Saturday, May 15, 2010

Onslow County - Run for the Warriors Half-Marathon - May 15, 2010

Chad beat me to Onslow County a few years ago at the Camp Lejeune Resolution Run, but I finally made it today to attend the three-time Onslow County Event of the Year, the Run for the Warriors 10k, 5k and the inaugural half-marathon in Jacksonville.

This was the 5th year of the Run for the Warriors, but it was the first year they have added a half-marathon to the standard 10k, 5k and 1-mile fun run. Altogether, they were hoping for 1,000 runners across all the different events. With Camp Lejeune being so close by, and with it being Armed Forces Day, a very big crowd turned out to run in the race or volunteer in the race. The organizers must have a wonderful organization system set up because each race had its own color shirt -- the half-marathon shirts were blue, the 10k shirts olive drab and so on -- and all the races were basically run at the same time, with only a few minutes between each race's start time.

Race registration and check-in was set up around the Jacksonville High School football stadium. The race is dedicated to the men and women injured in the global war on terror, and before anything got started, the race organizers and the representatives from Camp Lejeune had a welcoming ceremony for all the current and veteran soldiers that were present. The brigade of wounded warriors was well-represented, and children from one of the Jacksonville schools presented each wounded warrior -- many of them were running or hand-cycling in the race -- with a small American flag. The Camp Lejeune commanding officer also welcomed the crowd, and he noted the soldiers running in "boots and utes" -- although they run like that on base, they have to have the commanding officer's approval to run in boots and utes off-base.

The half-marathon was the first event to get started, and there was some confusion about exactly where the starting line was (it didn't use the big scaffolding start line like the 5k and 10k). Finally we got lined up, though, and the wheelchair racers were the first ones to get started, followed shortly by the pack of runners. Each group was led out onto the course by a group of motorcycles. The race course itself was very flat (being close to the ocean) and ran mostly through a residential area, which led to the fun combination of folks setting up shop by the street to watch the runners come by and other residents being surprised by what was going on and not knowing what to make of all the runners coming by. But with Run for the Warriors is a big deal in the area, so many folks who live along the race route came out to watch and cheer for the runners, and some went as far as to set up their own impromptu aid stations.

Of course, with multiple races going on at the same time, there was some opportunity to see some of the other runners. At about our three-mile mark, we merged in with the 10k runners and ran with them past their one-mile mark before they turned. (They were going much faster than we were.) We got to run with them again later in the course when we were around our seven-mile mark and they were at their four-mile mark. There was a very nice stretch through a gated community with some horse farms, although the horses didn't seem very impressed with the humans running by.

The morning was very, very humid, and the temperature picked up very quickly as the sun got higher in the sky. (The sun comes up very early that close to the coast.) Once again I went out much faster than I should have, and the heat and humidity wore me down very quickly after about the first third of the race. Fortunately there was a nice breeze blowing most of the race, and the residential areas had plenty of shade trees, so that helped some; however, the second half of the race course included more commercial areas and newer subdivisions with much less shade, so the sun had more of an opportunity to beat down on us. Finally, about nine miles into the course, my race was over and it became a hot walk in the sunshine. The last few miles of the course I had to myself, although the Jacksonville police officers monitoring the intersections and the aid station volunteers were still very encouraging and happy to see me come by. I was able to pick it up a little bit for the last stretch so that I could do my final lap on the JHS track with a little bit better pace.

The inaugural half-marathon medals were very nice, and there was plenty of post-race fluids and snacks for the runners. I arrived too late to hear the band that entertained the crowd during most of the finishers' arrivals; they were already deep in the awards process when I finally crossed the finish line. It was very easy to tell that Run for the Warriors is a very big deal to Jacksonville and Camp Lejeune, and very dedicated volunteers and organizers put on an excellent event. I was very happy to be a part of it, but if I had it to do over I think I'd opt for the 10k instead of the half-marathon to get out of the heat sooner!

News 14 has some coverage of the events.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Columbus County - Farmers Market Fun Run 5k - May 8, 2010

OK, I really liked the winged farmer's boot logo.

North Carolina food festivals are great opportunities to find new county races. (See, for example, the North Carolina Watermelon Festival 5k in Murfreesboro (Hertford County) or the North Carolina Blueberry Festival 5k in Burgaw (Pender County).) And farmers' markets, too! The second Saturday in May is the opening day for the Columbus County Farmers Market in Whiteville, NC, and they added to the festivities this year with the Farmers Market Fun Run & Walk 5k.

They really put on a very nice inaugural event in Whiteville. The focus was on keeping the event simple and low-cost so that lots of Columbus County residents and visitors could take part. The organizer gets big props for setting up what was effectively a "free" race -- there was no entry fee or registration charge, you just filled out their online form giving your name, age and e-mail address, and they e-mailed us all the race-morning information a few days ahead of the run. The only charge was if you wanted one of the Farmers' Market Fun Run t-shirts, which were very nice cotton with a big logo on the front and the sponsors on the back -- a bargain at $5!

The staging area for the race was the parking lot Columbus County Social Services building just north of downtown Whiteville. This provided lots of space for the pre-race activities, and it was right next door to the farmers' market that was the focal point of the morning's festivities. Check-in for pre-registered runners and race-day registration were both hopping along, and there were plenty of extra t-shirts for the runners that wanted one.

The first event of the day was the kids' half-mile run, which consisted of three laps around the Columbus County Agricultural Extension building across the street, and there were some very excited kids to be doing their run, especially since they all got a medal as they crossed the finish line. Kids love bling.

After the kids were done, the three-milers lined up for our own lap around the ag building, and then we were off onto highway 701 for a quick trip into town. The Whiteville area of Columbus County is very flat, so the only hill each way was the overpass over highway 74, which wasn't bad when it comes to hills. Then we turned into a very nice residential area, where fortunately there was lots of shade on the runners' side of the street to give us a break from the steady sun in the highway area. (It wasn't an overly hot day, but when there was no shade, the sun did wear you down.) Helpful volunteers manned a couple of much-appreciated water stations, and a photographer from the Whiteville newspaper cycled along with the runners to get lots of pictures. (The picture-to-runner ratio was very high for this race.)

We finished the loop through the residential area and then we were headed back north on 701 and back over the overpass, and I was really feeling very good. The small downhill on the overpass helped me try to squeeze a little bit more into my pace, and I was really churning as I made the last couple of turns to the finish line. I was very pleased to get my best 5k time of the year and surprised to get 2nd in my age group! Another nice surprise was that the standard post-race fare of water and bananas had been supplemented with some excellent, fresh strawberries from the farmers' market.

The race awards were handed out as part of the farmers' market opening festivities, which were attended by local and state dignitaries, a Cub Scout troop for raising the flags, the North Carolina Strawberry Queen and Princess, and a choir from a local elementary school. One Columbus County commissioner drove home the point of both the race and the farmers' market when he talked about the county's poor ranking in some health indices and how both getting more exercise and eating more fruits and vegetables (preferably locally-grown from our own farmers) would help the health of the overall county. Good points.

Hopefully, having the race be low-cost increased the size of the field that showed up, even if the majority of the participants were walkers. The race organizer announced that they had more than 100 folks take place, a great turnout for a small inaugural race, and that the 3-mile participants ranged in age from 8 to 78! Congrats to all them as well! Great showing for a great inaugural race!