Interview with the Race Director – Columbia SC Marathon

It might seem like this interview is being posted way farther in advance than usual, but I have good reason! The Columbia SC Marathon , which will be run this year on March 9, is a race that is very close to my heart for a few reasons: it’s in my hometown, it was unexpectedly one of my favorite races last year, and oh yeah – I’m the assistant race director. I fell so in love with this race last year that I decided I wanted to be involved this year, and when Dan asked me to help, I was thrilled! I’ve learned more in the past few months than I thought was humanly possible. Anyway, the reason I am posting this interview so early is to give those of you who may have been on the fence about attending this year some incentive to sign up! The next price increase is at 11:59 pm on Saturday January 12, so you have to sign up by then to avoid the higher rates and most importantly, to guarantee your shirt size for this year! I of course am available to help you with all your travel needs, and if you come to Columbia, we can meet up and be best friends. It’s going to be really super fun. Deal? Deal.

When was the last time I led you astray? Don't worry, I'll wait.
When was the last time I led you astray? Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Without further adieu, I give you my interview with Dan Hartley, race director of the Columbia SC Marathon. For someone I meet with every Monday at Starbucks, it shocked me how little I apparently know about him. Oops. As always, all italicized remarks are my unwelcome additions and not Dan’s fault.

1. Tell me a little about your marathon history. How many marathons have you run? Do you still actively race?

I’ve run for most of my life. I ran in high school and into my early 20s to stay in shape. I didn’t run much for about 10+ years after that – life just got in the way. I started distance running in 2008 when I heard about ultra marathons. I thought the idea was incredible and I wanted to see if I could do one. So I actually started running specifically so I could do ultra marathons and run 100 miles, basically. I went from not running at all to competing in ultras. I didn’t build up to it by running a 5k and then gradually moving up from there. Meanwhile, I literally started running using the Couch to 5k program. Haters gonna hate. The only race distances I’ve done as an adult have literally been ultras. I’ve actually never run a half marathon or a marathon, a 10k or anything. I still actively race, and I’ve got a pretty busy race schedule all year. I run about one ultra a month on average, and I’ve got four 100 milers coming up this year, including the Leadville 100 out in Colorado in August.

I'll add "general upper body weakness that is insufficient for double fisting water bottles" to my list of reasons why I'll probably never run 100 miles. Btw, this is Dan at mile 41 of the Pinhoti 100.
I’ll add “general upper body weakness that is insufficient for double fisting water bottles” to my list of reasons why I’ll probably never run 100 miles. Btw, this is Dan at mile 41 of the Pinhoti 100.

2. How did you get into race directing?

Running out at Harbison State Forest all the time, I thought it would be really cool if there was a 50k right there.  It’s a beautiful area with tons of trails, and it seemed perfect. There were no other 50ks around, so I just challenged myself to see if I could create one. I know what I like in a race, so I figured why not? I started thinking about it in 2009 and we had our first race in January 2011. It’s now one of the biggest 50ks in the area! As far as the marathon, as I got more involved in the running community and people heard what I was doing out at Harbison, they kept asking me why there was no marathon in Columbia, and I never had an answer. Honestly, it didn’t make any sense. The more people I met in the community, the more I realized there was a demand for it. I had already kind of figured out Harbison, so Columbia seemed like an obvious extension of that. I’ve always been an entrepreneur, so I just decided to do it. If you’re a runner and you like to do it, what better way to do it than to make running your job? I’m trying to do this. It’s not working. Who wants to be my sponsor? Anyone? No?

3. What is your favorite race you have ever run?

I would have to say the Pinhoti 100 in Alabama is my favorite. It was my first 100 miler, and I thought it was exceptionally well run. I loved it! Um, I am 100% confident that my first time running 100 miles will not be my favorite race ever. Mostly because it will never happen.

Um, yeah. This looks like something I would call my favorite race.
Um, yeah. This looks like something I would call my favorite race.

