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!