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!