Saturday, January 6, 2018

2017 Year in Review

Well, once again we had to submit to family obligations and the running calendar when making attempts to get new counties, and we did pretty good, considering all the family needs to work around.  We also unfortunately discovered a navigation error a few years back that required us to remove Macon County from our "done" list and return it to the "to be done" list.  However, new counties were added to the countdown, and the finish line is in sight!

Brad's new counties in 2017 (4):  Moore, Yancey, Catawba, Henderson

Chad's total counties: 42
Brad's total counties: 95 (Macon, Greene, Mecklenburg, Cleveland, Ashe remaining)
Combined total counties: 98 (Macon, Cleveland remaining)

Believe it or not, the countdown could finally come to a close in 2018!  The calendar looks to be breaking our way, the family is supporting and excited, and we might finally visit those last few counties to get a run in and be able to say we counted down all 100 counties in the Old North State!  Stay tuned to see what happens!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

A Missed County Boundary Causes a Correction

So as part of our Labor Day holiday weekend retreat to the mountains, after completing the Pardee Apple Festival 8k in Henderson County, our family spent the rest of the day chasing waterfalls throughout southwestern North Carolina, including the falls along highway 64 on the west side of Highlands, North Carolina in Macon County.  As we passed through Highlands heading east on highway 64, I told my wife Kathy about running the Old Edwards Inn and Spa PAR 5K as my Macon County race several years earlier, and I promised to show her the private golf course, the Old Edwards Club, where they held that race (and where my dad and I played discounted golf after the run as part of the morning).

Unfortunately, as we left Highlands headed east, we crossed the line into Jackson County before reaching the entrance for the Old Edwards Club.  Was it possible I had missed that landmark on the way to the race back in 2010 and had not done a race in Macon County after all?  My guess was that I had tagged that race entry to Macon County because of its tie to the Old Edwards Inn and Spa and that resort's location in Macon County, totally not cluing in that the race itself was far enough from the Inn to not be in the same county with it.  Sure enough, when returning home after the long vacation weekend, a quick session with Google Maps confirmed that the Old Edwards Club which had hosted the race is over the line in Jackson County, far enough from the Old Edwards Inn and Spa as to not be in Macon County after all.

So, with that information in hand, I'm updating the blog counts to reflect that I have not done a race in Macon County after all, and I still have that county as a destination that must be run before we can call the 100-county countdown real and official.  So the numbers have been corrected, and I'll resume my search for an opportunity to run in Macon County.  Sorry for the oversight!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Henderson County - Pardee Apple Festival 8k - September 2, 2017

Although there is one race results aggregation site that insists I did this race back in the early 2000s, I had no memory of it, so for this county countdown, Henderson County was still unexplored running territory.  That's why I was so glad to get back there over Labor Day weekend and take part (again?) in the Pardee Apple Festival 8k.  As mentioned many times before, food festivals in North Carolina are an excellent way to see the state and run in some very nice races.  Plus, our whole family loves apples, loves the mountains, and loves running, so this was a great way to spend the holiday weekend.

With organization and logistics helped along by Pardee Hospital, parking and packet pickup on race morning were no problem.  There was a good crowd assembling for the 8k race and for the Chamber Challenge 5k.  (228 finishers were listed in the 8k results.)  The low-60s temperatures were going to be great for running, and spirits were high as they gave last minute instructions and organized us out into North Oak Street for the start.  As we took off, there were a quick couple of turns and then we had a long, long straightaway down 5th Avenue out of town.  With the large number of runners, there was actually a good bit of talking initially, but as we got closer to the 1-mile mark, the elevation change kicked in with the first series of good hills, and the runners got quieter.  As the course got more challenging, though, the scenery was very pleasant as we skirted the Rhododendron Lake Nature Park and Laurel Park Lake itself, where there were flowers and trees all over the place.  That part of the run turned out to be very nice.

