Monday, February 20, 2012

Stanly County - Fellowship of the Idiots Run - January 28, 2012

Chad beat me to Stanly County in 2007, way back at the beginning of the countdown, but I finally made it the far exurbs of Charlotte for the Fellowship of the Idiots Run. Back in the early 2000s, a group of runners included in their marathon training a run from the Albemarle YMCA to the top of Morrow Mountain and back, a 19.7-mile journey. When their friends heard of the training run, they were quickly dubbed "idiots," the runners liked the name, and a tradition was born. Since that initial Idiot Run, twice a year (before the Myrtle Beach Marathon and the Charlotte Thunder Road Marathon) the training run is reprised, and those who finish the run are welcomed into the Fellowship of the Idiots with a t-shirt, a finisher's certificate, and their name on a commemorative plaque at Vac-and-Dash, the local running store (and the best combination vacuum cleaner / running store / UPS shipping emporium in the area).

The Idiot Run starts at 5:30 a.m. so that runners will hopefully get to see the sunrise from Morrow Mountain as part of the run, so it makes for a very early morning to get to the Albemarle YMCA and get checked in before the race. We were blessed with a very mild set of temperatures for the end of January -- cool, but not as frigid as you might expect, with clear skies and no precipitation. Peter Asciutto, the owner of Vac and Dash and keeper of the Idiots, did a great job getting registration done, organizing the runners into the street, and even arranging for an Albemarle police cruiser to escort the runners out of town. Peter said that there were seventy-something first-time Idiots, plus a good forty-something returning Idiots who were there to enjoy the early-morning run with the rookies. (Under the leadership of Peter and Vac and Dash, Stanly County actually has a very active and large running community.) It was great to see all the runners dressed in their reflective best -- I was in my coveted NCRC reflective running vest -- and the light being reflected from all the headlights and car lights as the runners took off in the early morning darkness for Morrow Mountain.

The first three or four miles start out through residential areas of Albemarle and continue out onto the main drag through down and finally out onto one of the main roads leading out of town. (One of the traditions is to run through the drive-up ATM at the CVS so they can use the security video to confirm who ran and who didn't.) We made a turn onto the approach road for Morrow Mountain State Park, made some basic climbs up and down the hills, and then about a 10k into the run we started up the mountain itself. As the skies got a little bit lighter, we could see more and more of the surrounding landscapes and pick out the mountaintops against the brightening horizon. Surprisingly, the group I was running with didn't see any of the local wildlife, but we could hear various noises coming from the woods around us, plus lots of local dogs started by the early morning activity coming through their neighborhoods.

I paused for a picture at the welcome sign for the park, but then I was focused on getting to the top of the mountain. There were some brief downhills and level stretches, but the majority of the next miles felt like all uphill to the final turn and the parking lot at the top of the mountain, were there was an aid station set up and a couple of volunteers making pictures of the runners as we took a brief break for pictures and to enjoy the view from the top. After a few pictures and cups of water, though, it was time to run back to town. The downhills from the top were much more fun on the way down, but there were still enough rises to keep you paying attention and keep you from getting too relaxed.

I was in the last little knot of runners coming back, and it was obvious we were well behind the faster of the morning's runners. The aid stations were coming down after we passed, and one of the support vans was removing the directional signs once we had gone past them. But the weather conditions stayed really nice, so even with our plodding pace it was a great morning to be out enjoying the activity and knocking the miles out one by one. Finally it seemed like we were back in the Albemarle area, running past the big chicken statue on Main Street and back in the residential area around the YMCA.

The final approach to the YMCA was adjacent to a park, and you could see the faster runners, the remaining volunteers, and some Vac and Dash people lined up to welcome us back. A couple of final turns brought us to the finish line, and then Peter proudly presented us first-timers with our Fellowship of the Idiots shirts (which you hold upside down in the traditional photo). There were some great post-run snacks and drinks, plus the facilities of the YMCA to welcome us all back, plus many of the runners went to a local country-cookin' restaurant for a great big delicious breakfast.

I was curious how my Garmin data would show the run afterwards. According to it, the Idiot Run had almost 1,300 feet of elevation gain over the 19+ miles. (It felt like more.) But it really is a beautiful and scenic run, with plenty of opportunities to enjoy the views of the valleys below the mountain and the lovely estates of the Albemarle area. And it gets lots of kudos for the great stewardship of Vac and Dash, who keep the informal, funky spirit of the original Idiots going without making it too formal of an event. I was very happy to complete my rookie Idiot Run and look forward to many more runs with the Fellowship!

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