Monday, November 30, 2009

Hey, runners: Be safe out there

A woman running on the Greenway on the western edge of uptown Charlotte was the victim of an attempted sexual assault Sunday.

According to police, the woman was using the path near Morehead and Calvert streets at about 9:30 a.m. when she heard a man calling for help. When she went behind a nearby building to investigate, the man -- who police said was armed -- reportedly grabbed the woman and commented that "he had seen her running on a previous day." The victim, fortunately, was able to fight off the man and seek help.

In a statement, CMPD Officer C.J. Pierce offered these tips: "[It's] a good idea to run/walk with someone. Also ... change up your route so that a person can't predict your daily routine."

Coincidentally, Run For Your Life's University location is hosting a FREE Running Safety and Self-Defense Clinic from 9 to 10 a.m. Saturday. The course will cover safety tips, advice and a Q&A session with two officers from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (who are runners themselves). Also, instructors from King Tiger Charlotte -- a local Tae Kwon Do studio -- will teach participants some basic self-defense. For details, call 704-503-1105.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

And we're off to the races...

There are precious few opportunities to race 5Ks locally this month, save for the Dec. 12 Jingle Jog. But here are two set for Saturday -- and they're smaller races, meaning average runners could have a decent shot at winning age-group awards:

Santa's Run for Hunger 5K, which will take place
at Millbridge, halfway between Salisbury and Mooresville off of Highway 150. Salisbury Rowan Runners president David Freeze tells me "the course is completely rural, and will only pass a park, an old grist mill, a dairy farm and three houses"; he also says all participants will get a long-sleeve DriFit shirt. Registration is $17 through Wednesday, and $22 thereafter. The race benefits Rowan Helping Ministries, a local homeless shelter. Visit or call 704-239-5508 for more info, or click here to register. The race starts at 9 a.m. ... At 9:45, there will be a one-mile fun run, featuring medals for all participants -- and, of course, Santa will pay runners a visit.

Meanwhile, Mooresville High School junior Emily Nesbitt is the organizer of a 5Kthat aims to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer. Race starts at 8 a.m. at Mooresville Senior High School, 659 E. Center St. Cost is $20 in advance and $25 day-of. There'll also be a kids Fun Run (10 a.m., $5) and post-race snacks for all participants. This is Emily's Gold Award Project for Girl Scouts, and her motivation is pancreatic cancer sufferer Dr. Craig Schauder. Read more about the Emily's project or get additional race details here.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Odds + ends for my running friends

Several interesting nuggets to pass along on this gorgeous fall day, including details on: the fastest middle-schooler in Charlotte ... a class that aims to teach you how to run "faster, farther, and with much less effort" ... and a running store coming to a town near you.

Twelve-year-old Alana Hadley of Charlotte won the female overall title at the Charlotte Turkey Trot 8K on Thanksgiving morning. Alana's time of 29:37 works out to a pace of 5:58 minutes per mile; she finished 30th overall out of 3,741 runners. In an e-mail today, Alana wrote: "I thought the Turkey Trot was a great race. It was a lot of fun to run in a race with so many people. The course was very good, with only one mile that had many hills. I have to say one of my favorite parts was the turkey trophy that they gave out for the awards -- it's one of my favorite trophies I have ever won." Click here to read my September profile on Alana. Since that interview, she was second overall female at the Hit the Brixx 10K on Sept. 26 (in 38:09) and took third in the women's division at the Runway 5K on Oct. 31 (in 17:49). Alana tells me her last race of 2010 will be the Dec. 12 Jingle Jog 5K, held in conjunction with the Thunder Road Marathon.

Amy Peacock is leading a ChiRunning workshop next Saturday (Dec. 5) at Huntersville Family Fitness & Aquatics, 11725 Verhoeff Drive. ChiRunning, created by Danny Dreyer of Asheville, professes to teach runners "how to heal and prevent injuries" using a running style based on "disciplines such as yoga, Pilates, and ... T'ai Chi." The session will run from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and costs $95; at last check, there were only nine spots left in the class. For more info or to register, click here. To check out Amy's Web site, click here. Not sure whether this is an incentive or a disincentive, but I'll be attending as a first-timer...

And finally ... Fleet Feet Sports, a national running-store chain, is reportedly planning to open a location at Birkdale Village in Huntersville. Fleet Feet stores carry shoes, clothing and accessories made by all the usual suspects, including Brooks, Asics, Mizuno, Nike, Saucony and New Balance. It will be the company's fifth N.C. store; currently, the closest location to us is in Hickory. Stay tuned for details (the Web site for the Huntersville store is here), but this can only be good news -- expect the other local running stores to get even more competitive, and surely they'll sponsor/create a few good races.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

So much to be thankful for

A few hours ago, at the Lake Norman Turkey Trot, I put up what is by far my worst official time ever. And yet, because I paced my 8-year-old daughter through her first 5K, it was also one of the best times I've had since I started running almost 15 months ago.

Laughing when she asked, less than one mile in, "Do you get used to the pain?" Listening to another runner say "Looking good!" as he passed, and hearing her say "Thank you." Watching her grab a cup of water at an aid station, take a few gulps, then toss it aside with a splash, like a seasoned vet. Admiring her surge in the final 0.1, which built up into a sprint across the finish line.

Anyway, she is at the top of my runners-I'm-thankful-for list right now. Who else is on it?

Well, I'm thankful for Ashleigh Lawrence and Jes Douglas at Run For Your Life, unsung heroes who are charged with crossing the t's and dotting the i's -- in addition to helping diagram nearly the whole darn playbook -- for several of the city's best and most well-organized annual races.

I'm thankful for Aaron Linz, Jay Holder and Caitlin Chrisman, who make up the heart and soul of the Charlotte Running Club, which is as responsible as anything for the way the running community in this area has gelled and intermingled in 2009.

I'm thankful for those who have generated and sustained excitement about running in smaller towns, people like Chad Randolph of the Davidson Area Running Team, like David Freeze of the Salisbury Rowan Runners, like Peter Asciutto of Vac & Dash in Albemarle.

I'm thankful for Lana Torkildsen (president of the Charlotte Track and Triathlon Club), Reggie McAfee (founder of Cross-Country for Youth), Alejandro Arreola (who won the 5K at today's Lake Norman Turkey Trot in 17:17), and every other person of color who helps make the Charlotte running community more diverse.

I'm thankful for fast local runners who don't ever brag about being fast -- people like Ben and Megan Hovis, like Bill Shires, like Rebecca Thomason. And I'm thankful for local runners who aren't fast but are just as passionate about the sport -- people like Scott Helms and Serena Porter and Tracy Rabon.

I'm thankful for EVERY volunteer who's directed me through a turn or handed me a cup of Gatorade or taken off my chip timer in the finish chute, for every cop who's helped keep traffic off a race course.

I'm thankful for great training partners. My running group (the University City Road Runners) in general -- and UCRR member Shawn Matthews in particular; we speak the exact same language when it comes to balancing a running addiction with the needs of a family. I'm also thankful for fellow runner Allen Strickland, who's unique in that he can talk for an hour about paces and PRs without ever making them sound boring; and for swim buddy Kara Pettie and biking pal Melanie Mullin, who keep me from running myself into the ground.

And, of course, I'm thankful for my wife Amanda, who's become a much-improved runner herself in 2009, who accommodates my zany workout schedule and cheers my successes ... but who also is a voice of reason when she suspects I'm overtraining -- in other words, she wants me to be fulfilled, but she also wants me to be careful. If that isn't love, what is?

With all that said, I'll now give an open answer to my daughter's question from earlier: Yes, you do get used to the pain. But it's the pleasure that keeps you coming back. This year has been a pleasure, and for that I'm very thankful.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

'I was all ready to just get old and die'

In some ways, Richard Hefner and I couldn't be more alike: We both started running in September of 2008, with virtually no running on our resumes. Both caught the bug big-time; became compulsive racers, improved rapidly. Both boast a fighting weight of 143 pounds. Both launched blogs focused on the local running scene.

Yet our stories are also quite a bit different: When Richard started running, he weighed 173 pounds (I was 153); three months before he started, he weighed 193. He's run 64 races in the past 14 months (twice as many as I have). While I began running a few weeks shy of my 35th birthday, Richard first laced up his running shoes at the ripe old age of 56. And did I mention that as fast as I've gotten, he's gotten even faster?

Now, 56-year-old men who spent most of their adult lives avoiding exercise like the plague are not supposed to be able to flip a switch and become 57-year-old men who can run sub-20-minute 5Ks. They're just not. But that's exactly what happened to Richard Hefner -- and even he has trouble explaining it.

Says Hefner, who has a 10K PR of 42:31 and a half-marathon PR of 1:36:46: "I think it's probably because I just love doing it," (Huh, I thought to myself when I heard this. I wish I could win the Powerball simply because I would love to win the Powerball!)

Oh well. We may never know his secret. But we do know this: All you beer-bellied middle-aged men (and women), who keep saying "No, seriously, I'm gonna start running someday," between mouthfuls of Bojangles'? You really, really want to be like Richard Hefner when you grow up. Heck, I want to be like him when I grow up.

Here are some highlights from a recent interview with Richard Hefner, a.k.a. "The Old Runner."

Q. Visitors to your blog immediately learn that you joined Weight Watchers in June 2008, but didn't start running for a few more months. Besides wanting to slim down, was there another factor that motivated you to start running?

Richard Hefner: My daughter gave me the idea of running a 5K back in the spring of 2008. She was visiting from New York, and she invited me to go for a run. I nearly passed out after running about 50 feet. She was worried, and told me if I would get in shape we could run a 5K together. That was my big motivation to start. On Sept. 13, 2008, I ran my first 5K and I was hooked. Since then, there's hardly been a weekend I didn't run a race. To me, it's like a license to steal. I was all ready to just sit in a chair in front of the TV for the rest of my life and get old and die, then all of a sudden I figured out I was a runner. Who knew?

Q. How much weight loss do you credit to Weight Watchers, and how many pounds have you lost since you started running?

Richard: I would have to say that any weight that I have lost is attributable to Weight Watchers. I tried all kinds of other things and nothing else worked. Exercise is part of the program with Weight Watchers -- and pretty much any diet program. I think I lost about 20 pounds before I started running, then another 30 pounds after I began running.

Q. Are you still watching what you eat?

I know that running allows a lot of people to eat whatever they want. Unfortunately, that's not the case with me. I will pretty much eat anything that doesn't have horseradish or anchovies on it, and in unnatural quantities. Since running does burn off about 100 calories a mile, I'm able to eat more than I used to without gaining weight, but I'm still doing Weight Watchers online and mostly every Monday morning I'm back to counting WW points. I've been trying to stay at 143, so when I get to 145 ... I count points until I lose those extra couple of pounds before things get out of hand.

