Firecracker 10k in Cherokee County and the Brevard Firecracker 10k in Transylvania County. This worked out well for us in finding a good race in tiny Alleghany County up in the northwest corner of the state, and with it being a holiday weekend, we spent the majority of the weekend in the mountains.
The Freedom 5k is organized by the Blue Ridge Christian School in Glade Valley, just a little south of the county seat of Sparta. The school has previously organized a set of fall races, the Mountain Heritage 5k/10k, but this year they opted to organize just the 5k as a July Fourth race. This was a county we had been trying to collect for a while, and I have to credit president Donny McCall for giving me good information about their schedule so that we could make sure we collected this county.
We arrived race morning and checked in early to receive our bibs, race numbers, and race packets that included our t-shirts, notes about the sponsors, pens, and a "save the date" reminder for next year. (Kathy was going to walk the 5k with Junior while I ran.) All the volunteers handling packet pickup and raceday registration in the school's main level were very helpful, very excited, and glad to see all of the runners that had made the trip to support the school and see some of the county. There was a very nice spread of water and fruit for the runners both pre- and post-race to enjoy.
Before the race, Kathy and I had the delight of meeting Donna, the very first groupie for Chad and Brad's 100-County Countdown. In casual conversation about the race, Donna asked where we were from, and when she heard the story about collecting all the North Carolina counties, she paused, thought a moment, and said, "I've heard of you!" Turns out Donna is collecting all the NC counties as well (she's based in the mountains and most of her 33 counties are in that area), and while looking for a race in Jones County happened to come across our race report from the Knight's Run 5k in this very same blog! We had a great time talking about running around the Old North State, and hopefully we'll be able to help Donna find races in some far-flung counties and follow her on her excursion as well!
Six very impressive youngsters finished the kids' mile in good form, and then 30 to 40 runners and walkers lined up to start the 5k. It was a two-loop course. We got off to a great, fast downhill start, as we ran down past the front of the school and an assembly building and continued into the shade. It was a clear, sunny morning, but in the shady spots, it was comfortably cool and quite enjoyable for a run. Most of the first half-mile was in that downhill start, where we made a loop around a local cemetery and then progressed partway back up the hill. Then we made a sharp turn back onto the school's property and the race became a trail run through a small bit of woods and then into a switchback pattern mowed into the school's backyard.
It was much more sunny on the back property, and we went back and forth many times in the switchbacks, a process Kathy labeled the "conveyor oven" as we baked on each back-and-forth. It could well have been a great cross-country course if the school ever organizes one, and it was a very pretty, but hot, setting for the race. Once we finished covering the backyard property, we followed the playground area back to the road at the top of the hill, and then we were off for the second loop!
They had a water stop set up for the runners as we began the second loop, and that water was mighty tasty after finishing the sunny switchbacks, plus the downhill part of the course back to the cemetery and its shade were much appreciated as well. The volunteers did a great job pointing out the route to the runners and keeping us on course. The second time back up the hill and the second time through the sunny switchbacks were tough on my old legs, but the switchbacks allowed us to see where we stood in the "field" as we had a good view of runners both behind us and in front of us.
Finally we were back on the road and coasting to a nice, easy downhill finish. There were lots of volunteers and spectators welcoming back the runners, and as soon as everyone was back, president McCall got right to the awards, with yours truly collecting an age-group second in the race! The awards were very nice fired clay medals that the BRCS students had made themselves to thank the runners. We hung around for a little while after the race to talk more about the area and the running opportunities, and hopefully we'll be able to use that "save the date" note to return for the Freedom 5k in a future year! Thanks to president McCall, all of his staff and volunteers, and all the runners for making our trip to Alleghany County so much fun!