Saturday, May 27, 2017

Yancey County - Burnsville Fit Families 5k - May 13, 2017

If you're going to run Yancey County, you're probably going to run the Burnsville Fit Families 5k.  There is also a very tough trail race held in the mountains here, but if you're not a tough trail runner, this is probably going to be your race.  Chad was here back in 2012, and I finally made it all the way up into the mountains above Asheville near the Tennessee border this year.  (I wouldn't recommend the drive up here be made in the fog at night, though.)

The main town square in Burnsville is a perfect location for a race.  Right in the center of the square is the statue of Otley Burns, the privateer, War of 1812 hero, and North Carolina state senator after whom Burnsville is named.  You can look up from the town square in all directions and see mountains (it was still foggy on race morning, so the very tops of the hills were still cloud-shrouded).  And pretty much everything you need in a small town, from lodging to offices, from eats to courthouses, is right there on the square or a short ways away.  There was a farmers' market setting up just off the square selling all kinds of homemade or home-raised treats.  And of course it's Main Street that runs from east to west, so it's pretty much Americana anywhere you look.

The Burnsville Fit Families 5k has been around eight years, so they do a good job of organizing and putting on this race.  The locals know about it, so there are lots of families that come out to run, jog or walk together.  A group from the local Girls on the Run branch was going to take part, as well as a few competitors that looked like they could be getting ready for the fall high school cross-country season.  No matter where the runners, joggers and walkers came from, it was a good turnout well ahead of the race and the crowd was in good spirits, even with just a hint of a threat of a sprinkle.  Packet pickup was held just off the square in the First Baptist Church, and some of the volunteers were curious that I'd come all the way from Raleigh to run their race.  I really liked the gray shirts with the bold coloring and lettering. 

Race organizers did a great job ushering us over to the starting line on the south side of the town square, welcoming everyone and introducing the local dignitaries, and then we were off and running!  Like many races with lots of kids, the kids sprinted right to the front, so that the rest of us could pick them off one at a time as they burned out.  The elevation also drops off on most sides of the town square, so as we took off towards the west, we dropped down a hill, through a commercial area -- note to self: come back and try the Pig and Grits diner -- and then downhill again.  Of course everyone had a great pace the first mile because it was mostly downhill, but I tried to keep something in reserve since I knew we were going to have to come back up the hill in the second mile.

Near the bottom of the hill we made a right turn and started up some smaller hills as we worked through a residential area in a loop back to Main Street.  A few folks had some out to the street or to their front porches to watch the runners come by, and it was great to hear their encouragement.  When we turned back onto Main Street, we had to retrace our steps back up the big hill we had just run down, which would have been a lot tougher if we didn't have the overcast skies keeping the sun from heating us up.  It was a great race for spectators, as we eventually returned right back to the town square, continued around its perimeter, and then took off again to the north.  And kudos go to the folks who were manning the water stations all along the course for keeping us hydrated.

The second mile finished going up another hill, past a couple of churches and the Burnsville Fire Department, which also was out encouraging the runners.  The next turns took us over a creek and up another hill past the Parkway Playhouse and around School Circle, where an older school building had been converted into the local library.  At that point we had mostly a downhill return trip back past all these landmarks and back to the town square, where the finish line was set up on the northeast corner.  At least with the downhill stretches in the last mile, it was easier to keep a near-respectable pace to the finish.  Post-race, there was plenty more to drink and great snacks for us all.  There were 180 finishers listed in the results, and I hope everyone enjoyed the race at least as much as I did.  Lots of kids got rousing ovations when they crossed the finish line, and all the Girls on the Run participants were recognized for their accomplishment.  A small stage had been set up for the awards, and there was even good country music being played on the speakers to entertain folks as we cooled down and recounted our morning.

The town square at Burnsville is a great place to watch or take part in a race, and I am looking forward to when we can come back again to explore more of the town, the Mount Mitchell area, and this beautiful part of the state.  Come run Yancey County and Burnsville; they do a great job up here!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Moore County - Fairway 5k - May 6, 2017

Yep, we're still here and still getting around to new counties!  Chad beat me to Moore County, nearby home of Pinehurst, several years ago, but if I'm going to see every county, I have to visit it, too.  The great draw was the Fairway 5k, a race run on the cart path of the #1 course at the famed Pinehurst Resort.  The race was the kickoff event of the Pinehurst Concours car show, which brings lots of elegant, rare cars to the resort property.  Each entrant in the Fairway 5k received a ticket to the car show and the evening's concert, so the opportunity to run on one of the well-known courses, get entrance to the car show, and hear some great country music was a deal too good to miss!

Because of all the hoopla, the event had an earlier-than-usual start time of 7:00 a.m., so we had to get all three of us up and on the road very early.  But it was well worth it to be ahead of most of the Saturday traffic and to have some very nice early May cool temperatures to greet us when we got on the resort!  Parking for the race was on the infield of the horse track, and from there it was a very short walk over to the packet pickup set up at the halfway house of the #1 course, between the 4th green and the 5th tee.

A very good crowd was assembling for the race -- the results listed 105 finishers -- and more than one family besides ours was out to take part together.  The packet pickup was very organized, and runners had access to the bathrooms at the halfway house.  The t-shirts were very basic black on white.  The start/finish arch was set up alongside the house on the cart path, and the helpful race director gave us instructions about how the route proceeded.  We would not be following the cart path around the whole 18 holes (that would be closer to a 10k) but instead making some turns where the paths intersected.  Actually, the course was very, very well marked, so it was not hard understanding where the turns were, and it was an easy route to follow.

The race began right on time with the runners spreading out as we followed the cart path back along the 4th hole and continued along past most of the early holes.  I had stroller duty for the first part of the race, and fortunately for me it was the flatter part of the course, and from our spot safe in the back of the pack, we could easily see the lead runners streaming out ahead of us over several holes of the course.  The route itself was not entirely paved; the main traffic areas had concrete, but like many of the courses at Pinehurst, there are significant areas where the cart paths are not paved, allowing for easier maintenance and a back-to-nature effect at a very modern resort.

We made a couple of turns before we got to the main Pinehurst clubhouse (thus we didn't see where the cars were set up from the race course), and were then on the "back nine" of the #1 course.  The elevation changes were much more pronounced in the second half of the race, and more than once we could see runners ahead of us who had completed switchbacks and were at a higher elevation than us.  (It was also the half of the race where the boy got a little fussy in his stroller.)  There were some Pinehurst residents out in the morning, and more than a few were out specifically to watch the runners go by (running isn't normally allowed on the courses).  Of course, the homes along the course were very impressive and nearly all had a pretty back porch or deck overlooking the course.  We also noted that many of them had some variation of the Pinehurst Putterboy statue facing the course.

The last few hills in the final mile were very challenging, with or without a stroller.  We swapped stroller duties back and forth a few times and even took a walk break or two, but we could see the finish line arch ahead of us and finished with a good pace.  Our first mile pace was definitely the fastest, taking advantage of the flatness and even some downhills, with the second two miles the slowest ones.  But we were greeted back at the finish line with water and fruit, and even the boy got his first running medal for finishing the 5k, albeit in a stroller!

Nicole Esplin, a talented runner and Elon graduate who I know from the Raleigh running scene, was the overall winner, beating everyone around the loop with the only sub-20:00 time.  The overall winners got great little Putterboy statues, and the other age group winners received medals.  There was a brief sprinkle after the race, but it did not dampen enthusiasm or chase too many people away.  It was a wonderful early morning in Pinehurst, and it was great to mix the loves of family, running, golf, elegant cars, and music!  We'll definitely be back "fore" another race in Moore County!