Q. Do you regret not starting to run earlier in life?

I try not to have any regrets about life. Maybe I could have been a really good runner when I was young, but maybe I started running when the time was right for me. A lot of other runners my age have already run their best times and many are slowing down. Right now I'm still improving and I feel like with the right training I can improve quite a bit more, so I'm happy starting out late in life.

Q. Sixty-four races in 14 months. That's insane. And that includes two more over the weekend?

Yep. ... On Saturday, I ran a new 5K PR -- 19:50 -- at Santa Scramble, then I ran the Hendrick Half Marathon at Lowe's Motor Speedway on Sunday. I'd rather run a half marathon than a long run on Sunday, so it's no big deal. I recently ran four half marathons in 28 days ... and I couldn't see that it was a lot different than doing a long run every Sunday other than being more expensive.

Q. What's your training like these days?

I've just been running 30-35 miles a week, with maybe a little speedwork once in the middle of the week. Since I race every weekend, that gives me another day of speedwork. I'd like to build up my miles over the next year to maybe 45-50 miles a week, but I'm not sure at my age I can handle more than that.

Q. What are your long-term goals as a runner?

I don't really have any major goals. I would like to keep racing and avoid injuries, and if my times start slowing down (which they surely will at some point) my goal is to not lose interest. Other than that, if I can inspire my kids and grandkids to become runners I'll consider that a success.

Q. Tell me about the blog. To me, it's one of the best running-focused blogs in town.

I started the Old-Runner blog about seven or eight weeks after I began running. I had seen a lot of other running blogs and I thought it would be a good way to document my running experiences and also maybe encourage some other people to start running. I really expected I would be writing more about my injuries than my triumphs, so to speak, but 14 months have passed and I still haven't had any injuries. I've had a lot of good feedback; nothing like you get since your blog is more visible and read by a lot more people, but enough to think it's worthwhile to do. It's always gratifying when people come up at a race and introduce themselves. I've also become friends with a lot of the blog readers and that definitely makes it worthwhile for me.

Q. What are your favorite local races?

It's hard to say since they all seem special in their own way. Hit the Brixx is a favorite. It was the first race [my wife Linda and I] ran last year in Charlotte, and [we did it] again this year. Hard to beat the free pizza, the separate 5K and 10K races, and the uptown setting. The Santa Scramble is also a favorite, partly because of the fast course, but even moreso because it leads off the Concord Christmas parade. There must have been over 30,000 people along that course this past weekend, and that's a great motivator. Another great race that comes to mind is the Twilight 5K -- love the evening setting.

Q. As someone who's run so many Charlotte races in the past year, tell me: What are race organizers here doing well?

I loved the Run for Your Life Grand Prix. My wife Linda and I ran all the races and that was one of the highlights of our year.

Q. What could they be doing better?

To me the biggest improvement in those races would be to have a professional photographer who would provide race photos that could be purchased. I think there might have been a photographer at one or two RFYL GP races, but it should be standard in every one of these races. The only other improvement I can think of would be to award trophies to the age group winners. To me, it's not a good idea to get innovative with awards and give away pizza cutters and jigsaw puzzles instead of trophies. I do realize that everybody doesn't look at it that way, though, and a lot of people couldn't care less what they give as awards, but my trophy case is a mess!

Q. Trophies aside, what's the greatest gift that running has given to you?

I'd have to say it's the gift of good health. As a lot of people reach their 50s, they start falling apart with problems associated with aging. I was headed in that direction myself, and so was my wife. In just a year, with running -- and of course a better diet that is the result of wanting to become better runners -- it's like we've turned back the clock. We feel better and are generally healthier than we've ever been. Of course, there are no 100 percent guarantees. Either or both of us could be stricken with a terminal disease or something equally devastating, but the odds are now in our favor that we'll live longer and healthier lives.

Monday, November 23, 2009

An alternative to SouthPark's Turkey Trot

Maybe an 8K is too long -- or too short -- a race. Maybe you don't want to fight the massive crowds. Or maybe SouthPark is just too far, well, south.

Whatever the case may be, the fourth annual Lake Norman Turkey Trot is a smaller-race option Thursday morning that offers a 5K, a 10K, and a half-marathon (although despite the LKN in the name, the race is run in a Huntersville business park, nearly 3-1/2 miles away from the water's edge).

The Lake Norman Turkey Trot is not a tiny event -- as of today, nearly 800 runners total had registered across the three races -- but it's nowhere near the size of the hugely popular Charlotte SouthPark Turkey Trot, which is expecting 5,000-6,000 participants. And that's exactly the contrast race director Zahid Buttar is looking for.

"The mega-events leave athletes [with] the feeling of being lost in the shuffle," says Buttar, who organizes a variety of races in Florida and other parts of the Southeast. "We like the mom-and-pop feel of all of our events."

If you've done the 10K or the half-marathon here in past, you already know the most unique aspect of the longer races: It's set on a loop, so 10Kers essentially circle the 5K course twice and half-marathoners run a dizzying (and potentially monotonous) four laps. Of course, the good news is that runners can more easily lock into a groove and go, without having to worry about unexpected twists and turns along the route. Just be aware that the long downhill on the backstretch comes at a price: what goes down must eventually come back up.

Buttar told me over the weekend that they're not planning any changes for the 2009 event. He said they're providing Dunkin Donuts Munchkins as a post-race treat for runners, and asks anyone interested in helping out Thursday to contact him at ("Finding volunteers has proven to be the most difficult part of the event!").

More information on the race can be found here. Online registration deadline is 5 p.m. Tuesday; prior to that time, cost is $30 for the 5K, $35 for the 10K, and $45 for the half (click here to sign up). Thereafter, prices increase by $5 each and registration must be done in person. Information about the race beneficiary is here.

Half-marathon gun goes off at 8 a.m., followed by the 10K at 8:10. I'll be pacing my 8-year-old daughter through her first 5K, which starts at 8:20. This, by the way, underscores a potential selling point for Lake Norman's 5K: All but the slowest runners will be done before the SouthPark race's 9 a.m. start ... meaning you could be back home and preparing your feast that much earlier.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

How Charlotteans did in Philly

The 2009 Philadelphia Marathon was completed on Sunday morning by nearly 7,500 participants, including some of our neighbors. Here are finish times for runners who reside in the greater Charlotte-area. (For the searchable results database, click here.)

Anne Falcone, 2:56:02
Dave Forrest, 3:08:59
Theodore Frank, 3:12:53
Timothy O'Connell, 3:15:53
Jackie Savage: 3:25:03
Zachary Miller, 3:31:12
Chris Rollins, 3:35:44
Scott Hall, 3:36:32
Aprille Shaffer, 3:36:52
Laurie Smith, 3:46:00
Andy Brincefield, 3:54:34
Kathy Lee, 4:13:41
Joe Conigliaro, 4:14:10
David Sites, 4:22:50
Susan Davis, 4:25:05
Ron Lamberth, 4:46:07
Kenneth Wong, 6:22:37

Bobby Aswell, 3:08:10

Stephen Griffith, 4:25:07

Joe Schlereth, 3:44:09

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Charlotte Running Club, demystified

From today's mailbag:

Q. Can you describe a little about what type of group the Charlotte Running Club is? How is the CRC organized, and do you have to pay a fee to join? Any info would definitely be appreciated since I'm interesting in becoming part of a larger running group. Also, the Beer Mile photos on your Facebook profile look interesting. Was this a CRC function? I'd really like to join a running group that does cool stuff like that. --S.P.

The answer, from Charlotte Running Club marketing director Jay Holder:

We are a group of passionate, semi-competitive runners that strive to spread the love of our sport and help each other grow. Our goal is bring the expansive, diverse and excited Charlotte running community together under one umbrella through group runs and social events. The key here is "passion." Our motto is "a passion for running." If you have it, you should be running with us. Speed is NOT a factor. Ten-minute milers can easily be more passionate than a six-minute miler.

That said, we do have a lot of Charlotte's fastest, most accomplished runners in our club. But we do not allow them to take that for granted. We try to capitalize on their talents and abilities to help other runners reach their goals. For example, several of us have committed to pacing members at Charlotte's Thunder Road Marathon on Dec. 12. Those runners also put together and lead workouts that will help others improve. Some of our club members dropped up to two minutes off their 5K time in a matter of months. Others have shaved 10-plus minutes off their marathon times.

There is not a membership fee.

With respect to the Beer Mile, it was indeed a CRC function. We take running very seriously, but also understand that if it stops being fun, we've missed the point. So, occassionally, we'll have events like that. Just this past weekend we held our first club social at a bar in Dilworth!

For more information about joining the Charlotte Running Club, click here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Are plodders 'disgracing' marathons?

A little over a month ago, I did an interview with a local runner who completed the 2009 Bank of America Chicago Marathon in 6:02:07 -- making hers the slowest time put up by a Charlottean at the Oct. 11 race. Driven by nothing more than her unique outlook on marathoning, it became one of the most popular Q&As I've published, with readers calling this Average Jane "remarkable," and "an inspiration."

Not long after that, the New York Times published a story that put the spotlight on "plodders," and noted that these slower runners were "driving some hard-core runners crazy."

I posted a link to this story on my Facebook profile, and was surprised when the first comment -- from an old newspaper buddy, Dave -- was: "anything slower than 10-min mile, get out..." The stream of feedback that followed was more along the lines of what I had expected it would be, with lots of runners supporting inclusiveness. One response, from a guy I run with often, read: "I have news for 99.999% of the marathon runners, there will always be someone finishing in front of you at the marathon. The increased participation should be cause for celebration in a country with such a serious obesity problem." (This comment was followed by much cheering from the peanut gallery.)

Now, Dave's got a sense of humor, so I wasn't sure whether he was just tossing a grenade into the room and running off down the hallway in the other direction. But a couple of weeks later, I posted a link to this column (from the Atlantic) that amounts to a big up-yours to marathon elitists. Dave chimed in again: "I'm sorry but if you can't do it at a reasonable pace, don't do it. you wouldn't want golfers playing 8 shots per tee or people on the basketball court who don't make any shots. people taking 6 hours and stuff is ridiculous... that is not running."

It was clear he was serious about this. So on Wednesday, after stumbling upon this blog about why slow runners are good for marathons, I decided it was time to ... well, toss a grenade into the room and run off down the hallway in the other direction.

I forwarded a link to said blog to Dave, and asked him to respond to the author's reasoning. Here's the essay Dave sent back to me:

The other day, I watched a video clip of a comedian named Cousin Sal, of the Jimmy Kimmel Show, trying to distract runners in the Los Angeles Marathon. He glued water bottles to a table, guided a remote control toy car in and out of the runners’ legs and bribed people to drop out for $200.

