Sunday, December 15, 2013

Wilson County - Wilson Triathlon Club Jingle Bell 5k Run - December 14, 2013

Wilson County is only a short drive from our home base in the Triangle, so it's a little surprising that we haven't been there until this late in the countdown.  However, there are not a lot of races in Wilson County, so it's really been up to the calendar to work out.  The Wilson Triathlon Club, though, is very active and organizes a few events each year, including the 1st annual Jingle Bell 5k run.  It was a last chance to pick up another county before the end of 2013, so my now-fiance Kathy and I joined the crowd to run through Wilson!

We had not pre-registered for the race, but they had the registration activities set up very well in Cavalier Park -- once we figured out a place to park on the streets around the area.  It was definitely cool enough to know it was December, but not biting, windy cold like we sometimes get the end of the year.  The runners got nice long-sleeved cotton shirts with the big race logo on the front.  Many participants, in sync with the race theme, wore jingle bells on their shoes or gloves.  Overall, there was a pretty good turnout for the race given the December date and the cool morning temps. 
Once we got running, the race was a very nice, flat run through many of the area's pretty subdivisions.  Many of the houses and neighborhoods had been decorated for the holidays, and more than a few residents came out to watch the runners go by.  (There are always a few who are totally surprised to see a horde of runners coming down the street.)  The first mile was surprisingly twisty and had lots of turns, but that's pretty much what the subdivision route required.  Just before the second mile mark, we reached the farthest point from Cavalier Park, and once we made a turn past the 2-mile mark, we had mostly a straight shot down Branch Street almost back to the start/finish area.  There were a few turns in the last quarter-mile or so as we approached the park, and as we finally came around the corner and could see the finish line, it was easy to catch your second wind and push it in to the line.  I was very pleased with my splits averaging about 8.5 minutes a mile and my finishing time of 26:43, and Kathy was only about a minute behind.  Much easier to run on a cool morning, of course!
Post-race, there was a great supply of fruits and drinks for the runners to get some nourishment and hydration.  It was a great surprise to run into fellow NCRC runner and master of all things Down East, Val Price at the race!  Val is a very competitive runner and knows about the running scene towards the coast; it was the second time I had run into him this year while getting new counties!
Sorry it took us so long to make the short drive over to Wilson, but we really thought the Wilson Triathlon Club did a great job with the 1st annual Jingle Bell 5k Run.  Worth coming back to see how it grows in the years ahead!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Washington County - Washington County Walks! 5k and Family Fun Walk/Run - November 2, 2013

Yep, it's another small, rural county where I was wondering if we were going to find a race.  Fortunately, Washington County, as other counties have done, has put some emphasis on getting its residents to exercise, and their 5k and Family Fun Walk/Run was a great effort to get folks to come outside and move, plus it was a chance to get Washington County into the countdown!

My girlfriend Kathy and I arrived in Plymouth, North Carolina, right on the Roanoke River, early on race morning so that we could register and collect our race goodies.  (We love to dress alike, so we had our matching North Carolina Roadrunners Club shirts on.)  We got very nice bright green Washington County Walks! t-shirts and they even had some food and drink for us pre-race so that we could be all fueled and hydrated for the 5k. 

It really was a festive morning, with lots of families and mothers with children out to take part in a very delightful, cool-but-sunny morning.  And the topography around Plymouth is very, very flat, so you could tell it was going to be a great run.  There were several high-school-age kids taking part, and you knew with their young, springy knees they were going to push the pace.  But most of the other participants were adults intent on walking, so as runners I had a thought that Kathy and I had a pretty good chance to figure in the top places.  And Kathy was good enough to give me the green light to see how fast I could run.

With the start of the race, as expected, about five youngsters took off like a shot, with Kathy and I and a few other runners in the next pack, and then a mass of walkers behind us.  The race started right along the river on Water Street and then took a couple of turns that made a small loop just off the river.  Next we passed through the main part of Plymouth -- which, like every other town, is on Main Street -- turning past some county buildings (Plymouth is the county seat) and a quick water stop.  One by one I had picked off the young-uns who had sprinted from the start, and I was able to keep a nice, smooth pace of about 8:20 through the first couple of miles.  The last mile took us back towards the waterfront, with a loop around a park where they were getting set for post-race festivities including a cookout and live music as part of the overall Washington Walks! morning.  There was one high-schooler I just wasn't able to catch up to, though, and him and his young, springy knees got first place in the run, with me coming in second with a very nice 25:52 time, my first 5k under 26 minutes in many years and definitely my fastest run of the year.  Kathy had been running an excellent race as well, picking off the hot shots, and finished as the third overall and first woman finisher! 

