Race Report:Harpers Ferry Half Marathon

It is always a challenge being a director of a race. You are always faced with things you did not anticipate.  Twelve hours before the event here in West Virginia, we were hit with a thunderstorm of massive proportions.  Most of the course markings of the run which was 40% trail were gone.  Water from storms the week prior brought the river level right up to the race route (see photo below). Luckily we had sturdy signage as back-up and we knew the runners would need to navigate from these.

Screen shot 2013-05-12 at 6.14.33 PM

My friend Paul and the rising river almost up to the trail.

Even more concerning though was the unstable cloud and forecast of thunderstorms continuing through the next morning.  I honestly had not anticipated lightning before.

Races are usually held in the morning here and it is really rare for 8 am thunderstorms. My friend and co-director Todd McKinney and I researched what to do for safety and sent the runners an email that we would delay the races –if needed and cancel if we had too if there was lightning within 6 miles.  This is a precedent by most outdoor sporting events and the NCAA.  Lightning can strike in a 6-mile radius and 30 seconds thunder to lightning is the threshold for this distance.

Morning arrived and we were greeted by clouds, light drizzle, serious humidity….but no lightning!  The show would go on.  Since we have an awesome team of organizers that man the start/finish, it is fun to jump into this race and see it as a participant and troubleshoot any course issue from the perspective of a runner on the course.  Plus it is fun to see friends, volunteers, and fellow runners out there and thank them for the support.  I always observe the feet and shoes and the proportion of flat and minimal shoes in this race is large, thanks to the influence and teaching of Two Rivers Treads.

I was glad to see my friend Tony Clement at the start.  Tony and I ran most of this race together in our inaugural year 2011. Tony had recently graduated from University of Oklahoma where he ran 4:01 for the mile and 13:40’s for 5k.  He was strong as a horse but had been plagued by injury, especially in the Achilles.  After some quick assessments it was clear that Tony had incredible power and strength, but lacked range of motion in his Achilles and Plantar Fascia region especially. He was a forefoot runner but due to this restriction his heel never even got to the ground.  We got Tony into a pair of Newton Distance shoes to transition to and the combination of his power, lack of motion,  and ball of foot/toe strike destroyed the front of the shoes in about 3 runs.  These shoes normally last well over 1000 miles …this was something I had never seen.

Tony went on for a full analysis with my friend Jay Dicharry who was then at the University of Virginia Gait lab. Jay is now is Bend, Oregon.  Jay identified several issues which Tony worked in the following year.  Tony is running amazingly well now and it was beautiful to watch him pop of the ground with a crisp efficient stride and pull away from the group with relaxed ease.  Tony won the half=marathon in 1:16.  A rapid time considering wet trail and over a 1000 feet of elevation gain on the route.

Tony’s quote of the day was when he first saw me and said with a smile “Hey Mark, I got my pronation back”.  Tony has full range of motion now and lands with a nice forefoot lading and now can get the heel down to flatten the foot and spring.

I ran together for most of the run with the 2012 winner Paul Borg.  He finished in 1:22 and I was 1:23.  This felt like a nice training effort 3 weeks after the Boston Marathon and another 3 weeks till Comrades Ultra in South Africa.

I ran in my new Newton Olympic Racer prototypes which gave a nice amount of protection and feeling of recoil, especially on the steep road downhills. These will be the go-to shoe for the 54 miles on roads at Comrades.

Phil and Coralee at the junction of Potomac and Shenandoah.

Phil and Coralee at the junction of Potomac and Shenandoah.

After the race we all enjoyed the post=race music and beer with local musician Chelsea McBee followed by my friend and Wellness Guru Dr. Phil Maffetone and Dr. Coralee Thompson.  Read a bit about them in our preview post.  We had a fun kids run too through the River Riders adventure park.

A huge shout out goes to the race volunteers who made this a fun and safe event despite the weather threats. With their help too we had the course and finish area all broken down by the time then next deluge hit at 3pm.  Come visit for our fall event Freedom’s Run (www.freedomsrun.org) .

3 Responses to “Race Report:Harpers Ferry Half Marathon”

  1. Don Libes says:

    Thanks for the RD report! Never heard of an RD running the race while directing it. Sounds great – and it’s probably a reflection on the quality of your prep and volunteers that they could function just fine while you were out on the course.

    Having run the race, I’d like to thank you and all the staff and volunteers. This has become my favorite HM and you have maintained the quality (and modest price) every year. Thank you!

    A few comments/questions:

    – I heard one person passed out and another fell and was injured – not your fault, but it would be nice to hear a report that they’re both fine or recovering.

    – I saw a 10-year old finished the race with an 11:30 pace. Amazing! Did/Do you know anything about this? I read about the 9-year old at Freedom’s Run who accidentally did the HM and was wondering if something similar happened here!

    – My only request: Please fix the turnaround sign near mile 4. It’s backward so anyone following it ends up having to cross the path of other runners. You probably were able to laugh at it because you likely had so few people nearby when you got there. But when I got to it, there were a lot of people and half the runners followed the directions and half ignored the directions. So it was confusing as well as dangerous.

    – Have any amateur photographers made their photos of the race publicly available on flickr or some other community or photo website?

    – Just out of curiosity, what is the slope of York St, the downhill at the end of Fillmore? It always makes me laugh how much I have to hold back in order to not lose control on that road!

    • MarkC says:

      Thanks Don! yes all OK who got medical assistance. our EMS crews were on it. i’ll f/u on the 10yo finisher. spread the word on our races. the slope of some of the hills are “hors categorie” in Tour de France speak. we made the run like an amusement park ride. we do not have race photos….good idea for next year.


  2. Basp Uant says:

    you mention that your friend Tony had a lack of range of motion in his Achilles and Plantar Fascia region.
    Can you share which exercises helped to get normal range of motion

    Also, since you seem to have steep downhils in the race, could you share the good forefoot strike technique for these kind of downhills, if i remain on forefootstrike, i seem to almost stop when i run down steep hills
    Videos would be great, i know we should just step very fast and lift the feet, but somehow i can’t do it and seem to move forward


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *