Tuesday, September 27, 2011

'Hillynite': Recap Of The 2011 Hiddenite Half Marathon

by Bobby Aswell

Going into this past weekend, the only time I’d ever heard of Hiddenite, NC was on a television segment featuring rare gemstone finds.  Known worldwide for its gems, Hiddenite was named after one of the first explorers to discover the gemstone hiddenite in Alexander County, NC back in the late 1800’s.  An extremely rare green and transparent gemstone, hiddenite is most often transformed from its natural form into beautifully cut gems.  After the half-marathon this past Saturday, the town of Hiddenite should also be famous for its ‘mountainous’ road races!

Natural piece of hiddenite
Before going to bed Friday night, I decided to travel to Hiddenite Saturday morning to run their half-marathon.  With an 8:30 am start, and only a 50 minute drive from my house, I was looking forward to not having to get up before dawn to travel to a race as well as looking forward to a good workout.

One thing I've learned after 20 years of racing is that when a race application actually uses the word ‘hilly’ in their course description, watch out because you’re in for a doozy of a course!  Hilly is one thing, mountainous is another!  This course was insane! Long grinding hills, one after another, with the last 1 ½ miles being brutal at best!

Registration and packet pick-up was held at the Hiddenite Elementary School near the finish line.  With only a $30 race day fee, including t-shirt, this was a great deal!  I arrived early, registered, and went back to my Jeep to relax a little before getting into ‘race’ mode.

A point to point course, the half-marathon starts at the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Taylorsville and finishes in front of the Lucas Mansion in Hiddenite.  Transportation to the starting area is provided by the race via shuttle vans.  About a 20 minute drive, our van left for the church at 7:50 am giving us a preview of a portion of the course on the way. Out in the middle of the country, the scenery is mostly farmland with several beautiful pastures mixed in along the way.  Throw in all of the hills and this was going to be fun!

We arrived at the church with runners gathered in the parking lot waiting for the start.  After scoping out the field, I had a feeling this was going to be a lonely run so I grabbed my headphones to keep me company.  After using the facilities several times, I was ready to go.  Around 8:40 am, we headed down the road to the actual starting line about ¼ mile away.

With a starting temperature of 65 degrees, 100% humidity, and some serious hills, this was going to be a tough race!  After a short speech from the race director reminding runners that the course was hilly, especially the last 2 miles, he counted down from 10 to 1, sounded the horn, and we were off!

A slow starter in my old age, several runners ‘took off’ ahead of me.  About a ¼ mile later, I moved into 2nd place and stayed there until we hit the first downhill where I took the lead and never looked back!  At this point, it was just me, my headphones, and the hills!  Not just any hills, the kind that really wear on you:  long and grueling climbs one after another (think Morehead St. in Charlotte).

After running several miles, I had no idea how much of a lead I had over the 2nd place runner.  Not one to look behind me in a race, I waited until the out and back section at mile 6 to check out my competition.  At the 7 mile turnaround, I had a 3 ½ minutes on the 2nd place runner.  Relaxing a little, I realized that unless I totally fell apart, I had a good chance at winning the race.

The climbs continued one after another and really started wearing on me.  As I neared the 11 mile mark, I realized what the race director was talking about when he described the last 2 miles!  Visions of ‘The Bear’ came to mind!  These weren’t hills, they were mountains!  I thought to myself, ‘you gotta be kidding me’!  Time to suck it up!

After some serious huffing and puffing, I finally crested the last hill with the finish line in sight.  Man, was I glad to see it!  With arms in the air, I crossed the line in 1:30:27, nearly 6 minutes ahead of the 2nd place finisher!  This was definitely one of the toughest road half-marathons I’ve ever run!

Post race, glad to be done!
After the race, I enjoyed walking around the festival and watching several skits before picking up my award.  This was a great small town event: cheap entry fee, nice t-shirt, excellent awards, and, best of all, a great workout!

If I had more time, I would’ve liked to stick around and try my hand at finding some gemstones but duty called so I headed back to my Jeep for the journey home.  I enjoyed my first visit to Hiddenite and may go back to look for some gemstones, and maybe, just maybe, conquer some hills again!

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