Race to Read 5 miler – Lugoff, SC – 9/29/12

Oh, the Race to Read. Somehow the stars aligned in 2010 for me to achieve the ultimate in trophy hunting – the overall win.  Most of the time it pays to be fast, but sometimes it pays to be lucky. I think there were like 4 races going on that day, and RTR was not on the TdC or PGP back then, it was rural,  not advertised that much, and basically met all the trophy hunting criteria. Now, I will give myself credit that I ran a PR that day, but my 32 and a half minute winning time was hardly “elite”.  This was none more evident the next year, when Plex came out and beat my previous time by like 5 minutes. But hey – a win is a win!

The RTR is now on both the Tour de Columbia and the Palmetto Grand Prix, so that pretty much assured me that I would have no such glory again this year.  Before race day, I knew Anton and Justin were doing this race, so unless both simultaneously came down with SARS or got shot in the leg, I would be third at best. Actually, Justin could probably still beat me with a bullet wound.

I got to the race an hour early and was the first one there. I had registered late, so I wanted to be sure I got the custom race socks they were giving out instead of shirts. Seriously, theyre blue – had to get them. After I had procured my precious race socks, all of the Palmetto Grand Prix heavyweights started showing up in droves – Plex, Angel, “A” Standard, Anton, Billy, Geary, John Sneed, Arnold Young. Basically all the beasts of SC running in one place. Oh, and the Code. Code was already bitching and moaning about how he wasnt going to do well,  run 35+ minutes, blah diddy blah blah blah, etc. Whatever, dude.  Trophy must of been inspired by making my Dam Run a miserable experience, because he showed up again. A consecutive weekend Trophy appearance? Unthinkable. There wasnt a huge turnout of fast women, but  Jen Lybrand,  Sharon Cole and Colleen Vowles were in attendance. J-Reeves was there to try and set another no-walksies PR. There were 2 other races in downtown Columbia (Bowtie Run and Vista Dash) so attendance was a little sparse. They have a kids run that brings a pretty big crowd, though.

This race has a great course. Basically a squarish loop – 1 mile of mostly flat paved road,  then 1.25 miles of steady downhill on a dirt/gravel road,  1.75 miles of rolling hills back on pavement.  You then get back for about a mile and a half on fort jackson rd (hwy 12/percival rd in columbia) which has a steep drop followed by a killer incline. The last mile is basically that incline followed by a crazy paved nature trail in front of the elementary school. The nature trail section is interesting, because you cant help but see the people chasing you down as you go through a series of twists and turns.  Finish is around the back of the school in the bus loop.

They moved this race from late October to September this year, so it was a lot warmer than the 30-40 degree temps of the last 2 years. Probably low 70’s and a little humid at race time. Betsy Long directs this race, and has done a great job.

Although the race had only 47 in the 5 miler,  it was surprisingly crowded in the first quarter mile. About 75 percent of the race would break 10 minute pace, so definitely not too many casual joggers. I focused initially on staying with Code and Billy, but before we were even out of the school parking lot, Trophy latched on my back again. Perhaps he had taken notice of me comparing his stride to an elephant stampede last week, because he was a lot more stealth this time.  After a nasty incline right off the bat coming out of  the school, the rest of the first mile was almost flat. I was having trouble again with pacing. The 5 mile distance is awkward – a bit 5k balls to the wall with a dash of restraint. As you may know, restraint is hardly my forte. Trophy had no problem with pacing though – follow the GD blue shoes.  Rounded the turn onto the gravel road right around the mile marker , 6:36 pace. This is about where I should be, though I was hurting a bit more than I wanted. Perhaps it was the overwhelming psychic pain of the fear of getting Trophied. Trophy tells me it sure sucks when there’s 4 of our age group in the top 10. No doubt.

