Thursday, September 20, 2012

Stokes County - King of the Hill 5k - September 15, 2012

 With our different schedules to work around and all the things that can pop up when you're trying to figure out a running schedule, it's a nice bonus when we get to run a race together.  We were finally able to do that for the first time since April when we headed west to Stokes County and the city of King for the King of the Hill 5k.

The Stokes County YMCA has been holding the King of the Hill 5k for many years now, so we knew it was going to make it into the countdown -- we just had to find a year where we could fit it on the schedule with no conflicts.  It was a nice treat that both of us were able to include it, but it was kind of a surprise when we both ended up dressed alike; fortunately, we can always claim to be brothers on the same running team.

Stokes County YMCA has the organization of the race down after many years -- there was no trouble finding the place, getting parked, or picking up our race packets.  And we arrived early enough to watch some of the activity as the kids warmed up for the one-mile fun run.  Chad and I will probably always be able to remember the melody and lyrics from the "Clap Your Hands!  Stomp Your Feet!" song that the kids were using to get all limbered up!  And it was fun to see their excitement and relief when they finished the one-mile out-and-back and got their rewards for getting out and moving.  And there was plenty of pre-race food and drink organized by the YMCA for all the runners, too.

Finally they were ready to start the 5k, so they moved a King fire engine out to block the main road from any unwary drivers and then they walked us down the road to where the starting line had been marked on the road.  You could see a good ways down the road, and we were going to get a nice, downhill start for the first half-mile or so, but then you could see a hill looming ahead before the road curved out of our sight.  It was great running weather in the morning, with lower-than-usual humidity and lots of sunshine.  After a few last-minute directions from the race organizer, we were off at a fast clip down the hill. 

Sure enough, the hill got to us quickly, but around the curve we got another brief downhill and then the elevation leveled out for most of the rest of the first mile.  There was a good crowd taking part, and it was a very good mix of speedsters up front, more recreational runners, and then the plodders like me safe in the back of the pack.  And there were also some folks who were walking the event just for their own activity and exercise.  Just a great morning to be outside running, and they were rewarded with a very good turnout for the race.

The first turn off the main drag took us into a more residential area, where there were some pretty homes and some very well-maintained lawns with fall flowers and decorations making them ready for the season.  The residents must be accustomed to this regular fall race, because several of them sat on their front porch waving at the runners, and more than a few stood along the ends of their driveways so they could cheer us on more directly.  The elevation stayed pretty level with only a few minor rises, and just as we reached the halfway point, there was a much-appreciated aid station and a few more turns down hills that were also appreciated!

Of course, he who runs down must also run up, and as we got into the final mile of the race, we encountered some of the hills that would bring us back to the main drag and the stretch back to the YMCA.  Not surprisingly, as we got into the hills, it became apparent that the temperatures had gotten much higher, so we really felt like it was tougher going as we headed back to the high point of the course.  There were still some residents out cheering for the runners, so that helped keep us going.  As we turned back onto the main drag, there was a wonderful, but short, downhill and then we had the final trek back up the hill we started on to bring us into the YMCA parking lot for the race finish.  That hill looked bad as we approached it, but I guess I got a second wind from knowing the finish line was just ahead and I kept my momentum up all the way back up to the finish and across the line.  Chad was just a few seconds behind me.

The YMCA had set up a very nice post-race spread in their gymnasium with plenty of water, sports drink, and munchies to put some calories back in the runners.  Since it was such a nice morning outside, we got some fruit and bagels and headed back outside to watch some other runners finish and make a few more pictures.  Neither of us had been in this part of Stokes County before, so there was some discussion of how you were just starting to see the foothills as you moved into the more mountainous side of the state.  Neither of us won any awards, but we had a great time in King and hope to get to visit again in our travels.  Thanks for showing us a great time at the King of the Hill 5k!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Pasquotank County - Albemarle Hospice Regatta 5k - August 4, 2012

Before we started the countdown, I don't believe Chad or I had ever been up to the northeast corner of North Carolina.  However, we've learned that the counties up along Virginia and the Albemarle Sound are some of the prettiest and most friendly that we've seen.  The Peanut Run 5k in Chowan County a few years ago was a lot of fun, the Veterans Day 6k XC run in Perquimans County was very scenic, and we were hoping that the story would be the same as we headed for Elizabeth City in Pasquotank County for the Albemarle Hospice Regatta 5k.

Pasquotank County hosts this day-long series of events to benefit Hospice and to raise awareness about hospice needs.  The 5k is only the first event of the day; in the afternoon, a regatta is held on the Pasquotank River involving non-spinnaker and cruising class sailors -- yep, we don't know what that means, either -- followed by awards, a dinner, and music in the evening.  For folks who live along the river and are out sailing on the water very often, it's a great pair of events to get lots of involvement and bring a lot of benefit to the Hospice organization.

Pre-race setup for the 5k was at the boat ramp in the Newbegun Landing subdivision, just down the river from the main city, Elizabeth City State University (home of the Vikings), and the Coast Guard / Navy base.  The river looked big and calm in the morning, and there were already a good number of boats, both recreational and commercial, going back and forth.  In spite of the great location, the heat and humidity had jumped up early, and it was easy to tell it was going to be another sweaty, hot run.  But packet pickup couldn't have been easier, and the 5k shirts had some beautiful original artwork on the back of boats that made it an instant keeper.  One of the more interesting items in the area was the huge blimp hangar across a couple of fields; one of the volunteers told me it was originally for Navy blimps but that now it was owned by a defense contractor working on stealth blimps, and when they opened the end of the hangar for test flights, the building looked like a big spaceship opening up.  You could really appreciate the size of the building when you could see people walking along outdoor walkways way up on top of the building (later some of them were repelling down the side of the building, maybe doing some repairs to the outside of the structure).

