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!


colleen laquay urbaniuk said...

it was so great to have you out at our inaugural race for the Chatuge Running Club. thanks for doing such a great post on the race and good luck as you continue to race across North Carolina!!!

Ken said...

Brad, it was nice to meet you after the race and hear about your challenge. What a noble goal it is! I hope you have fun and finish out the 100. If you need help in scoping out the races in the mountains, be sure and check out Dennis Duffy's blog (Carolina Runner). It always has a good list of upcoming races. -Ken Miller

Ken said...

One correction I feel compelled to make is that Clay County is not along the South Carolina border as you state. Clay County borders the state of Georgia! In fact, the lake straddles the NC/GA state line.

Brad said...

Thank you for the correction, Ken! I keep forgetting borders are different in the mountains! :-)