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!