Saturday, August 2, 2014

Currituck Couny - Christmas in July Sweaty Santa 5k - July 23, 2014

All right -- a fun race with a good idea and dedication to the theme!  I knew we'd be able to find a race in Currituck County, right on the beach in the northern end of the Outer Banks, but when I discovered the mid-week "Christmas in July" Sweaty Santa 5k, it was obviously worth a vacation day for the trip!  Some race organizers have a good idea for a race, but may not throw themselves into it whole hog, but the Sweaty Santa 5k organizers, the good folks at Village Realty OBX and Outer Banks RunCations, really went all out!  Plus, Kathy is a big costume and themed race fan, so she was all the more excited to have a chance to run in her reindeer antlers with me in my Santa cap.  So it's off to the coast we go!

The race was set up on the property of the historic Whalehead Club, a building that dates to the 1920s and served as an oceanfront retreat for wealthy hunters and conservationists before being converted to a preserved historic building.  We arrived race morning and had no problems picking up our packets and enjoying the pre-race festivities.  Santa was there himself, in his summer garb of flip-flops, walking shorts, Hawaiian shirt, and straw hat.  We even got to have our picture made with him!  The organizers had set up a selfie-ready small living room with Christmas tree and recliner, and even the start/finish scaffolding was decorated with pine boughs, a wreath, and tinsel!  Each runner got their own Santa hat!  (but mine was nicer)  And the PA system was playing Christmas carols in the lead-up to the race.  Great execution on the race theme!

Finally all the Santas, elves and reindeer, just under 400 in all, got lined up and we were out through the Whalehead property and back on highway 12, the road that goes north/south through the Outer Banks.  We turned north and headed for the sandy north end of the island, running on sidewalks and the sides of the road where possible.  It was a very hot, humid morning, so we were all soaked very quickly and starting to overheat as the sun beat down on us.  Fortunately there was water at the turnaround on the northern end, just a little short of where highway 12 becomes the sandy seashore.  Headed back, we had a bit of a breeze, which helped, plus we were able to look at some very pretty coastal homes that dot the area around Corolla.  To make the race the full 5k length, when we re-entered the Whalehead property, we ran a loop around a separate parking lot that fronts the historic Currituck Lighthouse and then nearly circled back to highway 12 before making a straight line to the finish area!  Goodness gracious, it was hot, and I was glad to dive into the post-race fluids and then get in line for a very nice post-race hot breakfast!

We were welcome to hang out at the Whalehead Club post-race, and we found two rocking chairs (in the shade) overlooking the sound to eat our breakfasts and watch some kids play in the yard.  Then we went walking around the rest of the property, including ascending the 220 steps to the top of the lighthouse!  Great concept all around and excellent execution on the first annual Sweaty Santa 5k!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Mitchell County - Rhododendron Run 10k - June 21, 2014

As mentioned in some prior posts, local festivals and events have been a big boon to the countdown, as races have become a popular addition of festivities everywhere.  A long-standing example is the Rhododendron Festival in Bakersville, NC and it's accompanying 10k race.  This year was the 68th year of the festival and the 37th running of the 10k, one of many festival events including a pageant (one of my friends has been the Rhododendron Queen), a golf tournament, and a crafts fair.  And it was the best opportunity we had to get a race in Mitchell County up in the mountains!

Bakersville is a lovely little town in the mountains, but it does take some driving to get there.  We actually had to stay a little ways out of town because the few hotels in Bakersville were tied up with other festival attendees.  But once we arrived on race morning, it was no trouble checking in and getting set for the event.  The race shirts were a lovely faded purple with a big rhododendron logo, and the race had also been designated as the 2014 North Carolina RRCA 10k State Championship!  So it was a big deal all around, but I was especially delighted with the race shirts.  Packet pickup was in the gym of an elementary school were the post-race festivities would be held, but once we had checked in, we had a bit of a walk down a couple of streets to the main section of town, where the starting line was set up.

Crimson Laurel Way, the main road through town, was where the starters lined up just over 130 of us runners for the 10k.  Unlike some of the flat, fast races we had been doing in the eastern part of the state, this mountain race promised some elevation changes.  The first part of the race was a big loop through the main part of Bakersville; we kept making left turns over Cane Creek and Honeycutt Branch until, just under a mile into the race, we swept by the starting line again, giving the spectators another chance to see their runners go by.  We made a few more turns and then turned the opposite way to follow Cane Creek out of town.

