Tuesday, December 7, 2010

2010 Year in Review

Well, it looks like we've exhausted our county-collection opportunities for the year, but what a year it has been! We've passed the 40% and 50% marks in our quest to cover the state, and with some favorable travel plans and passable knee joints, we should be able to make the year ahead another fun year of running in the Old North State! We've been fortunate to get to share some great runs in 2010 with good friends of ours, and hopefully that trend will continue into the new year.

Chad's new (or extended) counties in 2010 (2): Surry, Moore
Brad's new (or extended) counties in 2010 (13): Rowan, Craven, Sampson, Columbus, Onslow, Davie, Granville, Macon, Vance, Tyrrell, Bertie, Surry, Perquimans

Chad's total counties: 30
Brad's total counties: 42
Combined total counties: 51

What was big this year? We definitely had a blast getting to run together at the Mayberry Half Marathon in Surry County. Chad also worked in the Pinehurst Turkey Trot Half Marathon into his overall marathon training. Brad got to share the Old Edwards Inn and Spa PAR 5k in Macon County with his father, plus he got to enjoy some cross-country running at the Twin Cities Field and River Run XC 5k in Davie County and the Veterans Day 6k Cross-Country Run in Perquimans County.

We may not have more opportunities to run in new counties until February or March, but we'll be keeping one eye on the calendar in case a new possibility comes up! And you never know when we might have other items of interest to leave on the blog in the meantime! Keep an eye out for the tour bus rollin' through your town in 2011, and have a great new running year, everyone!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Gotta Love North Carolina Geography

I love geography, and there's nothing like driving a state end-to-end a few times or poring over state maps than getting a feel for the peculiarity of a state's history and organization. Here are some of the vagaries of cities and counties in the Old North State:

- Asheville, NC and Asheboro, NC are not in Ashe County; Asheville is in Buncombe County and Asheboro is in Randolph County
- Rockingham, NC is not in Rockingham County; it's in Richmond County
- Washington, NC is not in Washington County; it's in Beaufort County
- Beaufort, NC is not in Beaufort County; it's in Carteret County
- Halifax, NC is in Halifax County
- Pamlico, NC is in Pamlico County
- Wilson, NC is in Wilson County
- Lenoir, NC is not in Lenoir County; it's in Caldwell County
- Columbus, NC is not in Columbus County; it's in Polk County
- Greenville, Jacksonville, Yanceyville and Vanceboro are not in Greene County, Jackson County, Yancey County or Vance County; they're in Pitt, Onslow, Caswell and Craven Counties, respectively -- however, Yadkinville is in Yadkin County, Gastonia is in Gaston County, Warrenton is in Warren County, Nashville is in Nash County, Wilkesboro is in Wilkes County and Lincolnton is in Lincoln County
- Cleveland, NC is not in Cleveland County; it's in Rowan County
- Cumberland, NC is in Cumberland County
- Franklin, NC is not in Franklin County; it's in Macon County
- Hertford, NC is not in Hertford County; it's in Perquimans County
- Hendersonville, NC is in Henderson County, but Henderson, NC is in Vance County
- Madison, NC is not in Madison County; it's in Rockingham County
- Graham, NC is not in Graham County; it's in Alamance County

So -- from experience -- double-check those state maps before you assume you know what county your destination is in!

Monday, November 15, 2010


Wow, 2010 has been a great year for the county countdown, and we're not done yet! The tour bus has been rollin' all over the state so that Chad and Brad can see some new counties and run with some really nice folks! We've reached the magic midpoint, where we have raced in 50 of North Carolina's 100 counties -- let me check the math, yep that's 50% -- so in running terms, we have reached the top of the hill and now it's all downhill to the finish! Too bad we missed some opportunities to get some western counties in the summertime, but now we'll just have to make sure we get 'em next year! Thanks to all the folks on the team, and we'll be looking to making more friends statewide as we get to those final 50 counties!

Complete: Alamance, Avery, Bertie, Brunswick, Buncombe, Cabarrus, Carteret, Chatham, Chowan, Columbus, Craven, Cumberland, Dare, Davidson, Davie, Durham, Edgecombe, Forsyth, Gaston, Granville, Greene, Guilford, Harnett, Hertford, Hoke, Iredell, Jackson, Johnston, Macon, Mecklenburg, Montgomery, Lincoln, Nash, New Hanover, Onslow, Orange, Pender, Perquimans, Randolph, Robeson, Rockingham, Rowan, Rutherford, Sampson, Stanly, Surry, Swain, Tyrrell, Vance, Wake

Still to go: Alexander, Alleghany, Anson, Ashe, Beaufort, Bladen, Burke, Caldwell, Camden, Caswell, Catawba, Cherokee, Clay, Cleveland, Currituck, Duplin, Franklin, Gates, Graham, Halifax, Haywood, Henderson, Hyde, Jones, Lee, Lenoir, Madison, Martin, McDowell, Mitchell, Moore, Northampton, Pamlico, Pasquotank, Person, Pitt, Polk, Richmond, Scotland, Stokes, Transylvania, Union, Warren, Washington, Watauga, Wayne, Wilkes, Wilson, Yadkin, Yancey

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Perquimans County - Veterans Day 6k Cross-Country Run - November 13, 2010

So far, the Veterans Day 6k Cross-Country Run in Hertford, NC is the only race in our countdown that's included a flyover: a bald eagle circled the starting area at the Perquimans County Recreation Department, which is right on the shores of the "inner banks" of the Albemarle Sound. The fishing along the river must be just right for the eagle population, and it was very inspirational to see the bald eagle circling the area just before our start. (I don't think I've ever seen a bald eagle in the wild before.)

Jerry Gill, a veteran of 14 marathons himself, the most recent in celebration of his 70th birthday, was the race organizer along with several other athletes from the Albemarle Senior Games. It was a pleasure to meet them before the race and get a chance to look around the Recreation Department. They have a great set of trails around the complex and a wonderful wooden walkway along the shoreline that includes a dock extending out into the sound. The complex also includes a few well-maintained softball fields that convert to soccer fields, and there was going to be an area soccer tournament there later in the morning.