My immediate reaction: Appalling, disgraceful, disrespectful to the sport!

But it wasn’t Cousin Sal who got me. It was the fact that virtually everyone in the clip was … walking. Hundreds of people passed by in some scenes, none breaking into even a slow jog. Big deal that one guy took the money and surrendered his bib. He was a good 30 pounds overweight, “running” in knee-length cargo shorts and wearing wire-rimmed aviator sunglasses. This dude wasn’t caving to the evil Cousin Sal. He had quit long before the race even began.

I have nothing against slow runners. Or walkers. Or crawlers. I encourage everyone to get out and start exercising at one’s own pace, then building up endurance and speed slowly. I have walked with beginning exercisers after finishing my own runs as a form of encouragement.

But a marathon? Two words: get out!

There is absolutely no point for anyone who can’t run under, say, 10 minutes per mile to enter a marathon. At that point you are making a mockery of the sport. Anyone who has ever competed seriously in athletics knows that it is not enough to be enthusiastic and willing to try. You have to devote time and effort, be disciplined and appreciate what it takes to become skilled enough to respect the spirit of the games.

Step on the football field with the lack of fitness and training as some of these slow runners and you’re going to get your head taken off. You would be entirely uncompetitive in basketball, baseball and soccer with that little skill. Yes, running is an individual sport, you against the road, but the same tenets apply: train, be serious, and if you can’t do it, don’t. You wouldn’t ski a black diamond slope if you had to inch down the trail. You wouldn’t surf the North Shore if you didn’t know how to stand up on the surf board. Sit it out and train harder for next time.

I appreciate that the open registration of road races has helped spur the running boom, but I don’t think that self-editing and running only those races in which you are reasonably competitive – against the course or yourself, if not the other runners – would hurt the charities for which money is raised or the overall interest in the sport. The true test of a runner, after all, is not finishing 26.2 miles with your family and friends and half of New York cheering for you. It’s running every day, every week, every month, every year, in bad weather, with no one around, even when your body hurts.

I have never run a marathon and I won’t unless I get serious enough to run a time that I can respect. Instead, I limit myself to shorter races – 5k, 10k, 10 miles. My father, a serious runner during the early boom in the 1970s and 80s – his marathon p.r. was 3:06 – used to say that during a road race the atmosphere changes when you start running under 8 minutes per mile. That’s when the chattering stops and all you can hear is people breathing. When I worked up to 7-minute mile pace for the 5- and 10-k races I would do as a teenager, I found he was right.

To me, that is the real test: if you can carry on a conversation while running – or pause to consider a bribe from Cousin Sal – you aren’t going fast enough.
David Nakamura, 39, a journalist, has been a moderate runner for 25 years and currently trains weekly with the Namban Rengo, a Tokyo-based international running club. He sticks with the B-level running group during interval workouts, "out of respect for the far faster runners in the A group."


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Turkey Trot has calories to burn

By conservative estimates, the average American will hork down about 2,000 calories at dinner on Thanksgiving -- which is like eating 2-1/2 double Quarter Pounders with cheese at one sitting ... which is, like, painful to even think about.

But you can burn off some holiday calories preemptively (so long as you don't need to be at home manning the oven) by participating in the 21st annual Charlotte SouthPark Turkey Trot.

Between 5,500 and 6,000 participants are expected to run/walk events covering distances of 8 kilometers, 5 kilometers, 1 mile, and 26.2 yards. The cost to participate in the 8K is $27 online or $30 in person ($40 on race day -- if the event isn't sold out by then), and the starting gun for the 8K and 5K is at 9 a.m. Thursday.

We got answers this weekend to some of our burning questions about the big event from co-race director Scott Dvorak, owner of Charlotte Running Company.

Q. Remind us where the hills are on the 8K course?

Scott Dvorak: There aren't any really major hills on the course except at the finish. There's a slight climb as as you come up Barclay Downs and turn right onto Runnymeade, but aside from that the climb up Morrison is the only major hill, and it's at the finish, so you don't really notice it.

Q. One issue that comes up every time I talk to people about this race is the crowding. Is there a plan to ease this?

Dvorak: That was one of the major points of discussion last year. This year, we will have separate finishes for the 5K and the 8K ... we will be splitting the runners and walkers as the come up Morrison, so that the runners can have a clear path and are not running into the walkers at the finish. ... We also do still place temporary fencing near the finish to keep people from entering that area.

Q. I've also heard some complaints about how drinks aren't available right after crossing the finish line. Is this just a logistical thing?

Yes. Part of the issue regarding the water being placed on Roxborough -- 150 meters down from the finish -- is that it's just not possible to have the large volume of runners and family milling around for water and food right at the finish. We have to have it in an area that can handle that large amount of people. The parking lot right next to the finish just can't handle those numbers, so Roxborough is the best alternative.

Q. What kind of post-race food and drinks are going to be available?

We will have Owen's bagels available, as well as oranges and water at the finish. What we've found over the years is that much of the food was going uneaten, which has led us to cut back on what is offered. Participants were more interested in getting home then hanging around. This event is a little different than most races in that we operate off very little sponsorship, both in cash and in kind. We've attempted to try and lure restaurants out to have food available for the event, but given that it's a holiday, it just hasn't worked out.

Q. Why is the 5K listed as a "Walk"?

The 5K is listed as a walk because there aren't any age group awards nor chip timing. That being said, we do have people that run it every year.

Q. What do you enjoy most about putting on this race?

To me, the most enjoyable aspect of the event is that it truly is a family event. There's something for everyone, and I love how entire families will come out and participate. To me, it really is what Thanksgiving is all about, family coming together!

More info: The event benefits the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and the Youth Ministry and Outreach program at Sharon United Methodist Church. (Dvorak says he expects to give about $10,000 to those two charities this year.)

And -- since you'll burn 100 calories per mile -- the event helps you, too. So long as you resist that second piece of pie.

* * *

Live north of town? Try the smaller Lake Norman Turkey Trot. Details at

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

And we're off to the races...

Several of the fall's more unique races and runs are taking place around the region this weekend:

1. The Hendrick Marrow Program Half Marathon and 5K, Sunday, next to the Hendrick Motorsports' complex at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord: This new event's primary draw is the chance for half-marathoners to run through several Lowe's facilities, including the dirt track, the drag strip, and one lap around the NASCAR oval itself. Proceeds from this event will benefit the Hendrick Marrow Program of the Be The Match Foundation. The half marathon ($45) begins at 8 a.m., followed by the 5K ($25) at 8:30. There's a kids' 100-yard dash ($10) at 11:30 a.m. For the race Web site, click here. To register, click here.

2. The Santa Scramble 5K, Saturday, in downtown Concord: Three things set this race apart from the typical 5K. No. 1, it's got an afternoon start, at 2 p.m. No. 2, it's a point-to-point race, with -- I'm told -- an overall net loss of elevation (i.e. it's mostly downhill). No. 3, it kicks off the annual Concord Christmas Parade, so you can expect good crowd support and a festive mood all along the way. Buses will begin taking runners from the Cabarrus County Senior Center (331 Corban Ave. SE) to the start area at noon. All runners need to be at the starting line by 1:45 p.m. For the race Web site, click here. To register, click here.

3. The Thin Blue Line Run, 8 a.m. Saturday, at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police and Fire Training Academy, 1770 Shopton Road in southwest Charlotte: This brand-new 5K also takes place at a novel venue -- on the grounds where CMPD's recruits are trained. There's a good FAQ about what to expect here; it notes the race is not chip-timed, T-shirts vary, and there's no post-race food. BUT ... registration is just $10 (additional donations are welcomed). The proceeds will fund scholarships for high schoolers seeking careers in law enforcement, and two fallen officers will be honored on race morning. More info here.

4. The Fellowship of the Idiots Run, Saturday, at the Stanly County Family YMCA in Albemarle: Not so much a race as it is a loong training run (19.7 miles), from the Y in downtown to the top of Morrow Mountain and back. Start time is 5:30 a.m. There'll be water at Mile 6 and at Mile 13.7, and refreshments at the finish. Runners who complete the trek get a "Fellowship of the Idiots" T-shirt and a certificate, and their name will be engraved on the FOTI plaque at Vac & Dash. The best part? It's free. To sign up, e-mail your name and T-shirt size to or call 704-983-3274. More info here.

And don't forget the second of Run For Your Life's Thunder Road Marathon Course Preview Runs, 7 a.m. Saturday, the Dowd YMCA (400 E. Morehead St., on the edge of uptown): Runners will head out to preview the "back" 13.1 -- which reaches down into South End and up into NoDa. You can e-mail Dexter at with questions ... or just come out and register for $10. (Note: If you paid for Part 1, you're already good to go for Part 2.) Fee gets you water and/or Powerade at multiple hydration stations as well as a technical T-shirt, although quantities of the latter are now limited.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Odds + ends for my running friends

A couple reminders -- and a couple of news items -- to pass along on this gorgeous fall evening:

The Thunder Road Marathon is recruiting volunteers
for the big Dec. 12 event, which includes the 26.2-miler, a half marathon and a 5K. In addition to being involved with Charlotte's only marathon, you'll be supporting thousands of fellow runners and an event that benefits local non-profits; oh, and you'll get a cool long-sleeve volunteer T-shirt. Register as an individual, or grab some friends and make it a group effort. Remember: An event this big needs more than just the runners to be a success. Interested? Click here; the site lists the available volunteer positions and times help is needed. Questions? E-mail Jessica Douglas at

Looking for some running buddies? The Charlotte Runners Meetup Group hooks up Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. at Charlotte Running Co. in Dilworth for the "Pick Your Distance Run." According to the store's newsletter, runners can choose from four, six or eight miles -- "basically there is an eight-mile route that runs by Charlotte Running Co. three times. You just jump off when you're ready." Wear reflective clothing or a running light, since it gets dark early now. An added perk: Participants get 15 percent off purchases made before the run. Charlotte Running Co. is at 1412 East Blvd., Suite. G. For more info, click here or call 704-377-8786.

Kevin Collins, the guy who promised to wear a cheetah-print running skirt and a mohawk while competing in the Ford Ironman Florida on Nov. 7, finished the race in 14 hours, 27 minutes, 40 seconds. He placed 1,953th out of 2,329 finishers, but more importantly, he raised $11,418 for for Team In Training through the Janus Charity Challenge program.

The Great Urban Race, a national adventure-race series that made its Charlotte debut this past September, will be back with more challenges and brain-teasers on April 24, 2010. It's basically a scavenger hunt, with teams of two working to solve a series of 12 clues. (Read about one local team's experience.) For more information, click here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Huntersville man rocks it in Richmond

If you paid close attention to the SunTrust Richmond Marathon results I posted Sunday, you may have noticed the blisteringly fast time put up by Huntersville's Nathan Stanford: 2:43:46, which was good for 20th place overall -- out of 5,188 total entrants.

