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. :-)