Saturday, July 11, 2009

Doing It Old School - Grandfather Mountain Marathon

This morning was the annual Grandfather Mountain Marathon, which starts in Boone, NC and finishes at the base of Grandfather Mountain. It's a point-to-point race with, as you might have gathered, many a hill to be climbed. It's one of my favorite marathons, not only because the course is challenging and scenic, but also because it hearkens back to old-timey marathons, where there were few rules and they were strict.

If you're looking for a large marathon, look elsewhere. The race is capped at around 475, and usually fills up, though not quickly, which is an indication of 1) the perceived toughness of the course, and 2) the relative remoteness of the location (Boone being well over two hours from either Charlotte or Greensboro airports).

You must show valid ID when picking up your race packet. There is no timing chip. After the first couple of miles there is no traffic control. There is a five-hour cutoff, and you will not be allowed to finish at the official finish line if you go much over that time. Age group awards are meted out in 10-year increments (e.g., 40-49) instead of five. Back in the day, but not now, you weren't awarded a t-shirt until and only if you finished the race. I've been told that during its initial years there were no aid stations, just one-gallon jugs of water placed intermittently for all to share.

The pluses, for me and other hardy souls, include spectacular scenery, friendly volunteers at all the aid stations, and a finish that's completely out of the ordinary. Imagine toiling over 26 miles, often alone or nearly alone, and then running up a short hill onto a cinder track, where 12,000 spectators are there, cheering you on. Okay, actually they're there for the Highland Games which are going on concurrently, but it's weird to see lasses dancing around on stage while burly men in kilts appear to be tossing telephone poles around. Psychedelic tartan.

My first Grandfather Mountain Marathon happened in 1999, and was my second marathon overall (My first was the Jan. 1999 Run For Peace Marathon, which went from Davidson College to Johnson C. Smith University, but that's another story). Since then I've run it six more times; unfortunately I couldn't pull it off today due to injury.

I want to give a big shout out to my Wilkesboro, NC-based running buddies who were able to run it today. They put in some serious training leading up to this event. Jim Allen, Heather Barnes, and my running mentor, Rickey Reeves. Great job!

Chad R.

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