Running

Leaving downtown Asheville via Patton Avenue, the view can be jaw-dropping: a staggered line of soft peaks evaporating into the west. It’s one thing to catch a glimpse of it from a car that’s preparing to navigate the looming complexities of the I-240 interchanges. But to approach this stunning vista in synch with the sound of your own cadenced footfalls, the breeze gently lifting the hairs on your own sweat-dampened skin, your whole body attuned to the quickened rhythm of your breathing …

In other words, should you be lucky enough to experience this inspiring sight while running … don’t be surprised if you have a major epiphany right there in front of God and everybody.

The Mountain Sports Festival presented by RBC Centura offers plenty of opportunities for communing with nature. And the MSF 5K Run gives you two shots at this particular mini-satori. The lone running event in this year’s festival (though running also figures prominently in the Family Duathlon), it traces a 3.1-mile double loop outward from downtown Asheville’s City/County Plaza.

The route has been redesigned since last year’s run, but event co-director Joe Lanahan hopes the 2004 course will become the permanent template for future years.

At press time, the course — which could still see further tweaking to accommodate traffic concerns — had runners leaving City/County Plaza heading on College Street due west, passing the Vance Monument en route to Patton Avenue. Down Patton, the running/jogging/walking pack will turn right onto Clingman Avenue, winding up and around the Grove Arcade and past the Asheville Civic Center before branching off in the direction of the Thomas Wolfe House and circling back to the Festival Village in City/County Plaza. Then they’ll tackle the whole loop once more.

“It’s like a running tour of downtown Asheville,” notes Debbie Ivester, who heads up the festival’s Marketing Committee.

And as Lanahan is quick to point out, we’re in the mountains — meaning there will be hills. His advice for the amateur runner: Remember that any time you head downhill, that means you’ve got a climb ahead.

“Do not get lulled in or sucked in to a fast start,” he warns. “If somebody decides they’re really going to lean forward and crank down Patton Avenue during that first loop, they’ve got to remember that to get down to there, they’ve still got to get back up to City/County Plaza.

“For anyone who’s trying to [tackle this course], I would stand back and say, ‘The first loop should be enjoyed, and the second one should be run.’ If you can run your second loop faster than your first, then you’ve done a good job.”

If you’ve ever run a 5K in the summer months, you know the added drain the heat places on your system; this year’s Mountain Sports Festival, occurring a full month earlier than the 2003 version, is poised to offer runners some potentially perfect temperatures.

The 6 p.m. start time seems pretty sweet, too.

“You can’t miss your alarm for a 6 o’clock race at night,” quips Lanahan.

By the second loop, you just might catch the start of a sunset enlivening the western horizon. (Careful not to get tripped up by your bliss!)

And when all that sweaty footwork is finally done, the rest of the MSF will still be in full swing, notes Ivester.

“When runners finish, they’re right at the heart of all the entertainment — all the food, all the happenings. The evening stuff is really kicking off.”

Last year’s festival included three separate run/walk events; only the 5K took place downtown. But with the city now taking over full administration of the three-day outdoors-fest, it was deemed advisable to pare down the list to fundamentals that could be built on in the future, Ivester explains.

For running events, the popular 5K seemed the obvious place to start.

“It’s not so specialized,” says Ivester. “More runners can get involved.”

The race, sanctioned by U.S.A. Track & Field, carries a $10 entry fee.

“We’re trying to bring in all different levels of runners at a real affordable price per person,” Ivester said.

During the event, one lane will be closed to automotive traffic, enabling runners to enjoy the luxury of asphalt instead of concrete.

But because the roads will need to be reopened to drivers within about 45 minutes, participants who have slowed to a walk by the second loop will be directed up onto the adjacent sidewalks, Lanahan reports.

Last year, 156 racers completed the 5K, he notes. And Lanahan is confident that the combined appeal of the Mountain Sports Festival and the new course will be sufficient to boost that total for 2004.

At press time, Lanahan was still unwilling to speculate on how many racers would show; preregistration numbers, he’s found, are no indication of an event’s eventual success.

About five hours before race time last year, he recalls, only about 65 people had signed up; but another 90+ registered before the 6 p.m. start time.

In other words, you may have a good bit of company hoofing it down Patton. Group epiphany, anyone?

Mountain Sports Festival 5K Run

The 3.1-mile double-loop race is open to any interested runner/walker. The event begins at 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 8 at the Festival Village in downtown Asheville’s City/County Plaza. The race officially ends one hour after start time.

Directions

City/County Plaza is in the heart of downtown Asheville, just east of the Vance Monument/Pack Square.

Registration

The entry fee is $10 per runner/walker. Participants can register in advance at the Montford Community Center (34 Pearson Drive, just off Montford Avenue; 253-3714) or, on race day, at the starting point in the Festival Village until just before 6 p.m. You can e-mail your questions to montfordr@ashevillenc.gov, or check out the MSF Web site (www.mountainsportsfestival.com).

Awards

“This year, it’s a low-key affair,” notes race co-director Joe Lanahan. “It’s not really geared toward the local running scene coming and trying to win $150 or $200.” After the race, a drawing will be held for a few undisclosed giveaways, using competitors’ entry numbers.

Who to watch

There’s no potential racing hot dog on the radar for the 5K, notes Joe Lanahan. “Because we’ve made it a come-one, come-all event this year, in terms of a featured athlete, it’ll be whoever’s in town [on festival] weekend and wants to lace ’em up that night.”

Best viewing spots

The start/finish line in the Festival Village (City/County Plaza), of course. Another good place to catch racers is in the vicinity of the Grove Arcade (bounded by Battery Park Avenue, O. Henry Avenue, Page Avenue and Vanderbilt Place), where serious runners should really be picking up the pace on the second loop.

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