Wednesday, December 30, 2009

10 races that wowed us in 2009

The Charlotte area has lots of good annual races. But how many truly great ones are there?

Drawing from my own experiences but also heavily incorporating feedback from 63 local runners -- novices to elites -- I've compiled a lineup of 10 events that registered as spectacular over the course of the last calendar year.

I encourage you to argue with the selections, but at the very least, put them on your must list for 2010. If they're not already on it.


*MOST FUN

Hit the Brixx 10K/5K
This fall race, based next to the uptown Brixx Pizza, is a runner's dream. First, it provides the unique chance to run two races back-to-back, hassle-free -- there's enough time for most participants to finish the 10K and queue right up for the start of the 5K. Next, post-race beer is free and so is the all-you-can-eat buffet, where runners can inhale large quantities of pizza and pasta. And overall and age-group winners win pizza cutters, which tie in nicely with the theme and make the awards much more memorable than the average medal.
Held the last Saturday in September (Web site)

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*MOST IMPROVED

Hog Jog 5K
In its inaugural running, in 2008, runners "ran too close to interstate traffic and through too many [bad] sections of uptown," reader Tracy Rabon says. In '09, the course was changed -- for the better -- and runner Kathryn Bishop adds that "it's tough to argue with ... having someone hand you a barbecue sandwich and a beer at the finish line." The event -- tied to the summertime Blues, Brews & BBQ festival -- also has a post-race Bloody Mary contest (judged by runners) and bounce houses for kids, and race packets include a hog snout mask.
Held the second Saturday in September (Web site)

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*BEST HOLIDAY TRADITION

Charlotte Turkey Trot 8K
It's a perennial favorite for hardcore runners, people who only run one race a year, and everyone in between. As a result, the Thanksgiving Day race sold all 6,000 spots again in 2009. Though amenities are thin (aside from snacks and water, there's not much incentive to linger), the massive crowds invigorate the proceedings and the whole event has a nice, casual air to it. Relatives who aren't fit to run five miles can do the noncompetitive 5K run/walk so they can say they burned off at least a few calories pre-meal, too, and there are two kids races.
Held Thanksgiving Day (Web site)

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*SPEEDIEST

Santa Scramble 5K
The four-year-old event is quietly becoming the place for runners to pick up PRs. Here's why: Runners get to the start of the afternoon race by bus and then dash from one end of downtown Concord to the other, traversing a point-to-point route that's mostly downhill. "It felt like I was flying," says Dianne Allen, who set a 5K PR there. The electrifying crowds lined up for the Christmas parade help, too. Says Richard Hefner, who's run the past two Santa Scrambles: "There must have been at least 20,000 people along the course this year."
Held the third Saturday in November (Web site)

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*MOST SCENIC

LungStrong 15K/5K
With the exception of the start and finish, 15Kers see no commercial buildings along the fall race's 9.3-mile route. First, runners dip into Jetton Park, which rolls through the beautiful waterfront reserve for just over a mile. Then, runners come out and pass the Peninsula Club Golf Course and several miles of million-dollar homes before reconnecting with Jetton Road at the race's westernmost point. On the way back into town, the road winds along some of the most idyllic stretches of Lake Norman. It truly can be hard to keep your eyes on the road.
Held the third Saturday in October (Web site)

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*COOLEST CONCEPT

Runway 5K
In 2007, Charlotte-Douglas International Airport first gave runners a chance to race across its tarmac, in close proximity to parked, landing, departing and taxiing aircraft. This fall, more than 1,300 participants showed up, overwhelming organizers (who had set a goal of 1,000) so completely that the starting gun went off 30 minutes late. It's not uncommon for airline passengers to exchange waves with runners, and since about 85 percent of the course is on the airport's tarmac, it's pretty darn flat. Translation: This is as good a place as any to PR.
Held the last Saturday in October (Web site)

