as encourage you to become or continue to be active," the Web site says.

One heads-up: The site also mentions the course consists of "gentle paths and trails," but a WWC source of mine cautions that "the trail run is pretty rough ... since it is a trail with roots, rugged ground, etc." This is not to scare anybody off -- just to make you aware that it ain't necessarily a PR course. But it's a great, great cause, so even if you have to walk parts (or all), consider it.

Start time for the 8K is 9 a.m., and it's preceded by a 1-mile girls-only Run Like a Kid event at 8:15. As the trails are narrow in parts, 8Kers will be sent out in five waves, three to five minutes apart. Cost is $10 for kids, $30 for women. Race page is here.

* * *

And then there's the Sunbare Whispers 5K Run & Walk. I'll just leave this one to the reader who e-mailed me the tip last week:

"Here's an offbeat race for you to add to the calendar coming up on Sept. 19 [this Saturday]. When we discovered a flyer for the race at the Wachovia Health and Fitness Center on W.T. Harris Boulevard yesterday, we couldn't help but laugh and crack jokes like a bunch of 12-year-olds."

Click HERE for details on this event, for which you definitely will NOT have to dress to impress.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Another letter to the blogger


Not sure if you are being sarcastic about your comment ("Haven't been able to solve the mystery of 'Why No Races on Sunday?'"; see entry here), but pretty obvious to me why all races in this town are on Saturday.

There is this guy (or maybe gal..:) ) called GOD. Have you ever tried to drive down Providence road on a Sunday around 9 a.m.? It is pretty much impossible, especially as you get into Myers Park. Churchgoing folks are everywhere, parked on the road and in spots that during the week day are illegal.

Since you moved here, how many folks have asked you what church you go to? I was NEVER asked this question [up north], but it comes up every couple of months here when I meet someone new.

I don't think any race director could successfully pull off a Sunday race here, especially since you have to secure the police. Also, during football season, this town is not big enough for some other event and a Panthers game ... however ... if the team keeps playing like it did Sunday, maybe that will change.



A letter to the blogger


I was looking at the course for the Hit the Brixx 5K and 10K. Both run significantly downhill for the first half and then return uphill for the second half. I realize it's tough to set up a course downtown that doesn’t involve hills, but as a casual 5K runner (i.e. I run in the 25-27 minute range for 5Ks), these setups don't seem to be a whole lot of fun.

I drove this route yesterday and it's going to be a very long uphill climb from the halfway point to the finish. I don't mean to be whining, but this makes me really debate whether I want to run this race. Do other readers feel the same way or am I the only one?


Race for the Cure changes course

Got a few bits of news to share about the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure set for uptown Charlotte on Saturday, Oct. 3.

The biggest change for 2009 is a new location: The start line -- at Gateway last year -- has been moved to South Tryon Street between First and Third streets; the finish line will be at West Fourth Street between South Mint and South Graham streets. (Race officials reportedly had to flip-flop the start and finish lines last week due to street closures, and are still in the process of re-certifying the course. The route should be finalized in the next week.) For an event site map, click here.

Other important information ...

... for competitive runners: Timing will be recorded using the disposable Championchip system. Your chip will be attached to your bib in your white race bag. The chip must be brought on race day; replacement chips will not be issued if you forget it at home.

... for survivors: Organizers want to make sure every Survivor is recognized on race day. In order to make this possible, you will need to wear the chip provided (find it attached to your pink Survivor bib in your white race bag) so that the computer at the finish line will display your name for the announcer to see.

Race day schedule:
6:30 a.m.: Registration and Packet Pick up
7:15 a.m.: Aerobic Warm Up
7:20 a.m.: Survivor Photo in Survivor Village
7:25 a.m.: Competitive 5K Run at the Start Line
7:55 a.m.: Non-Competitive 5K at the Start Line
8:30 a.m.: 1 Mile Fun Run or Walk at the Start Line
8:30 a.m.: Komen Kids 50 Yard Dash
9 a.m.: Survivor Ceremony at Survivor Village

Parking lots in uptown will be available for runners and guests. Visit http://www.komencharlotte.org/ at the end of September for lot locations. Organizers also recommend the use of the Charlotte LYNX system. For schedules and information, click here.

Register for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure online until 12 a.m. Friday, Oct. 2: http://www.komencharlotte.org/. If you'd like to register in person, click here for information on when and where to pre-register.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Wondering how that BRR team did?

