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)'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!)