Author: Jeremy Granger
Date I Attended: May 14, 2016
Location: Waynesville, NC
Website: Gateway to the Smokies Half Marathon
Description: Race-day packet pickup was located outside, on the corner of Main Street and Depot Street next to the courthouse. The starting line was on Main Street, adjacent to packet pickup. Athletes ran along Main Street toward the Waynesville Inn, Golf Resort, and Spa at which point the course ran up and back along one side of the golf course for a short distance. The remainder of the course meandered through town, under and to the west of 74, back into town and finished in historic Frog Level. The hills on the course were mild with a couple of short, challenging climbs. The finisher medal was a mere 1.5" x 2" on a slim, unadorned ribbon.
Opinion: The run was okay for me, it wasn't a very exciting start or finish, the mountains were appealing to look at, and not much of a cheer squad showed up. I didn't find the course too challenging, which I like for half marathons or longer distances. There were a couple of steepish hills that made you work for a little and then they were over. The golf course was beautiful, except the up and back only made up about a mile of the course.
I can't say that running through Hazelwood or off Main Street Waynesville is breathtaking; it mostly consists of older buildings that need some repairs. Waynesville is trying to rejuvenate Frog Level, but again it looks like it needs some more TLC. Despite the worn-out look of the town, the mountains are spectacular in this part of the Smokies. For nearly the entire run you could look in at least one direction and see a peak.
Would I recommend this race? I can't say that I would for the $60 I paid. I can register for a coastal half marathon such as the Quintiles Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon for $55 and get much better swag/finisher's medal and have an incredible run. The race organizers are going to have to get creative if they want to grow this race. First, the chamber of commerce who hosted the race needs to invest in a much better finisher's medal and race shirt. Since the course isn't anything to brag about, they might consider making this part of a challenge with other races in the area and giving out an extra medal. The Harvest Half Marathon in Cherokee is a spectacular course, throw in a half at Lake Junaluska or Maggie Valley and now you've got an excellent three race, area challenge.
I lived in the next municipality over, Maggie Valley, for roughly three years and would love to see the towns in the area rejuvenated. It saddens me to write a non-positive review, but I feel like the Chamber of Commerce charged a premium for the event and didn't bother researching what attracts runners to a half marathon. Most athletes say they don't chase bling, but when a race gets creative with their medals it draws a much larger crowd, finishers wear them all around the finish line, and there are posts all over Facebook with them sporting it. Getting a cool medal and an awesome shirt makes entrants feel like the organizers care about the race and want you to have fun. Unfortunately, very few people who finished this race bothered to wear the medal. Also, having a great race shirt is important because runners wear the race shirts they like to other events and in their daily lives
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