Fortunately, there were more post-race refreshments for the runners, because we needed some more fuel after having run so hard.  Since we had something to stay for at the awards presentation, we hung out through some of the entertainment and BBQ!  Kathy and I each got beautiful ribbons to commemorate our performances that we can show off!  The organizers of Washington Walks! did a great job putting on their 5k and Family Fun Walk/Run; it's a beautiful, scenic, and very fast area to be running, and hopefully more runners will get the word about what a great location it is to go after a PR run.  Thanks for having us in Plymouth!

Monday, October 14, 2013

McDowell County - Mountain Glory Challenge 10k - October 12, 2013

Festivals and fairs in small towns have been a great boon to our county countdown, as many of them have incorporated running events like 5Ks and 10Ks into their festivities to draw more attendees and increase the number of events. The Mountain Glory Festival in Marion, NC added a 5k/10k event to their schedule, which enabled me and my girlfriend Kathy to take part in a beautiful mountain race in McDowell County!

McDowell County and Marion are in the North Carolina mountains, so we knew we were going to be in for some elevation changes in this race.  Fortunately, it was a mostly out-and-back race, so any hills we had to climb on the way out would be a wonderful downhill on the return.  (Yes, and versa vice.) 

Even with the backing of the Mountain Glory festival, however, there was not a big turnout for the 10k version of the race.  From my headcount, it appeared that only eleven runners were there for the big event, with just under 100 signed up for the accompanying 5k race.  No matter how many runners were signed up, though, the volunteers race morning at the McDowell County Department of Recreation building had set up a very efficient packet pickup and registration process in the building's gymnasium.  (We were just a couple of blocks off the main drag through town, where the festival vendors were setting up tents.)  They were very happy to have all participants there for the race, no matter how far they were running.  We got some very nice long-sleeve cotton shirts and a nice drawstring bag in which to carry all our race goodies. 

The 10k runners had to walk a little bit farther down the road, about a tenth of a mile, to reach our starting line; the 5k runners lined up just down from the Recreation Department building for the en masse start.  That stagger was used to correct for distances since all the runners were using the same outbound road but would have different turnaround points. 

The race start was, of course, uphill, but not punishingly so.  We were able to see a good bit ahead along the road, even as the faster 5k participants passed us.  It was a great morning to be running; not too hot and just enough overcast in the skies to keep the sun from cooking us in the non-shady parts of the race.  We were headed east out of Marion on Old Highway 10, crossing over Highway 221 and then finally down a nice, long downhill that enabled us to enjoy the scenery a little bit more.  Once out of town, there were many more open fields and farms separating the houses, but we had plenty of law enforcement on the roads to control traffic and volunteers at the water stops, so we never felt like we were alone, even after we had passed the 5k turnaround and only the 10k runners remained on the road.

Our turnaround point was just about the lowest point on the course, so we knew the trip back was going to have some major uphill to it.  Fortunately, we were able to kick it into a lower gear and keep moving along.  We were able to see all the 10k runners in front and behind us, and quickly figured out that there was only one fellow bringing up the rear, and we were running close enough that we could have some conversation about the run.  The fourth and fifth miles were our slowest as we pulled up out of the valley and got closer to town.  Even the fellow trailing us got slowed down by the hills and dropped back.  But once we had reached the top of the ridge, we knew that the majority of the last mile back into town would be downhill, and we were ready to take advantage of it, picking up speed and hopefully making sure we weren't the last finishers of the race.  That made our final mile the fastest of the race, insuring we finished in good form in just under an hour -- and neither of us was the last runner to make the last turn by the Recreation Building and cross the finish line.