The race organizers got us lined up and started very quickly.  The race course was through the Newbegun Landing subdivision, so we had some nice stretches of shade, but there were also some areas where the sun beat down on us pretty well.  Still, everyone was having a good time, and there was lots of talking and encouragement among the runners as we headed out.  The residents of the subdivision had plenty of experience with the race -- this was at least the 3rd running -- and many of them were out to cheer on the runners.  I saw several folks who had walked out to the street or had set up chairs from which to see the activity, and in one case there was a father sitting on the porch with his toddler, teaching her how to clap for those funny people running by.  And some of the runners knew the people in the area, so they were exchanging greetings as we rolled by.

Fortunately the course was very, very flat; hills would have been awfully mean tacked onto the morning's heat and humidity.  But the homes were beautiful, and many of them had yards that had been lovingly maintained and dressed up for the season.  And as we negotiated the turns and streets of the subdivision, there were three guys who had set up hoses and sprinklers to help the runners cool off as they went by.  "Thank you for coming!" one guy hollered as I ran by -- wouldn't it be nice to get that kind of appreciation in every race?  I certainly won't forget it.  The last few turns came around, we passed back by the blimp hangar, and then the finish line appeared and it was good to cross over it and get into the shade!

Post-run there was plenty of food and drink as we all huddled in the little bit of shade to cool off from the run.  Two Navy guys had come down from the base and were among the top finishers of the race.  Most impressively, they had the awards compiled and ready to go only a few minutes after the last finishers had crossed the line -- only about fifty minutes after the start of the race!  Surprisingly, I got a third-place award, a very nice medal; the overall winners received excellent steins with the race logo on them.  Overall, it was a very nice event, and I hope to be able to come up into the state's northeast corner again soon; hopefully to be able to spend time out on the river on one of those regatta boats!  Congrats on a really nice race!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Person County - Yellow Brick Road 5-Miler - July 14, 2012

Well, so far none of the races in our countdown have used "The Wizard of Oz" as a theme, but that record was about to be broken as we arrived in Roxboro for this 5-miler in Person County.  Getting runners to come out and run in the heat and humidity of a North Carolina July is always a challenge, but having a big themed race was a good strategy.  And there actually was a very good crowd that showed up at Northern Middle School for the race.  It was good to see fellow NCRC runner Val Price and my running friend Wendy Sibley also on hand for the festivities.

The race organizers had encouraged "Wizard of Oz" costumes, and it was good to see that some folks had taken the suggestion to heart.  Wendy was wearing a full Muchkin costume; one of the organizers was the Witch of the East (pre-house falling on her), another fellow was duded up as the Wizard, and four girls ran together as a flying monkey, the rainbow, Glenda the good witch, and Dorothy.  (Even the eventual second-place male runner got great compliments on his Dorothy dress.)  Naturally, I decided just to dress up as a slow runner.

Pre-race was no problem; they were well organized and the volunteers were able to check us all in or register us with no delays.  There was a local dance troupe that entertained us with routines set to "Wizard of Oz" music before we started, and plenty of updates from the race directors.  Eventually we were all encouraged to line up in the main driveway so that they could walk us about a quarter-mile down the main road to where the starting line had been marked across the road.  We were talking amongst ourselves when suddenly an air horn blew and it was time to run!  Our first mile took us back towards the school, around it, in through the back entrance, and back out the front, so all the spectators -- and there were plenty of them -- got a good view of how their runners were starting out.  Then we were back out on the main road, with a quick detour down and back up the streets of a nearby subdivision.  The houses were very pretty, and some of them were still decorated from July Fourth, but the most noticable feature was the first big hill of the course as we made our turnaround and headed back out.

Just about two miles in we reached the water station, and a couple of friendly volunteers got us all re-hydrated as we continued our jog away from the school.  I hadn't known much about the Roxboro topography before the trip, but it was obvious that Person County, up along the Virginia border, has its fair share of elevation changes.  And it was obvious that someone had sunk some time and effort into the race; each mile marker was a good-sized hand-painted scene from the movie with one of the main four characters -- Dorothy for mile 1, the Scarecrow for mile 2, and so on.  With the time obviously spent on painting those great mile markers, I hope the race will be around for a few years to take advantage of them!

We made a turnaround about halfway through the race and headed back towards the school, more than a mile away now.  Each out-and-back turnaround had given me a fresh chance to see the costumes, encourage Val and Wendy, and figure out where I was in the field (near the back).  We passed back through the water stop, saw some more mile markers, and we passed back by the school on the way to the last out-and-back that would bring us up to the full five-mile distance.  Unfortunately for those of us new to Person County, this stretch included a down-and-up on the biggest hill of the course.  It was a blessed break on the way down, but already we were thinking about how it would feel when we made the turn and headed back up.  Sure enough, it was a tough, tough incline, and fortunately we didn't have much distance left when we finally crested it.  I was happy to see the finish line arch ahead of me and jog on through to put that last hill behind me.

They continued the great theming into the post-race celebration.  We each got a finisher's medal, and they had labeled the post-race snacks to match the theme -- flying monkey bananas, rainbow candy (Skittles), and the like.  Nice touches!  There was a good crowd from the Mebane Running Club in addition to those of us representing the NCRC.  Val placed second in his age group, and Wendy got recognition for her great Munchkin costume.  Overall, they had 147 runners finish the race.  They also recognized race beneficiary Person Industries, a non-profit that trains adults with disabilities for work in the private sector.  It was a hoot running the Yellow Brick Road 5-miler, and I hope they continue to have great turnout for the race!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Clay County - Light the Night 5k - July 7, 2012

One of the newest running clubs in North Carolina is the Chatuge Running Club, which is based in Hayesville, North Carolina, in Clay County, along the Georgia border and very close to Tennessee. It’s the home of Chatuge Dam (pronounced “Shuh-TOOG”) and Chatuge Lake, which provides a nice, flat area for running in contrast to the hillier parts of the area. The running club was founded by Dylan Johnson, a rising high-school senior as his senior project, with the goal of providing opportunities and incentive for more youth to get active in running, and for both advanced and novice runners to have a chance to train together and learn from each other. Way to go, Dylan!

