Follow Chad and Brad as they try to run a race in each of North Carolina's 100 counties
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!