Saturday, October 10, 2015

Caswell County - Caswell EMS Breast Cancer Trail 5k - October 10, 2015

Caswell County was another mostly-rural county where we had trouble finding a race.  There were a couple of opportunities over the last few years, including one I registered for but had to drop in favor of a rarer opportunity in a county to the east.  Eventually, though, I discovered that the Caswell County EMS had been organizing annual fundraiser 5Ks starting in 2013 to benefit employees that were battling breast cancer.  Once I knew their usual planning routine -- second Saturday in October -- it was easy to reserve the weekend for an opportunity to knock out one more of the "tough" counties.

With my dad in tow as my support crew, we rolled into Yanceyville well ahead of the race and had time to register and get a nice t-shirt.  One organizer said they had been having 50-60 runners and walkers each year so far, and the crowd that was assembling appeared to be about the same size.  It had rained earlier in the morning, and as we were waiting for the festivities to begin, another brief shower came through that sent everyone scurrying for the tents or for cars to get out of the rain.  Fortunately, though, it didn't scare anyone away, and after it passed folks returned to the parking lot and the pre-run water station.  The first event of the day was the kids' one-mile run, and sure enough, a brother and sister turned out to run the last mile of the 5k course.  The race director jogged along with them, and they all received a big hand from the other runners as they finished the route.

Once the race director had caught his breath, he introduced the EMS staffer who had been the recipient of the inaugural race proceeds a couple of years earier -- she was walking this year -- and then there was an invocation and the playing of the national anthem.  Once we had received a quick description of the course, we were ushered out onto Fire Tower Road (in the shadow of the actual fire tower) and sent on our way!  Caswell County's finest blocked traffic on Fire Tower Road, and we ran about a quarter-mile down the road and into the entranceway for the Caswell Senior Center before turning into a very nice trail system that was likely set up to give the seniors an opportunity to walk in nature whenever they wanted.

The trail system was very well cleared and defined, and the race organizers had gone ahead and marked any potential trip hazards with pink paint -- in a few places, the race director joked, it looked like the Pink Panther had exploded.   The trail surface was mostly dirt with roots interlaced and only a few rocky obstructions.  I'm sure the turtle in the middle of the trail about the three-quarter-mile mark was very surprised that its morning stroll was being interrupted by all the activity!  The elevation changes weren't severe, but there were lots of little uphills and downhills throughout the course.  About a mile into the race, we entered a small clearing where the race route had been defined by mowing and by little flags, and we made three or four crossings across the clearing before entering more of the trail system.  After more twists and turns through the woods, we were back on the trails entering the system, and then we returned to Fire Tower road outside the senior center and headed back to the start/finish area.  The music was still playing, and the race organizers and many spectators, including Dad, were watching and encouraging all the participants.  I came by in about ninth position, but the two runners ahead of me were reachable.

However, we still had a mile to run, and just like the kids earlier, we continued on to the last mile of the race route.  We continued down to another trail system entrance, ran through its parking area, and into a wholly different set of trails.  Like the first system, these trails were mostly dirt and roots, but they had also been marked for tripping hazards.  This trail network was much more twisty and turny, and there were some loops incorporated into the route, but the organizers had staffed the more complex trail intersections with volunteers to make sure no one went the wrong way.  I was able to catch both of the runners I could see ahead of me, but I could hear one of them picking up ground on the downhills, but falling back behind on the uphills.  Fortunately, when we finished the last trail section and were on the road to the finish line, it was all uphill and I had more left than him, so I finished in a solid seventh position overall, just under the 31-minute mark.

