This was the 3rd annual running of this race. It takes place in the town where I live, with the start/finish line less than 2 miles from my home. I’ve been interested in it from the beginning, but during its first year, I ran a marathon in another city the same weekend. During its second year, I ran a marathon the week before, so I volunteered to work at a water stop during this race. Finally, this third year, I ran a marathon three weeks before the HS Half, so I would be available and recovered the day of the race. Also, I had the opportunity to volunteer as a Pacer for the 3:00 time slot. I’ve always wanted to try pacing a half marathon, so I jumped at the opportunity.
Leading up to the race, there were lots of opportunities for training runs, training group programs, and run clinics. Lifetime Fitness, one of the race sponsors, organized free training runs on different sections of the course several times in the weeks before the race. Some of the pacers volunteered to ‘pace’ the training run, giving participants an idea of what running with a pace group would be like. Lifetime also offered training programs (not free, but with various discounts available) that took place two days a week with a Saturday long run option. O2 Fitness offered three free clinics in their gym in the months leading up to the race, and Britfit Personal Training and Coaching offered three free clinics as well. I attended this last set of clinics which took place at various municipal recreational facilities. These clinics included running form and drills, cadence, and strength training for runners. I learned a ton from Coach Jackie and would recommend these clinics to others if she offers them in the future.
The race expo was held in the minor league baseball stadium that also served as the start/finish line. It took place both Thursday and Friday night before the race. Various vendors as well as the tents passing out bibs and t-shirts were set up on the concourse of the stadium, above the seats where you would watch a game. It was easy to maneuver about to get your race items, but they also strategically set up bibs and t-shirts at opposite ends so that you’d have to walk past all the vendors (including physical therapists and chiropractors, food trucks and breweries) to obtain your items.
The race took place Saturday morning, and since I was pacing, I had a VIP pass for the day. With the race starting at 7:15 am, I left my house at 6:20. I arrived at the ballpark five minutes later, and the line to park was starting to grow. I showed my VIP parking pass on my phone, and it allowed me to bypass the long line, drive around the stadium, and park right at the entrance to the stadium. [Even without a VIP pass, there is ample parking for all participants in the many lots of the facility.] The temperature was in the mid 30s, with a forecast to rise into the 40s by the end of the race. With the chill, it was nice to be able to tuck into the VIP area, which took place in the visiting team’s locker area. We had indoor restrooms, coffee, bananas, Kind Bars, water, and Huma gel to load up on before we went out to the start line. There were even showers available to us post race, if we wanted to use them. I loved being able to wait out of the chill until five minutes before go time! I found my friend Tiffany, who was also pacing, and I met up with Doug, my co-pacer. We quickly established that he would wear the backpack carrying our pace flag with “3:00” on it (thanks, Doug!). We both also wore 3:00 bibs on our backs as well as a bright neon yellow pacer t-shirt provided by the race.
As 7:15 neared, we headed out and found our spots in the corral. I saw Norma, a friend from my training group, who was running the 5K, the other race distance of the day. The 5K was to start just after the half, at 7:30. She took a few pictures of Doug and me. We met some people who had found us, people who would be running along with us, having 3:00 as their time goal for the race. A young girl sang the national anthem, and a helicopter hovered over us, taking pictures.
At 7:10, Ainsley’s Angels (the wheelchair racers) took off, and we were right behind them at 7:15. We left from the front of the stadium near where I had parked and made a big loop around the facility. (I was running this race three weeks after a marathon in which I strained a hip flexor. I didn’t know that was the injury the day of this race, but I did know that my leg was not healing quickly, and I had been walking with a limp for the past few weeks. However, I was determined to still run this race. The pace would be easy, and I would be run/walking. Yet, during those first initial steps off the start line, I knew I was in for a long morning of pain.) By the time we finished the loop, we were already a little pack of 3:00 runners, about six of us, having introduced ourselves to each other and chatting about this and that.
The first mile took us through a hilly neighborhood across the street from the park and onto a short greenway into another neighborhood. That greenway had a wooden bridge that was really slippery. We had to gingerly walk across it, and we were still sliding all over it. I read a post online later that day that there had been some big wipeouts at that spot throughout the race. The first waterstop was in the cul-de-sac that we popped out on from the greenway. This is a regular running route of mine with pretty houses lining the streets. We were then back on another short greenway with some hills through Veterans’ Park. Back onto a street for a few seconds, and then the greenway picked up again through yet another park, this time through a wooded area and a disc golf course.
