Sunday, August 28, 2011


Well, it's been just about ten months since we passed the 50% mark in this little quest, but we've had a great spring and summer -- including three new counties in August -- and we've reached the 60-county mark! We've got a handful of new-county opportunities this fall, so hopefully we can really make 2011 a year with a lot of new miles both driven and run! It's been great meeting new folks and making new friends as we've toured the state, and we appreciate all the support we're getting! Only forty new counties to go until we've visited the whole state! Here's to a fun rest of 2011!

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

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

Haywood County - Maggie Valley Moonlight 8k Run - August 27, 2011

When we started looking at the races that were held in the various counties, the big race that stood out in Haywood County was the Maggie Valley Moonlight 8k Run. This race had been held for almost three decades, always drew a big crowd from around the southeast and the east coast, and had been a favorite of some of our running friends. The problem was, the race lost support in the local community and went away after the 2007 running -- the 29th. We thought a different race would represent Haywood County in the countdown, but earlier this year we happened upon the very, very good news that interest in the Moonlight Run had returned, with new support from the area and new organizers -- Maggie was back for her 30th in 2011!

Speaking of the local community, it was Chamber-of-Commerce type weather when we arrived on US 19 Saturday afternoon before the race. The mountains stood out against a beautiful blue sky with a nice breeze blowing through the area. Packet pickup was set up for the afternoon in the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds, a large, grassy area in the middle of town that provided plenty of space for runners to hang out and sponsors to organize, plus a stage that would be used after the race for awards. The organizers, hoping to revive some of the cammeraderie of the race's early history, set aside space for a row of tents representing running clubs from all over the state, and North Carolina Roadrunners Club was proudly represented, even if our tent did blow over once. As runners came and went over the course of the afternoon, it was great to feel the anticipation and excitement building towards the evening's race.

As the evening started to arrive and the sun just started to slip down among the mountaintops, the comfortable air actually started to feel kind of cool; the mountain air felt great, and you knew it was going to be a perfect running evening. Plenty of portable lights lit up the area as the sun went down, and the crowd really picked up as even more runners arrived for the event. The organizers and city had really lobbied for crowd and spectator support, and sure enough, residents and visitors were setting out chairs and tables to get good positions to watch the race. We were especially pleased to see one family setting up to tailgate alongside the race course. And it was great to have such a great team from NCRC taking part -- Chad and myself, Chad's wife Koren, our good friend Charles, and previous-Maggie-runner Erv, who was nursing an ankle injury and wouldn't be able to take part this year. It was great to be part of Maggie's revival!

Shortly before race time the organizers and law enforcement from all around the area diverted the traffic from two lanes of US 19 in preparation for the race, and all the runners were ushered out onto the road for the national anthem and announcements for the runners, including a remembrance of one of the early organizers of the race who lost a battle with leukemia earlier this year. Another figure from the early years of the race blew the horn to start us all, and we were off up the hill!

The course apparently was simplified from earlier years; we were just going to run west on US 19 for a little over a mile (uphill), but then after turning around in front of Ghost Town in the Sky, we were going to have a nice, long downhill for a couple of miles before turning around again and returning up a moderate hill to the Festival Grounds for the finish. Sure enough, the efforts to get spectators out to watch the race had produced lots of results, with plenty of people along both sides of the road cheering on the runners. In one location, it appeared all the residents and visitors in an RV park had come out to line the street. It really did turn out to be a big event for the area, and I'm sure the business owners and residents appreciated the economic development aspects of the race.

The first mile-plus of the race was uphill to the turnaround point, but I really felt like I was running OK, and with the cool air of the night and the festival atmosphere of the race, I was able to keep pushing it and maintaining a decent pace the whole way. As the leaders made the turn and came back past us, it was easy to tell they were pushing the pace downhill. I was able to spot Charles as he came by and pushed him along; he had said earlier that he was looking forward to a fast night race. I finally made the turnaround and was pleased to be able to pick up my pace a bit for the downhill, but about the 2-mile mark, Koren passed me like I was lying in the road. (8k is Koren's favorite race distance and she was also enjoying the downhill.)