The first project of the Chatuge Running Club was the Light the Night 5k, a Saturday evening run through Clay County Recreational Park adjoining Chatuge Dam and Chatuge Lake. The proceeds raised from the race would be used to help local youth-oriented charities in the area. Runners and walkers were encouraged to wear costumes and wear bracelets and necklaces that would glow in the dark, or carry flashlights and headlights to help light up the night course. It sounded like lots of fun, so I dressed up as a slow runner, grabbed some cheap glow-in-the-dark necklaces, and pointed the tour bus towards Hayesville!

It was great to see that the park was nice and shady and relatively flat after a very hot, humid day in the mountains. There were very nice lake views, plenty of folks out enjoying the post-holiday weekend, and even a greenway leading from the park over through more of the coves and marinas over to the main dam, where it crossed the main wall and met up with visitor parking. From the top of the earthen dam you had a good view of both the main lake, the powerhouse intake with its big “Chatuge” sign, and the mountains of in the distance on both sides. The running club had set up shop in the first main pavilion in the park, and there was plenty of room to park, stretch out, meet the other runners, and even play some Frisbee. (And it was good to see Dave Linn again; Dave was the race director when my dad and I attended the run-and-golf Par-5K in Macon County a couple of years ago.)

The costume contest was easily won by a group that dressed as superheroes for the run, even arriving in a low black sports car not unlike the Batmobile! They were definitely the entertainment as we waited for the sun to finish going down so we could start the race. A 1-mile fun run was organized by Dylan and his team for the younger runners, and we all were encouraged to cheer them along. We got some nice evening twilight to run in, but unfortunately the heat and humidity didn’t fall with the setting sun. Still, everyone was in a good mood as the organizers lined us up and sent us out!

Most of the first mile was looping around the access roads and campsites of the park. Many of the campers knew that the runners were coming and sat along the road to watch us go by and holler encouragement to us. Some of the campsites were decorated for the holiday, and it all added up to a very festive atmosphere, plus the setting sun and the lake were very pretty. Then we passed back by the main pavilion on our way out of the park and onto the greenway. The greenway path was open enough that we could see runners well ahead and behind us, and it was a neat sight having so many runners out along the lakeside. There was a quick aid station right around the halfway point, and then we negotiated a bunch of turns, a few small hills, and some tree canopies before making the turn out to the top of the dam.

The view of the mountains was best along the top of the dam, and the evening light really made for some spectacular backgroups. I really wished I had carried my camera in the race so I could have gotten some shots of how pretty the scenery was. A few boats and a solitary water skier were still out on the water, and we probably watched them as much as they watched us jog along the dam. We made a quick turnaround at the catwalk to the intake and headed right back where we came. The glow lights showed up a little bit better as it got darker in the woody sections of the greenway, and it was definitely getting dark as we rounded the last few turns to get back into Clay County Recreational Park. The finish line and the pavilion were all lit up, and the PA announcer welcomed us all back in as we crossed the finish line. (Before the race, I got a little recognition for making it all the way out to Clay County as part of the countdown.) They had great organization to collect all the bib tags and churn out the men’s and women’s results very quickly. There was plenty to drink post-race and some snacks as well to get us re-hydrated because we were all pretty soaked because of the humidity – even the Hulk sweated off some of his green! There was great music, t-shirts, and even some good promotions for other races coming up in the mountains the rest of the year.

I really enjoyed getting to meet Dylan and the rest of the Chatuge gang, and I hope their weekly runs and get-togethers are very successful in building up the running club and achieving Dylan’s goal of getting more of Clay County up and exercising. They certainly have a great facility around Chatuge Lake, and a great foundation to build on with a wonderful inaugural 5k! I can’t wait to get back!

Polk County - Coon Dog Day 5k - July 7, 2012

Ever since finding out about the Coon Dog Day Festival in Saluda, North Carolina and its accompanied Coon Dog Day 5k race, I’ve wanted to be able to run it to visit Polk County and add it to the countdown. Polk County is south of Asheville, right against the South Carolina border, and in all our travels we had not visited there yet. Although the festival and the race had been around for a while, the 5k went away for a year or two before being resurrected by the Town of Saluda in 2011 – and unfortunately we weren’t able to attend. But when the 2012 race date was announced, we circled it with big red ink and made sure that the tour bus would visit it as part of the mountain running excursion.

Saluda, which is situated right inside the Polk County line, has been celebrating Coon Dog Day for 49 years! It started as a little chicken supper fundraiser, but today, in addition to the 5k race, they have a parade, live music all day, vendor booths, arts and crafts, royalty pageants for the kids, and more breakfasts and suppers! I’m a big fan of small towns and parades, so I was looking forward to the late-morning parade as much as I was for the morning’s 5k!

 The local law enforcement did a great job race morning of directing traffic into and out of Saluda. As one organizer said, there are only two roads into town, and we’re running on one of them! We could see the hills and inclines already as we were directed up to the Party Place and Event Center, where event parking and race packet pickup would be organized. They had all our race goodies and bibs organized into separate bags for us, so it was very easy to get my race shirt and get bibbed up. The race shirts were very, very pretty – nice white tech shirts with the beautiful Coon Dog Day 5k logo all over the front. Kudos to the artist that has designed the race logos each year since the 5k has been back – they are very colorful and eye-catching!

After packet pickup, we had a short walk back down the hill and across the main drag to the area where the start and finish lines were set up. There was a very good turnout for the race, with more than 150 folks pre-registered and probably some others that signed up race morning. (231 runners and walkers were listed in the results.)  Some folks looked like awfully fast runners, and others looked like folks who came out to walk and enjoy the mountain morning stroll through town. And there were at least three coon dogs out there to take part in the race with all the humans! The race director gave us some last-minute instructions right before the start; unfortunately, the first mile was going to be almost all uphill, and it would be rolling after that, but fortunately we would get most of that back as a downhill in most of the last mile. And we were going to get to run right through the festival as it was setting up.