Fortunately the second and third mile gave back some of the elevation change, and our tired legs got some relief as we headed back into town.  The course was something of a crooked figure-eight, and as we got onto the second loop, we had the unusual experience of running through part of the town cemetery and up and down some of its hills.  After leaving the cemetery, we passed by Hendersonville Middle School (Home of the Bearcats) and then did a very pleasant, quiet loop around Lugana Lake to wrap up the fourth mile.  The last mile was through a very nice residential area where some of the residents cheered on the runners, but others were surprised to see all the competitors jogging down their streets.  All along the course, plenty of helpful volunteers were there to direct runners and traffic and hand out water on what tuned out to be a humid morning.

Post-race, they had some very fun activities and game for the kids, as well as getting the race results assembled quickly.  The hospital and organizers provided plenty of food and drink for the participants, and there was enough music and fun to hang out for a while before going to explore the rest of the Apple Festival activities.  It's a very well-organized, challenging but scenic race in the mountains of western North Carolina, and whether it was my first or second time taking part, I hope we will do it again at some point in the future!  Now let's all have some apples!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Catawba County - Conover School 5k Run & Roll - June 17, 2017

The Conover School is a very special place in Catawba County.  The school serves about 150 local students from 3 to 22, all with some degree of cognitive challenge.  Some students also have physical challenges to deal with.  The school has a wonderful adaptive playground that serves all the students, no matter their abilities, and the main funding to keep adapting and updating the playground comes from their summer fundraiser, the Conover School 5k Run & Roll.

I was happy to bring my running team (Kathy and the boy) along for another stroller-approved county run, and it was a lot of fun for the boy to see so many other children taking part in the race on a humid, moderate Saturday morning.  Just about every age group was represented, with some children in strollers, other children and adults in wheelchairs or other assistance, and a happy group of walkers as well.  The event also included a "Maddie's Mile" competition for racers with special needs.

The morning festivities were well underway when we arrived for packet pickup ahead of the race and got Junior packed into his jogging stroller for the morning.  There were lots of strollers that were going to be in the race; they could have had a division just for them!  The volunteers couldn't have been more friendly or nicer to us visitors, and the overall mood was very upbeat and happy for the race.  Eventually Conover's Finest shut down traffic on 1st Avenue and the runners were moved into position for the start, and then we were off!

For a county in the foothills of the mountains, this was a surprisingly flat and fast course.  There was very little elevation change on the lollipop-shaped course, but the humidity and temperatures still gave us plenty to deal with.  The first mile was very fast, straight south on 1st Avenue and then cutting over to College Avenue, where we followed the train tracks.  Fortunately, there was a police car leading the way so no one got lost, and there were plenty of volunteers directing the way on the turns as well.  We also enjoyed some of the encouraging signs folks had put up to perk up the participants.

In the second mile, we looped around Broyhill Park and the ballfields there, and the volunteers had set up a water stop as well to give us some relief from the temps.  Naturally, I got off to too fast of a start with the jogging stroller, so I had some payback in the second and third miles.  But the cold water was much appreciated as we swapped off stroller duties and headed back.  From the park we retraced our steps back along the train tracks and back to 1st Avenue and back to the school, where music was playing as all the finishers passed under the big inflatable arch.  (181 joggers and walkers finished the 5k.)

Post-race, there was a wonderful spread of food and drink for all the participants.  There was plenty to drink along with lots of snacks and a big spread of fresh fruit.  (I have fond memories of the watermelon chunks.)  We met some of the other participants, met some representatives from the school, and the boy got to play on the wonderful playground for a while before we had to pack up all our supplies and get back on the road.  The Conover School 5k Run & Roll was a fantastic and fun event on a flat, fast course, well worth checking out if you're looking to run in Catawba County!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Yancey County - Burnsville Fit Families 5k - May 13, 2017

If you're going to run Yancey County, you're probably going to run the Burnsville Fit Families 5k.  There is also a very tough trail race held in the mountains here, but if you're not a tough trail runner, this is probably going to be your race.  Chad was here back in 2012, and I finally made it all the way up into the mountains above Asheville near the Tennessee border this year.  (I wouldn't recommend the drive up here be made in the fog at night, though.)