Fortunately it was a very long downhill grade, and we passed more spectators and the Festival Grounds entrance at a pretty good clip, and then it was another mile to the east turnaround point. All along the way there were Highway Patrol troopers, sheriff deputies, EMTs, and first responders from all over the area to control traffic and to take care of any health emergencies. Finally at the turnaround, we had a level grade for a bit, and then it was back up a more moderate hill to the finish line. I spotted Chad after the turnaround and hollered some encouragement to him. I got a quick drink at the 4-mile aid station -- they had provided water about every mile -- and tried to keep pushing it back in. The cloggers at the Stompin' Ground musical theater cheered for us and stomped their little clogged feet as we went by. I was tempted to cut back on the pace a little bit, but then I saw the scrolling text of the Festival Grounds sign and knew we were almost home. A little more hill, a few more spectators, and then we made the turn into the Festival Grounds and ran a little sprint to the finish line.

The finish area was full of runners celebrating the end of the race, and it was a great atmosphere as we all caught up with each other to talk about it. Charles had met his goal in the race with a great performance; Koren was more than pleased with how she ran; and Chad and I finished! But I was pleased with my overall pace and enjoyed being part of Maggie's return. The organizers provided plenty of after-race food and drink, including some adult beverages provided by one of the race's sponsors. It was a very nice evening with plenty of festivities celebrating the return of the Moonlight Run, and I was happy we were there to help take part in the celebration. Maggie's return to Haywood County was a great success, with 378 runners finishing the 8k, and I'm glad we were able to include it in the countdown! I hope Maggie returns for many years to come!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Graham County - The Dam Race 10k - August 27, 2011

Fontana Dam is the highest dam in the eastern United States; it was built during World War II to leverage the Little Tennessee River for electric generation to support wartime industry -- including the development of the atomic bomb in nearby Oak Ridge, Tennessee. It still generates power for the Tennessee Valley Authority today and is the centerpiece of a large recreational lake, Fontana Lake, many hiking trails, and a nice visitors center. The dam and the Little Tennessee straddle the Graham/Swain county line. The Appalachian Trail crosses the top of the dam. And now for two years it's been the home of The Dam Race, a 5k/10k/mile event run in August to help bring visitors to the area during the slow weekend before Labor Day weekend. The race also benefits the Fontana Foundation, a non-profit that organizes relief help for families in the area, organizes recycling and education programs, and establishes hiking trails and fire departments in the area.

Race director Karl Sutter seemed to be everywhere race weekend. He was heading up the Friday afternoon packet pickup, and then he hurried to Fontana Lake where he hosted tours of the lake for the incoming runners. The lake was big and beautiful, and Karl took us all over, showing us the beauty of the area and describing the terrain. The water was gorgeous shades of blue and green, and the water level was down as the dam staff had begun releasing some of the summer buildup for the fall season. Fortunately, Karl told us, the race course itself was much flatter than the mountains and hills we observed from the lake.

He was correct! When the Little Tennessee exits the powerhouse at the bottom of the dam, it's in a very level area. There is an access road on both the east and the west of the Little Tennessee, with a bridge (NC highway 28) about a mile down from the dam. The race courses took us up and down the access roads and across the bridge; the 5k runners would only cross the bridge once and do the west-side up and back, while the 10k runners would cross the bridge three times, running the west-side twice and the east-side out and back once.

Race morning was nice and foggy and cool; I wish we could have started at 8:00 a.m. to take advantage of the weather rather than waiting until 9:00 a.m., but maybe next year. The finish area and race-day packet pickup was located at the lower Fontana Dam entrance, a wonderful big amphitheater with large rock cliffs on one side, the river on the other, with more green mountains beyond that. The small race staff was busily checking runners in and handing out the nice yellow tech t-shirts, and there was a wonderful bluegrass trio playing music for all to enjoy. (The first tune I heard them play was "Rocky Top," of course.)

