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).
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!