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!