If you haven't been to the U.S. National Whitewater Center in West Mecklenburg County since the recreation venue opened almost three years ago, you've been missing out on something special.
It is, unquestionably, one of our region's most unique assets: a place where you can -- among other things -- navigate rafts with friends on whitewater courses, mountain bike alongside or kayak on the Catawba River, scale an elaborate climbing wall, drink beer while enjoying live music, or (now, for the first time ever) run a race.
This Saturday, the gorgeous Whitewater Center will host the inaugural Trail Run Challenge, which offers both a 5K and a 10K on two unique courses that traverse challenging terrain and finish alongside the rapids.
I traded e-mails last night with race director Ryan Gililland, who graciously answered several questions about this intriguing addition to the Charlotte-area race calendar:
Q. OK, pretend I'm someone who's done a bunch of 5Ks on roads, but is either skeptical or intimidated by the thought of a trail race. Convince me I might just like this.
The trails at the U.S. National Whitewater Center provide road runners a refreshing alternative to the noisy, car polluted, concrete surfaces they experience each weekend. Further, running on the trails' softer surface under a canopy of trees alongside the Catawba River is mentally refreshing. The courses will travel around small lakes, the Catawba River and the rapids of the USNWC.
Q. Give me an idea of what the course is like. Hilly? Narrow? Curvy? What kind of surfaces?
The 5K and 10K courses are run on seperate trails. This will reduce congestion, as well as provide unique challenges for runners in each race. The 5K will take place on the "Green" trail, while the 10K will take place on a combination of the "North" and "South" trails. The 5K is a smoother, gently rolling course when compared to the 10K course. The 10k course is a more challenging environment with longer, steeper inclines and declines.
Q. Do proceeds support the Center, or is some of the money going toward a particular cause?
The event is focused on benefiting two groups. A portion of proceeds do go to the Whitewater Center. CMS benefits from the back to school supplies. I am the son of a school teacher so I know that many students need assistance with getting properly prepared for the school year. So partnering with CMS to collect back-to-school supplies at this time of year was a no-brainer.
Q. Logistics? Anything runners should know?
Due to the terrain there are no strollers or push joggers allowed. The parking fee [normally $5] is covered in the registration fee. Participants need to show their race bib at the Guard House. We will have a volunteer at the Guard House to make this process as smooth as possible for participants.
Q. Are there race-day amenities worth bragging about (e.g. postrace food, beer, etc.)?
OOOOH YEAH! There will be post-race food and fun from a variety of partners such as Earth Fare, Clif Bar, Dasani, Powerade, Great Harvest Bread Co., and Miller Coors. We have cool medals for all the Age Group and Overall Race winners. We also have over 50 raffle items for the recreational runner to possible win. These include gift cards to Jesse Brown's Outdoors, Asana Activewear, Earth Fare, Dinners at Outback Steakhouse, some of the latest running watches from Timex and more. Finally, all volunteers and race participants receive a 10 percent discount coupon on an All Day Pass to the USNWC. The pass is good for Saturday only, so participants need to bring a change of clothes to celebrate their accomplishments in the refreshing rapids.
Q. How many runners are you expecting this Saturday?
300 to 350.
Q. 10Ks are rather rare in these parts. Are the numbers looking better for the longer race than for the 5K at this point?
Right now we have a 50/50 split between the 5K and 10K races.
Both races start at 8:30 a.m. Saturday ($35 for the 5K, or $39 for the 10K; $37-$41 on race day). For more details, or to sign up, click here.