The Viking Half Marathon and 5K brought in people from all over the state and beyond.
By Saturday’s chilly morning in downtown Greenwood, Beth Stevens, the Greenwood-Leflore County Chamber of Commerce’s executive director, said about 250 local and visiting racers had registered.
“I have just heard so many participants say that they are glad to be out and running again,” Stevens said. “We have a mix of new people to town and returners.”
People such as Arkansans Christi Whatley and Lana Lambert, who are certainly no strangers to chamber-sponsored events, participated in this year’s races.
“We love Greenwood,” said Whatley. “We do Bikes, Blues & Bayous every year.”
Lambert added, “Yeah, the bike ride brought us here, and this is our first time to do the run.”
And they were not the only ones.
Chris Lloyd from Richmond, Virginia, said he saved up his frequent flyer points to come back to town for the event, saying he had previously been here for a business trip.
Lloyd said he was happy to be able to run amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is one of the few races I could find going on,” he said.
More locally, Malcolm Noland came from Cleveland to keep at his new hobby of running races, which his girlfriend got him into.
“I like to do it to try and get back into shape,” Noland said. “Also, I like to support my community and our neighbors.”
While there were many runners, there were almost just as many friends and family cheering them on.
One supporter, Suzette Pickett, came with a group of racers from Louisiana to enjoy the festivities.
While holding a sign with the photos of her teammates, she said she loved encouraging her sister, Sarah Ognibene, who was running her first half marathon, and Pickett’s husband, David.
“I love being here cheering him on and my family,” she said with a smile. “I’m usually the cheerleader.”
Admittedly, Pickett said she was looking forward to after the race as well. She and her crew planned on getting some catfish and shopping downtown.
“I have heard of The Crystal Grill. I think I am going to have to check that out,” she said.
And as the first few runners crossed the finish line, many said they were experiencing exhaustion and joy.
“I feel awesome,” said Justin Hitchcock, the half marathon best overall male winner with a time of one hour, 28 minutes and a 6:46 per-mile pace.
“It took a lot of training, keeping my nose to the grindstone, but it was worth it,” he said.
Hitchcock, 35, said he trains seven days a week, including two days of speed running.
And now that the race is over, he was going back home to Leland to spend time with his family.
“I’m going to get me some water and go home to spend time with my kids,” he laughed.
Allison Stokes, 28, from Memphis earned the overall half marathon female winner award, with a time of one hour and 32 minutes and a pace of about seven minutes per mile.
“I feel great; it’s been a really long time since anybody has really gotten to race,” she said.
The last time Stokes participated in a race was before the pandemic in February at a race in Greenville, she said.
The Viking Half Marathon and 5K was pushed back from March, and event organizers had to alter many of its procedures to adjust according to public safety regulations. The date change is something Stokes said affected her preparation for the big run.
“You know, the date being moved back affected my training a little bit,” she said. “There was a time where I was thinking they just weren’t going to do it.”
• Contact Adam Bakst at 581-7233 or email@example.com. Twitter: @AdamBakst_GWCW