Last week, I profiled a Blue Ridge Relay team consisting of 12 Charlotte-area runners. (Read that blog entry here.)

Gov. Sanford's Search Team didn't put up an amazing time at the 211-mile event, finishing 93rd out of 106 teams in 34 hours, 31 minutes, 53 seconds. And yet -- having had more than a day to recover from the grueling trek from Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia to Asheville -- it was clear they experienced an amazing race.

In an e-mail this afternoon, team member Alyson Vaughan wrote:

"It was a blast! We didn't make it in the 30:00:00 we had hoped for. But we did meet all of our other goals!

Right after the blog post we did find our 12th runner – a friend who flew in from Baton Rouge at the last minute. He did awesome, which was amazing given that there are NO hills in Baton Rouge!

Then we nearly lost another runner the day before the race to a bad cold. He was assigned to our longest legs, so it would have been a huge obstacle to overcome. But he rallied and joined us on Friday, and did a great job, including a 10-mile run up Grandfather Mountain! So props to Chris Murray for that!

All six of us in Van 2 were BRR 'newbies,' and all of us would consider doing it again – although I don’t think I’m 100 percent ready to commit just yet! To me the biggest challenge was figuring out when to eat and sleep. I was always so worried about how
I would feel in my next run, I didn't eat or sleep nearly enough. By the end of my second run, I was running +1:00/mile off pace and was so exhausted I ended up crashing for four hours, woke up, ate a pancake breakfast and drank a Diet Coke. My third run felt great after that! Who knew.

The other teams – many from Charlotte – were all very supportive of one another. Even though you really felt like you were running alone at times (kind of scary at 1 a.m.!), every so often you’d come across another runner on your leg, or get passed by another team’s van, shouting words of encouragement!"

Added team captain Amy Cobb: "We were close to the last team. It took us about 34 hours. Basically a 9:45 pace overall. But I don’t think that changed anyone’s opinion that it was a blast."

From left: Maggie Marie Dougherty, Amy Rebecca Cobb, Alyson Wheelahan Vaughan, Marc Shomber, Lynne Warholic Collins, James Rivenbark, Scott Lundgren, Geni Mezinskis, Charlie Haltiwanger, Joanna Dougherty, Chris Murray, Shashi Bathula.

Great Urban Race lived up to its name

Passing along an e-mail I got today from reader John Speight about his experience at the Great Urban Race, held Saturday in uptown Charlotte:

"You missed a truly great race on Saturday. After your second blog about the Great Urban Race, a look at its Web site, and some family encouragement, my son and I decided to participate as a team in celebration of our birthdays this week. (He turned 16 Sunday, and I turn 42 next Monday.)

"There were around 125 teams participating. There were teams dressed for speed and in it to win, teams just looking for a great time, and teams looking to win the costume contest.

"A team dressed as Ghostbusters won the latter, with outfits that looked like they came from the movie set. A close second were the urban cowboy -- complete with leather chaps, vest and red Speedo -- and his partner the macho biker, a la The Village People. Imagine the uproar when the Speedo strolled into Independence Park to complete a clue challenge amongst the Elizabeth Traditional Elementary School Fall Festival!

"The clues ranged from easy to challenging, even involving the Observer twice. Clue No. 4 was hidden in the real estate classified section of Saturday's paper and Clue No. 11 was an encrypted message that required teams to have their picture taken next to the oversized front page declaring Elvis' death across the street from the Observer building.

"Teams got all 12 clues at once, so we had to solve them to plot the most efficient course of travel. Our course went just under eight miles and led us from Seventh and Tryon streets uptown to Elizabeth, over to Metropolitan in midtown), up Morehead (finally got to run up the hill we missed at the Blue Points 5K), around the stadium, through the park on The Green, The Square, over to First Ward, and back to Seventh and Tryon. We did it in 2 hours and 15 minutes; the winners -- 'Samantha & Stace' -- did it in 1:50.

"We placed 13th overall and took top honors in the Family Division. (Family teams had to have a member under 18.) A total blast and what a birthday memory. One of the greatest father-son days ever had. Exertion, logistics, focus, endurance and fun. Hard to top.

"Our top 25 finish qualifies us for the national championship in New Orleans on Nov. 7. If our wife/mom will let us, and we can scrape together the funds, we may be on our way to an epic road trip. ... "

And we're off to the races ...

