Monday, December 29, 2008

2008 Year in Review

Well, it's been a pretty good year since Chad drew me into this quest to run a race in all 100 of North Carolina's counties. We've seen some new parts of the state, run in some really good races, had some good (and not so good) performances, and generally had a lot of fun. We'll be hitting some new counties early in 2009, so hopefully we'll be closer to that ultimate goal when we do our year in review next December.

Chad's new (or extended) counties in 2008 (6): Durham, Orange, Cabarrus, Rutherford, Alamance, Chatham
Brad's new (or extended) counties in 2008 (8): Durham, Orange, Cabarrus, Rutherford, Chowan, Chatham, Lincoln, Iredell

Chad's total counties: 25
Brad's total counties: 15
Combined total counties: 31

Highlights? I think we both would agree that the Lake Lure "Best Dam 5-Mile Run" in Rutherford County was a heck of a fun race. As a Friday evening race, it's a different atmosphere; it's well organized and supported; the mountain course is challenging; and, as the opening event of the Hickory Nut Gorge Olympiad, the finish celebration and the party that follows is excellent. (That we both placed in our age groups also helps.)

We both also enjoyed the Young Life 5k at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Cabarrus County a lot. That was a fun trip, we both enjoyed supporting the Young Life organization, and it was really fun running around Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Brad's side trip to Chowan County for the Edenton Peanut Run 5k was very enjoyable; it was a nice atmosphere right down by the sound, and although it wasn't a big race, it was well organized and a pretty course. Chad also enjoyed a trip to Chatham County for the Reindeer Run 5k where they put on a great race with good support and a running notable made an appearance.

Thanks to all the folks who helped out with the new counties in 2008; without our support crew, sponsors and entourage, tour bus staff and friends and family, this cross-state expedition wouldn't be possible. Here's to seeing more of our beautiful state, meeting more of you, and knocking out some more counties in 2009!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Iredell County - Mount Mourne VFD Elf 5k - December 27, 2008

Flat. Fast. Fire engines. That sums up the Mount Mourne Volunteer Fire Department Elf 5k. The race is a fundraiser for the Mount Mourne VFD south of Statesville in Iredell County, and they've been putting on the Elf 5k each holiday season for a few years now.

The firemen treated the runners very well, moving the fire engines out of their garage so that we could use the building for registration, warmup and post-race festivities, out of the wind and the 40-degree temperatures. For both the 5k and the kids' quarter-mile fun run, the start of the race was heralded by all the engines running their sirens and horns -- so anyone in the area would have known that something was going on. Support staff from the Iredell County sheriff's office also monitored the race course and led the way.

The course itself was very flat, leading to some excellent times from the overall winners; the women's overall winner was an 11-year-old girl from a local school who should be on a running scholarship in a few years. On the out-and-back course we got to see all the other runners, both the serious racers who were pushing the pace and the more relaxed plodders like me who were just out having a good time. I did spot a couple of race shirts from the Triangle area: one Tarheel 10-miler shirt and one 2007 City of Oaks marathon shirt.

Post-race, the overall and age-group winners received very nice Elf 5k trophies, and about 30 runners won door prizes ranging from nice picture frames to cell phone cases to gift cards at local fast-food restaurants. The Elf 5k t-shirts were long-sleeved and red, with a cute cartoon of elves with one of the station's fire trucks. (From the number of left-over t-shirts, they may have been expecting a bigger crowd than turned out.) One of the race organizers apologized for not having a sports drink other than water for the runners and for the lower number of door prizes, explaining that the economy had depressed the number of sponsors and the amount of the sponsor donations. I didn't hear anyone complain about it, though.

The guys at the Mount Mourne VFD put on a great race, nicely timed to get people out and running between the holidays. I had a great time at their race and wish them lots of success with the Elf 5k in the future.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Lincoln County - Lincoln County Family YMCA Jingle Bell 5k - December 20, 2008

One of the things we love about North Carolina is that the weather is good for running year-round, plus you occasionally get blessed with a 60-degree day in the middle of December! That was the case for the Lincoln County Family YMCA Jingle Bell 5k in Lincolnton, where the mercury pushed up into the 60s on December 20, plenty warm enough to just need a t-shirt and shorts for the race.