The Veterans Day 6k Cross-Country Run was a fundraiser for the band at Perquimans County High School (home of the Pirates). To help the runners see what they were supporting, the band director and several of the instrumentalists were on hand to play the "Star-Spangled Banner" before the race and then to volunteer during the race. After the eagle flyover, the national anthem was very appropriate, and then as part of the Veterans Day salute, a Gold Star Mother fired the starting pistol. (Yep, a real starter's pistol. Don't see them much anymore.) I counted twelve runners/walkers at the start, which was on the grass beside the flagpole.

Since a 6k is a very unusual race distance, I didn't really focus on anything different than I would normally expect for a 5k race, so my pace felt pretty familiar. We made a few sharp turns onto the trail system -- thanks, BTW, for all the volunteers who directed the runners around the trail system -- and were treated to some more nice views of the sound. The trails were chunky gravel that required you to keep an eye out for bigger rocks, though, so you had to keep at least one eye where you were stepping. They had also built some very nice wooden bridges over some of the wetlands that the trails crossed. Although there were a few quick mounds and hills, the proximity to the water meant it was going to be a very flat race.

The majority of the Recreation Department property is open fields, and after less than a half-mile of the trails, a volunteer directed the runners out into the fields, where we followed the perimeter along the waterfront. I really have to hand it to the course setup team; they mowed the race path so that we had clean ground to run on, and the "lane" was marked with small flags, signs, and pylons so that it was very, very clear where the route was. (see below) With the clear blue skies overhead, the water off to our right and the big fields to our left, it really was a very pretty running route and a wonderful morning to be outside running.

Once we had reached the end of the Recreation Department property along the waterfront, we switched to the perimeter road and continued the loop around the area, including a brief out-and-back along the entrance road. Some very dedicated and upbeat volunteers staffed a water station about halfway through the route as well. When we returned to the main Recreation Department area, the volunteers directed us back into the trail system, where we reversed our previous path along the bridges and footpaths to the back of the main building, and then we looped around the softball fields and on out into some more of the undeveloped part of the property. The three-mile mark was right on the mark according to my Garmin, and then we crossed a couple more bridges on the way back to the main road. This time past the entrance, we were directed up and over a series of three or four mounds -- following a well-marked trail -- and back around the main building and then into a couple of trails we had not yet run; "you're just making stuff up now," I joked with one of the volunteers. The final trail segment came out of the woods right at one of the softball fields, and then it was just a quick sprint to the finish line about fifty yards away. I tried to use the final sprint to pass a middle-school runner who went out very quickly and was fading during the race, but his legs were still young enough to out-kick a runner like me. With the small field, I was the seventh finisher overall and the third male (there were some very talented women runners in the early finishers).

In keeping with the small nature of the race, there were some small prizes for the top finishers -- I received a homemade scarf for being third male and a Carolina tote bag as a door prize -- but they had a post-race spread of Gatorade, fruit and water that was worthy of a much bigger event. I did hear the organizers saying they were hoping for about forty or so runners instead of only fifteen (some registered but did not show up), but it sounded like any funds raised for the band would be much appreciated. Since the course was the unusual 6k distance and since the course was so well marked, I asked Jerry Gill if it was the local high school's cross-country course, but he responded that no, they had just put it together for this race, and the high school had stopped fielding a cross-country team since the coach had moved away a few years prior. That was kind of sad that the Perquimans County students didn't have a great cross-country opportunity like the students that live elsewhere. But it did speak to the zeal that Jerry and his team had for putting on a great race.

I hope that next year the Veterans Day 6k Cross-Country Run will have a bigger turnout and be a bigger fundraiser for the band. The organizers obviously love what they're doing and are putting their best foot forward in setting up a race that can be a bigger draw in the area. I hope next time I get to run in Perquimans County (per-QUIM-ans, I found out, is the correct pronunciation), more local runners will have discovered it!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Surry County - Mayberry Half-Marathon - November 6, 2010

Hey -- Chad and Brad finally get to hit a new county together! Been a while since that happened! This weekend we rolled into Mount Airy, North Carolina, in Surry County up near the state line, for the 3rd annual Mayberry Half-Marathon. It's still a mystery why both of us had thought this might be a nice, relatively flat marathon -- the city has "Mount" in its name, for goodness sake -- but when we saw the "No Hills, No Glory" slogan on the race shirt, we knew we were in for some elevation changes.

Mount Airy definitely trades on its association with Mayberry from TV's "The Andy Griffith Show." Griffith is from the area, and local landmarks like Pilot Mountain ("Mount Pilot") and Snappy Lunch turn up in the show. And, like Mayberry, Mount Airy is just a great small town with good folk just like we've seen in our travels across the state. The association with the TV show has blessed Mount Airy with lots of "Mayberry souvenir" stores, roaming Mayberry characters and the annual Mayberry Days celebration. And, of course, the Mayberry Half-Marathon.

The Mayberry Half-Marathon coincides with a weekend "Farm Festival" featuring a tractor parade, local entertainment, arts and crafts demonstrations, and a closure of Main Street so that everyone can walk around and see all the action. Some of the morning's first action was the congregation of half-marathoners at Main Oak Emporium to check in for the race and enjoy the warmth of the store when it was about 39 degrees outside. As we approached race time, the organizers from the Town of Mount Airy ushered us down Main Street to the Post Office, where the starting line had been set up. About 60 runners were entered (73 had finished the previous year), including a few teams that were going to compete in a marathon relay (at least 2 runners, not more than 5, to a team). Just from driving around the previous night, we knew we were going to be in for a heapin' helpin' of hills.