Code had had enough slumming and quickly dropped both of us, tracking down Tisdale like a rabid bear. He passed Billy and gapped us all pretty bad.  Running on the gravel road was a little tricky avoiding the sand and loose rocks, but at least it was downhill. Hit mile 2 just  after the turn back onto a paved road, 6:39.  I was definitely feeling worse than I should, and Trophy was still latched on like a very large monkey on my back.  Finally we hit the first of  several ugly hills of the third mile. Although I felt like death, this probably saved me, as the clomping Kinvaras grew a little more distant. Although I could sense that Trophy was fading a bit, I figured Geary or Whitney Keen would gladly take his place on the Blue Shoes hunt, so I knew I had to keep pressing. But the hill was relentless and sucking my will to live. Thankfully I didnt look at the Garmin because I at least had the delusion I was maintaining pace. Nope – 6:52. I had thought the Code had really picked it up, since he had gapped me some more..I guess I hadn’t considered my own suckage in the equation.  By the time we reached highway 12 again , and on our way back home, the flat and then downhill felt like heaven. Somehow I had blocked out that nasty climb in mile 3 in my race memory. I watched Tisdale as he made the turn, and damn, he looked back. No stealth blue shoes.  Of course I suck at downhills, so I was getting paranoid the whole way down the  long decline on the highway. Everything sounded like those damn Kinvaras.  Mile 4 in 6:40, though I didnt look. I don’t look at the Garmin splits when I’m already going as fast as I can without dying.  Then we hit the mountain. Its actually not that long, but its nasty steep when you’re trying to push to the finish. I made up some ground on Tisdale and Code, but I realized I probably couldn’t catch them. I entered the short nature trail just as the Bodourov comes blasting out in his “tempo” pace.   Halfway through the trail I realize that Whitney is way too close for my comfort, so I start kicking early. Oh yeah, it sucked.  Trophy wasn’t too far behind him either – yikes. Luckily the last quarter is downhill and flat, and once I see the finish I can pretty much count on adrenaline bringing me home. I still don’t know if Whitney is about to blue shoe me though, so I really push it.

Finished in 32:57, 8th overall and 3rd in age group. Whitney had a major wardrobe malfunction and not only had his shoe come untied, but come completely off his foot. Dude literally finished with just a sock. Now thats dedication.  A-Standard took the race in 27 something minutes, which I’m sure he considers embarassingly slow.  Plex was second and Eddie Vergara third. Anton “out-tempoed” Angel for 4th and 5th, Code 6th and Tisdale 7th. Whitney and Trophy finished within a minute of me, with Geary just a shade over 34 minutes. Sharon Cole won the women’s race with J-Lybrand just behind in a 5 mile PR for her  (36:50). Age groupers included Mark’s son Alex Robertson, Nancy Sneed and Colleen Vowles. Arnold Floyd edged out John Sneed in the battle of 69-year-olds who are in better shape than you.




Dam Run to Irmo 10k – Irmo,SC -9/22/12

The Dam Run to Irmo is a 10k that has been around forever, 26 years to be exact. I grew up in Irmo so I remember the race as a kid, long before I ever thought about running. I dont know the whole history of the race, but I believe the course has changed a few times, maybe even the distance? Its been stable the last few years though, as a 10k that starts on the Lexington side of the Lake Murray Dam and ends in Saluda Shoals.

The race is significant to me as my first 10k in 2009. Then  I was actually scared of the length of the race, so I ran it conservatively to start, and ended up with a pretty strong finish to  set a PR (45:05) that would stand for several months. The next year I had major delusions of grandeur and went out trying to chase down Amy McDonaugh and Meg Weis. I ran a 6:18 first mile and then died a slow, agonizing death over the next 5 miles. Its pretty close to the worst I’ve ever felt in a race,  coming just short of my severe case of walksies at the Richmond Marathon in 2010. Did I mention I’m running that race again this year? Yeah, already regretting that decision.

Anyway, the 10k is an evil distance for me. I do well in 5ks and half marathons, but I just cant figure out 6.2 miles.  I run 5ks in a ball of fury and pain, and I can settle into a strong tempo pace for a half, but 10ks require a fine balance between the two that creates either epic bonks or slow times.  The McMillan calculator, based on my 5k times, suggests I could flirt with a sub 40. I havent even gotten to second base with a sub 41. My PR sits at 41:23, and thats the only time I’ve gone below 42.  People I can and have beaten at 5ks just kick my ass in the 10, and I end up looking like this at the finish:

This was at the Dam Run 2010, my own personal trail of tears.

This year, I got to the race about 45 minutes early after about an hour of sorely regretting my decision to order mixed drinks the night before. I may be a nearly 200 pound Irish dude, but apparently I have the tolerance of a freshman sorority girl.  Serious rehydration protocol was in effect.

Met up with someone I think I remember racing with at some point in the distant past, name of Trophy McGaha. Diesel was supposed to be there too, but apparently there was an early bird sale at some outlet store because he and the missus were seriously late.  Diesel was having to man up and actually race, because he was there without a 7 year old to “pace”.

