About 6 weeks or more ago, a friend and fellow runner let me know about this local 5K that was going to happen in early June at the Wildlife Loop at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The race was free and was limited to 100 participants. I jumped on it because 1) you can’t beat that price for a race entry, 2) the location is a lovely one and 3) it will ensure that I get up early and get a run in that day.
I signed up along with several other runner friends. At the registration page they were taking donations to go toward the Assateague Island Alliance (a non-profit friends group of Assateague Island National Seashore that helps to raise funds to go toward preservation of the island while also supporting educational programming). Of course I donated, though it was a small amount.
A week prior to race day all of the participants received an email that gave details of the run; when and where to pick up your race packet, how to get into the park, where to park your vehicle, how to prepare for the race due to its location and abundance of bitey bugs, rain date info, and a little note of appreciation at the end. The US Fish and Wildlife Service granted each participant free admission to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Therefore, if one chose to do so, race participants could stick around after the run and make a day of hiking, beaching, lighthouse visiting, pony watching, whatever they choose, all for free. I thought that was absolutely awesome and generous, especially given that the race entry fee was free.
I awoke early June 4th, the morning of the race, to get there on time as Chincoteague was about a 40 minute drive from home. I didn’t have to get there too early since a running buddy already picked up race packets for all of those in our troupe. The weather was warm, a little foggy with overcast skies. The humidity was mild. The drive in was smooth and once I got on the island I was surprised to find it as calm and quiet as it was. It was pretty early and many of the shops were still closed, but it is summer around here so I thought there’d be more hustle and bustle going on. Perhaps they were anticipating rain? I made it to the park gate earlier than I had expected due to the lack of traffic and pedestrians (and I might have a slight case of lead foot at times). Almost immediately after I entered through the gate there was someone on the side of the road directing us to the parking area for the race.
Arrival was welcoming and easy. There were a few participants there by the time I had shown up, but most of them poured in almost immediately afterward. There were park rangers at the registration table, happy to answer any questions and excited about the event. One of the rangers was perusing through the crowd taking photos. I gathered with a group of my running buddies to take a “before” photo in front of the banner on display.
In our race packets there were pamphlets about the area, a temporary tattoo (which we all were happy to sport), a decal for our vehicles, a race bib and a t-shirt. Did I mention that the registration for this race was FREE?
As the start time neared, I ran into several other friends and fellow runners from our community! I was elated to see each and every one of them. There were participants of all ages, some seasoned runners and some first timers. After a brief welcoming and intro at the start line, we were off.
The route was a paved, flat, scenic loop filled with coastal flora and fauna. It was peaceful; only the sounds of birds and frogs in the distance, the pitter patter of shoes on the pavement, and the occasional spoken words of encouragement from one runner to another.
Before I knew it I was almost at the finish! I wasn’t paying much attention to anything other than the beauty that surrounded me. The park rangers, as well as those that had finished before me and some other supporters, were there to greet all of us with high fives, congratulatory messages, and a finishing patch. There were bananas and water at the finish for all of us too. All of this for a registration fee of $0.00.
This was the first event of this type for the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and they did an absolute perfect job putting it together. From the ease of registration to the final minutes after the race, everything was well organized and the race bling was generous given the cost of registration.
If ever there is a race such as this in your area, I encourage you to take part. And if they are accepting donations, remember that every little bit helps their cause. I for one will happily partake in another of these events, and not just for the “bling,” but because of the sense of community it creates.
The Assateague Island National Seashore 5K Centennial Run has raised just shy of 50% of their goal as of the date of my blogging this. They are still accepting donations if you wish to help the cause. Visit their donation page here to help them raise funds for preservation and education.