This morning it was just a quick jump over the county line to Granville County and Oxford, North Carolina for the Run with the Lions 5k sponsored by the Oxford Lions Club. The Lions Club, of course, is an international service organization with more than 1.3 million members and 45,000 clubs around the world. For the last four years, the Oxford Lions Club has organized the Run with the Lions 5k, a great little race where the proceeds go to benefit the Lions' own "SightFirst" program, which funds research on preventable blindness.
Chad ran the inaugural version of this race back in 2007, and I was happy to finally get there myself. The folks at check-in couldn't have been friendlier, including the "official dog" of the race, who was lounging under the table and was very happy to have his neck scratched by all the folks who came through. The Lions Club in Oxford is just off the main drag, right between a church and the post office, and it has a big gold lion statue outside. (Would have had a picture of me with the lion right here if I hadn't forgotten my camera.) Lots of Lions were scurrying about with all of the last pre-race preparations, setting up refreshments, moving out to monitor the course and handle traffic control.
The starting line for today's 5k was just around the corner to give the runners the longest straightaway before the first time, so eventually everyone got ushered around from the Lions HQ over to the starting area. Immediately you knew everyone was running for second place because star runner Devin Swann from Raleigh was on hand to defend his title from last year. (I believe he has family in the area, which is why he was at such an out-of-the-way race. His father and sister-in-law were also running.) Devin easily knocks out 5-minute miles in races, so it was going to take an outstanding performance to beat him. The race was quite a municipal event, with all three of the Oxford Police units present, as well as the Fire Chief and the Granville County paramedics.
The guys from East Carolina Road Racing, who were timing the event, lined us up in the street and after a few quick instructions, we were off! There were a good number of recreational joggers and walkers in the event, so in a very short time the field was very spread out. After the first turn, we could see a good bit ahead, and, sure enough, Devin built a very early lead and was leaving the rest of the runners behind him even before the half-mile mark. From my spot safe in the back of the pack, I had a good chance to check out the Oxford Municipal Recreation Area, where soccer signups were going on, and where they had just wrapped up the "Oxford Open" tennis tournament.
The course appeared in the map to be relatively hill-free -- only about 55 feet of elevation change -- but once we were out running, we could see that there was a good bit of roll to the area, with one downhill rolling into the next uphill, another downhill, and so on the whole way. We ran through a good bit of a subdivision called -- honest -- "Green Acres," and I ended up with that theme song echoing in my head a good bit of the first two miles. Some of the homes were very pretty with manicured lawns and lovely flower beds, and there were two dogs that were very disappointed that their invisible fence kept them from going after all the targets running by. There were fathers running with kids, friends running together, and solo racers -- a good variety of all running speeds and sizes out enjoying the morning. We were blessed with cool temperatures (low 70s in August) and overcast skies, but the humidity continued to be high. The Lions out on the course did a great job of keeping the traffic away from the runners, and someone had done a great job marking the course, with large arrows posted at all the turns to make sure we didn't get lost. And there was a very busy Lion manning a water stop around the halfway point.
With about a half-mile to go, we were back on the main road by the Rec Center. I had felt really good through the first half of the race, but of course I went out too fast (again) and I was dreading the last hill back up to where we started. I encouraged a few of the runners I was passing, and when I made it up to the turn, we started passing more spectators who also kept pulling for us to keep moving to the finish. I made a final burst for the finish line, and it turned out to be a pretty good battle with a youngster who tried to pick me off in the last sprint, but I was able to hold him off all the way to the finish line. Good finish, although I would have liked to have used some of that speed through the rest of the race to have a better overall pace.
The Lions put together a great post-race spread for all the runners; there was bottled water and Gatorade, orange juice, fruit and granola bars, and some of the best chicken biscuits you'll ever find at a race. There was plenty of time for comparing notes while chowing down and checking out the Smartmobile driven by the insurance company that sponsored the race. Sure enough, Devin smoked the field in about fifteen minutes and wasn't challenged much. His sister-in-law Sara won the women's race (and was third overall), and even Devin's father (at 70) turned in a superb twenty-five minute 5k! That's one fast family! There were 73 official finishers, and I ended up 4th in my age group. While we were enjoying the post-race treats, the Lions also put on a one-mile fun run and then a tricycle race for all the kids.
After my chicken biscuit was gone, it was time to take my Run with the Lions t-shirt and head on back home, but it was a very enjoyable race, and the Lions did a great job with their race for the fourth straight year! Congrats, and hopefully we'll be back here to run again!