"These are the worst weather conditions we've had," shouted Run To Victory sponsor and NASCAR driver Kyle Petty before the race, "but the largest turnout!" Naturally, that brought a big cheer from the cold, wet runners waiting for the green flag to wave.
449 half-marathoners and 312 5-milers completed Sunday's Run to Victory race, which benefits the Victory Junction Camp in Randleman, NC in Randolph County. Randolph County, which is the home of the Petty family, is just south of Greensboro. The Pettys organized and founded the Victory Junction Camp, which helps kids with various chronic medical conditions and serious illnesses, in memory of their son Adam, who was killed in a racing accident years ago. The Run to Victory is a big fundraiser and benefit for the camp.
Chad beat me to the Run to Victory a couple of years ago, but it worked out we could run it together this year in addition to our friends William, Jennifer, Ann, Karin and my cousin Ginny. Unfortunately we got saddled with some really ugly running weather, with temperatures in the 30s at race time, spitting rain with potential for showers, and enough wind to be annoying. We were all in a good mood for the pre-race worship service in the gym at Randleman Middle School, but once we started moving outside for the start, the outside overhang was the popular place to be until right before the start when we finally moved to the finish line. Kyle Petty and running personality John Bingham -- who had spoken to the North Carolina Roadrunners Club meeting the Thursday before -- welcomed all the runners and then one of the Victory Junction campers waved the green flag to start us all.
The first couple of miles were actually kind of pleasant as we wound our way through the city part of Randleman. It didn't hurt that the first mile was mostly downhill, either. Eventually the 5-milers and the half-marathoners parted ways, and we were out in the rural part of the countryside, with only the other runners, aid station volunteers and deputies, and the occasional house full of barking dogs to keep us company. One out-and-back section in a neighborhood gave all the half-marathoners a chance to see most of the other runners and offer some encouragement. And it turns out Randolph County has a good set of hills, too!
The first four miles went by very quickly, and then we got into some of the more severe hills were the runners got more strung out along the distance and it seemed to get longer and longer between the aid stations, which were about two miles apart. Some of the folks I was running with were very encouraging, and I also tried to keep up folks' spirits wherever I could. There was very good support from the county's sheriff's department, and News 14 had a crew out on the course getting runner footage wherever they could. The weather continued to be a downer as it never really warmed up much. William had provided us with garbage bags for our outside layer and they were a big help in keeping the rain off us and blocking the wind a little bit. I wanted to shed my garbage bag after a while, but I was convinced that if I did the rain would come down heavy for sure, so I ended up wearing it most of the race. Fortunately I had my Garmin on and was able to keep track of our progress, which would have been hard otherwise since the miles weren't marked in a big way.
Finally, after what seemed like a very long tour of every part of Randolph County, we could see the water tower for Victory Junction Camp (painted like a hot-air balloon) above the treeline. (We had been able to hear the loud finish-line music at various points along the course, too.) We made a big turn into the camp and got to see the colorful, welcoming decorations that must be a welcome sight for the campers and their families whenever they visit. We made various turns through the welcome center and then went down through a tunnel and back up a hill, and then we could see the main camp area ahead of us with all of the finish line decorations and celebrations. It was a great brief downhill, and then we had to go back up again for the "victory circle" around the main camp area to the finish line, where Kyle Petty and his wife Pattie high-fived a lot of the finishers and where we got our hefty Run to Victory medals with a bas-relief John Bingham penguin on the back. (Kyle Petty autographed some of the finishers' medal ribbons but unfortunately I didn't get to see him.)
Fortunately, immediately after the finish chute we were able to turn right into the camp cafeteria, where it was wonderfully warm and they had beef, turkey or 3-bean chili and cornbread for all the runners, along with hot chocolate and various drinks to get us re-heated and re-hydrated. We also got to pick up our checked gear bags and change into the warm, dry clothes we had packed for the post-race. The food and drink were wonderful, and before too long we were feeling just about back to normal temperature and ready for the shuttle bus ride back to the starting area.
Everything about the Run to Victory was first-class, from the support of the Pettys and John Bingham, to the pre-race worship service, to the great medals and race shirts, to the finish in Victory Junction Camp and the care they took of us afterwards. This race has a great reputation in its short life, and with an experience like this it's easy to see why. Hopefully the weather will be a little warmer next time we get to run in Randolph County!
Unfortunately, my marathon cap was a casualty of the race. It has been with me through many, many miles and it had a good life. Time to find another hat that I can destroy next time out.
Digital Triad has some video from the race.