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This piece first appeared in the September issue of Competitor Magazine.
Written by: Matt Fitzgerald
The sun rises over Blackberry Valley, a lush fold in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. It is a cool Sunday morning at the end of May. At 7:30 young men and women wearing running clothes and shoes begin to filter into a kitchen and dining area. They talk as people do who see each other every day. Bananas, bagels and cold cereal with milk are consumed.
At 8:15 the runners pile into a couple of cars and crackle down a long dirt driveway. Twenty minutes of slow driving along roads that see frequent deer crossings lead them to Moses H. Cone Memorial Park in the town of Blowing Rock, N.C.
Seven runners emerge from the two vehicles. Six are 25 years old. All of them were exceptional collegiate runners, but not among the handful of very best who graduated and secured contracts with running shoe companies. Alissa McKaig, for example, finished 10th at the NCAA Cross Country Championships while at Michigan State—one of three colleges she attended without graduating from any. Chris Clark was a five-time All-American at University of Pennsylvania, a Division II school.
A hybrid SUV pulls into the lot. Out steps head coach of ZAP Fitness, Pete Rea, who is still boyish-looking at age 42. Rea warns the runners that the park will likely be full of horseback riders this morning. “Please slow down and say something nice when you pass them,” he says.