Ours has become an age of flat and fast marathons on city streets and in urban jungles, with more focus on times, course certification, gadgets, charities and putting on a big show than on running. Many modern marathons have become spectacles rather than athletic events. But it was not always this way. Marathons used to be about running for the sake of running. They were about pushing oneself beyond the physiologic limits of the human body. While running.
The Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon…a dance with monkeys.
The Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon in Nashville boasts 7200 feet of overall elevation change.
The Pikes Peak Marathon course first climbs 7901 feet with a summit at 14,115′ (4,302m) then descends 7864 feet to the finish. This is a serious marathon – no headphones, unpredictable weather, mandatory drug tests, and disqualification if oxygen is taken prior to the completion of the race (even if medically necessary).
These races are not for everyone and there’s no shame in that. I have written before that some runners feed their need for distance by running faster, longer or, in some cases, both. Perhaps another natural evolution is harder.
The Pikes Peak Marathon was the first American marathon to allow female competitors (despite the popularity of Roberta Gibb and Kathrine Switzer running Boston in 1966 and 1967). In 1959, women were given the choice of a race to the summit only or to complete the round trip. When Arlene Pieper reached the summit, she started back down four minutes later. With a time of 9:16, she became the first woman on record to officially complete a U. S. marathon, and that with an elevation change of over 7,000 feet. It was not until 1971 when a woman would attempt such a feat on Pikes Peak again.
We will time and measure the distance, but the course will not be certified and it will not be a Boston qualifying event. If you get to the end and you (or your gadget) believe the route to be long, we won’t charge you extra; if you believe it to be short, just keep running. There will be no bands, cheerleaders, wave starts or crowds. We promise no marathon Personal Records, but we guarantee every runner a PR – a Permanent Remembrance of a well-earned marathon finish. We promise to give you approximately 26.2 tough and memorable miles, with a total of over 3600 feet each of elevation gain and loss, or over 7200 feet of overall elevation change.
Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon
At 8am last Saturday, the day of my last marathon, it was a perfect 45 degrees, clear skies and 12 mph winds. Although 435 runners came out for the half marathon, there were just 149 of us that took on the challenge of the New River Marathon.
We spent the night in Blowing Rock, N.C., an adorable little town in the heart of the mountains and a 30 minute drive from the race venue in Todd. Some runners spent the night in a tent on the grassy banks of the New River.
Two hours into the race, it was 50 degrees…winds steady at 21 mph gusting to 33 mph.
The first hill came at 1.5 miles in and the first descent one mile later. Then there were miles of fast, flat running along the New River, beautiful countryside vistas with rolling mountains in the distance, and a short dirt/gravel road that kept the terrain interesting……until we reached mile 13.
Between 13 and 20 we climbed, and climbed, and climbed – with a few steep downhills thrown in between, which meant we had to start our climbs all over again. At one point I thought we were turning out of a miserable hill only to find we were on another dirt/gravel road that went straight up. After a switchback, we went straight up again. There didn’t seem to be a soul running those dirt roads. We walked.
I knew my legs would eventually crumble and all I could do was cope. I had watched as my time began to slip from a 4-hour finish to 4:10. When I reached mile 22, my time was 3:50 and I hoped I could pull off a 4:30 finish.
It was at this point I gave up on a place on the podium and said to myself, “That’s ok. If there’s someone ahead of me, good for them. They deserve it.” My attention turned to finishing the race with no legs, since I had left them at mile 20.
I did finish the race, one step at a time, with a finish of 4:32:24…… a 2nd place finish in my age group.
On the way home, I said to my husband, “Maybe I could have added that kind of elevation to my training and done better.” We looked at each other and broke out in a laugh and agreed 2nd place, with training that didn’t kill me, was just fine.
Yesterday I found myself talking about the hills with a little more fondness and my husband said, “My how quickly we forget the labor pains.” Maybe so, maybe so.
For a list of marathons with elevations, go to MyMarathonPace.com.