Monday, November 29, 2010

Gotta Love North Carolina Geography

I love geography, and there's nothing like driving a state end-to-end a few times or poring over state maps than getting a feel for the peculiarity of a state's history and organization. Here are some of the vagaries of cities and counties in the Old North State:

- Asheville, NC and Asheboro, NC are not in Ashe County; Asheville is in Buncombe County and Asheboro is in Randolph County
- Rockingham, NC is not in Rockingham County; it's in Richmond County
- Washington, NC is not in Washington County; it's in Beaufort County
- Beaufort, NC is not in Beaufort County; it's in Carteret County
- Halifax, NC is in Halifax County
- Pamlico, NC is in Pamlico County
- Wilson, NC is in Wilson County
- Lenoir, NC is not in Lenoir County; it's in Caldwell County
- Columbus, NC is not in Columbus County; it's in Polk County
- Greenville, Jacksonville, Yanceyville and Vanceboro are not in Greene County, Jackson County, Yancey County or Vance County; they're in Pitt, Onslow, Caswell and Craven Counties, respectively -- however, Yadkinville is in Yadkin County, Gastonia is in Gaston County, Warrenton is in Warren County, Nashville is in Nash County, Wilkesboro is in Wilkes County and Lincolnton is in Lincoln County
- Cleveland, NC is not in Cleveland County; it's in Rowan County
- Cumberland, NC is in Cumberland County
- Franklin, NC is not in Franklin County; it's in Macon County
- Hertford, NC is not in Hertford County; it's in Perquimans County
- Hendersonville, NC is in Henderson County, but Henderson, NC is in Vance County
- Madison, NC is not in Madison County; it's in Rockingham County
- Graham, NC is not in Graham County; it's in Alamance County

So -- from experience -- double-check those state maps before you assume you know what county your destination is in!

Monday, November 15, 2010


Wow, 2010 has been a great year for the county countdown, and we're not done yet! The tour bus has been rollin' all over the state so that Chad and Brad can see some new counties and run with some really nice folks! We've reached the magic midpoint, where we have raced in 50 of North Carolina's 100 counties -- let me check the math, yep that's 50% -- so in running terms, we have reached the top of the hill and now it's all downhill to the finish! Too bad we missed some opportunities to get some western counties in the summertime, but now we'll just have to make sure we get 'em next year! Thanks to all the folks on the team, and we'll be looking to making more friends statewide as we get to those final 50 counties!

Complete: Alamance, Avery, Bertie, Brunswick, Buncombe, Cabarrus, Carteret, Chatham, Chowan, Columbus, Craven, Cumberland, Dare, Davidson, Davie, Durham, Edgecombe, Forsyth, Gaston, Granville, Greene, Guilford, Harnett, Hertford, Hoke, Iredell, Jackson, Johnston, Macon, Mecklenburg, Montgomery, Lincoln, Nash, New Hanover, Onslow, Orange, Pender, Perquimans, Randolph, Robeson, Rockingham, Rowan, Rutherford, Sampson, Stanly, Surry, Swain, Tyrrell, Vance, Wake

Still to go: Alexander, Alleghany, Anson, Ashe, Beaufort, Bladen, Burke, Caldwell, Camden, Caswell, Catawba, Cherokee, Clay, Cleveland, Currituck, Duplin, Franklin, Gates, Graham, Halifax, Haywood, Henderson, Hyde, Jones, Lee, Lenoir, Madison, Martin, McDowell, Mitchell, Moore, Northampton, Pamlico, Pasquotank, Person, Pitt, Polk, Richmond, Scotland, Stokes, Transylvania, Union, Warren, Washington, Watauga, Wayne, Wilkes, Wilson, Yadkin, Yancey

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Perquimans County - Veterans Day 6k Cross-Country Run - November 13, 2010

So far, the Veterans Day 6k Cross-Country Run in Hertford, NC is the only race in our countdown that's included a flyover: a bald eagle circled the starting area at the Perquimans County Recreation Department, which is right on the shores of the "inner banks" of the Albemarle Sound. The fishing along the river must be just right for the eagle population, and it was very inspirational to see the bald eagle circling the area just before our start. (I don't think I've ever seen a bald eagle in the wild before.)

Jerry Gill, a veteran of 14 marathons himself, the most recent in celebration of his 70th birthday, was the race organizer along with several other athletes from the Albemarle Senior Games. It was a pleasure to meet them before the race and get a chance to look around the Recreation Department. They have a great set of trails around the complex and a wonderful wooden walkway along the shoreline that includes a dock extending out into the sound. The complex also includes a few well-maintained softball fields that convert to soccer fields, and there was going to be an area soccer tournament there later in the morning.