This race is a fundraiser for the Lincoln County YMCA and some of the programs they offer. Lincoln County, one of the smaller counties in the middle of the state, is considered an "exurb" of Charlotte, and their YMCA put on a really good race. I figured Lincoln County was a good "get" because there aren't many races in the county that I have found so far.

In addition to the balmy weather, the runners were rewarded with a well-organized and pleasant 5k through the neighborhoods around the Gaston College Senior Center. There was plenty of music, food, Christmas costumes -- and a very good Santa and Mrs. Claus for the entertainment of the runners. The overall winners in the 5k and the mile fun-run all received Christmas wreaths, and the age group winners received ceramic Christmas ornaments shaped like bells with the race name and date on the front (very nice). And the race t-shirts were very nice, a charcoal heather with contrasting colors for the race info and sponsor logos. Well done for a small race.

The first mile of the race zigzagged through the neighborhoods around the campus, where we saw lots of Christmas decorations and bemused homeowners wondering what was going on. The middle of the race included a very enjoyable mile-plus along Lincolnton's rail-to-trail greenway, a nice flat stretch with a former rail tunnel along the way. Once we left the greenway, we returned to the campus through some other neighborhoods and a back road to the college. There were lots of very encouraging volunteers directing the way, plus helpful officers making sure we could cross the biggest street a couple of times. The "downtown" Lincolnton area was also decorated to the hilt for the holidays, with lots of lights and greenery on the main street and around the county courthouse; it was a shame we couldn't run down the decorated street, but the course as they designed it was pretty nice. (The non-greenway miles were surprisingly hilly; you wouldn't guess from the downtown Lincolnton area that were that many hills.)

My goal was just to have a good time with the run and jog along easily; I hadn't done the training to go after a PR (and with the hills it's a good thing I didn't try) and my right Achilles tendon was still nagging me for some reason. So I focused on jogging along, enjoying the Christmas decorations and the atmosphere and stumbled my way in with a very relaxed 34-minute 5k. My ears perked up at the awards ceremony when they mentioned an award for the runner who had come the longest way to participate, but unfortunately for me there was a woman from Canada running.

I had a great time at the Lincoln County Family YMCA Jingle Bell 5k, and I wouldn't mind coming back to do this race again. The organizers put on a great race, and with Santa, the elves, the jingling bells, and the homemade chocolate-chip cookies post-race, it was easy to get into the Christmas running spirit. :-)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Chatham County - Run for the Mariners 5k - November 8, 2008

Chatham County looks on the map like one of the biggest counties in the state, and by all accounts it's one of the wealthiest, especially around the border with Orange County, but it's hard to find a race there. The county seat, Pittsboro, is not a large town, and Siler City is a small town, too; with the predominant part of the county being rural in nature, there just doesn't seem to be a large population center to support a race.

(UPDATE: Of course, after I wrote this, I find out that Siler City had a festival back in the spring that included a 5k; hopefully it will be back next year. Oh, and they also have a Reindeer Run 5k. Sorry for the oversights.)

That's why it was nice to find out about the Run for the Mariners 5k, a fundraising race put on by the PTA at Perry Harrison Elementary School, which is north of Pittsboro. A skeleton race crew put on a good race, showing the ability to do a good amount with a low race budget. Don't want to spend for race bibs? Then just write everyone's number on their lower leg with a Sharpie! :-) Don't want a full-featured finish operation? Somebody's husband has got to have a chronograph on their wristwatch! :-)

A field of just 33 runners, mostly kids connected to the school, showed up to have numbers written on their legs this morning. Only 17 runners were above 18 years old. Fortunately the rain got through the area early and left a clean, crisp smell in the air and clearing skies above. The race director lined us up at a gate that was doubling as the start/finish line and sent us off around the parking lot and down the street, where we turned into a developing subdivision to traverse all the cul-de-sacs. Then we returned to circle the school property and the athletic fields, and that was it! There were a good number of hills on the course, and I could tell I hadn't fully recovered from whatever kind of cold has been bugging me this week. But I stumbled on through a few rough coughing fits and surprisingly finished 19th in 29:34. (Yep, saved by not having the course certified, either.)

