Ultra marathoner goes to great lengths to lose weight, rediscovers joy in running

Monday, October 11, 2010 at 11:45pm

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As soon as he crossed the finish line at the 2009 Nashville Ultra Marathon, Chuck Hargrove looked at race director Dennis Freeman and asked, “How did I do?”

Freeman did not hesitate.

“Aw Chuck, don’t worry, you didn’t win anything.”

In fairness, as the lead organizer of an event that is still in its formative stage, Freeman could have been thinking about any number of other things at that moment. Or, he might just have taken a look at Hargrove, who in his late 40s appears as much a candidate to hoist an Ultra Slim-Fast shake as an ultra marathon prize.

When the official results were posted the following day, though, there was Hargrove’s name at the top of the list in the men’s 60K division. His time of six hours, 46 minutes over the 37.3 miles was slightly more than four minutes ahead of the second-place finisher.

“He’s an oxymoron, I don’t know how else to phrase it,” Jeff Langdon, the Belmont University cross-country coach and a former college teammate of Hargrove’s, said. “It’s pretty amazing how fast and how far he can run with his physique.”

The truth is that Hargrove’s physique has everything to do with the fact that he seeks challenges like the third annual Nashville Ultra Marathon, which takes place Saturday.

He looked the part when he was an all-city high school distance runner, first at Bellevue High School and then Hillwood High, in the early 1980s. It was no different when he competed for Belmont.

It was sometime between the conclusion of his college days and his 40th birthday that things changed.

“I had a slight case of burnout after college,” he said. “I didn’t run for 19 years. I put on a lot of weight and the next thing I know at age 40, I jog out to right field in softball games and I’m out of breath. I was so embarrassed.”

Weighing roughly 100 pounds more than when he graduated college, Hargrove decided it was time to do something about it.

Seven years later, he’s one of the leaders of the East Nasty running group, which conducts group runs every Wednesday and seeks out service projects where it can. He also is a driving force in creating an alumni network for the Belmont track and cross-country programs that extends beyond just recent graduates.

His return to running has trimmed about 35 pounds, and he’s weighing in at about 220 now. A trainer told him that he probably never could lose more than another 15.

This week’s event will be the last of four races he’s run this calendar year. He started with the Keys 50 in May, followed with a pair of 5Ks.

“I just want to make sure I don’t burn out again,” he said. “My wisdom is worth more than my running ability.”

Freeman certainly thought so.

He said Hargrove’s input was invaluable in recent months as he pondered changes to the Nashville Ultra Marathon course. Those alterations, which take advantage of the fact that the greenway system now extends all the way to Percy Priest Lake, were announced a month ago.

“Everybody’s story is a little different, but you do see a lot of people like Chuck,” Freeman said. “When you race competitively in high school and college you can get burned out because it’s so intense. Eventually, they get to a point where they think, ‘You know, I enjoyed some of that.’ ”

Hargrove actually entered the 2009 Nashville Ultra Marathon only to help him train for the Key 50, a 50-mile race which is held every May in the Florida Keys. At that point, he had run about a dozen marathons, including the 2009 Boston Marathon, but never any farther and the 37.3-mile distance (runners actually can choose to go 50K, 60K, 70K or 50 miles) seemed like a good mid-point.

He might not have come back this year had things not ended the way they did.

“I have to defend it,” he said. “That’s one of the things, when you win you have to go back and defend.”

Maybe this time Freeman will pay more attention when he crosses the line.