AVERY COUNTY — Bands of runners passed through Avery County donned with reflective vests and lights after sundown on Friday, Sept. 10, for one of the legs of the 2021 Blue Ridge Relay. The events strings south from the Grayson Highlands of Virginia to the streets of Asheville.

The race began in 2003 as a means to showcase the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Each year since, van loads of runners in teams of anywhere between four and 12 people join together to make the long trek. A 208-mile journey from start to finish, the grueling race is a test of endurance for even the most seasoned runners.

“It’s hard, the views, everything, it’s just amazing. It’s the camaraderie, all the teams out here,” said second time relay participant John Lacey of Roswell, Ga., on why he attends the relay. “Ashe County was tough, (it) was very hilly, beautiful place though. I really enjoyed it, I wouldn’t pick any other place to run through.”

Throughout the course of the race, teammates take turns running through 36 transition areas, winding through towns such as Jefferson, West Jefferson, Todd, Boone, Blowing Rock, Linville and Newland before ending in Asheville. While many of the races are Blue Ridge Relay participants are event veterans, others found themselves running the race for the first time.

“I’m with an organization called F3, fitness, fellowship and faith, it’s a national organization from the metro Atlanta area. So, we had a group that came up. For a lot of us it’s our first time doing it, myself included, with some veterans and I kind of got lumped in with them and it’s been a great experience,” said first-time race participant Jay Mooney. “It was beautiful, the people were nice, the hills were a challenge but I got through. I’m just glad to be here with the guys and having fun, sweating together and pushing ourselves. It’s been a great experience and while it was tough I’m glad to have the ability to be able to do it.”

Working diligently behind the scenes, local organizations lent their services to the relay by keeping track of times at relay points, parking cars and pointing runners in the right direction. In Avery County, Newland Elementary School served as a rest/transition point for team runners.

As runners made their way to various waypoints across the High Country they would be met by their teammates cheering them on. After making the transition from one runner to the next, the participants would then load up in vans which served as their makeshift homes for the weekend and ferry themselves to the next checkpoint.

Blue Ridge Relay is operated by Blue Ridge Endurance Ltd. For more information about the Blue Ridge Relay, click to blueridgerelay.com.

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