Haven't been able to solve the mystery of "Why No Races on Sunday?" yet, but I do have info on a couple of attractive half-marathons (rare, as you know, in these parts) that aren't too far afield, as well as a few good charity races set for this weekend.

First, the halfs:

Run For The Green Half Marathon, 10K and 5K, Saturday, at the Village Green in downtown Davidson: The major draw here is the half-marathon; this one heads southeast from the Village Green, running parallel to Concord and Davidson-Concord roads before turning around at the River Run Tennis Complex. Start times are 7:30 a.m. (half), 7:45 (10K) and 8 (5K). At last check, 309 runners were signed up, including 164 for the half-marathon. Cost is $40 for the half, $30 for the 10K and $25 for the 5K; proceeds will benefit the Davidson Lands Conservancy. The Davidson Green Day festival follows, with live music and opportunities for attendees to volunteer for local projects. Official site: Click here.

Run the Valley Half Marathon, 10K and 5K, Saturday, in downtown Badin: If you're in the mood for a hilly half, this one goes from the post office in Badin to the top of Morrow Mountain and back, with about 50 percent of the course winding through Morrow Mountain State Park. The half starts at 7:30 a.m.; 10K and 5K go off at 8:15. Badin is in Stanly County on the far side of Albemarle, roughly 50 miles from Charlotte. Registration for the half, which is limited to 100 runners, is $45; 5K and 10K are $15 and $20, respectively. To register, click here.

And here are the charity races I know of:

Kate's Race for Hope 5K Run, Saturday, at McAlpine Creek Park (8711 Monroe Road): Kate's Race was created in honor of Kate Schultz Colon, who died of cancer several years ago when she was a college senior. In her memory, a one-on-one support ministry was started that takes referrals from Charlotte-area oncologists. Registration is $30, and the race starts at 7:30 a.m.; there's also a 2K Fun Walk beginning at 8:15. Event page: Click here.

5K for Isabella, Saturday, at the Ballantyne Business Park: The Isabella is 4-year-old Isabella Santos, who has been battling a very rare pediatric cancer called neuroblastoma for two years. Entry fee is $25 through Thursday, $30 thereafter. The funds raised will be used for paying medical bills not covered by insurance, and for research on neuroblastoma. Start time is at 8:30 a.m. in the business park. Event page: Click here.

Race for Fetal Hope 5K Run/Walk, Saturday, at Independence Park (300 Hawthorne Lane): The proceeds will "go to saving babies' lives and giving hope to families by spreading awareness of fetal distresses and syndromes, funding medical research, and providing financial and emotional support and medical assistance." Start time is 8 a.m. Registration is $25, or $30 on race day, with discounts for kids and seniors. Event page: Click here.

Friday, September 11, 2009

10 things I've learned on the way to 26.2

Longtime readers may have noticed that I blogged about four out of the first five weeks of my marathon training plan earlier this summer ... and then stopped.

Part of the reason? I've been too busy training for a marathon.

In fact, at the end of a nine-mile run through Dilworth on Wednesday, I ticked off my 300th mile since launching July 12 into a 16-week plan in preparation for the Nov. 1 New York City Marathon. (That's north of 40 hours of running in the past 8-1/2 weeks.) Three hundred down, 300 to go.

So far? So good. I managed to foam-roll away some nagging IT band issues early on, was able to stick with the program even while traveling abroad in August, and have finished runs as long as 16 miles still feeling plenty fresh and strong.

I've also learned a few funny things that can happen on the way to race day -- enough, in fact, for a Top 10 list.

10. Your training plan will make you behave like a drug addict. Typical conversation with another runner: "How many you lookin' for this morning?" "I need 15. I'll take 12 or 13, but I really would like to get 15." You'll also constantly be begging, borrowing and stealing time from other parts of your life. Hey, at least you get to keep your teeth.

9. And Facebook is like your virtual Narcotics Anonymous meeting. Except all your running friends will do is egg you on and encourage you to do more speed and LSD. (Uh, that's "long, slow distance," Mom -- I promise!)

8. Your alarm clock will start doing double takes. I swear that when I set it to go off at 5:15 last Saturday morning, it said to me, "Dude, what are you doing? No seriously -- what are you doing??"

7. Your non-running friends will crack the same jokes every Friday. "So what are you up to this weekend, Theoden? You running like 80 miles tomorrow morning?"