Finally we were started, and the first mile wound us around the main city streets, up the first of several hills, and out into the Mount Airy suburbs, were there were both some beautiful homes and some steep hills waiting for us. Most of the first three miles included some climbs up to the highest elevations of the course, but then we mercifully got to turn around and head partially back towards town and get some of that elevation change back. We had some nice views of Mount Airy Country Club, and after about the first third of the race I had done a good job of holding a steady pace between 10:30 and 11:00 per mile. (Unfortunately, my Garmin died pre-race and no one had any jumper cables, so you'll have to settle for this MapMyRun version with elevation changes shown.)

The second section of the race was more runner-friendly; at the 5-mile mark we turned onto the Emily Taylor Greenway and were treated to a level 2.5-mile stretch of race. It was nice to give my calves some rest and enjoy the riverfront for a while; we also snaked our way by Mount Airy High School (home of the Bears) and some industrial areas of the city. It was also used as an area where some of the spectators could come out and look for their runners, so it was nice to hear some cheering every once in a while. Once we turned off the greenway, we were treated to another big hill -- fortunately with Northern Hospital of Surry County right at the top -- a quick downhill, and then another sharp rise and fall down to Tharrington Elementary and the entrance to the Ararat River Greenway for about another 2.5 miles of level greenway bliss. This greenway had some beautiful bridges and boardwalks as it passed under the local roads, and in the continuing tour of local schools, we passed by Mount Airy Middle School. The runners were pretty well spread out at this point, and from my spot safe in the back of the pack, I could only glimpse a couple of runners ahead of me, and I would lose sight of them in the winding greenway turns.

At the end of the greenway in Riverside Park I had one more sighting of the runners in front of me thanks to a long loop around the parking and picnic area, and as I was exiting the park I got a glimpse of Chad behind me, so I was able to shout some encouragement to him as well. We got a nice level half-mile or so of road, and then we made a sharp left-hand turn up a new steep hill to the 12-mile mark and then another sharp rise back to Main Street for the last stretch back into town. With about a quarter-mile to go, you get to pass through another lovely stretch of beautiful homes and then you can see the Farm Festival activity ahead and a quick down-and-up to the finish line. With the Farm Festival in full swing, there are lots of spectators to watch the runners finish, and the entertainment stage right by the finish line helped increase the spirit a little bit. I picked it up the best I could to the finish line and crossed with an acceptable 2:30:50, with Chad finishing just about a minute later. Even with the nice level greenway stretches, both of us rated the course as moderately difficult, and I was very satisfied with my finish time.

Post-race, with the temperatures having warmed up a little bit, it was very relaxing to stroll up and down Main Street munching our recovery fruit and bagels, posing for pictures at Snappy Lunch and with the antique Mayberry deputy car, and enjoying all the Farm Festival activity. 55 runners finished the marathon, and ten marathon relay teams covered the loop course twice, keeping the excellent volunteers busy for a while longer. Later, over a couple of pork chop sandwiches at Snappy Lunch, we agreed that Mount Airy has put together an excellent half-marathon up here in the foothills, and even Barney would agree it's well worth the trip to Surry County. Hey from Goober!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bertie County - Bertie Spooktacular 5k & Family Fun Run - October 30, 2010

First off, you really have to give big-time props to the folks in Windsor, North Carolina. Earlier this month, they had severe flooding -- the mayor of Windsor even mentioned in his pre-race remarks that a few weeks ago he was paddling a canoe in the parking lot where the race festivities were set up this morning. Several people mentioned how important it was to the local folks that the 1st annual Bertie Spooktacular 5k & Family Fun Run and Walk go off as scheduled, so lots of work was done to make sure that all the runners and volunteers coming to town would still have an event! Big congratulations to all of them for the work they have done to keep this event on-track and possible, even after everything they've been through this month. If you look at this picture from the flood coverage, the starting area for the race is the flooded street on the left side of the picture.

It was important to keep the race going because it has as a beneficiary the Good Shepherd Food Pantry of Bertie County, Inc. The food pantry is very important because of the needs of the area, so a good event would mean good turnout and good benefits for the pantry. For the runners, the race organizers were able to raise enough support from all the race sponsors to have a very impressive purse for the runners: first place overall for each gender was worth $600, with $300 for second and $100 for third. With those kinds of awards, it's no surprise that Raleigh running legends Bobby Mack and Devin Swann, plus a handful of very speedy Kenyans from Chapel Hill, all came out for the race.

Although it was a very, very cool Saturday morning, the atmosphere was very festive with lots of charity booths set up, runners and organizers walking around in costume, and even the North Carolina National Guard military band playing marches. FS Series was managing the event, so they had their big black Finish arch set up and registration and packet pickup were well underway. Having the family fun run and walk be a part of the event increased the turnout with more families attending and lots more folks in costume walking around.

After the mayor and organizers had spoken and the National Guard band had played the national anthem, we finally got all lined up and took off down the course. The speedsters up front were running an unreal pace and were out of sight not long after the start. The mood of the runners, though, was very festive and in many cases we were happy for the chance to get moving and warm up! The first mile was on some service roads, some unpaved, a block or two off the Windsor main drag, but then we made a few turns and were running through a very nice subdivision with some pretty houses. However, we did pass the FEMA Disaster Relief Services set up in a local church, so we did get some reminders of what the town had been through a few weeks earlier.

In the second mile, some enthusiastic volunteers provided an aid station and marshalled every turn on the course. The Windsor Police Department were also out for traffic control and took very good care of the runners and walkers. There were some gradual hills scattered throughout the course, which kind of surprised me since we were pretty close to the coast, but fortunately they were all pretty manageable and not severe. And the downhills provided some good relief! Eventually we had finished circling the neighborhood and were retracing our steps in the last mile back to the start/finish area. But I was feeling very good and tried to push it all the way in to the FS Series Finish arch, and I ended up being rewarded with my best 5k time of the year so far! There was plenty of bottled water, bagels and fruit for the finishers, and we were able to see the family fun run and walk start up with their own participants getting out on the course.