The last four miles of the race were an out-and-back following Cane Creek down -- naturally -- Cane Creek Road.  In addition to get some hill workouts, we also got some spitting rain just to remind us that it was getting more cloudy as we ran along.  But with the out-and-back we did get to see all the other runners both in front and behind us.  The highest elevation point on the course was, of course, right at the turnaround, and as we made the turn to head back towards town, the skies opened and a deluge began.  We were soaked pretty quickly, which even tickled the law enforcement that was monitoring the roads to keep the runners safe.  The wet clothes kept us cool, but it was a bit of a slog even when the rain tapered back to a sprinkle in the last mile.

Instead of going all the way back into town, we made a couple of turns that brought us back to Gouge Primary School for the finish line approach.  They did a great job setting up the finish line so that you could see it during your whole approach and hopefully use it for some inspiration.  We sloshed across the finish line and then made a bee-line for the school cafeteria, where we would finally be out of the precipitation and get to enjoy the festive post-race pancake breakfast.  The pancakes were still warm and tasted really good in our cold wet bellies.  We socialized with a few of the other soaking-wet runners, had seconds on pancakes, and then headed home to dry out.  It really was a lot of fun at the Rhododendron Run 10k, and hopefully we'll be back to run this one again in some drier weather -- and maybe play in that golf tournament, too!

Saturday, May 31, 2014


Wow, we've made it to 90 counties!  We've really covered a lot of ground now, from the coast to the mountains, from the north border to the south border, and everywhere in between -- multiple times!  Between the two of us, we've run in 90% of North Carolina's counties!

The last ten counties we've visited took just over a year to collect.  Now we're down to the last 10, and we're pretty much at the mercy of the race schedules for those counties.  Hopefully when we can find a race in one of them, we will be able to work our calendar around it -- otherwise we'll keep dragging the finish of the countdown further into the future.  Given some good knees and budgets, hopefully we'll make it to our finish line in about a year!  Keep those cards and letters coming in, and watch out for us coming through your town real soon!

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

Still to go: Alexander, Alleghany, Camden, Caswell, Cleveland, Currituck, Henderson, Madison,  Mitchell, Transylvania

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Pamlico County - The Don Lee Creature Crawl 5k - May 18, 2014

Not only is Pamlico County home to some of North Carolina's best sailing spots, it's also home to Don Lee Camp and Retreat Center, affiliated with the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, which is home each May to a camp-wide open house and the Creature Crawl 5k.  Brad grew up going to Methodist camps in the mountains, so it was nice to see what the ocean version of camp would be!  With the open house going on, there were all kinds of exhibits, demonstrations and exploring going on, so we got a nice view of all the camp activities and possibilities while waiting for the race to start.

Although this was only the 2nd annual running of the Creature Crawl 5k, the staff had the check-in process down.  We received some nice red Camp Don Lee shirts (with a different date) in our goodie bag, along with more camp info.  The race itself was going to start out in front of one of the cabins close to the river, so we eventually all made our way over there, where a friendly guy with a bullhorn thanked everyone for coming out, encouraged us all to enjoy the camp and have fun while we were there, and then sent us off on the run!

The route led quickly out of the camp along the main entrance road, and there were plenty of cheers and honks from folks who were taking part in the open house festivities and drivers still coming in and out.  We passed the dining hall and the medical center and several other cabins and meeting areas, then we went by the front Don Lee Camp sign and out.  A brief run along the entrance road took us to a water station about the 1-mile mark, where we turned towards the Neuse River and ran along River Road, where there were both some run-down houses that showed their age and some newer structures that were more polished.  It was also not clear exactly whether a storm was rolling in; we definitely had some sprinkles of rain, but what we originally thought was thunder actually turned out later to be booms from the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point across the river.  (I ran the MCAS Cherry Point half-marathon to get Craven County years earlier.)

It was a bit of a surprise when we turned off River Road and onto a grass path around the perimeter of a large, grassy field.  It's always nice to get off the road for races when possible, so the break from asphalt was very welcome.  It remained nice and flat, but the rain picked up a little bit, so I was ready to make the turn back towards camp and start the return trip.  We returned the way we came, back down River Road, making the turn back towards camp at the water station, and then back into camp by the main sign and the camp buildings.  The rain had pretty much ended by the time we got back to the start/finish area, so everyone was in a very good mood and happy to dig into the post-race refreshments.  We waited a while to see if the evening open house dinner was going to be ready soon, but with that meal still a couple of hours away, we decided to get back on the road home.  But we enjoyed our time in Pamlico County and we look forward to our next flat run there!