6. And they'll crack the same jokes every Monday. "What'd you do this weekend? Did you run a couple of marathons?"

5. You enjoy those new running shoes while they last. Because they don't last long.

4. You're constantly looking for wood to knock on. I'm going to start carrying toothpicks or matches or like one of those old-school rulers around in my pocket so that it's handy for the five times a day when I tell people who ask about my training, "I've been feeling GREAT so far! Just hope I can stay injury-free..."

3. Your car's smell might make passengers throw up in their mouths. I've been thinking about putting a numbered padlock on the trunk of my Passat and plastering it with stickers and yearbook photos, maybe stuffing a freshman inside of it every once in awhile.

2. Your ability to shove food into your piehole will become legendary. Guy I know from my running group, which is sending about a dozen and a half people to the Marine Corps Marathon, sat down next to me at a recent BBQ with a plate of food that must have weighed 10 pounds. Halfway through it, his wife came by and slid a couple of their kids' nibbled-at burgers onto the pile. He looked at her, shrugged, then demolished every last bite.

1. You'll find out who your friends really are. The people who are willing to get up at 5 or 6 a.m. with you to run, to actually hold conversations that early in the morning, and to put up with the way you look and smell after the work is done, they're keepers. Either that or you need to keep an eye on them -- they may be angling for some sort of favor.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

And we're off to the races ...

The weather must be getting cooler. How else to explain all the choices this weekend?

If you're looking for a big race, try this one:

Hog Jog 5K

What: 5K held in conjunction with Center City Charlotte's Blues, Brews & BBQ, scheduled for Friday and Saturday.
Where: Start is on Tryon Street (near Wachovia Plaza) and the finish is on Fourth Street between Church and Tryon.
When: 8 a.m. Saturday.
Cost: $25; $30 on race day.
Of note: The course will wind through SouthEnd, Third Ward and uptown. ... The post-race party, from 8 to 10:30 a.m., will include a free kids' fun run at 9; live music; free beer and food; and a bloody Mary and screwdriver contest. ... The Childress YMCA will be open for participants to take showers. ... In its inaugural running last year, 583 participants finished with official times.
More race info: Click here. To register: Click here.

In the mood for a smaller race? Take your pick:

Tyler's Treehouse 5K & 1 Mile Fun Run/Walk, Saturday, at Olde Georgetowne Swim Club (7930 Whistlestop Road in Charlotte): The course winds through the Olde Georgetowne and Sharon Hills neighborhoods, behind the Harris YMCA off Sharon Road in the SouthPark area. 5K is at 8 a.m., Fun Run/Walk is at 9; a "post-race celebration" -- with music, food, entertainment and a pool party -- follows at 9:30. Beneficiary is Tyler's Treehouse, which funds St. Jude Children's Research Hospital's search for a cure for diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, a rare type of cancer that strikes children's brainstems. Official site: Click here.

Fall Family Festival, Saturday, at the Cornwell Center (2001 Selwyn Ave. across from Queens University): 5K run starts at 8 a.m., 5K walk starts at 8:05. There's also a 1K Fun Run/Walk at 9 a.m. Cost is $20 if registered by the end of today (Wednesday), $25 thereafter. The 1K fee is just $5. Proceeds from the race will be donated to the Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte. The festival itself runs from 9:30 a.m.-noon and includes face painting, a petting zoo, a rock climbing wall and much more. The Cornwell Center is part of Myers Park Baptist Church.

H.A.R.V.E.S.T. Health Fair 5K, Saturday, at the NC Research Campus & Village in Kannapolis: The race will begin at the NC Research Campus' Core Lab on Biotechnology Drive. Registration fees are $20 through tomorrow (Thursday), or $25 on race day. The health fair itself will include health screenings, a mini-farmer's market and activities for kids. If you prefer biking, there are 31- and 62-mile tour courses, plus a 5K Family Ride. Official site: Click here.

And if you want to try something completely different:

Great Urban Race, Saturday, at Fox and Hound (330 N. Tryon St. in uptown): The idea is simple: Teams of two work together to solve a series of 12 clues. One sample clue on the Web site reads "Return to the finish with a real $2 bill," while other challenges might require players to, for example, have their photo taken in front of a specific landmark. The Charlotte event is one of 20 being held nationwide in 2009. Top finishers will be invited to the national championship in New Orleans, where teams will compete for a $10,000 prize. Registration is $60 per person through Friday, $70 on race day. Start time Saturday is "High Noon. Official site: Click here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

This 208-mile race? It's a team effort

You keep company with enough runners around the Charlotte region for an extended period of time, and eventually, as summer draws to a close, you're likely to hear three little words. (And no, they're not "marathon training plan" -- you hear those three words all summer long.)

