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!

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