Post-race, there were plenty of refreshments for all the morning's runners, and they had trophies for all the top finishers in each age group, plus door prizes!  Much to our mutual surprise, Kathy and I each had been the top finishers in our age groups, so we took home first-place trophies -- along with some nice door prizes for lunch at a local Marion BBQ joint and also at a popular chain!  What a haul!  We really had a great time at the Mountain Glory Challenge 10k, and we definitely need to return to see if we can defend our titles!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Watauga County and Caldwell County - Grandfather Mountain Marathon - July 13, 2013

 Grandfather Mountain Marathon – it sounds daunting right from the start.  It’s a marathon.  Up a mountain.  With only a certain amount of time to finish.  But many of the runners I look up to have done GMM, some of them had done it many times, so it kind of had the status of a marathon I had to run eventually.  Call it a “bucket list” item, say it’s “because it’s there”, maybe because I would feel like I’m in a special fraternity of runners if I made it – but there I was, on the Appalachian State University Track in Watauga County, ready for the start, feeling very, very nervous.

I knew I’d be able to complete the distance, but the time worried me.  The marathon starts at 6:30 a.m., and the finish line is on the track at Grandfather Mountain, in the midst of the Highland Games.  The marathon gets to use the track until noon, at which time the Highland Games take precedence on the track.  That means runners have to finish in 5 hours, 30 minutes or less to finish on the track in front of the grandstands and spectators; after that, runners are stopped before the track for a less-ceremonious finish.  I really wanted to finish on the track, and after my first sub-5:00 marathon back in March at the Tobacco Road Marathon, I hoped it was going to be within me.  It would also help that the course starts in Watauga County and passes through Caldwell County, getting me two counties in one race, but that gain was secondary to my concerns about finishing.  (The race finishes in Avery County, but I was fortunate enough to visit it a few years ago for the Wooly Worm Woad Wace.) 

Just before the start of the marathon, two runners pledged to cover another distance together as they were married on the track infield in front of a crowd of encouraging spectators.  Then, with “Just” and “Married” signs on their backs, the newlyweds took their places among all the other starters.

The marathon began with two laps on the ASU track under a very overcast, foggy, even misty sky.  It was a little foreboding, but at least it meant the temperatures would stay cool and we wouldn’t have to worry about getting sunburned during our trip up the mountain.  Once leaving the track, we made a short trip through the campus and the main drag of Boone before turning onto one of the roads out of town.  The first couple of miles were overall downhill, and in my excitement to get going (and maybe put some minutes in the bank) I forgot the advice past GMM champion and NCRC runner Tim Meigs gave to me about just finding a nice even pace even at the start.  

About four miles in, the hills really began.  You can tell from the course profile that there are many, many ups in the course, but less remembered are some of the really steep downhills, especially in the first ten miles or so.  The scenery, though, was very pretty, even with some of the low-hanging clouds cutting off the distant views.  Every couple of miles there would be a very enthusiastic aid station with lots of encouragement and drinks for the runners, which was very helpful to a rookie runner thinking about the hills to come.  There were several sharp curves in the mountain roads, but the runners helped each other out the whole way, calling out “car up” or “car back” when one of the few vehicles would pass.  

About eleven miles in we reached the Blue Ridge Parkway and were treated to some very pretty miles through the park and by streams and Price Lake – the plentiful rain the previous week had turned some of the mountain creeks into much bigger rapids and created some pretty waterfalls down the ridge.  Even the drivers were encouraging to the runners, waving and shouting as they passed us.  Although I was trying not to focus on time, about the halfway point I saw 2:20 on my Garmin, so at least I felt like I had a shot at beating the track cutoff time, even with the hardest half of the course ahead.

Once we left the Blue Ridge Parkway about mile fifteen, we made a turn onto a gravel road for the next three miles or so.  This stretch included one of the toughest hills on the course – most of the folks I had been running with for miles joined me in the decision to walk it.  It was steep, but fortunately not very long, and after a few minutes we emerged in a small neighborhood and were able to start plodding along again.  The runners in my group all had good spirits remaining, and we encouraged each other as we would leapfrog past, clicking the miles away one after another. 