All in all, after everything they've been through in Windsor, it was a great inaugural race and should set a good foundation for some bigger events to come. The performances by the elite runners were very impressive, with five of the men breaking the 15-minute barrier! Bobby was nipped at the finish line by one of the Chapel Hill Kenyans and had to settle for a second-place 14:09, and Devin was fourth with a 14:49. In all, 73 runners completed the 5k.

Congrats to the folks in Bertie County (ber-TEE, not BER-tee) for having a great event! The Spooktacular 5k should be one of the best events down east for many years to come!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tyrrell County - Scuppernong Riverfest 5k - October 9, 2010

This weekend the tour bus rolled into Columbia, North Carolina, a small town on the south side of the Albemarle Sound and bordered by the Scuppernong River. They celebrate life on the water each October with the Scuppernong Riverfest, and many times in the past the festival has included the Scuppernong Riverfest 5k. The race lapsed for a couple of years, but it made a return in 2010, so it was our job to get there and have a chance to run in Tyrrell County. (TER-rel, not TEER-rel, Katie; I asked all the locals.)

The Scuppernong River was as smooth as glass on race morning, and as I did my warmup run on the bridge, you could tell it was going to be a wonderfully clear, wonderfully cool morning on the river. The race was starting at 7:00 a.m. in order to leave the roads clear for the festival setup, so the runners had the downtown area to ourselves for the race.

The 5k wasn't a very big race, probably less than 50 runners, but the organizers, who were part of the Ride to a Wish, a charity cycling organization, were very excited about having the 5k compliment their other fundraising efforts. They had assembled very nice goodie bags for all the runners and managed a pretty good walk-up registration. There were very good pre-and post-run food and drink options for the runners, and the race director, Don Coberly, seemed to be everywhere at once, checking on all the details.

We started just a block off the river, so we had good views of the riverfront as we took off, and we could also see the preparations being made for the street fair later that day. The course was very well marked, whether you were running the 5k or the 1-mile fun-run. And in addition to the nice cool morning, the race route could not have been more blissfully flat. Probably not surprising, given our proximity to the river, the sound and the nearby Outer Banks. The downtown area we ran through was wonderful small-town Americana, with little brick churches, a big library and senior center, and big front porches already decorated for Halloween.

After some turns and straightaways through town, we turned and headed out into the countryside on -- no kidding -- Road Street. Aid station workers had set up a quick water stop at the volunteer fire department. One loop of the course took us on a little gravel road through a small neighborhood, and then we made the turn heading back towards town. We made a trip by a farm where a very active watchdog was upset he couldn't come out and join the runners, and then we passed by a quiet country graveyard before making the turn back into town.

As we passed back through the center of Columbia, I realized I had been feeling pretty good and had the chance to turn in a decent performance. I tried to pick it up as best I could as we returned on the same streets we had been on earlier, so I knew where the turns were and how far we had to get back to the starting line. A few more lefts and rights, and I could see the finish line ahead, so I powered it back in as best as I could and enjoyed the cheering of the volunteers and the runners who had finished ahead of me. The race was being timed without chips, but my Garmin and the finish-line digital clock agreed it was my best 5k of the year. I was very pleased and enjoyed my post-race apple slices and Gatorade very much!

After the race, I got to walk back to my lodging along the main street where the street fair was being set up. Lots of local craft vendors were setting up shop, many local food vendors were setting up on food row, and I even saw some senior citizens coming early to get good seats for the parade and live entertainment that started up in a little while. The Riverfest parade was a lot of fun -- any parade should be legally required to have Shriners and high school bands in it -- and I had a great time checking out the food booths for my post-run lunch. I had a great time in Columbia, and I'm very happy the Scuppernong Riverfest 5k is back!

When in Columbia, Chad and Brad and our support staff stay at the Brickhouse Inn Bed and Breakfast! Lee Brickhouse runs a great place and cooks a wonderful country breakfast! I had such a good time, I wrote him a new jingle: "Stay at the ... BRICK (da da da da) HOUSE! (da da DA da)...it's mighty comfy! And the front porch wraps around! Stay at the ... BRICK (da da da da) HOUSE! (da da DA da) It's the one -- the only one -- to stay for the Scuppernong! Yeah! Scuppernong, Suppernong-nong! Scuppernong, Scuppernong, Scuppernong-nong!" (You're welcome, Lee!)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Vance County - The Foundation 5 - September 18, 2010

"Run your hearts out!" seemed like a strange encouragement for a "wellness" 5k, but then again, we were at Maria Parham Medical Center in Henderson in Vance County. I guess if anyone did run their heart out, it was good to be at a big hospital. This morning's Foundation 5 is the 3rd annual event where Vance County residents are encouraged to run, jog or walk their way through a 5k around the hospital area.

Fall was definitely in the air, at least for the morning. Temperatures had dropped into the low 60s -- I kind of wished I had brought a long-sleeved shirt -- and I was thinking more about college football on the trip to Henderson than I was the race. But there were 91 finishers in the event, so the weather must have encouraged a good turnout. Check-in at the Medical Center was no problem, and both the Medical Center and another sponsor, Toyota of Henderson, had set up some displays for the runners to check out pre-and post-race. And there was some very good music being played on somebody's iPod!

A few horses and a lot of kids hugged the front of the starting line for the final runner instructions, and then they sprinted around the parking lot when we were turned loose. The first half-mile or so was enjoyably level or downhill, but then we had a serious hill facing us on the way up to the one-mile mark. I think the cool air was helping me as I got a faster mile split than I had expected and was really feeling comfortable and smooth.

