Generally speaking, runners will complain plenty: shin splints, IT band soreness, weak headlamps, old shoes. But when it comes down to it, they’re pretty easy to please; they’ll run in almost any conditions and love it.
Run 100 miles through floods, insufferable heat, high-altitude snow squalls? Runners eat that up for breakfast and ask for more.
This is why, in 34 years, the New Hope Turkey Run, an annual fund-raising four-mile trot, has been canceled only twice – when Duke Forest was closed in 1996 in the wake of Hurricane Fran, and in 2000, when the trails were again closed due to an epic ice storm.
Chances are, runners even would have shown up for those years had the forest been available.
But this year, organizers from the New Hope Improvement Association ran the risk of bringing the Turkey Run to its knees.
“For the New Hope annual breakfast a couple months ago, they ordered frozen biscuits for the first time ever,” race director Walter Fowler confessed. “But we said, for the Turkey Run, we wanted the homemade biscuits back. We do the real thing.”
Change the course, change the conditions, but don’t mess with the biscuits.
To wit: the individuals reaping the loudest post-race applause after Saturday’s run through Duke Forest weren’t the race winners but the biscuit-makers in the New Hope Community Center kitchen. Factor in the random draw for prizes consisting of dozens of homemade baked items provided the local neighbors, and you’ve served up one tasteful precursor to the usual holiday fare.
Jim Clabuesch (25:17) was the overall winner, followed by Chapel Hill High cross-country runner Harry Kmiec (25:57), while East Chapel Hill Wildcat harriers Ethan Ready and Connor McDonald (both in 27:40) crossed the line together in third place. The were treated to race prizes like gift certificates to local restaurants like Margaret’s Cantina and Sage.
Kmiec said the rigor of a long uphill over the second half of the four-mile run had him thinking deliriously.
“My first thought coming up that long hill was that it would be a great workout for our cross-country coach Joan (Nesbit Mabe) to give us,” Kmiec said, laughing.
Among the women, Duke Physical Therapy student Meghan Barry (29:30) finished first, with Rietta Couper (30:07) repeating her 2014 second-place finish, and Leah Blasiak (30:45) also giving chase.
“There were some high school runners that were right behind me for a while, and I was like, ‘Just pass, just pass,’” Barry said “This may be an (easy run) for them, but I’m going to be on the floor for the rest of the day.”
The brother and sister duo of Eli Chappell, 6, and Addy Chappell, 4, were the youngest male and youngest female finishers.
Repeating their 2014 performances, Bill Powers, 81, was the oldest male finisher, while Supatra Campbell, 78, claimed the prize among women.
Staged in the Korstian Division of Duke Forest, the exact length of the Turkey Run – about 4 miles – varies slightly from year to year so there is no “course record.”
“It used to be that we’d purposefully start in different places so that the finishing time wouldn’t mean anything,” Fowler said, “but (that’s tough) for someone like me who’s interested in compiling times from year to year.”
Fowler said he was pleased to see a few more faces in the crowd of 150 registrants and 133 racers this year, likely owing to a race-day registration of 43 runners on a near-perfect morning for running.
“There’s just been so much rain, and then we were worried that it might be too cold,” Fowler said on Saturday morning, “but it’s not really cold; it’s just brisk.”
“Interestingly enough, when I looked at the crowd at the starting line, it didn’t look that much bigger,” Fowler added. “I usually order 100 shirts, and there are always some left over. This year, there are none left over.”
While it may be been raining biscuits on Saturday morning, it’s been raining arrows on weekdays of late, as both the Durham and Korstian sections of Duke Forest have been reserved for bow-and-arrow hunting to cull the burgeoning deer population.
Those sections closed to all recreational activities Sept. and will remain closed to the general public, Mondays through Fridays, through Dec. 18. The Blackwood Division allows both bow and gun hunting.
“For the past seven or eight years, Duke Forest has decided they needed to cull the deer population,” Fowler said. “It’s amazing, though, how many people walk right by the signs during the week – when there’s hunting allowed and Duke Forest is closed.”
Still being missed at the breakfast event was its unofficial matriarch, (Betty) Sue Duncan Whitfield, who died at her home just a few years ago. Raised on Homestead Road, Chapel Hill, she and her husband – owners of the Hollow Rock County Store on Erwin Road for over 25 years – were the last Whitfields to grace Whitfield Road. She was instrumental both in organizing the NHIA and the Turkey Run. In 2009, she received the Clarence F. Korstian Award in recognition of her exemplary support of Duke Forest.
But, while time marches on and runners charge ever forward, it’s nice to know that some things will never change, like the sumptuous scent of homemade biscuits that hangs in the crisp air through the tall trees of Duke Forest on at least one Saturday morning every autumn.
Overall, males: 1, Jim Clabuesch (25:17). 2, Harry Kmiec (25:57). 3, Ethan Ready and Connor McDonald (both in 27:40).
Overall, females: 1, Meghan Barry (29:30). 2, Rietta Couper (30:07). 3, Leah Blasiak (30:45).