How many races start with the firing of a cannon and end with birthday cake? Not many, but one of them is down at Fort Bragg in Cumberland County, namely the 13th annual Army Birthday 10-Miler, which not only commemorates the birthday of the US Army but also selects the top 10 men and women who become part of the Fort Bragg team that trains for and races at the Army Ten Miler in October in Washington, DC.
This race takes some extra preparation with the 6:30 a.m. starting time and the need to wait in line to have your car inspected to get on the base, but it's well worth it to see 1,600+ servicemen and servicewomen (plus civilians) out to do 10 miles around Fort Bragg. (And at $10 to register, the race is a bargain!) There's lots of support from all kinds of Army units and volunteers to make sure that plenty of water and Gatorade are available -- plus misters on fire hydrants -- and to monitor intersections. Still, there are other units out doing their regular morning PT in packs and boots, not to mention one unit that was training in full uniform, packs, and arms. (The runners were happy to yield right-of-way to the guys with machine guns.) You also couldn't miss the cadence recordings and the Army men's chorus songs being played on loudspeakers around the race course.
Sure enough, they fired a cannon to get the whole race started, and we were off on a very quick pace. Not surprisingly, the soldiers are in better shape than your average road race field, so I was solidly in the back of the pack. Lots of family members and friends were out to support the runners, and they were happy to cheer for any of us, which was very much appreciated. The course turned out to have some challenging sections, with some significant hills, but fortunately we had the cool of the morning to enjoy, before the sun got too high or too hot. My favorite aid station was in an assembly area where soldiers getting organized for morning PT were volunteering before their own workouts; they were very encouraging and supportive of all the runners as we came through, but they were having lots of fun with the runners, too. (Army sense of humor: turning the 9-mile mark sign upside down so it looked like you had only gone 6 miles.)
The last stretch coming home was on a mile-long straightaway (with hills) where you could see the finish line arch way ahead. Lots of folks were at the finish line to cheer in all the finishers, and then there was a very nice post-race party at Sports USA (sort of an officers' club). There were lots of food and drink, and some very good over-strong Gatorade. The awards for the run were excellent. The winning teams (active-duty) received huge silver cups and trophies, plus all team members received gold, silver or bronze medals. And the age-group winners received very nice plaques with bas-relief sculptures of soldiers and helicopters. Really nice awards -- wish I could have earned one! And yes, they had a huge birthday cake with the Fort Bragg logo and the race logo that was sliced up with a sword by the base commander and some of the race winners. Happy 234th birthday, Army! Hooah!
I had a great time on Fort Bragg that Thursday morning doing the Army Birthday 10-Miler. 1,622 runners finished after 1,858 registered. If the team competition was open to civilians, we’d have to take the NCRC racing team down to compete! Before the race, I was Tired; when I was done, I was Army Tired!