There is prize money for the top 3 overall in this one, so there was plenty of competition.  The Ashtons were there, in addition to the “A” Standard, Mr. Bishop. Tigs was there sans Eric, who apparently hates 10ks and opted out of this one.  A kindred spirit.  Burgess came out of his racing sabbatical and made a rare appearance. Amy McDonaugh showed up, which I made sure to tell myself not to follow again. Anton was there to help pace her and run a “tempo”. I hate getting my ass kicked my someone doing a tempo, but what are you going to do.  Dimery came out of semi-retirement to race as well. Sarah Blackwell, Cheryl Outlaw (minus an injured Gizmo), Drews Soltau and Williams, Billy Tisdale, Sekley, Kenzie,  Brad Steele,  the Griffins, Lynn Grimes, Frank Eichstaedt, Scott Hicks, J-Reeves, Ponamarev and I’m sure others I’m leaving out all showed up.

Temps were 70’s-ish but pretty humid – far from ideal.  The course, as mentioned, starts on the Lexington side of the Dam. On the the Irmo side, the course winds on and off Bush River Rd, throwing in a couple of nasty inclines in an otherwise net downhill point-to-point ending in Saluda Shoals Park.

With the start, I made sure I wasnt going to pull a 2010 bonk, so I held back from my tendency to blast out of the gate. Of course this means having to deal with all the Usain Bolt wannabees crushing sub 5 pace like its a kids fun run. Since the Dam Run is fairly competitive, I was running in a pretty big crowd, plus Trophy was on my back like white on rice. Who knew Saucony Kinvaras sound like an Elephant stampede at Trophy race pace?  I was having a hard time figuring out my pace. I had hoped to go 6:30 something but I saw Billy Tisdale ( my 5k doppelganger) WAY ahead of me, so I figured I was going considerably slower.  Plus,  the high mileage and no speedwork of the previous 2 weeks was making race pace seem pretty rough.  The first mile is completely flat and ends a little over halfway over the dam. Sure enough, hit mile 1 in 6:47.

Just maintaining the same pace in the first part of mile 2 finally broke me free from the pack. The downside was now I was completely alone. Completely alone, that is, aside from the dude with the 50 pound kinvaras breathing down my neck.  Finally crossed the dam, passing mile 2 in almost an identical split, 6 forty something. Got to the mini loop in a neighborhood just as the leaders were coming back out. Ashton was crushing the pace with the A Standard about 20 meters behind. A kid in a singlet was a close third. You hit the only real hills on this course in the mini loop through a neighborhood in the third mile. News flash: they suck.  THey had some decent crowd support out there – people were actually out in chairs in their driveway. I managed to catch up to one more guy on the last hill coming out of the neighborhood, who gave me a “good job” – spoken like he meant another two word phrase starting with F.  Trophy was still riding me like Seabiscuit.

The exit back onto Bush River road was a relief because we finally got some downhills. And by we, I mean myself and the lead footed Lady McGaha. I could see Sekley pretty far ahead but we were making some headway. Mile 3 another carbon copy split of 6:45. I tried to put the pedal down a little here, which caused the stampede to grow a little more distant. Still, given the good amount of volunteers and crowd support, I knew there was still someone pretty close behind. Despite trying to speed up, hit mile 4 in another 6:45. Holy metronome Batman. Then came another turn into a neighborhood, which was the site of the wheels coming completely off in 2010. There’s about a half mile stretch in this area that turns directly into the sun, both blinding you and making you feel about 10 degrees hotter.

I’m about halfway through this miserable stretch when I hear what sounds like a yak in heat. Its Trophy. He had some gag thing going on last year and apparently its struck again. I turn around and see Trophy still moving but sounding like my cat hacking up a hairball. Whats worse, Tigs and Burgess are passing him and Tigs screams out DONT LOOK BACK!  I’m not sure if this means “dont look back, focus on doing your best to the finish” or “dont look back Im coming to %^$& get you”. Probably a mix of the two, knowing Tigs. Either way, I’m overcome with the fear of getting Tiggered or Burgessed. Burgess would love to pay me back for those Dr Pain 400 meter intervals I’ve put him through, I’m sure. I’d like to say I threw down some ferocious kick here, but it really wasnt happening. Although my effort was getting harder, my legs were giving me diminishing returns.  Reached mile 5 just as I began to exit the neighborhood. 6:45 again. Jeez.