Surprisingly, that was good enough for third in my age group, which delighted me and Dad to no end.  It really felt like a good run after so many average outings I had had in the previous few weeks.  The manicured trail was so nice to run on and gave my legs some rest from the beating they had taken on the roads, and the small nature of the event was very enjoyable.  I'll be back to run in Caswell County again!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Transylvania County - Brevard Firecracker 10k - July 4, 2015

If you’re going to run a race in Transylvania County, eventually you’re going to meet the Brevard Rotary Club, which organizes the three biggest races in Brevard – the White Squirrel Festival 5k/10k over Memorial Day weekend, the Firecracker 5k/10k on July Fourth, and the Flight of the Vampire 5k (a perfect theme race for Transylvania County).  After missing the White Squirrel Festival 10k over the last couple of years, we set our sights instead on the Firecracker 10k in order to get our race in Transylvania County. 
The Brevard Rotary Club works with Brevard College (home of the Tornados) to host the races and serve as the location of the start/finish line.  In spite of some threatening rain, all of packet pickup and registration was very organized and chugging along well when we arrived.  (They might could use some extra porta-johns.)  The race organizers had crafted some excellent red, white and blue tech shirts with the race logo for the runners, and there was even some pre-race food and water.  The Rotarians held a pledge to the flag, the national anthem, and then they recognized all the current and past military folks before lining up the 10k runners, who were starting about 15 minutes before the 5k runners.  Many folks had on festive Fourth of July costumes like stars-and-stripes socks and shorts, and there were even appearances by Captain America, Superman, Wolverine, and Wonder Woman, who gave great inspiration by reaching across the divide between DC and Marvel Comics to run together.  Just under 80 runners took part in the 10k, and just over 300 were in the 5k.

The courses for both races started out with some twists and turns through the campus before we turned out onto some of the roads through town.  Being in the foothills of the North Carolina mountains, we expected some hills and weren’t disappointed, but the race overall was much flatter than I had envisioned.  We hit one hill through the center of Brevard, then we passed by the Brevard Little Theater (see “The Miracle Worker” in August) and we were on our way out of town.  Many folks, probably used to all the races coming through their neighborhoods, were out at the street or having yard parties to cheer for all the runners as they came by in the morning.  The 10k course separated from the 5k course to take an out-and-back along the French Broad River, which treated us to some wonderful morning views of the Smoky Mountains, and we had a chance to see all the runners as we passed each other.  Excellent volunteers were stationed at all the race intersections to direct the runners, and law enforcement from throughout Transylvania County handled the traffic.

Once we returned into Brevard, we got another tour of some residential areas and another short but steep hill we had to climb.  We passed again down one of the main Brevard roads, circled Franklin Park and the public pool, and then a few more turns brought us back to Brevard College, were we re-traced our steps back to the finish line.  It was a great morning to be running, still cool and overcast enough to make it a pleasurable run even with higher humidity.  Post-race, the organizers quickly assembled the results from both races and passed out red, white and blue medals to the overall and age-group champions.  We replenished ourselves with more water, walked around the beautiful campus for a little while, and met some of the other runners who had some from throughout the Transylvania County area to take part in the race.  It was a great start to our Independence Day activities, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Brevard.  Thanks for putting on a great race!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Alexander County - RockyFest Trail 10k - May 9, 2015

(The race report for Alexander County is provided by Brad's wife, Kathy!)

This race combined three of my favorite activities:  mountain trail hiking, running, and rock climbing.  Sure, they called it a "Trail Race," but there was enough vertical at some points to call it (in rock climbing terms) a 5.3 scramble.  This third annual race in Taylorsville, North Carolina is not an easy access from major highways, but Rockyface Mountain Recreation Park is worth the journey.  Beautiful view from the parking lot of the face as well as amazing views from up the mountain.  The festival started with the 10k and 20k trail races at 8:30 a.m. and the Kurt Barkley 5k at 9:00 a.m.  Vendors, artisans, food stands, musicians, free rock climbing clinics, and various inflatable bounce gyms (this race had me in mind!) started setting up while we started running and were in full swing by the end of the race.

The race was extremely well organized, which was a relief because we were probably the only participants who were doing this race "site unseen."  Everyone was required to sign in before the race started.  The race director had a large map display and explained the route thoroughly -- however, I could only remember him mentioning "Stairway to Heaven" as the difficult uphill part (more to come on that).  Despite my poor route memory, they had the course well-staffed at every turn or intersection.  Almost every course monitor was armed with a walkie-talkie and a cooler full of water bottles.

