The mere mention of the words “Thunder Road Marathon” are enough to make many Charlotteans’ eyes start twitching, or get fingers rubbing against temples.
That’s because this is the image many conjure up in their heads at the thought of the city’s only marathon, held on the second Saturday of each November: Thousands of self-important runners, holding up traffic in and around uptown, engaging in a pointless activity for several hours while dressed in stupid-looking outfits.
So, on behalf of those who don’t have the patience for this event, we grilled Thunder Road race director Tim Rhodes this week in an effort to poke holes in the theory that his marathon is something other than a public nuisance.
Q. Before we start: How far is your marathon?
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A. Twenty-six miles, 385 yards.
Q. What?? Why on earth would someone want to run that distance?
A. It’s a bucket list thing for a lot of people. It’s something that’s out there that not a lot of normal, regular people will do. But (many runners) see it as kind of this endurance challenge.
Q. Uh huh. Well anyway, I have a very important appointment on Saturday morning and Providence Road is the best road to take to get there...
A. No, it’s not. Randolph Road would be probably the best alternative.
Q. But why can’t you move your marathon to different roads so it’s less bothersome to busy people like me?
A. Actually, we have planned this route so that we’re more traffic-friendly in the neighborhoods like Myers Park. We try to get through early so we’re not there throughout the later part of the morning and into the afternoon. Mecklenburg police do a really good job of either making sure traffic is diverted before (motorists) hit a pinch point or working them through a pinch point. And we work with the city and neighborhoods to come up with routes that have the least impact on traffic possible.
Q. OK, but I don’t know any other good ways to get to my appointment, so my plan right now is to just use Providence Road regardless. I assume your marathon runners will all get out of my way when they see me coming, right?
A. I would make sure you have a backup plan for your appointment. The permit that we have for the city of Charlotte allows runners to have the right of way, regardless of any traffic sign, whether it’s a stop sign or a stoplight. So runners will always have the right of way as long as they’re within the timeline for this race. Unfortunately, until there’s a break in the crowd – and there’s usually not a break on Providence Road – you’re probably not going to be able to get through there.
Q. (Heavy sigh.) It just seems like such a selfish sport. In what other ways is your marathon selfish?
A. We are actually very community-minded with our business. There are several nonprofits and charitable organizations that we partner with to the produce the marathon. The largest chunk of our charitable donation goes back to Hemby Children’s Hospital.
Q. Moving on: In the past, I’ve seen people running your marathon that don’t look like they’re in very good shape.
A. That’s the cool thing about the marathon: People of all shapes and sizes can take this on as a challenge.
Q. But isn’t your marathon dangerous?
A. I don’t consider it dangerous. I consider it a challenging event for anyone, no matter how much you’ve trained for it. If you don’t properly train for this event, it’s more dangerous than it is for someone who has properly trained.
Q. What kind of test do you give to people to make sure they’re properly trained for your marathon?
A. We don’t have a test, although they do sign a waiver that says that they are physically trained and prepared for this event. And we have the best medical team in the country working this marathon, on the course and at the finish line. They are prepared for medical situations of all kinds, whether it’s an emergency or it’s just somebody that’s a little dehydrated or fell and skinned their knee.
Q. Have you ever run a marathon?
A. I have. I’ve run 23 marathons in ... I think it’s 19 states.
Q. Were they hard?
A. Yes. Some more than others. I’ve run them in all different conditions and had results that were affected by those conditions. But yeah, they’re all hard and my legs hurt for a couple of days afterwards every time and I get blisters every time. But I think that’s part of the fun of it: You challenge your body to do something out of the ordinary. And it’s inspirational and motivational and spills over into other things that I like to do, too.
Q. Hmm. I must say: You’ve piqued my interest. Can I get your advice? The furthest I’ve ever run is 3 miles, and that was 10 years ago. But if I took it slow, I could probably finish your marathon on Saturday, right?
A. I would plan on this: If you’d like to join the fun, run the 5K this year. You’ll have a great time, and that three miles will remind you that you haven’t run for 10 years. You can always come back and start training (next year) ... and run those 3, 4, 5, 6 miles and build up. Then in June, join one of our training classes that will prepare you for the marathon distance – or the half marathon distance, if you don’t think the marathon distance is something you want to tackle at that point. It really does take a long time to be physically prepared for them.
You still can have a fantastic time running the 5K Saturday, and I guarantee your legs will thank you for not running a marathon without training.
(Full disclosure: Théoden Janes has, in fact, run the Thunder Road Marathon three times. He is leading a pace team for the half marathon on Saturday. Contact him at 704-358-5897; Twitter: @theodenjanes.)
Novant Health Thunder Road Marathon
The 11th annual road race features Charlotte’s only marathon, plus a half marathon, a 5K run/walk, a marathon relay (for teams) and a kids’ 1 mile fun run. Of the roughly 6,000 people racing Saturday, about 1,200 are entered in the marathon. Races start at 7:30 a.m. Saturday at Romare Bearden Park, 300 S. Church St.; the finish line is there, too.
Oh, and for the record, the only part of Providence Road that’s closed is the stretch from Colville Road to Wendover Road (just over a mile). It’s Mile 5 of the race, so it should re-open well before 9 a.m.