On April 27th, runners, including myself, will toe the line of the C&O Canal 100 Miler in Knoxville, Maryland. As this is the inaugural running of this race, I was eager to sign up to tackle the course and to interview the race director, Lance Dockery. I had the pleasure of interviewing him to ask about East Coast running, the inaugural race, and his advice for the competitors.
RS: How did you get into trail and ultrarunning?
LD: I got into trail and ultrarunning somewhat unintentionally. Until about two years ago, I almost exclusively ran on roads. At some point, I became more involved with the local running club, Frederick Steeplechasers, and I decided to show up one weekend for their weekly trail runs. I was hooked right away. For me, running on trails is so much more enjoyable than roads. When running trails, you get to relax and soak in nature, and usually the running itself is more relaxed. Most people are never aware of all of the natural beauty that is around them. Hiking, mountain biking, and running are all great ways to get out and explore that natural beauty.
Moving to ultrarunning was a natural progression at that point since most races on trails are ultramarathons. If I wanted to race on trails like the ones I had come to love so much, I would have to start running ultramarathons. I guess you could say I’ve “caught the bug” now, as running a hard road race doesn’t sound like all that much fun anymore.
RS: Can you give me a bit of history about the race?
LD: The idea for a 100 mile race on the canal came as an alternate course to a Fat Ass 100 mile race last year. The original course had some problems getting permission to use the trails initially planned, and the National Park Service generously offered to allow a last minute 100 mile race course that could be held on the C&O Canal. The same course used last year will be used this year, with additional aid stations added in. That means this year will be the first official race, and it is my hope that this can be an annual event.
RS: How did you become the RD of the C&O Canal 100 Miler? What made you want to do it?
LD: I was one of the captains of an aid station last year and I loved the energy and the vibe that I got during the event, so I spoke with the RD and expressed my interest in continuing it as a new 100 mile race. He gave me some helpful information and I ran with it from there.
In the end, I have a few goals. One is to be able to give back to the running community. I am always very grateful of the time and effort that goes into races by volunteers and race directors at all levels, so putting together a race is one way of contributing something back. A second aspect is to showcase the great running community that we have in the Frederick County area of Maryland. I hope people will learn to love the great venues and people in the area as I have.
RS: Not many people think of the East Coast, let alone Maryland, for ultrarunning. While the JFK50 is a famous race, Maryland isn’t thought of when it comes to ultras. Is that something you are trying to change?
LD: I think in general the running opportunities in Maryland are certainly a bit under appreciated by those not familiar with them. There is great tradition and prestige with the JFK50 event, but there are also quite a few other great races in the area as well. What I consider to be the ideal summer slog up and down tough mountain terrain in hot and humid east coast July temperatures (the Catoctin 50K) is one such example. Some of them have popped up more recently in the past few years, so maybe we are seeing something of a trend. The tri-state area (Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia) all feature great running opportunities, so I like to think of Maryland as one piece of a larger puzzle. I feel the running opportunities in those four states offer what is probably the best running east of the Mississippi River, so overall this is a great area!
As far as ultrarunning in my area of Maryland (Frederick County), there is certainly a lot of potential for growth. The Canal itself offers a unique venue for “flat and fast” races, while traveling up into the mountains opens up miles and miles of challenging trails most people don’t know about. One possibility I’ve briefly discussed with some other local runners would be designing a Frederick County ultrarunning circuit of sorts, or at least a group of races in the area that shows off the wide variety of great running opportunities available to runners here.
RS: What do you happen to have planned for the inaugural race?
LD: Well, let’s see, at 7AM on April 27th I plan to send about a hundred runners off on what will hopefully be a “fun” and “memorable” experience that they may not soon forget. Joking aside, the first race will be relatively low key in terms of some races. I am not one for big sponsorships and the more glamorous themes seen at some races. We will have a belt buckle for each runner to finish under the 30 hour time limit, and 13 aid stations on the course to help get everyone to the finish. The aid stations are around 5-6 miles apart with the longest section being 7 miles. We’ll do our best to have gourmet (in utrarunning terms) food at each and every aid station and plenty of friendly volunteers to help out. Each aid station will be captained by an experienced local ultrarunner and I am going to give them free reign to purchase whatever they want for their aid stations. I think this will be nice because you won’t see the same stuff over and over again as the race goes on. I think someone mentioned something about toothbrushes at aid stations to help you temporarily get rid of that Gatorade rain jacket your teeth will be wearing on race day.
Ultimately though, being the inaugural race I will be open to taking the race in whatever direction the runners feel would give them the most out of the event. That’s the intention of the race in the first place (catering to the runners) so I look forward to hearing from everyone after they finish.
RS: What advice would you have for people attempting the C&O Canal 100 Miler, including myself?
LD: I think most people will be surprised to find out how much more challenging the race will be than they initially expected. At first glance, you think this would be a pretty easy course (relatively speaking, since no 100 mile race is easy), but you will be using the same muscles over and over again running on flat terrain for about 100 miles, so that in itself will present its own challenge.
I guarantee you will look forward to the steep hill back up to the halfway point because it will mean you get to use some different muscles for a change. Flat terrain aside, runners should be prepared for the rocks. For the first 30 miles or so, you probably won’t notice it, but the occasional small gravel rocks which litter the canal will slowly morph into sharp daggers. Alternate shoes would be highly recommended.
On a last note, the flat and fast nature of the canal can lead to a lot of people getting carried away going out too hard as they click off seemingly effortless miles. As the first runner to finish last year suggested to me, a good pacing strategy should start walking breaks early. Unlike most races where long and steep uphill climbs can give you a chance to settle into hiking mode, here you will have to program in your own schedule for dialing it back a bit.
For more information on the race, including registration information, you can go to www.cocanal100.com.