Wednesday, June 11, 2014

7th Event of 2014: Franklin Half Marathon

Franklin Half Marathon in Leiper's Fork, Tennessee

Thursday, June 5th:

I know there must be perfect reasoning behind it, but for the life of me I don't understand why flights from Greensboro, NC to Nashville, TN are as expensive as from Greensboro to the West Coast. Apart from a few sparse airline specials the cost of flying to Nashville from here is almost always prohibitive. And, because I often need to rent a car for my obligations there it usually just makes more sense to drive. 

Lucky for me, the drive through the mountains and into Nashville is beautiful. We were on the road by 6:00am to beat the rush-hour traffic through the Winston Salem area and also to make sure we're in time to meet the deadline for today's race packet pick-up in Franklin. If all goes smoothly we're looking at about 7.5 hours to Franklin, which is southwest of downtown Nashville.

A foggy but easy drive for the first 2.5 hours of the trip. 
As we approached Asheville Jim and I began to joke about our last few Tennessee trips: In January of this year, due to Polar Vortex, our flight from Charlotte to Nashville was suddenly cancelled with no hope of getting another flight for 2, we got creative and secured a flight to Knoxville then rented a car one-way and finished the wintry trek to Nashville that way. Last year's drive to Nashville for the Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon took over 13 hours due to a truck overturning in front of us on I-40! What will happen this time?

Can you believe it? Just as soon as we opened our mouths, my traffic app alerted me that there was a "rock-slide closure" on I-40 right at the border of NC and TN. We were past the usual detour route (yes, this is a fairly regular occurrence along this popular interstate) by about 15 miles so we opted to divert South through Great Smoky Mountains National Park on a route that took us through Bryson City and along the Nantahala River.

This is a photo from a rock slide last fall. I'm not sure how bad this
morning's issue is but hopeful that the passage will be open again
by the time we make the return trip.

We're guessing that this detour will delay us about an hour
or so, but the scenery sure is gorgeous. This is the Nantahala
River at the Nantahala Outdoor Center.

If you've never been here, this is a true North Carolina gem! A great vacation place for all, with adventures and activities for everyone and every skill level--including the world's elite kayakers, check it out:

The vistas along the river and through the national forest were spectacular but we were still in for a bit of a surprise. Unbeknownst to me, the route we chose included a section of NC 129. Had I been a motorcyclist, undoubtedly I would've known what was in store but I learned the hard way what it is to experience the Tail of the Dragon!  Apparently this infamous section of 129 is "the number one motorcycle road in the entire US" because it contains 318 hairpin turns in just 11 miles. WTF?!!!! Okay, I can see how this might be fun on a bike, but in a Honda CRV the only thing you get for navigating 318 STEEP, BLIND CURVES over 11 miles is an upset tummy.

For you bikers out there, this should be on your bucket list for sure--and we know, because we saw about 100 of you today:

We survived the TOTD! Whew...but now I need something for my upset stomach. Also, due to the elevation and curves along our (poorly) chosen route we're now over 2.5 hours off-schedule but at least we made it back to the haven of Interstate 40 just west of Knoxville. I was hoping to be in Nashville by 3pm for a conference call but with the delay I'm now looking for a spot with Wi-Fi and a quiet nook in which to teleconference.

Thanks to a Starbucks near I-40 about an hour from Nashville my call was a success. I was finally free and clear to finish the trip just in time guessed it...a torrential downpour! Sigh. Maybe this is why the airlines charge so much for the GSO-BNA trip, because anything or everything can happen to those of us who opt to drive.

The next 4 hours were a combination of trudging slowly along the interstate due to extreme storms, racing to meet the packet pickup deadline at A-Game Sports in Franklin, grabbing a quick dinner once my stomach felt normal again, checking into a completely booked hotel in Brentwood (thanks to the Country Music Association's 2014 Music Festival in town this weekend) and falling fast asleep after today's long, adventurous journey.

The late evening sunset as I approach my hotel for the night.
Goodnight, Brentwood.  I sure hope tomorrow is uneventful.
Friday, June 6th:

It's a brand new day! :-) After grabbing a light breakfast and working a few hours at the hotel, we packed up, checked out and made our way into Nashville. I'm excited to see my friends from the Nashville-area CMTA (Charcot-Marie-Tooth-Association), we plan to meet them sometime around 12:30 at the Mellow Mushroom.