The course led us back and forth on a street adjacent to the medical center complex, and then we circled the parking lots of some of the center's outbuildings. Navigation was not a problem, though, as there were plenty of volunteers on the course to give direction and encourage all the runners along. A small, brief hill then took us off the campus and onto a no-outlet service road that paralleled Interstate 85. We got another great downhill and an aid station in the second mile, but the biggest distraction was the wonderful smell coming from The Peanut Roaster, which had its main building along the race course and was roasting away as we puffed by. Some of the peanut employees stood in the doorway of one of the loading bays and checked out the runners going by. What a wonderful smell, just as good as jogging by Char-Grill or Krispy Kreme here in Raleigh!

After the downhill in the second mile led to another good mile split, of course we had to turn around and go right back up it in the third. It was nice to pass the roasting-peanuts smell and the aid station again, but it was a significant hill going back up and it really tired me out and knocked away those nice splits from the first two miles. With the encouragement of the volunteers and the medical center security staff, I finally plodded back to the crest and began the series of turns that would take me back to the finish line. I finally got a second wind as I wound my way back around the center, and I managed to generate a decent pace as I headed for the balloon-festooned finish line. Lots of volunteers and race officials, as well as previous finishers and the folks gathering for the mile fun run were cheering us on, and it was lots of fun to finish the race in that spirit.

The cool air made for a nice post-race atmosphere, too. There were lots of water, fruit, Chick-Fil-A and other snacks for the runners while a very festive mile fun run took place, and then the race organizers gave out the awards for the 5k. The awards table was decorated with a trophy made out of an Asics running shoe spray-painted gold and attached to gold wings like a shoe for Mercury. Very cute! The folks in Henderson and at Maria Parham did a great job hosting all the runners and putting on a very enjoyable run. Time to get some roasted peanuts for the trip home!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Macon County - Old Edwards Inn & Spa PAR 5k - September 11, 2010

There were all kinds of reasons I was looking forward to Saturday's Old Edwards Inn & Spa PAR 5k -- it would be fun to get to Highlands, NC, in the mountains for a weekend; it involved running around a golf course which we could then play afterwards; it would get us a new county -- but the main reason was that I would be joined by my favorite jogging and golfing partner, my dad. Dad's interest in running to be healthier, and my interest in tagging along with my father, got me started running decades ago, and I've always been thankful for that and for times we can get together. Dad also knows something about running clubs and putting on races, having been an active member of the Chattanooga Track Club and the race director for the Rock City Road Race for several years. Dad might be more excited if I was trying to golf in every North Carolina county, but he's gotten plenty of enjoyment from our running travels, and it's from his side of the family that I probably inherit my love of travel and the back roads.

Saturday morning in Highlands turned out to be rainy, but that didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd that turned out at the Old Edwards Golf Club. There was a very large walk-up registration, which testified to the efforts of race director Dave Linn to get the word out about this new race, which everyone believes could be a big annual affair with the support of the Old Edwards Inn & Spa. Check-in was very easy; they were using chips but not bibs, and the PAR 5k shirts and goodie bags were very nice. (Dad remarked about how much race management had changed since he had to use index cards that finishers filled out to compile results back in the day.) I ran into several members of the Highlands Roadrunners Club, which is also based in the area and has some guys who run so well in the hills they must be part mountain goat. We all huddled under the cover of the clubhouse entryway during the heaviest downpours, but fortunately it looked like most of the precipitation would tail off just in time for the race.

The first few turns of the course would be back-and-forth through the various levels of the Old Edwards Golf Club parking lot, so Dave ushered us out to the uppermost lot well ahead of the race start so we'd be in position. In addition, a friend of the organizers, dressed in full Scottish regalia, stationed himself at the top of the hill where he played bagpipes for the full enjoyment of the crowd -- very nice atmosphere for the area. Dave reviewed the route for all the runners, the guys from Setup Events made some attempts to seed the starters, and then we were off!

Unfortunately, I missed getting my Garmin started, so I lost the chance to document how downhill the first half-mile was, as we rushed back-and-forth through the parking lots going from the topmost level down to the clubhouse, but it was pretty steep -- and probably kind of slick with all the rain that morning. A quick trip by the back of the clubhouse, and then we were out onto the golf course, which started with a lovely, level par-5. The second hole came right back to the clubhouse, so we got a good view of where all the runners had stretched out as we ran past each other. Fortunately, the wooden bridges along the cart path didn't seem to be too slick from the rain, although they were nice and straight so we didn't have to do any sudden turns.

We had a few moderate hills in the first few holes, but on number 5, we faced the biggest rise of the course. That one seemed like it just kept going up and up, and even having an aid station near the top didn't seem like much relief. All the struggle to get to the top, though, was worth it, because from the tee box area of number 6, we had a great view of the valley area, and you could see the lead runners out beyond the green, traversing the cart paths along the rest of the front nine. That was a very neat feature of the course layout; you could look out over the golf course and see runners going back and forth on various parts of the layout, following the cart paths here and there. The downhill on number 6, another lovely par-5 with a challenging third shot over water to the green, was much appreciated by the runners, and then we had a great flat stretch along holes 7, 8 and 9 where I tried to keep my momentum going.

The route then did another out-and-back on holes 1 and 2 to bring us up to the right distance, and then we turned back for a quick sprint back to the rear of the clubhouse, where Setup Events had positioned the finish line. The spectators, including Dad, had a wonderful view from the clubhouse veranda of the runners as they approached and sprinted across the finish line. I got a late burst of energy to rush through to the finish and was rewarded with some nice, cold Powerade for my efforts. Fortunately, the rain had held off for us. Eventually, Dave the race director got everyone in the area around the finish line up on their feet to cheer for the final finisher, a wheelchair-bound young man who had been around the entire route with his family's help. It was great to see him working to get across the finish line with a great big grin on his face. (He later got one of the 14-under age group awards.)

