Chapel Hill: Sports

Thousands take to the streets for Tar Heel 10 and Fleet Feet 4

Runners pass by the University of North Carolina Bell Tower at the start of Saturday’s Tar Heel 10-Miler and Fleet Feet 4-Mile Run.
Runners pass by the University of North Carolina Bell Tower at the start of Saturday’s Tar Heel 10-Miler and Fleet Feet 4-Mile Run. Photos by Fabian Radulescu

The torrent ran down South Road on the University of North Carolina Campus like a raging river Saturday morning. It lapped at the shoulders of Franklin Street, it coursed through the Gimghoul neighborhood in whitewater rapids, and then it poured down Raleigh Road like a waterfall.

Friday night’s storms may have produced a local deluge, but the real run-off was Saturday morning when nearly 6,000 runners flooded the streets of Chapel Hill and UNC for the seventh annual Tar Heel 10-Mile and Fleet Feet 4-mile road races, only to arrive high and (well, mostly) dry at the Kenan Stadium finish line.

Course changes implemented this year added stretches along East Franklin Street, but the routes still lived up to their notoriously hilly reputation.

Hills didn’t go unnoticed, even by the leaders, including overall 10-mile winner Duriel Hardy, 26, of Durham, who moved ahead of the lead pack in the picturesque but precipitous Laurel Hill neighborhoods en route to a 52:00 finish about a mile later.

Tibor Vegh (52:31) finished in second place, with Chapel Hill’s Robert Torphy (53:08) in third. Allen Baddour, 42, captured the men’s masters bracket in 59:15.

“It was good,” Hardy said. “Everyone was saying it was super hard, and it was, but I felt good. We had a good pack until about mile eight, and I caught the leader (Vegh) around mile nine.”

Female 10-mile winner Heidi Bretscher (1:01:21) also said the climbs were taxing. Bretscher out-paced Rachael Lambert (1:03:30) and Mattie Webb (1:07:00). Betsy Armentrout (1:08:25) won the women’s masters division.

“It was hell,” Bretscher said, laughing. “I’m not good on hills.”

Luke Holman (22:23) of McLean, Va., earned top honors in the men’s four-mile race, with Erick Hawkins (25:39) and Benjamin White (26:08) giving chase. Paul Bishop, 50, won the masters crown in 27:04.

“I went out with a 5:02 mile at the start, and I had all this energy: it was downhill,” Holman said, “but Laurel Hill was a challenge coming back.”

Among the four-mile women, it was Jennifer Zwick (24:57) taking the gold, with Candace Harrison (26:00) earning silver and Ryan Jacoby (28:09) capturing bronze. Sloan Nuernberger (30:47), 42, won the women’s four-mile masters title.

“I ran the Raleigh half about two weeks ago, and I heard this course was just as hilly,” Zwick said. “I was expecting (the hills), though. There was nothing unexpected on the course.”

In a race-within-a-race, it was overall 10-mile winner Duriel Hardy and women’s 10-mile second-place finisher Rachael Lambert who posted the best times along the uphill course through Laurel Hill neighborhoods.

Wind said the race’s size necessitated the changes in the race route this year.

“The course changes had to do with the fact that our races had grown to the size where we really needed more space for a mass start,” race director Thys Wind explained. “We’d outgrown Kenan Stadium for mass starting. That allowed us to go one step further and use East Franklin Street for the first time. Miles 5 through 10 were the same though, and I think it provided an even more picturesque course.”

Wind said the time of year also contributed to the beautiful course.

“It’s also a week later than we’ve traditionally put on this race,” he explained. “Everything is a week further along and in full bloom.”

The Tar Heel 10 Miler benefits UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro YMCA’s We Build People Campaign. CEP Compression Sportswear, Endurance Magazine, the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership and Fleet Feet Sports partnered to produce the event, which also serves as the official North Carolina 10-mile State Championship.

Given the lengthy list of entrants this year, the race’s impacts on roads, the university and local businesses called for a greater priority on planning, collaboration and advance communication.

“With the course change, we’d added a few detours, and, even more than before, we really tried to communicate this to all of the local residents,” Wind said. “The police made this all happen though, and I can’t thank them enough for recruiting officers to secure the roads.”

“Public works did such an amazing job helping to set up the course,” Wind added. “We had message boards around town and smaller signs in the neighborhoods, and we’ve tried to go a step further in making sure UNC Hospitals is aware of all of the traffic implications for the 7 a.m. shift.

“Another thing we’ve improved this year is the parking plan, led by UNC Public Safety and McLaurin Parking. This really improved accessibility for runners to the starting line.”

Endurance Publisher / Founder Steve Lackey agreed.

“For the first time, we’ve implemented professional parking and traffic management through (Parking Control Supervisor) Deborah Hawkins at UNC Public Safety and through McLaurin Parking,” Lackey said. “That’s been huge.”

Lackey said such cooperation and collaboration would be instrumental to further growth of the race in the future.

“We’d love to see our race draw 10,000 runners for our tenth anniversary (in three years),” Lackey said, “and the first step this year was to see how the new course impacted the community. So far, we’re feeling really good about it. Next year, we hope to have around 7,500 runners, and we’ll see how that goes.”

Lackey said he hoped a good percentage of that growth would be younger runners, for whom a healthy formative environment was so important.

“We’re always interested in making this even more of a community event,” he said. “Chapel Hill and Carrboro make up 2,000 of this year’s 6,000 runners. Now we want to implement programs that address health and wellness issues across the state, so we want more kids participating in the four-mile event.”

With numbers still growing for the Tar Heel 10-Miler and Fleet Feet Four-mile races, next year could be yet another high water mark for local racing.