It was great to have running friends Gary and Rachel along for the trip that's likely to be the final new county of the year, Pitt County, as we prepped for the 7th annual Reindeer Dash for Cash 10-Miler in Greenville. There are 10-mile and 5k events in the Reindeer Dash for Cash, which is held annually in Greenville in memory of Captain Christopher S. Cash, a soldier from the area who loved Greenville and loved to run. Proceeds from the race benefit the Capt. Christopher Cash Memorial Foundation of NC, Inc., which awards annual scholarships in the memory of Capt. Cash. This is one of the biggest events in Pitt County, with over 800 participants in 2010 and more than 1,000 expected this year.
We were blessed with one of those wonderful-weather days in North Carolina, where December temperatures can reach into the high 60s. Shorts and tech shirts were plenty warm, as the sun beat down on us from an almost cloud-free sky. One of the most-frequently-heard topics of pre-race discussions was how much better this weather was than the previous year, when it was much colder and wetter. The race organizers mentioned during the pre-race announcements that it was the best weather they had ever had for the race, and Gary and Rachel, who had taken part in the 5k in previous years, agreed.
Everything was hopping in the building where packet pickup and race-day registration was taking place. The excellent weather was contributing to more walk-up registrations, and lots of people were milling about, waiting on restrooms, and coming and going from the park behind the building that faced the Tar River. Even with the warm weather, there were lots of folks wearing Christmas-themed costumes, from ladies with candy-cane-striped socks to lots of Santa and Rudolph hats to one sugar plum fairy, and even one guy running the 10-miler in a full, head-to-toe brown fur reindeer outfit. The announcements began ushering everyone out to the road where the start would take place, and the ECU Club Dance team performed for everyone and we got to hear from one of the Capt. Cash Scholarship recipients before we had a false start on the national anthem (all the runners joined in to finish it).
Right after that, we were off! Both running events started together, so there was lots of activity and jockeying for position as we climbed the little hill alongside the park. They did make an effort to get the runners to seed themselves with faster runners along the front, but even from my spot safe in the back of the pack, I had to do a lot of dodging as the folks in front of me broke out into walks or very slow jogs. A quick left turn and we were going right down one of the main streets of downtown Greenville, and we could do some quick window-shopping in the stores, many of which were already decorated for the holidays. Plenty of law enforcement from Greenville and Pitt County, along with some MPs recruited from Capt. Cash's regiment, were handling traffic control and keeping the runners safe. Another couple of turns and we were entering the ECU campus, where we got to view some of the administration buildings and maybe some of the dorms and fraternity or sorority houses. Lots of spectators were alongside the roads in the early miles, and it sounded like the majority of runners were definitely there for the 5k event. In keeping with the Reindeer theme, each mile marker (nine in all) had the name of a different reindeer on it, so that the 10-milers got to see hear all the names and keep that "Rudolph" song in our heads. We went through a few more neighborhoods in the campus area -- all the roads were nice and mercifully flat -- and quickly we were back in the start area, and the 5k runners were diverted onto a new road where they would re-enter the park and finish. The 10-milers, though, had to keep on going up the start hill again and off into the distance.
The remainder of the 10-miler was an out-and-back through what was mainly industrial areas of Greenville. We did pass close by the G-ville airport and had a quick view of a lake in a municipal office area, but in general it wasn't as scenic or interested (or spectator-populated) as the 5k route. Since it was mostly out-and-back, we did get a good view of the leaders as they headed back for the start area, and I was happy to see my friend Tim holding third place and Rachel running strong also. (Gary was running the 5k and turned out to finish fifth overall and first in his age group.) The volunteers manning the aid stations were very friendly and encouraging to all the runners, and the MPs at the intersections cheered a hearty "Hooah" for all of us, too. Some soldiers had left early doing the full 10-mile event in full uniform and pack, and we got to encourage those guys along as well. The return trip after the turnaround was mostly into the sun, and although I was very happy with the sunny, warm weather, I was really wanting to find some shade to run in and get a break from having the sun right in my face.
Finally we crossed back over the Tar River and got to go down the parkside hill for a change. Lots of runners who had finished the 5k and 10-miler earlier came out to cheer the slower runners, and finally we got diverted onto the same side street we had passed near the 5k finish. This road took us onto the back side of a wonderful pedestrian bridge that served as the start of the local greenway system and made a great finishing landmark for the races. It was decorated with flags and balloons, and you couldn't help but put on a final sprint as you dashed across the bridge to the finish line.
I knew I had been running very consistent and very fast miles with walk breaks only at the aid stations, and I knew my pace was going to have PR potential, but I was really tiring fast in the last mile, and even though I had fourteen minutes to finish that mile with a PR, I really wanted a walk break and the finish line! Fortunately my Garmin and the finish clock confirmed that I had done the 10-miler in 1:42:28, which was an improvement of more than 2.5 minutes since my PR at the Scotland County Foundation FUNd Run back in April. (Any more new counties have ten milers? They seem to agree with me!) So I was very happy overall with the race and how I had felt through most of it.
My other running friends did very well, too. Tim held on to finish third overall (second male), Gary won his age group, and Rachel had a new 10-mile PR as well. The post-race food and drink was excellent, with subs, donuts, pizza and G2, and there were lots of sponsor and race organizer booths ready to help you with anything you needed. The 10-mile finishers got dog-tag finisher medals, but Gary's age-group winner medal was the best one there! The race shirts were long-sleeved cotton and very comfy with a nice design, too. Overall, we really had a great time in Greenville at the Reindeer Dash for Cash. It's a wonderful event benefiting a really good foundation, and when you have weather like this in Decemeber, it's well worth the short ride out to Pitt County! You might even have a PR! Thanks for a great event!