Tar Heel Ten Miler Race Report

Disclosure: I am not a fan of Chapel Hill. I'm not a fan of the university, the basketball team, their hotdog eating team, and if they have a team that breeds goldfish, I'm probably not a fan of that either. The the campus is kinda nice though. Now that we've gotten my obviously non-existent bias out of the way, on with the race report!

   I hadn't planned on racing the Tar Heel Ten Miler a couple of weeks ago as I'm still rebuilding and trying to make a comeback (via streaking) and rebuilding my base, not to mention my wobbly knee. I had several friends coming through to run the race for reasons that seemed to run the complete spectrum. Some were coming to make a better race time than they had previously set on the course, others because they were recent alumni, and still others because they simply wanted to join the in on the so-called fun with our network of running friends who were participating in the race.

My base used to be made of mileage and speed work. Now its made of
fast food and shame

I wavered back and forth for some time about entering the Tar Heel Ten Miler since I knew I wouldn't be able to give it my best race effort, and priced at over $100 (For millennial readers:insert shocked emoji here), I was struggling to justify it. Enter the wonderful folks over at Tobin Chiropractic in Raleigh, North Carolina.

A strong runners and athletes themselves Drs. Brent and Lindsey Tobin reached out and offered a sponsorship slot to me for the race. Not one to turn away from sponsored races or free dumpster food from restaurants, I graciously accepted, crossed my fingers in regards to my knee, lungs, legs and various other body parts and registered myself for the race.

Damn talented, attractive, well-off people always showing off and giving to the community 

   A friend had picked up my packet and shirt a couple days before the actual race, so I have no idea how the "expo" itself was. Being sponsored by the university the race allows you to register as a 'party crasher' and represent the state university of your choice both in t-shirt and bib form. A friend of mine registered herself as N.C. State and did indeed receive her bib and shirt in Wolfpack red. However, upon closer inspection it did turn out that UNC (at least in this one case) simply recycled a shirt from last year and handed it off to her. It may seem like a small thing, the only details being the "9th running" and incorrect year, but for over a hundred dollars it kind of seemed to be that they could screen print a shirt with the right year on it. 

"She doesn't even go here!"-UNC

   My own gear correct and intact I arrived with a few of my friends on UNC campus, where we were (no joke) instructed on how to use a crosswalk button to get the lights to function in our favor by a helpful volunteer. 

   Tone for the race set, I decided to set out on my own for a bit and get an easy 2 mile warm up. I figured the best way might be to get a few incredibly slow and easy miles along the course itself to re familiarize with a least a feel for the course since it had been a few years since I had last been here. Within five minutes I remembered two very important factors about the Tar Heel Ten Miler. One: This course has about six feet of flat. Total. The entirety of the race is rolling hills. Two: It was humid as hell. Within a half mile of my warmup I was pulling my hat off and slinging the sweat out of it. 

   I knew that there was no way to make today anything close to a race effort without being both miserable and risking injury. However, I did feel pressure to go out and do more than "fun run" it since I had been provided a chance to enter. In the end I decided to make the race a workout style long tempo run. For those not in the know, a "tempo" run is one where you almost reach your redline effort and push yourself, but not quite giving your all as you would on race day. I estimated a pace that I wanted to stick within a  20 second window of and lined up at the start, ready to see what the day had to offer. 

    The announcers brought us forth and as I looked around, I caught that the crowd of runners was noticeably smaller than in year's past when I had participated as a pacer and come to support friends. Universities were called out for people to cheer for and then the gun fired just as the clouds started to part and give us a a bit of direct sunshine. We took off the line, with the lead runners exploding out at a pace that I've only hit while trying to find an emergency bathroom. 

   Just a few strides in the runner next to me looked over, grinned and half stated, half asked "We start up a hill and finish on a hill?" I grinned, welcomed him to UNC running, and then lost him in the crowd as we made our way up the hill and eased around the right corner down the main street of this college town. 

