Thursday, June 16, 2011

Hatfield and McCoy Marathon, by Bobby Aswell

A Little Feudin, A Lot Of Runnin! - The Hatfield and McCoy Marathon
by Bobby Aswell

When fellow DARTer Mike MacIntyre asked me about running the Hatfield & McCoy Marathon this year, I told him I’d consider it and get back to him.  My calendar was clear and the race reviews were excellent so I was in!  For only $50, runners receive dinner and a movie (a pasta dinner with live entertainment reenacting the Hatfield & McCoy feud), a t-shirt, a finisher’s medal, the joy of running a marathon, and a post-race barbeque lunch!  What a deal!

Friday evening Mike and I arrived in downtown Williamson, WV, checked into the Sycamore Inn, and then proceeded to Belfry High School for packet pick-up and pasta dinner.  Packet pick-up was outside the cafeteria so we quickly picked up our race numbers, t-shirts, and goody bags.  To keep with the tradition of the feud, the field is divided into two teams: Hatfields and McCoys.   Per our race confirmations, Mike and I were both Hatfields and received a white t-shirt with red logo.  Our arch enemies, the McCoys, received the same white t-shirt but with a blue logo.

After grabbing our packets, we proceeded into the cafeteria for the pasta dinner which included spaghetti with or without meat sauce, salad, dinner rolls, choice of cake, and a variety of drinks including soda and water.  Looking for a seat, I saw Bill Shires sitting at a table so Mike and I wandered over and sat with him.  I was somewhat surprised to see Bill there as I heard a rumor that he might show up but wasn’t sure.  During dinner, we were entertained with a skit of the Hatfield & McCoy feud.  It was very entertaining detailing the history of the feud from beginning to present day.  After eating, Mike and I headed back to the Sycamore Inn to get ready for race morning and called it a night.

Course map in the middle of feud country 
Race morning arrived and we were ready to go.  With a 7:00 am start, we boarded a mini school bus around 6:10 am for the 1 ½ mile ride to the start area at Food City.  When we arrived, the parking lot was full of runners roaming around waiting for the race to start.

After a last minute stop in the porta-jon, I dropped off my bag and headed over to the start line where I saw Bill Shires.  It was almost race time and we were chatting when all of a sudden, a pistol was fired and someone yelled go!  No countdown, no warning, just go!  We were both surprised but started running (a few seconds later, we heard the shotgun blast that was supposed to start the race).

A challenging course, it’s described as rolling with an elevation profile that looks like a saw blade with a huge tooth from mile 6 to 8.  Per the race website, the ‘elevation change is significant’ and the ‘chart may tend to underemphasize total elevation change’.  Boy, is that an understatement!  The hill at mile 23 doesn’t even appear on the chart!  Contrary to the race website, the second half seemed much more difficult than the first half.  And, like the race website indicates, I would agree that for most runners, “this isn’t a Boston qualifier!”

The course terrain varies from mostly paved roads in the first half to dirt roads, golf cart paths, a swinging bridge, and pavement the second half.  I really didn’t care for running on the dirt road as it was more like a wide path cut through the woods or the golf cart path as it was mostly short rolling hills.  However, I really enjoyed running over the swinging bridge at mile 18.5 as it was a very unique experience.

The finish line experience of this race is incredible!  It was definitely one of the most unique and memorable finish line experiences I’ve ever experienced.  As you near the finish area, you notice two shotgun carrying hillbillies, a Hatfield and a McCoy, guarding the finish line.  As I got a few steps from the finish, they both smiled and greeted me with high-fives as I crossed the line!  I couldn’t help but smile and will remember that experience for a long time.

In the middle of a Hatfield and McCoy with my mason jar in hand!
After finishing, runners are greeted with a multitude of volunteers doing everything from making sure you are OK to handing you a cold towel to placing the finisher’s medal around your neck to handing you something to drink.  It was very nice to have that much attention after battling the heat and hills of Kentucky and West Virginia!

