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Runners spring forward on the Swamp Rabbit Trail this weekend

The region’s climbing elevation and rolling terrain have not made Greenville a prime destination for fast times in long distance road races over the years. But that might be changing with the Greenville Health System (GHS) Half Marathon- a point-to-point course beginning in Travelers Rest (TR) and ending in downtown Greenville that is run mostly on the Swamp Rabbit Trail system. Unlike the challenging Spinx Run Fest and Paris Mountain road races, the GHS Half Marathon course offers a net loss in elevation change, attractive for runners looking to set a fast time or even a personal record without having to travel out of the region to do so.

Start of the GHS Half Marathon in Travelers Rest, SC (March 8, 2014)
Pace Running Magazine

The heavy rains that pounded the area late last week were followed by clear blue skies on Saturday and with it a sense of rejuvenation that spring has arrived at last. Before the Swamp Rabbit turned into a mosh pit of pedestrianism with cyclists, strollers and walkers coming out of hibernation to take advantage of the pleasant conditions later in the day, a wave of runners could be seen on the popular trail system making their 13.1 mile trek southbound to downtown Greenville. Managing the race is no easy task as the course traverses a number of busy intersections such as Sulphur Springs and West Blue Ridge Drive. Several police officers were used to direct vehicles in these heavy traffic areas.

When the gun went off Saturday morning at TR’s Gateway Park, a pack of six runners quickly separated themselves from the rest of the field. Around the five mile mark, that pack eventually split into two as the top six runners all went on to record times of under seventy-five minutes (5:43/mile pace). Close to mile two on the course, runners entered the trail system for an uninterrupted nine mile journey to Linky Stone Park where the course meets the downtown streets of Greenville. Making a right turn down Main Street and a loop around Fluor Field, the race ended on E. McBee Avenue. 815 runners finished the USATF certified course that had a 154’ net drop in elevation.

Overcoming stomach uneasiness and a “nasty blister” on his foot, Samuel Saldivar, 37, of Greenville was among a cluster of runners that set a new P.R. in the half marathon. “The course’s slightly downhill start allowed one to settle into a good pace right from the start,” he said. “The uphill section before the last mile was rewarded by a mostly downhill, fast finish. It was a great race.”

Winning the event was new Greenville resident Matthew Hammersmith, 26, in a time of 1:11:37 . The former Eastern Michigan University runner and personal coach at Without Limits Greenville has been making a name for himself in the local road racing scene recently, winning the Green Valley 10 Miler and A Hero’s 5K last month. Hammersmith’s time on Saturday set a new course record by almost four minutes. Coming in behind Hammersmith was Joseph Gibson, 26, of Atlanta, Georgia in 1:12:55. Rounding out the top three was Asheville resident Scott Williams in 1:13:07.

Williams, 35, decided to enter the race last minute. It was after running the Reedy River Run last weekend while doing his cool down on the Swamp Rabbit Trail (SRT) that he wanted to check out more of it. “That was my first time on the SRT,” said Williams, “and I wish we had a resource like that up here in the mountains (of western North Carolina). Working in health care, it's cool to see municipalities and hospital systems invest so much into the health of their communities.”

According to Williams there was also very nearly a major glitch during the race. At one point, he remembers hearing a train and that a couple of the runners in the lead pack with him mentioned that it could be on the race course. “It looked like the train backed up before Hammersmith (the leader) got there and some volunteers were asking them to wait,” said Williams. “That could have been mess, (but) glad it worked out okay.” That Williams set a personal record during a week where he logged 110 miles and ran a 10K PR at Reedy River last weekend is nothing short of impressive. He ran 2:36:50 last November in the Charlotte Thunder Road Marathon and is gearing up for the Boston Marathon in a little more than six weeks.

“You’ll definitely see more folks from Asheville (at the GHS Half Marathon) next year,” Williams said. “Lots of fast guys here who don’t get to run fast times in the mountains” will jump on the opportunity to make the hour drive down to Greenville he says.

The race saw such a boost in competitiveness on that the event’s winner of the last two years, Dan Moss of Simpsonville, shaved over a minute and a half off his best time on the course which this year placed him fifth overall. Moss finished in 1:13:36, eight seconds behind Daniel Smoak of Greenville.

For the women, a pair of North Carolinians pushed the lead for the majority of the race. Lauren Osborne, 29, of Chapel Hill set a new course record by over five minutes with her 1:22:04 finish (6:15/mile pace). Kristin Sellers (Carrboro, 25) was right behind her in 1:22:10. In third place with a time of 1:24:44 was Allison Gerrald (Simpsonville, 24), the area’s top female finisher.

Simpsonville’s Chris Giordanelli, 49, took top honors in the master’s category with a 1:17:28 finish (7th overall). Angela Hicks, 44, of Greenville placed first in the female master’s category (1:30:38).

Some runners opted to have someone carpool them back to TR following the race while others arrived in Greenville early to take a shuttle service up to the start line. This was the third year of the event.

In the accompanying 5K, the top two overall finishers were both female competitors. Greenwood’s Julie Seymour, 44, edged out Emaline DeRoberts, 13, of Fountain Head (20:43 to 20:50). The winner on the male side was another thirteen-year old- Riley Dunn of Travelers Rest in a time of 21:01.

For complete results of the GHS Half Marathon and 5K, click here.

The next long distance event in the region is the Greer Earth Day Half Marathon on April 26, a Greenville Track Club sponsored race followed by the Upstate region’s largest single race, the GHS Swamp Rabbit 5K on May 2.

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