   Every time I come out for this race, whether its to pace or to prove myself I always forget how deceptive the first few miles, indeed, the first half of the race is. As we began our stretch down Franklin Street I fell for it again. The opening stretch has a slight downwards gradient and the sun is in the horizon and everyone around you is cracking a singular joke about pacing or racing and then handing it off to the next person to say something witty in retort, like a torturous game of telephone where you're forced to not only to keep it going, but do so while attempting to fill your protesting lungs with oxygen and not trip over your own two feet. 

Come down to Chapel Hill, we've got games...
 In a lot of ways, after you've run the Tar Heel 10 miler more than once, the first half is kind of like taking back a horrific ex. Before you get involved and start again, you know its going to be bad, and that this is probably a mistake. You wonder why you're here. AGAIN. But then in the beginning, the sun is shining but not hot, everyone is smiling, the path seems easy and natural. 


  "Why did I ever doubt this? THIS time will totally be different!" You tell yourself as you roll up and down the forgiving, rolling hills and and experience that general sense of euphoria that comes with the beginning of any distance race.  Just like that rocky relationship you're getting back into, the Tar Heel 10 miler will show you signs of its true self. Amidst the fun and ease there are somehow pockets of swamp like, oppressive humidity that only last for a hundred yards or so. You notice it, but its so short that it seems to be like a blip on a radar; an easily forgivable, minor thing. Before you know it, you're a third of the way through and headed back up Franklin street. 

    I took stock as we headed back up, and realized just like every year I can remember, that while it is always nice to see the crowd of runners headed your way down Franklin in drives, you almost never are running back up it with the same people you went down with. The slight uptick plus pockets of heat had already begun to slow people down and make some of us reconsider our lofty pace goals. Still feeling alright I reminded myself that I wasn't quite halfway yet and that if other people are dropping, I needed to keep myself in check. Taking my hat off to flick away as much of the non stop building of sweat served as a good reminder that now was not the time to see what I had in terms of getting down to my fastest pace goals of the day. 

   Nearing the end of Franklin, prepared to take our left turn there is, what I can only presume to be, a homeless man who is present for every year of the race. As in year's past, as runners go by, he will sit on the curb in front of a small restaurant and shout "ENJOY...ENJOY!" at the loudest decibal volume possible. In retrospect, it seems like a cruel joke as you prepare to enter the gates of hell, also known as the second half of the race. 

  For the next couple of miles the details get fuzzy in my head as the course schizophrenically switches back and forth from huge drops to sharp inclines, all the while either cooking you crockpot style via the humidity, or frying you directly in the sunlight. I will say this past year however, was still on the milder side than in years past. 

   I careened down a fairly nice decline that rolled beside the campus trying to use it to makeup for my loss in climbing pace, when I heard someone call my name and cheer me on. Unsure of enemy territory and who might be calling me I looked to see friend and fellow runner, Jean-Luc, standing off to the side. Grateful for an opportunity to slow a bit (I couldn't be rude right??) I asked him what he was doing and he told me that he had a fever of 102...and racing this morning was probably a bad idea. Nodding my head in condolence I picked up the pace again, ready to tackle the next downhill and greet the deep plunge I knew was ahead.

   We rounded a left turn onto another steep downhill that I used to get my heart rate under control and into a neighborhood where half million dollar homes sat with people who, for the most part, had either no interest in us being there, or held a sign clearly meant for one participant out of the thousands who had shown up. 

Run, poor people, run!
   This in-itself is, of course, fine but during the final legs of a race, especially one that goes through a residential area it is always an incredible feeling to have people out cheering you on who don't even know you. The races and people that do that will always have a special place in my heart. Like the one older gentleman in said neighborhood who sets up what has to the world's last functioning boom box and cranks out nothing but the most amazing hits from the 80's as he gives you a giant smile and an even bigger thumbs up. To every. Single. Runner.  

