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!