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!