Saturday, June 20, 2009

Pender County - NC Blueberry Festival 5k Run - June 20, 2009

It's a weekend double-header! The flyer for the North Carolina Blueberry Festival 5k makes the point that it's the only 5k run/walk in Pender County, so it's like they were advertising to us to make sure we got there for the countdown!

North Carolina festivals are a great place to find out-of-the-way races -- Brad found that out at last year's Edenton Peanut Run -- and the NC Blueberry Festival followed that pattern! The cartoon mascot for the 5k was a big, round, runnin', sweatin' blueberry, and that's probably what I looked like in my blue NCRC race shirt.

The Blueberry Festival takes over the entire grounds of the Pender County Courthouse; they set up a big stage on one of the streets (the Marine band from a local base was setting up after the run, and some beach music groups were booked for later in the day) and arts/crafts vendors set up booths all over the place, with some spots reserved for local blueberry growers and your basic hot-dog-and-Coke vendors, too. Walking around the grounds before and after the race, I spotted blueberry tea, blueberry preserves, blueberry muffins, blueberry poundcake, blueberry jam, blueberry bread and blueberry candy.

The race itself was not a small affair; there were more than 350 finishers, including the racing team from The Athletes Foot here in Raleigh. (They took home at least a couple of overall awards and a handful of age-group awards.) The 5k course was an out-and-back with several branches through the Burgaw neighborhoods, which were very nice and filled with friendly residents. The Burgaw Fire Department also set up a water spray near the aid station; we passed them both twice as the course wound around.

As you might expect in extreme southeast North Carolina, the course was very, very flat, and as you might expect for June, it was very humid, although the 7:30 a.m. start time helped us avoid the biggest part of the heat. Unfortunately, I didn't learn anything from my previous run and went out too fast in the first mile again and faded in the second mile again. The runners were having a good time, though, so it was a fun crowd in which to just jog along. The volunteers at the aid station were very encouraging, and a squad from a local ROTC unit ran in the race and sang cadence the whole way around. One older woman walked the whole course pushing a walker with wheels. Just a great atmosphere for a race on a really pretty morning down near the coast.

I finally shuffled my way in and got to enjoy the post-race party. The volunteers gave out lots of cold bottled water and cups of fruit, including plenty of blueberries. The organizers were very organized and got the awards given out quickly after the course cutoff of sixty minutes. The overall winners received gift cards to a sporting goods store and the age group winners got Blueberry Festival bags; all of us got the cherished North Carolina Blueberry Festival 5k Run t-shirt with my lookalike mascot on the front. I had a great time a the Blueberry Festival 5k, both in the run and at the festival afterwards -- I even brought home a box of blueberries to do some cooking with! The only 5k in Pender County is a good one!

Davidson County - Tour de Kale 5k Night Run - June 19, 2009

Friday night runs are a big help when trying to work in new counties, so when Chad told me about his 2007 trip to the Tour de Kale 5k Night Run in the city of Denton in Davidson County, I knew it would help my tally, too. The Tour de Kale is mainly a cycling event that promotes fitness and benefits worthy causes, but they also hold a 5k run on Friday night to kick the whole weekend off. Instead of a large charity, the Tour de Kale annually benefits local citizens that are experiencing difficulty, and this year two Denton residents who are facing large medical expenses will benefit from the Tour.

I arrived at Harrison Park in Denton about an hour before the race and got to enjoy how they had set up the park with tents on the green for registration, pre- and post-race food, chip pickup and prizes. The park's bandstand was occupied by a local rock band that was entertaining the runners, walkers and spectators. Everybody was very friendly, and you could tell that the Tour is a big event in Denton and that everyone wanted to make sure all were welcome. The race organizer announced that, with an expected crowd of 190 entrants, the 2009 TDK would be the biggest field to date! An elementary school student sang the national anthem, a local preacher gave an invocation, and then we were off on the 5k!

The course itself was a very basic out-and-back route, with long gradual rises and downhills, but nothing severe either way. By the time we reached the half-mile mark, we were already out "past where the sidewalks end" and into farm country. Friendly volunteers staffed the mile markers and a very busy water station, but other than that the runners were on their own. It was a really hot, humid evening, even with the 8:00 p.m. race start, so we were all drenched before too long and looking for replacement fluids. The few residents we did see on the route seemed pleased to have the race coming right by their property, and they cheered us as we passed.

