Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Come Rain or Shine

I awoke early Saturday morning to silence. I thought this was promising until I opened my eyes just in time to see a bright flash of lightning. I groaned. It was May 2, the morning of the Second Annual Marathon Mountain 5k Trail Run, and just like the previous year, it was raining.

Last year’s race had been a cold, wet run in late March. This year we moved the date of the race further into spring but not too close to summer. We chose a date that did not conflict with any nearby races, and even checked the Farmer’s Almanac to see if this had been a rainy day in the past. It had not, and we were hopeful that all would be perfect.

Marathon Mountain is a beautiful place. It consists of 150 acres of mostly wooded land, with a few fields here and there. My parents, Herb and Erin McGuire, purchased this land while living in Panama City, Florida, with the intent to build a house on it and retire there. Dad, a Professor of History at Gulf Coast Community College, retired in May of 2004, and Mom followed him shortly thereafter, retiring from her job as a high school guidance counselor at A. Crawford Mosley High School in December.

They built their house and then proceeded to turn the 150 acres surrounding it into a paradise. They worked endlessly clearing old trails and blazing new ones until my sister and I felt we should remind them they were retired. Mom’s green thumb went wild as she tirelessly planted flowers and gardens everywhere. To the left of the house is the Nature Trail where one can follow a rock-lined path through the woods with benches, plants, and stone statues scattered throughout. Slightly behind the house on the right lies Flower Park, with a shorter rock-lined path that leads to a huge elm tree. Flower Park is just what it’s name suggests, a park with flowers of all kinds, colors, shapes and sizes in beds, on trees, and inside rocks.

Dad began naming all the trails, having no trouble remembering them himself, but the rest of us needed a little help. So for Christmas one year, my sister and I had road signs made with the trail names on them. There are trails named after their children, sons-in-law, and grandchildren, along with some historic names mixed in. The road leading up to the house is appropriately named Shangri-la as it truly does lead one to paradise.

This 150 acre paradise was named Marathon Mountain in honor of my dad’s favorite historic battle and my mom’s favorite thing to do. Mom ran her first marathon at the age of 44 and at the age of 58 she’d run a total of 55 marathons, covering all 50 States of the USA. While Dad is not a runner, he is used to Mom’s antics when it comes to running and racing, so he was not so surprised when Mom said she wanted to have a race on their trails in order to help the local Christian school sponsored by their church.

Last year was our first try at race directing. Mom and I have run many races, but neither one of us had ever directed one. I contacted Suzanne and Dink Taylor who own the local Fleet Feet store in Huntsville, and they gave me pointers: lists of things we’d need, contacts, numbers and door prizes. Mom went on a crusade for sponsors in the Fayetteville area and found a community ready to support her efforts. We found volunteers, had t-shirts made, and ordered awards to give the race winners. Race morning was not only cold and rainy but a hectic first-time event. We had 52 runners sign up to run the 5k and 34 to run the 1 Mile Fun Run. Only half showed. We quickly went through awards and door prizes, as everyone was wet and shivering, and the participants quickly dispersed. Despite all of that, Mom was able to give Riverside Christian Academy $1000.00 and we were proud of that.

This year, we were ready to make it bigger and better. We started planning earlier. Mom designed some cool, unique trophies to give to our award winners. We had t-shirts done earlier, and we used to help with registration. It was easier to line up race equipment from the Huntsville Track Club, finisher’s ribbons, and sponsors because we’d done it before.

The weather leading up to the race was perfect, and Mom, Dad, and Gary (a family friend) worked hard clearing the trails that would be used for the 5k. Mom called me regularly giving me progress reports and asking last minute questions about other race logistics. It was coming together wonderfully.

I checked the weather every day leading up to the race. It went from 30% chance of precipitation, to 10%, to 40%, 50%...and then 70%. I went from excited to slightly worried to hopeful to anxious as I watched the percentages change. At packet pick-up the afternoon before race day, we sat in the Landers-McLarty Toyota dealership listening to the rain pound the roof and the thunder accompanying it.