The last mile is mostly flat to downhill, so I would have liked to have finished strong, but I was starting to hurt pretty bad at this point. As I enter Saluda Shoals, I hear footsteps. Oh no…for the love of God please dont let me be Trophied. Pretty soon the footsteps are right next to me and I look over. Thank the Lord – some random teenager. I do sneak a little look over my shoulder at one of the turns to decide if going to have to redline it, but there’s no one there. Whew. I attempt a weak kick in the last quarter and finally see the clock in the high 41s. I throw down a half-hearted burst to break my course record by 3 seconds and finish in 42:08. 19th overall, 2nd in age group. Mile 6 was 6:40, last .22 about 6:05 pace.

Not overly thrilled with this result, especially given the downhill course. My PR is 45 seconds faster at the Lexington Race Against Hunger, which is a hillapalooza. Still trying to figure the 10k out.

Ashton crushed the race in 32:07 for first. The unknown kid was actually Chas Culberson, a name I’ve seen in the upstate races a lot, and he managed to catch Justin late. A-Standard was about 10 seconds behind him. Two out of towners (Jameli Sang, Heather Hunt) took the womens race, though Kathryn Ashton placed 3rd. Tigs and Burgess finished only about 20 seconds behind me, a PR for Jeff and AG win for Sarah. Trophy managed to stay on track despite the hairball incident, and scored a PR as well in 42:56.   Drew Williams took my age group with 38:32, having just turned 35 in the past month. J-Reeves achieved her first no-walksies 10k, and Cheryl Outlaw got a PR in an epic duel with Pam Griffin at the finish. Other winners included Amy, Anton, Kenzie, Jim Coombes, Amber Todd, Billy, Jeff Allums, and Rocky (even though he was mostly walking with his foot injury).

Turns out they had awesome age group awards but awarded only 1st in each group and had no masters. This is pretty lame for a race of almost 350 people. They continue to have finishers medals for this race – which I guess is nice for those just starting out, but I wonder if it would be better for them to ask at registration if you want one. Of course, did I turn mine down? Not with my ridiculous medal trinket obsession. On the plus side, the tech shirts are way nicer than the cotton ones they used to have




Blue Ridge Relay Part II – Leg 12 (Blowing Rock, NC) to finish in Asheville, NC – 9/7-9/8/12

After the best quesadillas ever, we (van 2) eventually made our way to exchange zone 18-19, where we would resume running just after midnight. Perhaps I am a fool, but I always bring my sleeping bag and  pillow to relays, because if you can catch a catnap, its pure gold. I have to sleep outside the van, because 6’3″ of  blue shoed awesomeness just can’t be contained in a 15 passenger van alone. The key to relay sleep is trying to find that sweet spot that is a)  far away enough from the noise of the exchange zone but b) close enough to be found by your teammates and most importantly c) not somewhere you might get run over by a 5 ton white van.  I got b) right, and probably c), but most certainly not a). This transition zone was about as quiet as mardi gras. All of the teams started catching up with one another, so there were a hell of a lot of white vans crammed into a pretty small place. And then there was Joe Loudtalker. Joe was over 20 feet away and talking to someone right next to him, but apparently he wanted to bless the entire half mile radius with the sound of his voice. The McDonald relay exchange zone principle states that the volume of voice is inversely proportional to the importance of the topic being discussed. I got to hear all about Joe’s leg, his bathroom habits, the hot girl in the other van, etc. Eventually the combined cacaphony of Joe’s blather, endless portapotty door slams and van engines formed a wall of white noise that actually put me to sleep for about 20 minutes.  A van with its brights still on then decided to nearly make my torso a parking space, so that kind of woke me up.

By this time, the red ninjas had showed up  and I was surprised they hadnt passed us by then. It turns out Kenzie, one of the fastest women in Columbia (in running… guys, cmon) decided to take a scenic tour of Blowing Rock for an extra 2 miles before actually starting her leg, so that spotted us an extra 13 minutes or so I guess.  We were all waiting around but none of us knew exactly when Heather would arrive at the zone. All of a sudden Dean hears something and takes off like Usain Bolt. He runs down to the zone and gets there just as Heather is blasting her way to the finish, and takes off himself. We’re all taken by surprise and as we’re leaving the van gets stuck again. Sons of bitches, this cant be happening again. These white vans must have the off road capability of my kids’ tricycle. We finally recruit about 10 people, most ninjas but some others as well, and get the van out of the mud. I do a nice tweak of my back in the process. Once we are finally moving, we realize Dean’s leg was just over 4 miles, so we have to book it to get to the next zone. We drop off the Code as we park, and sure enough we get him there in just the nick of time.