One more unique aspect of the race is the finisher awards.  In addition to the awesome medal, runners are presented with an authentic mason jar containing a wooden plaque with their finisher place engraved on it!  And, to top it off, if you’re lucky enough to win an overall or age group award, you win an emblem for the top to the jar showing your overall or age group placement, a very nice touch!

Going into the race, my goal was to enjoy the experience and get another long run in for Pikes Peak in August.  I ran steady and had a good run finishing in 3:14:07, good enough for 4th Overall and 1st in my age group.

Mike finished the marathon in 6:44:06 thus completing his 3rd state on his quest to at least 10 different states.  Commenting on the race, he added that he liked:  seeing the art on the protective levees around Williamson and Matewan, the mason jar, the history, the really good BBQ sandwich, the bridge, and added that Dave Hatfield was great.  He also added that he did not like: the horrible trail before the golf course, or, that later in the day, there was a lot of fast traffic along the route with no lane closures.  And, I know from first hand experience that neither of us really liked the drive on Highway 52 to the race site.

Mike all smiles after finishing!
All in all, the hills of Kentucky and West Virginia, along with the brutal heat and humidity, made this a tough race.  However, the organization of the race, the history of the area, the finish line experience, and several other unique touches make this a very memorable marathon that I’d consider running again.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Bethel Hill Moonlight Boogie 50-Miler, by David Moore

The Bethel Hill Moonlight Boogie
David Moore's recap of the Bethel Hill Moonlight Boogie 50-Miler

Well, my first  Boogie 50-miler is in the books!  When I first heard about this race (from Chad Randolph and Jeff McGonnell) I was intrigued, but not tempted.  Hot and humid racing conditions are not my forte... I am more of a sub-freezing kind of runner.  Needless to say, when we pulled into the Bethel Baptist church parking lot in Ellerbe, NC with the temps reading in the low 90's, expectations were very low.
The Boogie race draws your typical ultra crowd for the 50-miler, and some pretty serious competition for the marathon event, which they run simultaneously.  The marathon course is difficult... the standing course record is only 3:03, which would be considered a poor time among elite marathoners.  Both the marathon and 50 mile course follow a "lollipop" configuration... a long loop followed by an out-and-back (the stick part) for a total of 10 miles.  The hard part is that the out-and-back is at the end of each  loop, and is straight uphill for over a mile back to the start/finish.

This event plays into about every known Southern stereotype possible... from the stray dogs, and the Baptist church with the rotund minister delivering the pre-race prayer, to the sweet ice tea and macaroni salad in the fellowship hall.  In other words... I loved it!!

The race itself start off rather unceremoniously,  with Doug Dawkins, the RD, simply yelling "GO".  The marathoners then started to the left (the out-and -back), while the 50-milers went right (the loop).  By this time, the developing storms that would plague us all night were forming, and the sun was obscured for the first loop.  The temps, however, held around 90 degrees with very high humidity.  The event ran kind of like this:  hot as hell, a complete deluge, then humid as hell, a complete deluge, then fall-like temps, then humid as hell... rinse and repeat.

I was running this race more for a training exercise for the upcoming Grindstone 100 in October, and therefore kept a conservative pace for the first couple of loops.  Chad and I passed each other a couple of times at the aid station (my car) and I could tell each time that he was headed for a spectacular finish... especially the last time, when I saw him asleep in the passenger's seat and I still had another loop to go!  Chad ran a remarkable 8:38, and finished 8th overall!

More than anything, though, this race will be remembered for the violent weather that caused more than a little introspection on the real meaning of life for most of the runners.  I suppose that the close proximity to that Baptist church is the only reason that no one was outright struck and killed by lightning.  At least a third of the race was run in a torrential downpour; which, while abating the heat, turned the race into a soupy slog on poorly-draining secondary roads.  I passed one fellow during the worst part of this storm, and he was happily running along (sans headlamp) shirtless and carefree.  I commented that I really missed that heat we had a few hours ago.  He replied that this was like being "baptized" all over again and that he loved it... that somehow picked me up and I ran strong to the finish.