No matter how you finished in the race, you were definitely a winner if you got to stay for the post-race buffet breakfast. The clubhouse staff assembled a wonderful spread of eggs, bacon, pancakes, grits and fruit, and it was probably the best meal we ate in Highlands all weekend. We ate on the veranda and had a great view of the golf course while we rested up for the golf and listened to Dave give out a long list of door prizes and medals for all the age group and overall winners. Eventually, though, my favorite golf partner and I had to swap running shoes for golfing shoes and head out to the driving range to warm up, but I second Dave's opinion that the PAR 5k, with its beautiful route and resort amenities, should be an annual fall highlight in the mountain race scene. I'm looking forward to doing the PAR 5k (and the breakfast) again!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Granville County - Run with the Lions 5k - August 28, 2010

This morning it was just a quick jump over the county line to Granville County and Oxford, North Carolina for the Run with the Lions 5k sponsored by the Oxford Lions Club. The Lions Club, of course, is an international service organization with more than 1.3 million members and 45,000 clubs around the world. For the last four years, the Oxford Lions Club has organized the Run with the Lions 5k, a great little race where the proceeds go to benefit the Lions' own "SightFirst" program, which funds research on preventable blindness.

Chad ran the inaugural version of this race back in 2007, and I was happy to finally get there myself. The folks at check-in couldn't have been friendlier, including the "official dog" of the race, who was lounging under the table and was very happy to have his neck scratched by all the folks who came through. The Lions Club in Oxford is just off the main drag, right between a church and the post office, and it has a big gold lion statue outside. (Would have had a picture of me with the lion right here if I hadn't forgotten my camera.) Lots of Lions were scurrying about with all of the last pre-race preparations, setting up refreshments, moving out to monitor the course and handle traffic control.

The starting line for today's 5k was just around the corner to give the runners the longest straightaway before the first time, so eventually everyone got ushered around from the Lions HQ over to the starting area. Immediately you knew everyone was running for second place because star runner Devin Swann from Raleigh was on hand to defend his title from last year. (I believe he has family in the area, which is why he was at such an out-of-the-way race. His father and sister-in-law were also running.) Devin easily knocks out 5-minute miles in races, so it was going to take an outstanding performance to beat him. The race was quite a municipal event, with all three of the Oxford Police units present, as well as the Fire Chief and the Granville County paramedics.

The guys from East Carolina Road Racing, who were timing the event, lined us up in the street and after a few quick instructions, we were off! There were a good number of recreational joggers and walkers in the event, so in a very short time the field was very spread out. After the first turn, we could see a good bit ahead, and, sure enough, Devin built a very early lead and was leaving the rest of the runners behind him even before the half-mile mark. From my spot safe in the back of the pack, I had a good chance to check out the Oxford Municipal Recreation Area, where soccer signups were going on, and where they had just wrapped up the "Oxford Open" tennis tournament.

The course appeared in the map to be relatively hill-free -- only about 55 feet of elevation change -- but once we were out running, we could see that there was a good bit of roll to the area, with one downhill rolling into the next uphill, another downhill, and so on the whole way. We ran through a good bit of a subdivision called -- honest -- "Green Acres," and I ended up with that theme song echoing in my head a good bit of the first two miles. Some of the homes were very pretty with manicured lawns and lovely flower beds, and there were two dogs that were very disappointed that their invisible fence kept them from going after all the targets running by. There were fathers running with kids, friends running together, and solo racers -- a good variety of all running speeds and sizes out enjoying the morning. We were blessed with cool temperatures (low 70s in August) and overcast skies, but the humidity continued to be high. The Lions out on the course did a great job of keeping the traffic away from the runners, and someone had done a great job marking the course, with large arrows posted at all the turns to make sure we didn't get lost. And there was a very busy Lion manning a water stop around the halfway point.

With about a half-mile to go, we were back on the main road by the Rec Center. I had felt really good through the first half of the race, but of course I went out too fast (again) and I was dreading the last hill back up to where we started. I encouraged a few of the runners I was passing, and when I made it up to the turn, we started passing more spectators who also kept pulling for us to keep moving to the finish. I made a final burst for the finish line, and it turned out to be a pretty good battle with a youngster who tried to pick me off in the last sprint, but I was able to hold him off all the way to the finish line. Good finish, although I would have liked to have used some of that speed through the rest of the race to have a better overall pace.

The Lions put together a great post-race spread for all the runners; there was bottled water and Gatorade, orange juice, fruit and granola bars, and some of the best chicken biscuits you'll ever find at a race. There was plenty of time for comparing notes while chowing down and checking out the Smartmobile driven by the insurance company that sponsored the race. Sure enough, Devin smoked the field in about fifteen minutes and wasn't challenged much. His sister-in-law Sara won the women's race (and was third overall), and even Devin's father (at 70) turned in a superb twenty-five minute 5k! That's one fast family! There were 73 official finishers, and I ended up 4th in my age group. While we were enjoying the post-race treats, the Lions also put on a one-mile fun run and then a tricycle race for all the kids.

After my chicken biscuit was gone, it was time to take my Run with the Lions t-shirt and head on back home, but it was a very enjoyable race, and the Lions did a great job with their race for the fourth straight year! Congrats, and hopefully we'll be back here to run again!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Davie County - Twin Cities Field and River Run XC 5K - August 14, 2010

After having the tour bus garaged most of the summer and missing some good county-collecting opportunities in the mountains the last couple of months, it was finally time to get back out on the road to hit a new race just outside of Winston-Salem and notch a new county.

The Twin Cities Field and River Run cross-country 5k (and mile fun run) took place on and around the BB&T Soccer Park that you can see from interstate 40 west just after you cross the Yadkin River into Davie County. This complex, which features 13 full-sized soccer fields and 2 youth fields, has plenty of room and the facilities to support a big event like this. The 5k course winds back-and-forth alongside and among the various fields, and it also incorporates some nature trails that have been added to the complex. It includes plenty of straight, level stretches as you weave among the fields, but it also includes some sudden, challenging hills as you move from one level to another and follow the nature trails. And it's 100% non-paved, so it's a true cross-country challenge.