The Veterans Day 6k Cross-Country Run was a fundraiser for the band at Perquimans County High School (home of the Pirates). To help the runners see what they were supporting, the band director and several of the instrumentalists were on hand to play the "Star-Spangled Banner" before the race and then to volunteer during the race. After the eagle flyover, the national anthem was very appropriate, and then as part of the Veterans Day salute, a Gold Star Mother fired the starting pistol. (Yep, a real starter's pistol. Don't see them much anymore.) I counted twelve runners/walkers at the start, which was on the grass beside the flagpole.

Since a 6k is a very unusual race distance, I didn't really focus on anything different than I would normally expect for a 5k race, so my pace felt pretty familiar. We made a few sharp turns onto the trail system -- thanks, BTW, for all the volunteers who directed the runners around the trail system -- and were treated to some more nice views of the sound. The trails were chunky gravel that required you to keep an eye out for bigger rocks, though, so you had to keep at least one eye where you were stepping. They had also built some very nice wooden bridges over some of the wetlands that the trails crossed. Although there were a few quick mounds and hills, the proximity to the water meant it was going to be a very flat race.

The majority of the Recreation Department property is open fields, and after less than a half-mile of the trails, a volunteer directed the runners out into the fields, where we followed the perimeter along the waterfront. I really have to hand it to the course setup team; they mowed the race path so that we had clean ground to run on, and the "lane" was marked with small flags, signs, and pylons so that it was very, very clear where the route was. (see below) With the clear blue skies overhead, the water off to our right and the big fields to our left, it really was a very pretty running route and a wonderful morning to be outside running.

Once we had reached the end of the Recreation Department property along the waterfront, we switched to the perimeter road and continued the loop around the area, including a brief out-and-back along the entrance road. Some very dedicated and upbeat volunteers staffed a water station about halfway through the route as well. When we returned to the main Recreation Department area, the volunteers directed us back into the trail system, where we reversed our previous path along the bridges and footpaths to the back of the main building, and then we looped around the softball fields and on out into some more of the undeveloped part of the property. The three-mile mark was right on the mark according to my Garmin, and then we crossed a couple more bridges on the way back to the main road. This time past the entrance, we were directed up and over a series of three or four mounds -- following a well-marked trail -- and back around the main building and then into a couple of trails we had not yet run; "you're just making stuff up now," I joked with one of the volunteers. The final trail segment came out of the woods right at one of the softball fields, and then it was just a quick sprint to the finish line about fifty yards away. I tried to use the final sprint to pass a middle-school runner who went out very quickly and was fading during the race, but his legs were still young enough to out-kick a runner like me. With the small field, I was the seventh finisher overall and the third male (there were some very talented women runners in the early finishers).

In keeping with the small nature of the race, there were some small prizes for the top finishers -- I received a homemade scarf for being third male and a Carolina tote bag as a door prize -- but they had a post-race spread of Gatorade, fruit and water that was worthy of a much bigger event. I did hear the organizers saying they were hoping for about forty or so runners instead of only fifteen (some registered but did not show up), but it sounded like any funds raised for the band would be much appreciated. Since the course was the unusual 6k distance and since the course was so well marked, I asked Jerry Gill if it was the local high school's cross-country course, but he responded that no, they had just put it together for this race, and the high school had stopped fielding a cross-country team since the coach had moved away a few years prior. That was kind of sad that the Perquimans County students didn't have a great cross-country opportunity like the students that live elsewhere. But it did speak to the zeal that Jerry and his team had for putting on a great race.

I hope that next year the Veterans Day 6k Cross-Country Run will have a bigger turnout and be a bigger fundraiser for the band. The organizers obviously love what they're doing and are putting their best foot forward in setting up a race that can be a bigger draw in the area. I hope next time I get to run in Perquimans County (per-QUIM-ans, I found out, is the correct pronunciation), more local runners will have discovered it!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Surry County - Mayberry Half-Marathon - November 6, 2010

Hey -- Chad and Brad finally get to hit a new county together! Been a while since that happened! This weekend we rolled into Mount Airy, North Carolina, in Surry County up near the state line, for the 3rd annual Mayberry Half-Marathon. It's still a mystery why both of us had thought this might be a nice, relatively flat marathon -- the city has "Mount" in its name, for goodness sake -- but when we saw the "No Hills, No Glory" slogan on the race shirt, we knew we were in for some elevation changes.

