Saturday, May 24, 2014

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!

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