Being a summer weather loving girl, I love when my favorite spring races arrive, announcing the end of winter. The Tar Heel Ten Miler is one of my favorites.
Centered in the pretty university town of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, amidst beautiful Southern homes and brilliantly blooming azaleas, you can’t ask for a more beautiful background for a spring race. This year, however, the weather did not cooperate. Not present was the Carolina blue sky that has been over this race for the past five years that I’ve run it. Instead, it was gray, drizzly, and humid. But I’m getting ahead of myself . . .
The race website:
The Race Expo
The Expo took place Friday, the day before the race, from 11 am to 7 pm at University Place Mall in Chapel Hill. The mall is very small, and parking is ample, so it’s an easy in and out to get your race items. The traffic to and from the mall can be heavy, especially during rush hour on a Friday evening. I arrived easily around 4:30, but there was quite a bit of traffic when I left 30 minutes later. Bib pick up is easy, efficient, and quick. There are a few vendors, including a merchandise table where you can purchase race branded items like different t-shirts, pint glasses, hats, water bottles, etc. I picked up a reasonably priced hoodie from the 2018 race (there was no date on the shirt, just the race logo). The actual race shirts are at the other end of the mall. The race shirt is a cotton shirt that I wear for leisure, not for running. It’s always been various shades of blue, mostly Carolina blue. The women’s sizes also tend to run very small. While I generally wear a medium women’s t-shirt, I usually request a women’s extra large for this race. However, this year I went with a unisex small, and I’m happy with that choice.
Crash the Party
This race has a unique aspect to it. When you register, you can choose to ‘crash the party,’ and instead of the standard Carolina blue bib and race tee, you can receive them in red (for North Carolina State University), in a darker blue (for Duke), or in purple and gold (for East Carolina University). This year (and all others), I feel that red is the color I see the most, after the Carolina blue.
The race start line is next to UNC’s football stadium, which is right next to the big UNC hospital complex. Because there is a shift change around 7:00 am, you want to be out of traffic by that time (and especially since the first race begins at 7:15). The rain began pouring down as I made my way to Chapel Hill, the kind of rain that is so hard that you can’t say while driving in the dark and you have to slow way, way down. I finally arrived on campus and chose a parking spot in a garage to be out of the rain. (I realized how smart this was after the race when I was soaked. I had brought a change of clothes, and my parking spot was in a remote corner. I was easily able to change into dry clothes for the 40 minute drive home.)
Some of my running friends met for a group picture, huddled under the shelter of the bell tower out of the rain. The first race, the Four Miler, started at 7:15.
This race offers you three options: a four mile race that begins at 7:15, a ten mile race that begins at 7:45 (what I have always run), and the Double Down Challenge, where you run both for a total of 14. If you do the double down, you receive all three medals.
I warmed up a little after the group picture, and then I found my friend Stacy in the start corral around 7:35. During the second singing of the national anthem (the first for the four miler and the second for the ten miler), you could hear the cheers as the first of the four milers were finishing (the finish line is 100 yards or less from the start), and many of them were continuing through the “express lane” to continue on into the ten mile race.
The rain slowed way down to a drizzle then to just high humidity under an overcast sky as we started off. During the first couple of miles, you run down the main street of Chapel Hill, Franklin Street. As you move in one direction, the race leaders are on there way back up the street. I kept my eye out for and found one of my former students, Jay, who is now a junior at UNC. He is a strong runner on the UNC Marathon Club Team, and he was in the lead twenty racers of the ten miler (my estimation). I shouted and he waved back with a big smile.
A few minutes later, a streak of orange passed me with a thumbs up: BibRave pro Tedrick (TK). I would see him again later on in the race, during another looped area where you run against racers going in the opposite direction. He had moved quite a bit ahead of me at this point in his Double Down Challenge race.
This race provides many aid stations with water, Honey Stinger gels, and my favorite sports drink, nuun. The on course crowd support is right up there with big races I’ve done, such as the Marine Corps Marathon and the Pittsburgh Marathon. The course is very challenging as far as elevation gain and loss. And speaking of elevation gain . . .
The Laurel Hill Challenge
The climb up Laurel Hill Road begins around mile 8.5 and ends around 9.2. It is so famous that there is a timing mat at the bottom and top so that you get a split for that section. As you make the sharp right turn onto the road, you are serenaded by a group of Swiss Alpenhorn players. One of my friends sweetly refers to this music as the “Laurel Hill Death March”. It is pretty accurate, as a good portion of runners will choose to power walk this section instead of run. There have been years where I’ve run the entire section, but for the past few years, I have power walked the steep inclines and run the less steep portions. My times have been better when I have walked, so I think that’s a good strategy for me, especially since there is another up hill for the last few tenths of a mile to the finish line.
Finish Line Party
As the finish line is on campus, there is no finish line beer at this race (although you are steps away from Franklin Street, where you might find a beer at this time of day). There are plenty of bananas, Kind bars, Panera Bread bagels, however. The true party at this finish line is the fact that you just finished a challenging race.
Tar Heel Ten Miler, I’ll be back in 2020!