As promised, the first mile was just about all uphill. It was a big struggle going up, up, up right from the start of the race with no opportunities to get into an even pace first. All the dogs passed me, too. The law enforcement that came over from Columbus, North Carolina did a great job handling the traffic that wanted to get onto the roads; they made sure the runners had a chance to get by first and didn’t wind up dodging a lot of cars. After what seemed like way more than a mile, we crested the top of the hills and were treated to a drink by some enthusiastic volunteers at a water stop. We got a treat with some downhills and more quick rolling inclines, and suddenly we made a left turn and were at the top of a hill looking down in to the main festival grounds (I recognized it from pictures). In addition to it being downhill, it was a hoot to run down the town’s main drag as vendors were setting up, parade veterans were reserving their viewing spots and setting out blankets and chairs, and as the first musicians of the morning were setting up their instruments. You couldn’t have had a better picture of a small-town holiday, but unfortunately I didn’t have time to make pictures. We ran through the whole parade route and out through the shuttle parking area, and then we passed by the Masonic lodge that was hosting the big Coon Dog Day Festival breakfast – ooh, it smelled good! That would have been tempting to stop right there. We made a couple more ups-and-downs before we made the last left-hand turn and started back down the hill to the finish line. That was a nice stretch after all the hills we had run, and I tried to keep rolling as best as I could. Finally we spotted the finish line ahead and saw all the runners that had finished milling around the area. There was lots of encouragement for us slower finishers, and a nice, cold bottle of water as well, which tasted awfully good on the uphill walk back to the Party Place for the post-run celebration.

Back at the Party Place, they set up a very impressive spread of watermelon, grapes, oranges, bananas, granola bars, cookies, and water and Gatorade for all the runners. The watermelon was awfully good and sweet – really hit the spot as the morning had warmed up a good bit since the start. I’m sure none of the runners went away hungry after getting to fill up at that party. I knew I wasn’t in the running for any of the awards, but I caught the shuttle back to the parade grounds to watch the 5k awards be passed out later in the morning, plus I hung out to watch the Coon Dog Day Festival parade come by. It was a delight to see the Shriners, the local business and politicians, some live music, and many funnel cake makers all contributing to a really nice morning. It was too bad I couldn’t stay for the evening square dancing in the streets, but I had to be running on. It was a lot of fun taking part in the Coon Dog Day 5k, but be aware that it’s a tough course with some serious hills on a hot morning – this dog bites!

Cherokee County - Firecracker 10k - July 4, 2012

Fortunately, with the temperatures around July Fourth hitting 100 degrees in many parts of North Carolina, it was noticeably cooler in the morning in the hills of Murphy, North Carolina, just inside the state line in Cherokee County. (It takes a special occasion, like some time at home with family in Tennessee, to make it easy to get to Cherokee County.) But the holiday morning traffic was easy and there was little difficulty finding Hiwassee Valley Pool & Wellness Center for the start of the race – it was one of the few places runner-looking people were congregating that morning!

The parking lot of the pool and wellness center, where we started and finished the race, may have been the only flat running stretch we saw all morning. Even while parking, I could see the first turn of the race was going to be up Hill Street. But the setup of the race was very nice; the center was next to a Murphy city park with softball fields (hosting a festival later in the day), tennis courts, a playground, and apparently part of the Murphy greenway system, including a bridge over the Valley River. But the course map showed that the greenway would not be part of our route; instead, we’d be headed out through city streets and along the farms just outside of town.

There was a good turnout for the race that morning, with a bit of a holdup at packet pickup because they wanted you to know your bib number, which those of us unable to attend Friday registration didn’t know. But eventually they found us all on the registration list and were able to check us in, bib us, and get us ready to go. The 10k event would start first, the 5k would follow fifteen minutes later, and there was also going to be a leisurely 2-mile walk for those folks who didn’t want to tackle either the 5k or the 10k. In keeping with the Independence Day and Firecracker themes, a replica cannon had been brought onto the site, and the cannon would be fired with a paper plug to start both races. We lined up somewhat tentatively at the front near the cannon, and when it thundered across the valley – sorry for anyone sleeping late for the holiday – we were off into the hills!

Although the first mile included some definite hills, we ran through a nice residential section of town, and many of the locals had decorated their homes for the holiday with red, white, and blue bunting and flags, and several of them had come out to the street to watch the holiday runners go by. One particular couple was wearing their July Fourth finest and cheered us as we streamed by their house. It was a very pretty neighborhood, and I was kind of sad when we made a turn that took us more on a route into the countryside. We did pass by some bucolic farms with horses checking out the runners. The race director had warned us that the course was not closed and that we might see some cars, dogs and horses on the road, and sure enough, about 1.5 miles in there was a friendly, very old dog sitting on the side of the road watching us jog by. At the halfway point of the 5k, there was a water station set up with very encouraging volunteers to tell us 10k runners that we had to keep on going, out to the far turnaround point.

We had one more hill to crest on Pleasant Valley Road, and then we had a nice, easy downhill stretch along Regal Road (great street names) to a final couple of bumps and the 10k turnaround point (and another water stop). I was jogging along with a youngster who was very proud telling me about his initial half-marathon last fall in Murphy and how everyone in his family was a runner – well, except for his sister. Because of the out-and-back nature of the course, I could see that he and I and two women were the four runners pretty much bringing up the rear of the race. We were all jogging along at about the same pace, with some fluctuations (I was slower on the hills).

With about a mile to go in the race, we made a turn that took us on a different route back to the finish than the neighborhood we had gone through earlier. This street was more industrial, so there was very little to see and no cheering from residents to get us through to the finish. As we made the last turn to head back to the wellness center, Junior and I were leading the group, and he pulled away at the end to win our little group, with me following up and the two ladies behind us. The 5k runners and all the 10k runners ahead of us did a great job cheering in all of us trailers, and it was really good to see the finish line and get done.