Most of the remaining seven miles or so were majority uphill, along the winding curves of Blowing Rock Highway as we got nearer and nearer to the top of the mountain.  The aid stations in the last section of the race were very much appreciated as they encouraged us along.  Almost 25 miles in we tackled the last steep hill as we went through an underpass below the BRP.  They say when you can hear the bagpipes at the Highland Games you’re about a mile from the finish, and I kept listening and listening for them, but it was well past 25 miles before I heard those first notes.  We made a couple more turns and then we could see the main Grandfather Mountain entrance ahead, but we passed it and turned instead on a service road that took us to the base of the hill the track is on. 

Surprisingly, I had run much better than I had hoped – even Joey Anderson seemed surprised to see me as he went back along the course – and I had plenty of time to savor the entrance to the track and the circuit around the cinders in front of Highland dancers, border collies herding sheep, bagpipers, weight tossers, tents celebrating each family clan, and grandstands full of cheering people in tartans.  It was a great way to finish the race, getting to hear the cheers for the runners and wave to all the folks ringing the track, until I finally reached the finish line in a great time of 5:00:23 – well within the cutoff and with plenty of time to make pictures on the track. 

I probably had an ear-to-ear grin the rest of the afternoon as the NCRC and Mangum Track Club folks congregated on the approach hill to watch the remaining runners finish.  My trip up Grandfather Mountain had been challenging, but it felt great to be able to meet the goal and even surprise myself with a better finish than I had expected.  Sure enough, it was fun to be a Grandfather Mountain Marathon finisher!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Northampton County - Conway 5k Railroad Run - May 18, 2013

Northhampton County was another small, mostly rural county that I was worried about for a while -- would any races be held there that would enable us to check it off the list?  I heard about a small 5k a few years ago to benefit breast cancer research, but it apparently wasn't repeated, leaving me to wonder if we were going to get to run there.
Those worries were alleviated with the announcement that, to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the city of Conway and build on the excitement of the Centennial, Conway would be hosting the first Conway 5k Railroad Run and Choo-Choo Fun Run.  Even the Conway Pipeline newsletter mentioned this would be the first time a 5k run was held in Conway's history!  (The rest of the Centennial celebration included a parade, live music and a street fair.)

The race had a later starting time (11:00 a.m.) than many races, so it was easy to get up and take the ride over to Northampton County.  The race, which was set up at a local church, was very well set up for a rookie event.  There was no problem getting checked in and picking up my race bib and shirt, plus there were plenty of pre- and post-race snacks for the runners to munch on.  Many volunteers seemed just as excited as some of the runners for the first Conway 5k in history!

The runners were lined up, and a train whistle was used to start the race!  The race itself was pretty straightforward; we went out one of the side roads from the main street for about a mile and half, then we turned and came straight back.  The area around Conway was mercifully flat, so the race turned out to be pretty fast as well.  There was a good water stop right around the halfway mark, so everyone had a chance to get some fluids as needed.  We passed many rural homes, where some owners knew what was going on and others were surprised to find a mess of runners going by!

The small size of the race (61 finishers), flat course and moderate temps made for great running conditions.  I surprised myself with a finishing time of just over 27 minutes, good enough for a 3rd-place age-group finish -- if there were age-group awards.  But it was a very nice race, great organization for a rookie event, and I hope it won't be a long time before more runners will have a chance to run in Northampton County! 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Gates County - Millpond Day 5k - May 11, 2013

North Carolina's state parks have been great sources for finding activities that just may include a race in some of the smaller counties we've been trying to collect.  A great example of that is Merchants Millpond State Park in Gates County, where their outreach event Millpond Day features animal exhibits, arts and crafts, ranger talks, and a 5k race!

It was an easy drive out to the Gatesville, North Carolina area on the morning of the race, and no problems following the well-placed signs out to the state park.  The main headquarters building of the park was full of folks setting up stuffed alligators, interactive wildlife exhibits, kettle corn stands, and the like -- but no race activity.  Turns out that the race was being set up at and would start/finish in a back parking lot that was a little further down the park road.  So I headed off down the park road and found the race all set up, with packet pickup organized in the grassy island in the middle of the parking lot.  The start/finish line was marked at the entrance of the lot, so obviously we were going to go back out the way I came in, and then finish the same way.  The shirts were a great bright orange, kind of like hunters' blaze orange, and the folks doing the organizing couldn't have been nicer, including a ranger who was happy enough to pose with me in some of my atmosphere pictures for this blog post.