It's the annual Blue Ridge Relay (or BRR, as it's affectionately called), which takes this Friday and Saturday. As you can probably guess, it's set largely in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and as you can probably guess, it's a relay race -- in fact, it's one of the longest-running relay races in the country. The 208-mile event actually starts in the Black Mountains of Virginia, and features 100 teams ranging from a minimum of six to a maximum of 12 runners. A typical 12-member team has each runner covering three legs, spaced roughly six hours apart.

The BRR requires quite a bit of training and advance planning. It features thousands of feet of ups and downs, so participants can often be found doing hill workouts. Action continues through the night on unfamiliar roads, so runners have been known to share tips on where to buy headlamps (and which ones work best). Also, the race is looooooooong -- most teams will take in excess of 24 hours to complete it -- so snacks and meal planning are a hot topic of discussion.

Unfortunately, it's too late for full teams to get in on the fun this year because registration has been filled for awhile now. But given the size of the teams and the complicated race logistics, there are occasionally dropouts that turn into opportunities for alternates to jump in at the last minute. In fact, if you can skip work on Friday and are able to run a total of about 15.5 miles over the course of 30 hours, you might be in luck: One local team lost a runner to another commitment last week and is trying to find a replacement.

Truth be told, I didn't originally set out here to net this team a 12th man or woman. All I wanted to do was give a quick snapshot of a typical bunch of Charlotte-area athletes who have banded together to take on this unique challenge. Why are they doing this? What has training been like? And where will they draw inspiration from as they traverse their winding, rolling, interstate route?

Anyway, here's "Governor Sanford's Search Team":

Q. Who are you people? Back row: Gen Mezinskis, Joanna Dougherty, Lynne Collins, Shashi Bathula, Scott Lundgren, Alyson Vaughan. Front row: Charlie Haltiwanger, James Rivenbark, Jason Drake (not running), Amy Cobb. Not pictured: Maggie Dougherty and Chris Murray (see their photos below). [As I mentioned, they're looking to add either a sixth man or seventh woman ... because Drake had to drop out.] We will be competing in the Mixed Division.

Q. How'd you guys come up with team name? Scott made a joke and it stuck.

Q. How do you all know each other? We know each other from various places -- the gym, work, friends of friends, etc.

Q. What are your team goals? 1. Avoid death; 2. Finish in 30 hours; 3. No heart attacks; 4. Lots of laughter; 5. Complete a documentary video on the crazy race; 6. No injuries.

And here's a quick rundown of the team's 11 members:

Shashi Bathula
Age: 39 (soon to be a masters runner).
City of residence: Gastonia.
Number of miles running: 18.4/three legs.
Why are you doing this? The idea of paying money for the suffering of running in the mountains on no sleep is too good to pass up. Also, someone said that these relays are like road trips for adults, which I find to be true.
How is training going? So far so good. Just some runner's little aches and pains. Averaging about 35 miles per week.
"I run because ...": My young kids. Want to be able to run around with them in 10-15 years.

Amy Cobb
Age: 36.
City of residence: Charlotte.
Number of miles running: 5.15, 4.9, 7.2 ... total: 17.55 miles.
Why are you doing this? Insanity.
How is training going? It is going well.
"I run because ...": Mental health, the sense of accomplishment, and physical challenge.

Lynne Collins
Age: 36.
City of residence: Charlotte.
Number of miles running: Leg 12 (9.1 miles), Leg 24 (3.2 miles), Leg 36 (6.8 miles).
Why are you doing this? For fun! Oh, and for fitness.
How is training going? Training is going well. During the last eight weeks I've run hills, several 9-11 milers and a couple three-a-days. It is great to train with a friend because we keep each other motivated. Thanks, Gen!
"I run because ...": I run to stay healthy. I also enjoy the physical and mental challenges of running. Every completed run provides a sense of accomplishment.

Maggie Dougherty
Age: 35.
City of residence: Charlotte.
Number of miles running: 12.6.
Why are you doing this? A friend asked me. I thought it would be a fun adventure, and I was glad to see the run supports the Habitat for Humanity.
How is training going? Good so far. I'm a trail runner, so it has been a challenge to train on the road.
"In run because ...": I can. I am so grateful to be able to run.

