Nobody could remember a Durham County marathon as 2017 started, but two will be run by the end of the year.
The Nov. 12 RDC Marathon was announced in March, and last week the Dec. 3 Race Across Durham Trail Marathon became official. Registration for the inaugural event, which includes a companion 10-miler, opens July 1.
All Race Across Durham proceeds go to the LIFE Skills Foundation, which supports young Durham adults who have made the transition out of the foster-care system.
Like RDC, nearly all of the RAD course is in Durham County. A small portion of RDC is in Chatham County and RAD finishes in Orange County.
RAD is the Triangle’s second trail marathon, joining the Umstead Trail Marathon, which will be run for the 15th time in March. Most of the Tobacco Road and RDC marathons are on the American Tobacco Trail. Race Across Durham restores the Triangle’s marathon total to five after the demise last month of the Rock ’n’ Roll Raleigh Marathon (the event continues next year with a half-marathon and a 5K).
What makes RAD a little different is that it’s a point-to-point race from the eastern edge of Durham County to past the western border, with the entire course on the single-track Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
“I’m a longtime trail runner and I spend a lot of time on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail,” said Joe McClernon, a clinical psychologist who is on the LIFE Skills Foundation board and came up with the idea for the race.
“One day, I was looking at the guidebook and looking at the map and it occurred to me that if you run on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail from eastern to western Durham County it’s right at about 26 or 30 miles,” he said. “I thought that would be really cool if there was an all-trail marathon on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail where you could run across Durham County from east to west in one event.”
Both races finish at the Eno River Rock Quarry, with the marathon starting at the Hickory Hill Boat Ramp at Falls Lake near Durham County’s eastern border at 8 a.m. and the 10-miler starting at West Point on the Eno at 9 a.m. The field cap for each race will be about 200. Shuttles will be set up to get runners from the finish line to the start line.
This is the fourth race in the Tough as Trails Race Series put on by Bull City Running Co., a running store. It also administers the Eno River Run (the sixth annual race is Oct. 28, with 11- and 6-mile options), the Uwharrie Mountain Run (the 27th annual race is Feb. 3 with 8-, 20- and 40-mile options) and the Mountains-to-Sea Trail 12M and 50K Challenge (which was run April 9). All of those also benefit charities.
“This is actually something that trail runners in the area have been talking about for years,” said Kim Chapman Page, owner of Bull City Running, which also puts on road races. “I’ve had people come to me asking about the possibility of a trail marathon in Durham. But nobody had really taken the time to look at the map and plot out the course and think through some of the logistics the way that Joe did. So when he came to me last fall with the idea, it was a really appealing partnership for us because we wouldn’t be starting from scratch.”
There is quite a contrast between road marathons and trail marathons. You trade the big crowds and the downtown scenery many races feature for beautiful views on a trail without having to worry much about traffic or drivers upset that streets are closed. Runners will cross roads three times: at Redwood Road where it intersects Tom Clark Road, at Red Mill Road and at Guess Road. You also cross some small streams using foot bridges.
McClernon says there are definite adjustments if you only have experience with road marathons.
“I can tell you that it’s something of a different ball game,” he said. “If you haven’t trained for them, it can be a completely different event for you. I’m usually about a minute and a half, two minutes slower on the trail than on the road.”
He says the views along the course are nice.
“It’s really beautiful,” he said. “There are some very beautiful spots. Lots of it are pretty isolated. Beautiful views of the river, views from bluffs overlooking the river, farmland, forests. It’s going to be a pretty amazing course. There are some really cool historic spots on the trail as well. There are four or five old mill sites.”
The race continues a trend in the Triangle of marathons supporting deserving local charities, in this case the LIFE Skills Foundation.
“We’re a relatively young nonprofit but we are providing a really vital service,” McClernon said. “One of the benefits from the race is funds for LIFE Skills but we’re also excited that it will generate additional awareness about what we’re doing. All of our sponsorships go directly to LIFE Skills and then any funds we have after paying for the cost of the race will go to LIFE Skills.
“We have apartment buildings by N.C. Central, so it gives them a place to live and also provides substance-abuse and mental-health counseling and links them to job skills and education programs and other social services with the goal of really empowering these young adults to help them make that transition,” he said.
Runners can hit the trails to help young adults stay on the right trail.