Race Report by Gavin Finlay

Looking for a tune-up half marathon ahead of the full in Wilmington next month, I decided on Goldsboro on Feb 6th, an 80 minute drive from Durham. A morning to myself, a mini road trip beyond the pale into rural eastern North Carolina, and no kids? I’ll take it.

Capture

As is customary in my adopted North Carolina races start very early. 8am. So, this required a ‘redeye’ drive southeast on the I-40 in mostly eery darkness. Not one to break with tradition, I was cutting it fine to get there in time for bib pickup and adequate warmup + strides etc. This despite the ungodly 4:45am rise. Bitterly cold, coffee mug in hand I hit the road at 5:30am in my beat-up Japanese SVU.

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An eery road

The field was pretty small for a half marathon, I’d say only around 150 souls. The atmosphere was friendly, the organisers and volunteers chirpy and helpful – after all it was fundraising event for the local YMCA.

The Village People, with lead singer Ray Simpson, second from left, perfom the song "YMCA" during taping of the American Bandstand's 50th anniversary show Saturday, April 20, 2002, in Pasadena, Calif. Members of the group, from left, are Jeff Olson, Simpson, David Hodo, Felipe Rose, Eric Anzalone and Alexander Briley. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

I know, I know, too easy…sorry I couldn’t help myself

I scoured the group for any signs of competition – ie. thin, singlet-wearing folk shamelessly modeling racing short-shorts. Admittedly anecdotal, rather than a scientific study, I have yet to meet someone run a sub 1:13 not meeting the above criteria. I have a chance here, I thought. My favourite Aesop’s Fable, ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ never far from my mind, however, I just focused on running my own race and sticking with the plan of aggressively targeting a 1:12 (@ 5:30/mile pace).

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A Tortoise and A Hare

Marathon training has been going well since last November and I was patiently confident I had the speed-stamina to hit this tempo. Especially since this was an absurdly flat course, at least compared to where I run and train everyday. Yes, this was pancake flat. Plus, the cold weather conditions were near perfect with ne’er a whisper of wind.

Goldsboro is kind of like Kildare. Without the Curragh and St. Brigid. Ah no, that’s probably very unfair to Kildare actually because this place was grim and charmless, as many rural Carolinian areas and towns can be. Maybe it’s the lack of green, I don’t know. All drab strip malls, car dealerships, fast food outlets, enormous gas stations, terrifying trailer parks, motels, gun stores, BBQs, bleak Baptist churches etc.

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Downtown Goldsboro

And even churches IN strip malls. Don’t get me wrong, I like the United States and parts of it are breathtakingly beautiful but when it’s ugly, it’s damn ugly. I wonder what the Native Americans think of it all? ‘What have you done?! This land was beautiful, pristine. And you turned into a parking lot and shopping mall!’ Y’all in the “South” now, boy! Bible-belt territory. ‘Jesus doesn’t have the answer. Jesus is the answer!’ Really? Yeah but what’s Jesus’s haf-marathon PB?

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Having said that, the race did start and finish in a beautiful ‘gated community’ and country club golf course with dozens of McMansions dotted around, that I suspect cost the same as a 2 bed apartment in Dublin 6. I even passed a Trump 2016 sign at mile 2. I settled in a nice tempo on my own for the first 3 miles and then hesitated at a fork in the road. Straight ahead or right? Balls. Why didn’t I study the course map more? Where are the race stewards? Tortoise and hare, anyone?

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The problems when you lead out a race in a new country!

Finally after an anxious 20-30 seconds, a car kindly arrived and set me right. Panic over. The course weaved through the golf course and out onto the main road. From here it would be an out and back loop for the next 10 miles on forgivingly flat asphalt. This was a new experience for me: leading from the front with nobody around. There wasn’t even the glamour of a ‘leader’s motorbike’ to keep me company. This presented its own mental challenges I suppose, and midway through the 13.1 I probably did lag slightly. I had to remind myself and check-in to maintain that 5:30 tempo. The mind wanders, the pace can decline.

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Race reporter and race winner in 1 hour 13min Sportsworlds Gavin!

Alas, that 1:12 wasn’t to be this time. I did manage to pick it up for the last couple miles but  the damage was done at ‘forkgate’ and the mid-race wilderness between miles 7-10. No excuses though. This was a worthwhile time-trial in the greater 18 week marathon scheme and satisfied to have done it. Thanks to all the kind people I met at the race, including the lady who ran with her miniature dog, bib and all! And even the cheeky teenager who murmured as I crossed the line, ‘That beard must help him run fast’. Indeed.

Onwards to Wrightsville Beach, Wilmington on 19 March.