Code’s leg is a 7.5 “very hard” leg (leg 20), so we have a while to wait once we get to the next zone. And we wait, and wait, and wait.  Where the hell is the Code?  We are just short of sending out a search party when the Code shows up in a ball of fury. Apparently he took a wrong turn literally 50 meters from the zone, and ran almost a mile down a hill into leg 21.  One of his potential roadkill then informed him he was now running the next leg, so he had to turn around and climb a big hill all the way back.  He was slightly perturbed about this occurrence. No time for bitching and moaning, Code, because we had to hop in the van and hurry , since Pete’s leg was a downhill 2.4 miler. Pete crushed it in 6:30 pace. Winston then took on a 5.6 miler which had an ungodly 8 percent grade at the end. There were walking wounded all up and down this thing, but I think Winston avoided the walksies. The next leg was my “most unfortunate romp in the middle of the night” leg from last year, which Karen had the joy of taking on.  I luckily got to relive the driveway incident and barking spider pottery from the comfort of the van this year. And it was dark, pitch black, cant see-your-hand-in-front- of- your- face dark. Or, as one of the runners we passed put it “I CANT SEE SH&T OUT HERE”!!”  We had a bit of time to wait at the next exchange for my next leg, which turned out to be the one exchange zone without a portapotty. For the love of God, why???  Let’s just say there were unspeakable horrors behind that convenience store.

I had a 3.2 miler almost straight down the mountain (leg 24) that Karen had just climbed. As luck would have it,  red ninja and fellow Columbia age grouper, and much faster runner,  Steven Johnson , was waiting at the zone ready to go as well. Oh God, I’m going to be the Red Ninja’s roadkill.  Luckily Karen showed up first and I hauled ass from the get go. Perhaps not my usual 5k speed, given the abuse of the 9.5 miles of mountain climbing earlier, but close to it. I hit mile 1 in 6:36, given the first quarter is actually uphill. Blasted negative splits in the freefall to follow 6:16, 6:11  I think. The whole time I was fearing  Steven’s footsteps.  I was trying to break 20 minutes, but came up a little short at 20:15, and handed off to Beth. I was safe  – 2 roadkill down and no one passed me. Steven came through a few minutes later having run some ridiculous low 18 time – I was just lucky to have a 5 minute head start.

We then headed for the last transition zone at a church at the start of leg 31. Unlike mardi gras zone, this one was thankfully more sedate. The fact it was 4:30 am probably helped. I found a concrete walkway to someone’s house behind the van and slept like the dead. Screw Sealy posturepedic, nothing sleeps like cold hard concrete when you’re beyond tired. The couple hours of sleep felt amazing. The church had a pancake breakfast when I woke up, and my God, sausage and hotcakes never tasted so good.  It was beyond awesome. We even met up with CANT SEE SH&T girl.

The last 12 legs of the BRR are just brutal, plus everyone is always dead tired on their 3rd leg,  so we had an extra long layover at the church. The Red ninjas had finally passed us, and we saw the handoff to Drew Soltau, who took off like a maniac on leg 31, arguably the hardest leg. Heather showed up about 10 am, and we were off again for our last legs.

Dean had specifically requested leg 31, 6.5 miles of “mountain goat” hard. And believe me it was. Just about 5 miles of pure hellish 5%+ climb. People were crawling up this thing. But not Mr. Schuster. He was on a mission. We stopped to support him along the way, but he was all business, just crushing some mid 7 pace on this most ungodly of legs. We got to the top of the mountain for the next exchange and there was drama. A girl in a purple top was ready to kill this other guy who she says jumped in the van and was carried up the last part of the leg. If thats true, thats pretty lame. Dean came through a few minutes later. Dude must have roadkilled half the relay on that leg. Code then took the bracelet and went careening down the same mountain Dean just ran up. A nasty, twisting 9.4  miles. It was raining slightly at the start, and very cool, but that quickly melted away into a sauna-like sunny late morning. Code tore it up though and handed off to Pete. Pete had to contend with another brutal mountain goat leg (33) with a 13 percent grade, the worst on the whole course. Looked like you might need climbing gear on that monster. Pete passed off to Winston at the Barnardsville baseball park, which brought on some serious PTSD. This is where Van 1 crashed out for hours in 2011, where my legs locked up like rigor mortis and all I wanted to do was crawl in the fetal position and nap.  But that’s when I had to do 4 legs.  This time I felt considerably fresher, but it was getting into the afternoon and I was worried about the heat. At the next exchange zone we ran into the Rock Hill Striders and Drew Walker, who was about to do his last leg. Apparently Howie and Geary were on his team as well, but in the other van. Winston rocked out his leg , I’m sure in much faster pace than my trail of tears in 2011, and handed off to Karen. Karen had the unenviable task of tackling a monster incline over 2 miles. Even Thunder Dan admitted to having walked stretches of this last year. Karen had to do some power walking on this one too, but i was just hoping she could make it through in one piece with the bum calf.

