On Sunday, May 4th I participated in the Mike to Mike Half Marathon in Fayetteville, North Carolina. I flew from Portland and landed in Fayetteville, North Carolina the evening before the race. I was lucky enough to have someone else pick up my race packet for me prior to the race, which I was told went smoothly. The race bag included a race bib, a water bottle, a grey tech t-shirt, flyers for other local races, and miscellaneous samples of products.
On race morning, being an out-of-towner, I set my GPS to take me to the start of the race at Festival Park in Downtown Fayetteville. I planned on arriving to the race start approximately 20 minutes early, since I already had my race bib, but ran into trouble when I encountered that some of the roads that were closed. I drove around for a while until I found other people dressed in running attire that looked like they were going to the race. We walked a couple blocks, past Veterans Park, and finally arrived at Festival Park. By this time I only had about 5 or 6 minutes before the start of the race. I needed to check my jacket and car keys so that I would have them at the finish line but as luck would have it (Murphy’s Law right?) I couldn’t find the gear check.
As I approached the start area, I was greeted by a giant line of port-a-potties. Past these, runners were directed over a bridge and turned to approach the start area. This area was packed making things hard to maneuver, and time was running out! I wandered around, asking every volunteer I could find where the gear check was, and finally found it about 30 seconds before the race started! Being an out-of-towner certainly has its disadvantages, but it didn’t dampen my spirits!
The full marathon and half marathon both started at 6:30am. There were some wheelchair racers that led us on our way into this new experience in a state on the opposite coast! The Mayor of Fayetteville gave us a little pep talk and were off with a bang of a gun.
As we passed the start line, I noticed many news crews and military vehicles parked alongside the side of the start line – just the first of many supportive people along the route. The first mile was a loop through downtown Fayetteville and past the Market House (see picture below – beautiful). We turned a corner and ran on Groove Street towards Morganton Rd and the All American Freeway. At this point we were still close enough to the start line to hear the music being played. As I passed, the song “God Bless The USA” was playing loud for everyone to hear. It truly was some initial motivation I needed to keep going strong. We hit our first water station with an abundance of volunteers and the community out cheering us on.
Following this section, we ran past Veterans Park and the Airborne and Special Operations Museum which featured a view of the Iron Mike Statue. As the route took us up Morganton Road, we passed a town full of volunteers and the local community out cheering us on – another example of some awesome local support that Fayetteville has.
Shortly after that we turned onto the All American Freeway. A couple of miles into this section, we encountered an area that I will always remember. During this stretch, signs displaying pictures and names of the fallen soldiers in the war were spaced out alongside the road. A woman in front of me had personal connections with one or two of the fallen soldiers and broke down into tears at the sight of the signs. She stopped on the people she knew and took pictures with her and the fallen soldiers photos. It was so honest and emotional and this moment alone was worth more than any swag bag could offer. It showed that life goes on in wonderful ways, but those who fight for our country are never forgotten. Immediately following the photos we ran through a plethora of volunteers holding American flags. This was truly a moving and emotional part of the course that I will look back on fondly.
At mile 10, the route split and the half marathon runners and full marathon runners went in different. Us half marathoners continued along the All American Freeway for another mile or so before entering Fort Bragg. Once we entered Fort Bragg, we passed a military school and children from the school had written encouraging words on signs that were displayed along this section. It is yet another example of the personal touch from the local community. Mile 12 consisted of a reuniting of the two distances continuing to the finish. Each distance had the privilege of trekking through Fort Bragg and being cheered on by military families sitting on their porches and lining the street. Passing the second Iron Mike statue meant we were on our way to the finish line!
I had lost steam at this point and, as a result, had walked for the last couple miles. This was not necessarily a bad thing, as it allowed my to take in more of the beautiful area. But as soon as I heard the finish line festivities, I mustered the energy I had left and ran to the finish. As I passed the finish line I was greeted by Military professionals dressed in their dress blues and beauty queen winners passing out the race medals. The half medal was a very sturdy medal displaying the Iron Mike Statue on it – a beautiful addition to my medal collection.
After I finished the race, I went straight for the food tent where they were serving bananas, fruit, granola bars, and sticky buns. I grabbed one of each and quelled any chance at hunger to take over. By this time, the weather had heated up and I needed shade. With the temperatures rising, it now made complete sense to have a 630am start time! I found one spot near the bathrooms that provided the perfect shade, but most others were sitting in the middle of the grass, baking in the sun. Maybe they were used to it, but being an Oregonian, I was glad I had my cool spot to unwind.
After a bit, I got up and walked around the after-party. This was situated on a big grassy area in Fort Bragg. There were race vendors, as well as multiple food vendors for people to choose from. There were so many awesome tents set up along the perimeter of the after party area that it was exhausting (especially after a half) to visit them all!
I picked up my finisher t-shirt and headed over to the center of the grass area for a parachuting demonstration. A plane flew overhead and three men jumped out. There was a big circle roped off on the group and everyone was lined up around of the circle to watch. One by one, they landed in the center of the circle – right on target. Once all three had landed, a final person jumped from the plane, wearing all black and trailing red smoke. “God Bless The USA” played again as the parachute opened to display a Prisoners of War Missing in Action Flag. It was a very touching thing to watch.
I stayed to watch the awards ceremony and when they were complete I went to find the shuttles to get back to my car. Once I located where I needed to go, I had pleasant conversations with fellow runners. We all came to the consensus that this route was challenging with the hills, but amazingly memorable and great for a first time race.
Overall, I really enjoyed this race and the experience was one I will never forget. There was something about this race that I have never experienced at a local Oregon race – being consumed with raw emotion during the run. While Oregon supports their runners like none other, I felt a wonderful sense of community and support behind this race. The volunteers were there in the hundreds, the water stations were situated every mile, and the water cups were always full. The support from the residents that were standing outside of their houses with signs was amazing and showed that the community really supported this event. The elementary school signs were a delightful touch, and the pictures of the fallen soldiers and American flags was one element to this race I will never forget. If I didn’t know better I would say that this race had 10+ years of experience behind it. I was surprised by the amount of detail and quality that went into this first time race.
This race was one of my favorites and I would recommend it to others looking for a great unique destination race experience. Sometimes the best races are ones that are out of the state, signed up for on a whim, and in a completely foreign setting. If you have any other questions about this race or want to know more, follow the All American Marathon on Facebook or email us and I can answer your questions!