I went out way too fast on my first mile (9:20) and faded quickly in the second mile as the heat and humidity took their toll. By the time we passed the water station and the two-mile mark, I was just shuffling along enjoying the evening and the company of my fellow back-of-the-packers. Fortunately, the last half-mile was a gradual down-slope to the finish area, so that helped me pick up the pace a bit towards the end. The Denton fire department and EMS staff were out to cheer the finishing runners, and the spectators formed a loud, cheering chute for the runners to pass through to the ultimate finish line. More volunteers greeted us at the finish with very much appreciated cold bottles of water, and we all got a new pair of socks for finishing as well!

And where else would you be but central North Carolina to have Cheerwine at the finish? In addition to the Cheerwine, the post-race spread included slices of watermelon, fruit and bagels, and the very creative 5k cookies! (Delicious!) The TDK goodie bag included some Biofreeze samples, a sewing kit, a breast cancer ribbon pin, band-aids, a water bottle and cup, and, maybe specifically for Chad and me, the North Carolina highway map! The race t-shirt was also a lavender color that will be unique on my shelf. The band kept the crowd entertained through the last finishers and the compilation of the results, and then they gave out door prizes -- TDK shirts, towels and notebooks -- until they were ready to do the 5k awards, which were run medals for the age group winners and plaques for the overall winners.

They really put on a great 5k in Denton in the Tour de Kale, and I'm sure the weekend's bicycle race also benefited from their friendliness, attention to detail and spirited volunteers. Thanks for treating Chad and me so well at the TDK, and hopefully we'll be in Davidson County to run it again soon!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cumberland County - Fort Bragg Army Birthday 10-Miler - June 11, 2009

How many races start with the firing of a cannon and end with birthday cake? Not many, but one of them is down at Fort Bragg in Cumberland County, namely the 13th annual Army Birthday 10-Miler, which not only commemorates the birthday of the US Army but also selects the top 10 men and women who become part of the Fort Bragg team that trains for and races at the Army Ten Miler in October in Washington, DC.

This race takes some extra preparation with the 6:30 a.m. starting time and the need to wait in line to have your car inspected to get on the base, but it's well worth it to see 1,600+ servicemen and servicewomen (plus civilians) out to do 10 miles around Fort Bragg. (And at $10 to register, the race is a bargain!) There's lots of support from all kinds of Army units and volunteers to make sure that plenty of water and Gatorade are available -- plus misters on fire hydrants -- and to monitor intersections. Still, there are other units out doing their regular morning PT in packs and boots, not to mention one unit that was training in full uniform, packs, and arms. (The runners were happy to yield right-of-way to the guys with machine guns.) You also couldn't miss the cadence recordings and the Army men's chorus songs being played on loudspeakers around the race course.

Sure enough, they fired a cannon to get the whole race started, and we were off on a very quick pace. Not surprisingly, the soldiers are in better shape than your average road race field, so I was solidly in the back of the pack. Lots of family members and friends were out to support the runners, and they were happy to cheer for any of us, which was very much appreciated. The course turned out to have some challenging sections, with some significant hills, but fortunately we had the cool of the morning to enjoy, before the sun got too high or too hot. My favorite aid station was in an assembly area where soldiers getting organized for morning PT were volunteering before their own workouts; they were very encouraging and supportive of all the runners as we came through, but they were having lots of fun with the runners, too. (Army sense of humor: turning the 9-mile mark sign upside down so it looked like you had only gone 6 miles.)

The last stretch coming home was on a mile-long straightaway (with hills) where you could see the finish line arch way ahead. Lots of folks were at the finish line to cheer in all the finishers, and then there was a very nice post-race party at Sports USA (sort of an officers' club). There were lots of food and drink, and some very good over-strong Gatorade. The awards for the run were excellent. The winning teams (active-duty) received huge silver cups and trophies, plus all team members received gold, silver or bronze medals. And the age-group winners received very nice plaques with bas-relief sculptures of soldiers and helicopters. Really nice awards -- wish I could have earned one! And yes, they had a huge birthday cake with the Fort Bragg logo and the race logo that was sliced up with a sword by the base commander and some of the race winners. Happy 234th birthday, Army! Hooah!

I had a great time on Fort Bragg that Thursday morning doing the Army Birthday 10-Miler. 1,622 runners finished after 1,858 registered. If the team competition was open to civilians, we’d have to take the NCRC racing team down to compete! Before the race, I was Tired; when I was done, I was Army Tired!