On Sunday afternoon, the 30-year-old Stanford took a few minutes to share some details about his race:

"Heading into the race Saturday I felt really good about my fitness. My coach, Mark Hadley, [and I] plotted out a plan to attack a sub-2:40 clocking. Unfortunately I fell just short of that goal; I did, however, run a six-minute PR, and I'm pleased with that.

"Fortunately the remnants of Tropical Storm Ida cleared out late Friday night, though she left us with her calling card: a nasty little northern wind that made the Lee Bridge crossing (at Mile 16) and ensuing run up Main Street a brutal three-mile stretch.

"I fell off pace a little during those miles, but I was able to tuck in with two other runners and resume a solid pace after the road flattened at Mile 19. Miles 22-26 were especially rough for me due to a fueling error, something I can easily correct in my next marathon."

He also added: "I'd like to thank the organizers of the Richmond Marathon. Everything, from the door greeters at the Expo, to the party zones along the course, to the volunteers handing out pizza in the finishers’ tent, makes this smaller-town marathon feel like a big-city event."

His coach, Hadley -- who is the father of local 12-year-old running sensation Alana Hadley -- said Richmond was Stanford's third marathon. In his first 26.2-miler, at Myrtle Beach in 2007, Stanford ran a 3:13; last year, he put up a 2:49:49 in Richmond.

Said Hadley: "This incredible improvement is a true testament to his dedication and hard work."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Thunder Road preview draws huge crowd

When I saw Run For Your Life's Dexter Pepperman this weekend at the Thunder Road Marathon Course Preview Run he organized, he was looking overwhelmed -- and happy.

The past couple years, typically about 100 people have showed up to run the first half of the 26.2-mile course. At 7 a.m. Saturday, nearly four times that many runners were queued up in the Dowd YMCA parking lot; seven minutes later, the masses created an awe-inspiring sight when they poured out onto Morehead Street.

"I have never seen so many people out running when it wasn't actually a race," said participant Chris Lamperski afterward.

What makes this all the more remarkable is that in the past, the event was free; this is the first year Run For Your Life has charged for it.

"I think what we will do next year is treat this as an official event, without a closed course and timing and scoring," RFYL owner Tim Rhodes told me today. "But definitely we will have to have more of an official plan going in, given how big it has gotten." (This is good news, since Saturday there were no Porta-Johns in the parking lot and the Y was closed, making for more than a few uncomfortable runners.)

In the meantime, there's still another half of the course to be covered: At 7 a.m. this Saturday, runners will head out to preview the "back" 13.1 -- which reaches down into South End and up into NoDa.

Online registration is closed, but you can e-mail Dexter Pepperman at if you have questions ... or just come out and register for $10 on Saturday morning. (Note: If you were a paying customer this past weekend, you're already good to go for Part 2.) Fee gets you water and/or Powerade at several hydration stations along the route as well as a technical T-shirt, although quantities of the latter are now limited.

Also, don't be scared off by the crowds: "Next week will probably be much smaller," Dexter tells me. "The second run usually is." This Saturday's preview run also will be held at the Dowd YMCA (400 E. Morehead St., on the edge of uptown).

The Thunder Road Marathon is scheduled for Dec. 12. For the race Web site, click here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

How'd Charlotteans do in Richmond?

The 2009 SunTrust Richmond Marathon was run on Saturday morning by some 5,000 participants, including many of our neighbors. Here are finish times for runners who reside in the greater Charlotte-area. (For the searchable results database, click here.)

Rebecca Sherck, 3:16:41
James Bossieux, 3:26:10
Sean Mayo, 3:26:24
Brian Helfrich, 3:26:54
Scott Golay, 3:27:23
Shawn Stilphen, 3:36:44
Christopher Murray, 3:50:21
Holly Townsend, 3:51:35
Mark Ulrich, 3:53:24
Rob Rogers, 3:59:42
Maureen Milligan, 4:04:44
Karen Bryan, 4:07:22
Shelly Lee, 4:07:55
Diane Derkowski, 4:09:25
Heidi Zabilansky, 4:10:36
Michael Carty, 4:13:45
Randall Bullard, 4:15:35
Donna Gilbert, 4:15:48
Cathy Lankford, 4:16:46
James Bales, 4:31:30
Thomas Davis, 4:32:26
John Gillis, 4:33:27
Amy Davis, 4:58:13
Mandy Lee, 5:01:00
Michelle Houston, 5:08:17
Jennifer Lock, 5:08:51
Glenn Roberson, 5:18:07
Ed Mulheren, 7:00:33

Ed Morse, 3:51:34
Kendall Calvin, 4:09:28
David Rodgers, 4:11:29
Laura Calvin, 4:29:31

Dean King, 3:29:57
Allen Strickland, 3:34:14

Naim Bouhussein, 3:30:06
Wallace Tarry, 3:52:53

Nathan Stanford, 2:43:46

Bryan Hurley, 3:34:07

Stan Austin, 3:09:10
Brenda Morris, 3:44:01
Tom Schumacher, 5:03:41
Tim Hewett, 5:26:59

Jim Giles, 5:02:50

Patrick Fry, 3:13:52
Lisa Fry, 3:29:46
Clinton Fisher, 4:41:17
Yvonne Hart, 4:45:34
David Gresty, 4:49:29

Matt Bauer, 4:08:50

Colleen McDonough, 4:07:17

Friday, November 13, 2009

'The fastest marathon course in N.C.'

A new marathon launching in Cary next year will include large portions of the American Tobacco Trail and is designed "to give runners the best opportunity possible to qualify for the Boston Marathon."

Race committee officials say the course for the Tobacco Road Marathon -- scheduled for Sunday, March 21, 2010 -- is largely devoid of hills; they also boast that the average temperature for that date is a runner-friendly 52 degrees.

"We believe we have put together the fastest course in North Carolina," says Tobacco Road Marathon Association co-chief Kazem Yahyapour, who co-founded Raleigh's City of Oaks Marathon.

Eighteen miles of the new marathon's course traverse the American Tobacco Trail, and the half-marathon course covers seven miles of it. Runners will start from the USA Baseball/Thomas Brooks Park complex in Cary.

Plans call for proceeds to go to the Wounded Warrior Project, the American Heart Association and the Triangle Rails to Trails Conservancy.

More details about the event are at the race Web site. You can also become a friend of the Tobacco Road Marathon on Facebook.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A perfectionist's pretty perfect 1st Ironman

Last Saturday, Huntersville's Kelly Fillnow ran a marathon in 3:23:47, a time fast enough to qualify her for Boston by more than 16 minutes.

Oh, and did I mention she did that immediately after swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112?

The 26-year-old finished Ford Ironman Florida (her first Ironman competition ever) in 10 hours, 16 minutes, 12 seconds to win her age group; she also was the No. 5 amateur and the 18th overall female ... out of more than 2,400 athletes who competed in the Panama City Beach race.

A former tennis player at Davidson College, Kelly decided to start training for the Ironman competition a year ago, after winning a Half Ironman in September 2008. "I had more fun competing in the triathlon than a typical road race," she says, "so I decided that I should follow my passion."

"I've constantly strived to find new challenges, whether it was skateboarding in kindergarten or deciding during my junior year of college to take up cross country while simultaneously playing collegiate tennis."

Because of her Type A personality, Kelly says, she was "always be the last one off the court [at Davidson tennis practices]. I could never allow myself to get off of the court until I ended with a perfect shot. I constantly asked my coach for an extra lesson." (After four years of tennis and two years of running at Davidson, she got a full scholarship to do cross-country and track for a fifth year at Duke.)

Her perfectionist attitude persisted after college. "During the first six weeks of my first job, I did not allow myself to leave my desk from 9 to 5 even if I had to use the bathroom, in fear that my boss thought that I was not working hard enough. I needed to find something to quench this state of perfectionism."

And that's what led to Kelly standing on a Florida beach last Saturday morning -- standing on the beach, sobbing.

"I knew that I was in God’s hands, yet I was still petrified of what lied ahead," she says of her brief breakdown. "So I started in the back of the pack next to a below the knee amputee. He inspired me to take that first dive into the water, and so the day began.

"My coach had warned me that I would go through many periods of ups and downs, and gave me a few cues on how to get back into my rhythm. I listened to his advice and never really raced outside of my comfort zone. I tried to maintain a pace where I was pushing myself, yet still remained in a controlled aerobic state. I kept wondering when the pain was going to start, but my body never got to a state of unbearable pain.

"Don’t get me wrong, I was not comfortable for 10 hours, but I had prepared my body for so much more physical pain that what I experienced. I believe the reason I never felt that intolerable pain my friends have described was because of the state of my mind. Your body can achieve anything you set your mind to accomplishing. But you have to have the right mental frame of mind.

"As soon as I crossed the finish line, my body stopped. I could not walk another step let alone think about running another 7:45 mile. I could barely walk to the massage table without assistance. ...

"I could not have gotten through the day without the strength from my God. I was able to experience His power in a completely new way. The day enabled me to see that all things are possible with Him, and that you should never put limits on what your body can do and what you can achieve."

Kelly's incredible performance qualified her for the world championships in Kona, Hawaii, set for Oct. 9, 2010. She plans to accept the invitation, and train even harder next time around. But for now?

"I am looking forward to making banana pancakes with friends on Saturday morning instead of waking up at 6:30 a.m. only to spend the next three hours on my bike!"

Kelly Fillnow is a certified personal trainer, lifestyle fitness and nutrition coach for Upgrade Lifestyle, Inc.

What to expect at 2010 N.C. Marathon

Thanks to Eddie Wooten up at the News & Record in Greensboro for allowing me to share with you his recent blog entry about how the N.C. Marathon organizes plan to reshape and refocus the event next year:

N.C. Marathon focuses on the runner experience

The best goodie bags. Organized cheering groups, flanked by pep bands or drum lines, giving shoutouts to runners all around the course. And a professional race announcer calling out the names of finishers as they cross the line.

Melissa Fourrier, the director of the North Carolina Marathon, says her organization is focused on the runner experience as preparations continue for the event March 20 in High Point. The race's slogan is, "Put some fun in your run at the N.C. Marathon."

"Last year we were focused more on getting the course squared away, course safety, water stations," Fourrier says. "This year that’s in place, so we’re looking more at fringe benefits for the runners."

The race was in Greensboro in its debut in May 2008, then in High Point in May 2009. The March 20 date on the 2010 calendar will fall about six weeks earlier and most likely in cooler weather.