There was plenty of bottled water, fruit and cookies for the runners after the finish line, and one of the sponsors provided some wonderfully cool watermelon slices for us. The Murphy greenway was a great location to cool down, so I walked a good bit of it, checking out the river and the underpass to the softball fields while I munched on my watermelon. For such a hot stretch of weather, it really was a nice morning in the mountains. Just about the time I got back to the wellness center, the results were ready for announcing, and some very patriotic age group awards were handed out to the winners of both races and even for the folks in the walking event. 51 runners finished the 10k, and another 64 completed the 5k. What a great morning for the race, and what a pretty (if hilly) location in the mountains! Happy July Fourth!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Friends in High Places

Yeah, some folks just don't "get" the idea behind the 100-county countdown, but occasionally folks respond with, "that's so cool!" or "what a neat idea," which makes it much more fun.  And when folks find out we're going to be coming by and go to the trouble to encourage and recognize us, it puts that extra spring in your step.  Thanks for all the encouragement!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Yadkin County - Love Out Loud 5k - May 19, 2012

May 19th was a big day for the countdown:  while Chad had the tour bus vacationing in the mountains and running in Yancey County, I was able to make the quick jump over to Yadkin County and run in the Love Out Loud 5k sponsored by Peace Haven Baptist Church -- we knocked out both "Y" counties in one morning!  We got one-fiftieth of our goal in one day!

Peace Haven Baptist Church in Yadkinville has put on the Love Out Loud 5k for a couple of years as an outreach effort and as a fundraiser for needy families in their congregation.  This year, all the funds were being directed towards medical expenses for several families battling health concerns.  The race itself was held in the Town of Yadkinville Community Park, a really nice facility with an amphitheatre, picnic shelters, and two playgrounds.  It also had plenty of room to set up the packet pickup and registration areas, and a nice entrance that would serve as the finish approach for the race and headquarters for the Twin City Track Club from Winston-Salem, who would be providing the scoring and results services.

It was great weather for a race as I pulled into the park parking lot and picked up my race packet (good shirts).  There was a very enthusiastic and pleasant group of volunteers handling registration and food, and the turnout looked to be very impressive for a small-town race.  Yadkinville's Finest were out managing the race course and handling traffic at the very busy intersections leading to the park.  All in all, it was a very busy morning and a lot of volunteer work was going into putting on the race.  Some of the folks were wearing matching running outfits or tutus, and there was one fellow running in a face mask of a cat or something.

The organizers held an opening prayer thanking God for the beautiful weather and for the ability to get out and enjoy the morning, and then they ushered us out onto the road -- Tennessee Street, I was happy to note -- for the start.  One last pass from our motorcycle policeman, and then we were good to go!  The first quarter-mile or so was blissfully downhill, but then we made a right-hand turn at the bottom of the hill and we had to go uphill at least as far as we had gone downhill, if not more.  I guess Yadkin County still counts as foothills to the mountains, so I shouldn't have been surprised by the changes in elevation.  A few more turns and twists took us through some more quiet residential streets, with the occasional barking dog or resident out doing their Saturday yardwork.  We weaved our way past the Yadkinville Town Hall.  Many of the neighborhoods were filled with shade trees, so we got the benefit of the shade as the sun got higher in the sky.  Some additional volunteers manned the turns to direct runners the correct way, and others had set up a very enthusiastic and encouraging aid station.  But as the temperatures and the hills increased, I could tell it was going to take more than enthusiasm to get me through in a respectable pace this morning.

The last mile or so of the race was right down the main drag into and through Yadkinville.  We stayed on the sidewalk for this stretch, and a bit of a breeze came up, so the path alongside some shady landscaped trees and the headwind helped cool all the runners off.  We got back into town and volunteers and law enforcement stopped traffic as we crossed through the two big intersections on the race route.  Then we got a very nice, very appreciated downhill for about the last half-mile back to the community park.  We made one last crossing and then turned right at the entrance to the finish chute, crossing the finish line right at one of the bigger picnic shelters.

Peace Haven Baptist and their volunteers did a great job with the post-race celebration.  Chick-Fil-A and Domino's Pizza both had made food donations, so with those and the Gatorade, there was plenty of opportunity to get re-hydrated and fed.  Once all the race results had been compiled and were ready to announce, we moved to the amphitheatre were the organizers recognized all the beneficiaries of the race and then headed out some nice trophies and medals to the winners.  It was a great race -- almost $6,500 was raised -- and they did a great job with the organization.  Kudos the volunteers!  Next time I'm doing more hill training before this race!

Yancey County - Burnsville Fit Families 5k - May 19, 2012

Chad - 30:09

Sunday, May 13, 2012


It's taken us just under ten months to get our last ten counties, but here we stand at our next big milestone -- 70 counties, or 70% of our goal!  As Chad and I were discussing recently, we're basically down to the point where we need to figure out a listing of the counties and races we still need and then work our schedules around those races.  Of course, one of the reasons these are the last 30 counties is because they have limited race opportunities.  But it has been a lot of fun seeing some new parts of the state, meeting some fun new people, and of course having the opportunity to experience some great running events all over the place.  There are plenty of good calendar options coming up this summer and fall, so hopefully we can make some big steps towards that next big milestone very quickly!  Keep those cards and letters coming in!

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

Still to go: Alexander, Alleghany, Anson, Bladen, Caldwell, Camden, Caswell, Cherokee, Clay, Cleveland, Currituck, Gates, Henderson, Jones, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Northampton, Pamlico, Pasquotank, Person, Polk, Stokes, Transylvania, Washington, Watauga, Wayne, Wilson, Yadkin, Yancey

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Duplin County - Carolina Strawberry Festival 5k - May 12, 2012

North Carolina is home to many, many special festivals centering around particular special events, foods and crops, and many of them have incorporated running events into them in efforts to make the festivals bigger events and attract more visitors, especially in smaller towns dependent on economic development.  We've had great times at the NC Blueberry Festival 5k, the Edenton Peanut Run 5k and the NC Watermelon Festival 5k, and that doesn't even take into account the Pickle Festival 5k, the Collard Festival 5k and maybe the original, the Barbeque Festival 5k.  Needless to say, these special-event races have benefited us greatly in our efforts to run around the state.