Good, fun race put on by a hard-working crew. The t-shirts were better than average, and there was plenty of food and drink afterwards for the runners. Only a few awards were given -- overall men and women winners, both adults and kids -- but many door prizes were awarded to the rest of the field. Congrats to the Mariners for putting on Chatham County's only race, and doing a good job with it!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Chowan County - Edenton Peanut Run 5k - October 4, 2008

Now if you're a marketing whiz, if you've got a race that's part of the Edenton Peanut Festival, what do you put in the goodie bags, offer as prizes, and give out at the post-race refreshment tent? If you didn't say, "Peanuts!" then take a step back.

The Edenton Peanut Run 5k in Chowan County is a great little race. The race sets up and starts at Queen Anne Park, which is right on the Albemarle Sound waterfront alongside a row of old (circa 1770s) beautiful homes and a marina. Although the race isn't very large (44 finishers in 2007, 62 finishers in 2008), the volunteers and organizers have more than enough enthusiasm and excitement about the race. The Peanut Run 5k kicks off the Edenton Peanut Festival, which includes a parade, a craft fair and a high-school band competition.

Once the race kicks off at the waterfront, the runners make a right turn over a wooden bridge that leads to a gated community, where we did an out-and-back through farm fields, a plantation and neighborhoods, eventually returning to the wooden bridge and the waterfront finish. Enthusiastic volunteers manned two water stations. The out-and-back nature of the course allowed each runner to see the whole field and get a good idea of overall placement. Lots of spectators along the finish stretch cheered each finisher and made for a very pleasant atmosphere, as you'd expect for an event connected to a festival.

I was very pleased with my 5k finish time of 29:18 and with the Edenton Peanut Run 5k t-shirt. There was a nice post-race setup with some refreshments and age group winners got a tin of fancy shelled and salted peanuts. As I boarded the Chad and Brad tour bus for the return trip home, I made a mental note to come back to Chowan County for the Peanut Run again next year.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

We're Not Alone

I had wondered at one point if other runners were on "county collection" quests of their own. Turns out what we're doing isn't that unusual.

Dr. Daniel Williams in Georgia is on a quest to run a race in all 159 of the counties in Georgia and also to run in all 50 of the state capitols. At his last update in 2007, he had run in all 50 of the state capitals and had 141 of the 159 counties down. When Dr. Williams found a county that didn't have a road race -- something we'll have to handle with a few North Carolina counties -- he organized a race himself!

Noah Wood in Maryland ran a running event in every one of Maryland's counties in a single year in 2007. Even though Maryland has only 23 counties compared to North Carolina's 100, that's still a pretty big accomplishment. Noah also found new quests like running in all four of Delaware's counties in a single week.

Our friend Joey Anderson is also visiting all 100 of North Carolina's counties, focusing on training runs instead of formal running events. We'll probably have to follow his example of using training runs for those counties without races.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Rutherford County - Best Dam 5-Mile Run - September 5, 2008

When we heard about the Friday evening Best Dam 5-Mile Run in Lake Lure of Rutherford County, it was an easy decision to add it to the Countdown. It's always nice to get back into the mountains, and the Lake Lure resort of Rumbling Bald was easy to find and reach with plenty of time before the 7:00 p.m. start. There was plenty of opportunity to drive the course, survey the area, and meet some other competitors.

The 5-mile run on Friday evening kicks off the weekend-long Hickory Nut Gorge Olympiad; while the runners near the finish line on the lake's sandy beach, the Olympiad's caldron is lit, and the race is followed with ice cream and live music. The Olympiad's biggest event is the triathlon on Saturday morning, where competitors swim in Lake Lure from the resort and then bike and run along mountain roads for some very pretty vistas. Kayak races, a 5k mountain run and a volleyball tournament are also part of the Olympiad.

