My curiosity was piqued about this race. It is within an easy 4 hour drive of my home and takes place entirely on Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robbins, Georgia. In addition to the marathon distance, there is a half marathon and a 5K. I had never done this race before and it sounded like an inexpensive way to get another marathon/ultra under my belt (#106). My past experience of running races on military bases has been very positive. There is usually a warm place to stay before the race, whether it be a hangar or a museum and it is often difficult to get lost (even for geographically challenged me).
I signed up for the marathon and left work at noon on Friday to drive to Warner Robbins. My hotel was a brand new Courtyard on Carl Vinson Parkway, just off Watson Boulevard, a long busy street with many stores and restaurants. I read and reread the emails sent by the race director about arriving early for packet pickup (which was only held on the morning of the race) and what to do and where to go when I arrived. Then I settled in for the night. I rose about 4 am to eat and dress and left the hotel by 6:15. It was an easy drive to the base, although I turned too soon (so did lots of others) and had to backtrack a bit to get back on the road and into the correct lane for the Museum of Aviation. There was plenty of parking but it was still very dark, so I tried to remember some landmarks so I could find my car again after the race.
Then I followed everyone else into the Century of Flight hangar to pick up my race bib and goodies. There was not much in the goody bag but I just loved the Hanes long-sleeved cotton tee shirt! It has a very colorful design on the front and I know I will enjoy wearing it. For security reasons, we had to leave our IDs with the folks at packet pickup. I had to make a mental note to remember to get my driver’s license before I left for home. An aside: as I was getting ready to pin my bib to my vest, the race director announced over the loudspeaker that we had to be sure to pin our bibs sideways because the chips on the back were attached in the wrong direction. Only a few of the bib numbers were put on correctly. It was pretty funny to see most of the runners with bibs askew; one of the photographers on the course commented that it was going to be challenging to decipher the numbers and match pictures with runners. They may get a headache from looking sideways.
We stayed inside the hangar until just before the race began at 8 am. A vocal group sung the National Anthem and then we made our way outside. It was very cold, far different than the heat in Mobile last weekend. I had dressed in layers, with my mittens and hand warmers, and remembered to bring my sunglasses because, despite the cool temps, the sun was supposed to come out (and it did) and there was no real shade on the course. The marathon was a double loop around the base. I kind of dreaded that second loop; it is always very lonely when the half marathoners finish their single loop.
The race began and I hung towards the back with several other walkers, Maniacs who had done Mobile and/or Jackson and had decided to just walk this race. After a couple of miles, I thought I spied a familiar hat on a person a few yards ahead of me. I ran to catch up to him – yep, it was Scott from the Walking Boards. He had on his safari hat that he had worn at Soldier. We paced each other for most of the first loop and a good part of the second – sometimes, he would gather steam and move ahead and other times I would, but we essentially stayed together until around mile 20. It was so good to have a friend to talk to, especially during the long more boring stretches of the course. I did not think this course was especially scenic or attractive, mostly hangars and buildings, with few spectators, but the last third of each loop was more interesting and had some residences and trees and a lake with ducks and geese.
Knowing my tendency to get a second wind around mile 20, Scott gave me the go-ahead at that point to take off; I was feeling that familiar rush of enthusiasm once I hit the last 6 miles. I did manage to pass a few people, and at the final 3 miles found myself with no one visible in front of me and just one person within shouting distance behind me. I was a little nervous about finding my way, since the signs with arrows for the race were small and easy to miss. However, I managed okay and finished the race under the 6 hour limit, 5:50:18, placing third in my age group. I received an attractive trophy for my efforts. Scott also did well, finishing in 5:56:33, the exact same time as he finished in Soldier. Well done, Scott!
I was just a little disappointed that there was not much to eat back in the hangar, just some tired looking bananas and oranges and some stale pieces of bread. However, the exhilaration of completing the race was very worthwhile and I was pleased with my trophy. I picked up my ID, found my car, called my husband to tell him I was on my way, and made it home just after dark. Another successful event!