There was nice enough turnout for the race, but I didn't get a good chance for a headcount.  The organizers lined us up behind the starting line for the best group picture they could do, and then we were off!  With lots of kids taking part in the race, the initial pace was pretty much a sprint, but from my spot safe in the back of the pack, I knew their young legs would be tiring out pretty quickly and they'd be coming back to me.  The route out took us back by the headquarters building, where the folks assembling for Millpond Day had a chance to cheer us on (and thanks to the volunteers who held back traffic just long enough for us to get by) and then we were out on the road leading away from the park.

We had a long coast down a hill on the road adjacent to the park, and then at the bottom we made a couple of turns and entered the park again by a gravel road entrance.  Across the gravel entrance we got onto a grassy path and followed it around the bottomlands of the park, making a large loop that took us back to the lower park entrance, and then we were back out on the road again.  Sure enough, some of the energetic kids had lost their sprints by the time we were into the second mile, and more and more of them were dropping back to me as we headed back up the hill and the main park entrance.  The hill was pretty tough going back up in the third mile, but by then I had settled into a pretty comfy pace to finish it off.  Back by the headquarters building we went again, with more of the Millpond Day festivities in full swing by now.  Then we only had the quarter-mile or so back down the park road to the back parking lot, which was somewhat downhill on the return trip, which was a great relief.  There weren't any official prizes, but I was close enough to the front to determine that if there had been awards, I would have been 4th male overall and first in my age group!  And I was delighted with my 23:49 time, until I noticed on my Garmin that the course was a quarter-mile short.

After we crossed the finish line, the volunteers set up a very nice spread of fruit, snacks, and drinks for all the runners.  (One brief shock was seeing a runner who finished in great shape go for a cigarette quickly for his post-race smoke.)  The folks organizing the 5k were very friendly and fun, and I really had a good time talking to them and the other runners who had come in for the race.  There were plenty more exhibits and activities going on back at the main Millpond Day center, and it turned out to be a great event with lots of folks attending.  Well worth the drive out to Gates County!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Jones County - The Knights Run 5k - April 20, 2013

Jones County was another location on my "worry list" as we reached the middle stages of the countdown; it is a small county with low population, so could it support a race?  Months went by as I monitored some race lists looking for something new within Jones' borders.  Fortunately for us, the issue of getting children (and their parents) to exercise has become a bigger deal, with some schools having races as a goal for kids to work towards and to get excited about.  Jones Middle School (home of the Knights) got on the bandwagon for getting kids to exercise, so we finally had an opportunity to race in Jones County!

Jones Middle School in Trenton was the safest place to be in the county on race morning, as no fewer than 15 sheriff and deputy cars lined up to provide traffic control along the race course in this city with a population of 201.  The turnout for the race seemed to be very positive, with lots of runners and volunteers milling around the school, taking care of registration and setup and loosening up before the 5k started.  There were lots of participants from the school, but also a good contingent of runners from around the area, parents, and supporters.

Once we were underway, it shaped up to be a flat, fast run.  From the middle school, we followed the direction of the sheriffs onto state highway 41 and then a right turn through a pleasant neighborhood of residential homes dressed in their spring colors.  Lots of flowers and trees were blooming, which made for a very pretty panorama.  Then we made a left turn back onto 41, the main drag through all of Trenton, and made the "turnaround" with a loop around the Jones County municipal building.  Then we returned down the full length of state highway 41, turned back towards the elementary school, but then did a full big loop around the neighborhood, taking the "long way" back to the school.  The last little bit of the course was an unpaved access to the school property, but with no real elevation change the whole way around the course, we didn't get slowed down very much.

I was very pleased with my 26:45 time and with the good spread of snacks and drinks they had for us post-race.  The finishers, whether they ran the whole way or were just out for a walk that would support the school, were in a good mood and all the good spirits contributed to a nice post-race atmosphere.  Another great surprise was when they began giving out medals for the top age-group finishers, and yours truly took home 1st place in his age group!  (Yep, there weren't many 40-year olds at the middle school.)