4. What is the race course like? Describe some important sites along the way.

The course has a reputation for being hilly. While it definitely has some hills, it also has some long, straight, flat sections, especially with the slight course revisions for this year. This is a double loop course that highlights the nicest neighborhoods in town, including some of the old historic neighborhoods. You will run past the oldest section of the University of South Carolina (the beautiful “horseshoe”) and the Five Points entertainment district, plus the full length of Main Street in Columbia. Main Street has been completely revitalized in the past few years, and now it is home to some of the best restaurants and shopping in Columbia. The course runs directly past the host hotel, too! The finish line is directly in front of the state capitol building, which still has cannonball marks on it from Union troops during the Civil War. With this being the capitol city of South Carolina, what better place is there to have a finish line than in front of the capitol building? The finish festival will be on the state house grounds.

5. What sets Columbia apart from other marathons?

I think the biggest difference between Columbia and other marathons is that I truly approach it from the mindset of an ultra runner because I am one! For people who might not know what that means, it means there is a well stocked aid station almost every mile. We’re talking every single flavor of Gu gels (He’s not kidding. It’s literally every flavor.), four flavors of Gatorade, water, bananas, oranges, you name it! You can get all of those things at every mile. It’s the ultra runner in me! I would put our shirts and medals up there against any in the country. I think you can really tell when the race director is a distance runner. I’m not just some random person putting on a race for profit. This is my passion, and I want to cater to other runners and give them a great experience!

I literally gained gels during the race last year. I passed them off to AJ every time I saw him.
I literally gained gels during the race last year. I passed them off to AJ every time I saw him.

6. What changes can runners expect this year?

The biggest changes are probably the new locations of the start/finish and the expo. After the success of last year’s race, the City of Columbia approved our move to the state capitol for the start and finish of the race, which will make for a great finish festival and a fantastic run down Main Street. As a result of the new start and finish, the first mile of the race and the last two miles of the race have changed slightly, which has eliminated some hills. There is slightly less elevation gain this year overall. Also, instead of a 10k, we now have a 5k in hopes of reaching more of the local runners and encouraging them to come out. We’ve also added a 4 person marathon relay for the first time, which should be exciting.

Mighty fine looking state house, don't you think?
Mighty fine looking state house, don’t you think?

This year, they’re also adding mile markers at EVERY mile. Last year, there were mile markers (I think) every 3 miles or so. Bless Dan’s heart – as an ultra runner, he isn’t used to having mile markers at all, so he thought it was nice to put them every 3 miles, figuring everyone had a Garmin. This is one area where marathon runners and ultra runners couldn’t be more different! Us marathoners (and especially those of us…ok me…at the back of the pack) live for those mile markers! Dan was shocked at first, but this year you can bet there will be mile markers the whole way. And now he has me to offer the perspective from the back of the pack – lucky guy!

7. What would you say is the focal point of your race? What do you spend the most energy working on?

At this point, I would have to say the planning still takes up most of my time. I don’t have a staff – everyone who helps out is a volunteer, and I do the majority of the work myself. The logistics of every minor detail fall on me, and with the race still being relatively new, I’m constantly working on things and thinking about how I can improve the runner’s experience. I would say this year, designing the shirts and medals has been a huge focus. People really loved them last year, so I wanted to step it up even more this year, but I wasn’t sure how. I agonized over it for awhile and finally ended up putting it out there to the public – we offered free race entry for 5 years or $250 to the winning design, and I think we came up with something fantastic. I agree! And the shirts and medals were designed by a friend of mine from Missoula, Dariusz. How cool is that?

Is there anything I love more than writing on a shirt sleeve? There is not.
Is there anything I love more than writing on a shirt sleeve? There is not.
I need one of these.
I need one of these.

8. How would you describe the running community in Columbia?

I’d say we have an incredibly diverse community that is very strong. We have a lot of younger runners here that are very competitive and also a lot of new runners. We have seasoned athletes, including several people who have competed in the Olympic Trials. How many cities can say that? One of them is my sports medicine doctor/personal hero. No big deal. There’s different training groups for all different levels, motivations, times of the day, days of the week, etc. We also have multiple races almost every single weekend -there’s always a 5k somewhere. You can race almost every weekend the entire year if you want! There are so many opportunities here, but no marathon until last year! Seems kind of ridiculous, right?

That's my doctor, running a 5k in 15 minutes. Just another Saturday.
That’s my doctor, running a 5k in 15 minutes. Just another Saturday.