The cheer zones will be a new feature, Fourrier says. Fourteen are scheduled to be spread around the course, and Fourrier is inviting community and school groups, including pep bands and drum lines, to get involved, to scream and to make signs to encourage runners. There’s even prize money: $500 to the charity of the winning cheer zone’s choice.

And Fourrier has recruited Creigh Kelley, a longtime race director, consultant and announcer nationally, to work the event.

"Just stepping it up a notch," she says.

The goal is to get 4,000 runners registered for the marathon, half-marathon and 5K, Fourrier says.

Other highlights related to the race:

TRAINING SCHOOL: Liz Lindsay will coordinate a training school for the three races. A registration event is set for 6-8 p.m. Nov. 19 at the Deep River Recreation Center, 1529 Skeet Club Road, High Point.

THE STARS ARE OUT: Endurance runner Charlie Engle of Greensboro will be the honorary chairman. Olympic gold medalist Joey Cheek, a Greensboro native, will be grand marshal and will judge the cheer zones.

TITLE SPONSOR: UnitedHealthcare is back as the title sponsor, which means $50,000 in cash from the company to race organizers and $15,000 in in-kind contributions, Fourrier says. The race’s budget is $170,000, which will be met with additional sponsors and registration fees, she says.

FOSTER FRIENDS: Foster Friends of North Carolina, for which Fourrier is the executive director, is the race beneficiary. If the race meets its financial goals, Fourrier says, that means $75,000 for the Foster Friends program, supporting sending children to camp, buying them yearbooks and eyeglasses and also supporting a mentoring program.

GETTING THE WORD OUT: Race promotion will be important for organizers. Fourrier says that means getting the word out in Runner's World, Running Times, Marathon Guide and Marathon & Beyond; radio advertising; use of Facebook and Twitter; emails to runners and volunteers from previous years; and community partners.

Have you run the N.C. Marathon before? Thoughts on the changes? Or do you have other general feedback?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Odds + ends for my running friends

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

Some smaller races to consider this weekend, all in the outer reaches of the Charlotte area:

  • The Got Monks? 5K and Fun Run takes place on Belmont's tree-lined Brother Paul Trail, which is named for longtime Belmont Abbey College cross country coach Brother Paul Shanley. Course is said to be "challenging but suitable for all abilities," a "dirt path that features gently rolling hills and bending curves." Details here.
  • Out further west is the Spencer Mountain 10-Mile & 5K Road Race in Ranlo, just north of Gastonia. According to the race site, "The 10-mile course starts with 4 miles of flat, open road, continues with 3 miles of rolling hills, and concludes with a steep 3-mile climb." If you're up for the challenge, click here.
  • The Redhawks 5K in Monroe is a very small race that starts and finishes at Monroe Middle School. Details here.
  • And don't forget the first of Run For Your Life's Thunder Road Marathon Course Preview Runs (details here). A $10 registration fee gets you a technical T-shirt, a wristband giving you access to the water and Powerade stations along the route, and a large group of other runners to keep you company. If interested, e-mail Dexter Pepperman at
  • One update: The Rumble in the Woods, a brand-new event at Lake Norman State Park that features trail runs of 12.6 miles, 6.6 miles and 5 kilometers, is sold out after hitting the caps for all three races last week.
* * *

Marvel at
this story about how hard it is to get into the ING New York City Marathon, read a long-winded recap of my recent experience in the NYC race, then head over to the official race Web site and throw your name in the hat for 2010. Online applications for the 2010 ING New York City Marathon are being accepted now through March 5, 2010, with the lottery drawing scheduled for mid-March. (Note: There's a non-refundable processing fee of $11 just to enter the drawing.)

If you're planning to make a run at qualifying for Boston in December, something to be aware of: According to a Washington Times story published Sunday, "Word from the [Boston Athletic Association] is that the race is within 1,800 runners of filling its 25,000-runner limit. Those spots are expected to be filled within three weeks." Meanwhile, a friend of mine said he spoke with someone in the registration office this morning and learned that registration for Boston 2010 is "around five weeks ahead of last year, so they are sure the race will be filled before the end of December." Apparently, if you're planning to try to qualify at Charlotte's Thunder Road Marathon or at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort Marathon, my friend was told "there may be slots available still ... but they were not confident that there would be."

On Oct. 25, 300 Marines competed in a marathon in the Afghan desert to coincide with the Marine Corps Marathon held the same day in Washington, D.C. Reader Vince Esposito reports that his brother-in-law, First Lieutenant Leonard Niedosik (MAG-40, USMC, Camp Leatherneck Afghanistan), finished in 3:27 to place 24th overall. Niedosik, a graduate of Charlotte Catholic High School, is stationed out of the Marine Corps Air Station in Cherry Point; his wife and child live in Charlotte.

Top locals at the OBX Marathon

Several area runners had strong finishes at Sunday's OBX Marathon. Bill Shires (who I profiled back in August) was the top Charlotte finisher, placing seventh overall with a 2:43:44. In doing so, the 44-year-old locked up several awards -- including the top N.C. USA Track & Field and N.C. Road Runners Club of America masters titles -- and took home $1,200 in prize money.

In an e-mail to me Sunday night, he wrote: "Heading into the OBX Marathon, I had a lot of concerns about a small injury in the week before the race. But the injury never posed any issues. In fact, the heat and moreso humidity and wind had greater effects on my race as well as other runners in the race." (Bill celebrated this morning by running six miles, extending his staggering streak of running at least a mile every day since October of 1986.)

Three other local men also came in under three hours: Douglas Rappoport of Charlotte (2:55:10), Stephen Ahrens of Charlotte (2:55:22), and David Audet (2:58:12).

Meanwhile, Megan Hovis (who I profiled along with husband Ben last week) was the No. 2 female finisher in 2:56:54. Haven't heard from either of them yet, but here's an excerpt from the Charlotte Running Club's weekly newsletter, which went out Sunday night: "Last year's overall female winner of the race, Megan Hovis, battled an aching knee the whole race, but held on strong. While it wasn't a PR, Megan finished ... with a solid time ... The injury was more severe for Ben ... [He] trained hard, and could have easily run 2:30, if it weren't for an Achilles [injury] that caused him to pull out of the race."

Also worth noting: Four Charlotteans broke 1:30 in the OBX Half Marathon Sunday. Daniel Matena was eighth overall with a 1:13:57; Chris Lamperski was 13th with a 1:15:15; Kent Morris finished right behind him in 1:16:35; and Caitlin Chrisman was the third overall female finisher in 1:20:24.

In a recap she e-mailed to me this afternoon, Caitlin wrote: "The first mile was right at the pace I was aiming for -- 6:05 -- and I felt relaxed. For the next 6-7 miles, I was running 5:59s, but that glorious pace slowed down once I hit the bridge that has a killer hill in it."

She says the next mile split clicked off at 6:30, and that she contemplated dropping out. But "after I crested the hill, I got my mind back together and, with three miles left, I continued to drop my pace back down. ... My goal going into the race was to run sub-1:20, so initially I was slightly disappointed. [Then] I realized I had over a two minute PR and also won some money [$650]."

For complete OBX results, click here.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The fastest couple in Charlotte

Regular readers of Runner's World have probably seen Pearl Izumi's cheeky series of ads in recent months. Using the tagline "Breed like an animal. Run like an animal," the upstart shoemaker essentially encourage runners to hook up with each other and make babies.

If Pearl Izumi ever needs a poster-couple, they should give Ben and Megan Hovis a call.

Megan (maiden name Hepp), a 27-year-old registered dietician and a personal trainer, has won the women's titles at the Thunder Road Marathon in 2007 and the Outer Banks Marathon in 2008; last year she also put up a 2:37:29 at the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in Boston. Ben, a 31-year-old teacher and head cross-country coach at Providence Day School, is a 2:33 marathoner (at the 2006 Twin Cities race). In May 2008, though they would not be engaged for four more months, they made headlines as the top male and female finishers at the Biltmore 15K.

In other words, Megan and Ben go together like ... well, a right running shoe and a left running shoe.

They were married on June 20th of this year, and their place in the world -- or in Charlotte, at least -- as "those runners" was cemented. Two and a half weeks ago, Megan won the LungStrong 15K women's race in 55:40, while Ben was the second overall man with a time of 50:09. Next up: Sunday's Outer Banks Marathon, a race Megan won last year and a place where Ben hopes to PR.

So, these two run like animals. Will they breed like animals? Read on to find out.

Q. When and how did you two meet? Was it love at first sight?

Ben: Megan and I first saw one another in November of 2007. We didn't talk then, but I definitely noticed her sporting her cute jean jacket. A few weeks later, after her Thunder Road victory, (we found ourselves part of the same) group run. Over the next couple (group runs), we started talking and flirting, and then I asked her if she could help me with my "nutrition." We set a time for a "nutritional meeting." A couple days before, I told her that I really just wanted it to be a date, and it was. After two weeks of dating, I knew that Megan was the one for me.

Megan: I actually wrote a silly e-mail to a friend right after running with him the first time saying, "I think Ben is cute."

Q. Did the wedding or the honeymoon incorporate running in some fashion?

Ben: Our wedding had multiple running themes, little chocolate sneakers as favors, "training" advice put together by my parents at the rehearsal dinner, wedding party entrance to "Chariots of Fire," calf sleeve toss instead of garter ... I think you're probably getting the point. So of course our honeymoon was based upon somewhere that would lend itself nicely to our passion for running. We decided on Sedona, Arizona, and woke up every morning for an awesome run on trails right from our resort.

Q. Describe each other's passion for running.

Megan: There is not a single day that goes by that he does not tell me how one of his kids did in the workout that day, or how he thinks he can train a certain kid to race as his number five and win conference. The best is when we go for a long run -- 18 miles-plus -- and for over two hours he has told me about his kids' times from years past. I have to tell him "you can tell me three more times, then you are done" or else I will get a headache!

Ben: Megan has a HUGE heart. She is one of the most unselfish trainers I've ever known. Megan has so many clients, and she would rather wake up and run at 3 in the morning than tell one of them she doesn't have time to meet with them.

Q. OK, let's talk about the big race Sunday. Why'd you guys pick Outer Banks?

Megan: We picked OBX because of the experience last year. I really enjoyed the course and I want to try and defend my title. Last year, I ran injured. In fact, I was running for 20 minutes on a soccer field the entire week before the race. My knee and right hamstring were in terrible condition and I just had to try and get through the race. I held it together enough for the win, but my time was nothing special. I would like to try and get a better time this year.

Ben: There is good money since it's the state championships, which also makes it an easy decision. My goal is to PR. I'm hoping for something in the 2:29-2:31 range and just to finish in the money. Megan is hoping to set a new state record, 2:44:13, and of course that would mean defend her state title.

