There is typically nervous energy in the air in the moments after trail runners begin arriving for a race. Not knowing exactly what lies ahead as they prepare to run or how their body will hold up over the course can affect even the most experienced athlete.
The atmosphere leading up to the Gateway 5K & 10K at Camp Grier in Old Fort on Aug. 26 was no different for many of the experienced runners who showed up on the cool Saturday morning. But 19 of the 80-plus runners had a more acute feeling of uncertainty.
Just five minutes before the race, the group surrounded Mindy Bayless, who in June organized the Gateway to the 5K Training Group through Vertical Runner Black Mountain. None of the runners had run in a trail race prior the one they were about to begin.
"I'm just so proud of you all," Bayless told the group as she choked back tears. "Just remember to go out there and have fun."
The Old Fort race was the culmination of a free 11-week program offered through the Black Mountain runner store. Trainers there helped inexperienced trail runners get ready for the Gateway 5K & 10K, organized by Vertical Runner and Relentless Running Events.
When she started training with Bayless and the group in June, Shawn Fadoir struggled to run for two minutes straight. She ran her first trail race, a 10K, in the Gateway.
"I'm nervous. I woke up at 5:30 this morning," she said about 30 minutes before the race. "I'm hoping to finish to finish it in under two hours."
Fadoir signed up for the program to get regular exercise while spending more time in nature. The physical and emotional benefits of regular exercise on trails in and around her home in Black Mountain are hard to describe, she said. She did far better in her first trail run than she expected - she finished in just over an hour and a half.
"I feel so much better in every way than I did before I started," Fadoir said moments after finishing the race. "I've lost weight, and trail running has provided me with a great way to relieve tension. I'm so happy I did this program and so thankful to Mindy."
After completing her first 5K, Lowry Reed echoed many of the same sentiments regarding Bayless and the program. Reed, who began the program to set a positive example for her teenage son Marshall, fought off pre-race jitters to finish the race in just over an hour.
"I was going to finish the race no matter what," she said after her run. "I'm very proud of myself."
Marshall, who came with his mother to support her in the race, was happy to see his mom accomplish what she set out to do in June.
"I was really proud of my mom," he said. "It makes me happy to see her happy."
Reed told Bayless she intends to run the 12th Annual WNC Run/Walk For Autism at Asheville Christian Academy on Saturday, Sept. 9.
"It is night and day with Lowry," Bayless said. "When she first started the program, she was very timid and reserved. She dropped off for a couple weeks in the middle, and I reached back out to her. Over these last several weeks she has been so confident, and she has her son out being more active and she's opened up so much."
Reed gave the credit for her ability to see this program through to the end to Bayless and others.
"Mindy's been great, I mean absolutely amazing," she said. "She's really been responsible for keeping me in this. I've also got tons of support from my coworkers. They've been great."
Reed said she intends to keep running and living a healthier lifestyle.
"I just feel so much better," she said. "I'm full of energy."
Charla Greene was no stranger to the demands of running when she signed up for the Gateway to the 5K Training Group in June. In fact, she was only a few months removed from having run the Boston Marathon. But her unfamiliarity with trail running and desire to meet friends in the local running community led her to the group.
As a veteran runner she had a game plan going into her first 10K on trails.
"The work is done in the weeks before the race," she said with around 15 minutes before taking to the trail. "I just try to be Zen on the day of the race."
Her goal going into the race was to "feel good" about her performance.
"This will be a personal record for me no matter what because it's the first trail race I've run," she said. She dedicated her run to a friend's grandmother who recently passed away.
Greene discovered that she was prepared for her first trail run. But the endeavor presented challenges.
"I think I got my money's worth with this race," she said after the 10K. "But it was really fun and the best part for me was having other runners on the course, many who weren't even in our training group, out there showing support, especially going up and coming down."
With her first trail run in the books, Greene, along with Fadoir, will look to take on another challenge - training with Bayless and others for the 2018 Black Mountain Marathon.
"Whether I do the marathon or not, I want to be part of a training group," Greene said. "And that's a great way to ensure I get out and stay on the trails through the fall and winter."