Joanna Dougherty
Age: 34 when we start, 35 when we finish.
City of residence: Charlotte.
Number of miles running: 15.7 (Runner No. 11).
Why are you doing this? Three years ago, I had never run a 5K. Now I’ve run countless 5Ks, a few half marathons, and a number of sprint triathlons. This is just the next step in proving I can do anything I set my mind to. Plus, this will be my 35th event and falls on my 35th birthday!
How is training going? Except for having pneumonia in July, awesome! I don’t think I’d ever really feel prepared for this kind of race, so I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.
"I run because ...": I run for my physical and mental health.

Charlie Haltiwanger
Age: 38.
City of residence: Charlotte.
Number of miles running: 18.6 miles; legs 10, 22, 34.
Why are you doing this? It sounds like a "one-of-a-kind" experience.
How is training going? Distance preparation went well, but I am not sure much prepares you to run at 3 in the morning.
"I run because ...": I run because … “one day I won’t be able to, and that will not be a good day.”

Scott Lundgren
Age: 33.
City of residence: Charlotte.
Number of miles running: 12.8 miles (Legs 9, 21, 33).
Why are you doing this? My girlfriend's friend told us to do it.
How is training going? I'll be fine for the race, but I could have been in better shape if not for the two weeks of severe poison ivy.
"I run because ...": I run to stay healthy and avoid the mistakes of generations before me. A good trail run at the U.S. National Whitewater Center at the end of the day will clear your head really well of all stresses.

Gen Mezinskis
Age: 36.
City of residence: Charlotte.
Number of miles running: 5.4/4.3/6.5 ... total: 16.2.
Why are you doing this? I ran my first half marathon in December and figured this was a next good goal to tackle.
How is training going? The longer training runs are a little rough, but the training has definitely helped my shorter runs. I had a PR at the Greek Fest 5K on 8/29!
"I run because ...": I have diabetes, so not only do I run to stay in shape, but consistent running is a huge help in managing the disease.

Chris Murray
Age: 41.
City of residence: Charlotte.
Number of miles running: 22 miles.
Why are you doing this? Life can be boring without challenges. And this will provide some good training for the upcoming Richmond Marathon that I’ll be running in November.
How is training going? Real good. However, I can’t get used to a 4:45 a.m. alarm every morning to wake me up for a seven-mile run.
"I run because ...": Health. It’s a time to think and problem-solve. I’ve been running since 1984, and can’t stop at this point."

James Rivenbark
Age: 27.
City of residence: Matthews.
Number of miles running: 18.2 miles!
Why are you doing this? I run to stay in shape. We are all running this race because we have lost our minds!
How is training going? It was going well until yesterday. I started having some pain in one of my knees, but it will be fine come 9/11.
"I run because ...": If I run enough I can drink a few beers and eat ice cream on the weekend!

Alyson Vaughan
Age: 27.
City of residence: Charlotte.
Number of miles running: In the eighth position, running Legs 8 (4.8 miles), 20 (7.5 miles), and 32 (9.4 miles) for a total of 21.7 miles.
Why are you doing this? Honestly, because Amy [Cobb] asked me! I had heard of the race before, but hadn’t really thought about trying to join a team. It sounds like a unique and memorable experience, and I love new challenges, so I had to say yes.
How is training going? I’m currently training for my first marathon (Thunder Road). Training for the relay has fit in nicely with my marathon training plan.
"I run because ...": I run for the physical and mental challenge, and for the sense of accomplishment that comes from reaching a new goal (a PR, a new distance, etc.).

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If you missed out this year, plan ahead for 2010. Registration for next year's Blue Ridge Relay should open on Jan. 1. The official BRR site is here.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Do a triathlon, help a duathlon

Two triathlons -- one big, one small -- to preview for you this afternoon, plus I've got details on how to get involved with a world-class event slated for Concord at the end of the month.

The Take Flight Triathlon

The final race in the TrySports Triathlon Development Series will take place at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 4, at the NOMAD Aquatic Center in Huntersville. It's a sprint tri -- 250 yards in the pool, 10 miles on a hilly bike course, then a hilly 5K.

