Governor’s Cup Road Race
The lead group in the half marathon at the Lexington Medical Center Governor’s Cup Road Race on Saturday might be a little ahead of the pack than usual.
Lured in part by a race-record $7,500 in prize money, the field is packed with elite runners this year, including Kennedy Kemei, a Kenyan who ran a 1:04 in the Richmond Half Marathon in 2010 and won the Richmond Marathon in a course-record 2:13:45 in 2011.
Kemei will have to deal with a couple of South Carolina’s top runners. Columbia’s Eric Ashton has won the Governor’s Cup half marathon seven times, most recently in 2011. Michael Banks, a former Georgetown University star and track coach who now lives in Charleston, set numerous course records at shorter distances last year.
The women’s field also includes a top Kenyan, Joan Tangwar, who ran a 34:09 10K last month in Ohio. Top regional runners expected in Columbia include Heather Hunt of Sumter and Caitlin Bullock and Laurie Knowles of Charlotte. Hunt won the 2013 Myrtle Beach Half Marathon in 1:18:09. Knowles and Bullock are both former Olympic Marathon Trials runners, and at the USA Half Marathon in 2012, Knowles ran a 1:16:41 and Bullock at 1:17:51.
“This might be the best half marathon ever assembled in South Carolina,” Ashton said.
And that impacts training and race-day tactics.
“You start with personal goals, but certainly, what the others are doing has some impact on that,” Ashton said.
Ashton has the home-course advantage, his body attuned to expect the challenging hills on the Governor’s Cup course.
“On the coast, once those athletes are gone, they’re gone,” Ashton said. “But on this course, you might end up seeing them again.”
Kathryn Cavanaugh’s role on the organizing committee was to draw top runners. She said race organizers made it easier by boosting prize money and covering some travel expenses for top runners. The prize money also has a separate pool for top South Carolina finishers, which made it easier to get the best locals.
“There will be several races within the race since the Kenyan is probably the fastest, but he is not competing for South Carolina money,” Cavanaugh said. “So the other top guys will be racing not only the Kenyan but themselves to get the South Carolina bonuses.
“Same situation on the ladies’ side. I see there being three ladies sub 1:20, which has never happened in this race.”
The Governor’s Cup half marathon records of 1:05:42 by Travis Walter and 1:16:58 by Julia Kirtland were set in 1996, the first year the distance was run in the event. Because Columbia also was the site of the women’s U.S. Olympic Trials that year, many of the top runners in the country competed here that year, according to race director Russ Pate. Kirtland came back and won the U.S. Women’s Marathon Championship in Columbia in 1997.
Ashton for one is glad to see the race organizers have convinced more elite runners to include the Governor’s Cup on their schedules. Their presence stamps the race as special.
“If you don’t bring in the talent, you’ve got the Color Run,” Ashton said.
Of course, the majority of the more than 1,200 runners in the half marathon or the 8K events Saturday won’t be aiming to win the races. Instead, they might be striving to finish in the top three in their age group so they can take home one of the cool, hand-sculpted trophies. They might be going for a personal best. Or they might just want to finish.
Whatever the goal, they will have plenty of company on the streets of Columbia. More than 400 children will run the one-mile kids event, many having already run 12.1 miles in spurts through their school physical education classes. Also, hundreds of workers will be running on corporate teams in the various events.
They’ll be greeted by the U.S. Army Rock Band at the start of the race near the State House, by 11 Spirit Corps groups stationed strategically along the course to cheer and play music, and by another rock band at the USC Horseshoe.
The official after-party, including a buffet lunch for runners, will be at the Tin Roof, just a few blocks from the finish line at 1022 Senate St. in the Vista.
The Governor’s Cup was the first major running event in the Midlands when it started in 1973. It has changed through the years, starting with a 15-mile event and adding other distances through the years. The current format of a half marathon and an 8K began in 1996.