Sunday, October 2, 2011

Johnston County - Selma Railroad Run 5k - October 1, 2011

The town of Selma in Johnston County has a lot of heritage tied to the railroads, going back to its earliest days when lots were sold around a new station of the North Carolina Railroad. For the last 36 years, Selma has celebrated that railroad heritage with Selma Railroad Days, a fall weekend celebration with entertainment, food, arts and crafts -- and for the last 34 years, one of the area's longest-running 5k races, the Selma Railroad Run!

Chad beat me to Johnston County when he ran the Law Enforcement Torch Run 5k for Special Olympics a few years ago, but I was determined to get there on my own just for the Railroad Run. Because it's so close to home here in Raleigh, many of our running friends, including several elite-level runners (read Joey's report on the 2010 race), love the Railroad Run because the course is about as flat as it gets in the area, so it's a great course to hunt for a PR or to go all-out. Finally this year I was able to make the quick jump down highway 70 into Selma.

And I wasn't alone, either: lots of the Raleigh running elite had also made the trip out for the Railroad Run. David and Kimberlie were there, Gary and Rachel were there, Tom and Brandon and Jarett and Pauline and Rebekah and Zeph were all there! I joked that next year we should just rent the NCRC party bus and stock it up with Gatorade and Clif Bars to bring everyone down for the event.

Race morning itself was wonderfully clear and cool, another indication that this was likely to be a very fast race. Surprisingly, despite the longevity and good reputation of the race, it's usually a smaller-size race, and this year was no different, with only 127 finishers. Still, that made registration and packet pickup a breeze, plus the restroom and food lines were shorter. It was fun to see all the Raleigh elite runners arriving, stretching and warming up; you knew they were here to compete and that it was going to be a very fast morning indeed. The little bit of the course I got to jog in advance of the start confirmed everything I had heard about how flat the course is.

The race organizers ushered us out into the road and ran through a quick set of announcements and instructions. The law enforcement for Selma was out to keep the runners safe on the road as well. When the race started, all of the speedsters up front took off, and a very fast race was underway. Most of the course was out-and-back along a very level and very straight North Webb Street, but to bring the race up to the correct distance, we also did a quick loop through a neighborhood adjacent to Webb. Several of the folks along Webb and in the neighborhood were aware of the race -- it has been around for 34 years -- and were out to watch the runners come by and cheer them on. Other folks and drivers appeared to be surprised by the event but were looking on with interest.

From my spot safe in the back of the pack, I had a good view of a lot of the race as it played out. Since most of the course was out-and-back, as the leaders were headed back into Selma, I got a good measure of how big a lead Brandon and Kimberlie had (which they held through the finish), and it looked like Gary had a good hold on our age-group win (he did). It was very impressive and inspirational watching these elite runners focused on their performance and form, and it hearkened me back to the olden days when I might have actually been able to run with them for a short distance.

Friendly volunteers gave us water at the aid station, and I got a bit inspired myself when I was able to read the finish line timer displaying a time of 28 minutes and change. I hustled over the last stretch as best I could -- a woman runner and I had been exchanging encouragement over the last mile -- and burst across the finish line in 29:18, easily my fastest 5k of the year and probably one of my better ones over the last few years. I guess the hype about the flat, fast course is true!

There was a good spread of post-race food and fluids for the runners, and they were able to give out the overall awards pretty quickly, although a timing snafu prevented them from doing the age-group awards right away. But I enjoyed the time catching up with the other runners, hearing about their training and performance, and planning for that party bus next year! I really enjoyed the Selma Railroad Run 5k, and it's definitely one to include if you're looking for a fast course!

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