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Resolve to be active in 2017: WNC runs and rides offer ample options for fitness goals

Resolve to be active in 2017: WNC runs and rides offer ample options for fitness goals

January is universally recognized as the time to make a fresh start, throw away last year’s used-up calendar and dream up a new set of aspirations for the 12 months ahead. And when it comes to New Year’s resolutions aimed at becoming more active in 2017, Western North Carolina offers a dazzling array of options.

Whether you want this to be the year you do your first 5K, conquer a triathlon or climb mountains on two wheels, there’s a date on the calendar for you. 


Get back in shape

If getting from the couch to the finish line of a 5K is your goal for 2017, the Greening up the Mountains 5K could prove a good introduction to the world of running. Scheduled for the morning of Saturday, April 22, in Sylva, the race covers a level course on pavement and gravel road, beginning in Mark Watson Park and heading toward Dillsboro before looping back to the starting point. 

In addition to the draw of an easy course just as springtime turns the mountains green, this 5K coincides with the 20th annual Greening up the Mountains Festival. Held in downtown Sylva, the day features vendors set up all along Main Street as well as a full schedule of musical acts to keep things lively in Bridge Park — the perfect way to reward yourself for a run well done. 

Registration for the 5K is not yet open but will soon be available at Keep an eye out for the region’s many other 5K offerings, which will be listed in The Smoky Mountain News throughout the year. 

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Go the distance

If a 5K is old hat to you, consider stepping up your running regime in time to tackle the Gateway to the Smokies Half Marathon, which will be held Saturday, May 6, in downtown Waynesville. 

Now in its third year, the half marathon starts on Main Street to wind 13.1 miles through the tree-lined streets of town before ascending to spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, ending with a downhill cruise to the finish line in Frog Level, a revitalized railroad district with a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. 

If May proves too early to get it together for a half marathon, don’t despair — plenty more opportunities will crop up later in the year. Check out the Bethel and Cherokee Harvest half marathons in October, or Franklin’s Conquer the Mountain Half Marathon in November. 

Registration for the Gateway to the Smokies Half Marathon is $55 through April 6, with prices rising afterward.


Paddle stronger 

The lazy rivers and churning whitewater of WNC are known to paddlers across the country, and locals hoping that 2017 will be their year to grab a paddle and explore the waterways loved by so many will have a chance to show off their skills at the Nantahala Outdoor Center Spring Fling, held Saturday, April 29, at the NOC near Bryson City. 

The Hometown Throwdown, a community freestyle event hosted by World Kayak, will give paddlers a chance to show their moves on the 2013 Wave. The day will also include an opportunity for kids to surf the Founder’s Bridge surf wave, and scheduled releases of the Cascades and Upper sections of the Nantahala River will round out the weekend. 

Free, with registration required to compete at


Climb mountains with a bike

The rugged topography of WNC can be hard to conquer on two wheels, but the effort can pay off handsomely, as anyone who participates in the Blue Ridge Breakaway — an annual bike ride that starts from Lake Junaluska — will surely discover. 

This year’s Breakaway will be held Saturday, Aug. 19, offering four routes ranging from 26.5 miles to 105.7 miles. The maximum uphill grade for each route ranges from 7 to 11 percent, and the maximum downhill grade is 12 percent for all routes. 

The ride is a challenging one, but slower riders need not despair — the Breakaway is a ride, not a race, so the focus is on fun rather than speed. Besides, with scenery like that on display along the Breakaway route, there’s little need for trophies. The two longer routes even include stints on the Blue Ridge Parkway, with all the dramatic views and drop-offs that the road is famous for. 

When it comes to long bike rides, however, the Breakaway is certainly not the only game in town. The Tour de Cashiers and Tour de Franklin are both held in April. 

Register for the Breakaway at Early rates of $51, or $46 for the shortest route, are available through May 31. 


Run the trails

For a hardcore trailrunner, there’s no truer test than the Naturalist 50K. The race, scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 7, leaves from downtown Franklin to cover some of the most challenging terrain in the Southeast. 

The route climbs to Wayah Bald via the Wallace Trail, offering runners a resupply before they head back down on the Bartram Trail. In all, the 50K route climbs more than 10,500 feet. A shorter 25K route is available as well, involving more than 7,000 feet of climbing. 

Multiple food and water stations will be available and a hefty celebration full of music and beer will wait at the finish line, but the challenge is stiff enough that anyone completing it can laugh at the notion that New Year’s resolutions are made to be broken. The race is organized by Outdoor 76.

Anyone intrigued by the concept of a trail race but intimidated by the 25K distance may be interested in the Assault on Blackrock, a challenge in its own right. The 7-mile trail race, slated for Saturday, March 18, starts from the parking lot of Pinnacle Park in Sylva to ascend 2,770 feet in elevation to Blackrock before heading downhill again. Registration is open at

sign up for the Naturalist race at, $80 for the 50K and $65 for the 25K. 


Try a tri

With two lengths of triathlon and a half-ironman on the schedule, the Lake Logan Multisport Festival presents the perfect opportunity for New Year’s resolutions toward a more active 2017 to reach their culmination. 

Scheduled for Aug. 5-6 at the Lake Logan Episcopal Center in Haywood County, the race is in its 11th year. While none of the races on the schedule could be considered easy, the least demanding is the Lake Logan Sprint Triathlon, which features a 500-meter swim, 12-mile bike ride and 5K run. Athletes can up the ante a bit to compete in the Lake Logan International Triathlon, which is comprised of a 1500-meter swim, 24-mile bike ride and 10K run. The most hardcore athletes will attempt the Lake Logan Half Ironman, which entails a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run. 

Register at Fees through Aug. 3 range from $65 to $155. Options are also available for those who would like to race only certain legs of each race, as well as for relay teams. 


Make it a team effort

Fitness goals can become drudgery when shouldered solo, but the Smoky Mountain Overnight Relay offers the chance to pursue an adventure-based fitness goal as part of a team. 

Slated for April 21-22, the 206-mile foot race is meant to be conquered by teams of 12. Starting at the Pink Beds Picnic Area in the Pisgah National Forest near Brevard, the course covers miles of remote trails, U.S. Forest Service roads and rural roads before reaching the finish line at the Nantahala Outdoor Center near Bryson City. Each 12-person team uses two vans to hopscotch the course as team members run, cheer and occasionally sleep. 

Sign up with 11 of your closest friends, or register solo to join the pool of other single runners. Ultra teams of six runners apiece may also sign up. Registration is at, with prices ranging from $96 to $133 per runner through March 16. 

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