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!"