As hot and humid as it was in the beginning, the end of the race was in equal parts beautiful.  The oppressive humidity was gone, the temps were in the 60's, and the sky was an inky black with billions of shimmering stars.  You could have easily seen Andromeda with the naked eye.  At the turn around point on the final out-and-back (mile 49), I knew I had a chance to break 10 hours... but it would require running the final mile uphill, and all the way.   About 500 yards from the finish, I saw Chad standing on the side of the road.  I then looked at my watch... I had about 5 minutes to spare, so I walked up to Chad, told him the good news, and sprinted to the finish in 9:57.

Chad Randolph and David Moore, post-race
In summary, this race is not for everyone.  In fact... it's not for anyone... especially a very average runner like myself.  If you are looking for a race that can really test you both mentally and physically, and don't mind running in the middle of the night on a loop course, with minimal aid available... then this is your race!

My family puts out the ultra banner yet again!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Carmel Indiana Inaugural Marathon June 11, 2011 by Todd Hartung

Carmel Indiana Inaugural Marathon June 11, 2011
Todd Hartung's recap of the Carmel, Indiana Marathon

My recent trip to run the inaugural Carmel Indiana Marathon would be my 27th marathon over the past four years and my 20th different state towards my goal of running a marathon in every state. This race would be my 4th marathon of 2011 and 4th new state towards my goal.

In 2010, I ran 10 marathons and my times seemed to slow down as a result of running too often. Coming into this year I promised to allow more rest between my marathons in hopes to get my times back to where they were in 2009. My plan seemed to have worked for my first two marathons of the year. My first marathon this year in February (having not run a marathon since Rehoboth Beach Delaware in early December) was the Mercedes Marathon in Alabama where I ran a 3:20:01. This was followed by the Charlottesville Marathon in April resulting in a 3:18 marathon and new PR.  On May 1st, 3 weeks after Charlottesville I ran Big Sur California and my times dropped back to those of my previous year coming in at 3:32. Big Sur was hilly and warmer than my first two of 2011 but I feel it was the lack of rest and recovery that resulted in the significantly slower finish time. Coming into Carmel Marathon I had a few more weeks of rest but knew the heat and humidity of this time of the year would force me to accept a slower finishing time.

I knew Carmel would be hot and not a fast race but I really wanted to knock off another state before the summer months where I knew I would not be running a marathon.  The trip to Carmel would not be a family trip but rather a quick in and out to cross off Indiana from my list. A quick flight Friday with a return after the race on Saturday would allow me to spend Saturday night and Sunday with the family.
The town of Carmel, a suburb north of Indianapolis was a very nice town. It was clear that they are a running town as they organized this race as if they had been organizing this for years. There was a full marathon, have marathon and an 8k national championship event. This race was first class all the way. Shuttle bus from the hotel in the morning was a nice touch as was a print out they gave me after the race showing my splits. Add in a nice shirt and finisher’s medal and I am glad that I picked this race to represent my marathon in Indiana.

The race morning was hot and humid and I knew that would be a big problem for me. I planned to go out slowly and see how I felt at mile 13. I maintained a 7:58 min pace for the first half. By mile six my shorts were drenched in sweat and I knew that was not a good sign. I stayed with the same pace until around mile 18. The course was very flat and went along some neighborhoods and though parts of the Monon Greenway. Not as scenic as Big Sur or Charlottesville but not bad for a small town race. Towards the end we went through the arts district and that was really nice.

Miles 18 to 26 were tough. My body lost more fluids than I was replacing and it started to take its toll. So much for picking it up at the end as my new strategy was just to gut it out and finish. Towards the end of mile 18 the 3:30 pacer with one runner passed me. Towards the end of the race the 3:40 pacer also with one runner who had managed to keep up passed me as well.  I was dehydrated and zapped and my goal was to get over that finish line.  Along the last few miles I passed several runners who were experiencing the same struggles of dehydration that I was. An occasional runner would pass by who looked strong with a look as if to say “…you should have started out slower”.