Getting to the race location was no problem, and we got the benefit of a mostly-overcast morning with lower than usual temperatures and a bit of a cool breeze, although the humidity was still very, very high. The soccer park fieldhouse had been set up to accommodate race check-in, restrooms and post-race food, and the natural amphitheater overlooking the fields was a great spot for watching all the pre-race activity (and for hosting the awards post-race). The mile fun run was the first event of the morning, and from the field house we all had a great view of the runners and walkers hustling down the main line of soccer fields, making a few turns back and forth, and then returning to their starting line. It was also apparent that the Twin City Soccer Association had done a great job publicizing the race, as the 5k turnout looked to be pretty high and also very competitive.

The starting line for the 5k was one of the corners of the main soccer stadium, which allowed for spectators to have a great view either from the fieldhouse or the stands overlooking the field. The Twin Cities Track Club provided the race management, and they got us all lined up for a quick start, which was especially quick because of all the kids that wanted to be right up front and sprint as far as they could at the race start. We took off diagonally across the field and then dropped down to the level of the first group of fields, where we followed the perimeter all the way around and entered the nature trail for the first time.

We exited the nature trail about the 1-mile mark and were on the lower field level at that point. Again we followed the perimeter of the soccer fields all the way down the line and back, and then back again. (There was also another detour onto a very sandy nature trail alongside the Yadkin River.) Having driven over the fields many times on interstate 40 westbound, I wondered what the drivers who were headed west that morning thought about the hundreds of runners going back and forth on the soccer fields!

(BTW, the soccer park's sound system is wonderful, as we were able to hear announcements, music and the fun run awards all over the facility, even down on the nature trail next to the river. And someone had selected some excellent music for our enjoyment during the race, such as Tom Petty's "Runnin' Down a Dream.")

After the back-and-forth-and-back on the lower fields, we hit a couple of hills that elevated us back to the level of the first set of fields and then up another level to the path along the main entrance road, where we passed the 2-mile mark, went around another curve and entered another short nature trail that ended back on the top-level fields. From there we re-traced our steps around the top-level perimeter and re-entered the first nature trail, except we took a different fork that turned us towards the last part of the route.

However, there was one more obstacle to overcome, and that was a very steep and continuous hill that took the runners to a level above and behind the stadium field and the fieldhouse, where normally we'd have a great view if we weren't huffing and puffing so hard to get to the downhill section. Eventually we did reach the crest of the hill, and we had a short downhill and then a relatively level stretch as we hairpinned our way back along the bluff. Finally we got to burst back down the rest of the hill and make a sharp right turn back onto the stadium field and around the field perimeter to the TCTC finish line.

One thing about the cross-country nature of the course: I had forgotten how difficult it can be to run in grass. Street running has spoiled me! The soccer fields are immaculate and the grass is in wonderful condition, very deep and spongy and green. Of course, that means with every step you sink in the grass and you have to pick your knees up more or drag your feet through the extra resistance of the grass as you plod along. The cross-country course was great, but three miles in the grass wore me out!

Thanks to the large number of kids and parents in the race and the connections to the area soccer leagues, there was lots of on-course support and plenty of volunteers the whole way around. The course was excellently marked, which was a necessity because of all the turns and back-and-forth sections. After the race, we had an opportunity to visit some of the sponsor booths, and then there was an excellent post-race spread of food for the runners! There were some very tasty watermelon sections, cake squares, fruit and bagels, and even some chocolate milk from one of the sponsors! The organizers also nailed it by including as a sponsor Krispy Kreme (corporate headquarters in Winston-Salem) and having plenty of Krispy Kremes in the refreshment area! Yummy! We probably negated any calories we burned off in the race.

After we had splurged on the donuts, the race organizers gave out an unreal number of door prizes, everything from free massages to lunch at the local pub to sporting goods store gift certificates. Being connected to the soccer club helped turn out a large number of sponsors and donations! Unfortunately for us adults, the large number of kid participants meant that a disproportionate number of the massage and pub door prizes went to the youngsters. Once the door prizes were given out, the overall and age-group winners received some very nice trophies and medals. And all the entrants got a very nice white tech shirt with the Field and River run logo. Top-notch, all.

Congratulations to the Winston-Salem Twin City Youth Soccer Association and the Twin Cities Track Club for pulling off one of the best inaugural races I've run! Pretty much everything about the morning was very well done! 353 runners, an excellent turnout, completed the 5k! I hope this race will be around for many years to come! Like Tom Petty says, "there's something good waiting down this road!"

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Onslow County - Run for the Warriors Half-Marathon - May 15, 2010

Chad beat me to Onslow County a few years ago at the Camp Lejeune Resolution Run, but I finally made it today to attend the three-time Onslow County Event of the Year, the Run for the Warriors 10k, 5k and the inaugural half-marathon in Jacksonville.

This was the 5th year of the Run for the Warriors, but it was the first year they have added a half-marathon to the standard 10k, 5k and 1-mile fun run. Altogether, they were hoping for 1,000 runners across all the different events. With Camp Lejeune being so close by, and with it being Armed Forces Day, a very big crowd turned out to run in the race or volunteer in the race. The organizers must have a wonderful organization system set up because each race had its own color shirt -- the half-marathon shirts were blue, the 10k shirts olive drab and so on -- and all the races were basically run at the same time, with only a few minutes between each race's start time.

Race registration and check-in was set up around the Jacksonville High School football stadium. The race is dedicated to the men and women injured in the global war on terror, and before anything got started, the race organizers and the representatives from Camp Lejeune had a welcoming ceremony for all the current and veteran soldiers that were present. The brigade of wounded warriors was well-represented, and children from one of the Jacksonville schools presented each wounded warrior -- many of them were running or hand-cycling in the race -- with a small American flag. The Camp Lejeune commanding officer also welcomed the crowd, and he noted the soldiers running in "boots and utes" -- although they run like that on base, they have to have the commanding officer's approval to run in boots and utes off-base.

