Marathon and High Point make winning pair

by Jordan Green

I’m standing at the second water station of the North Carolina Marathon on Hamilton Street in High Point, which comes after the course winds through the exclusive Emorywood neighborhood, and before it splays east then makes the long run north to Sandy Ridge Road near Interstate 40. A half dozen race volunteers, some of them children, wait eagerly for the first wave of competitors. Boys lean into the street with plastic cups of water ready to hand off to the runners, until an adult pulls them back. Soon David Duggan, a 42-year-old runner from High Point, appears from around a corner with an attachment of two motorcycle cops. Blond and sinewy, he seems to stride effortlessly over the road. He’ll hold his lead for the rest of the race, completing the 26.2 miles mostly in solitude, and when he crosses the finish line in front of the International Home Furnishings Center, hardly anyone will notice, with parents’ attention turned to the youngsters completing the 5K at roughly the same time. With a chip time of 2:45:27, Duggan will lead his nearest competitor, 25-year-old Nick Liversedge of Burlington, by more than three minutes, and improve 2008 firstplace finisher Aaron Linz’s time by upwards of seven minutes. The May 2 race in High Point marks the North Carolina Marathon’s second year, after the event bolted from Greensboro. It’s a Boston Marathon qualifying event that draws runners from mainly from North Carolina, but also a healthy contingent from southeastern states like Florida and West Virginia, and at least one competitor from California. The times are not especially impressive, an observer on a bicycle at the finish line will tell me as we wait for Duggan’s arrival. And indeed, a review of the 2008 New York City Marathon’s reveals a cohort of top 10 runners from Brazil, Morocco, Kenya, along with Arizona, California, Oregon and Minnesota clocking in at times ranging from two hours and eight minutes to two hours and 16 minutes. It might be a provincial event, but it qualifies as a coup for High Point. To see almost 2,000 runners lined up on Hamilton Street at 7 a.m. with the hulking International Home Furnishings Center looming behind is an iconic sight indeed. And when Mayor Becky Smothers steps onto the platform and says in her understated way, “Have a good race,” it seems to speak for the way Guilford County’s second-largest city pulls together and proves its capability. And judging by Executive Director Melissa T. Fourrier’s comments to me and a reporter from the High Point Enterprise after the starting gun sends the runners on their ways, it seems that this will be a lasting partnership. “I can’t imagine ever leaving High Point,” Fourrier says. “They literally rolled out the red carpet for us. The key to having a successful marathon is support from city government.” The crucial piece is free police security, compared to an $87,000 fee insisted opon by city staff in Greensboro, according to Fourrier. High Point’s transportation, parks & recreation and fire departments also came through. “They delivered — tents, coolers, staff, everything we needed,” Fourrier says. High Point is centrally located in North Carolina, and hosting two furniture markets a year puts its staff in good stead to handle large events, so Greensboro doesn’t have anything especially unique to offer. Still the marathon’s move is something of a rebuke to Furniture City’s larger neighbor to the northeast, and specifically to a fractious city council and a staff fearful of taking initiative lest the council’s vocal small-government faction express displeasure. At a council meeting in March, at-large Councilman Robbie Perkins shot down a resolution proposed by rival District 4 Councilman Mike Barber offering to sponsor the marathon, saying, “My recommendation would be let’s see how it does in High Point, see if they can pull off a race, that the course is measured correctly, that they have mile markers in place and timers — things that runners expect in a championship event.” If there was any doubt that the marathon might return to Greensboro, Fourrier put it to rest. “I don’t think they want us in Greensboro,” Fourrier told me. “City council members were extremely negative.” I talked to at least two Greensboro runners who gave the High Point event high marks. Beth Deloria, a member of Greensboro’s Southside Running Club who competed in the half marathon, carried a sign outside the International Home Furnishing Center reading, “Thank you, High Point, SSRC (heart) HPPD.”

Having run the halfmarathon last year in Greensboro, I’ve learned that these events arenot just about competition and the physical challenge. One of the greatpleasures is watching the scenery unfold before you and discovering howthe city is put together. I pride myself in knowing the streets of mycity, and the course was a revelation even to me. In only 13.1 miles Ihad the pleasure of running through Irving

Park,the working-class mill villages of northeast Greensboro, NC A&TUniversity, Bennett College, the thriving Southside, UNCG and my ownbeloved Westerwood neighborhood. So a foot race is a great way tointroduce people to a new city. Kyle Stalls, a 23-year-old studenthousing property manager from Chapel Hill who completed the halfmarathon with his girlfriend, tells me as much. “It was more scenicthan I expected,” he says. “I’ve not spent much time in High Point.There are some real scenic neighborhoods.”

Atotal of 1,981 people ran in the North Carolina Marathon in High Pointon May 2, a 69 percent increase from the marathon’s first event lastyear in Greensboro. The race relocated to High Point, after organizersbalked at a $65,000 price tag for police protection, and High Pointoffered the service for free. (photo by Jordan Green)