All right! After waiting through the holidays and the first couple of months of the new year, we finally get a chance to hit a new county! For several years, Chad has had the Run for the River 8k in Kinston, NC on his race to-do list, but it never had worked into his schedule, so this year it was great that we could both run it together, along with Chad's wife Koren.
We were teased with some unseasonably warm weather last weekend, but this weekend felt more like a regular March weekend, with breezy winds and temperatures in the 50s, with some overcast skies and rain threatening. Still, it was kind of exciting to get out in the morning to go some place new and hit a new race. The Run for the River 8k has some decent prize money -- $500 cash to the overall mens' and womens' winners, $300 to the runners-up and $150 for third place -- so I knew some of Raleigh's all-star runners would be headed east with us on highway 70 to be part of the event. With the gas prices having taken a spike up recently, we decided to ride in the more efficient Bradmobile than getting out the gas-guzzling tour bus.
The Run for the River 8k is one of the bigger events in Kinston each year, so it gets a lot of focus from the town and the organizers. Since we were there for the first time, we weren't really sure where everything was, and we knew it was a point-to-point race, so we were very happy to meet up with some great volunteers who were very happy to help us find all the important landmarks. Although the finish line arch was already set up and inflated over by the farmers' market, the main race registration and packet pick-up was about a half-mile away at the Neuseway Planetarium and Nature Center. With that correction, we hurried over to the Nature Center, where some very organized volunteers got us set up with our packets, chipped us, and explained the shuttle buses that would take us out to the starting line, which was about a mile away from the Nature Center. We fortunately were running ahead of schedule, so there was plenty of time to check out the t-shirts (above average), meet the Chick-Fil-A cow, and get our picture made with Scout, the mascot of the Kinston Indians Class A baseball team.
We hoped we would warm up quickly once we got running, so we decided to ditch the long pants, but we kept the gloves and hats, which turned out to be good decisions. The rain, which had been threatening all morning and had sprinkled on us during the drive, was fortunately staying away, at least for the pre-race festivities. More happy volunteers took us out on the shuttle bus to the starting line at the Kiwanis Dog Park, where we ran into Devin and Laura Swann and Heather Magill, three top runners from Raleigh (Devin was the three-time defending champion and course-record holder). They were easily the favorites to win again.
After some greetings from the race organizers and a few quick instructions about the course, we were ushered out onto Old Pink Hill Road for the start. (They did a great job shutting down the roads of the course from car traffic.) Suddenly we were off and headed back into town!
Just about a mile into the race, we passed the Nature Center again, where the finishers of the mile fun run cheered the 8k runners and flashed the medals they had received at the end of the mile. Based on my mile split, I knew I had gone out way too fast again, so I tried to throttle back my pace to keep from burning out too early again. We crossed the Neuse River and were back in downtown Kinston, where we turned onto Queen Street, the main road through town, and passed the county courthouse, the Chamber, and the main library. After a long straightaway and a blessed water stop, we turned off the main drag and began passing renovated warehouses and older homes from Kinston's earlier days. By the time we reached the halfway point, we were running through various Kinston neighborhoods with all kinds of older homes, some in excellent shape and others in more run-down condition (like me!). But every intersection had a set of traffic barriers and bright-vested volunteers to keep us motivated and upbeat the entire way around.
After the halfway point, there was a brief loop with an out-and-back leg that allowed us to see some of the runners ahead and behind us, and just before the last aid station Chad and Koren passed me, with Chad running much better than his initial forecast after having missed severa. days of running the last couple of weeks. Koren, whose favorite distance is the 8k, was also running very strong. At the four-mile mark there was a beautiful tree that had been wrapped over the years in one of the biggest wisteria vines that I had ever seen, and it was just loaded with big bunches of purple blossoms from top to bottom. There had also been several pink-flowering dogwood trees that were just beginning to bloom, and from some of the swirls of pollen on the ground, you could tell that Kinston was probably a few days ahead of Raleigh in terms of spring arriving.
After a few more turns and a stretch alongside the train tracks, we turned back into the downtown area of Kinston, and we were able to see the finish line arch way ahead of us. I had been running on fumes since about the three-mile mark, but being able to see the finish line helped me suck it up and pick up the pace for the last quarter-mile or so (the little kid who had been trying to sprint-and-walk just ahead of me also gave me some motivation to kick it in). Although I would have liked to have had a faster time, my finish was just about where it probably should be, given the lackadaisical approach to training I had shown this year.
Post-race, they had used part of the farmers' market to set up food and drink for the runners, including some very appreciated bananas and bagels. We got to check in with some local and non-local runners; Devin Swann indeed took home top honors again, and Heather Magill set a new women's course record with her win. A very nice stage backed up to the Neuse River where they gave out all the awards from the day.
It got cool very quickly after we finished running, though, so we walked the short distance back to the Nature Center to get extra clothes and warm up inside the building. Turns out that Matt, a local high school senior, was an excellent ambassador for the Nature Center and showed us around all the exhibits, including some huge live rattlesnakes and an interesting water creature habitat. Chad, unfortunately, had to run from a bear.
All of us had a great time in our visit to Kinston and really enjoyed the Run for the River 8k. 132 runners finished the 8k in the competitive division, and another 38 ran in the mile fun run. Devin mentioned that the next time we came, we should hit the Mother Earth Brewing Company, a micro-brewery in Kinston that we had passed in the last stretch of the race. We also should take in a Kinston Indians game this summer before that franchise moves to Zebulon to become the new Carolina Mudcats team. It was another great race, another great visit, and thanks to all the race organizers and volunteers for making us feel so welcome! See you soon!