Organizer Chris Hawkins says registration is filling up fast, with more than 400 athletes registered. Beneficiary is Garrett's Wings (details here), and the race tees are long-sleeved technical shirts. Registration is currently $70, plus $10 more if you're not a USAT member. Full details are here.

There's also a pre-race pasta dinner at Harris Road Middle School that sounds pretty cool: It begins at 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3, and features keynote speaker, Sheila Taormina, who won a gold medal in the 4x200 freestyle relay at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. She also competed in the 2000 and 2004 Olympic triathlons, and at the 2008 Beijing Games (in the modern pentathlon).

Proceeds from the dinner will benefit the Batten Disease Support & Research Association (details here). Cost is $15 in advance ($10 for ages 3-12) or $20 at the door. Pre-registration page is here.

Bradfield Farms 1st Annual Sprint Triathlon

Can't vouch for how well this one will be organized (no one can, since it's a brand-new race), but it's hard to argue with a $10 triathlon, particularly if you're on a budget! This one is being hosted by the Bradfield Farms neighborhood off I-485 in the Reedy Creek/Harrisburg area, and will cover sprint distances (500-meter pool swim, 12.5-mile bike, 5K run). Race day is Saturday, Sept. 26; start time is set for 8 a.m.

In a news release, organizer Kelli Enos writes: "This is meant to be a fun event. For those experienced in these types of activities, you can also be very serious about competing, but this is a day to enjoy some great exercise, competition, and socializing."

As I said, registration fee is just $10 for individuals (or $25 for a relay team). There's also a "Mini Triathlon" for kids 13 and younger that costs only $5 and has distances of 100 meters in the water, three miles on the bike, and one mile on foot.

Sign-up sheets are available on the Bradfield Farms Web site (click here) or by e-mailing Enos at kellirealty@yahoo.com.

Volunteers needed

The ITU Duathlon World Championships are coming to Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord on Saturday, Sept. 26. Registration for the event closed Aug. 26, but "there is a pretty big need [for] volunteers for the race," reports Chris Lamperski, a local athlete who will be competing in the event.

Organizers need help for the following shifts: 5 a.m.-10:30 a.m. (four people needed); 10 a.m.-3 p.m. (four people); and 2:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. (eight people).

If you would like to help with the world championships, contact Amanda Duke, Team USA/USAT National Events Coordinator, at 719-597-9090; or e-mail amanda@usatriathlon.org You also can sign up online by clicking here. Sharon Koontz is coordinating the volunteers for the transition area, and can be reached via e-mail at skoontz1@carolina.rr.com.

"I hope we can get some good people out there to help," Lamperski says. "Having local running/cycling friends assisting in a world-class event while cheering on locals competing would be pretty sweet."

Thursday, September 3, 2009

And the races just keep on comin'

Got info for you on two more charity-minded 5Ks coming in the weeks ahead:

5K for Joseph, this Saturday, Sept. 5, on UNC Charlotte's intramural fields: The Joseph is Joseph Nicolas Castro, a 4-year-old local boy who suffers from Ewing's sarcoma, a rare disease in which cancer cells are found in the bone or in soft tissue. Race starts at 8:10 a.m., and a "social hour" follows at 9:10. According to the Web site, "The route circles intramural fields, follows through woods over a bridge to a campus street, then circles back. ... There are a few hills, with asphalt, grass and rocky terrains." It's a lap course; runners will cover it three times. Registration is $15; add a T-shirt for $12 more. Kids can run for $10. Official site: Click here.

5K for Isabella, Saturday, Sept. 19, at the Ballantyne Business Park: The Isabella is 4-year-old Isabella Santos, who has been battling a very rare pediatric cancer called neuroblastoma for two years. Entry fee is $25 through Sept. 17, then $30 thereafter. The funds raised will be used for paying medical bills not covered by insurance, and for research on neuroblastoma. Start time is at 8:30 a.m. in the business park. Last year's inaugural running of the 5K for Isabella attracted 180 runners. Race brochures are available at all the Charlotte running stores, Try Sports and Chick-Fil-A at Stonecrest Shopping Center. Event page: Click here.

She runs like a girl. Try to keep up.

Alana Hadley is fast, by virtually any measure.

She only enters a race once every month or two, but when she does, she almost always wins. The Shamrock 4-Miler in March? 23:36, beating out more than 400 female runners and winning by more than a minute and a half. The Skyline 5K Run in April? 18:15 -- another win, another 400-plus female athletes finishing behind her. Hadley breezed to victory at the Right Moves for Youth Twilight 5K in May, then made all the right moves to win the Summer Breeze 5K in June.