Q. Do you get nervous before big races?

Ben: I don't think you're normal if you don't get nervous. I used to get really nervous, but realized that was probably just making things worse and I probably wasn't running to my potential because I was too tense. Now, I truly just run and trust in my training.

Megan: If anyone knows me, it is best to not try and take my port-o-potty spot as I may chop your head off. I usually am found jogging from one bathroom to the next due to nerves. I put a lot of pressure on myself and don't like disappointment.

Q. How many miles a week do you two run?

Megan: My average mileage is about 100 miles per week. Heavy training weeks have gotten up to 140, but I try to limit it to 110. Light weeks are usually around 85.

Ben: Over the years, I've had quite a range. I've been as high as 100, but I'm not sure if my body really likes that. During this marathon training I've gotten up to the mid-80s. Anywhere in the 70s and 80s seems to be just right for me. I believe in most cases, quality is more important than quantity.

Q. Megan, we know you're hoping to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in 2012. Tell us what has to happen to get you there... and, come to think of it, could you tell us how the Olympic Trials relate to the actual Olympic Games? I don't think people always get it.

In order to qualify for the trials, I have to run 2:46 to meet the B standard. You can start qualifying in 2010. The A standard is 2:39. Once the time has been run on a certified course, then you can run in the trials. The Olympics on the other hand, is a bit more difficult. You have to be in the top three finishers at the trials to make the team. Honestly, the Olympics is not the goal; to run well at the trials and hit a new PR would be ideal.

Q. Last month you won the LungStrong 15K, which was your first race in the CLT area since ... last year's LungStrong 15K -- which you also won. You've told us before that you don't race around here very often because it makes you nervous. Why??

Megan: For some reason I feel extra pressure when I race in Charlotte. It is almost as if I am afraid of letting people down if I don't run what I "should" be able to run. I also don't like to race at all unless I am healthy and fit. I have battled many injuries over the past year so I used races outside of Charlotte to get myself back into shape. I don't like to step on the line in front of people I know unless I am prepared to run a quality race. It may be a silly thing, but I am this way in many aspects of my life. If I have a speech or presentation in front of others, I have to practice a million times to make sure I am completely ready. I am not good at "winging" things.

Q. Ben, you don't race in town very often either, do you?

I'm not able to race as much as I used to in the late '90s and early 2000s because of coaching. When I was an assistant XC coach I could race on Saturday mornings and then head to our meet, but with more responsibilities that just doesn't happen anymore!

Q. What's been the most rewarding part of coaching at Providence Day?

Ben: I love coaching so much ... watching kids do things they thought they couldn't do is the most rewarding part. I tell the kids all the time "impress yourself" and I mean it. It's awesome to watch my kids' reactions when they go beyond where they thought their limits were.

Q. Now, let's bring it back to the relationship for a sec. Do you realize that when you have kids they'll probably be running circles around everyone else's kids?

Megan: We are definitely planning on starting a family, (but) we want some time to enjoy being married and to continue to train before we have an extra body to take care of. In fact, we are not even quite ready for a dog. The PLAN is to have kids after the 2012 Olympic Trials ... but we know how plans can change. All I have to say is watch out baby joggers -- the Hovis team will be coming after you soon.

Q. Obviously you both have a serious competitive streak -- otherwise you wouldn't be pursuing the goals you're pursuing. How competitive are you with each other?

Ben: (Laughing.) We compete over EVERYTHING! I proposed to Megan over a game of Scattergories.

Megan: We are probably the most competitive people you will ever meet. I am almost more competitive outside of running. When it comes to games, I HATE to lose to him. I have to say, I have yet to lose at Scattergories. ... We make everything into a game and enjoy the challenge from one another. Life with Ben is NEVER boring.

Q. Any silly pet peeves in this relationship?

Megan: Ha. I am not sure how he will feel about me telling this, but he is terrible at cutting his toenails. They are so long that even I get cut by them sometimes. Also, he is slightly addicted to running results and I get overwhelmed by hearing numbers day and night.

Ben: Hmmm ... Megan is a one-stepper! It kills me at times. I'd much rather run with Megan on single-track trails than at McAlpine or on the roads. She's got to constantly be one step ahead!

Q. Didn't mean to bring up a sore subject. So tell me: Where do you guys see yourselves when you're 50? What do you hope your lives look like then?

Ben: I hope we're still running. We're hoping to have two kids, so by 50 they should be middle school or early high school? I definitely want to still be coaching and teaching at Providence Day. I love Charlotte, so I'd assume that we'll be right here in the Q-City.

Megan: We both love it here. I think I have the greatest job in the world and don't ever want to change. ... When we are 50, Ben promised me I could run an ultra marathon. I have always wanted to do this. ... Maybe at 50 we will be taller.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dowd Y Run offers magic number: 13.1

If you want to run a half-marathon within the city limits, there's Thunder Road in December, Corporate Cup in March, Charlotte RaceFest in April, and then ... well, that's it -- for more than six months.

So by the time fall rolls around, fans of the 13.1-mile distance are chomping at the bit for some action.

Enter the Dowd YMCA Run, which offers a 5K Run/Walk, but is far more beloved for its fairly challenging half-marathon. Earlier today, we got the scoop on Saturday's highly anticipated race from Erin Morris, YCommunity special events director:

Q. OK, first things first: On a hilliness scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the half-marathon course – with 1 being flat and 10 being superduper challenging – ?

I haven't actually run the course (but) I am told that our half marathon course is about a 5 or 6. [Blogger's note: If you've run the course and can elaborate, please do so in the comments section!]

Q. How about the 5K course, on the same scale?

This one I would give a 4.

Q. It seems like the half-marathon would be a great tune-up for runners who are doing the Thunder Road full next month. Do you hear that feedback a lot?

The Dowd YMCA Run Half Marathon is a great training run for anyone doing the full marathon at Thunder Road. The Dowd YMCA Run and Thunder Road have actually teamed up to offer the opportunity of a Double Medal. So, if you run the Dowd Y Run ½ Marathon and the Thunder Road Half Marathon, you will receive a 26.2 medal when you cross the finish line on Saturday, Dec. 12. A 39.3 medal and a Thunder Road Marathon medal will be given to you as you cross the Thunder Road Marathon finish line if you complete the Dowd Y Run Half Marathon and the Thunder Road Marathon. So, by participating in both events you will receive a total of three medals – all different.

Q. Does the half-marathon course cover a lot of the same ground as thefirst half of the Thunder Road course?

There is some similar territory in the races – the Providence Road area. It’s another reason why it’s a good training run!

Q. Given all the recent debate about "plodders," I've gotta ask: What's the cutoff time for the half-marathon on Saturday?

There is a three-hour time limit for our half marathon.

Q. The half-marathon is unique simply by virtue of the fact that it exists, given that there aren't many halfs at all each year in Charlotte. Anything, in your mind, that makes the 5K unique?

In my mind it is the scenery. The course is through beautiful Dilworth.

Q. How many runners do you expect in the half, and how many runners and walkers do you anticipate for the 5K?

I’m expecting to have around 900 half-marathon participants and 400 5K participants. Possibly more – we are getting A LOT of race week registrations.

Q. There's a blood drive Saturday morning, too, right? Sorry if this is a stupid question, but if runners are interested in donatingbefore/after ... medically speaking, is it safe/OK for them to do that?

I don’t think so. The Community Blood Center of the Carolinas is hoping to pull in spectators, volunteers and members that day.

Q. What can you tell me about the perks – the race tee, the pre- and post-race festivities and food/drink?

Runners will receive a long sleeve T-shirt – who doesn’t love a long sleeve tee? They will also receive a goody bag with items generously donated by our sponsors. Pre-/post-race we have local support by Kiss 95.1, Trader Joe’s, the YMCA Fitness Bar and Restaurant, Dilworth Coffee, Great Harvest Bread, Crave, and Sub Station. We will also have the Coke Zero Interactive Truck.

Q. Finally, tell me about the charitable beneficiary for the race. Where will the proceeds go?

The Stratford Richardson YMCA is the beneficiary of this race. The dollars raised provide mentors for teens, send children to summer camp, help teach valuable job skills, offer health screenings for seniors and much more. Outreach programs such as after-school, photojournalism, summer camp and swim lessons have touched and improved the lives of thousands of Charlotte-area residents. Sponsorship dollars and race entry fees help to continue this support in our community. It’s a great event for a great cause – and the weather should be perfect for running.

Online registration for the Dowd Y Run is available until midnight Thursday -- cost is $35 for the half-marathon or $20 for the 5K; prices go up to $45 and $25 thereafter. For more information on the races, visit or click here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A long look back at my New York moment

I’ve never really loved New York.

My older sister went to NYU back in the ’90s, and I visited once in awhile since we grew up just a couple hours away in Connecticut. I also spent almost four years living in North Jersey earlier this decade, and every few months, I’d make a trip into the city only to be reminded of why I disliked it: The noise. The filth. The crowds. The construction. The degenerates, the mean natives, reckless cabbies, the impatient clerks, the hotels and restaurants that – if you stay long enough or eat and drink a lot – require you to take out a second mortgage.

Last weekend, I returned to NYC for the first time in a few years. Forty-eight hours of the trip were par for the course: stressful, annoying and expensive. In the other 229 minutes and 55 seconds, though, I saw a New York that I did not recognize at all. A New York that I’ll never forget. A New York that I absolutely, positively loved.

Here’s the story of my experience at the 2009 New York City Marathon:

I can dispense with the race expo and the pre-race pasta dinner quickly. The race expo was crowded and expensive and – since I didn’t get there until Saturday afternoon – somewhat picked over, although I did manage to get an $8 pair of Asics arm warmers and a nice white and blue race-branded Asics singlet. (I wore both items during the race and – spoiler alert – neither chafed.) The pasta dinner I took my family to was very crowded and very expensive, the pasta was unfortunately pretty mediocre (my second helping was almost inedible), and the music was deafening; I swear a drop of blood trickled out of my ear when Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” came on with the sound system cranked up to 11. But I went to the meal because I’d heard 15,000 others would be at Tavern on the Green’s setup in Central Park, which I figured would put all of our digestive systems on a somewhat level playing field going into the morning.

After dinner, we dipped into Central Park, where a hundred or more people walked and a smattering of runners jogged up the last 300 meters to the finish line as a light rain started falling. It was dark – a little before 7:30 p.m. Saturday – but that part of the course was all lit up with floodlights, bordered by blue and orange and white sideline barriers from title sponsor ING, race-ready. As the rain picked up, I walked with my wife and daughter to the top of the little riser right at the end (which I’d read about and which would serve as one final challenge 18 hours later), and spent a minute or two just staring at the finish line. The area was completely roped off and patrolled by heavy security. I was probably 25 feet away from it; I think my heart may have skipped a beat when it hit me that in the morning, I’d need to run 26.2 miles in order to see it again. At 7:30 sharp, a fireworks display started, sparks cascading along with the rain down over the park. I couldn’t help thinking it was a little early to start celebrating.

