Saturday, October 23, 2010

Ultra guy unites runners in Davidson area

Chad Randolph likes to joke that he and his friends started the Davidson Area Running Team nearly two years ago because they were interested in getting some cool T-shirts made up.

The T-shirts -- unveiled this summer -- certainly look good, and you can see the team logo used on them on the group's Facebook page. But what's truly cool about the Davidson Area Running Team (a.k.a. DART) is how Randolph and his cohorts have been able to establish a tight-knit running community in and around this tiny college town.

Currently, the informal group claims more than 40 members, many of whom get together for weekly group runs as well as special runs, such as the Davidson Run for Green half marathon preview held three weeks before the Sept. 18 race. Randolph, semi-retired at just 45, is listed on the Facebook page as the club's sole officer (he credits Dave Munger as his primary partner in crime).

The husband and father of one is known to many runners in Charlotte because he is a former part-time shoe guy at Run For Your Life-Dilworth and now fills in occasionally at the store in University City. Randolph also serves on the Davidson Greenways Citizens' Advisory Board and Davidson Lands Conservancy's Run for Green committee.

It's not uncommon to see him doing local races in his Vibram FiveFingers, or at ultramarathons regionally. In fact, in 2011, he plans to tackle his first- and second-ever 100-milers ... all within the first four months of the year.

Read on to learn more about DART, his passion for minimalist footwear and ultras, and how the heck he is able to be semi-retired at such a relatively young age.

Q. Everybody loves a good origin story. Tell me DART's.

Davidson is a small town with a fairly large number of runners, and you'll notice that when you go through town you'll see a handful of people running at any time of day. The town prides itself on being bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly, and within its environs there are many running spots, such as the greenway, Fisher Farm, and Davidson College's cross country trail. Davidson Area Running Team came about as a result of a discussion between Todd Hartung, Jim Crotts, and me one day while we were running on the greenway nearly two years ago. Wouldn't it be nice if we were to put together a running club for the area that would encompass Davidson and the surrounding towns of Mooresville, Cornelius, and Huntersville? ... Seeing as they both had real jobs and I had recently retired from Lowe's, the job of putting together a vision, running group, and website fell to me.

Q. What's your longterm vision for DART?

I would like to keep DART small and local and yet less dependent upon one or two persons. Right now it's mostly me and Dave Munger updating the online presence and putting together the group runs. In the future, I'd like DART to be a clearinghouse for all things running-related in the Lake Norman area, including group runs, routes, races, stores, and gear reviews. I'd like to work more with some of the other local running groups such as the Charlotte Running Club, the Birkdale Runners/Walkers Group, and the University City Road Runners. I'm contemplating having DART put on a series of T-shirt races, a la Mangum Track Club, in the near future.

Q. When and why did you start running?

While I've always been athletic, playing basketball in high school and tennis in college, I never saw the appeal of running in and of itself. Back in the day, running was used as a punishment for making goofs in "real" sports. I credit two people for getting me into running. First was my brother-in-law Greg, who starting running in the early 1990s as a means of losing weight. He talked me into running with him even though I've always been pretty lean and didn't need to lose weight. After a couple of years of running four to six miles at a time with Greg, I was seduced by the dark side of running, namely long distance. Rickey Reeves of Millers Creek, N.C., talked me into running with him and his group. On Sundays, we ran 16-22 miles through areas of rural Wilkes County I'd never been through even in a car. Although I've gone on to running ultras, I still consider Rickey to be my mentor.

Q. And … when and why did you start running in Vibrams?

I'm known for being in the forefront of minimalist footwear and have been running mostly in Vibram Fivefingers for a while. This was before Christopher McDougall's book "Born to Run" came out. The reason I picked up running in FiveFingers is pretty simple, and had nothing to do with curing any ailments or refuting the supposed evils of the big running shoe companies. Two years ago, I saw a guy wearing them at the starting line at the inaugural New River Trail 50K. Like any other runner, I'm always interested in trying new stuff, so I picked up a pair of FiveFinger KSOs and began running in them. Without trying to sound too preachy, I've found that they do enhance proprioception and make running more enjoyable. After several months of adjusting my stride and cadence, I started running in races and my times as compared to previous years' were slightly faster. I've run three marathons in FiveFingers (Hatfield & McCoy in 2009, Thunder Road in 2009, Boone marathon in 2010) and every one, though successful, was slower than what I might normally do. I attribute this to foot fatigue over time and distance, and now run in Nike Free or New Balance MT101 shoes on longer distances. For this Saturday's Ridge to Bridge Marathon, I'll be sporting a pair of modified Saucony Fastwitch 2 racing flats. I've cut about half of the heel off and made eighteen horizontal slits in the sole to provide more flexibility.

Q. What are your next big races? They're the 100-milers, right?

Yes, I'm doing the Iron Horse Endurance Run 100-miler in February 2011, followed by the Umstead 100-miler in April. I picked Umstead as it's nearby and it's on the bucket list of many ultrarunners. I picked Iron Horse because I didn't want to put all my hopes on the Umstead race. So I'm using a 100-mile race to prep for another 100-mile race. ... For both, my obvious goal will be to finish and my secondary goal will be to finish each in under 20 hours. I've been told by veterans that they're "easy" races in that they're non-technical -- flat, gentle surfaces. I'll get back to you on that. ... I enjoy longer races than shorter ones; after a 5k I usually end up falling asleep, whereas for a marathon or ultra I'm usually amped up the rest of the day.

Q. How do you stay motivated during long training runs?

I don't have a problem staying motived during long runs as long as the scenery isn't too boring. I tend not to wear headphones when I run, though I did wear them during the last nine miles of the Iron Horse 100K and that really helped pass the time, as it was dark and other runners were few and far between. (Randolph finished in 11:49 at the Florida race last February.)

Q. How do you balance a heavy training load with a family?

My wife Laurie is very understanding, and actually prefers that I run rather than sit at home and read running blogs. My son (James, 6) thinks it's my job.

Q. Describe what it is you love about running in general.

Running is a lifestyle akin to surfing. The clothing, the lingo, the attitude. To paraphrase Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, "All I need are some tasty roads, a cool breeze, and I'm fine."

Q. Describe what it is you love about ultrarunning in particular.

When I lined up for my first ultra, the Triple Lakes 40-miler in 2007, Laurie remarked that the people looked different. In what way? Crunchier, she said. Ultra races are generally low-key events frequented by low-key people. From the winners to the last-place finishers, ultrarunners are uniformly gregarious.

Q. You retired at age 41. What was your secret?

Nothing glamorous like cornering the tungsten market or something. When I started at Lowe's in 1990, it was one of a dozen regional home improvement stores and grew dramatically during the 17 years I was there. Equally importantly is that Laurie was at Lowe's for 18 years.

Q. Finally, what are your three proudest accomplishments as a runner?

The most emotionally uplifting experience was my first marathon, the Charlotte Run For Peace in January 1999, which was a point-to-point course from Davidson College to Queens College. When James was 6 months old, I began running with him in a baby jogger and I pushed him in runs and races -- mostly 5K and 10K races -- until last spring. I really enjoyed the time we spent together outside. The longest race I've accomplished, this year's Iron Horse Endurance Run 100K (62 miles), was the first race in which I was awarded a belt buckle as a finisher's award. You can bet that if I'm wearing pants I'm probably wearing that belt buckle.

For more info on the Davidson Area Running Team, click here.


Aaron Linz said...

Chad rocks! If you are up in the Davidson area, take the opportunity to run with him. Looking forward to hearing how the ultras go in 2011.