Half marathon offers mountain challenge

By Wayne Bryan Published January 19, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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DeROCHE — The old saying is that you need a jack (a mule) to get over the mountain in Hot Spring County, and that’s why the 3,000-foot peak is called Jack Mountain.

Now runners from across Arkansas and beyond have been challenged to run over the mountain and back again in the first Jack-n-Back Half Marathon on Feb 8.

“This will be a challenging race for all runners,” said Dr. Dow Stough of Hot Springs, one of the race’s organizers. “If you can run 13.1 miles over Jack and back, you can run and do well in the Little Rock Marathon three weeks later. It will be ideal practice.”

As the trek crosses the mountain, the route’s steepest point is a 13-percent graded incline.

“The road is just over six miles through timberland owned by the Ross Foundation,” Stough said. “Going twice over the incredibly beautiful road is a perfect half marathon, with a big mountain in the middle.”

The race will go along Arkansas 128 from Arkansas 84 east of DeRoche to Arkansas 290 in Garland County, near the southern shore of Lake Hamilton.

“The sheriff’s offices in both counties will close the road to through traffic,” said Marisa Rodgers, a spokeswoman for the first-time race. “So the runners will be able to go on the paved, two-lane road.”

Rodgers said race organizers have no expectations on how many people will take part in the inaugural race.

“We are hoping for around 200 runners,” she said. “We are about halfway there with online registrations, and we are ramping up getting the word out about the race.”

Stough, a dermatologist in private practice, is an avid runner who travels around the country to run races from 15Ks to full marathons. He said he and others often train by bicycling along Arkansas 84. He said he enjoys the natural beauty and challenging course of the rural road and thought it would make a good race that will attract national attention.

“I want this to be the Pikes Peak [Ascent and Marathon] of the South. We can be that kind of challenging race,” Stough said. “I want it to draw runners from around the country and fill hotel rooms in Hot Springs. There is nothing like this kind of race in the South.”

Racing categories will include walking, running and team relay. The entrance fee is $60 per person. Participants will receive a discount of $45 per person if they register as a team of six to 20 members. The fee is $70 per team for a group signing up as a two- or four-member relay team. Those registering by Feb. 1 will receive a runner package of materials and a T-shirt.

Each participant will be given a donkey-tail accessory as part of the runner package. The tail is part of the competition. After finishing the race, racers will pin their tails on the donkey near the finish line and receive a medal. Teams participating in the “Pin-the-Tail Relay” will receive one tail that serves as the hand-off item, moving along with the runner throughout the race.

A portion of the proceeds raised by the marathon will be donated to the Cooper-Anthony

Mercy Child Advocacy Center in Hot Springs. The Mercy Hospital-based facility aids in investigations of child abuse and neglect, helping police interview children in a calm and comforting manner.

The race also supports the Our Promise Foundation of Hot Springs, whose mission is to provide caring, professional support and education to cancer patients, survivors and caregivers through direct financial assistance, social programs and educational services.

“I wanted to do something to help those with cancer in the community by doing more than writing a check,” Stough said. “We wanted the money we raise to help local people by going to local agencies.”

Rodgers said families and supporters of the runners are encouraged to attend and support the participants in the race, which will start at 9 a.m. A ceremony will be held at the end of the race to honor the winners. Top runners will receive trophies and prizes.

“I look for this race to become a destination for the uphill-running set,” Stough said. “I want to tap into that part of the sport and let people enjoy the challenge and the unique and beautiful course of the race.”

Those interested in taking part in the race can register at www.jack-n-back.com.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or at wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.