Early in the afternoon on New Years Eve as I lay on the bed recovering from one of my numerous daily “power naps” (I feel less guilty describing them that way), in a moment of weakness/laziness I asked Linda if she’d rather just skip driving 90 miles to this race. We talked over the pros and cons for a few minutes. We had planned to run it last year and I pre-registered then and even got a prepaid hotel room, and wouldn’t you know it, we both came down with a stomach virus and were in no shape to run, so it cost me $150 or so and we never even made the trip. This year I didn’t pre-register for anything, but we both felt fine and decided the pros outweighed the cons so we headed up to Tanglewood Park for Running of the Lights.
The description of the race on the web left little doubt that by missing this race you’d be missing a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It read like this:
Start the New Year off on a healthy note! Join us for a night of fun and celebration that will begin with fireworks and end with a hot chocolate toast to the healthy New Year! This run course will be an experience of a lifetime. Runners will wind through the park at midnight and experience the Tanglewood Festival of Lights in a whole new way, on foot! This will be by far the most scenic run course in Christmas history. It will be a Christmas wonderland of lights and action. Don’t miss it!
This event is quickly becoming a family favorite. There’s no better way to spend New Year’s Eve than with a group of family and friends running and supporting a great cause!
This unique event is like no other running event in the state of North Carolina. Never before has anyone had the opportunity to marvel at the Festival of Lights outside of their vehicle! Now participants can stroll through the Christmas wonderland at whatever pace they choose, and then relish in hot chocolate provided at the finish line.
The race starts at the stroke of midnight. We will celebrate the New Year with a fireworks display and a Live Feed to New York’s Timesquare to count down the New Year and start the race!
The fireworks show will be near the front entrance of the park, so participants will be able to run through the lights (the best lights displays are towards the front of the park) while watching the fireworks go off! It’ll be a 6-8 minute display of fireworks!
All of that is true, of course, but reality sometimes gets in the way. It’s great to run through the lights and the fireworks, but when you’re in a race it’s really hard to concentrate on anything other than the act of running, so the lights are probably better appreciated from the comfort of a car. There were some nice lights that really did add to the atmosphere, but there were some places that the road was so dark you couldn’t see where your next step was landing at all. At those places you had to pretty much depend on blind faith, hoping there wasn’t a pothole or speedbump or some other obstacle. Bobby Aswell, who finished 2nd overall in the race, told me afterwards that he stepped on a speedbump that he didn’t see and almost fell but managed to stay on his feet. My wife Linda had a similar experience. I think we can all agree that falling on your face onto the cold, hard asphalt would be an unpleasant experience. I didn’t get tripped up at all but felt a little jumpy about the fact that I was guessing part of the time where my feet were landing.
I have to say the beginning of the race was pretty cool as there was a big screen TV set up showing the ball dropping at Times Square. We counted down as the ball dropped and precisely at the stroke of midnight the race began.
One thing that strikes me odd about this race is the 3.2 mile distance, which of course is just a tenth of a mile longer than a 5k. Before the race I imagined that it was just too hard to make the course a 5k so they just worked with what they had, but that wasn’t the case at all. At one point during the race there was a turnaround at a guard house. It was a fine place to turn around, but it would have been just as easy for the runners if the race directors would have placed an orange cone about .05 miles closer in, which would have resulted in a 5k race. That’s a standard distance, easily understood and compared by runners. For me personally, I log all of my runs through RunningAhead and my Personal Records are automatically generated from my race times. I don’t really want an odd distance race in there like 3.2 miles so I had to enter the race as a training run instead. No biggy, but this might be the only 3.2 mile race I ever run and I don’t want it showing up every time my PRs are generated for the rest of my life.
As far as relishing in the hot chocolate provided at the finish line, uh… not so much. There were packets of hot chocolate and you mixed your own. That’s not ideal but it’s do-able. Problem here was that there wasn’t enough hot water for people who wanted to make hot chocolate. There were two big coffee urns filled with hot water. I’m not sure what each would hold… 50 cups… 100 cups? Maybe. That’s not quite enough for 722 runners plus the spectators they brought along. Also, if you did manage to get water, it wasn’t really hot. Mine was lukewarm at best. There was other food. I wasn’t that hungry at 1 o’clock in the morning so I didn’t get too deep into the food section but I did get some pretty good chocolate chip cookies.
One other problem I should mention: the registration, entertainment, food, and awards were all set up in a big grassy field. Luckily it wasn’t raining during the race activities, but it had been rainy for a day or two beforehand and also the big snow of last week had been melting. With hundreds of people walking around it didn’t take long for it to change from a grassy field to a muddy field. It wasn’t terrible, but there was enough mud that my favorite racing shoes are now a mess. Maybe they’ll clean nicely.
The best part of the whole race was probably the T-shirts: dark red, long-sleeved tech shirts, and nicely designed. I never get enough of the long-sleeved tech shirts.
5 – 1-10 Website (Information, results, registration, photo links, etc.) 4 – 1-10 Awards (Quality of medals, trophies, etc.) (1 to 10) 6 – 1-10 Awards Presentation (PA system, winning times, etc.) (1 to 10) 6 – 1-10 Food for Race Participants (1 to 10) 9 – 1-10 T-Shirts (1 to 10 with 5 being average) 4 – 4/6 Part of Race Series (Grand Prix, etc.) (6=Yes and 4=No) 5 – 0/5 Professional Photography (5=Yes and 0=No) 6 – 4/6 Chip Timing (6=Yes and 4=No) 7 – 3/7 Certified Course (by USA Track & Field) (7=Yes and 3=No) 4 – 1-10 Course (1 to 10 with 5 being average) 5 – 1-10 Parking (1 to 10 with 5 being average) 6 – 1-10 Entertainment (1 to 10 with 5 being average) 10 – 0-10 Age Groups (10 if 5-year groups; 0 if 10-year groups) 0 – 0/5 Indoor Shelter from Elements (0 if none; 5 if provided) 5 – 1-10 Bathroom Facilities 0-10 Other