In only 5 years, the Soaring Wings Half Marathon has become a must-do race for many Arkansans. In response, the registration limit was increased, but that didn’t prevent the race from selling out. Over 2,000 people, representing 24 states, filled the streets of Conway on the last Saturday in October.
A cold front came through and dropped the temperature almost overnight making this probably the coldest many had raced in all year. With temperatures hovering in the 40s, the start couldn’t come fast enough. The crisp, cool air may not have been what many hoped for, but it wouldn’t disappoint once the running commenced. The lower temperatures yielded promise of a successful race for those looking for PRs and first timers looking to become half marathoners.
One can’t help but to get excited about this race. The energy is always electric. Huddled together at the start, friends chatted and wished others well. Family members armed with motivational signs and cowbells prepared to cheer on their relatives and complete strangers. To help make the start more manageable, waves have been employed. Just like the big races, each wave brings with it its own party as each group starts their race.
This year, I came back, as promised, to pace with Jesse “is Awesome” Garrett and Brenda “Duchess” Stallings. Jesse told me about a week before the race that instead of pacing 2:15 this year, he wanted to drop back to 2:30. He told me our pace group would be the place to be. We wouldn’t be just pacers, but we’d change lives. That’s what it’s about, right? We pay it forward because many have done the same for us.
We started off with about 40 people in our group. We had an entourage of Black Girls Run! These ladies made it a party on the pavement. Wackiness and craziness was very common in this group, which helped the miles go by fast. They also brought their own cheerleaders. That’s how you run a race!
One of the benefits of running in a pace group is as a runner you can relax and go into cruise control. No matter what, we’ll hold the pace. If you need to stop for water, we’ll be there. If you need a GU break, we’ll be there. If you fall, get back up, and we’ll be there.
When we were about half way through, Jesse said, “I love this race.” What’s not to love? Dustin and Rachel Speer have worked hard to make it an unforgettable experience. I saw Dustin on the course cheering as if he was only a spectator. It’s the personal touches that make Soaring Wings a race that has to be on your list.
The lives that you touch at the Soaring Wings Ranch are not to be overlooked. If you have never been out to the ranch, you won’t really understand. One can read about something in a brochure, but it’s not until you go out there that you realize what your contribution goes toward. Run the Ranch 5k, held at the ranch, is used to kickoff the Soaring Wings Half Marathon training program. It allows you to witness what you’re supporting.
For Jesse, it’s his love for this race that rekindles his burning desire for running. In the summer when he’s not feeling really motivated to run, this is the race he thinks about. He taps into his feelings about this race and it pushes him through. He said it was one of the reasons he fell in love with running.
I can agree. I remember 2010 when I started running and I volunteered here. It was bittersweet for me to volunteer and I wondered why I didn’t sign up. That was during a time when I had sanity. I had recently finished a half the weekend before. I thought it would be crazy to do another half marathon so soon. It was on that day that I vowed that I would always be a part of this race.
Every year something different makes it special. The route lined with balloons with messages on them between miles 8 and 9 was uplifting. I wish I could’ve taken a picture of it. I’m not sure whose ideas it was, but kudos to them. Some things stay the same and I have no problem with that. I expect the ladies from Sigma Sigma Sigma to be waiting at mile 11 with those Gummy bears. I expect to meet people that will be motivated to finish strong because you cheer for them. I expect to have a good time.
You can’t neglect signing up for this race. Price should not be an issue. As a participant, you get plenty for your registration fee. If you don’t agree, please don’t hesitate to tell me why not. I have a friend, Stacey, that participated in this race virtually. Ordinarily when you virtually run a race you are making a donation and that’s about it. Soaring Wings is not ordinary, as you’ve figured out. She got the same quality medal and t-shirt that I received.
I’m not a medal person, but I have to rank their medals in the top 3. It makes me wonder what goes into their thought process when selecting a medal. They want you to have a quality medal for a quality race? Sounds good to me.
As our pace group crossed the finish line, we held hands to seal the achievement. Now, it’s time to eat! No need to worry about a shortage of food. Not at this race. You cross the finish line and you have your choice of fruit, hamburgers, hot dogs, candy, pizza, etc. You can eat until your heart is content or until you stomach is content, whichever comes first.
Congratulations to all of the finishers! I saw plenty of my Half Fanatics brothers and sisters out there. Kristen Garrett (#3079) and Joshua Drake (#3080) have “officially” gone half crazy! My boss, Don Stalls, finished his first half marathon after kind of being coerced into this race. Don’t look at me! David Edwards, Soaring Wings Half Marathon training group leader, grabbed an 11-minute PR. Kristen Sterba had an unexpected PR. Adena White’s only goal was to finish. Did she? Of course, she did! This is only a snippet of success and achievements that were accomplished at this race.
Go ahead and mark your calendars for next year’s race, Saturday, October 26, 2013. Maybe I’ll see you there?!