I really had a great time at the Knights Run 5k.  The school and its administrators showed that programs to get kids out and running can really have a fun atmosphere to them, and a special congratulations to the Jones County kids who took part in their first race today!  Thanks for showing me a good time!

Thursday, April 25, 2013


The last ten counties have taken almost a year to collect.  Now that we're down to the last counties remaining in the countdown, we're really at the mercy of the calendar.  Early on, when we had a free weekend, we could just look at the schedule and pick any of several counties that might have a race, but now we have to find out when the remaining races are and plan around those.  Still, it's been a lot of fun getting to the 80% mark, and we have had some good luck getting to some of those hard counties recently, and hopefully we'll get more good chances as the year rolls on.  Can we get to 90 before the end of the year?  It's possible, given good schedules and good knees.  Keep up with us as we might be coming through your town soon!

Complete: Alamance, Anson, Ashe, Avery, Beaufort, Bertie, Brunswick, Buncombe, Burke, Cabarrus, Carteret, Catawba, Chatham, Cherokee, Chowan, Clay, Columbus, Craven, Cumberland, Dare, Davidson, Davie, Duplin, Durham, Edgecombe, Forsyth, Franklin, Gaston, Graham, Granville, Greene, Guilford, Halifax, Harnett, Haywood, Hertford, Hoke, Hyde, Iredell, Jackson, Johnston, Lee, Lenoir, Macon, Martin, Mecklenburg, Montgomery, Moore, Lincoln, Nash, New Hanover, Onslow, Orange, Pasquotank, Pender, Perquimans, Person, Pitt, Polk, Randolph, Richmond, Robeson, Rockingham, Rowan, Rutherford, Sampson, Scotland, Stanly, Stokes, Surry, Swain, Tyrrell, Union, Vance, Wake, Warren, Wayne, Wilkes, Yadkin, Yancey

Still to go: Alexander, Alleghany, Bladen, Caldwell, Camden, Caswell, Cleveland, Currituck, Gates, Henderson, Jones, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Northampton, Pamlico, Transylvania, Washington, Watauga, Wilson

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Wayne County - Greater Goldsboro Road Run 10k - April 13, 2013

A couple of friends mentioned surprise to find out we were just making it to Wayne County this late in the countdown, given that it's an easy 45-minute drive from home and that they have a couple of well-established races, but sometimes the calendar just works out that way.  Plus, it would have been a shame not to have included one of the longest-running road races in the area as part of the countdown, so it was nice that the calendar worked out very well to be a part of the Greater Goldsboro Road Run 10k.

This was the 35th running of the annual race; it's a pedigree that goes back many years.  According to our friend Val Price, who is an unofficial historian of many Down East races and was taking part in the 5k event today, the GGRR used to be one of the biggest draws in the eastern half of the state and drew fields in the hundreds with nice prize money back in the day.  Now, with a much more crowded race schedule and smaller prizes, the fields may not be as big, but the organizers still work to put on an excellent race for all the participants. 

The main race organizing area was right in the middle of historic downtown Goldsboro, right along Center Street, the main drag through town.  Packet pickup was set up in First Baptist Church, and a large team from Run for God was organizing to take part in the morning's activities.  The race shirts were very nice and original; a very distinctive shade of green with custom artwork showing a runner with Goldsboro in the background.  That was a nice touch, seeing something different and out of the ordinary in the race shirts.  Also, a large number of volunteers were already setting up in the volunteer area, so it was clear we were going to be very well taken care of in the morning's races.  (Maybe Kanye's "Golddigger" wasn't the best choice to include in the morning's music selections.)

Sure enough, it was easy to catch up with Val at the race, and I also got to meet Dexter Johnson from the Mangum Track Club; some other runners from Raleigh had also made the trip out to Goldsboro to take advantage of the area's flat, fast race course.  There wasn't going to be a whole lot of elevation change in the race, and with long straightaways and only a few turns, it was going to be a speedy run.  A couple of crankchairs were also taking part and got a head-start on the runners.  Both the 10k and 5k events (there was also a mile run) started at the same time several blocks apart on Center Street; the 10k course was in effect twice around the 5k course.  It did mean that once the 10k runners caught up to the 5k runners, we had to work our way through the walkers, strollers and joggers at the back of the 5k pack until we worked our way into the 5k runners that were hitting about the same pace.  That might be one thing to improve for future races; maybe they could cone off that initial quarter-mile or so, with 5k runners on one side of the street and 10k runners on the other side to avoid the crush of runners until we had more or less settled into our running paces.