9. What should traveling runners make sure to do when they visit Columbia?

I suppose I could answer this question myself, but that seems like cheating. I’d say they should definitely go downtown to the Vista and check out our nightlife and entertainment district. There’s an abundance of restaurants there that could appeal to pretty much anyone. There are also a ton of cool restaurants and shops on Main Street, right near the host hotel. Our city is really proud of how this area has been revitalized, and it gives visitors a great feeling of historic Columbia. If you have some extra time on Sunday and feel like walking around a little bit and getting some of that soreness out of your legs, definitely check out the Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens.

10. Why is this the best race ever?

Because T-Rex Runner will be there, and she knows a good race when she sees one. Goooooooooooooooooooo Columbia! Maniacs, Half Fanatics, and 50 Staters get a special discount, so check your respective message boards for information! Tell me: Will I see you in Columbia this year?

Run over to the registration page right now! Go! Do it!
Run over to the registration page right now! Go! Do it!


25 thoughts on “Interview with the Race Director – Columbia SC Marathon

  1. I’m doing the half! Trying to decide if I should drive down the night before or just suck it up race morning (I’m in Charlotte).

    Random – While in New Orleans this past weekend I drove through City Park. They have a t-rex statue (part of their light display, I believe) with baby t-rex hatchlings. I nearly decapitated the manperson trying to get a photo to share on facebook but alas, crappy quality cell phone pic.

    1. Awesome!! I’ll look forward to seeing you there! I don’t think I would drive from Charlotte the morning of, but then again I refuse to wake up at a reasonable time for races. I can’t believe I missed the baby t-rexs when I was in New Orleans!!!! Ugh

  2. This is a race I want to do one day, but not in the cards (or budget) this year. (I’ll be running Wrightsville Beach Marathon on 3/17.) Thanks for the great write-up though. Now I want to do it more than ever.

  3. You better be there next year! I already have a 3/3 and a 3/17 this year, and unlike you, I don’t recover fast enough to toss in a third. But next year, I’m already penciling Columbia in for March.

  4. Great interview even better race! Had a great time last year and counting down the days until this year 56 days, 18 hours and 12 minutes in case you were wondering….

  5. The Gu at every mile marker was a godsend at last year’s race – I brought three of my own but ended up needing a fourth around mile 22. Despite the challenging, hard-to-PR course, the organization was one of the reasons I’ve decided to do it again this year. Excellent job last year, and I’m looking forward to having a great time again this year!

    1. I agree, Marian! The organization was so fantastic that I really didn’t even notice the course last year. I was having a blast and busy being impressed 🙂

  6. bouncing from to here on a snowy Saturday in Kansas City. now I want to (a) run a half, and (b) get out there for the medal. Time to plan for 2014…. (and run a half before then). Awesome post.

  7. Looks like a nice race… neat T-shirt & medal! Would love to do that race (either the half or full) in the future, but it falls on the date of the Gate River Run (big 15K here) this year…

  8. I kind of really want to do the half – looks like such a great race and the shirts and medals look awesome. I’ve been steadily increasing my mileage since early December, when I signed up for a 10K in Feb. I was going to look at the Gate River Run as well since I’m near JAX, but I also have been thinking hard about a half at some point. There is actually one coming up Saturday (the Zooma women’s on Amelia Island) that is a 5K and half, but I don’t think I’m ready for that yet and will stick to the 5K. Columbia gives me more time and seems so doable.
    I’m really loving this running thing (after I get over the “hate spiral” I am prone to during the first couple of miles. I blame you (though I know you’re sorry you’re not sorry.)

    1. Hey Melissa! I would love to see you there! It seems like you have plenty of time to prepare for a half, and Columbia is a great one. Please let me know if you decide to come!!

  9. Just a question about the race in case you know… You said they stops will have GU jels but what bout shot bloks? if so how often during the course… wondering if I should have a plan to bring my own.. thanks!!

    1. Hey Lisa! I do not believe we will have shot blocks on the course. I would plan on bringing your own and then if you get there and find they do have them, use theirs!

  10. You will see me if you pay the airfare and let me stay w/ you lol. I’d LOVE to see you run. and I still want a shirt 🙂 Though is columbia warmish aka 80 by March? I hate cold. don’t ask why I live in MI lol

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