"Hi, welcome to the race! Here's your t-shirt! Help yourself to a watermelon!"
If you have a watermelon-styled purse, or shoes painted green and red with little seeds, or watermelons embroidered on your shirt, the place to be the first Saturday in August is the North Carolina Watermelon Festival in Murfreesboro, North Carolina. You'll have a great time with many other folks with the same decoration.
For runners, they have the North Carolina Watermelon Festival 5k. And if you pre-register, you get to take a watermelon home! They were all a little bigger than a rugby ball, and when I cut into mine later tonight, I hope it tastes as good as the watermelon slices they had for us at the end of the race!
The highlight of Saturday at the NC Watermelon Festival is the Watermelon Festival Parade, and the start of the 5k race leads off the parade. So well before the start of the race, folks were showing up to reserve a good seat along Main Street (see: Americana) for the start of the race and then the parade. Registration for the race and staging for the parade were all taking place at Murfreesboro Baptist Church, so after checking in for the race and collecting my free watermelon, I got to check out all the highlights of the parade setup.
Pre-race, I got to meet the mayor of Murfreesboro, Lynn Johnson, and also the reigning North Carolina Watermelon Festival Queen, Kensley Leonard. ("The queen meets the joker," I quipped.) The mayor was riding in a nice 1969 cherry-red Cadillac convertible while the watermelon queen had to ride on the watermelon float -- which was cute, but not as sweet a ride as the Caddy. Also present were the princesses of the watermelon court, Miss Teen Melon, the North Carolina Strawberry Queen, and the North Carolina Spot Queen. (The spot is a type of fish. Make up your own "fish queen" joke here.) There were high school bands warming up, clowns getting their makeup and costumes set for the kids, young drivers polishing up their rides for the spinning-rim club, firemen loading the fire engines with candy, and Shriners rehearsing their formations. (Why, oh why, isn't every parade in the land required to have six to eight Shriners in those little go-carts doing figure eights and formations all the way along the route?) Even without the race, it was going to be a festive morning.
Although the race didn't start until 10:00 a.m. in August, we were blessed with a very overcast sky that kept race-time temperatures in the high 70s when it could have been much, much warmer. With a bit of a breeze, even the humidity wasn't as bad as it could have been. The race organizers announced that 105 runners had registered, and that was the largest Watermelon Festival 5k field they ever had. Just before race time, Main Street was shut down, and the runners were called to the street -- then we were off!
Having the 5k lead off the parade guarantees that the runners get wall-to-wall spectators for the first half-mile or so before we turn off the parade route. Lots of folks were out to see the race start and the parade, so there was lots of yelling and encouragement for all the runners. For a small town, they managed to pull together a big crowd to see everything! Shortly we turned off the parade route and began working our way back to the west a block off Main Street. There was a very pleasant loop around the main quad of Chowan University, and another big loop to a small lake and back, which brought a surprising hill into play -- isn't this area supposed to be mostly flat? There were very enthusiastic volunteers directing the runners and managing the traffic all along the way -- not all of the roads could be shut down, and there were lots of cars still trying to get to the parade -- and a couple of water stations were set up at strategic points so that the runners could hit them twice. I really enjoyed the folks sitting on their porches waving at the runners, and there were some very cute "Go Runners" signs that some kids had made to decorate their front yard as the racers passed by.
The Watermelon Festival Parade is big enough that, even at my pace, units were still rolling out onto the parade route as I finished. The finish line was just a block back from the starting line, so we could watch the final parade units while we enjoyed our post-race treats (did I mention the wonderful watermelon slices they had for us at the finish?). Even without chips, they compiled the race results very quickly and got the awards distributed. The overall men's and women's winners had won the race three years in a row, and the men's winner, who lived in Murfreesboro just off the race course, set a new course record! I was very happy with a better-than-average performance myself and savored more than one slice of the sweet watermelons they had provided.
I had a great time in Murfreesboro for the North Carolina Watermelon Festival 5k, and I wouldn't mind coming back to this tiny corner of Hertford County to do this race again. It's a lot of fun at a very nice family festival, and the race organizers put on a very, very fun race. Now where's that watermelon I brought home?