The latest festival to add a running event is the Carolina Strawberry Festival in Wallace, North Carolina, way down at the southern tip of Duplin County.  There are multiple strawberry festivals in North Carolina, and the one in Wallace has been going on a while.  I don't know when or where the idea came from to add a 5k event to the festivities, but I'm glad they did -- I love strawberries and we needed an excuse to go to Duplin County!

Race morning was surprisingly cool for May, with morning temps in the high 50s -- the 5k kicked off at 7:30 a.m. -- so I thought I needed a long-sleeve shirt to keep warm, and it did feel awfully good as I wandered around the Strawberry Festival area, checking out the vendors setting up their booths and the food vendors starting their cookers and fryers.  The Carolina Strawberry Festival is a big deal in the Wallace area, and all around the downtown area there was lots of activity.  The center of race activity was the old train station, where they had set up packet pickup and the race start/finish area.  I would guess this is a pretty busy area during the rest of the festival; the main entertainment stage was here, along with the booths for the local vineyards and wineries.  It was no trouble getting my packet, shirt, and bib, so I met some of the other runners while waiting for start time.  I was delighted to find out that there is a Robeson Road Runners club and that they had sent so many runners to Wallace.

After a few quick directions, the organizers got the race started right on time, and we were off on our trip through and around Wallace.  The race course itself was like running around a big capital 'H' -- long straightaways with turnarounds and a cut across the middle of town and down the other way.  With the downtown area of Wallace not covering a great deal of area, we were out into the residential areas very quickly.  As usual, some residents were aware of what was going on and were interested in seeing the runners go by, but others were surprised by the race and didn't quite understand why all these runners were going by.  The roads weren't entirely closed for the race, so there was some traffic we had to dodge as folks headed into downtown for the festival.  But there were volunteers directing traffic at most of the intersections, making sure that we didn't get hit by any traffic.

As we got into the second mile of the race, with the sun getting a little higher and a little hotter, I was really wishing I had not gone with the long-sleeved shirt.  There were other folks wearing long sleeves, but I think the folks who wore the short sleeves and shivered through the initial cold of the morning had the correct idea.

After two miles we had covered most of the 'H' outline and were headed back to the middle of the race course area.  I felt good and was running OK, but nothing outstanding.  Then we got to an intersection where one of the directional signs the volunteers had been holding was on the ground, propped up against a street sign.  The arrow on the sign was pointing for a right turn, so all the runners were turning right -- although the name of the street didn't seem correct compared to what I remembered from looking at the map pre-race.  Still, the runners were all turning right, so I turned right as well.  Pretty soon we were right in the middle of the festival preparations, with vendor trucks parked in the street and booths being set up, so I knew something was not correct.  So I followed the runners ahead of me as we weaved back and forth through the trucks and made a couple of turns, and suddenly the finish area was ahead of us.  I sprinted on through the finish line and checked my Garmin -- only about 2.5 miles.  The wrong turns had cut out about half a mile of the race.  Still, it was my only sub-20 5k of the year!

Post-race, we enjoyed some very good strawberries and bottled water and talked about the race ("PR for you, too?).  It was a great job at an inaugural race, but the bad directions leading to a short race was kind of disappointing.  Still, several of the folks who came out to run were there for the event more than the distance, so in some cases it was still a very successful event.  It was great to see such good turnout and get such a colorful race shirt (the basic festival t-shirt; maybe next year they can print a "5k" on it somewhere?).  Thanks to the folks at the North Carolina Strawberry Festival for adding a race to their event!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Hyde County - Ocracoke Island 5k - April 28, 2012

For a long time I had Hyde County on my list of "how are we going to get those counties?".  It looked like there had at one time been an 11-mile race around Lake Mattamuskeet, but I wasn't able to find a running event of any kind in the area.  So it was a great delight to find out earlier this year that someone was bringing a new 5k to Ocracoke Island; it would enable us to be able to run an event in Hyde County and it would give us an opportunity to visit a part of the state neither one of us had ever been to before.

Ocracoke Island is the southernmost of the Outer Banks islands; because it is accessible only by ferry, you have to work a little harder to get there.  Most of the island is dedicated as a national seashore, but on the southern tip of the island you find Ocracoke Village, an unincorporated town gathered around a natural harbor on the sound side of the island.  We arrived the day before the race on the 2.5-hour ferry ride from Swan Quarter on the mainland and headed straight to Gaffer's Sports Pub in an attempt to catch the end of packet pickup, which we only achieved because the race timers were on the same ferry as us.  After packet pickup we drove the race course and were very pleased to find out how flat the island was -- in one tourist packet, it says the whole island is barely above sea level and floods easily when it gets heavy rain -- and how scenic the course was, with lots of turns through neighborhoods and by pretty homes, a stretch along the harborfront and even a pass by Ocracoke Lighthouse.

Race morning was overcast and spitting rain, but there was still a good-sized and exuberant crowd standing along highway 12.  (I guess if you go to the trouble of riding a ferry to stay on the island, even a downpour would not keep you from the race!)  Race director Greg Honeycutt gave us all a final set of directions, and then we walked en masse about another quarter-mile down 12 to where the starting line was painted across the road.  The timers from Run the East got us started, and we were off for our tour of Ocracoke Village!  The sprinkles were just enough to keep us from getting overheated, the clouds were keeping the sun off the runners, and the stronger winds from Friday had not returned, so the running conditions were just about perfect.  It was kind of cold standing around prior to the start, but now that we were moving, we warmed up quickly and actually felt really good to be running.

