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!

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