The 5k runners and the milers were shuttled out to their respective starting positions; the 10k runners had only a little walk over the bridge and onto the east access road to reach our starting point. There was a very good crowd of 10k runners attending the event this year, and we spread out across the road as the course marshals got ready to begin the race. The 5k and 10k starts were coordinated over the radio so that both groups started together, and we were quickly off and running up the little hill that took us back up to the NC 28 bridge. The first pass across the bridge and through the finish area was great, with all the spectators cheering us on and the bluegrass trio serenading us as we passed. Then we had a nice, quiet stretch as we jogged along the river toward the dam. The dam itself is somewhat hidden behind a curve, so suddenly it appeared before us as if a curtain was being drawn back. I had surveyed the dam from the top on Friday, but the view from the access road along the river was very impressive, too, as you could really perceive its height and massive size. Off to the right you could see the exit pipes of the spillways, and above there was a big nest of electrical lines leading away from the powerhouse. We made a quick loop around the parking area in front of the powerhouse and then we were headed back to the finish area and the bridge.

By this time the 5k runners were starting to catch us, and after about 1.5 miles of my running, the lead 5k runner caught up and passed me. Fortunately, only about four or five 5k runners "lapped" me and got to the finish line before I passed it to head across the bridge and the east-side access road. We got a brief downhill and then we were running along the river again, this time at a little lower elevation, which gave us a good view of the 5k runners along the west side. The 10k leaders had already made their east-side turnaround and passed us heading back to the bridge, and eventually I was in the campground that is at the east turnaround, where some campers were there for the race and others were just out camping, somewhat surprised by the runners coming and going through camp. We could also hear some waterfalls on the eastern mountain face, but we could only see a bit of them; the majority of the waterfalls were hidden by the heavy rhododendron growth there.

Finally I was across the bridge for the last time and making the final out-and-back on the west side to the dam and back. There were some much-appreciated volunteers manning aid stations, and some spectators out for a walk gave us some encouragement. The weather was getting hotter and more humid by now, but every once in a while we got into a nice open space where there was a great breeze helping to keep us going. We ran up a quick rise and suddenly we were there at the 10k finish, with the 5k awards being given out and the bluegrass trio filling time with more music.

I finished in the last knot of runners, and there was some Powerade and cold water ready for all the race finishers. (Some fruit or bread would have been great.) Law enforcement and volunteers did a great job controlling traffic in the area, and as the awards were given out there was also a raffle to raise money for some military-related charities, with the prizes provided by resorts or running stores in the western North Carolina area. It was great to cool down in some of the remaining shade, and it was a very nice surprise to find out that I had finished second in my age group! The age group awards were big, ceramic coffee mugs with the race logo and colors to indicate how you did; the overall winners in both races received very nice backpacks with The Dam Race logo embroidered on them and beautiful pottery plates. It was also a bonus that Robbie Bass from The Athletes Foot in Raleigh was there to run and won his age group, so both of us got to bring some trophy hardware back to Raleigh!

I had a great time with my weekend at Fontana Dam; the accommodations at Fontana Village were great, the hospitality was wonderful, and it was a very enjoyable 10k up and down the Little Tennessee River at the foot of the dam. Karl Sutter and his crew did a great job, and I hope they will continue to see participant numbers increase year after year! Thanks for a great race!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Warren County - The Crossing 1-Miler - August 13, 2011

Well, like the plastic surgeon said to the prospective client, "they can't all be big ones."

When the goal is to run an event in each county, you can't hold out for a half-marathon or a 10k, even for a 5k. Not every county has a big race, or even a race. That was the case with our trip to Warren County for the 7th annual The Crossing 1-mile event.

The Crossing is a 1-mile swim across Lake Gaston sponsored by O'Sail -- the Organization to Support the Arts, Infrastructure and Learning on Lake Gaston. The Crossing is one of O'Sail's three big fundraising events each year -- and maybe the most fun. A channel of buoys is anchored in the lake outlining a 1-mile route from Morningstar Marina on the south side to Watersview Restaurant on the north shore, along Eaton's Ferry Bridge. Then all manner of human-powered vessels make the 1-mile trip across the lake, ahead of plenty of swimmers (169 this year) that are either racing or swimming recreationally across Lake Gaston. And in the last couple of years, they have added a 1-mile walking event across Eaton's Ferry Bridge. So even though it wasn't a race, it's a great event in a beautiful location and I'm glad we got there.

