Saturday, July 23, 2016

Gaston County - Gastonia Grizzlies 5k - July 22, 2016

In my continuing tour of counties Chad already beat me to, this week's Friday evening run was at Sims Legion Park in Gastonia, North Carolina, for one of Gaston County's best races, the 4th annual Gastonia Grizzlies 5k!  The Gastonia Grizzlies are a summer collegiate baseball team in the Coastal Plain League, and the owners of the team are very good at incorporating interesting events and family fun into each game evening, and having the 5k each summer in conjunction with the local YMCA makes for a great family doubleheader with running and baseball!

We had no trouble finding Sims Legion Field -- it's within sight of interstate 85 as you head north -- and the organizers, both the Grizzlies staff and the YMCA staff, were up and running well before the main throng of runners arrived to check in.  Each runner got a nice race t-shirt along with a ticket to the game in their packet.  Since they've done this race a few years, they had the organization down and runners got all the information they needed, including where to get ready to enter the field for the race start.  Plus, as a YMCA event, they were very welcoming to slow runners, walkers, and strollers.

The race was emceed by Jesse Cole, the owner of the Grizzlies, and obviously quite a showman in his canary-yellow tuxedo for each game.  He directed the runners onto the field, where a pre-race invocation was held, and then we got organized in the foul territory just past third base, were a starting line sign had been placed.  Jesse gave us a few more directions about the race route, and then we were off!  We began by running right down the third base line -- there were 140 runners and walkers listed in the results -- across home plate, and then out the field gate, across the concourse, and out into the parking lot, where we followed the outside fence of the stadium to an adjacent street and then down the hill to the Highland Rail Trail greenway, a rails-to-trails project that converted part of the old Carolina and Northwestern Railway.

The volunteers did an outstanding job controlling traffic around the runners, whether it was sealing off part of the parking lot so that we had no incoming vehicle traffic to dodge, or blocking the streets around the greenway crossings so that we had free run of the street.  (Thanks also to Gastonia's Finest for their traffic control; again, very well organized by the event directors.)  The greenway is just over 1.5 miles in length, and we ran almost all the way down it, turned around, and headed back.  The greenway definitely had an uphill grade all the way out, but it did provide a lot of shade and some relief from the heat, plus we got to see all the runners at both turnarounds and encourage everyone on.  I was very, very relieved to get to the far turnaround and know that it was majority downhill back down the greenway, but I had burned out so much getting to the turnaround that the imagined burst of speed never materialized on the way back down.  But there were a couple of water stations along the way with enthusiastic volunteers that gave us some wonderfully chilled water.

Once we turned back off the greenway, we retraced our steps back up a short hill to the stadium and followed the fenceline once more to the concourse entrance, where we crossed through the arriving crowd plus Grizzlies mascot Chizzle and back onto the field.  For the last quarter-mile or so of the race, we moved through the warming-up Grizzlies players down the first-base line and then all they way around the outfield wall to the third-base line, and back down it just the way we started to the finish line at home plate.  With the arriving baseball fans and sizeable crowd, there was lots of cheering for the finishing runners, and then we had the run of the infield as we enjoyed orange slices and water in front of the visitors' dugout, took pictures, and hung out for the awards, which were nice medals for the overall winners and the top three in each age group.  Sadly, though, we eventually had to clear the field to make way for the baseball game, but there were some great burgers, brats and drinks at the concession stands to provide our dinner! 

The Grizzlies had their third sell-out of the season with the 5k promotion, and the team went on for a 3-2 walkoff victory to boot!  The organization of the race was excellent, and it was a very nice race course, and I especially liked getting to run around the stadium!  I'll need to be in better shape for the grade of the greenway next year, but I'm really hoping we'll get to come back and run with the Grizzlies again in the future.  It was a great trip to Gaston County!

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