The main town square in Burnsville is a perfect location for a race.  Right in the center of the square is the statue of Otley Burns, the privateer, War of 1812 hero, and North Carolina state senator after whom Burnsville is named.  You can look up from the town square in all directions and see mountains (it was still foggy on race morning, so the very tops of the hills were still cloud-shrouded).  And pretty much everything you need in a small town, from lodging to offices, from eats to courthouses, is right there on the square or a short ways away.  There was a farmers' market setting up just off the square selling all kinds of homemade or home-raised treats.  And of course it's Main Street that runs from east to west, so it's pretty much Americana anywhere you look.

The Burnsville Fit Families 5k has been around eight years, so they do a good job of organizing and putting on this race.  The locals know about it, so there are lots of families that come out to run, jog or walk together.  A group from the local Girls on the Run branch was going to take part, as well as a few competitors that looked like they could be getting ready for the fall high school cross-country season.  No matter where the runners, joggers and walkers came from, it was a good turnout well ahead of the race and the crowd was in good spirits, even with just a hint of a threat of a sprinkle.  Packet pickup was held just off the square in the First Baptist Church, and some of the volunteers were curious that I'd come all the way from Raleigh to run their race.  I really liked the gray shirts with the bold coloring and lettering. 

Race organizers did a great job ushering us over to the starting line on the south side of the town square, welcoming everyone and introducing the local dignitaries, and then we were off and running!  Like many races with lots of kids, the kids sprinted right to the front, so that the rest of us could pick them off one at a time as they burned out.  The elevation also drops off on most sides of the town square, so as we took off towards the west, we dropped down a hill, through a commercial area -- note to self: come back and try the Pig and Grits diner -- and then downhill again.  Of course everyone had a great pace the first mile because it was mostly downhill, but I tried to keep something in reserve since I knew we were going to have to come back up the hill in the second mile.

Near the bottom of the hill we made a right turn and started up some smaller hills as we worked through a residential area in a loop back to Main Street.  A few folks had some out to the street or to their front porches to watch the runners come by, and it was great to hear their encouragement.  When we turned back onto Main Street, we had to retrace our steps back up the big hill we had just run down, which would have been a lot tougher if we didn't have the overcast skies keeping the sun from heating us up.  It was a great race for spectators, as we eventually returned right back to the town square, continued around its perimeter, and then took off again to the north.  And kudos go to the folks who were manning the water stations all along the course for keeping us hydrated.

The second mile finished going up another hill, past a couple of churches and the Burnsville Fire Department, which also was out encouraging the runners.  The next turns took us over a creek and up another hill past the Parkway Playhouse and around School Circle, where an older school building had been converted into the local library.  At that point we had mostly a downhill return trip back past all these landmarks and back to the town square, where the finish line was set up on the northeast corner.  At least with the downhill stretches in the last mile, it was easier to keep a near-respectable pace to the finish.  Post-race, there was plenty more to drink and great snacks for us all.  There were 180 finishers listed in the results, and I hope everyone enjoyed the race at least as much as I did.  Lots of kids got rousing ovations when they crossed the finish line, and all the Girls on the Run participants were recognized for their accomplishment.  A small stage had been set up for the awards, and there was even good country music being played on the speakers to entertain folks as we cooled down and recounted our morning.

The town square at Burnsville is a great place to watch or take part in a race, and I am looking forward to when we can come back again to explore more of the town, the Mount Mitchell area, and this beautiful part of the state.  Come run Yancey County and Burnsville; they do a great job up here!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Moore County - Fairway 5k - May 6, 2017

Yep, we're still here and still getting around to new counties!  Chad beat me to Moore County, nearby home of Pinehurst, several years ago, but if I'm going to see every county, I have to visit it, too.  The great draw was the Fairway 5k, a race run on the cart path of the #1 course at the famed Pinehurst Resort.  The race was the kickoff event of the Pinehurst Concours car show, which brings lots of elegant, rare cars to the resort property.  Each entrant in the Fairway 5k received a ticket to the car show and the evening's concert, so the opportunity to run on one of the well-known courses, get entrance to the car show, and hear some great country music was a deal too good to miss!

