Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Confessions of a race-aholic

If you saw the reader New Year's resolutions I posted last Friday, one runner might have stood out to you: Bobby Aswell Jr., whose goals include "Run my 150th marathon ... I've completed 144 to date" and "Run 55-plus races for the year."

Anyone who knows him knows he'll nail this, no problem. Over the past 22 years or so, Aswell has run nearly 1,200 races, including 145 marathons (an average of 6-7 per year). He typically races every Saturday -- sometimes even more frequently.

Last weekend, in a span of less than 36 hours, the 47-year-old Cornelius man ran three races: the Running of the Lights 3.2-miler in Clemmons (19:22) to ring in the New Year; the Girls on the Run 5K in Denver (18:41) at 8 a.m. New Year's Day; and the Mt. Mourne VFD Elf 5K race (18:38) at 9 a.m. Jan. 2.

And that's not even a personal record.

"Three races in 33 hours is a lot, but about 15 years ago, [my friend] Ken Wong and I ran five races in 36 hours, driving a total of 1,200 miles across three states," says Aswell, a systems analyst/programmer at Wachovia. "After all that, we still made it back to Charlotte for our group run Sunday afternoon."

I talked to Aswell this week about his how his family deals with his addiction (er, obsession), his most memorable race experiences, and what he does with all those race T-shirts.

Q. You have no problem admitting you're addicted to races, right?
Addicted, who me? Obsessed, maybe!

Q. What is it, do you think, that drives your desire to race as much as you do?
Most of my friends are runners, so I enjoy going to races to see them. In addition, I love the competition as well as competing against myself. It's also a great way to stay in shape.

Q. Has your family ever tried to stage an intervention?
Actually, my wife (of almost 13 years) is a runner and knows this is what I do. Back when Jean raced a lot, she was one of the top female runners in the area. Her 5K PR is 17:35 and her marathon PR is 2:50:11. She still runs about four times a week, and races several times a year. As far as my daughters (Nicole, 8, and Natalie, 5), I’ve been taking them to races since they were babies, so they think that's what people do on Saturdays.

Q. OK, coolest race you've ever run. Go.
Hands down, coolest race has to be The Last Marathon in Antarctica I ran in 1997. The logistics were an adventure in themselves: flight to Miami; then to Buenos Aires, Argentina; then to Ushuaia, Tierra Del Fuego (also known as "the bottom of the world"); board a Russian research vessel; travel across the Drake Passage (home of the roughest water on earth); come to within yards of icebergs the size of buildings; and onward to King George Island in Antarctica. Race morning: board a zodiac raft to get to shore; run around Russian, Chinese, and other research bases; encounter penguins, seals, and skuas (giant seagull-like birds that dive-bomb runners); run up and down a mile-long glacier twice, thru snow, ice, and mud so thick it pulls your shoes off. It was a blast!

Q. Most disappointing race?
It has to be the race that wasn't! Ken Wong and I traveled to Denver, Colorado, in 2004 to run the Denver Marathon on Sunday and then watch the Carolina Panthers play the Denver Broncos. It was going to be an awesome weekend! We got to the race expo to pick up our packet only to find out that the race was canceled! Why? Because the race director didn't have a race permit! Amazing! However, luck was on our side when we went for a run Sunday morning near the football stadium and ended up on a 5K course for a race that hadn't started yet. We ran to the starting line, paid our entry fee, and ended up getting our "fix" after all. That afternoon, we went to the football game, where Denver came from behind to beat the Panthers.

Q. How about, what's the strangest thing that's ever happened to you during a race?
It has to be what happened in the Snickers Marathon in Albany, Georgia, in 2007. I was near the half-marathon split in the marathon when I was passed by a cyclist. I didn't think much of it at the time, but that cyclist ended up being the fourth-place finisher in the marathon! He had hidden a bike on the course, changed his clothes, got on his bike and rode most of the rest of the course before dumping his bike and disguise and running across the finish line. Using race photos and research from the Internet, the runner was later DQ'd by the race committee. It's amazing that someone would want to run Boston so bad as to come up with such a pre-meditated plan. However, he picked the wrong runner to pass!

Q. Do you have a favorite annual Charlotte-area race?
I really enjoy the Charlotte RaceFest half-marathon that's held in April. It's a challenging course run at the most beautiful time of year in Charlotte, when the weather is usually perfect.

Q. What constitutes a great race experience?
To me, a great race experience includes a fair entry fee, nice race T-shirt, good post-race refreshments, nice awards for the overall, masters, and three deep in five-year age groups, an accurate and well-marked course, and a race that starts on time.

Q. Do you have any pet peeves when it comes to how races are organized?
I dislike it when races are advertised as a distance and then come up short or long, there aren't enough bathroom facilities, races start late, and courses aren't marked well, causing runners to run off course.

Q. How many different states have you raced in?
I've run in every state at least once. On June 22, 2002, Ken Wong and I completed running a marathon in the 50 states and D.C.

Q. Are you constantly trying to figure out how to work within a budget to afford races and race travel?
For the last 10 years, I've averaged almost 60 races a year, so racing does get expensive. To keep expenses down, I pre-register when possible. If traveling, I make travel arrangements at least 30 days in advance, check on last-minute deals, and buy staples such as bagels, Gatorade, water, etc., from a grocery store when I get to the location. For rental cars, and sometimes hotels, I use

Q. Let's go back to talking about those New Year's resolutions. You mentioned you want to work toward running a marathon on every continent, and that you want to do an ultra longer than 50 kilometers. Details?
Since running a marathon in Antarctica and completing the 50-state circuit, the natural next step is to run a marathon on every continent. I'd like to complete it before I turn 50, but most of the trips will be several thousand dollars, so we'll see how it goes. I was all set to run the Great Wall Marathon in China the year SARS reared its ugly head, but they cancelled the trip. I'm currently looking at the Berlin Marathon in September, or maybe the Amsterdam Marathon in October. Both are rated in the top-10 marathons in the world, and are very fast courses -- as well as being great places to visit. As far as ultras, I've run three 50Ks, so I'm looking forward to running something a little farther, maybe a 40-miler. I ran the Triple Lakes Trail Marathon last year, and they have an accompanying 40-miler, so that is a possibility.

Q. Do you save all the race shirts, bibs, medals, and trophies?
I used to save all of the T-shirts, but with our last move, I sold some at our garage sale and gave some to family. Since then, I've saved most of them. Need any? I always save a copy of the race brochure and my race number, and have since the beginning. As far as awards, I do save them but have given a bunch of them to the girls.

Q. Oh, one more thing: Are you nuts?
Aren't we all just a little nuts?


Anonymous said...

Interesting that you didn't ask...since you run so many races and run so fast, how do you keep one race separate from another? Another question would be, with you running so many races, and so many races held each weekend, what makes a race get your attention and makes you decide to run it?

Anonymous said...

OK, that does it. Bobby Aswell Jr. is my new Hero. He's the only person I have ever met more passionate about the sport than I am.

Keep truckin, Bobby, keep truckin!

Anonymous said...

This guy is a machine! How does stay so injury free??