After parking at Rumbling Bald Resort on the north side of Lake Lure, we rode a van over to the starting line at a fire station on the south side of the lake. There were only 33 runners in the race, so it wasn't hard getting checked-in. Right at 7:00, we were ushered onto the main road for the race start and sent on our way back to Rumbling Bald. The course was very challenging; within the first mile we crossed the man-made dam that gives the race its name and started up the biggest of the mountain hills that made up the course. The majority of the first two miles are uphill and were very challenging, but after the two-mile mark there were some very long, very appreciated downhill stretches, including the last section to the finish. The race organizers did a great job getting the mountain road shut down for the safety of the runners, and we counted at least three support vehicles and Gators with EMTs and police monitoring the progress of each runner -- not counting the ambulance that trailed the pack.

The course included some nice views of the lake that I would have enjoyed more if I hadn't been struggling up the hills. With less than a mile to go, the runners can see the beach finish area, hear the PA announcer and see the flames boiling in the Olympiad's caldron. That provided a nice second wind to start pushing down the last downhill, into the resort, and along the beach to the finish -- where there was a pretty good audience welcoming the finishers. The volunteers presented each finisher with their t-shirt (nice) and after the winners were announced, the ice cream party and live band started up. Chad won his age group with an excellent 43:14 time and my 54:05 time was good enough for third in my group, so we each received a Hickory Nut Gorge Olympiad medal. Actually, this was a great race for awards as 29 of the 33 entrants received either an overall or age group award.

They've got a great race in Rutherford County with the Best Dam 5-Mile Run. If you like running in the mountains, it's a must-do. The Olympiad atmosphere is great, and I really liked finishing on the beach with all the party stuff around us. At some point I need to check out the whole weekend of festivities and see what the Saturday triathlon and the Sunday morning 5k up the hill are like. I'll come back for the Best Dam 5-Mile Run again.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

This Is How We Roll

One of the most frequently-asked questions we receive -- well, other than "Why?" and "Can I see some ID?" -- is "How do y'all get around to all these races?" Thanks to some generous sponsorship agreements and donations, the answer is now "On the Chad and Brad Tour Bus!"

Yep, now when we roll into your county you can keep an eye out for our luxurious set of wheels bearing down on you in your rear-view mirror. We'll try to get some shots of the inside so you can see how we roll.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Cabarrus County - Young Life 5k at Lowe's Motor Speedway - June 1, 2008

We are both Christians and NASCAR fans, so having the opportunity to run at Lowe's Motor Speedway and benefit Young Life, a Christian youth outreach organization, while collecting a new county, was a natural. The Sunday morning race required an early departure for the drive to Cabarrus County outside of Charlotte, but it was worth it to see Lowe's Motor Speedway looming ahead of us in the morning.

Several of the Young Life counselors were helping to organize and entertain the runners, including a couple who were dressed in NASCAR racing suits and providing laughs and commentary before and during the race. Young Life also hosted a non-denominational worship service in the Busch garage after the 5k was over.

Lowe's Motor Speedway itself has no shade, so the rising sun heated everyone up in a hurry. The race itself was two laps of the 1.5-mile speedway -- fortunately I didn't get lapped -- plus a stretch on pit road to the finish that stretched it to the full 3.1-mile length. The banking on the turns is so much more severe in person than on TV; some of the runners ran up onto the banking, but no one had the speed to stay in that high track.

From my spot safe in the back of the pack, I was able to enjoy the whole panorama of the speedway, because you can see the entire track from inside the bowl. In my second lap I could see the runners strung out all along the raceway plus the activity at the finish line.

Where else to pass out the awards than the Winner's Circle? The Young Life organizers gave out lots of door prizes in addition to the race awards. They really did do a great job with this race, putting on a great event while making sure everyone had a good time and enjoyed their opportunity to run on a track where the traffic is usually much faster. After the enjoyable run and the worship service afterwards in the garage, it was time to hit the road home. We both thought it was worth coming back to run with Young Life on Lowe's Motor Speedway again.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Orange County - Tarheel 10-Miler - April 26, 2008

Although we've run some sorority fundraising 5Ks in Chapel Hill, the Tarheel 10-Miler is the longest race we've done in the county, so it's the one we include in our countdown. The Franklin 5,000-meter event started in 2007 and the inclusion of the 10-miler this year is a great extension of the running scene in Orange County.

