Linville Gorge from the summit of Table Rock

Linville Gorge from the summit of Table Rock

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

2008 Boogie 50-miler

Me, Bill J. and Scot H. early on.
It's unfair to criticize a course for being too difficult or the weather for being uncooperative when, ultimately, no one is making us go to a race. With that in mind, I will try to be objective in this report on the Bethel Hills Moonlight Boogie Marathon & 50 Miler. The two races run on the exact same route so the comments apply to both.

This is the first race I have ever run where you line up facing other runners. The marathoners run "backwards" on the course for 1/10th mile, then turn around. This gets them the 2/10ths for their 26.2 miles. Meanwhile, the 50 milers start running "forward" for five laps of the ten mile course. The course consists of a six mile loop and a four mile out-and-back for ten miles. It is all paved and very rural. I would guess that the vast majority of cars we saw were support crews for runners. The setup means that you come back to the parking area every four or six miles.

You are near Ellerbe, (south-central NC) in mid-June, so you'd better expect heat and humidity. For our race, the starting temperature was around 90 degrees. Note that the race started at 6:00 p.m. (hence the name "Moonlight Boogie.") There were fifty-three fifty-milers at the start and about sixty marathoners. Thirty fifty-milers would finish, I'm not sure about the marathoners. With such small numbers, the crowd quickly thins and you are very much isolated. While this race attracts some fast runners, there are plenty who plan to make a day (or night) of the event. You begin with a long rolling descent that levels off then bottoms out at the 3 1/2 mile aid station. From there, it's a terraced climb back up to the start/finish area. Next comes the out-and-back, another long descent of about 1 1/2 miles with a 1/2 mile that slightly rises to the turn around. It's after the turnaround, when the 1 1/2 mile descent becomes a climb, that the race is at its toughest. It certainly isn't as steep as say, The Bear, but it is honestly the longest 1 1/2 miles I can ever remember running--and we had to do it five times...

For the course, that's it. Just repeat as necessary for the event you entered. Finishers get a pottery mug with your achievement etched into the bottom. The 50 miler mug is slightly larger (about the size of a beer mug) than the marathon mug (closer to a coffee cup.) The t-shirt was the coolmax-type, but that was about it for the race packet. The start/finish area is in a church parking lot and the church keeps its fellowship hall open all night for the runners. It was stocked with hamburgers and veggie burgers and other assorted items.

There was little in the way of scenery. Most of the run is along forest-lined roads (except for one stretch that had been clear-cut. Once the sun goes down, everything looks pretty much the same. There was one nice stretch, though. During brief pauses in the rain, fireflies blanketed the trees along the road, making it look like a "fairy village" from a "Lord of the Rings" type movie. It was truly enchanting, though sadly, short-lived as the rains resumed...

The race was the most punishing event I've entered to date, but not for the reasons I expected. I had planned on it being hot and humid, but that was only the case for a few hours. Very heavy rains set in and brought the temperatures down, but made it harder to see. You are asked (required?) to carry a flashlight after dusk. We did so, but only turned it on when cars were coming, so we could be seen, or when we were looking for other people we knew.

They like to shut things down about 6:00 a.m. to get out of the way for the church crowd, but according to the results, there were still a few runners on the course after twelve hours, so I imagine they do see everyone safely in. We set up a tent beside the car to catch a little sleep after the race and before the drive home.

The organizers and volunteers were excellent. The Mangum Track Club does a great job of encouragement and seeing to the needs of the runners. Many of them are experienced long distance runners and understand what you as a runner, are going through during the race.

I have to say that this is not an easy race. Even taking the weather out of the equation, it has some challenging hills and the 6:00 p.m. start is quite an adjustment for those of us used to early morning starts. Perhaps the best advice is found on The Boogie website, "Come with no expectations and you will not be disappointed."

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