The heat always seems to take a huge hit to my finishing times. In 2009 I ran Boston in April in 3:22 and followed that with a 3:55 at Hatfield McCoy in June.  33 minutes slower due to high heat. I hate running in the heat and am glad to be taking off July and August from any marathons. Next up is Oslo Norway Marathon in September. I guess my goal will now be all 50 states and one international marathon. I am excited to train for this and return to some faster times.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Race Recap: The Steamboat Marathon by Dave Munger

Dave Munger's recap of the Steamboat Marathon, originally posted on Mungerruns

The best-laid plans come to naught when confronted with the immutable laws of physics. At 8,000 feet above sea level, the air contains 25 percent less oxygen than it does at sea level. While the human body can adapt to these circumstances, all else being equal, it will never perform as well during aerobic activities at altitude as it does at sea level.

Somehow I thought that this fact of nature wouldn't affect my attempt to run my fastest marathon (in two attempts). I was wrong.

I felt great as I awoke this morning at 5:00, having spent the previous three days carbo-loading and acclimatizing to the altitude. I strolled into the town of Steamboat Springs and hopped onto the bus that would climb 1,300 feet to an elevation of 8,124 feet, near Steamboat Lake, exactly 26.2 miles away. I chatted nervously with the other runners on the bus, each of us revealing our plans for completing the race. Mine, as it turned out, was hopelessly optimistic. My strategy was to run a 7:40 pace for the first 20 primarily downhill miles, then try to hang on for a 3:30:00 finishing time, an average of 8:01 per mile.

After my experience at Big Sur, I was prepared for a long, cold wait at the top. I brought an extra layer on top of the $8 secondhand sweats I had bought, ready to discard if necessary at the starting line. I got a fellow runner to take my photo at the starting area:

Nice and toasty!

It was about 40 degrees, so perfect weather for running, but a little chilly for sitting around trying not to waste too much energy.

After a short speech, the starting gun went off without so much as a "on your marks, get set." I settled into my planned 7:40 pace but almost immediately found myself a little out of breath. The first 10 miles or so of a marathon should be relatively easy. The miles add up, and if you work too hard at the start you'll have nothing left for the finish. The first mile was downhill, then there was a short uphill, followed by another long downhill before the first major hill of the race in Mile 4. I decided to take it easy on the hill, running up it at an 8:30 pace. Then we started the long, 16-mile descent. Here's a photo of the Mile 4 hill from my preview yesterday.

There's a climb there, honest -- right after this long straight stretch

Even on the rapidly declining Miles 5 and 6, where we would descend about 600 vertical feet, I still found myself laboring for breath. Splits for miles 1-6: 7:41, 7:43, 7:41, 8:24, 7:41, 7:40.

Starting at Mile 7, the course leveled out a bit, but still continued downhill. I found it increasingly difficult to maintain my planned 7:40 pace, and gradually slowed over the next six miles. As you can see here from another preview photo, the course was beautiful, but it still didn't inspire me to run any faster:

The scenery just went on and on...

My pace for Miles 7-13: 7:47, 7:43, 7:45, 7:55, 8:08, 8:09, 8:16. This simply wouldn't do. If I was going to make my goal of an 8:01 pace for the whole run, I needed to take advantage of this extended downhill, and I just couldn't do it. I was spent. We had arrived at the half-marathon start, with its legion of porta-potties, and I decided to take a quick bathroom break, as pre-constructed in this photo Nora took during the preview drive:

Imagine me at the other end of the row, looking totally exhausted

This did not have the desired effect of making me totally refreshed and restored. Instead, I gradually got more and more exhausted. I began to contemplate taking walk-breaks. By Mile 17, I was taking a 1-minute walk-break every mile. My splits for Miles 14-20 were 9:44, 8:43, 9:12, 9:28, 9:52, 8:47, 9:52. I remember thinking that my 8:47 on Mile 19 would probably be my last sub-9-minute mile, and I was right. There was beautiful scenery all along this section, but I was hard-pressed to enjoy it. Here's a sample from the preview drive:

How picturesque! Too bad I was too exhausted to care...