The Tarheel 10-Miler started on the UNC campus around the baseball stadium, then passed the football stadium and on out by the bell tower and through campus before making a few turns and going right down the main drag of Chapel Hill, Franklin Street, and then on into Carrboro. We hit all the major landmarks in Carrboro like the Weaver Street Market in a tour of several neighborhoods and schools before entering the greenway system, crossing over Franklin Street again, and then finishing in a serpentine finish area set up in one of the town parking lots.

Although it wasn't a great big event, having the 5k run in conjunction with the 10-miler increased the turnout of both participants and spectators. Even out in the far reaches of the 10-mile course, there was plenty of road support, help at aid stations, and spectators cheering on the runners -- or at least wondering good-naturedly what was going on. In one neighborhood, a fellow came out and played his violin for us as we ran by. I also had to chuckle when I saw the signs stipulating how individuals were welcome to use a school track, when that is often a contentious topic back home.

The fine folks at Endurance Magazine did a great job producing the Tarheel 10-Miler and the Franklin 5,000, and I remember the Carrboro-based Cardinal Track Club having a very enthusiastic group of volunteers in one stretch near the end. The post-race party was a lot of fun and well-stocked, and it was probably one of the more well-documented local races, with at least three photographers on hand to take pictures. We both enjoyed the Tarheel 10-Miler, and we'll be back in Orange County to see how the running calendar develops (supposedly a half-marathon is in the works) and keep tabs on the sorority fundraisers.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Durham County - Coach Bubba 20k - February 23, 2008

The first "new" county collected this year is Durham. Although we've been in some fundraiser 5Ks at Duke University, the 20k at Coach Bubba is the longest race we've done in Durham, so we're including it in the countdown. The Coach Bubba run, which also includes a 4-miler, is held each year in memory of a beloved track and cross-country coach.

Although it was pretty cool for the Coach Bubba run this year, the turnout was very impressive. 20k is a pretty unusual distance for a local race, but it's a good distance for checking your progression towards winter or spring marathon training. There was still a little bit of a fog in the air when the 4-mile run started out.

This course is an excellent example of why you should know the route before the race. The first half of the race was run through nice neighborhoods around the Durham Bulls Athletic Park and the second half (and all the 4-miler) were run on the Durham County section of the American Tobacco Trail. What I realized too late was that the residential section was up-and-down hilly, with the result that I was shot before getting onto the more even, long uphill and downhill grades of the ATT. Chad ran a much more evenly paced race and got through the hilly sections in better shape, so he ended up with a great overall run. Having the second part of the race on an out-and-back section of the ATT also meant that we got to see most of the other runners and get an idea of how we were doing overall.

The Coach Bubba runs, which were expertly put on by the Carolina Godiva Running Club of Durham, benefit Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers (TROSA), a charity that helps recovering sustance abusers with transitory housing options. Many of the TROSA folks were out helping with the race, and we give kudos to all of them for helping to put on a great 20k!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Why a 100-County Countdown?

Greetings! Well, the inevitable question is, "Why are y'all trying to do a race in all of North Carolina's 100 counties?" I guess it develops from having a real love of running, the fun of getting to see all parts of a state 600 miles in length, and just a general wanderlust of wanting to get out and see some different places.

Chad mentioned in summer 2007 that he had been developing an idea of doing a race in each of the state's 100 counties and had made good progress. Of course it sounded like a good idea to me immediately because I already collected some counties on my own, and it would be fun to have a friend there to enjoy the traveling and the running with.

So why blog about it? Why not? It's a fun way to share our adventures with our friends and family and let others hear about the little races and places we discover as we criss-cross the state. And hopefully we'll make some new running friends and improve our health along the way. Yes, it will probably take a while to see the whole state; with 100 counties, you could do a race every weekend and it would still take two years. But we expect we can get a handful of new counties each year and keep adding to our total.

So, thanks for checking in, and we hope you'll enjoy the adventure of seeing North Carolina's diverse counties, races and people -- through our feet. :-)