Thursday, July 21, 2016

Guilford County - Moonlight Bootlegger 5k - July 9, 2016

Chad made it to Guilford County, just a quick drive over from home, many years ago, but for some reason it took me a while to work around to visit this nearby county for a race (not for a lack of trying; I did register for one race but that trip fell through).  At any rate, I was glad to finally get to visit Guilford County and get to run an interesting race there.

The Moonlight Bootlegger 5k is a race series themed around the old moonshine legends, of bootleggers high-tailing it down country roads and trails at night to avoid the Revenuers.  To evoke that Prohibition-Era theme, the Bootlegger folks stage evening trail races in country settings with "moonshine" drinks as a post-race treat.  This race in Pleasant Garden at Hagen-Stone Park was one of eight races being organized around the southeast and midwest this year.

It was no problem getting to Hagen-Stone Park early Saturday evening, where the pre-race preparations were in full swing.  My friends Charles and Blanca were part of the volunteer contingent that had checked and cleared the course and put out tealights to help mark the route.  All the runners were required to have a headlamp and/or a flashlight as well.  Check-in was no problem, were we all got nice race shirts and were advised about where the moonshine drinks would be available once we finished.  And there was a good bluegrass band playing on the stage to entertain all the runners who had arrived early and were just hanging out until the race started.  They had also set up the finish line chute and banner just a few steps over from the stage.  Eventually the race directors appeared on stage for some last-minute directions and information, and then all the runners walked en masse about a quarter-mile into the park where the starting line was set up.

There were four waves of runners in all to keep the congestion on the trail down.  (Charles was in wave one, I was in wave three -- safe in the back of the pack.)  It was just starting to get dusky for this 8:55 p.m. start, so they did a good job evoking that "moonlight" theme.  In addition, they had a drone flying over the start area, and they got some good video of all the start waves with it.  After watching both the early waves start, my group was ushered into the starting chute, and once we were ready to go, it was off into the woods!

The first part of the race passed by a lake and then entered one of the park system's trails in the woods.  The first mile had a lot of switchbacks in it, so with everyone wearing or carrying lights, you could sort of gauge where we were going next and hear all the runner conversations.  Even in the dark, the route was very well marked, with tealights along the ground and tape and strobe lights blocking the trail segments we were not supposed to take.  There were a few places where I had to look hard to spot the next tealight in the distance, but for the most part the lights were close enough together that we didn't struggle.  The trail was in good shape as well; I snagged my foot a couple of times on roots or rocks or small animals, but I was in a nice, easy pace and none of them brought me down.

The mile markers were indicated by speakers in the woods playing bluegrass, which was an unusual touch, and there was one water station about halfway through were volunteers were handing out water.  But they were just about the only volunteers we saw on the course, other than one volunteer who indicated the route as we passed another lake in the last mile.  And there weren't any tough elevation changes in the route, so it turned out to be a very nice, easy run through the woods and would probably be a very relaxing training run in the daylight.

Near the end we skirted the border of another lake and did a few more switchbacks, and then we went around the perimeter of the clearing where all the pre-race festivities had been held and where the finish chute was set up.  (We had been able to hear the noise and cheering for a bit.)  Although it had been hot and humid before the race, it was a bit cooler on the trail, and coming back to the clearing gave us a chance to get breezes again.  After some quick hydration, I got in line for my "moonshine" drinks, which were served in a great glass intended to look like a Mason jar.  Since it was a city park, I would have been surprised if it was real moonshine, but whatever they had added to the "cherry coke" and "peach tea" drinks to make them "moonshine" drinks was OK.

They did a great job executing the theme of the race and adding lots of touches throughout the event to build that theme.  More than 200 runners took part!  The night run aspect was very unique, and I very much enjoyed the bluegrass music along with the very nice race shirt and my post-run drinks!  I hope the Moonlight Bootlegger 5k will be coming by my area again next year!

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