Finally we made it to the last exchange zone. I felt pretty tight and sore, but was fully jacked on a stew of coffee, espresso love GU and ibuprofen. I had the distinct misfortune of misreading my legs before the relay, thinking my last would be completely downhill.  What I failed to realize was that it was downhill…after you completed over a mile of relentless 4%+ grade. Fan fricking tastic.  I took the bracelet and the first half mile was just misery. Never ending hill and my legs screaming under the torture of all this abuse.  I started to acclimate somewhat by the first mile, which I hit in like 8:04. Not blazing but I’ll take it.  I thought I had a hallucination, but suddenly some dude cheers from the bushes at top volume. I never saw the guy but I about lost bladder control thinking it was some bear or something. Of course the van comes by just as I’m nearing the end of this incline from hell. You have to look good for the van , right? I remember the 2010 Palmetto 200 where I was about to die, but picked it up for the van, only to walk the second it got out of sight. This time, I saw Code looking at me disapprovingly, so much shame for the 7:30 or so pace I was doing at the time. Jeez. Pretty soon I really did get shamed. I heard some rapid footsteps behind me, thinking it might be bizarro handsome blue shoes again, but it was worse. Chicked. Big time. This girl must of weighed about 75 pounds, but she was definitely getting it, probably sub 6 pace. Nothing I could do.  The downhill had started by then. I thought this would be relief, but after the freefall of a 5k I had earlier, my legs felt like they were getting the sledgehammer treatment. Pretty much torture. I was still hitting low 7 pace but I took one look around, and this grey haired guy from Rock Hill Striders was tracking me down like a dirty dog.  Holy crap, am I really going to get chicked and grandmastered in the same leg?? Yep. Big Time. I did keep up with this guy for awhile, but the quads were turning to jello.  On top of me getting roadkilled, Mother Nature decides to chick me as well.  All of a sudden the cloud from hell comes rolling over the summit and the bottom drops out. Total downpour. The one thing nice about the storm was that it dropped the temp about 15 degrees almost instantly, almost chilly all of a sudden. I took down a few roadkill to at least end up on the positive side of that equation, and Asheville slowly came into view.  I finally saw the overpass into the city and I started throwing down as hard as I could. Of course the road insnt closed , so I’m dodging people on the sidewalk and had to stop for a traffic light, but I was on a mission. Finally I hit the home stretch just as the clouds really started to let loose. I think 4 or 5 of my teammates made it out there in time and accompanied me to the finish. 6.5 miles in 50 minutes/ 7:24 pace for leg 36,   29 hours, 50 minutes total time  for Team Black Ninjas.

The finish was anticlimactic last year, but even more so this time with all the rain. No medal or anything, just hand me the bracelet and your done. We couldnt take pictures in the monsoon, which kind of sucked because I had specifically rocked the Columbia Running Club shirt for a newsletter photo op. Oh well. We met up with Team Red Ninjas at Mellow Mushroom, who had already finished and had nicely taken over a whole corner of the restaurant with the Gamecocks game on (48-10 over East Carolina – sweet!) . They had an awesome relay – finished 2nd overall in the coed division, earning them a 120 dollar mellow mushroom gift certificate.  Recovery craft brews and pizza ensued. Great end to an awesome weekend!



Blue Ridge Relay Part I – Grayson Highlands State Park, VA to Leg 12 in Blowing Rock, NC – 9/7-9/8/12

Relays! If there’s anything that surpasses my road racing addiction it is my love of doing the relay race. Its like adding all the fun of team sports with the normally individual experience of racing.