Once we did get off Center Street and into the surrounding neighborhoods, we really were treated to some pretty spring scenery.  The Goldsboro area was running a little bit ahead of Raleigh in terms of spring blooms, so we got to see dogwoods, azaleas and wisteria that were already in full color and just a few days ahead of the blooms back home.  Lots of homes were already in full spring color and the owners had their properties looking very spiffy for all the runners.  At a few homes, there were families out on the porches to watch the runners go by and to cheer for them as they shuffled past.  There was a brief downhill as we made the return to Center Street, and of course there was a corresponding uphill following that turned out to be the only real hill on the course.  The 5k runners continued on to the finish line, and the 10k runners made the turn to head back out for another loop.

At least on the second loop, I knew where the mile markers were going to be and where the turns and aid stations were, and I had a pace I was comfortable with, so it was fun just to keep cruising, talking to the runners around me, and tick the miles off.  It was a great morning to be running; the temperatures were nice and cool, and there was a good breeze blowing to keep us cool.  The miles felt nice and easy.  Finally we made the last left-hand turn and we were back on Center Street with the finish line arch in sight.  It was great to pick up the pace for the homestretch and hit the finish line as hard as I could, and to my delight I had run my first sub-57:00 10k since my college days!  I ended up in a very competitive age group, so there was no award for me, but the finish time was fantastic enough to make the whole morning run a celebration!

Post-run, there was a great supply of food and drink for all the runners, and lots of conversation among all the morning's runners.   The Run for God team appeared to have met all their participation goals.  There was a large stack of door prizes for all the runners.  It was a great morning overall, and the organizers in Goldsboro are still putting on a great race!  It's well worth the quick trip out to Wayne County to be a part of this flat, fast spring race!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Anson County - Five-Alarm 5k - April 6, 2013

Hey, folks!  Yep, we're still here, even though there hasn't been a lot of posting going on since our last outing in September.  We didn't travel as much the rest of the fall, and a couple of races we were planning for fell through, and then we had to wait for the calendar to bring some new county opportunities to us -- but we are looking forward to hitting some new parts of the state this year and getting further into the countdown!

Anson County was the first new stop of the year.  I had been worried about us getting to Anson County because a couple of races I knew about there had fallen through, so it was a great delight to read about the new Five-Alarm 5k being planned at the fire department in Ansonville; they hope to have it be an annual event, plus it gives us a great destination to a county we haven't visited before! 

The idea for the Five-Alarm 5k came about as part of a fundraiser to help raise money that will allow the Ansonville Fire and Rescue Department to purchase fitness equipment for the firefighters to use in keeping in shape to handle emergenies in the Anson County area.  In addition, the firefighters were encouraged to take part themselves and use the race as a target event for their own fitness training.  Courtney Sikes, one of the firefighters on staff, was heading up the effort and definitely the person in charge on race day.  She was ably assisted by Peter Ascuitto, Stanly County commissioner, owner of Vac n' Dash (the best combination vacuum store, running store, and UPS shipping location in North Carolina) and the creator behind some great running events in the area.  Upon arriving and parking at the nearby Ansonville Elementary School (home of the Panthers), we had no trouble getting through packet pickup in the spacious fire hall assembly room.  Lots of helpful volunteers got us our packets, numbers and t-shirts, and there was a very good crowd assembling as the morning's weather was really nice and encouraged a good walk-up registration. 

It was still kind of cool the first Saturday of April, so I still had my gloves and good toboggan on when they pulled a fire engine out to block US highway 52 and had us line up in the street ready to start.  There was an excellent crowd of about 100 runners and walkers, including two firemen wearing full gear including boots, helmets (with liners) and oxygen tanks.  They pulled the engine horn to start us, and soon we were headed south on highway 52 past some surprised drivers and truckers who had stopped for the race start.  After about a half-mile on 52 we made a right turn onto a more country road that we had to ourselves and navigated a bunch of turns with the help of excellent course monitors that made sure we didn't get lost.  A few folks were out in the morning air, and some of them were kind of surprised to see a bunch of runners and walkers coming through this Saturday morning.

