Jack-N-Back Half Marathon
T“This is not an easy race. If you can run 13.1 miles of Jack Mountain, you can run 26.2 miles of the Little Rock Marathon.”-
he Hot Springs area has always been known as a tourist destination, but Dr. Dow Stough and Eric Wegner want it to soon become a running destination.
Co-directors Stough and Wegner, friends through fitness, collaborated to form the Jack-n-Back half marathon, which will debut Feb. 8. The 13.1-mile race begins at the junction of Arkansas highways 84 and 128 west of De Roche in Hot Spring County, travels up 128 to its junction with 290 in south Garland County, and then works its way back to the starting point.
And right in the middle of each trip is the 974-foot Jack Mountain. The ridge provides a significant amount of the highway’s elevation, which totals more than 3,000 feet when figuring in the return trip.
“You have this road, between 84 and 290, that’s 128, and it lends itself to a very unique set of circumstances for walking, jogging and bicycling and all that,” said Stough, an
Dr. Dow Stough
avid runner who practices at The Dermatology Clinic of Arkansas.
According to Stough, the people who make use of the area the most are first and foremost hunters and ATV enthusiasts who take advantage of the Ross Foundation.
“They go down the back on what is called Camp Road, and they take advantage of this whole area,” he said.
But it’s not uncommon to see people on horseback Stough said, as T Bar M owns a little store on the backside of the mountain where people can stay in the cabins.
“… It’s very well-known for people who do all that, but it’s not well-known among the rest of the Hot Springs population.”
The Arkadelphia-based Ross Foundation “strives to maintain its charitable holdings of land and timber as exemplar forests through the use of management techniques which integrate the value of all forest resources, to allow public access to these forests for recreational uses as long as such use is not detrimental to the resource of the forest, and to generate revenue to fund its philanthropic program,” according to its mission statement. Referring to its Hot Spring County holding as the “Jack Mountain Unit,” the Foundation assures that Highway 128 will be a scenic location for the race.
The challenge and scenery have Stough and Wegner, a personal trainer at Hot Springs Health and Fitness, dreaming big before the race even gets off the ground. Wegner calls it “the Pikes Peak of Arkansas,” but Stough goes even further, calling it “the Pikes Peak of the South.”
Pikes Peak, the famous 14,114foot mountain outside of Colorado Springs, Colo., provides the setting for two of America’s most grueling races, which will be Aug 16-17 this year. The Pikes Peak Ascent is a little more than a half marathon, climbing 13.33 miles and
7,185 feet of vertical gain to very near the summit — well above the treeline around 12,000 feet. The Pikes Peak Marathon goes up the mountain and back down, earning the moniker of “America’s Ultimate Challenge.”
Despite the extreme difficulty, Stough said this year’s Pikes Peak races filled up in a matter of minutes once registration opened, calling the marathon a “destination” race. “It’s harder to get into than the New York Marathon,” he said, stating that he even tried to enter the marathon once. He hopes that in five years, the Jack-n-Back will become the destination for uphill running in the southeastern U.S.
The biggest race Hot Springs hosts is the Spa 10K every November, which traverses 6.2 miles of downtown and West Moun-
“To have mor e races pop up, I think that is certainly wonder ful.”
tain. The Spa 10K attracts mostly runners from in the state, and Stough wants the Jack-n-Back to draw runners from outside of Arkansas.
“The Spa 10K is great and wonderful, but they don’t really care about national recognition,” Stough said. “This is different. We want to fill up hotel rooms. We want people coming into Hot Springs to do this thing.”
And the date for the Jack-n-Back was strategically decided to be three weeks away from the state’s premier distance event — the Little Rock Marathon. The 12th annual running of the Little Rock Marathon is March 2, covering 26.2 miles of the capital city’s bluff roads.
Both Stough and Wegner said they want the Jack-n-Back to become “the prep race for the Little Rock Marathon” in hopes of drawing marathon par-
ticipants from around the state for one last major test before the race.
“This is not an easy race,” Stough said. “If you can run 13.1 miles of Jack Mountain, you can run 26.2 miles of the Little Rock Marathon.”
Both will have to settle with just being the unofficial prep race, as the Little Rock Marathon has its own training program it offers for participants that begins in September the previous year. The regiment has various small runs throughout each week before doing a major each Saturday. Feb. 8 is the program’s longest run, a 20-mile journey.
“When we started the race a long time ago, our goal was to get people healthier in our state and to obviously promote central Arkansas and our sponsors,” Little Rock Marathon director Geneva Lamm said. “To have more races pop up, I think that is certainly wonderful. We certainly have enough people doing it in this state that can support a race every weekend, but I think that if it’s well done, more power to them. I love running over in Hot Springs myself, so I think it will be good.”
Wegner said the Jack-n-Back half marathon is way more challenging than the Little Rock Marathon’s half offering. Little Rock also offers a 10K and 5K on its big day, but the Jack-n-Back wants its challenging race to remain as one.
Aside from running, the Jack-n-Back also offers cat- egories for walking, race walking and team relays. For those making New Year’s resolutions for fitness, 13.1 miles of walking uphill will provide plenty of exercise.
“We’re inviting walkers to come do it,” Wegner said. “We’re also inviting speed walkers to do it. I think we might run into them not realizing how challenging it’s going to be. People don’t think the half marathon as being that difficult, but it’s all uphill. A lot of it has to do with uphill running, but you also have to learn how to run downhill without risk of injury. We allow walking, but it will be a challenge.”
Adopting a donkey mascot in homage to Jack Mountain’s name, the race organizers don’t take themselves all that seriously. Relay teams, up to four, pass a tail as a baton, and the anchors get to pin the tail on the donkey at the finish. There is also a team run of anywhere from six to 10 participants where people can register at a discount rate of $45.
But what the officials do take seriously are the charities that benefit from the normal $60 entry fee — Our Promise Cancer Resources and Cooper-Anthony Mercy Child Advocacy Center. Our Promise supports cancer patients in Garland County, and Cooper-Anthony provides services to victims of child abuse.
And organizers hope that as the race grows each year, they can give more to charity each time.
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