Valentine’s Day is for lovers (and runners, too)

The vibrant community of Black Mountain has a knack for finding creative ways to showcase its stunning surroundings. Whether the occasion features art, culture, music, antiques or recreation, setting it against the natural backdrop of the Seven Sisters range and the towering heights of Mount Mitchell imparts a special magic. On my first visit here 15 years ago, this quaint hamlet indeed seemed enchanted: A wind-blown spring snow sparkled in the clear blue sky while I walked the historic downtown streets. Over the years, my affinity with this lively little town grew via jaunts to McDibb’s, forays to the galleries, and magical musical weekends at Lake Eden.

The culturally rich area also boasts a significant running community. Over the past 30 years, running has established an impressive niche amid a sea of chest-beating football and basketball fans.

On Sunday, Feb. 9, this love of running will merge with the traditional Valentine’s Day celebration in a family-fun fitness event at the Black Mountain Recreation Park.

Local running-community guru Don McMahill, director of the fourth annual race, is just one of many Black Mountain/Swannanoa residents who tirelessly spread the word about the virtues of running. McMahill, who recently celebrated his 52nd year in the sport, has competed and directed races throughout the country. He spends the fall coaching the girl’s cross country team at Owen High School. As a retired YMCA executive, McMahill continues to promote running in the community through events like the Valentine Run and the popular Sourwood Festival race in August.

McMahill’s special personal touches — such as creative award categories and an unusual course design — help create a fun, exciting and well-managed event, with organization and safety the top priorities. But McMahill is also quick to praise the contributions of so many in the community. A dozen or so local merchants are donating snacks, drinks and awards for this year’s race. “Without the overwhelming support of volunteers and sponsors,” he observes, “an event like this could not take place.”

The running event, presented by Black Mountain Recreation and Parks, includes a 5K (3.1 mile) road race, a one-mile youth race and a half-mile fitness jog/walk. Special amenities include unique awards, T-shirts, drinks and post-race refreshments.

“There is no remedy for love but to love more,” wrote Thoreau. McMahill must have had this in mind when he developed so many award categories for the 5K race: Husband/Wife, Mother/Daughter, Mother/Son, Father/Daughter, Father/Son, Brother/Sister, Sister/Sister, Brother/Brother and Open/Coed (no partner needed).

“New for this year,” notes McMahill, “will be … Silver, Gold and Platinum [categories] for husband-and-wife teams.” The contestants in these categories will be determined by adding the husband’s and wife’s ages. (For example, the Platinum Division will include all participating couples whose combined ages total 100 or more.)

Putting love aside, however, committed runners also want to know specifics about the course — and here, McMahill’s love of cross country comes into play with a mix of greenways, grassy fields, running paths and paved surfaces (There is one steep section along the greenway, but it’s relatively short). Black Mountain resident Janet Pung comments, “It’s a nice little race with a good percentage on trails, which is unique for 5Ks.” Pung, who did the Valentine Run two years ago in the Mother/Son category, admits that her son Brandon ditched her the past couple of years so he could compete with his brother, Jordan.

Pung, a volunteer this year, will be installed near the finish line cheering for her sons and the hundreds of other sweethearts running, jogging and walking in this community’s seasonal celebration of Valentine’s Day.

The sweet scoop on the Fourth Annual Valentine Run

When: Sunday, Feb. 9; the 5K starts at 2:15 p.m., the Youth One-Mile and half-mile Fitness Jog/Walk at 3 p.m.

Where: Black Mountain Recreation Park

Entry fee: $10 ($5 youth) in advance, $20 ($10 youth) on race dayCourse records: Men’s – 15:36 (Randy Ashley, ’02), Women’s – 19:01(Zola Davis, ’02)

For more information, call Black Mountain Recreation and Parks at 669-2052 (e-mail: bmrp@ioa.com).

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