Mount Airy definitely trades on its association with Mayberry from TV's "The Andy Griffith Show." Griffith is from the area, and local landmarks like Pilot Mountain ("Mount Pilot") and Snappy Lunch turn up in the show. And, like Mayberry, Mount Airy is just a great small town with good folk just like we've seen in our travels across the state. The association with the TV show has blessed Mount Airy with lots of "Mayberry souvenir" stores, roaming Mayberry characters and the annual Mayberry Days celebration. And, of course, the Mayberry Half-Marathon.

The Mayberry Half-Marathon coincides with a weekend "Farm Festival" featuring a tractor parade, local entertainment, arts and crafts demonstrations, and a closure of Main Street so that everyone can walk around and see all the action. Some of the morning's first action was the congregation of half-marathoners at Main Oak Emporium to check in for the race and enjoy the warmth of the store when it was about 39 degrees outside. As we approached race time, the organizers from the Town of Mount Airy ushered us down Main Street to the Post Office, where the starting line had been set up. About 60 runners were entered (73 had finished the previous year), including a few teams that were going to compete in a marathon relay (at least 2 runners, not more than 5, to a team). Just from driving around the previous night, we knew we were going to be in for a heapin' helpin' of hills.

Finally we were started, and the first mile wound us around the main city streets, up the first of several hills, and out into the Mount Airy suburbs, were there were both some beautiful homes and some steep hills waiting for us. Most of the first three miles included some climbs up to the highest elevations of the course, but then we mercifully got to turn around and head partially back towards town and get some of that elevation change back. We had some nice views of Mount Airy Country Club, and after about the first third of the race I had done a good job of holding a steady pace between 10:30 and 11:00 per mile. (Unfortunately, my Garmin died pre-race and no one had any jumper cables, so you'll have to settle for this MapMyRun version with elevation changes shown.)

The second section of the race was more runner-friendly; at the 5-mile mark we turned onto the Emily Taylor Greenway and were treated to a level 2.5-mile stretch of race. It was nice to give my calves some rest and enjoy the riverfront for a while; we also snaked our way by Mount Airy High School (home of the Bears) and some industrial areas of the city. It was also used as an area where some of the spectators could come out and look for their runners, so it was nice to hear some cheering every once in a while. Once we turned off the greenway, we were treated to another big hill -- fortunately with Northern Hospital of Surry County right at the top -- a quick downhill, and then another sharp rise and fall down to Tharrington Elementary and the entrance to the Ararat River Greenway for about another 2.5 miles of level greenway bliss. This greenway had some beautiful bridges and boardwalks as it passed under the local roads, and in the continuing tour of local schools, we passed by Mount Airy Middle School. The runners were pretty well spread out at this point, and from my spot safe in the back of the pack, I could only glimpse a couple of runners ahead of me, and I would lose sight of them in the winding greenway turns.

At the end of the greenway in Riverside Park I had one more sighting of the runners in front of me thanks to a long loop around the parking and picnic area, and as I was exiting the park I got a glimpse of Chad behind me, so I was able to shout some encouragement to him as well. We got a nice level half-mile or so of road, and then we made a sharp left-hand turn up a new steep hill to the 12-mile mark and then another sharp rise back to Main Street for the last stretch back into town. With about a quarter-mile to go, you get to pass through another lovely stretch of beautiful homes and then you can see the Farm Festival activity ahead and a quick down-and-up to the finish line. With the Farm Festival in full swing, there are lots of spectators to watch the runners finish, and the entertainment stage right by the finish line helped increase the spirit a little bit. I picked it up the best I could to the finish line and crossed with an acceptable 2:30:50, with Chad finishing just about a minute later. Even with the nice level greenway stretches, both of us rated the course as moderately difficult, and I was very satisfied with my finish time.

Post-race, with the temperatures having warmed up a little bit, it was very relaxing to stroll up and down Main Street munching our recovery fruit and bagels, posing for pictures at Snappy Lunch and with the antique Mayberry deputy car, and enjoying all the Farm Festival activity. 55 runners finished the marathon, and ten marathon relay teams covered the loop course twice, keeping the excellent volunteers busy for a while longer. Later, over a couple of pork chop sandwiches at Snappy Lunch, we agreed that Mount Airy has put together an excellent half-marathon up here in the foothills, and even Barney would agree it's well worth the trip to Surry County. Hey from Goober!