We got back to our hotel near Times Square a little after 8, and it was lights out for me less than an hour later. Though I dozed off within five minutes, five minutes later, I was awake again. It took a long time to get back to sleep, and after about 45 minutes I think I may have briefly considered punching myself in the face, but thought that might raise too many questions the next day. Eventually I drifted off – and though I woke up every hour or so and had several dreams that were frustrating but not running-related – I got up around 4 a.m. (15 minutes before my two alarms were set to go off) with about six or seven hours in the bank. This was six or seven more hours than I’d expected to get.

Got dressed in the new singlet, my race shorts, an old pair of socks and shoes; then I took a magic marker and wrote “T.” over one kneecap and “J.” over the other, in a shameless attempt to elicit personalized cheers along the route. I looked at my phone and saw it was in the 50s, so I skipped the old gloves and hat and just put on my other two pieces of throwaway clothing: an old pair of sweatpants with no elastic in the waistband (so I had to tuck them into my shorts), and a pullover windbreaker I got for free from Carowinds that was about half a size too small for me. I grabbed my carefully pre-packed baggage and was out the door at 5 to catch a subway ride to a ferry ride to a bus ride.

Not surprisingly, I immediately saw runners as soon as I exited the hotel. I also saw Halloween revelers heading home after a night of hard partying. In the subway station, I chatted up a runner from Minnesota who was on Marathon No. 6, and we gabbed to pass the time on the ride down to Whitehall Station, where mobs of runners were catching the ferry to Staten Island. After boarding the ferry, I hit the bathroom for the first time, then zoned out alone until the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge – which represented the first two miles of the race – came into sight off to the left. At that point, the bridge was still open, and though it was two miles away, you could see tiny buses forming a line that was crawling toward the Staten Island side. Just before deboarding, I hit the bathroom again.

As I got off the ferry, I knew it was going to be a nearly perfect day for running. It was cold, but not too cold, overcast, but not raining, and no humidity. I noticed the wind, but didn’t notice that it was mainly blowing from the north – and north is the direction we’d be heading for more than 20 miles. Boarded the bus, chatted up another runner from Minnesota who was on Marathon No. 14, and we gabbed to pass the time on the ride down to Fort Washington, where mobs of runners with a capital M were gathering to form a tiny temporary city of 42,000 people near the foot of the bridge.

We got there at about 7:45 a.m. My new friend Gary (the second Minnesotan) hung with me for the next hour, chatting over a free bagel and marveling at the massiveness of the whole thing. He asked me if I wanted to jog at all; I laughed and said, “I doon’t thiink so.” I thought I might be able to do 26.2 that day, but wasn’t so sure about 27.2. A little before 9, we wished each other good luck – I was in the 9:40 wave start and he was in the 10 o’clock group, which met in another part of the runners’ village. I strapped on my RoadID and my Garmin; set up my watch to try to get me through 26.2 at a 3:45 pace; chose the 3:40 pace band over the 3:30 and the 3:50; put Band-Aids over my nipples and arm warmers over my arms; then changed into my $30 blister-free socks and my actual in-service running shoes. After I loaded my SpiBelt with my iPhone, two gels, and five Advil, I ditched my throwaway clothes and checked my baggage at the UPS trucks. At about 9:10, I decided to hit the PortaJohn one last time. Lines were about a dozen people deep, but I figured I’d be through in time. At 9:14, though, came the first “oh-crap” moment of the day.

Over the P.A.: “Corrals for Wave Start 1 are now closed. If you are not in the corrals for the first wave, you will have to line up in the second wa--” … but before the pre-recorded female voice was finished talking, I was sprinting. So much for passing on the warm-up. When my corral came into view, it was packed. There were also plenty of PortaJohns inside the corral. I was thrilled a few weeks ago, when I learned I’d be in the first wave, with the “faster” runners. I knew it meant there’d be more people my speed, meaning less frustration and less energy wasted sidestepping slower folks. I also knew my family was counting on me hitting certain mile markers at times based on me starting at 9:40. So for those 90 seconds, in that mad dash to get to my corral, I thought there was a good chance the whole experience was going to be turned upside down. But then I got to the three women manning the entrance … and one just looked at my bib and said, “You’re good.” “No, you’re good,” I said.

I waited about five or six minutes in line to empty my bladder one more time, then came out, applied some Body Glide, ate a granola bar, and clutched two Powerbar gels in each hand as everyone started filing toward the bridge. As we marched, a row of guys was peeing through a fence and against the backsides of PortaJohns lined up outside of the corral area.

We queued up at the foot of the bridge, and I realized half the people around me were speaking another language. Some 20,000 participants in the New York City Marathon Sunday were from foreign countries, and the dark and drab throwaway clothes gave way to bright, bold colors representing all manner of nations, from France and Italy to China and Japan to Kenya (it’s true – not all Kenyans are elites, it turns out). After the singing of the National Anthem, sweatshirts and track pants sailed through the air as runners tried to get them up onto or over the empty buses lining the right side of the road. Most didn’t make it, instead winding up on top of other runners’ heads. Mayor Bloomberg gave a quick welcome, and a couple minutes later, at 9:44 a.m., the cannon was fired and Frank Sinatra’s booming voice started spreading the news.

Ninety-nine seconds later, amid what can only be described (and has been before) as a sea of humanity, I clicked the start button on my Garmin as I stepped across the timing pad.

There are three wave starts for the race, and each of those waves is broken down into three color-coded starts – orange, blue and green. All of this is done to alleviate congestion. On the bridge, orange and blue run across the upper deck, green take the lower level. Orange and blue briefly split at the other side of the bridge, before turning onto Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn; green stays straight on a completely different path along Fort Hamilton Parkway, then all three colors link up for the duration on Fourth Avenue a little more than 5 kilometers in. Being in the green start, I was disappointed to get funneled onto the lower level of the bridge, which provides less-majestic views, certainly is a bit darker and drearier, and where legend has it you run the risk of being splashed in the face with urine (from male runners up top who are making unplanned pit stops). Fortunately, it didn’t appear as though anyone was getting “rained on.”

Runners cross five bridges and see all five boroughs of New York during the city’s marathon. The boroughs are filled with fans, the bridges are devoid of them. Staten Island is the borough you run in the least – all you do is leave it – and the Verrazano-Narrows is the bridge you’re on for the longest. It’s two miles from end to end; logically, the first mile of the race is all uphill, the second mile all downhill. For one mile, the bridge seems to be urging/forcing you not to go out too fast, and after you crest, it practically dares you not to pick up speed.

For months, I’d listened to seasoned runners warn me over and over and over and over and over again: Don’t go out too fast. And for the first mile, at least, it was easy advice to follow. The combination of the hill and the densely packed field of runners made the climb feel endless; everybody just seemed to be trying unsuccessfully to find a rhythm, and the result was a pace that felt painfully slow. I kept looking down at the “current pace” field on my Garmin: 11:43 … 10:59 … 14:04 … once I was horrified to see that it’d taken seven minutes to go 0.52 miles. Only when I clicked off Mile 1 at 9:04 did I realize I'd simply misread the darn thing.

At this point, we were nearing the descent, the throngs were thinning ever so slightly, and runners began settling into a groove. A faster groove. I swear I was throttling back and letting lots of people pass me. I felt completely controlled, like I was putting out almost no effort. I remember thinking, “Run on ahead, guys. I’ll see you all again in 22 miles.” So when I hit Mile 2 just after coming off the bridge at 7:51, I thought, I know that was too fast, I will slow down ... but wow, that felt so easy. This would wind up being my fastest mile of the day – and though I eased off the gas immediately, a dangerous thing was happening: I was gaining confidence.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s the running gods’ idea of a cruel joke: a rite of passage every newbie must go through to earn his or her stripes, so to speak, sort of like a fraternity or sorority ritual that initially seems harmless but ends with you blowing chunks and realizing you’ve been hazed. Or maybe it’s just Darwinism – a lesson, like the one learned by the kid who’s warned not to screw with the cat, does it anyway, and gets gouged by claws. At any rate, that’s how it starts, I now know. Your heart rate barely seems elevated. You feel like you’re putting out almost no effort. You feel in complete control.

Anyway, as thousands of us spill off the bridge into Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, dozens of men were peeling off to urinate while shielded by lightpoles, shielded by bushes, shielded – in some cases – by nothing. Within a matter of a minute or two, we saw the first smatterings of spectators. Those of us in the green wave didn’t immediately turn into the neighborhoods with the neat row houses, so our first fan sightings were a few stray kids hanging out of apartment windows above the parkway and half a dozen immigrant families standing on overpasses every 200 meters or so, lightly clapping. But then we made a left turn and could see – three blocks away – the orange and blue waves charging up Fourth Avenue; next thing you know, we’re doing the same thing.

I’d been quick to strike up conversations with people earlier in the morning, but it became clear as soon as we got onto Fourth Avenue that there would be no more casual conversations. There was just too much to look at and take in. I felt like to engage another runner would be to risk missing … something – a child handing out orange slices, or a creative sign, or a cool band. I would be on Fourth Avenue for almost five miles, and over the course of those 40 minutes, the spectacle became increasingly absorbing. The reminders that this was an international race were everywhere: pockets of smiling, middle-class Irish, Italians, Arabs, Chinese, Greeks and others lined the streets in the early sections, greeting fellow countrymen with shouts of “Italia!”; water stations were controlled chaos – Gatorade to the front, water to the back, smashed cups everywhere, leaving a block-long puddle.

Though I was starting to feel like I needed to pee, the sights and sounds were a good distraction. Every time I saw a bank of PortaJohns, I briefly considered a pitstop. But since there didn’t seem to be any lines at any of them, I decided I could hold out until it was an emergency. Otherwise, I was feeling great. Crowds were thickening, my pace continued to feel effortless, and I recklessly tossed my H1N1 fears out the window by sporadically slapping hands with a few smiling kids. An NBC crew, escorted by a motorcycle cop, pulled up alongside my group, and we all started doing goofy things for the camera. After a minute or so of allowing us to ham it up, the vehicle stopped, a blonde reporter hopped off, broke immediately into a smooth eight-and-a-half-minute-per-mile pace, and started interviewing a woman behind me. As we prepared to cross the 10K timing pad, all of us pumped our fists in the air triumphantly for the photographers perched 12 feet above the action.