In fact, it took Caitlin Chrisman to hand Hadley her first second-place finish of 2009, at last weekend's Yiasou Greek Festival 5K. And Caitlin Chrisman, 23, was not long ago a star on the Wake Forest track and cross-country teams.

Oh shoot, I'm sorry -- did I mention that Alana Hadley is a 12-year-old seventh-grader at Community House Middle School?

That makes her accomplishments even more fascinating and unusual. So I did something this week that I am 100 percent sure I will never do in a 5K: I caught up with Alana ... to get her thoughts on everything from her focus to her local running heroes to how it feels to be so much faster than so many people two, three, four and five times her age.

* * *

Q. How long have you been running? For about six years now. I ran my first 5K [the Komen Race for the Cure], with my mom, when I was 6 years old. [Time: 29:13.]

Q. When did you realize that you had a real gift for doing it? When I was nine years old, when I ran faster in a 5K [the Hit the Brixx 5K] than the state record for 9-year-old girls. [Time: 21:07.]

Q. How the heck did you get so fast? Because I love running, and so like to practice it a lot. I also think it is in my blood because both of my parents ran track and cross country in college. That is how they met.

Q. Any other runners in the family? Yes, I have a 9-year-old brother named Bryce who enjoys running a lot. He and my mom run together.

Q. Do you remember the first race you won -- not where you were competing against other kids your age, but where you were competing against adults -- ? The first race I won first female overall was in 2007 at the Lowe’s YMCA Starfish 5K [time: 20:37]. I remember it because the award was a bobble head runner girl trophy. That is my favorite award so far.

Q. Other memorable races? One of the most memorable races for me was at Greenville, S.C., in January of this year [the Greenville News Downtown 5K]. In the last half-mile of a 5K there was a boy near my age a few feet in front of me. We were running up a pretty good-size hill and I was tired, but I still gathered up the energy and was able to pass him before the finish. Girl Power!!! [Time: 18:05.]

Q. How tall are you? I am 5-1 and have grown three inches already this year!

Q. As you're passing people twice your size during races, what kind of comments do you hear? They normally do not say anything. Occasionally, they say, "keep going little girl" or some other words of encouragement.

Q. Is it a weird feeling to be so much better than so many adults at such a young age? At first it seemed pretty weird. But now, since I have been running for several years, I am used to it and know a lot of the people I race against.

Q. Have you ever won a prize/award at a race that you weren't old enough to collect? Yes, at two races in the last year, I wasn't old enough to have the prize I won as they were bottles of wine. I have also had to pass up prize money awards to maintain my eligibility for high school and college track.

Q. Are there local runners who you look up to? Yes ... runners like Bill Shires and Nathan Stanford, who are great at running an even pace, because that is something I want to be able to do in my races. I also admire runners like Lori Hageman because she has been good for so long and is very encouraging to me, and Megan Hepp, who ran so well in the last Olympic trials.

Q. Is there anything you don't like about running? No. I really enjoy it; it has always been a very positive thing in my life.

Q. Ever had any serious injuries? No, never been injured.

Q. Do you ever worry about getting burned out at a young age? No ... because I love to run and have always increased my mileage very slowly, and don’t over-race. I usually race just once every four to six weeks, and so I really look forward to it when I get the chance. I can't imagine ever not running. It makes me crazy not to run. Twice a year, my dad makes me take some time off and I get stir-crazy after a couple of days.

Q. What are your long-term running goals? To continue to get better, and to one day become a professional runner and compete in the Olympics.

Q. Who's your coach and what's the most important thing you've learned from him/her? My coach is my dad, Mark Hadley. To me, the most important thing I learned from him is that, "it is not the time that matters, but the effort you put into the run, because that is the only thing you can really control."

Q. How many miles do you run a week? I do about 50 miles a week right now in a normal training week. But I have built up to that pretty slowly over the last six years.

Q. Got any advice for other young runners? The most important thing is to make sure you have fun when you run. It's a great sport, and can be a lot of fun as well as be good for you. Also, you cannot start out running 50 miles a week. You need to start small, and gradually work your way up in miles, slowly over time.

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Know of another running fool? Tell me about him or her in an e-mail to tjanes@charlotteobserver.com.