Sunday, October 17, 2010

Wretched Undead Hound the Haunted Half

Angie Clark sprints down Churchill Drive in Sparta, Tenn. She is one of the 300 runners expected to participate in Cookeville's second annual Haunted Half Marathon next Saturday. (Photo, Jim Clark)

Never thought the paper would let me get away with that title. From the Herald-Citizen, October 17, 2010.

The horde of hollow-eyed ghouls making a death march along Cookeville city streets next Saturday will turn out to be a pack of sleepy-eyed runners competing in the 2nd Annual Haunted Half Marathon. For some, the worst nightmare ever; for others, a glory-dream.

The long trek starts at 7:00 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 23, on Dixie Ave., in front of the University Center at Tennessee Tech. Race-day registration is from 5:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m.

Runners can register online in advance at, on which website racers are promised a “Spooktacular time…a wonderful weekend of health, wellness, fun and activity…”

Well, maybe.

Dream? One dream weaver will be Angie Clark. No scar-faced guy with blades for fingers will catch her. The Celina native, now living in Sparta, follows a rigorous training program, regularly running farther than the race’s unlucky 13.1-mile distance.

“I follow a combination of two or three training plans, and I run 40 to 50 miles per week and do two days of speed work and one long run,” she says.

If the Tennessee Titans football team trained so thoroughly, they might wake up from their turnover nightmare.

For Clark, the training pays off. The accomplished racer, who is 31 years old, won the women’s division of the recent Fall Fun Fest 5K, posting a time of 21 minutes, 8 seconds. On the Saturday two weeks later, she was the second woman at the Heavenly Host Lutheran School 5K.

That hardly tells the story of the last race. Saturday is the day she does her long runs. To accomplish both the 5K race and her long run, she compromised:

“I ended up doing that same course five times that day. I did it two times before the race and two more times after the race.” One guesses that the two prior trips around the course might have taken some edge off her 5K speed. Her total distance for the day came to 15.5 miles.

Clark works as an academic advisor and instructor in the general curriculum program at Tennessee Tech. She earned a B.S. in business marketing there in 2002 and her M.B.A. in 2004.

Interestingly, she neither ran cross country in high school nor college. Rather, she took up running on her own while in college, in 2002.

“I’ve always been into exercise, but I never enjoyed it until I took up running. I like the way runners look and so that’s why I tried it. I like the sense of accomplishment I get from it,” she says.

The Haunted Half Marathon is largely the creation of race director Summer Brown—plus a committee of others she is quick to credit. Brown, who is the mother of three, is associated with Cookeville Regional Medical Center in the area of patient financial services.

Race sponsors this year, among others, are: Tennessee Heart, Gaw-Bernhardt & Associates—First Realty Company, Save-A-Lot, First National Bank, Chick-fil-A, and Hooper, Huddleston & Horner.

Last year’s inaugural race benefitted the YMCA. This year the net proceeds go to the Cookeville Regional Medical Center Foundation, and will be used in the patient assistance program to directly help patients in financial need. Distribution of proceeds was decided by an independent committee of volunteers, Brown wrote in an e-mail.

For last year’s race 250 runners registered. Brown is preparing for 300 runners this year. The race draws runners from other states—and from other realms. Look for Neytiri, the Na’vi from Pandora; for Leatherface from Texas; for a lurching hockey mask; Lady Gaga; Darth Vader; the Wicked Witch of the West; and bats out of hell.

A map of the course can be found at In brief, the course stretches down Dixie Ave., turns east on E. Spring and eventually heads down S. Maple, a beautiful shaded street. From there, it meanders northward on Neal St., which becomes first Old Kentucky Rd. and then Salem Rd.

At the intersection with E. Broad, runners will head east and take a tour of the White Plains area, after which they emerge onto E. 10th Street just two blocks shy of running down Elm St., thus avoiding any chance of a slasher nightmare on that evil street. Finally, E. 10th St., with the help of a few excursions, brings the suffering runners back to Tennessee Tech. The finish line is on the quadrangle in front of Memorial Gym. Runners can collapse on the grass.

Metaphors flutter like bats, but the suspense and misery in any race comes from the running itself. Each runner must exorcise the seductive little voice whispering oh so sweetly: You can stop. It will feel so good. Why don’t you stop?

The race goes to the fit, the trained. Others fall behind, some way behind. Bad luck for those poor wretches. Laggards will be arrested and thrown into the pit where porta potties are pumped.

Speaking of which—porta potties, that is—they will be positioned at three locations spaced along the course, available to any runner who actually manages to travel far enough to find them.

Angie Clark will quickly and readily travel that far. “I’d like to do it in under 1:35,” she says, speaking of the total distance. She’ll blow past the leather-faced cannibal before he can get his chainsaw cranked.

No stranger to long distance, Clark has run four marathons, including Country Music, Louisville and Rocket City (Huntsville, Ala.). At Rocket City she finished the 26.2-miles in 3 hours, 28 minutes, winning third place in her age group and—more importantly—qualifying for the Boston Marathon, the dream of every runner. She will run that storied race next April.

She has a more outrageous adventure planned before then. The first weekend in November, her relay team of 12 members will run from Chattanooga to Nashville, 168 miles, in the so-called Ragnar Race.

Two of her teammates in that adventure are swift runners from Cookeville, Katherine Kopinsky and Mary-Ellen Parsons. The three amigas plan to run the Haunted Half Marathon, too. In that race they will be competing against each other, not running as teammates. The 13-mile race will be a warm up for them. Look for all three near the front.

There is hellish effort in running a competitive race. Athletes call it pain. It feels like a nightmare. The only escape from the running is to keep running…until the end. Or quit and face the shame of failure. Between the pain of running and the shame of failure, most runners choose pain.

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