We got into town a bit early and decided to find a place near the Mellow Mushroom to grab a bite. As a guest of the CMTA today I didn't want to interrupt their agenda so instead we planned to arrive about an hour after their scheduled start time, hoping that would give them enough time to take care of any immediate business. I'm planning to introduce this chapter to their new Allard rep, Rodney Vaden, whom I will be meeting for the first time as well. He's only been with Allard a few months so I'm happy to have this opportunity to meet him in person. Until then, Jim and I decided to try out a place called Two Boots Pizza, it was recommended on Urban Spoon but also we knew we could get a few quick slices without being late for the CMTA group. I must admit, I don't eat a lot of pizza--and when I do it's usually of the gluten-free, vegan variety which some people tell me is "hardly pizza". So when I actually indulge in "the real thing" I always hope that I'll get something outstanding...and today I was not disappointed!

OMG! This vegan pizza is perhaps the best slice of pizza
I've ever had. OK, there's a spot in Philly that's at the very
top of my list, but for a Vegan slice especially, this was
a very close second. Jim loved his equally as much (he
bought a cheese slice and the Newman). I tried the cheese slice
also and can now say that I highly recommend
this pizza joint if you like thin, crispy, delicious pie!

Next it was off to Mellow Mushroom just a few blocks away. We met Rodney outside the restaurant so we could introduce ourselves before meeting the rest of the group. Today's meeting was put together by Bridget Sarver outside of their usual schedule due to the fact that the CEO of the CMTA, Patrick Livney, was in town for the weekend. I'm looking forward to meeting him also, I've heard so much about him through the CMTA network.

As it happened, Patrick was addressing the group just as we walked back. I got to hear from him first-hand about all the exciting advancements they're making along the diagnostic and drug-development lines. He spoke for about an hour with questions-and-answers throughout. Although a cure for CMT will never come soon enough for anyone, the progress being made towards preventing some types of this genetic mutation is encouraging.

For more information about Pat and about the current direction of the CMTA research, please check out the CMTA website:

The meeting went a bit long and with this one being in the middle of a work day many of the attendees had to leave before I got a chance to meet them. I did get to visit with a few of the friends I'd met here from last year but it was brief since everyone had other obligations. I would like to thank Bridget Sarver (and her family!) for the invitation to join the group today and also thank Patrick Livney for the time, candor and insight he gave us regarding the incredible science and technology being thrown at the CMT disorder. Finally, thanks to Rodney for making himself available to this chapter for information on the array of bracing options available to those who need them.

Here's to all of you out there dedicating your time to this shared mission: a world without CMT and in the meantime, improving the quality of life for those who have it.

The small group of us still left after the 2-hour luncheon, from left:
 Back row-Rodney Vaden, Jim Austin, Ray Sarver, Thomas Sarver, Marilyn Reddick
Rachel Gray, Patrick Livney, Front row- me, Bridget Sarver
Rather than stick around Nashville for the afternoon we chose to make our way back towards Franklin, about 30 minutes away. Again, with the CMA music festival in town the traffic was worse than usual and the hotel pricing downtown was outrageous so it made more sense to get out of the fray. I booked a hotel in an area of Franklin called Cool Springs and was pleasantly surprised to find a serene niche here, outside all the action in "Nash-vegas". I checked into the room and caught up on the last of my work obligations for the day then went in search of a grocery store. Tomorrow's race starts at 6:30am which means we have to leave the hotel by about 5:15am--leaving no time tomorrow to hunt for pre-race food.

After the groceries were purchased and stored back in the room, we
walked from our hotel to Bosco's for dinner.

Silly me, I took photos of the menu but totally forgot
to take pictures of the meal once it arrived. The food
was good...not the best I've ever had but it was good nonetheless.

As we were leaving I snapped this pic, we were sitting
on the patio just behind the first table on the left. It
was a perfect night to sit outside.

Everywhere I've looked here in Cool Springs I've
seen beautiful planters, hanging baskets and gardens...
flowers must love this Tennessee weather.

Saturday, June 7th--RACE DAY!

The alarm went off at 4:30am so I'm thankful for getting to sleep by 8:30pm last night. Reading last year's accounts of the inaugural Franklin Half Marathon it appears important to arrive early due to traffic log jams on the 2-lane country roads heading into Leiper's Fork. So after a breakfast of apple, Greek yogurt, electrolyte water and cup of coffee we were on the road!

Still dark at 5:00am.

As we make our way into Leiper's Fork the sun is just
coming up over the trees. It's a beautiful morning.

This is the field we were directed into for parking.