   That he lives on a lot that occurs just before you turn to begin your ascent back up the giant hill you came flying down? Even better. This year I even saw a runner jog off the course and give the old man a hug before continuing on. I wondered to myself if they were related, perhaps even his son...and also, would it be weird if I did that? Deciding that I didn't have the funds for the potential post-hug litigation, I waved and yelled thank you, and started to climb my way back out of the neighborhood. 


   Finally getting to the top of the climb and trying not to look too winded in the face of all the incoming runners I saw Jean-Luc once more, and once more he called my name as a source of encouragement. For better or for worse he was back on the course and took time to encourage me while doing it. In that moment all I could do was repeat my go-to club dance maneuver and point to him as every limb in my body felt oxygen starved. I did make a mental note though of how encouraging it felt for even ONE person to recognize me by name, or personally call me out. I am determined to start trying to do it in some form during races for those I meet or know; its a powerful thing.

Bless you, sir. Bless you.

    There is definitely one more home at the end of that neighborhood that deserves mention. Every year they post a life size cardboard cut out of Michael Jordan (who attended UNC as a geography major of all things) with some great caption. This year's "THE PAVEMENT IS THE ROAD" is going to be hard to beat.
The ocean is the water!
   The last mile and a half. This is what this race really comes down to. You'll get about a quarter mile of flat terrain, the only flat you'll get on this entire course. I come upon a timing mat as we turn a right corner. Prepare to climb Laurel Hill. This almost mile long hill is known to be so rough at this point in the race that they put a timing mat at the top and bottom to make it a race within a race. 

   I braced myself with the only goal being to keep running and not be forced to stop and walk or rest. A blonde, ponytail wearing UNC club runner bounded up beside me and we shared a look, each of us understanding the misery we were about to undertake together. 

   Having that runner beside me as we pushed each other up the hill was the solo reason I didn't stop and walk that morning. I was definitely not in shape enough to have pushed myself before Laurel Hill and have the mental fortitude to keep running up it with my heart beating in my ears. No idea what her name was, but I was thankful for the push. I somehow remained conscious as we came to the top of the hill and noted that I had lost more than I was comfortable with in overall pace and decided to pick it up and leave my mile partner behind with a half mile remaining in the overall race.

   We jaunted towards the stadium and and over the inlaid bricks that make up the campus sidewalk. One last right turn and one more small hill to climb and I was at the finish line inside of the pace goal I had set for myself! Unfortunately my stomach and lungs had decided that after that one small hill, they were done and gave me an ultimatum. Stop within twenty yards of the finish line, or vomit in front of hundreds of people armed with phones and a professional photographer who is pointing a camera lens the size of the sun at you. 

   I knew I wasn't winning any awards. I wasn't in contention for any overall placement, and this hadn't been a goal race for me. I decided that imitating the possessed girl from Poltergeist and showing everyone what I had for dinner the night before just wasn't worth it and dropped down to a 12+ minute pace to jog in the final moments of the race where the UNC runner I previously mentioned bypassed me and strode on. If you're reading this, I apologize for ruining your race pic by making it look like you were finishing beside a guy who was walking.

   Post race, five bottles of water, and a hell of a lot of snacks later I met up with everyone and we discussed how everyone's race ended up going. The good new is that most enjoyed the race and we all ended up with a medal that sparkles in the sun like one of those Twilight vampires.
Don't uh, ask me how I know about that

    Overall, I'm glad I did the race. Thats twice officially for me, and enough to know I probably don't care to do it again. However, if you're alumni, a fan, or looking for a 10 miler that will definitely test your fitness level, I would recommend this course at least once. If nothing else you get to jump in on the conversation when the locals start discussing this race. (It WILL come up eventually.) And hey, on the plus side- the race was grueling enough for an excuse for extra burritos post race!

    As always, thanks for reading! And again, a special thanks to Tobin Chiropractic for making this race happen for me! New write ups every week, so be on the look out, until then~


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