Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hoke County - Hoke 5k All-American Trail Run - March 21, 2009

Was that the starter's pistol? Nope, just an artillery shell.

Hoke County, Fort Bragg and the Regional Land Use Advisory Commission opened the All-American Trail in April 2007. The trail parallels the border of Fort Bragg for about eleven miles, with both flat stretches and some surprising hills. The trail includes periodic signage highlighting the local flora and fauna, but there are also warnings not to stray off the trail. With the sounds of artillery shells going off in the distance, there was no temptation to go wandering, however.

The Hoke 5k All-American Trail Run helps promote the trail and the Healthy Hoke Task Force, an effort to help make Hoke County families healthier. In addition to the 5k, there was a sizeable contingent of walkers taking part as well. Although it's not a big race, the All-American Trail is a great location for the event, and it had a lot of nice touches that made it very enjoyable.

Race morning was a little cooler than the previous week, with temperatures in the high 30's and low 40's, but with clear skies and bright sunshine. Registering and checking in was a snap, and all the volunteers were happy and very welcoming to the runners and walkers. Getting lined up with a small field was no problem, and we were away!

The AAT has an excellent running surface. It's mostly sand and clay, and the recent rains had left parts of the trail rutty and muddy. Although there are pine trees on both sides of the trail, they are not so dense that you can't see the fields and woods in the distance on either side. The few streams that the trail crosses have been bridged with standard wood bridges, and there are mile markers all along so that you can track your distance. For our race, a 1.5-mile stretch had been identified for us to do an out-and-back 5k.

The small running field spread out in a hurry, but since the trail is mostly straight we had a good view both ahead and behind. With the out-and-back configuration it was easy to see the field at the turn-around, and we had plenty of chances to encourage each other and the walkers that were trailing behind all the runners. Two aid stations kept us all hydrated, and after the quick jog we were all back at the start/finish area. At the finish I thought that someone was playing some nice bluegrass on a speaker system, but then I passed a trail sign and discovered it was actually two musicians playing a banjo and fiddle. Live bluegrass at a race -- how cool is that!

After all the runners and walkers had completed the course, all the awards, including door prizes were handed out. It was a nice surprise to win my age group and receive a nice certificate, a canteen and a gift certificate! The t-shirts were good, and there was plenty of food and drink for everyone afterwards. All in all, a very enjoyable morning and a very good race. It's definitely worth going back to see some more of the All-American Trail.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Robeson County - Rumba on the Lumber 5k - March 7, 2009

The Rumba on the Lumber 5k in Lumberton, NC of Robeson County advertises in a lot of local publications, so when there was an opportunity to go take part and collect another county, it was easy to take the 90-minute hop down to the NC/SC border. In contrast to some of the first-thing-in-the-morning races, the Robeson Road Runners start the Rumba at 11:00 a.m., plenty of time to arrive, check out the event, run, and have a good time post-race.

The 5k and the huge Family Fun Mile are the central morning events of the Rumba on the Lumber Festival, which includes a chili cook-off, craft fair, kids' area, local food vendors, live music and a whole lot of fun. This helps the 5k, in the words of RRR president Wendell Staton, "mushroom" over the last few years. And the Family Fun Mile really is huge, numbering near 1,000 folks in all -- there were walkers still going off in waves from the starting line even as the speedy folks were coming to the finish line.

Large numbers of entrants and spectators also blessed the 5k, which benefited from a beautiful March morning, with temperatures pushing into the high 70s and low 80s. The course was wonderfully flat, started in downtown Lumberton (right in front of the county courthouse), wound out through some of the adjacent neighborhoods, and turned onto a mile-long straightaway that finished back downtown on the opposite side of the courthouse. The course was packed with interested spectators, many of which were greeting the runners by name as they passed by -- it was like most of Lumberton were either watching the race or running in it. And we were also blessed with some very exuberant volunteers and course monitors, all of whom brought their own boom boxes or opened their car doors to blast tunes for the runners, from Jimmy Buffet to blues to praise music. It was a hot run late in the morning, but overall a lot of fun to run.

Post-race, the festival was really in full swing. UNC-Pembroke, which provided some of the course volunteers, had a nice display for finisher pictures, including the UNC-P mascot. The chili cook-off opened during the 5k, and all the 5k runners were allowed in free. Probably twenty or more groups were giving out samples of their chili recipes, with all kinds of creative themes and get-ups. A really good cover band was entertaining the crowd, and the adults in the chili cook-off received free beers, too. Hard to complain about a race that features all that!

I can see why the Rumba on the Lumber 5k has such a good reputation and why it turns out a great crowd each year. Plus, it was nice to see fellow NCRCers there, including Tim Karnatz, Val Price and Gary Moss. Hopefully I'll be back for another Rumba in the future!