By 5:30 am there are hundreds of runners arriving early like we did.
See the barn way back in the distance? That's how far the "early arrivals"
have to walk to get back to the start line area. I'm sure they did this to prevent
traffic tie-ups, but this will be a long walk back after the race for those of
us who planned ahead. The late arrivals will get to park right next to all the action.

Sporting my new CMTA arm warmers! I think it's going
to be too hot to wear them in the race, but it's cool out
here now and they're just what I need.

Race volunteers and vendors are setting up for the day's events.

From the road, this is a view looking down into the
field where the start/finish line festivities will take place.

Since I've never been to Leiper's Fork, I took advantage
of our extra time to walk up to "town", just ahead on the hill.
Upon seeing the town of historic Leiper's Fork I found myself wishing I could stay longer to check out all the shops, galleries, restaurants and markets--they all looked so inviting. I used my phone to learn more about the history of LP and now it's on my list for a return visit. To learn more for yourself, check out this site:

Puckett's wasn't officially open this early but the shopkeeper let
a few runners in for last-minute purchases before the races started.

More shops...

...The Lawn Chair Theater

...and more shops

A beautiful gallery--I want to go in!

Back to the race village again. It was fun watching them
fill the hot air balloon, but it was also quite loud when
they had the flames roaring.

Ahhh, my least favorite part of pre-race rituals: the long
port-a-john lines. At least I was in good company!

The Half Marathon is starting right on time this year,
6:30 am sharp. Last year, due to traffic issues, I heard
they started 45 minutes late.

Just before the starting gun, I got an email with a link from the Williamson Herald--they plan to do a feature on the Get Back UP story this weekend, yay! Here's the link to the mobile app version, the headline is a little confusing (I'm not from Franklin) but they somewhat clarify this later in the article...either way, I'm happy to get the word out:
Unlike the glam of the Rock 'n Roll races, this starting
line is very nondescript. The weather is perfect, humid but
not too hot--mid-60's I think--with a cloud cover that
I hope stays with us for the next few hours.

Great turnout again this year, despite the warnings of
numerous hill climbs awaiting us.

And we're off!

What's a half marathon without a little historic education?

Poor Jim, he's been nursing a strained calf muscle for the last
few weeks but decided to give today a try anyway. We made a
plan to go slower than usual, at least until he found out if his
calf was holding up on the hills. So far, so good.

The scenery surrounding the runners was post-card perfect, especially
with the late morning mist and low-hanging clouds.

The views along the entire course were like this one--serenely beautiful.
As we were making our way through the bucolic countryside, I heard a loud "AUGGGHH!" coming from Jim. He stopped in his tracks and hobbled off to the side of the road, right about mile 4 of the run:
This can't be a good sign.
I went to ask him if he was okay but in my heart I already knew he tore his calf muscle since I had the exact same injury a few years back. His answer though was "I don't know" and after a few minutes of stretching he limped back up to the road and started walking ahead. Just to our right was a woman in a car, out here to support her husband along the course, and she offered him a ride back to the start. In true man-fashion he refused the ride and despite my pleading look she continued on her way. Jim told me he was going to try to walk it out, see how it did, and then decide at the next aid station whether to drop out or not. So I walked alongside of him for awhile, trying to reason with him that we have dozens of races in our near future and he shouldn't push himself to a point where his injury is a whole lot worse. You can imagine how well-received my words of advice were, and I knew better than to push it further so I let it go and walked with him until he knew what his new plan was going to be. I said I'd walk the race with him if he was going to continue for the 8.5 miles, but he said he may drop out at the aid station ahead and urged me to run on. Reluctantly I ran on, but planned to wait at the next aid station for an update.

I can barely see him, way back in the back, as I approach
the Mile 5 aid station...he's still walking.

I focus on the scenery while I wait for Jim to get here.

Gorgeous horses just off the side of the road. I love horses so I had to see if
I could get a better photo at the fence...

As soon as I walked up to the road-side fence this playful
little guy came running up to greet me--I didn't want to leave
him, but before I did I had to take a selfie with him.
I finally made eye-contact with Jim as he was coming up to the aid station, and he was waving his arms telling me to run on...I guess he decided to drop out after all. I was still standing there waiting for him just to confirm but he got more frantic with his arm-waving so I had to move on without him. I wasn't worried about running by myself, I do it all the time, but I was concerned that if he got worse he'd be too far from help...and he doesn't run with a phone like I do. Oh well, he's a big boy and I had to respect his choices...hopefully he will catch a ride to the finish.

The farmland all around me was enough to bring me peace of mind again.

Did I mention that this was a hilly course? These first 4-5 miles
haven't been too bad, one or two hills but mostly rolling countryside.