The half-marathon was the first event to get started, and there was some confusion about exactly where the starting line was (it didn't use the big scaffolding start line like the 5k and 10k). Finally we got lined up, though, and the wheelchair racers were the first ones to get started, followed shortly by the pack of runners. Each group was led out onto the course by a group of motorcycles. The race course itself was very flat (being close to the ocean) and ran mostly through a residential area, which led to the fun combination of folks setting up shop by the street to watch the runners come by and other residents being surprised by what was going on and not knowing what to make of all the runners coming by. But with Run for the Warriors is a big deal in the area, so many folks who live along the race route came out to watch and cheer for the runners, and some went as far as to set up their own impromptu aid stations.

Of course, with multiple races going on at the same time, there was some opportunity to see some of the other runners. At about our three-mile mark, we merged in with the 10k runners and ran with them past their one-mile mark before they turned. (They were going much faster than we were.) We got to run with them again later in the course when we were around our seven-mile mark and they were at their four-mile mark. There was a very nice stretch through a gated community with some horse farms, although the horses didn't seem very impressed with the humans running by.

The morning was very, very humid, and the temperature picked up very quickly as the sun got higher in the sky. (The sun comes up very early that close to the coast.) Once again I went out much faster than I should have, and the heat and humidity wore me down very quickly after about the first third of the race. Fortunately there was a nice breeze blowing most of the race, and the residential areas had plenty of shade trees, so that helped some; however, the second half of the race course included more commercial areas and newer subdivisions with much less shade, so the sun had more of an opportunity to beat down on us. Finally, about nine miles into the course, my race was over and it became a hot walk in the sunshine. The last few miles of the course I had to myself, although the Jacksonville police officers monitoring the intersections and the aid station volunteers were still very encouraging and happy to see me come by. I was able to pick it up a little bit for the last stretch so that I could do my final lap on the JHS track with a little bit better pace.

The inaugural half-marathon medals were very nice, and there was plenty of post-race fluids and snacks for the runners. I arrived too late to hear the band that entertained the crowd during most of the finishers' arrivals; they were already deep in the awards process when I finally crossed the finish line. It was very easy to tell that Run for the Warriors is a very big deal to Jacksonville and Camp Lejeune, and very dedicated volunteers and organizers put on an excellent event. I was very happy to be a part of it, but if I had it to do over I think I'd opt for the 10k instead of the half-marathon to get out of the heat sooner!

News 14 has some coverage of the events.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Columbus County - Farmers Market Fun Run 5k - May 8, 2010

OK, I really liked the winged farmer's boot logo.

North Carolina food festivals are great opportunities to find new county races. (See, for example, the North Carolina Watermelon Festival 5k in Murfreesboro (Hertford County) or the North Carolina Blueberry Festival 5k in Burgaw (Pender County).) And farmers' markets, too! The second Saturday in May is the opening day for the Columbus County Farmers Market in Whiteville, NC, and they added to the festivities this year with the Farmers Market Fun Run & Walk 5k.

They really put on a very nice inaugural event in Whiteville. The focus was on keeping the event simple and low-cost so that lots of Columbus County residents and visitors could take part. The organizer gets big props for setting up what was effectively a "free" race -- there was no entry fee or registration charge, you just filled out their online form giving your name, age and e-mail address, and they e-mailed us all the race-morning information a few days ahead of the run. The only charge was if you wanted one of the Farmers' Market Fun Run t-shirts, which were very nice cotton with a big logo on the front and the sponsors on the back -- a bargain at $5!

The staging area for the race was the parking lot Columbus County Social Services building just north of downtown Whiteville. This provided lots of space for the pre-race activities, and it was right next door to the farmers' market that was the focal point of the morning's festivities. Check-in for pre-registered runners and race-day registration were both hopping along, and there were plenty of extra t-shirts for the runners that wanted one.

The first event of the day was the kids' half-mile run, which consisted of three laps around the Columbus County Agricultural Extension building across the street, and there were some very excited kids to be doing their run, especially since they all got a medal as they crossed the finish line. Kids love bling.

After the kids were done, the three-milers lined up for our own lap around the ag building, and then we were off onto highway 701 for a quick trip into town. The Whiteville area of Columbus County is very flat, so the only hill each way was the overpass over highway 74, which wasn't bad when it comes to hills. Then we turned into a very nice residential area, where fortunately there was lots of shade on the runners' side of the street to give us a break from the steady sun in the highway area. (It wasn't an overly hot day, but when there was no shade, the sun did wear you down.) Helpful volunteers manned a couple of much-appreciated water stations, and a photographer from the Whiteville newspaper cycled along with the runners to get lots of pictures. (The picture-to-runner ratio was very high for this race.)

We finished the loop through the residential area and then we were headed back north on 701 and back over the overpass, and I was really feeling very good. The small downhill on the overpass helped me try to squeeze a little bit more into my pace, and I was really churning as I made the last couple of turns to the finish line. I was very pleased to get my best 5k time of the year and surprised to get 2nd in my age group! Another nice surprise was that the standard post-race fare of water and bananas had been supplemented with some excellent, fresh strawberries from the farmers' market.

The race awards were handed out as part of the farmers' market opening festivities, which were attended by local and state dignitaries, a Cub Scout troop for raising the flags, the North Carolina Strawberry Queen and Princess, and a choir from a local elementary school. One Columbus County commissioner drove home the point of both the race and the farmers' market when he talked about the county's poor ranking in some health indices and how both getting more exercise and eating more fruits and vegetables (preferably locally-grown from our own farmers) would help the health of the overall county. Good points.

Hopefully, having the race be low-cost increased the size of the field that showed up, even if the majority of the participants were walkers. The race organizer announced that they had more than 100 folks take place, a great turnout for a small inaugural race, and that the 3-mile participants ranged in age from 8 to 78! Congrats to all them as well! Great showing for a great inaugural race!