Sunday, June 20, 2010

Race Recap: Bethel Hill Moonlight Boogie 50-Miler

"Tonight, tonight the highway's bright
Out of our way mister you best keep
'Cause summer's here and the time is right
For goin' racin' in the street"
-Bruce Springsteen, "Racing in the Street" from the album "Darkness on the Edge of Town"

You know how it is when you see someone wearing a shirt advertising a race that you've only heard about, some sort of semi-mystical event that's spoken of in hushed tones in running groups, one that sounds impossibly difficult to run because of the distance, terrain, temperature, mean-assed country dogs or some unholy combination thereof.  You look at the person and wonder how in God's name they not only finished the race but had the courage to enter in the first place.

That's how I would view those who wear a Bethel Hill Moonlight Boogie shirt.  Bad enough that it's 50 miles, but on top of that add looong asphalt hills, mid-June Southern temperatures, and, oh yeah - the race starts at six o'clock in the evening which guarantees a good chunk of the night spent running in the dark.  Anyone wearing said shirt got my respect as well as a little wariness as they couldn't possibly be "all there" in the head.  Crazy!

So it was with a little trepidation that I signed up for the 50-miler (there's a marathon option as well).  I'm no stranger to running in the hills and heat and I'd recently done a 100k (which is 12 miles longer).  What I hadn't done is run at night, and that concerned me.  I've been thinking about either a 100-mile or a 24-hour race for the fall and needed some night practice.  Seeing as the Boogie was less than a two-hour's drive from home I decided it would be a good primer for something longer.  Little did I expect the challenges that lay ahead that night.

I arrived at the starting area a little early and relaxed in the car.  Once packet pickup began I traipsed across the small parking of Bethel Hill Baptist Church lot to pick up my number.  When I got back to my car I was sweating profusely.  The thermometer affixed to the only tree around showed ninety degrees in the shade.  No wind and no cloud cover.

After an informative session by Eric Fogelman and his son Brad about their recent experience at the Comrades Marathon in South Africa we stood around while race director and ultrarunner Doug Dawkins gave us the rundown.  Other than the usual "run facing traffic" and "take it slowly to begin with" I heard him mention something about rattlesnakes not being endangered in the area and to stay out of the tall grass adjoining the road.  Shortly thereafter we all lined up at the starting line, marathoners facing one way (to get their .2 miles in before doing 26 miles) and 50-milers facing the other.

First lap, first ten miles
The course was laid out like a lollipop, with a big circle for the first six miles and a narrow out-and-back for the last four.  Repeated five times would be the race.  Soon after the start I met and ran alongside Robert Cortes, who's been in the military for nearly twenty years.  It was good to have him along to talk to, as it took my mind off the humidity.

Second lap, second ten miles
Miles eleven thru sixteen were when I started seeing people in various stages of vomiting.  Must have been the heat.  At mile sixteen Robert and I grabbed our headlamps as it was getting dark and we were about to run the creepiest portion of the race.  The last four miles of each loop, the "stick" of the lollipop, consisted of a long downhill which passed by a swampy area.  As darkness settled sounds of the swamp creatures came alive and the noise of frogs, owls, and other unknown creatures filled the air.  Robert and I parted ways just before mile twenty and I stopped to change socks and shoes.

Third and fourth laps, thirty and forty miles
Laps three and four were largely indistinguishable.  Running in complete darkness, thinking about pace, thinking about hydration, thinking about rattlesnakes (never saw any snakes, but others reported seeing a copperhead on the road).  I was amazed by the number of fellow runners out there without a headlamp or flashlight.  Did they forget to bring them, or did they like stumbling around in the dark?

One more item of note at about my 38th mile.  Charlotte-based Jonathan Savage powered up the last hill (having lapped me earlier) and finished in first place overall in a blistering time of just over seven hours.  He was running uphill faster than I was running downhill!

Last lap to the finish line
With ten miles to go I knew I could walk and complete it in between ten and eleven hours.  My original goal was to finish as near to ten as possible so I didn't feel too bad about my pace, though a sub-ten would have been ideal.  With four miles left I figured that if I ran as fast as was comfortable on the downhill I could power-walk the uphill.  During the last mile I was looking ahead for the finish area and cursed silently when what I thought were the lights of Bethel Baptist turned out to be the lights of other runners going in the opposite direction.  At last the finish line came into view and I shouted out my number and that I was done, nine hours fourty-nine minutes and fifteen seconds after the start.

Unlike most other races ultra finishes are anticlimactic.  There are usually a few hearty souls giving encouragement and support but it's no Wellesley College shouting.  Post-race is a good time for hanging out with other runners and basking in the afterglow of a difficult race.

After a few minutes spent cooling off I wandered over to the community center and enjoyed a real meal cooked by the good folks of Bethel Church.  Who knew that eating a hot dog and hamburger at 4:30 a.m. could be so enjoyable?  I had considered staying a while longer and perhaps getting some shut-eye before driving home, but I was too amped up (the four Red Bulls consumed during the race may have contributed to that feeling) and I headed home, arriving just after sunrise.

My friend and running mentor Rickey Reeves of Millers Creek, NC always said that long distance running "ain't rocket science, but if it was easy everyone would do it".  Those who tackle the Bethel Hill Moonlight Boogie races are regular people who take on the challenge of hills, heat, and humidity in order to prove something to themselves, not to be part of some super-secret running cabal.  However, it's sure nice to have earned the Bethel Hill Moonlight Boogie's t-shirt emblazoned with the words "dedicated long distance endurance athlete" on the back.

Chad R.
Davidson Area Running Team

P.S. Results of the marathon and 50-miler can be found here.  Thanks go out to all the volunteers who spent all night offering aid and good cheer.


  1. nice report and good time under some tough conditions. I was one of the ones enjoying stumbling around in the dark without a light.

  2. Joey, you also had a nice write-up. I especially liked the video. Did you see in the Richmond County newspaper that there was a 40% drop out rate for the 50-miler?

    Joey's blog:

    Richmond County Daily Journal:


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