The race started out on the flat parking and picnic area, which gave a good quarter-mile to thin out the group before hitting the single-track trails.  Once in the woods, it wasn't long until the route started climbing.  Not too far into the first ascent, most everyone pulled ahead and out of sight.  At the back, it was one very encouraging Doug Dawkins, Brad, me, and a woman who quickly dropped behind and out of sight.  At the top of the first climb, shortly after the first mile completed, there was a check-in station.  No need to stop, because the four course monitors read our bibs and radioed it to the race headquarters.  And then we were on our own because Doug Dawkins kicked our butts on the downhill switchbacks.  Every time we had another switchback, I could see him getting further ahead until he was out of sight.

And then we hit another incline, mountain top (well, I thought it was, but I discovered later I was wrong), and descent.  And then another climb with a beautiful vista.  We stopped and while enjoying the view (maybe also catching our breath), we decided to take a picture.  Our photographer/course monitor, we discovered, was on the phone broadcasting about the race live through a local radio station.  We were briefly unnamed stars of the broadcast!  As we began our next descent over some very rocky and rooty turns, we were lapped by a gazelle who was later confirmed to be the leader of the 20k.  I guess experience is your friend on this trail race (or maybe it's just being accustomed to trail racing in general) because I could only imagine myself getting some speed and soon thereafter kissing the dirt or breaking an ankle.  Granted, I may just need a little more experience.

Then it came.  Mile 4.  As mile 4 started we hit an incline with a rope handrail.  I asked the 12-year-old course monitor, "Is this the Highway to Heaven?"  "Umm...yeah."  OK great.  That was survivable.  Oh but alas, it was not.  Not even close.  Keep running and get ready because here comes the bald with what was more like a 5.3 scramble climb.  The surface of the bald reminded me of Stone Mountain, NC -- lunar-like appearance.  We ran up past the cones and cairn piles and then transversed the mountain side before entering a grove of trees.  When I saw that I said, "Ok, I'm going to see if I can run this," thinking this steep incline ended at the trees.  Off I went -- and I was wrong.  THEN came the steep, long part.  I still cannot figure out why someone thought "Stairway to Heaven" was an appropriate name for that.  I could have thought of a number of other names -- and did say a few of them out loud (not in front of the course monitor) on my ascent.  Brad and I took break before entering the grove at the top.  But wait!  There's more!  The trail continued at an incline, not as severe, once into the woods for a total of 611 feet ascent during all of mile 4 without any descent.

Two miles to go.  The course looped us around part of the trail we ran earlier in the race with the same rocky, rooty downhill where we were again passed by the gazelle on his last loop through the 20k.  As we exited out of the woods onto the final quarter-mile, we could see the top two 20k racers crossing the finish line.

Brad and I both finished our 10k just under 2 hours, which under normal circumstances would have been most embarassing.  However, I was proud.  I came out of that course on my feet with no scrapes, bruises or broken bones.  The rush of completing a challenging course that had a total elevation gain of 1,127 feet, even if I didn't get a good time, was worth every minute.

For over a month, I thought Brad and I were the last to finish the 10k because I never saw the lady who dropped behind us on race day.  I figured she'd dropped out and was long gone by the time we finished.  Well, race results posted showed we weren't the last.  She finished 30 minutes after we did.  Kudos to you, unknown lady, who didn't quit either!  You made it!

