North Carolina is one of the most military-friendly states, and military bases are a great source of local events and new county races, as we've found out with the Army Birthday Ten-Miler at Fort Bragg in Cumberland County (and also the Hoke All-American Trail 5k in Hoke County). So, when we heard about the half-marathon at the Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) in Cherry Point, North Carolina, it was a natural to include in the countdown.
Fortunately for this trip, our friends Gary and Rachel were along. We all got snowed out of the Myrtle Beach half-marathon back in February, so this was a chance to catch up with another flat spring half-marathon. And boy, was MCAS Cherry Point flat! I tried mapping the route so that I could see the elevation, but when I clicked the button, it said, "what elevation?" Of course, being that flat and that close to the ocean, there was a lot of wind pretty much non-stop all around the course.
But race morning was clear and cool, so at least the showers that sprinkled their way through the previous day would not be an issue. We had been pre-cleared through the base checkpoint, so after only a few wrong turns we found the race staging area and were able to check in and then ride the bus about a half-mile down the road to the actual starting area. Paul Kelly, noted handbike athlete from Beaufort who I've seen at other races around the state, was also there as part of the field.
One of the many Marines that was taking part in the half-marathon (it's part of a bigger Grand Prix series) sang a great rendition of the national anthem, and then we were ushered onto the road for the start. The first mile or so was just to get warmed up a little bit and get my muscles moving again. Although it was a beautiful morning, the second mile was straight into the rising sun, and without my sunglasses, I was pretty much watching just the road a little ahead of me rather than enjoying all the folks around me, including the firemen who were spectating at the fire station we passed.
An early treat was an out-and-back loop around a beautiful marina that enabled us to see where all the runners were lined up -- Gary was running just behind the leaders, in about sixth, and Rachel was further back, having gone back for a dropped glove in the first mile. The break from looking into the sun was much appreciated, as we got to check out the water and the boats and the lakefront cabin that greeted us. Then we made a turn onto a dirt road called Rifle Range Road, and there was no temptation to wander off the road once we saw the warning signs about how it was a live range and an impact area!
A couple of turns and we passed back by the parking and finish areas, but we were only halfway done with the race, so we wouldn't be seeing the finish line again for a while. The second half of the race was through the developed part of the base, although there wasn't much to see among the warehouses and supply buildings we passed. (Unfortunately, even though we were running next to live runways, we didn't get to see or hear many of the Marine jets while we were on base.) Conditions, though, had warmed up a bit and I tucked my gloves inside my waistband since I didn't think I would need them again. There were some very enthusiastic volunteers out there as well, cheering us along and providing plenty of water, Sport Beans, and gels to the runners.
There was one more out-and-back section, about three miles in all, where we went just outside the base and looped around a Havelock city park. Gary was already through it all, but I got to encourage Rachel as she was on her way back in. The park had a few spectators cheering on the racers, but the majority of folks appeared to be there for an Easter egg hunt later in the day (the "Welcome to Havelock" sign was full of colored plastic eggs). There was also some music playing in the park, which was very nice to hear after running in quiet for so long.
Making the turn back to base was good because it was the last three miles of the race but bad because 1) now we were running into a strong headwind the rest of the way and 2) the last two aid stations had run out of water. I knew I would be OK since I had hydrated well on race morning, but it would have been great to have a little something to drink the last three miles. The headwind also encouraged me to get my gloves back out and put them on to keep my hands somewhat warmer. I did get to encourage the last few runners as they entered the out-and-back. Very helpful course monitors guided me across the last intersection, and then we were onto side streets and a greenway to the finish line. Seemed like the headwind never let up, but finally I made the last turn and could see the finish line about half a mile ahead -- on one of the few uphills of the base! Still, I kept plodding along and finally reached the finish line, having ripped off a 10:16 for the last full mile -- proof that I can get a second wind when I can see the finish!
My finish time was a respectable 2:27:17, good enough for 9th in my age group (out of 10). (There were 167 finishers overall.) Rachel also ran very well, and Gary won his age group with a new PR of 1:29 and change! (Now that Gary's in my age group, he pushes me down out of the prize places.) The post-race party had plenty of fruit and snacks and fluids, and the various trophies and cups they had for the age group and overall winners were very impressive! Each runner got a nice long-sleeved cotton t-shirt, and the finishers all received half-marathon medals with a back sticker identifying the race. It was great to see Gary get his trophy and cheer some of the other winners, but we were very glad to get back in the cars out of the wind when that was done. After we had cleaned up and gotten some warmer clothes on, we did go back for pictures in front of the jet set up at the base entrance to commemorate the trip. It was a lot of fun doing the MCAS Cherry Point Half-Marathon, and we thank the Marines and the race staff for letting us run with them! Oorah!