Report by  Gavin Finlay

Perhaps I should have wore a cape. A brooding Batman cape; or a bright Superman cape our inner child desires? Those kids know something we don’t. Would a cape have made a difference on this most undulating of routes? Who knows? I definitely could have done with super powers on those torturous hills, that’s for sure.


Race reporter Gavin 

The Florence Forth race was founded by two Durham residents, Leslie and Will McDow, who lost their young daughter Florence to Autoimmune Encephilitis, a rare neurological condition, on March 4th 2012.  This wonderful local event commemorates the day six year old Florence died, and to inspire us to “march forth” in support of the search for a cure to AE.  All proceeds from the event help the AE Alliance raise awareness, educate doctors and improve clinical care so that no one faces AE alone. Like all kids, Florence loved wearing her superhero cape, and so the race encourages participants to don their capes and “go forth”. It also features a kids’ “cape dash” which is great fun and a such a touching spectacle.


Florence McDow (For more info click here: About Florence Forth)

Conditions were ideal – blue skies, crisp and calm. There was an electric atmosphere on 9th Street, the heart of arty, bohemian Durham on the Old West side. Runners, joggers, waddlers and kids – some caped, others not. I was really looking forward to this race – not only was it a local event (I live in the adjoining “hood”) and for a great cause, but it also served as a perfectly timed tune-up 10k ahead of my upcoming Wilmington Marathon. Plus, it incorporated the North Carolina State 10k Championship meaning there would be some slick operators at the business end of the field. In fact, the 2012 USTAF Cross Country champion, and NC resident, Bobby Mack was racing and favourite to win. And as a newly minted USTAF member I was eligible to compete in my debut championship on US soil.


We got off to a murderously fast start, not helped by watch refusing to start. I often don’t run with my watch so I’m not even sure why I was so preoccupied with this. Anyway. I had decided that, despite the hills, I was going to aggressively target a PB here. Gay abandon. I have four solid months of marathon training and was feeling strong, so thought, let’s try this. And because I run on the Durham hills everyday I should be able to handle this tough course. Right? Well, not exactly.  I tucked in with the chasing group, of which there were four of us, including Kaleb and Mark, whom I know from Bull City Track Club. Two low 30:00s 10k guys. The plan at this point was to stick with these seasoned whippets. The opening mile was a blistering 5min/mile pace, and while I knew this was verging on the suicidal, I also knew it was net downhill and these seconds in the bank would likely be repaid in the latter hillier sections.


The course wound its way through the Old West Durham neighbourhood, passing EK Powe, my daughter’s elementary school (‘Where Eagles Soar’…..apparently). I got a nice shout out from the family at the junction of Green and Edith. Always nice….to be running away from the kids. Down Knox, past Monuts, one of Durham’s most popular eateries, with queues down the street not unheard of on a Sunday morning. What’s a “monut” you ask? I’m still not sure myself. When I first moved here I naively thought a monut was a special type of donut – like a mix between a macaroon and a regular donut. But simply, the owner’s name starts with a M and it sells amazing donuts.


Hard right at Watts Street, named after George Washington Watts (1851 – 1921), a Gilded Age financier and philanthropist, and co-founder, with James B. Duke, of the American Tobacco Company, at one time the largest tobacco manufacturer in the US. The history and wealth of Durham and Duke University, by the way, is primarily due to tobacco. Formerly the city of tobacco, today they call it the ‘City of Medicine” because of the enormous Duke medical centre and cutting edge research here. Talk about delicious, ahem..smokey irony.


George Washington Watts

Ok, I digress. The long drag through Durham’s fanciest neighbourhood, Trinity Park, with its gorgeous early twentieth century homes built on tobacco money and the monied professors at Duke. We hit Main St and a nice downhill stretch for a few hundred metres towards the recently revived downtown. All disused, redbrick tobacco warehouses, now home to trendy apartments and hip restaurants. Brightleaf they call it. After the tobacco leaf. Last century the smell would have been inescapable. We lean into Buchanan Blvd at mile 2-3 still managing to hold the aggressive pace. This brought us across the US-147, the highway that bisects Durham north and south. Each working off one another – at least I think we were – we came to the dreaded Morehead Ave after several sharp turns through the Morehead Hills and Lakewood Park area.


Morehead Ave  

Morehead Ave was not going to be easy. Named after a guy with a large head I assume. No, no, I jest. Eugene Morehead (1845 – 1889), the Durham banker, property developer, of course.  Who may or may not have had “more” head than the average man. This was where the wheels could come off. This is where the cape may have come in handy. I felt confident up to this point. Strong. Comfortable, even. But there is a killer hill approaching mile 4 and this slowed me down considerably. The group split but to my surprise it was me who pulled ahead of the other Bull City lads. The worst was still to come.

UntitledDuke University Campus, Durham 

The gradual, unrelenting drag up Anderson Street, through the forested Duke campus, was savage.  At race pace, it broke me. I heard the pitter-patter of racing flats behind me. Kaleb and Mark catching up. They obviously had more juice in the legs to handle that hill. I probably should have stayed with them a mile ago rather than breaking away. All runners know that pang of dejection from being passed in the closing stages, and that’s how I felt. But I did manage to pick it up again and put the stamina to the test for the last km or so, which was mercifully flat with a downhill tease thrown in. The home stretch down 9th Street was a thrilling way to finish. I crossed the line in 33 minutes and change, utterly spent and slightly disappointed I didn’t dip sub-33:00. But on that hilly course, I’m proud of the time. It felt like a hard-fought PB out there.  Next year I’m seriously considering a cape though.


Race finishers, Super hero Conor and Gavin 

Well done to all involved. And thank you and best wishes to the McDow family and the AE Alliance.

 Gavin Finlay results:

Time: 33:16
USTAF NC 10K Championship: 8th
O35: 2nd.