Bladen County - White Lake Water Festival 10k - May 18, 2014

Bladen County's beautiful White Lake is home to many triathlons during the year -- my wife Kathy loves the White Lake as a triathlon setting because the spring water is so clear that you can see all the way to the sandy bottom, even at its deepest points -- but we were only able to find two pure running events there, the 10k and 1-mile that are held each May as part of the White Lake Water Festival (2014 was the 36th annual festival).  This had been a bigger race in previous years, but we hear attendance has been down the last couple of years.  The Sunday morning start time could be a hindrance, but Saturday is chock full with other festival events.  At any rate, it's usually a date that conflicts with the NCRC's Classic Half-Marathon and 10k back home, so I had to take a year away from volunteering for that event in order to finally get down to Bladen County.

It couldn't have been a prettier May morning to be driving past the lakes and blueberry fields of Bladen County on our way down to the race.  Unfortunately, we arrived very close to race time, had to jump through registration in a hurry, and then hustle the quarter-mile or so from the main staging area (parking lot for the amusement park) to the starting line.  Although it wasn't an overwhelming crowd, there were several groups of serious runners that had showed up to take advantage of the great morning and the flat, fast course.  The 10k route can best be described as almost a full counterclockwise lap around White Lake.  (The 1-mile is an out-and-back.)  It's amazingly flat -- later my Garmin would show only 15 feet of elevation gain over the six miles.  I wasn't nearly in good running form yet after some time off for injury recovery, wedding, and honeymoon, but it could be a nice, easy flat run.

We didn't have much of a chance to size up the crowd before we got started, and then we were focused on circling the lake.  The first mile-plus was along White Lake Drive, so we were running past residential areas and businesses that are part of the White Lake neighborhood.  Shortly into the second mile, we moved out onto NC highway 701, which was much more open to the sun, had more traffic, and was more industrial.  There was very good support from local law enforcement to manage the traffic and keep the runners safe, plus some excellent volunteers manned the much-needed water stations to help keep us cool.  Unfortunately, as we neared the halfway point of the race, I was suffering some digestive stress and had to make a short trip into a gas station just off the road to take care of the problem.  (You can see a sudden change of direction in my Garmin map.)

The second half of the race was much better on my stomach, even if we never really got any speed going.  The "back side" of the lake on highway 53 had much more shade, and we were back into residential and camping areas.  Kathy pointed out the North Carolina Future Farmers of America White Lake Center, which had been the home base for some of the triathlons she had done at White Lake (we visited there later to check out the lake vistas).  The last couple of miles, we encountered the Great White White Lake Wall, a looooong white picket fence that separates one of the White Lake neighborhoods from highway 53.  The fence was about six feet tall and over a mile long -- probably one of the walls visible from space -- and that was our view of the lake the last mile or so.  But finally we did round the last corner back onto White Lake Drive, and soon the finish line came into view.  It couldn't have been flatter.

Post-race, there was a small selection of food and drink to refresh the runners, and then the awards ceremony -- with very, very nice trophies and awards -- took place in the parking lot of one of the municipal buildings.  We thought one of us might be in the running for an age group award, but it was unfortunately not to be.  But even though we only took home memories and not hardware from White Lake, we will always appreciate the lake vistas and this wonderfully flat run!

Monday, February 3, 2014

2013 Year in Review

2013 was a year full of ups and downs on the running front.  Unfortunately, it was a year where Chad had to deal with some injuries and some recuperation, but it was a year where Brad got to knock some smaller counties off the list.  We passed the 80-county mark in April, and we have a good shot at getting to 90 early in 2014.  Given a few more races in small counties, a good budget, and some extra knees, we just might make it to 100 in a year or two!

Brad's new counties in 2013 (10):  Anson, Wayne, Jones, Gates, Northampton, Watauga, Caldwell, McDowell, Washington, Wilson

Chad's total counties:  42
Brad's total counties:  78
Combined total counties:  88

A great run is a great run, no matter what county or counties you're in, and Brad's best run of the year may have been the Grandfather Mountain Marathon through Watauga, Caldwell and Avery Counties.  The Greater Goldsboro 10k in Wayne County was one of the best 10Ks Brad has had in many years, and he also had a great 5k in Washington County at the 5k Family Fun Walk/Run.  The tour bus got to visit some nice small towns in small counties, and we met some really nice folks and ran with some excellent runners.  The Old North State is a great place to be running.

The best part of the year, though, was Brad getting Kathy as a lifetime running partner after their engagement late in the year.  Brad and Kathy pulled in some age-group awards together in a couple of races, and we're looking forward to seeing how they do in the future as a married couple!  Congrats, and all the best for a lifetime of running fitness to come!

Keep an eye out for us in 2014 as we have lots of ground left to cover.  Keep those cards and letters coming in!  Come out and run with us as we knock out those last few counties!