Brittney Burns – Staff Writer
Dozens of runners crossed over into Macon County over the weekend for the annual Smoky Mountain Relay. The overnight running relay winds its way around and over the mountains of Western North Carolina, beginning at the Pink Beds State Park near Brevard, and ending 206 miles later at the Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City.
Not only did Macon County have dozen of volunteers stationed at the transition points throughout the race, a local team participated in the event, and had some home court advantage during the 206-mile trek.
Wayne McDaniel ran in the Smoky Mountain Relay with the relay team, “Call me a Cab.”
“I’ve ran six races with Call Me A Cab team and the Smoky Mountain Relay was the hardest one I’ve done,” said McDaniel. “The team captain is Heath Kinsland who grew up here in Franklin but now lives in Charlotte.”
McDaniel lives in Franklin and trains regularly with the local running group, Franklin’s Shameless Runners. For McDaniel, one of the highlights of the race was seeing so many of the people he trains with, volunteering throughout the race.
“It was great seeing some of our local running group volunteering at the exchange zones,” said McDaniel. “At Higdonville I got to chat with Danny Prince, then coming in to Wells Grove I was met with cheers from Debbie Robb, Melissa Ward and Patrick Muse. Along the way I ran across Jeremiah Prince, Andrew Raby and Dave Linn way out in Wayah area. All were as excited to be helping as we were to be there running.”
Runners are members of a 12-person team. That team is split into two vans each carrying six runners. Each runner runs three legs of the relay over approximately 30 hours, and each runner runs on average 18 miles.
McDaniel’s team was comprised of five locals including Kinsland and another veteran to the team from Marion. The team also had a group of runners who travelled from the Charlotte area for the race.
“This was like running in our own backyard,” said McDaniel. “We started out at 7:30 a.m. in Brevard and it was dark by the time we came over from Sylva on Elijay road.”
The vans hopscotch each other through the night with one van of runners sleeping, and the other van of runners continuing the race. Runners continue through the night, with the inactive van driving ahead to a major exchange to rest and refuel.
McDaniel’s second run was from Higdonville Baptist Church to Wells Grove Baptist Church, which provided some difficult terrain.
“The downhill running is supposed to be easy, but it takes a toll on your legs trying to run fast,” said McDaniel. “My last run was on Forest Service Road 711 and once again the downhill running was harder than expected. The whole experience was awesome, the runs were tough but the teamwork of getting through a race like this is a unforgettable event.”
Dave Linn volunteered to help put the event together locally, and took the 2 to 7:30 a.m. shift near Wayah Bald to help runners during the transitions. Linn also helped to raise $200 in baked good sales. Racers who stayed at Cowee School were fed by the Cowee Community Development Organization. The group served 225 racers breakfast.
The event served as a weekend boost to the economy, with runners staying in local hotels and dining in restaurants as well.
The 12 person or six person ultra teams ran through 36 transition areas with each team member running three legs, or six for the ultra teams. The legs are varying lengths and runners cover an average total distance of 18-20 miles or 35-40 for the ultra teams.
“We finished in 33 hours and 24 minutes, which was 27th out of 42 teams,” said McDaniel. “We weren’t the fastest and knew it before we started, but the race was all about challenging ourselves as individuals and as a team. All in all, I hurt, I’m sore, and glad to have done this as a team. It’s kinda like a love hate thing for me, while hurting and pushing thru a challenging run I’m not happy in fact I force myself to stay positive but afterward wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere other than right in the middle of it.”
The winning relay team was the NCSU 6-pack, an ultra course team who set a new course record of 25 hours 17 minutes and 55 seconds, which averages to a pace of 7 minutes and 22 seconds per mile.