Saturday, April 30, 2011

Union County - Waxhaw Town & Country 5k Run - April 29, 2011

Sometimes we find Friday night races and they can be a lot of fun and very different with the evening atmosphere. One Friday night race and a new county we've had our eye on for a year or two is the Waxhaw Town & Country 5k Run in Union County, right outside of Charlotte. Up until this year the calendar had not worked out, however. There are a few races we can choose from in Union County, but the Waxhaw race is a function of the Waxhaw-Weddington Sunrise Rotary Club, and we have a soft spot in our heart for services organizations. (plus we just like saying, "Waxhaw")

This was the 6th annual Waxhaw Town & Country 5k Run, and it's a big race in a little bitty town. 406 runners were listed in the 5k results, not counting the spectators and the runners in the half-mile fun run. With sponsor tents and race setup thrown in -- and with the area hard-edged by a set of train tracks -- the town center is absolutely packed with people. Some of the lucky spectators get to watch the festivities from the old footbridge over the train tracks, which date to 1888 and were refurbished in 2008. They are a lovely landmark and provide a nice spot from which to see the race.

Once you find a parking place and walk in to race headquarters, you wander through the crowds to check in. I arrived just as the half-mile fun run was taking off, and there was a very large crowd to see the fun-runners. Queen City Timing was managing the race, and once the half-mile was over, they began ushering the 5k runners into the street behind the start/finish line for race instructions. The town square area had been divided into "lanes" with caution tape, first to allow for runners to head out, then to pass through at the half-mile, then for the finish.

When we were all ready to take off, they blew the horn and we were off paralleling the train tracks through the town square. Teams are recognized in the run, so there were several school-based teams running together, having a great time. We made a very quick loop around a couple of blocks and passed back through the start/finish area just about a half-mile into the race, with spectators cheering us all through the block. Then we made a couple more turns and were out into the first out-and-back section of the race. Someone told me after the race that the reason for all the twists, turns and out-and-backs was first to keep us from having to cross the train tracks but also to keep us within the small city limits of Waxhaw proper.

In addition to the cool temps of the evening, most of the race course was nice and shady thanks to the big, old trees in the yards lining the course, and there was a bit of a breeze as well to provide excellent running conditions. Some very friendly volunteers gave us water at the one-mile mark, and then we turned onto another out-and-back section which was through a relatively new subdivision. All throughout the course, but especially in the subdivision, folks had come out to watch the race from their front yards, porches and driveways. It was great to hear their support and see them out there. However, this was also the stretch where there were some serious hills, and once we were on the road back to town, they pretty much had me running on fumes again.

Fortunately I finally realized how close we were to the finish line -- the approach from behind the town square initially had me thinking we were farther away -- and got a bit of inspiration to push it through the last stretch and across the big red inflatable finish line. The runners spilling back into the town square area increased the activity and excitement, and volunteers handed out sports drink, fruit and bagels to everyone. Someone was playing good music on the PA system, and it was a very nice post-race atmosphere with the sun going down and the merchants in the area promoting post-race dinner specials. I got to survey the scene from the old footbridge and talk to some of the locals who take part in the race every year, as well as several runners who had driven in from Charlotte.

Overall, the Waxhaw Town & Country 5k Run was a great little event, but you wonder how much more it can grow without overgrowing the town square area, which really is a neat little place to situate all the activity. Hopefully the Rotary Club will be able to manage its growth well, keep the volunteers and residents involved, and keep a really nice race around.

And if you think small town races don't have any surprises to offer, after the race I was able to dance with Michael Jackson, an Imperial Stormtrooper, and a cow.

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