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*BEST-KEPT SECRET

China Grove Main Street Challenge
China Grove is far better known as a Doobie Brothers song and "that exit off I-85 north of Kannapolis" ... but now in its fourth year, this Friday-night 5K has become increasingly popular thanks to a flat, fast course and a 9 p.m. start time. The YMCA of Rowan County sponsors the late-spring race, which has runners charging out of the streetlit downtown into the near-pitch-blackness of the countryside. Two fun kids' races kick things off before sundown, and organizers keep folks hanging around with treats like fresh melon and Krispy Kreme donuts.
Held the second Friday in June (Web site)

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*TOUGHEST

Spencer Mountain 10-Miler
It may be "The Southeast's Toughest 10-Miler" only because there's not much competition for the title, but the Gaston County YMCA's late-fall jaunt is "by far the most challenging race I've run," says Faith Kirkland, who ran it for the first time this year. Adds Tom Torkildsen, who's run it several times: "The last [hill] is a monster" -- a 175-foot climb straight up Spencer Mountain Road. "I have seen runners walking [it] on more than one occasion." On top of all this, runners say the route's roads have a significant camber, making it tough on the legs.
Held the second Saturday of November (Web site)

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*MOST ORGANIZED

Charlotte Run for Peace at Home
More than 300 runners competed in this two-year-old event, held in the spring on the idyllic trails of McAlpine Creek Greenway. But the men's and women's races are staggered, so packs are relatively small (169 women and 137 men ran in 2009) -- this also makes it easy for wives to cheer on husbands and vice versa. Little flourishes enhance the experience: An Elvis impersonator is the official starter, age-group trophies are runner Bobbleheads, and there's a post-race raffle for cool prizes, so even slower runners have a shot at going home a winner.
Held the last Saturday in May (Web site)

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*FAVORITE OVERALL RACE

Thunder Road Marathon
Just five years ago, barely 1,000 runners participated in the then-new event. It's since exploded: Last Saturday, 1,400 marathoners competed alongside 3,000 half-marathoners -- and 1,500 more ran the Jingle Jog 5K. The challenging Boston qualifier course represents our area's only 26.2-miler and puts some of the city's most beautiful and eclectic neighborhoods on display, from the lavish homes of Myers Park to the colorful bungalows of NoDa. Volunteer and police support is strong; spectator support is spotty-but-growing (and often very enthusiastic); the race expo continues to reel in more vendors; and the tie-in with the NASCAR theme has the potential to really be something special when the NASCAR Hall of Fame opens in 2010. The running community pulsates during Thunder Road. It's a shining badge of honor for Charlotte.
Held the second Saturday in December (Web site)

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's hard to look at a best of local race list, without remembering the passing of several other long time local races. The Dash and Dine 5K and Dilworrh Jubilee 8K races were not seen this year. Also looks like the Frosty 5K series will not be held next year. Perhaps they were casualties of the economy and too expensive to put on, or they may have been killed by other competiting races. Even with these races missing, there were very few weekends when there was not a race held locally.

Audra said...

I agree with you about the sad demise of the Dilworth Jubilee 8K. We don't have enough odd distances in Charlotte as it is.

chupacabra said...

It seems odd that there aren't more 10k's in town. There is the Brixx and technically the Racefest one but if you do the half at Racefest that just leaves the Brixx. Maybe it's a new thing but I swear years ago there were more 10k's and now there seem to be more 8k's.

Anonymous said...

I certainly agree with the Run For Peace At Home 5k. I wish there were more trail races in Charlotte. Although, I do understand the difficulties with cramming a large amount of runners on single and double-track trails.

Anonymous said...

Last year the Frosty 5K series and Summer Trail 5K series were held in local greenways and parks. With the change of ownership or editorial direction, they may not sponser these races in 2010. There are many fine trail races held outside Mecklenburg County but are not as well advertised as races in Charlotte. Alice Springs greenway in Ft Mill has held races from 5K to marathon on their trails this past year.

Allen said...

I can't believe how many of the 'best of' races I missed! But I can't complain - I usually missed them because I was running favorite races elsewhere. Like missing Brixx to run Salem Lake. Sure we missed out on some pizza, but we got Krispy Kreme doughnuts - a pretty good tradeoff!

Raymond said...

Spencer Mountain is the toughest! and if someone is scared to run it, that is not the events fault. A half anywhere else would be easier. On some of the hills you feel like you are on a roller-coaster!