This is my second time running this race, a 5k/10k run and walk to benefit the Central SC Habitat for Humanity. The race is notorious for being the hilliest race in the Midlands, something which it doesnt hide with its “Hammer the Hills” motto. My first try at this race was back in 2009, when I had no idea what I was getting myself into. That was my first year racing consistently, and I had just done the Dam Run 10k with a PR of 45:07 a couple of weeks earlier. My first 10k. I naively thought I would try and break that at this race and blasted (2009 standards) a 7 min first mile. That was the start of one of the longest death marches I’ve ever endured, as I completely bonked by the second mile, just getting wrecked by the relentless hills. I had not one, but two walks of shame on that day. Didnt catch my breath until the final mile and had to blast a sub 7 split just to barely break 53 minutes. Pretty sure I swore I’d never do this race again. Somehow I managed to win 2nd in AG with that time, mostly because the race was smaller at that time and I was still in the much less competitive 30-34 group. Awards are really cool – basically hammers and other hardware. There’s also a free pancake breakfast, which I skipped then because of my post-race depression. Race director Jenn Covington is also a runner, so the event has a reputation of being well run and has grown a lot over the past 2 years.
I actually did skip this race in 2010, partially because I was at Folly Beach that weekend, but I’m sure my selection of that weekend for my vacation was intentional. I did run the preview run they had last year, so I learned the course and how to better pace myself. This year I decided I would tackle the 10k again and vindicate myself from my traumatic experience of 2009. Plus, I won a facebook contest for free entry, so I had absolutely no excuse not to run. The Code told me last week he was doing the 5k, so I knew my age group would probably be wide open.
Got there early and did a slow 2 mile warmup with the Code, giving him a preview of Saluda River Drive, which isnt too far from the mountains of the Blue Ridge Relay. The 10k course is a large loop with a few smaller out and back segments that weave back into the 5k course. The 5k course cuts off the worst loop of the 10k course and avoids most of the hills save for Mount Saluda River. My memory was a little vague on the specifics, but the 10k is about 3 miles of hill hell, rolling hills on mile 4 and considerably flatter miles 5 and 6.
The crowd was fairly sizable, but none of the usual overall winners were there, except for Anton, who I knew would take the 10k. The 5k looked pretty sparse, and I thought Darrell might have a trophy opportunity. Rob Yerger and Greg Howell were there, and I felt those guys would be good to pace against, since they are usually a shade faster then me in the 10k. Mr. and Mrs. Diesel were pulling a blue shoes and running the 5k to take a shot at some cheap TDC points. Teo and Geary and Laura were also out for points in the shorter race, or maybe just avoiding the suffering of all the hills.
My goal in this race was simply to avoid the death march again. Times are usually 2-3 minutes off of usual 10k times, so I figured around a 7 minute pace would be reasonable. This is a race against the course – if you PR on this 10k you simply havent been trying hard enough on a flat course. The start was necessarily fast, as the first quarter mile is straight downhill. I blasted out of the gate and led the race for a good 50 meters before being brought back to reality by Anton and about 10 others. Greg and Rob passed me and started to gap me right off the bat. I was trying to be conservative but I also had to keep these guys in my sight. Hills on mile 1 were tough but manageable, hit the split in 6:47. A little fast but comfortable. Hills got very unpleasant on mile 2, but the Yerger/Howell team was still crushing it, so I couldnt lay off, second split was almost identical at 6:48. Finally came back to the shared part of the course and plunged down the cliff of Saluda River Dr. I felt pretty good at this point, since I’ve done nothing but 5ks most of the summer, and this pace was around 30 sec slower than the lactic acid blast of the 3.1 miles. Passed mile 3 around 7:12, maybe got a little too comfortable. Rob and Greg were still killing me, and I was barely keeping them in sight around the turns. In mile 3, I started hearing footsteps and an unknown guy passed me, who of course looked suspiciously 35-39. No way I could hang with this guy, as he was really crushing the pace. He did seem to slow down a little after the pass, and when the course opened up on the straightaway, I could clearly see the 4 guys in front of me. Anton had already dusted the field I suppose. It was hard to gauge pace at this point, because I wasnt close to any of the 10kers, and we were racing alongside a crowd of 5k walkers, which gave you the illusion that you were really flying. After mile 4, 7:23 split, I knew I had to do something if I was going to take down anyone ahead of me. Started ramping up the pace and was able to slowly cut into the sizable lead of the 3 in front of me. Unknown guy clearly had gone out slowly on purpose and now was gaining fast on Yerger-Howell and I believe passed them shortly after mile 5 (6:45 for me) . With 1.2 to go, switched into 5k mode and really started pouring it on. The hills were pretty much gone at this point and we went out onto highway 378. The course has one more short out and back on the entrance road to the Riverbanks botanical gardens, which unfortunately robbed me of my plan to stealth track down Rob and Greg. Rob had started rocking a crazy pace anyway and separated himself from Greg. Unknown guy was still maintaining 3rd. After the turnaround, the Code (who finished the 5k 3rd in 18:59) caught up with me and started pushing me to catch Greg, who was still pretty far away. Hit mile 6 in 6:28. Decided to absolutely redline it with a quarter to go, felt a little bit pukish, but had enough for a better than average blue shoes kick. Passed Greg with about a tenth to go, a little of a dick move but I’ll blame it on the Code. Pushed it even harder when I saw a sub 43 was possible. Finished in 42:56, 5th overall, 1st officially in AG , though unknown guy was 38 (of course) and took 3rd overall. This is a very good time for me on this course, not too far from my PR of 42:11, and 10 minutes better than the 2009 debacle. Anton won easily, low 39. Two guys I dont know took 2nd and 3rd, Rob finished strong for 4th, and myself and Greg took 5th and 6th. Brad Steele managed a top 10 at 9th. Greg took the masters win.
Code got 3rd in the 5k, Mrs. Diesel got 3rd as well , and a PR, though suffered getting chicked in the final few meters. Teo and Geary won their age group, with Geary also taking home the masters win with a 19:59. Laura won first in AG as well with a sub 27. Pancake breakfast was awesome after the race, and I got a hammer for my age group placing. I’ve got 20 miles on the marathon training schedule for tomorrow, though I dont know how I’ll be feeling after the effort today. Next race is one of my favorites, the Ray Tanner 12k at the USC baseball stadium.
Photos courtesy of the Diesels, most taken by Mark.
The entry about the Habitat for Humanity Run/Walk (aka, “Hammer the Hills”) is perhaps the best review I’ve ever read about the course and the race. Thank you, Alex!