Nope, contrary to the name, the Smoky Streak 5k/10k is not a nudist run. This morning, we were treated to the low-flying clouds and fog that give the Smoky Mountains and the Smoky Streak their names. The early-morning haze didn't last once the sun came up, but it provided a beautiful backdrop to the race setup and all of the pre-race festivities.
Our base of operations for the morning was the Webster Baptist Church in little Webster, North Carolina, a beautiful white wood "church in the valley" that hosted race headquarters. (I think we parked in the front yard of the parsonage.) A good crowd of volunteers -- and someone with a wonderful 80's music collection on their iPod -- got us all signed up, t-shirted, and ready to run. Despite the smallish nature of the race -- 79 finished the 10k and another 126 finished the 5k -- and the out-of-the-way location in the North Carolina mountains, this was actually the 11th annual running of the race, and you could tell the organizers had plenty of experience arranging the race setup area, coordinating with local law enforcement, and making sure we all had a good time.
The 10k is an out-and-back run from the church along the Tuckasegee River, and the riverside course was surprisingly flat for a mountain 10k. The 5k runners are shuttled by bus out to the turnaround point, and they start when the last 10k runner reaches the turnaround and heads for home, so all the runners run the last 5k of the 10k course together and all finish back at the church parking lot. That way everyone gets a big crowd at the finish to pull them all in, and hopefully the 5k leaders inspire the trailing 10k runners to keep it going.
Unfortunately for the 10k runners, the first half-mile or so of the race includes the only significant hill of the route, so it's a little punishing start to the race. But once we cleared that hill, and enjoyed the downhill on the other side, we were treated to some lovely views of the river and of the mountainsides as the sun came out and burned some of the fog away. It was still a little early for leaf-turning season, but even without the fall colors to come, the mountains were very beautiful. The Tuckasegee River is actually kind of scenic, and it provided some unusual juxtapositions of some very elegant, manicured estates and some more run-down, ramshackle homes. Lots of properties, though, had their own fishing docks built out over the river, and a few early-morning fishermen were surprised and entertained by all the runners going by in the early morning.
The 10k runners strung out pretty quickly, and it was a quiet first half of the race along the river to the mass of 5k runners waiting to start. The trail 10k runner was surprisingly a good bit behind me, so the 5k runners still had a good bit to wait after me before they got to start. The trip back along the river was still nice and peaceful, and I enjoyed some brief conversations with some of the other recreational runners. Still, though, as I passed the 4- and 5-mile marks, I kept wondering where the 5k runners were.
Finally, though, I reached the 6-mile mark at the top of the hill we started on, and at that point I was all about flying down the hill as fast as I could. The last quarter-mile stretched on for what seemed a while, but finally I was crossing the last street and powering past the finish line set up at the entrance to the church's parking lot. Turns out I was just ahead of the 5k leaders, and I had just enough time to catch my breath a little bit before watching the two top 5k runners battle each other to the line. (Officially, they had the same finish time in the results.) There was a bit of a discussion about potential jostling at the finish line, but the race director resolved it quickly.
Post-race, in the glorious mountain morning sunshine, there was plenty of food and drink for everyone and more music to enjoy. The overall and age-group winners all received nice medals, and the race t-shirts were designed to look like you're wearing a big race bib. It was a great morning for a race, and it was a beautiful route along the river. The Smoky Streak 10k was a great event, and I hope I'll get to return to Jackson County to run it again.