The first loop on the course was through the neighborhood where you find the Ocracoke Lighthouse.  There were several residents that were out to watch the race and cheer on the runners, which was a very nice touch.  We got to see some beautiful homes and, of course, the serene lighthouse which has been standing guard over the island since 1823.  No time for a tour now, though, as we made a turn and began running along the harbor perimeter.  We could see plenty of boats out on the water and the morning folks headed out for coffee (or maybe heading home from the previous night), and lots of runner families and friends stood outside the hotels to cheer for their favorite runners to keep going.

A couple more turns and we were entering "historic" unpaved Howard Road, where a small water stop had been set up to make sure we had a chance to get a quick drink.  More than 200 structures on the island are on the national historic register, so we definitely saw some historic homes.  I was very delighted with an older couple who had brought chairs out to the street so that they could see these runners coming right through their neighborhood.  With the gravel road and the canopy of trees over our head, this stretch really gave a nice atmosphere to the course.  We made some more turns and came near the British cemetery, where some sailor casualties from WWII were buried on American soil.  Then we made a long sweep down Back Road to bring us back to highway 12, where we could just see the finish line area out in the distance.  The last half-mile or so along highway 12 featured more friends and family who had come out to cheer the runners, and the crowds increased all along the way back to Gaffer's Sports Pub, where the finish line arch was set up.  We both had been running very well all through the race, and we even crossed the finish line two seconds apart in the official results, both of us with 5k PRs for 2012!

The flat course, ideal running conditions and pleasant scenery really contributed to a just-about-perfect running experience at this new race.  They get plenty of kudos for covering many important details in this inaugural event, and they announced during the post-race festivities that the 2013 date has already been set and that they will be adding a 10k event to the schedule.  The race shirts and post-run food and drink (including a party later in the morning) were all nice touches.  It was a great trip to Hyde County and Ocracoke Island for this event, and I can't wait to come back and visit again.  I'm very glad we made it to run on the island!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Lee County - Run the BUCK 5k - April 21, 2012

Festivals and celebrations have been a big help in trying to find races to run in a lot of North Carolina's counties. A great example of that is the Run the BUCK 5k race in Broadway, North Carolina, which hosts the "Broadway Our Way" festival each spring ("more fun than NYC!"). Although the festival has been going on for many years, four years ago they were looking for some active, family-involved ways to kick the festivities off in the early morning, and they settled on the Run the BUCK 5k road race (now accompanied by the Ride the BUCK cycling events of 50k and 100k).

The "BUCK" name comes from the race's origins; originally the working name for the race was "Broadway Under the Caution light 5K" or "Begins Under the Caution light 5K", and the BUCK abbreviation stuck. (Yes, Broadway does have only one light, a flashing caution light as you enter town on -- what else -- Main Street.) The BUCK name comes in handy for providing a theme for race shirts and trophies, which have featured buck deer. And, it only costs a few bucks to sign up.

Race morning this year was cool and overcast, a big change from the more mild temperatures we've been having most of the spring. And you could feel it was more humid than usual, not a big surprise given the rain forecast for later in the day. But, as someone pointed out as we milled around the registration area, even rain would be better than last year's weather, when Saturday afternoon tornadoes really tore up wide areas of Lee County. No such forecasts this year, though.

Getting through registration was a breeze, so there was time to wander around the setup of the Broadway My Way festival. Although lots of vendors were setting up their stands and the BBQ cookoff was filling the air with scents, I was immediately drawn to the display of antique cars and vintage farm tractors. A very pretty 1940 Packard and a mint 1979 Ford Ranger were some of the nicest cars there, along with a 1938 Chevy that had been converted into a hearse. The Farmall tractors dating back to the 50s and 40s had been well-maintained, and one of them was even being used to pull a tram from the farthest festival parking areas.

Eventually Broadway mayor Don Andrews called all the runners to the starting line and gave us quick directions on the event. (The race now starts just off Main Street, not under the caution light.) He gave us an overview of the route, where the water station would be, and some advice on the dogs: they love to come out and bark at runners and bikers, but they're all behind invisible fences. When the bullhorn started blaring "Fur Elise", it was time to run!

Fortunately, the area just east of the sandhills is relatively flat, so we were in for a very fast run. There were only a few gradual rises that we had to negotiate, and most of the route was flat or only had a bit of elevation change. The course took us through a lot of the residential neighborhoods out along the town outskirts, and it was a very pleasant surprise to see many of those living along the race route out to either cheer or gawk at the runners, including one whole family that came out to watch the runners go by. The Lee County sheriff had some deputies out as well to watch over traffic control, and volunteers monitored most of the intersections to make sure we didn't get lost. (There were very good pavement markings to make sure we didn't miss anything.)

Just before the halfway point we passed by a water station, and then we made a very pleasant loop around the Broadway Town Park, which circles a good-sized lake and includes walking trails, observation benches, and the town council headquarters. This was a very pretty spot in the run, and one of the houses that backed up to the lake had a fence along the street that was just covered and weighted down with gorgeous rose bushes, almost all of which were packed with deep-red blooms. Very, very pretty. The remnants of spring were visible in many other of the groomed lawns, but those rose bushes were the highlight of the route.

After we left the town park we passed by the two-mile mark and then it was back through some different neighborhoods back to the festival area. There were a couple of uphills here that knocked my pace down somewhat, but I was still pleased that the morning coolness and relatively flat course was helping me knock out some good miles. Some helpful volunteers stopped traffic for us as we crossed Main Street back to the start/finish area, and then we made a few final turns around one of the churches. As I rounded the last turn I could see 29:50-something on the finish line clock, but I had too much ground to cover to be able to get under the 30:00 mark that is usually my 5k goal. But it was still one of my better 5Ks of the year, so I was very pleased. There was nice, cold water available for us right after the finish line, and they had the results compiled very quickly after the last runner had finished. I was even more surprised to come home with 3rd place in my age group -- definitely a good run for me!

