By Devin P. Quinn
XTERRA Trail Running Intern
On February 20th more than 500 trail running enthusiasts gathered at Fort Yargo State Park in Winder, Georgia for the 10th annual XTERRA Georgia Thrill in the Hills marathon and half-marathon. The atmosphere was electric and the conditions picture perfect, as described by race director Tim Schroer: “The course, weather, conditions, and temperatures this year were absolutely as epic as you could ask for! It was cool celebrating 10 years of the XTERRA Georgia Thrill in the Hills with such sweet conditions, and I think it set up great for the runners. This is a great time of year for this race (late February); with these distances we like to have cool temperatures for the runners. Over the last 10 years we have experienced everything from light rain, monsoons, ice, snow and everything in between! This year was by far one of the best!”
The tenth anniversary of a race is an occasion not just for celebration but for reflection as well. You might expect the event to have changed drastically over the years, but, as Tim explains, a commitment to creating an atmosphere of family has been central throughout the history of the series. “My wife and I started Dirty Spokes in 2005 and we are very proud to call ourselves a Georgia family business. Honestly it's the family part (or family atmosphere) we love the most. We hope the runners get a feel of comfort and family when they come to our races. We take a lot of pride in the product we put out and hope people can see that when they come to our races. We try to be consistent with the races and events we produce. Fort Yargo State Park is a great trail system and we feel like we have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to showcase it for the last 10 years. We have made some small tweaks from year to year and feel like we have it dialed in pretty well. I thought it was cool to have 500 plus runners at the 10th Annual Thrill In the Hills, and the fact they came from Germany, Taiwan, California, Nevada, Washington, Minnesota, New York, Virginia, Kentucky and all across the Southeastern U.S. was pretty special.”
Even a veteran race director couldn’t put together an event like this without some help. “We have some amazing volunteers and staff that help with our events that make things run like clockwork,” praises Tim. “It's fun for me to see things come together on race day. There is so much preparation and organization that goes on before the race even gets to the table that sometimes race day seems easy. Our volunteers and staff that help with registration always greet the runners with a huge smile and in my opinion set the tone for the day (they are honestly the best in the business). Our crew that helps set up the course at Fort Yargo does an outstanding job to help ensure the runners don't have any questions once they enter the trail system.”
The marathon kicked off at 8:00 am on the dot and the half-marathon at 8:30. For the purpose of a well-spaced start, the race began on the street, but quickly the course headed into the woods to wind through varied terrain including single and double track, rolling hills, rocks, roots, gentle slopes, and lots of beautiful Georgia forest. The race’s creed, after all, is “Ditch the City,” and with well-maintained trails winding through breathtaking sylvan scenery, it’s easy to understand why the event continues to grow in popularity.
Tim maintained an active presence during the race, zooming around on an ATV to watch over the racers and offer words of encouragement. “I was able to lead all the runners into the woods and once they tapped into the woods I was able to go from point to point on the course and catch up with the racers (making sure all was good).” From his position, Tim also had a close-up view of the events that unfolded during the race. “The top 5 in the marathon were within 1 minute of each other for the first lap of the race, which set up for a fun race to watch from my perspective in the woods. The top 3 in the half-marathon were flying around the course and stayed within arm’s length of each other for the first 6-7 miles, then they started to create some separation from each other.”
Atlanta native Kyle Boykin ultimately pulled away to win the men’s side of the marathon, opening a six-minute gap over Gautam Sowda and Keil Anderson, respectively. Nicole Gasaway from Sugar Hill was the female marathon champ; Gloria Clavijo and Molly Freeman were second and third. The men’s half-marathon winner was Jesse Rappole, another Atlanta resident, followed by Chris Acuff and Matt Haley; Edann Brady emerged triumphant on the women’s side, with Maurya Lacey and Joy Makinen-Palmer filling out the podium.
