Today is one of the busiest race weekends of the year, with no less than nine events on the results page of Strictly Running. But there was never a moment of hesitation with which race I would do, because Race to Read is my holy grail, my one moment in the sun. Last year there was a decent crowd but absolutely no local “elites”. Greg Howell and I battled all out in 2010, two age groupers hell bent on the dream of the elusive overall win. It was only an absolute balls-out, 190 percent effort, dry-heave-on-the-last-turn, blue shoes kick for the ages that secured me my one and only first place. And so I had to defend my title this year. I knew ahead of time that Anton and the Code had already signed up for this race this time, so my chance of repeating rested on these guys both missing a turn and running at least a mile off course. It was actually my fault both had signed up. I had talked it up so much with my grandiose rambling that they probably felt practically obliged to go out there and kick my ass. I knew the race director had already gotten the race on the palmetto grand prix this year as well, so I knew the competition would be significantly stiffer this time around. Plus, any race that crowns me as their champion clearly needs more publicity.
I got there about an hour early and it was super cold, low 40’s and windy. Did 2 miles very slow warmup with the Code and Anton, and with the surprisingly slim turnout at that point, figured they would probably take the top two slots. Later though, Bedenbaugh, Kelley, Geary and Billy Tisdale all showed up, making the field look like a SC Masters running championship. Plexico then came out, crushing Anton’s hope for glory. To be fair though, I think Anton’s already won 2 races this year, so its not like me where the chance to win comes around once in an eternity.
Towards the end of my warmup, my Garmin decided to completely crap out on me, which makes no sense, since I charged it overnight. Hope its not dying on me. Strolled up to the line with my bare wrist feeling so vulnerable and exposed, actually having to run by feel… imagine that. The course to this race is awesome – its set in rural Lugoff. You start with a slow incline out of Doby’s Mill Elementary, turn right on an almost flat stretch for the first mile. Mile 2 is on a gravel/dirt road almost downhill the whole way. Turn right again for mile 3 with lots of rolling hills, some pretty tough ones in there. Mile 4 continues with the net incline from mile 3, then turns back toward the school with a sharp downhill. Mile 5 is crazy with a very tough long hill followed by a winding nature trail section in some woods near the school, then a lap around the bus loop for the finish.
At the start, it looked like most of the crowd was doing the walk instead. Turned out to only be around 40 runners. With the start, plexico and anton blasted out of the gate with all the masters guys and the Code and I brought up the rear end of the front pack. After staying with me for about a half mile, the Code finally realized he was slumming it and decided to kick it into high gear, passing Billy in the process. I was clueless as to my pace, having relied on my calculator watch brain for so long. Tried to keep the intensity up but not let Billy get too far ahead, since he was the only one I could see in my zip code. The whole first mile felt really good, so I can only assume I was pulling some slow pace. When I hit the downhill mile 2, I kept hearing some serious breathing and footsteps behind me, who was clearly pacing off me and almost drafting at times. I had no idea who it was, but kept imagining a 35-39 unknown guy. That or a rabid bear, by the sound. At mile 2.5, there was a water stop, with cups and a cooler…if you wanted to stop and get some. Maybe we outran the volunteer.
The turn back onto the pavement for mile 3 was most unpleasant, as we had to make up all that downgrade we enjoyed on the gravel road. Hill after rolling hill, but definitely a net elevation gain. Wind sucking commenced. I run downhills like a floppy chicken but somehow I always make up ground on uphills. I credit my beast-like quads, jacked up from years of carrying my heavy ass around. Cujo sounded a little more distant behind me and I could see Billy a little closer. Code must of been using some bath salts, because he was way off in the distance. I was glad to see Anton leading the pack way in front. Plexico was probably in another area code by then. At about 3.5 miles came the plunge downhill again, and I tried super hard to keep up my form, though limb flailing was inevitable at times. Rabid bear made his presence known again, and Billy gapped me badly. At the mile 4 marker, I pulled an Emeril and tried to really kick it up a notch. Again, I had no idea what pace I was pulling or what time it was. Very unnerving for my obsessiveness. Made up some ground again on Billy on the brutal hill of the last mile. As I entered the “nature trail” loop, Bedenbaugh was coming out and halfway through I see the Code flying. With all the turns on the trail I finally saw it was Geary that had been chasing me down the whole time, which made sense since we usually run very similar times. This provided me a little motivation to avoid him blue shoeing me..since I knew TDC open points were on the line. As I exited the trail, with just under a quarter mile to go, I could make out the clock in the 31’s. I knew it would be close to last years PR time. I tried to push it, but the drive to finish 7th just isnt the same as for the win. With the last turn, I saw last years 32:37 pass so painfully close to the finish. Crossed the line at 32:41. 7th overall, 2nd in AG.
Geary finished about 30 sec behind. After the finish there was no one to be seen on the course..found out later there was a 4 and a half minute gap after the top 8. Plexico won easily, Anton crushed his own sub 30 expectations with a 29:11. Kevin Kelley took 3rd. Code beat me by over a minute for 1st in AG. Jennifer Lybrand took top female and was the only one under 40 minutes. Overall winners got a cool custom trophy, age groups only went one deep, which is probably appropriate given the small size of the field – they won water bottles. Although it didnt match the euphoria of last year, I was still happy with the race and I’m glad to be at the same fitness level.It was this point last year when I was so high on winning this race, that I went out for my long run the next day and did 26.2, tweaked my IT band and sent me on a downward injury spiral for months. Wont be doing that again this year. Kudos to Betsy Long for directing this race well – the trophies, food spread and tech race shirts were really nice.