The scent of BBQ was getting even stronger as we walked around post-race soaking up the Broadway Our Way sights and sounds. It was a lot of fun to be in this part of Lee County in the morning, and I'll definitely have to come back to see if I can get beat that 30-minute clock next year!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Halifax County - Gallberry Stampede 10-Miler - April 14, 2012

The community of Scotland Neck in Halifax County got its name in the 1700s when a group of Scottish settlers came to the "neck" of the Roanoke River. The town name was officially adopted in the 1800s, and today it's still one of the most unusual town names in the state. It was also today's destination for the 4th annual Gallberry Stampede Health and Fitness Challenge. The race is run on a flat cross-country course adjacent to the Our Community Hospital and Allison-Sherain Rehab & Wellness Center. Kudos to them for adding a get-out-and-move event that most residents could take part in alongside runners of longer distances.

No matter what distance you were interested in, the Stampede was likely to interest you. For the walkers, there was a pleasant 2k loop, and for the runners, there were 5k, 10k and 10-mile races. All of the events went through the pastures of Gallberry Farm, which had at one point been a big dairy farm but today is used for cotton farming. With little activity in the field this time of year, it was perfect for laying out cross-country routes of various distances to entertain the runners. The logo on the shirts had a cute cartoon of a cow in running shoes, and we were promised "cow patties" -- chocolate cookies with nuts -- at each of the aid stations. Each event had its own "lollipop" style course, with the 2k and 5k runners each doing one loop of their route, the 10k runners doing two turns around their loop, and the 10-mile runners going around their loop three times before heading to the finish.

Although the runners thought the race started at 8:30 a.m. -- because that's what it says on the website -- the organizers were convinced it started at 9:00 a.m., so there was a lot of standing around and waiting in the morning. Fortunately, the extra waiting time answered questions about how warm it was going to get that morning, so I had the opportunity to ditch my long-sleeve shirt and opt for a short-sleeve. The air was still plenty cool when we finally got around to starting, but it was clear it was going to be much warmer by the time I finished my ten miles around the fields. They did mention that this running of the Gallberry would involve twice as many runners as the previous year.

Before the race I ran into NCRC member Frank Lilly and some of his running friends from the Rocky Mount Endurance Club, a very fun social and running club that is involved in a lot of the great events around the Rocky Mount area. They turned out a good number of runners for the Stampede, and it was great to hear their thoughts about previous years at the Gallberry and how some of the other runs around the area had gone so far during the year. Even the RMEC members that were running shorter events stayed around to get some extra miles on the various loop courses.

The lack of rain the Carolinas this spring made for a very dry, dusty course. The land is naturally sandy, and the lack of moisture gave us a variety of running surfaces; in some places it was hard-packed dirt, in some places softer and sandier, in some places gravel, and in some places mowed scrub grass and weeds. The changing surfaces led us to be aware of what was under our feet and look for opportunities to find the best running track we could. But it was a nice change-of-pace to be off the roads and running some cross-country, although it did bring back memories of previous cross-country races where I re-learned that it's sometimes more tiring to have to pull your feet up and out of grass and sandy surfaces than it is gliding across paved blacktop.

We ran by some of the farm buildings, underneath huge mobile irrigation systems, over improvised creek bridges and by debris piles from cleared land. The organizer joked that previous races "didn't have enough hills", so they took dirt from a just-dug irrigation pond, graded it into a hill, and ran the course right over the top of it. I dubbed it "Gallberry Mountain," and it was a good vantage point to see the whole event. Actually, because the fields were wide-open and flat, and the off-season scrub growth was still low, you could look in just about any direction and see brightly-colored runner gear moving around the farm. That was helpful in getting an idea where the courses went, but it also meant you had a good idea exactly how far back you were from the runners ahead of you.

The first lap around the 10-mile loop was very pleasant as we learned the course and had plenty of other runners around us. There were three aid stations on the route -- one of them you passed twice on an out-and-back segment they called the "pigtail" -- and they were stocked with cool water, wonderfully over-strong Gatorade, and the promised "cow patty" cookies. Plus, there were two guys monitoring the course on four-wheelers, which looked like more fun than we were having. It was right after Gallberry Mountain that the loops diverged to make them appropriate lengths for the various distances, but you still were in close proximity to the other runners.

The 5k runners completed their loop and headed for the finish line, leaving only the 10k and 10-mile runners out in the fields. That meant there were fewer runners out there to encourage and watch across the fields. Another 3+ miles later, I started my final loop and watched the last of the 10k entrants exit the fields, leaving only the 10-mile runners going round-and-round through the cotton fields. I could see a very few hats and colored singlets moving around out there, but I was pleased that none of the faster 10-mile runners lapped me.

The final lap was definitely the toughest of the three as the sun got hotter and my legs got caked with another layer of dust and dirt. The Gatorade and water made for nice breaks, but there were only a few runners left to greet on the pigtail, and you could see from the top of Gallberry Mountain that only a few runners were still out on the course. Fortunately I got a second wind with about a mile to go; this time I knew that when I passed the exit for the finish line, it was going to be my turn to take it! Past the wellness center's gazebo I made that turn, and down the final hill I could see the other runners laying out in the sunshine and enjoying the post-race food and drink. I made a last burst across the line and was not surprised to see that the soft footing and rising temperatures had slowed me down from the pace of my previous two 10-milers, but I was still pleased to get the distance in successfully. Frank and I compared notes on the race, and it was good to hear that he and so many of the RMEC runners had enjoyed the events as well. Overall, 19 runners finished the 10-mile event, 13 completed the 10k, 31 the 5k, and another 26 folks got outside to enjoy the 2k route.

It was a nice treat to get out to Halifax County and enjoy a very different cross-country run than what we normally get to experience in our trips across the state. The Gallberry Stampede was a very fun morning, and hopefully it will continue to expand in size as word of it gets around the running community!