Meanwhile, I zeroed in on a fueling strategy: alternate water and Gatorade every mile, slowing for three quick walking steps to take just a couple or three swallows, and moving on. I planned to take a gel every five miles, and I hit my first mark perfectly. At that point, I was on the extreme left side of Fourth Avenue, where I was expecting my family to be, somewhere between Miles 6 and 7.

A few days before the race, my friend Shawn told me that seeing his wife during the Marine Corps Marathon provided a bigger boost than any gel ever could. About two-thirds of the way through Mile 6, I spotted the two “GO TJ” signs on the left and saw my mom and dad and my 8-year-old daughter and my wife wildly waving their arms. I veered to the side, touched my parents on the arms and said, “Love you guys!,” gave my daughter a squeeze, kissed my wife, smiled, waved, and was off again. I could still hear them cheering as I thought to myself, Shawn, when you’re right, you’re right.

I’d been holding steady at about an 8:15 pace for more than an hour when the route turned onto Lafayette and headed through the musical corridor, where yet more speakers blared music produced by live bands here, by DJs with turntables there; we also passed bagpipers and choirs, and I could swear at one point I heard a full orchestra. Lafayette being so narrow compared with the expansive Fourth Avenue, and crowds being so much thicker (as this is a good area for friends and family to try to catch sight of their runners before racing up to Queens or Manhattan to try again), these were the first moments in which I felt overwhelmed – in a good way. The whooping and the cowbells and the music were all right on top of us. It was deafening, and it was hard not to get a little bit choked up. It also helped take my mind off the steep half-mile ascent to the top of Lafayette, before we dropped back down the other side, turned left onto Bedford Avenue, and headed into Bed-Stuy.

Fueled by the crowds and the downhill section of Lafayette and Bedford, Mile 10 went by for me in 8:05. I took another gel and prepared to lock in. But just as I started to get used to the hooting and hollering, it faded. Bedford Ave. leads through Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, which is home to the ultra-Orthodox Satmar sect of Hasidic Jews, many of whom do not approve of the race (particularly because of the way female runners dress) and all of whom work or go to school on Sundays. While there were pockets of polite (non-Jewish) fans here, there were also plenty of men wearing black hats and long beards who were simply going about their days, in some cases dodging runners to cross the street. It was gloomy and fascinating all at once. Yet one of the bigger surprises of the day came around Mile 11, as we were almost out of that stretch: I noticed a tall, heavyset Hasidic Jew with hanging sidelocks, alone on a corner, who wore a faint but apparent grin and was lightly bopping to hip-hop music that played nearby…

I also noticed that I no longer felt pressure on my bladder. What I didn’t notice was my pace starting to slow slightly, to about 8:20, as we passed through the modern section of Williamsburg with its gentrified neighborhoods and then up onto Manhattan Avenue with all its Polish pride. In fact, it was on a bridge named after a Polish military commander when I felt the first signs of fatigue, when the freshness built up during the taper weeks started evaporating. I hit the halfway point of the New York City Marathon on the Pulaski Bridge in 1:48:56 (8:18.88 pace); I’d later learn that Mile 13 was my slowest – 8:25 – since Mile 1.

Queens went by quickly. With nine turns – one a near-hairpin – over just 2.25 miles, it was a complicated stretch requiring more focus. Frankly, I don’t remember much about Queens other than I was trying to a) hit the tangents, b) get another gel down, and c) mentally prepare for the second-biggest climb on the course and the legendary welcome I knew awaited our first entry into Manhattan.

The 125-foot ascent up the Queensboro Bridge is a test. This time, everyone’s on the lower level. It’s dank. It’s dark. The only sounds were the din of the city, and the labored breathing and the pounding of feet echoing off of the girders. After charging through throngs of revelers and well-wishers in Brooklyn and Queens, the relative silence was almost ominous – and now, of course, with a big hill in my face and no interesting distractions around, running was nowhere near effortless anymore. But like I said, it’s a test, and passing the test – even at a painful 8:56 pace – yields the most exhilarating reward any runner could ever imagine.

Provided you have the means, you can run in beautiful locales anytime you want. Through the Irish countryside, along the Mediterranean coast, over magnificent trails in Colorado or Oregon. But the positively electric “wall of sound” waiting for runners as they come off the 59th Street ramp into Manhattan only exists for a few hours a year, and there simply is no way to describe it properly. All I can say is that I will never come closer to feeling like a rock star. It’s a scene of absolute, unbridled jubilation, four people deep. If you run this race and don’t get a lump in your throat on the way into Manhattan, your pulse needs to be checked – or maybe the New York Road Runners should just ban you from ever doing the race again. And this party doesn’t end here. For 3½ miles on the Upper East Side’s First Avenue, it’s nothing but the sound of thunder. It’s a six-lane straightaway, a vast thoroughfare, and the amount of people lining the streets with signs and flags and treats for runners made my head spin. More experienced marathoners probably can keep themselves from getting caught up in the delirium, but of course, I had no experience – so there I am cranking it up to the point where I covered Mile 18 at 8:00 flat, my fastest mile since Mile 2, and that revelation intensified my fatigue. The search in this stretch for my family came up empty, which also deflated me slightly. I’d now been running for 2½ hours.

I ran Mile 19 in 8:35. At the top of First Avenue, we crossed over the Willis Avenue Bridge into the fifth and final borough – the Bronx – hitting Mile 20 just a few blocks in. After covering Mile 20 in 8:59, I took another gel. This, for me, is where the focus started to shift from enjoying the crowds to simply tolerating them. The live bands and the pre-recorded hip-hop were becoming a less-welcome distraction. Approaching the turn off of 135th Street onto Alexander Avenue, there was an enormous Jumbotron showing runners making the right. People were pumping their fists, but with far less enthusiasm than they had a couple hours earlier. We crossed the Madison Avenue Bridge back into Manhattan, and on the far side, Mile 21 clicked off at 8:55.

I hadn’t quite hit the wall yet, but I could sense it coming. I started second-guessing or criticizing the race I’d run thus far. My too-fast start. My fueling strategy (should I have taken more gels? Why do I feel so thirsty all of a sudden?). My surge on First Avenue. My decision to do this at all.

What was I trying to prove? I spent 35 years of my life never once dreaming of running a race this long. A year ago, I could barely run four miles without needing a sandwich, a beer, and a nap. Even after I caught the running bug, the concept of a marathon was something my brain couldn’t process. You’ve heard your friends say it: “You’re going to run 26.2 miles? I don’t even like to drive that far!” But if a runner falls into the right (wrong?) crowd – for me, a local running group – it becomes an organic part of his or her evolution. You go out for a run with the group, and the natural conversation starter is, “So, are you training for anything?” And you talk about your 5K or your 10K, and you talk about how you got into running, and you talk about your job and your family and this trip you’re planning and that new restaurant over on such-and-such street and … hey, did we just run 10 miles? Your new friend says yes, and would you like to do it again next week? And you say sure, and next week it’s his turn – and he’s talking his job and his family and how he got into running and how he got roped into his first marathon and how he’s doing his eighth marathon next fall and in the back of your mind you’re thinking this guy is 10 years older and 20 pounds heavier and if he can do it maybe I can do it and … hey, did we just run 11 miles? Your new friend says, Why yes, we did. And the weeks go on and the miles pile up and the next thing you know you are signing up for 26.2.

Which is how I found myself slamming into the wall at Mile 22 of the New York City Marathon.

It’s a demoralizing series of moments for someone who had hoped to get through the race without any true walk breaks or pitstops. My legs didn’t cease to work; they just didn’t want to run anymore. At the water station at Mile 22, I couldn’t get started back up. The feet were full of lead, I was getting thirstier, and although I wasn’t necessarily hungry, most of the energy had been sapped from my body. I walked for what seemed to be an eternity but was probably more like about 45 seconds, then literally willed my legs to go, figuring that even at a plodding pace I could do a mile in less than 10 minutes. If I walked, it could take twice as long to cover the same distance. Of course, what I’d forgotten over the previous three hours is that New York has a mean streak.

The 100-foot ascent heading south alongside the eastern edge of Central Park comes at a terrible time for runners. In their weakest, darkest hour, the rise up Fifth Avenue begins two-thirds of the way between Mile 22 and 23, and peaks at about 23.5. The crowds here, again, were thick with families and friends trying to coax their runners through one of the toughest parts of the course; I got a boost when I caught a brief glimpse of my dad as he shouted my name around 100th Street. But about halfway up the hill, my hamstrings started revolting – those little tug-like cramps with each leg lift. I walked again briefly somewhere on Fifth Avenue, but mustered up the strength to make the turn into Central Park at a “run.” Mile 24, at a 10:25 pace, registered as the slowest mile of the day.

Still, I was almost home. The roar of the crowd was intensifying. But again, New York tries one last time to wear you down: The final two miles of the course get downright nasty, with risers that make the hammies weep and dips that make the quads scream for mercy. For most of the race, I’d been trying to take everything in: the sights, the sounds, the smells, the atmosphere. But in those last 20 minutes, I found myself trying to shut everything out. They say running is just putting one foot in front of the other, and that’s all I was trying to do. I was focusing on the six feet on the ground ahead of me. I’d completely stopped looking at my watch. As most marathoners know, at the end, there’s nothing to do, really, except try to hang on.

At the bottom of the park, we cut right and headed west on Central Park South. The cacophony of cheers continued to get louder; I continued to turn even more inward. Then, a serendipitous moment of clarity: As we made the final turn back into Central Park, I looked up, and – I’m not making this up – for the first time all day a shaft of sunlight peeked out of the midday sky. Amid the screaming of the fans in the bleachers right on the corner there by Columbus Circle, I welled up just a bit and thought to myself, I’m going to make it, and I’m going to remember this forever. It was perhaps my clearest thought of the entire race.

The last .2 miles included that final little riser I’d regarded warily 18 hours earlier, and it was right at the base of it – with the finish just out of sight – that I was struck with my first and only hunger pang. I’d forgotten to take a gel at Mile 25, but at this point, it didn’t matter. I crossed the line in 3:49:55.

The rest, as they say, is history. The highs – the sea of humanity on the Verrazano, the wall of sound at 59th Street, the feeling of finishing – are burned into my mind’s eye; the lows – going out too fast, the walk breaks, that deflated feeling – provide motivation to try to get it right the next time. The finisher’s medal proves I did it; the residual pain and soreness prove I’m alive.

Is it the best marathon on the planet? Well, I haven’t run any others, so I have nothing to compare it to. But I know that the race took me to parts of the city that I’d never seen, and that the experience took me mentally to places I’ve never been to. I know that 2009’s 42,000 participants made it the world’s biggest marathon, and that more than 2 million spectators – including people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and creeds – helped get us through it with smiles on their faces and with joy in their hearts.

And I know that while New York still isn’t easy to love, on the first Sunday of each November, it’s a pretty impossible place to hate.