All in all, the 10th annual Thrill in the Hills race was a huge success, and Tim insists that despite his efforts it is the runners who truly make the event. “I am always amazed at the performances by the runners who attend our events (front, middle and back of the pack),” he says. “It's fun from my perspective to hear from people—whether first time trail runners or veterans of the trail running community—about their experiences within the events. We have always said it's the racers that make the races what they are and we are very grateful to each of them for supporting our events. We are very fortunate to surround ourselves with such awesome people!
A prime representative of those “awesome people” is Don Burkett. Don has been an integral part of the running community for 55 years, both as a runner and as a race director, so his praise for the race and the series should not be taken lightly! “Every year the Thrill in the Hills Trail Race has improved in quality,” he says. “To be honest it is hard to improve on perfection but Tim and Linda Schroer really try each year to address any runner concerns and make every effort to improve this race. Also, the volunteers who maintain the trails have made vast improvements in areas that have washed or weathered. This year the trails were really buffed and clean. I personally believe this race gets better each year and it is the best half marathon trail race that I have run. The Georgia XTERRA Series is very professionally run and is the most organized group of races that I have participated in during my trail running career. Tim and Linda Schroer place the utmost effort into ensuring that each runner has the best experience possible. From packet pickup to the awards ceremony and all aspects in between, the races are well planned and run flawlessly. Tim and Linda have also recruited a dedicated group of volunteers who, like family, make each runner feel welcomed and "at home". This runner-friendly attitude permeates each person involved in the Dirty Spokes Production experience and can be felt at each race!”
No article on the Thrill in the Hills would be complete without Matt and Becky Morris; the running couple has been a fixture in the race for all ten years of its existence. With the race’s tenth anniversary now passed, Matt looks back at how they became such avid trail runners and were attracted to the Thrill in the Hills: “Becky and I both started out as road and track runners, and while the track was safe it was boring and monotonous. The road, on the other hand, only got more dangerous with people talking on their cell phones and paying more attention to their kids than the road. After I jumped into a ditch to avoid a clueless car I decided to find a safer way to run. I discovered the trails at Fort Yargo and after running there once I was hooked. I brought Becky out and she loved it also. We could run without worrying about traffic. We could listen to music. We ran next to the lake and through the woods. We got to reconnect with nature while doing something we loved. There was one downside, though: we could not find any trail races close to us. Of course there was a 5K every weekend and the one or two yearly marathons in Georgia, and the Peachtree Road Race—but it was all on asphalt! Then along came Tim Schroer with the inaugural Thrill in the Hills at Fort Yargo. We were pumped. Not only was it a trail race but it was "our" trail race.”
From that point on it was a match made in heaven, he explains. “We run this race every year because Fort Yargo is our home field. We live close and train here all year, and we love the course because it's challenging, demanding and rewarding. Each year new people run this race and discover Fort Yargo, and then they come back because it’s a great park. It has really made a positive impact on the park and the local community. Of course, The Thrill in the Hills is not the only XTERRA race we run. After seeing what Tim has done at Fort Yargo we have run almost all of his XTERRA races at one point or another. We are just grateful that we can get out there with other trail runners and enjoy these races.”
Finally, the Thrill in the Hills race would not be what it is without the help of its sponsors, as Tim points out. “We have some awesome sponsors who support our events. This year’s XTERRA Georgia Trail Run Series is presented by Chateau Élan. They are located in Braselton, Georgia, and have a rich history of producing some of the best wines! Big Peach Running Co. (all 7 locations) is our local retail sponsor for all our events (Dirty Spokes Trail Running Races as well as XTERRA Georgia Trail Running Races). Big Peach has some of the most knowledgeable and friendly staff. It was also super cool to have Powerbar at the race this past weekend with their traveling trailer—I think the runners really liked the on-site support.” Gatorade and Paul Mitchell supported the race as well.
Two races remain in the 2015-2016 XTERRA Georgia Trail Run Series. Next up is the XTERRA Georgia Deep South 15K/5K at Dauset Trails in Jackson, Georgia on May 28th, and then the 2015-2016 series will wrap up on August 13th with the XTERRA Georgia Allatoona Creek 15K/5K. Fear not—the 2016-2017 series kicks off soon after with the XTERRA Georgia Harbins Park 10K on September 24th!
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