Follow Chad and Brad as they try to run a race in each of North Carolina's 100 counties
Sunday, July 8, 2012
Polk County - Coon Dog Day 5k - July 7, 2012
Ever since finding out about the Coon Dog Day Festival in Saluda, North Carolina and its accompanied Coon Dog Day 5k race, I’ve wanted to be able to run it to visit Polk County and add it to the countdown. Polk County is south of Asheville, right against the South Carolina border, and in all our travels we had not visited there yet. Although the festival and the race had been around for a while, the 5k went away for a year or two before being resurrected by the Town of Saluda in 2011 – and unfortunately we weren’t able to attend. But when the 2012 race date was announced, we circled it with big red ink and made sure that the tour bus would visit it as part of the mountain running excursion.
Saluda, which is situated right inside the Polk County line, has been celebrating Coon Dog Day for 49 years! It started as a little chicken supper fundraiser, but today, in addition to the 5k race, they have a parade, live music all day, vendor booths, arts and crafts, royalty pageants for the kids, and more breakfasts and suppers! I’m a big fan of small towns and parades, so I was looking forward to the late-morning parade as much as I was for the morning’s 5k!
The local law enforcement did a great job race morning of directing traffic into and out of Saluda. As one organizer said, there are only two roads into town, and we’re running on one of them! We could see the hills and inclines already as we were directed up to the Party Place and Event Center, where event parking and race packet pickup would be organized. They had all our race goodies and bibs organized into separate bags for us, so it was very easy to get my race shirt and get bibbed up. The race shirts were very, very pretty – nice white tech shirts with the beautiful Coon Dog Day 5k logo all over the front. Kudos to the artist that has designed the race logos each year since the 5k has been back – they are very colorful and eye-catching!
After packet pickup, we had a short walk back down the hill and across the main drag to the area where the start and finish lines were set up. There was a very good turnout for the race, with more than 150 folks pre-registered and probably some others that signed up race morning. (231 runners and walkers were listed in the results.) Some folks looked like awfully fast runners, and others looked like folks who came out to walk and enjoy the mountain morning stroll through town. And there were at least three coon dogs out there to take part in the race with all the humans! The race director gave us some last-minute instructions right before the start; unfortunately, the first mile was going to be almost all uphill, and it would be rolling after that, but fortunately we would get most of that back as a downhill in most of the last mile. And we were going to get to run right through the festival as it was setting up.
As promised, the first mile was just about all uphill. It was a big struggle going up, up, up right from the start of the race with no opportunities to get into an even pace first. All the dogs passed me, too. The law enforcement that came over from Columbus, North Carolina did a great job handling the traffic that wanted to get onto the roads; they made sure the runners had a chance to get by first and didn’t wind up dodging a lot of cars. After what seemed like way more than a mile, we crested the top of the hills and were treated to a drink by some enthusiastic volunteers at a water stop. We got a treat with some downhills and more quick rolling inclines, and suddenly we made a left turn and were at the top of a hill looking down in to the main festival grounds (I recognized it from pictures). In addition to it being downhill, it was a hoot to run down the town’s main drag as vendors were setting up, parade veterans were reserving their viewing spots and setting out blankets and chairs, and as the first musicians of the morning were setting up their instruments. You couldn’t have had a better picture of a small-town holiday, but unfortunately I didn’t have time to make pictures. We ran through the whole parade route and out through the shuttle parking area, and then we passed by the Masonic lodge that was hosting the big Coon Dog Day Festival breakfast – ooh, it smelled good! That would have been tempting to stop right there. We made a couple more ups-and-downs before we made the last left-hand turn and started back down the hill to the finish line. That was a nice stretch after all the hills we had run, and I tried to keep rolling as best as I could. Finally we spotted the finish line ahead and saw all the runners that had finished milling around the area. There was lots of encouragement for us slower finishers, and a nice, cold bottle of water as well, which tasted awfully good on the uphill walk back to the Party Place for the post-run celebration.
Back at the Party Place, they set up a very impressive spread of watermelon, grapes, oranges, bananas, granola bars, cookies, and water and Gatorade for all the runners. The watermelon was awfully good and sweet – really hit the spot as the morning had warmed up a good bit since the start. I’m sure none of the runners went away hungry after getting to fill up at that party. I knew I wasn’t in the running for any of the awards, but I caught the shuttle back to the parade grounds to watch the 5k awards be passed out later in the morning, plus I hung out to watch the Coon Dog Day Festival parade come by. It was a delight to see the Shriners, the local business and politicians, some live music, and many funnel cake makers all contributing to a really nice morning. It was too bad I couldn’t stay for the evening square dancing in the streets, but I had to be running on. It was a lot of fun taking part in the Coon Dog Day 5k, but be aware that it’s a tough course with some serious hills on a hot morning – this dog bites!