Finishers got a t-shirt that says, "I Survived the RockyFace Trail Run" and a medal.  I'm not a fan of getting a medal for a race shorter than a half-marathon, but this one I'll keep.  The race advertised that anyone who could finish the 10k under an hour or the 20k under two hours would get their entry fee back.  It had not been done before.  But this year, the top three of each race made it in under the time.  Thankfully for the race, the runners were more interested in the bragging rights than the money back and I have a feeling the race director will change that policy for next year.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Madison County - Fiddlin' 5k - April 11, 2015

Believe it or not, we did have plans to be further along in the countdown this year.  We went through a bitterly cold winter that squashed plans for a couple of trips to new counties that we had in mind and decreased our running mileage overall.  But we hope that the rest of 2015 will be a good chance to go to some new places!  
There is a reason Mars Hill University in Madison County, north of Asheville, NC, is not called Mars “Flat” University.  It’s a very hilly area, right in the middle of the North Carolina mountains, and races in the area will have plenty of elevation change to them.  We found that out when we arrived to take part in the Fiddlin’ 5k, a small local race that benefits the Bascom Lamar Lunsford “Minstrel of Appalachia” Festival and the Junior Appalachian Musicians, a local program through the Madison County Arts Council that teaches mountain traditions through music and dance education.  
The center of the university’s upper quad was the home of all the race organization, from check-in and packet pick-up to the start/finish line, post-race food, and live bluegrass entertainment both before and after the run.  We had no trouble getting checked in, and the t-shirts, with a big fiddle logo, were an immediate hit with both of us.  We had plenty of time to look around and explore part of the campus before the race began.

Almost 100 runners joined us at the starting line, and we all charged out on to the main street of Mars Hill (named Main Street, naturally), an uphill (of course) as we headed out of town, finally making a turn onto a nice downhill that followed Gabriel Creek and some farms for a little while.  At one point we had a field full of cows lowing for us!  

A great feature of the Fiddlin’ 5k is that live bluegrass is played along the course for the runners; a pair of musicians played for us just about the one-mile mark, and at the halfway water stop (at the top of the biggest hill on the course) there was another tent with live music being played.  We passed by Mars Hill Elementary School (home of the Wildcats) on the way back into town, and a couple of turns later, we were headed back onto the university campus.  There were two more large groups of musicians playing for us as we wound the last half-mile through campus, and after one last hill, we were back on the main quad, where the live music had been playing at the start/finish line all during the race.  A quick sprint across the quad, and we were done!  It wasn’t our fastest run, for sure, but we enjoyed the beautiful course and all the music along the route.
Post-race, there was plenty of food and some excellent coffee for the runners.  Madison County had provided plenty of maps and brochures about the area’s hiking and biking trails (the Appalachian Trail goes through), and the excellent bluegrass group played on until the awards were ready.  We were both surprised to find out we had each placed third in our respective age groups, entitling us to some wonderful pottery medals!  The overall male and female winners got pottery mugs with the race logo and a fiddle-shaped cutting board.

We had a great time running up and down the lovely hills of the Mars Hill area!  The weather was very pleasant and cool in the morning, with the blooms running about a week behind where Raleigh was.  But it was a wonderful trip and a very well-organized race!  The shirts will be favorites of ours for a long time! Thanks for a great time in Madison County!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

2014 Year in Review

Well, we had higher hopes for the number of counties we would be able to get in 2014, but we'll settle for quality instead of quantity.  Part of the difficulty of being so close to the end of the countdown is that we only have a few places left to go, and if for some reason -- bad weather, schedule conflict, marriage -- we don't make it, it's wait until next year!  But we did have a great time in some beautiful parts of the state.  And the best part was that Brad had his new wife Kathy as a forever running partner!

Marriages:  1
Brad's new counties in 2014 (4):  Bladen, Pamlico, Mitchell, Currituck
Chad's total counties:  42
Brad's total counties:  82
Combined total counties:  92

Once again we went border-to-border this year, from the Rhododendron Run in the North Carolina mountains to the Sweaty Santa 5k on the Outer Banks!  We saw the lovely sound in Pamlico County and the blueberry fields of Bladen County!  It's a beautiful state to live and run in, and hopefully we'll do lots more of each in the year ahead!

It's going to be hard to reach the end of the countdown in 2015, but hopefully we can make it really, really close!  Only a few more places left to visit in the tour bus!  Keep those cards and letters coming in!  Come out and run with us as we knock out those last few counties!