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!