I should have know when I saw this sign that I
was in for some serious hills. Little did I know (because
smarty here didn't check the course elevation) that
I was approaching what locals call "heart attack hill".

This was the view to my immediate left which I forced myself
to look at instead of the massive hill I saw in front of me.

Runners (now mostly walkers) all around me were telling me that
this stretch of 3-4 miles is extremely challenging, almost all
of it uphill with Heart Attack Hill looming around a few more
turns in the background of this photo.
These photos really don't do this hill sure felt a lot
steeper than it looks here.

Another view looking down, and I'm not even halfway up at this point.

This was a first for me in a race: as far as my eye could see, I didn't see ONE
person running--everyone had given up the jog and walked instead.

Whew, finally a flat stretch. 

It wasn't flat for long! Yet another of the slow climbs but at least this
one wasn't too steep that you couldn't manage a respectable jog. 

More farm scenery.

More hills.
Somewhere around mile 8 I caught up with some women whom I first noticed at the starting line. I had seen them run by me near mile 4 when I stopped to support Jim when his calf muscle "popped" and thought they'd be long gone by now. The reason I paid attention to them at the starting line was because they were talking about running this race last year, and also about their work as athletic trainers somewhere nearby. As I was catching up to them I eavesdropped on their conversation and found myself chuckling. They were very much like myself and my friends when we run together--no topics off limits, and the slowest person controls the pace. When I got close enough, I introduced myself and confessed to my eavesdropping...they immediately invited me to join them for the rest of the run. I was torn because I was worried about Jim waiting for me at the finish line and thought I should push on ahead, but I also really liked having someone to talk to out here. I opted to stay and run with them, I knew it would make the last 5 miles seem much quicker.

Ginny, on the left,  joined up with us about a mile
 after I first met Alexis (middle) and LeighAnne (right).  

LeighAnne was running via the Galloway method (walk-run intervals)
so the rest of us followed suit and enjoyed great conversation along the way.

More farmland, more cows.

We gave ourselves the nickname "Team Downhill" somewhere around mile 11...
and here we are at the finish! Thank you, TD, for making this race so fun for
I'm off to find Jim.
As soon as I crossed the finish line I went in search of Jim. I checked the medical tents, the food tables, the port-a-john areas and then thought that perhaps he walked back to the car. I walked all the way to the car, no Jim and no note...and since he had the key I couldn't access any of my things. I finally deduced that he didn't quit the race after all...and almost 40 minutes later I finally see him in the distance, back at the finish line area.
While I was happy to see that he was still walking under his own power, I was mad that he
made me think he was getting a ride. I would've walked with him if he wanted, but
at the very least I would've gotten the car key from him so I could access food and
dry clothes while I waited for him. Sheesh.

A determined Jim makes the last turn as the race
festivities are drawing to a close.
After Jim apologized for making me wait and worry, we were both happy to have been able to complete this race and congratulated each other on making it through a very tough race course. We had to check out of our hotel by 11 so we made our way back to the car and drove the 30 minutes back to Cool Springs. Normally we would stay in town immediately after a run like this one but with hotel prices skyrocketing due to the music festival, and because we had no idea what our long drive had in store, we chose to head straight towards home. So, after quick showers and a change into clean clothes we hit the road, Jim rode with an ice pack on his leg.

Another beautiful day for a least for now.

The rockslide had been cleared over the weekend so
Interstate 40 was reopened along the border. Before we got
there we opted to stop in Hartford, TN to refuel after our
hard efforts this morning. This is a favorite spot for us, along
the river at The Bean Trees Cafe.

Jim feels justified eating this after "hiking 13.1 miles" today.
It's a burger, with bacon, a fried egg,  pickles
and cheese on top. UGH.

I ordered the vegetarian nachos, which is much more like
a taco salad the way they make it here.

Back on the road.

We drove through some heavy rain but no real storms. The cloud
formations were dramatic.

More road, more clouds as the evening sun sets.

If you don't mind steep hills, this is a race I heartily recommend. The organization,
the volunteers and the 'runner-atmosphere' are all terrific...and the scenery surrounding
Leiper's Fork was worth the effort it took to climb the hills.
NEXT STOP: Seattle Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon--which isn't on the official schedule!


  1. An interesting race. Jim didn't have a good one either. Popping a calf muscle not good. Know this from over 40 years of being a bad toe walker. Interesting factoid, Dan Fogelberg's "Run For The Roses" was recorded in Franklin. Best wishes and Godspeed to both of you, may Jim heal rapidly.

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