Because of all the hoopla, the event had an earlier-than-usual start time of 7:00 a.m., so we had to get all three of us up and on the road very early.  But it was well worth it to be ahead of most of the Saturday traffic and to have some very nice early May cool temperatures to greet us when we got on the resort!  Parking for the race was on the infield of the horse track, and from there it was a very short walk over to the packet pickup set up at the halfway house of the #1 course, between the 4th green and the 5th tee.

A very good crowd was assembling for the race -- the results listed 105 finishers -- and more than one family besides ours was out to take part together.  The packet pickup was very organized, and runners had access to the bathrooms at the halfway house.  The t-shirts were very basic black on white.  The start/finish arch was set up alongside the house on the cart path, and the helpful race director gave us instructions about how the route proceeded.  We would not be following the cart path around the whole 18 holes (that would be closer to a 10k) but instead making some turns where the paths intersected.  Actually, the course was very, very well marked, so it was not hard understanding where the turns were, and it was an easy route to follow.

The race began right on time with the runners spreading out as we followed the cart path back along the 4th hole and continued along past most of the early holes.  I had stroller duty for the first part of the race, and fortunately for me it was the flatter part of the course, and from our spot safe in the back of the pack, we could easily see the lead runners streaming out ahead of us over several holes of the course.  The route itself was not entirely paved; the main traffic areas had concrete, but like many of the courses at Pinehurst, there are significant areas where the cart paths are not paved, allowing for easier maintenance and a back-to-nature effect at a very modern resort.

We made a couple of turns before we got to the main Pinehurst clubhouse (thus we didn't see where the cars were set up from the race course), and were then on the "back nine" of the #1 course.  The elevation changes were much more pronounced in the second half of the race, and more than once we could see runners ahead of us who had completed switchbacks and were at a higher elevation than us.  (It was also the half of the race where the boy got a little fussy in his stroller.)  There were some Pinehurst residents out in the morning, and more than a few were out specifically to watch the runners go by (running isn't normally allowed on the courses).  Of course, the homes along the course were very impressive and nearly all had a pretty back porch or deck overlooking the course.  We also noted that many of them had some variation of the Pinehurst Putterboy statue facing the course.

The last few hills in the final mile were very challenging, with or without a stroller.  We swapped stroller duties back and forth a few times and even took a walk break or two, but we could see the finish line arch ahead of us and finished with a good pace.  Our first mile pace was definitely the fastest, taking advantage of the flatness and even some downhills, with the second two miles the slowest ones.  But we were greeted back at the finish line with water and fruit, and even the boy got his first running medal for finishing the 5k, albeit in a stroller!

Nicole Esplin, a talented runner and Elon graduate who I know from the Raleigh running scene, was the overall winner, beating everyone around the loop with the only sub-20:00 time.  The overall winners got great little Putterboy statues, and the other age group winners received medals.  There was a brief sprinkle after the race, but it did not dampen enthusiasm or chase too many people away.  It was a wonderful early morning in Pinehurst, and it was great to mix the loves of family, running, golf, elegant cars, and music!  We'll definitely be back "fore" another race in Moore County!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

2016 Year in Review

Ok, so the past year was mostly notable for the arrival of some new running partners on the Chad and Brad teams!  Great to see both of our families blessed with new babies!  To show how committed he is to the family running business, Brad's new boy took part in three 5Ks in his first year!

With all the extra family activity, it's pretty surprising that Brad was able to get to six new counties in 2016, again almost traversing the state from end to end over the course of the year. 
Brad was finally able to make it to several counties that Chad had visited early in the countdown.
Combining our efforts, we're now only two counties away from visiting all 100!

Brad's new counties in 2016 (6): Camden, Rockingham, Alleghany, Guilford, Montgomery, Gaston
Chad's total counties: 42
Brad's total counties: 92
Combined total counties: 98

2017 has some opportunities to get the last eight counties Brad requires to make the full 100, but
again the calendar has to break just right, as some of the remaining destinations host only one or
two races a year and we have to be able to get that date.  But as the calendar looks now, Brad should be able to take at least four to six remaining counties off the list!  Stay tuned, and keep those cards, letters, and spare knees coming in!