Surprisingly enough, many people showed up to register that night, despite the torrential downpour. We talked and laughed with everyone, and the three hours allotted for packet pick-up flew by. When we left, we had around 80 people signed up for the 5k and 32 signed up for the 1 Mile. We were ecstatic. Our numbers were climbing.

In the weeks leading up to the race, I described the trails of Marathon Mountain to many friends and runners who asked about the race. The course is certainly challenging, with three steep hills and many smaller ones too. The trails are mostly smooth with only a few rocky sections. But with the endless rain, I had no idea what they would be like, and I began to worry that my descriptions of “friendly” and “good trails for beginner trail runners” were no longer accurate.

As the rain continued to fall through the night and on into the morning, we all tried to stay positive. Mom said, “What can we do? We can’t control the weather,” but I knew she was just as disappointed as the rest of us. The phone rang off the hook with runners calling to ask if we were still having the race. I answered that at the moment we were planning to. The only deal breaker would be the lightning. I prayed and prayed that if it must rain, could the lightning at least stop?

That prayer was answered. And once again, I was surprised to see people show up to register and to run despite the stormy weather. We stood huddled in the garage, watching the rain and hoping.

When 8:00am rolled around, the rain had subsided a little and the lightning was gone altogether. The race would go on. I made my way to the finish line to operate the clock and timer to keep the runners’ times as they came through the finish line. The starting gunshot was fired and I said another prayer for the safety of all the runners as they began what would be a wet, muddy, and slippery race.

Once again, my prayers were answered. All the runners made it through the finish line. A few had muddy backsides, but sustained no injuries from their falls. Many runners stayed near the finish line once they’d completed the race, to cheer on the other runners despite the rain. I heard all about the course, how hard it was, and how amazing everyone felt for having accomplished such a feat. A spirit of excitement and triumph permeated the air as everyone helped themselves to post-race refreshments, including muffins fresh from my sister’s oven.

The one mile fun run followed the 5k, and the kids had a muddy course before them, with a rushing stream to cross, but they did it. All of them received a finisher’s ribbon for their efforts and then joined everyone in the garage for awards and door prizes.

By this time the rain had stopped and the sun was attempting to peek out from behind the clouds. A few runners took a stroll through Flower Park and were able to enjoy more of the beauty on Marathon Mountain. I stood watching everyone talk of their experiences and chuckle at their various attempts to get through the mud. Despite the endless rain, the race had been a success.

After all the runners had gone, Jason and I walked down to one of the fields to retrieve the flags marking the course. I was amazed when I saw the trails everyone had traversed. They were muddy and slippery and I found simply walking up and down them tricky. Despite the difficulty, however, they were beautiful. All around was lush, vibrant green foliage. The sound of the stream was peaceful, but may not have seemed so to the runners who had crossed it. And that was only a small portion of the course.

More than 100 people signed up for both races and over half showed to run the race. Jason Reneau finished first overall, setting the course record at 23:11. He was followed closely by Josh Long who finished in 24:51. Madelyn Patton was the first female finisher, coming in 8th overall in 32:15, with Christine Pigg as the second female finisher in 33:48.

Mom and Dad gave Riverside Christian Academy $1670.00, which is almost $700.00 more than last year. The day as a whole wasn’t exactly what we were hoping for, but it was a success nonetheless. As we were cleaning up I said to Mom, “I think three times is a charm. Next year we will have perfect weather.” She laughing replied that it was either that or three strikes and you’re out.

Organizing a race is a lot of work, but a lot of fun too. It seems that no matter what the weather is like, runners will show up to run and will have fun in spite of the elements. Despite the rainy history that seems to accompany the Marathon Mountain 5k Trail Run, it will take place again next year come rain or shine…but hopefully with lots and lots of shine.

For complete results, more race information, and next year's race date, see the website below:

And for a runner's perspective, check out Valerie Moore's blog.


  1. I love the picture of the cat, and Dad helping the kids across the stream :)

  2. Congratulations on staging such a cool race! I'm very impressed reading about what went into it. I love racing (though I'm so very slow) and have thought about what it would be like to run (that is, manage) a race someday - and you've done it! Thanks for sharing.