The O'Sail organizers do a wonderful job coordinating with any of the local authorities that need to be there to provide oversight and safety for the event -- the Warren County Sheriff's office, the Coast Guard Auxilary Patrol, a dive team, the local wildlife protection agency, plenty of EMTs and first-responders, and lots of volunteers. As I got there, the competitive swimmers were being chipped and all the participants, whether they were runners, walkers, team rowers or paddlers, or swimmers, were being numbered triathlon-style and given their directions. Sponsors were introduced and thanked, final announcements were made, and then it was time for The Crossing!

The walkers and joggers were the first ones out, most importantly to get a good view from the bridge of the swim start. I counted three other folks who were there to run besides myself, so after the sheriff's deputies closed one lane of the bridge to traffic -- they shuttled traffic back and forth in the remaining lane all morning -- we literally had the run of the bridge! From the entrance of Morningstar Marina across the bridge to the exit of Watersview Restaurant was almost exactly a mile, so it was very easy to keep track of how far I had gone. I made my first trip across and turned back to see all the flotilla headed across the lake. There were lots of kayaks, rowboats, canoes, paddleboards, and an inflatable raft or two spread across the lake making various speeds. Many of the groups were wearing costumes or funny hats, and more than a few were festooned with flags, balloons or signs. One team was themed, "rowing Miss Daisy." Along the 1-mile route, there were large numbers of engine-powered crafts watching the festivities and providing encouragement to all, along with the safety vessels.

Meanwhile, the swimmers had been loaded onto a military landing craft (MLC) which shuttled them all from the marina out to where the 1-mile swim route started. The faster swimmers wearing the timing chips went into the water first, followed by the recreational swimmers whose goal was just to get across. All the swimmers received bright yellow Morningstar Marina swim caps, and it was great to see all the yellow caps bobbing along at various speeds all along the bridge.

I finished my first lap and headed back out for another. The walkers, which consisted of folks of all ages and included a wheelchair and a few strollers, were more spread out this lap since most of them were tracking the progress of various swimmers and boaters, cheering them along and having a grand old time. I saw the leading swimmers getting close to the north shore, where they had a short run up the bank to a finish line to make the trip an official mile. Naturally, the lead swimmers looked the part and could have just come from a triathlon, but all the swimmers appeared to be enjoying the group outing in the lake. I turned around and headed back across.

By the time I started my third lap, the shuttle buses bringing the finished swimmers and boaters back to the starting area were starting to run, and more than a few of the walkers were heading back to the marina, too. The sun was getting hotter and the humidity had me soaking wet, but there was a nice breeze blowing that helped keep me cool -- and blew some of the trailing boaters and swimmers a little off-course. The MLC was now picking up the course buoys as the trailing swimmers passed them -- just like our races, where we have a trailing vehicle for safety, at The Crossing they had a trailing Sea-Doo. More and more folks were coming back across the bridge, and a few folks gave me some encouragement as they recognized I had been doing multiple laps back and forth. (I didn't see any other runners sticking around past one lap across the bridge and back.)

Swimmers, boaters and walkers all got a Crossing t-shirt at the finish line, so my last time turning around I made sure and picked mine up, tossing it over my shoulder for the last mile back. Some cheerful gentlemen from one of the local churches had been offering cold bottled water to the walkers all morning, and I was happy to get a bottle myself as I arrived back at the marina to complete my effort. I was very happy to get six miles in all going back and forth across the lake, taking in the whole spectacle of the morning and enjoying all the activity and celebration of the event.

It was also nice to run into NCRC buddy Frank Lilley, who lives in the Littleton area of Warren County, and former NCRC members Spencer Compos and his wife, who were floating across the lake in an inflatable raft with their sons to celebrate their 25th anniversary. It was great to finally make it up to Lake Gaston and Warren County! The Crossing was a lot of fun, and maybe next year we'll see if we can't manage to finish the 1-mile swim ourselves!