Ultra marathon fulfills founder's vision, offers promise of more

Monday, October 11, 2010 at 10:45pm

Each day that he went running on the series of greenways throughout Nashville, Dennis Freeman saw the possibility for a marriage of his passion and his profession.

An experienced event planner who took up running as a hobby in his early 30s, Freeman’s inspiration to create the Nashville Ultra Marathon didn’t come like a bolt of lightning. It was more like a stream flowing over a stone — it wore him down.

“It’s something I thought about for years,” Freeman said. “I had been running on the greenway since Shelby Bottoms opened. I just kept thinking it would be a way to showcase this really amazing thing that Nashville has to offer.”

Finally, in 2008 he created the Nashville Ultra Marathon.

The inaugural event drew 48 competitors. Last year, participation nearly doubled to 92, and entries increased significantly again for the 2010 event, which takes place Saturday.

“I don’t think we’re going to have double the number of runners again, but it will be a significant increase,” Freeman said.

The official ultra marathon distance is anything longer than the traditional marathon (26.2 miles). Freeman’s event offers competitors the choice of four distances (50K, 60K, 70K or 50 miles) and a course that allows them to change their mind mid-race.

“The traditional marathon has become every runner’s goal,” Freeman said. “People who run ultra marathons typically are a little older, and it’s no longer about how fast they can go but about, ‘How far can I push myself and still walk away?’ That seems to be the appeal.”

He added that he’s received entries this year from as far away as Alaska.

Runners stay on the greenway throughout the event and have a maximum of 12 hours to complete it.

Freeman won’t compete, although he has run ultra marathons. But he’ll be back on the greenway before long for his training runs. Even with the Nashville Ultra Marathon now a reality, his mind won’t be at ease when he does.

“I keep hoping for the day that we outgrow the greenway,” Freeman said. “Right now, because of the distance the runners get really spread out, so that the race doesn’t even affect the general public using the greenway.”