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!