There are lots of signs of autumn.
Falling leaves, to be sure. Shorter days, crisp air, geese on the wing. But for all the frost and barrels of hot apple cider and leaves piled higher than Mount Everest, nothing really means autumn is upon us in Chapel Hill until late October’s venerable Pumpkin Run.
Why, summer might run right through the Holidays if not for this annual rite of passage to officially mark the season.
“It just wouldn’t be fall without the Pumpkin Run,” said Joan Nesbit Mabe, who helped found the 4K (2.5-mile) trail run through the Carolina North Forest in 2002 with her women’s running group, See Jane Run.
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Now, 15 years later, the beloved path through the tall trees just north of Horace Williams Airport even bears the race’s name: Pumpkin Trail.
Run in the early evening hours this past Saturday, the event reflected an ongoing partnership between Fleet Feet Sports in Carrboro and Durham and the Chapel Hill / Carrboro YMCA, which also hosted the race’s legendary after-party.
The race has always been one of the most family-friendly of local running events, celebrating a love of running among young and old, and the overall female winners bore that out. Caroline Murrell, a 12-year-old student at Chatham Middle School, took the the top prize with a time of 15:17.16, while 54-year-old Nesbitt Mabe, (who was a 1996 Olympian and now coaches the Chapel Hill High cross-country team) was second in 15:40.57, and one of Mabe’s cross-country athletes, 17-year-old Sarah Ferriter, was third in 16:12.99.
“I went off my own pace,” Murrell said. “It wasn’t my fastest pace, but it was still a pretty good time.”
Earning the overall top prize with a time of 13:06.11 was area newcomer Stephen Anderson, 23,, followed by Jacob Meredith-Andrews (13:23.08) and Dave Mabe (13:35.34).
“I just moved here a couple months ago to work as a lab manager in the Psychology Department at UNC,’ Anderson explained. “I went to Alleghany College in Pennsylvania.”
“I run in this forest, but this is my first time on this course,” Anderson said. “I just signed up for this race yesterday. I was looking for a race, and this came up.”
The masters division crowns went to Marc Desormeau (14:44.59) and Millie Barritt (16:45.14).
Working the crowd at what is arguably the area’s favorite post-race party, at the Chapel Hill / Carrboro YMCA on MLK Blvd., just down the road from the race site, YMCA of the Triangle Communications Director Greg Lee said he believed Saturday’s field of 440 runners was the event’s largest to date.it was the biggest race crowd yet at 440 runners.
“A couple of years ago, Greg Kopsch over at the Carolina North Forest, who kept it smaller in the past, said, ‘We appreciate you guys. You take good care of the trail when you run it, so we’re comfortable opening it up some,’” Lee recalled. “And we’re also so thankful to be partnering with Fleet Feet Sports, who takes care of the race portion of this event so that can concentrate on some of the other fun parts.”
“It’s my favorite race of the year, and it’s probably the warmest Pumpkin Run I can remember,” Lee added. “Our apple cider is on ice instead of hot.”
Due to the limited width of the trail and large race crowd, the race is started in three “waves” – a competitive wave, a youth running wave, and a community wave for casual runners, walkers, or those with strollers.
From princesses and superheroes to a traffic jam of cardboard cars portrayed by the Chapel Hill High girls’ cross-country team, the race was Halloween costume-friendly, which only lent itself more to the festive atmosphere at the post-race party, famous for its hefty helpings of homemade pumpkin pie, contests, and dancing to music by DJ Steve Wray.
“This year’s costumes are some of the best I’ve seen,” Lee said.
All proceeds from the race benefit the Chapel Hill Carrboro YMCA and the Carolina North Forest.
“The race is also a testament to these folks who want to do something for the community,” Lee said. “So many of the funds raised go back to the YMCA to provide scholarships to summer camps or to teach kids to swim or to make sure people who need to be in our Live Strong program for cancer survivors are able to do that.”
Nesbit Mabe was proud that the race still lived up to its original goals.
“Our cross-country team trains out here; Cedar Ridge High trains out here; East Chapel Hill trains out here,” she said. “It’s just such a resource for cross-country programs, and the university and for everyone else in the community, too. I’ve seen more and more people using it, and that was the goal of this race: to bring the community’s attention to this place.”
Coming up: Several community races over the next weeks will lead up to the next seasonal rite of passage, the running community’s unofficial Thanksgiving homecoming that is the Cardinal Track Club’s Gallop and Gorge 8K, run in Carrboro on Nov. 24.
After all, it wouldn’t really be Thanksgiving without the Gallop and Gorge.
Chapel Hill harriers had a busy day
Hours before several members of the Chapel Hill High School cross-country team took part in Saturday’s annual Pumpkin Run, they were dominating the field at the 3A NCHSAA Mid-East Regional meet that morning at Northwood.
Leading a group off Tigers who all finished in the top 10, Katherine Dokholyan (19:27) and Clare McNamara (19:53) finished 1-2 in the regional as Chapel Hill won easily with 18 points.
Northern Guilford was second with 77, followed by Union Pines (106), Cedar Ridge (113) and Orange (113). Northwood (222) was 8th in the 13-team field.
Elizabeth Zarzar (20:05) was third individually. Madi Marvin (4th), Lily Crook (5th) and Grace Tate (6th) completed Chapel Hill’s scoring. Tiger teammate Lena Cohen was 9th and Anna Stouffer 10th.
Paced by Eric Vanderford (3rd). Nat Romaine (5th) and Silas Buckner (6th), Chapel Hill also won the boys’ Mid-East Regional. Ryan Combs (9th) and James Clabo (10th) helped the Tigers compile 33 points, well ahead of Northern Guilford’s 63.
Big 8 champion Ian Elliott finished 7th individually as his Cedar Ridge team ended up 4th. Orange was 8th and host Northwood 9th among 16 teams in the boys’ meet.