The race website gives a great course preview, along with pictures, at this link.
Mile 3 took us through downtown Holly Springs, and I was really enjoying myself at this point, and the pain caused by the strained hip was starting to dull. Doug, my co-pacer, was turning out to be the popular kid of the day, with runners and spectators shouting “Hey Doug” many times throughout the run. Mile 4 took us in yet another park, Womble Park, which was full of people. I saw friends at several spots in the park, and as we came out the back of the park, the leaders of the race were making their way back to the finish line, giving us about a mile of overlap where we could cheer on these fasties.
We turned into another neighborhood and entered yet another greenway. This greenway was paved and downhill until we entered the Bass Lake complex. We turned right to run counterclockwise around the lake. The trail around the lake is wide and mulch covered, and the surface is very soft, almost like running in sand in some spots. There was also a lot of mud, as it had rained a lot during the week, and the trail is just feet away from the water’s edge. Most of the lake trail is flat, but there is a section, maybe a quarter mile long, where there are some steep uphills and the track becomes single track. Even though we were weaving around trees and switchbacks, the trail was fairly smooth with few tree roots or stones to interfere with your footing. There was a water stop at the top of this hill, then we ran back down to the water’s edge to finish the lake loop. At this point, we picked up some more runners to join our group. Not surprisingly, they knew Doug, and they were chatty and brought even more energy to our little pack.
Leaving the lake, the course takes you up the steepest hill of the race, also on single track, into Sugg Farm, a former farm now owned by the town and used as park land. It’s a beautiful place to run, but the lake and the farm are also the most challenging parts of this race. I (along with my hip flexor) was happy to finally be back on a road surface as we reached the top of the farm.
From that point, we retraced our steps back to the start/finish line. We had run a little fast for our goal in the first miles, got back on track around the lake and the farm, and Doug and I were now trying to gauge our pace so that we would nail our 3:00 goal on the nose. As we made our way back, there were still plenty of spectators lining the neighborhoods. We also came upon several people in the Ruck Division of the race. I really admire these men and women who get out and participate with a heavy pack on their back, especially the small women! The rules for the Ruck Division are that you must carry 25 pounds on your back, no matter your size or gender. That race began at 6:45 so that those racers could finish around the same time as other participants.
As we re-entered the ballpark, we urged our runners to go on and get in under 3:00. All but one of them did; she chose to ride it out and stick with us. We walked slowly for much of the last quarter mile, picking it up to a slow jog as we entered the uphill finishing chute. Our finish time: a stellar 2:59:18. I was elated that we had paced such an exact time.
I was also elated at the finish line; I was walking with almost no pain, the best I had felt since the marathon where the injury happened. I had a pint of my favorite beer, an IPA made by one of my favorite breweries right here in my town, Bombshell Brewery (owned by three women). They did have a special beer for the race, which they named “Runner’s High.” It was pinkish in color, brewed with raspberries, but as they were changing kegs, I was able to substitute the IPA. I walked around the concourse, filled with tents of various vendors and health professionals. I stopped for a free massage and stretch by a chiropractor, which felt awesome. I picked up my free pancakes and sausage breakfast, feeling awesome, mostly pain free for the first time in weeks, drinking an IPA with sausage and maple syrup after running an exact time as a volunteer.
As Doug said during our race, this is a “race created for runners by runners.” It really gives you a little of everything: road, paved greenway, mulched trail, and hilly single track. Neighborhoods and parks. Noisy spectators and quiet sections. A little overlap so you can see people running in the opposite direction. For a small race, they provide you with a nice expo, great on-course fuel (Huma gel, Skratch electrolyte drink, water), good post race food, awesome craft beer, a nice medal and a comfy cotton t-shirt. Also of great value are the free race photos! (Race photos courtesy of Fire Eye Studios.) A few of them get attached to your results online, but there are many more available if you look through the upwards of 5800 pictures posted online. The Holly Springs Run Club founded this race, quite a large and active group for a relatively still small town. The price is definitely worth the value. Right now, to sign up for the November 23, 2019 race, it costs only $50 for the half marathon (and $30 for the 5K). The VIP cost was $25 in 2018. The race website tells that they have donated $45,000 back to the community, including various recreational facilities and opportunities.
The race directors offer the chance to participate in the “Run the Springs Series,” which includes a 5K and a 10K earlier in the year. If you run all three, you receive an exclusive 4th medal in addition to the medals for the individual races.
I definitely look forward to running (and pacing!) this race again in 2019.