By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BURKE’S GARDEN, Va. —
While a 13.1 mile race around the rolling hills of Burke’s Garden maybe daunting to some, Charity McDaniel will be making her 19th time on the race route .
For McDaniel, race director for the Varmint half marathon and 5K in Burke’s Garden, running has been a lifetime passion. McDaniel has been running and conducting the race since its inception since it began 19 years ago.
McDaniel said she began running as part of the Tazewell High School track team.
“I started in high school,” McDaniel said. “I just loved running. I still hold the record for the mile and two-mile at Tazewell High School. When I was in high school I lived in Burke’s Garden, so I would run that route every morning before school. The reason I like doing marathons now is because they are slow and easy. I don’t have to worry about speed like I did when I ran track.”
McDaniel described running as a compulsion rather than a hobby.
“Running is addictive,” she said. “I get grouchy when I don’t run. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed and something I’ve always enjoyed.”
Since the beginning of the year, McDaniel has run a total of 38 marathons.
“Some of my favorite marathons I’ve done have been the Big Sur in Monterey, Calif. and the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati,” she said. “The Flying Pig is fun because everyone dresses up as pigs or wears pig noses. We did a mud run once in Huntersville, N.C., you had to go through a mud pit, obstacle course, fire and stuff like that. My hair got caught in some barbed wire in the mud pit so I had to stop and get it out. That was a blast. I also ran the Goofy Marathon in Disney and received a Goofy Medal. What you do there is the Donald Duck Half Marathon on Saturday and then you turn around on Sunday and do the Mickey Mouse Marathon. They give you the Goofy Medal for doing both, since most people don’t. Of course, the Boston Marathon is the ultimate race because you have to qualify to do it.”
McDaniel has also taken her love of running to Cedar Bluff Elementary where she is principal.
“The very last day of school we do ‘the roller’ race, which is a race all the students, teachers and community members are invited to participate in,” she said. “They walk and run together, doing anywhere from 0.8 of a mile to four laps, which equals 3.1 miles. We apply for a McDonald’s grant to sponsor the race since it provides education and physical fitness. The fifth graders learn about the town’s history and then do the race. The kids love it and their parents or grandparents often will come and walk it with them.”
McDaniel said races allow her to explore new places and meet new people.
“I plan my vacations around races all the time,” McDaniel said. “You get to see cities, countryside and meet new people. Very rarely do you meet someone who isn’t nice in the running community. Everyone is very supportive. Different races do different things to do to keep the morale up. The uniqueness of the race often attracts people to it. The uniqueness of the Varmint is what really draws people in. It has a legend and a history behind it.”
One of the most popular aspects of the Varmint is the race’s unusual trophies: handmade sheep figures.
“I love the sheep and the course itself,” McDaniel said. “People will fight over the sheep. They are handmade by Katie McLaughlin in Thompson Valley, who owns Sheep to Shawl. It’s one of the most unique trophies out there. We give three for overall placing and then three for each age division. The overall winner of the 5K gets a sheep and the rest get trophies. The kids who participate in the fun run each get a baby sheep. I have kept all of the sheep in my car until race day, and I’ve been driving around with them. Every time I hit a bump in the road, I hear all of their bells ringing. They’ll stay in my trunk until the day of the race when I take them out before set up.”
Because she also coordinates the race, McDaniel said it is hard for her to find time to train for the Varmint.
“The Varmint is probably my toughest race because of all the planning and everything that goes in to it,” she said. “The Varmint is an exception to any of my regular runs. Normally I do training beforehand, but with this race I’m planning the race and trying to get school closed out for the end of the year. That leaves me with very little time to train beforehand.”
This year, McDaniel said she is expecting a bigger than ever crowd in Burke’s Garden for the race.
“We had 86 pre-register last year and ended up with 300 people attending,” she said. “We have had 192 pre-register so far this year, so I don’t know what to expect. The weather plays a lot into it. More people come out than pre-register usually because a lot are fair-weather runners. They don’t come out if it’s raining and nasty.”
Running the race herself also allows McDaniel a glimpse into what other runners think of the race.
“I like running it because most people from out of town don’t know I’m the race director,” she said. “Most race directors don’t run the race themselves. Since they don’t know me, they are pretty honest about what they think of the race. We have people from North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas who try to run it every year. We’ve had Olympic trial runners come and run the marathon here and use it as a training ground for the Olympics. We had a man from overseas who came to run it while he was in the area visiting family.”
McDaniel said anyone can run a marathon.
“You have to start out slow,” she said. “You add one to two miles every two weeks. You also need to check with your doctor beforehand to make sure your health is in good order. Anyone can run a marathon. It’s more about your mentality than your physical fitness. If you believe you can do it, you can do it. I’ve seen people with oxygen masks running the Varmint and they’re ahead of me in the race.”
With every race she runs McDaniel said she aims to accomplish some sort of goal.
“When you finish you know you did it,” she said. “You’ve achieved a goal. I always have something I want to accomplish with each race, like a bucket list. With different races, you have different goals. Some are just for fun and then others you want to make a certain time or something like that. How you train all depends on what you want to achieve with that race.”
— Contact Kate Coil at