10/4/2012 - Asheville in October is for runners
by Karen Chavez - Asheville Citizen Times
When Leah Nicholson was checking out the Asheville fall running lineup, she thought, the more bumps in the road, the better.
So out of the nearly countless number of footraces taking place across the mountains this weekend, Nicholson, 25, picked the DuPont State Recreational Forest 50K on Sunday. The second annual trail race takes runners through a rolling, rocky, tree-riddled, 31-mile course.
"It's in my backyard, and my friends thought it was a crazy idea, so I wanted to prove them wrong," said Nicholson, a former Western Carolina cross-country runner who now works at Foot Rx. Last year, she was the second overall female, finishing in 4 hours, 54 minutes.
"Lydia (Odell, the race director) is a trail runner, and she knows what trail runners like -- rolling terrain and single track," she said.
While this weekend's racing choice was an easy pick for Nicholson, who plans to win the race this year, there is such a smorgasbord, it might be a little harder for others.
Forget Oktoberfests and beer. In Western North Carolina, October is for runners.
The DuPont run, which includes the Hickory Mountain 10K on Saturday and a 50K relay on Sunday, is a benefit for the nonprofit DegreeMap. But there are walks and runs this weekend to find a cure for Type 1 diabetes, to benefit schools and their music and art programs, to save the environment and to fund Girls on the Run.
The third annual Pink in the Park 5K walk to raise money for Beauty Through Cancer and Ladies Night Out is Saturday in Biltmore Park. And there's even a race that takes place entirely on the Asheville Regional Airport runway.
"More than 70 individuals have already entered the 50K," said Odell of runner registration for the DuPont run. "We've got 20 teams signed up for the two-person relay."
Odell said she was slightly nervous when she realized the excessive number of races this weekend, knowing it would cut down on runner registration across the board, but she has the stunning scenery of DuPont and the growing popularity of ultrarunning on her side.
"With DuPont trails you've got the best of all worlds -- fire roads to start on as a warm-up, single track to descend down to Lake Imaging, a fun, challenging climb up Hickory Mountain Loop. It's a full-on trail challenge," she said.
But there doesn't seem to be a shortage of runners who like the road -- specifically, a long, long flat road made exclusively for airplanes.
"We have gotten so many emails and calls since last year, we decided we would offer it again as an open house at the airport," Tina Kinsey, Asheville Regional Airport marketing director, said of the second annual Runway 5K and Aviation Day on Saturday.
The event was originally held last year to celebrate the airport's 50th anniversary. Kinsey said there were already more than 600 runners signed up for the race that this year that will incorporate the entire 8,001-foot runway.
"We're not sure we can do this every year, but we had the opportunity to open the entire runway," she said. "Last year racers ran about a third of the runway. This year, they will run the entire runway. We found a window with no commercial air travel."
This year, walkers and people pushing strollers will be allowed to take part, but they will be routed off the runway if they don't make it to the 1.5-mile mark within 25 minutes, Kinsey said.
But those who choose not to run can attend the Aviation Day festivities for free. The whole event, a benefit for the WNC Pilots Association scholarship fund, is free (including parking) to the public 10 a.m.-2 p.m. with antique and military aircraft on display, including a Blackhawk helicopter, Navy trainers and a Fairchild F24, a live band, and kids activities, with exhibitors such as the Health Adventure, Hands On A Child's Gallery, Fun Depot and WNC Air Museum.
The WNC Pilots Association will offer 15-minute "leaf flights" for a fee and there will be a drawing for free airfare. Kinsey said she thinks the crowd will be big on Saturday, even though there are so many other races.
"We picked this date because it's the start of fall and we felt the weather would be great and the leaf flights would be lovely," she said. "Our event is unique because you can't get close to the airfield and the runway at any othe r time. And there's something really exciting and really thrilling about aviation."
"I wish we didn't have so many races on one weekend, but I get it. It is a beautiful time of year," Odell said. "I just think, fall is here, and let's run."