The course was laid out like a big figure eight, so about the halfway point we passed behind the fire station and onto the north loop of the course.  Some volunteers had a nice water stop set up for us, and the course monitors knew some of the local runners and would encourage them along or joke with them like they were going to send them off-course rather than pointing out a turn.  The morning air felt great and I was running pretty well, although the last hill we traversed on the way back to highway 52 slowed me down a good bit; obviously I haven't broken my habit of taking off too quickly in the start of a race. 

We had one more hill to crest on highway 52, but then we could see all the way to the finish line area.  We made a left turn onto an access road and completed a quick loop around the Ansonville Church of God and then across the big chalked "FINISH" line in the parking lot.  That loop was blessedly downhill, and there was a good crowd of spectators lined up to cheer each runner as they came into view and passed by them to the finish line.  It felt like a very fast, very welcoming finish, and I'm sure most of the runners, like me, picked up the pace thanks to the encouragement and downhill.  The race timers from Vac n' Dash got us our finish cards which we handed in to the timing team, and the results were ready to go just about the time the final runners and walkers crossed the finish line. 

The firemen in full gear did a great job completing the course and received the biggest ovation from the spectators.  A team from Run for God was present and had a good number of participants in the crowd, too.  They set up a nice display about the fire station with giveaways for the kids, and one volunteer was ready with lots of post-race bottled water, fruit, and granola bars for some famished 5Kers.  The overall mens and womens winners took home kettlebells with the race logo -- a very creative alternative trophy for a nice race.  Surprisingly, I ran well enough to get a second-place finish in my age group and a very nice silver medal embossed with the race logo!

They got the inaugural Five-Alarm 5k off to a great start, and hopefully more folks will come from around the area to help fund the fitness improvements to the Ansonville Fire and Rescue Department.  I certainly had a great time with my morning in Anson County, and hopefully it will become a bigger event when it returns next year.  Thanks for adding another running event to the area, and thanks for having us!

Friday, January 4, 2013

2012 Year in Review

Well, despite the best-laid plans of mice and men and county-countdown runners....  Yep, as great a start as we got off to in 2012, the last quarter of the year didn't take us to too many new places because of busy schedules and not traveling as much.  But 2012 was still a great year for visiting new counties and running in new parts of the state; we still managed to run in 13 new counties -- more than one month on average (I did that math myself) -- and have an awful lot of fun in our journeys.

Chad's new counties in 2012 (4):  Hyde, Buncombe, Yancey, Stokes
Brad's new counties in 2012 (14):  Stanly, Beaufort, Richmond, Halifax, Lee, Hyde, Duplin, Yadkin, Cherokee, Polk, Clay, Person, Pasquotank, Stokes

Chad's total counties:  42
Brad's total counties:  68
Combined total counties:  78

It was another border-to-border year for us, as we got to visit everything from the mountains of Cherokee County and Yancey County in the west to the barrier islands of Hyde County to the Virginia borders of Stokes County to the northeastern shores of Pasquotank County.  We're fortunate to get to live and run in a very beautiful state, and each time we get to run someplace new it's a treat to get to see new sights and meet new folks. 

We were delighted to get to run together in an inaugural 5k together in Okracoke of Hyde County and in the hills of Stokes County.  Chad visited the beautiful Biltmore House in Buncombe County and the lovely small towns of Yancey County.  Brad got to run with some doggies at the Coon Dog Day 5k in Polk County and with the new Chatuge Running Club in Clay County and the Running of the Idiots in Stanly County.

We passed the seventy-county mark in May and had a chance at getting to eighty counties by the end of the year, but there will be opportunities to get there early in 2013.  With only about 20 counties left to visit, part of the scheduling issue now is that we have to find out when the remaining counties have races -- sometimes only one per year -- and plan around that.  We'll see how well we can do that in the coming year!

Keep an eye out for our tour bus coming through your town in 2013!  Keep those cards and letters coming in, and, as always, come run with us!  See you in the year ahead!