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!"