The direction of the second most popular Take the Lake Personal Endurance Challenge will be reversed this year as event organizers yielded to safety concerns in exchange for a slightly longer trek for participants.
In the two years of Take the Lake, participants of the Walk / Run have left the starting point at the Lake Waccamaw State Park visitors center, walking or running north on Bella Coola Road, and each year, there has
been controversy about that “counter-clockwise” direction. Many participants have expressed concern that the four-and-a-half-mile walk through the woods of the state park trail comes at the end, when they believe they are most prone to injury.
An annual Labor Day weekend Walk / Run had been held for several years prior, and organizers of that event once let participants choose their direction. Some headed into the woods first, and some up Bella Coola, and even then it was decided that, for that size group, saving the shaded trail for last was better than walking two miles down Bella Coola Road in the midday sun.
As the event grew, organizers had little choice but to send the crowd north onto the two-lane road, as the alternative of directing hundreds of runners and walkers into the woods on a narrow trail was unthinkable. Also, sending them down to the end of the park road and onto the trail at the picnic area was not very appealing either.
In fact, organizers would not even consider the route down the paved road to the park picnic area, as that would add a half-mile to the route, and, they thought, 15 miles was long enough.
But, after meetings with Lake Waccamaw Park Superintendent Chris Helms and Emergency Management Director Jeremy Jernigan this summer, the Take the Lake committee voted to change the route, and to change it effective this year, a decision that ultimately came easy given the circumstances.
It was not so much a matter of discomfort for participants, and it wasn’t even the increased risk the trail could present at the end of the trek.
The deciding factor was the ability of park rangers and rescuers to quickly reach and effectively treat an injury or exhaustion victim deep inside the park and transport them out to an ambulance. Also, there is a stronger need for refreshment at the end of the route, and it is difficult to set up water stations along the wooded park trail.
The solution addresses both these concerns, and a shortcut reduces the added distance. Directing participants down the park road for a mile will disperse them, will separate runners from the walkers, and will take a little edge off the injury-prone eagerness. Bella Coola residents have shown their hospitality in hosting water stations.
Using a natural service road to the picnic area makes the addition only one-third mile, which may prove insignificant. At an average pace of three miles per hour, participants could expect to walk only five or 10 minutes more for the extra distance, but since the new route replaces one mile of trail for paved road – which is easier and faster to walk on – some participants may actually finish sooner.
In retrospect, organizers believe the change was inevitable with the growth of Take the Lake, and they only regret having made the decision so late in this season. It was not until all the partners got together discussing safety and risk mitigation that the subject was discussed with enough weight against the uncomfortable solution of adding mileage to the route.
Organizers have printed 600 door hangers that refer to the old route, and that information will be crossed out, if not corrected, before their hanging, on Aug. 20. Also, the 287 people who have already registered for the Walk / Run have been notified by email of the change.
This is the second major change in the three-day event’s short history. Last year, it was decided early on to switch the Sunday Paddle and Bike & Hike so paddlers could enjoy the usually calmer waters in the morning.
Also in 2010, organizers had intended to reverse the direction of the Bike & Hike route, which begins at Dale’s Restaurant, so cyclists would first head to the dam. This would have made the route the same direction as the Walk / Run and would have it fall in line with the newly installed mile markers, which begin at the state park and continue up Bella Coola.
It was decided at the last minute to switch the Bike & Hike direction back when organizers realized that, after sending some 500 cyclists to the dam, at least half of them would be there within 30 minutes, causing a serious bottleneck.
So now, both the Walk / Run and Bike & Hike Personal Endurance Challenges follow the mile markers in reverse order. This may prove better for the walkers and runners, as they end with zero at their finish line, giving them, as Helms said, a “countdown” of their miles to go.
Details and updates can be found at the event’s website, Takethelake.org.
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