All along this section of the race, the road was partially open to traffic. Runners could use one lane, but cars and (mostly) trucks were being escorted up and down the other lane. I'm not sure if this was better than just letting vehicles fend for themselves, because we ended up coughing on diesel fumes as 20 pickup trucks passed us at a time. Then at Mile 20, we passed the area where a long line of vehicles were waiting their turn up the road. I had the rare pleasure of running past a half-dozen highly-aromatic fully-laden cattle trucks. 

Another runner and I had developed similar backup strategies for this stretch of the race: Run as long as you could, then walk as long as your conscience allowed. Our runs and walks were out of sync, so Inadvertent Galloway Guy and I ended up passing each other repeatedly during this section, trading frustrated comments about how this wasn't the race we had been hoping for. After an uphill section through Mile 22, Mile 23 was finally downhill, taking us along a busy road that was open to traffic in both directions, relegating runners to a narrow, dusty shoulder. By Mile 24, I was walking more and more. My splits for Miles 21-24 were 12:51, 11:58, 10:03, 15:29.

As I approached the Mile 25 marker, I began to wonder if I would be able to run at all for the final 1.2 miles. In the distance, I could see a woman walking opposite the direction of traffic, clearly looking for a friend. When she reached the Mile 25 marker, she let out a shriek as her friend ran past me toward her. They exchanged ecstatic greetings, and then her friend ran on toward the finish. I was walking along and asked Shrieking Girl if I could be her friend too. She shrieked convincingly in support of me, but just as I passed her, my left calf cramped badly. I couldn't walk; I could barely stand. I asked Shrieking Girl to help me sit down so I could stretch my calf. She wasn't sure that was allowed because she'd be assisting a runner (I'm pretty sure it's okay to help someone as long as you're not assisting them moving forward), but finally she helped me sit down. I stretched, and it seemed to feel better. Somehow I hobbled to my feet while Shrieking Girl walked further up the course looking for more friends. A man headed the other way in his car asked if I wanted a ride to the finish. I said "Are you kidding? There's just a mile left!" I was going to make it to the finish under my own power, whether it was a 10-minute pace or a 30-minute pace.

After about a quarter-mile of walking, I decided to try running again. I told myself to go slowly, but just to run. I was gradually able to pick up the pace, until I was actually running credibly for the final mile. Mile 26 pace: 15:29. As I approached the finish, I saw Nora and Greta, who had been patiently waiting for me. I had told them to expect me around 3:30 from the start. My actual finishing time was more like 4:08 (the official results haven't yet been released), so they had been waiting a loooong time. Despite the long wait, Nora was ready with the camera, and got these shots of me at the finish:

While this wasn't the race I had planned, I was genuinely excited to be finishing!

They still give you a medal if you finish 38 minutes slower than you had hoped to.

It was about 68 degrees at the finish line, but they were handing out ice cold towels for runners to cool off with. I guess in Colorado this counts as hot! I got rid of the towel and obtained a bottle of water and lowered myself gingerly to the grass in the shade in front of the county courthouse. They were a bit stingy with the water at this race, and since I wasn't able to get up on my own power, Greta and Nora had to keep going over to the water tent to get me new bottles. Inadvertent Galloway Guy had settled nearby, and we both joked about how pathetic our races had been. It was good to see that I wasn't the only one struggling today.

After sitting on the grass guzzling water for 45 minutes, I finally confronted the problem of how to get up for the 5-block walk back to our hotel. My quads were absolutely shot, so every time I tried to stand up, I had to sit back down. Finally we found a folding chair I could use to pull myself up with, and I limped back to the room.

After a shower, four Advil and wearing compression socks for a couple hours, I was able to walk relatively easily. We went out to dinner at the local steak house, and after a couple glasses of wine, my finish in the race didn't seem nearly as disappointing.