I started my relay experience with the 2010 Palmetto 200 and swore I’d never do it again after experiencing hallucinations and a walk of shame on my last leg that year. True to form, I’ve of course done three more since. Last year our team (Van on the Run) tried the Blue Ridge Relay for the first time.  Its like the Palmetto 200 because it has 36 legs and 200+ miles,  just replace the flat Lowcountry with thousands and thousands of feet of elevation gain. Even the diehards of the Van on the Run had had enough. Except for one.  Maybe it was the near religious experience of running the crest of a mountain ridge at sunset, or maybe it was the very poor memory of my torturous fourth leg, but I had to do it again.

2011 recap (2 parts) is here:



I had heard the 621 ninjas were getting together a team this year.  To answer the question everybody asks, the 621 refers to 621 Chatham rd in Columbia where they start most of their group runs, and ninjas because they always run under the cover of darkness given their 5:30 am start.  I dont get a chance to run with these guys much since they start so early and far away from home. It doesnt help they are all blazing fast, even the women, actually…especially the women.  Yeah, my half-awake early morning 9 min pace jog is not going to cut it with these guys.  But every now and then I’ll make it out there for a change of pace, quite literally.

I was late in hearing about the team, and was originally an alternate, but eventually they decided to expand to 2 teams  and I had my chance.  I was glad to be placed on the “slow” team, because I certainly am in comparison with these guys.  With the expansion and a few drop outs, Code Brown also got recruited.  Also on my team,  the  Black Ninjas (other team was the Red Ninjas) were Pete O’Boyle, -who is an age group beast and who runs similar times to myself, Dean Schuster – the “penguin guy” who raced Gov Cup in a penguin suit for charity en route to competing in the Antarctica Marathon (http://zerotoboston.com/),  John Bradley – a veteran of Larry’s A-team, Winston Holliday – my opponent in an epic battle at Get in the Pink (https://tourdeblueshoes.com/2012/05/13/get-in-the-pink-5k10k-devine-stheathwood-columbiasc-51212/),  former Palmetto Grand Prix champ Usa McClamrock, sisters Nell Fuller and Beth Bynum, age group ace Heather Alexander and speed demon attorneys Karen Manning and Kana Johnson.

The relay starts in Grayson Highlands, VA, which is just north of the North Carolina border. We had a 9:30 am start time, so we decided to drive up to Boone, NC the night before, staying in a hotel and rental house. This was definitely a better choice than last year, when my team camped out at the park. That cat noise at 3 am last year still freaks me out. Luckily the Holiday inn express is free of potential wild animal attacks, and thus offers a much better night sleep. Bonus. Plus, the pasta dinner at Amalfi’s (http://www.amalfispizzeria.com/) with awesome craft beers on draft was a touch better than the granola bars and subway from 2011.

We got to the race site about an hour early and picked up our packets and organized our team.  Brief relay 101: The 209 miles to Asheville are chopped up into 36 sections, or legs, ranging from 2.5 to 10 miles. There are 12 runners , 6 each in the two vans.  Each runner ends up doing 3 legs spread out over anywhere from 21 to 36 hours, depending on the speed of your team. In addition to the mileage, the legs are rated easy, medium, hard, very hard and “mountain goat” hard based on how bad the hills are. And my hills, I actually mean mountains. The start times are staggered by how fast you are as a team, with the slowest starting at 6 am, the fastest at 1 pm I believe.  The blazing Red ninjas had a noon start, for example.

In contrast to my position as runner 1 last year, I was now runner 12, meaning I had upwards of  9 hours to wait before I got my chance to go. This was kind of tough, because you’re all jacked up at the start…for nothing. On the flip side,  zero danger in craft brew indulgence the night before. Beth started us off at 9:30 with the 4 mile freefall of a leg I had in 2011, where I decided to wreck my quads for the rest of the race.

Start videos are here:


and here:


Beth is a swimmer, but apparently runs a lot better than I swim, which of course isn’t saying much. She had a strong leg and passed off to John, who started crushing it immediately. We in Van 2 were going to stay with Van 1 during their first legs for support, which turned out to be a very, very good thing.  We stopped at a corner to make sure John made the right turn, and van 1 went ahead (presumably) to the exchange zone.

John passed and we started down a dirt road to meet van 1 at the exchange. We saw a stranded van up ahead, and I was feeling sorry for them until…hold the phone, that’s us. Oh noes. Van 1 had pulled over to the side, as we all do hundreds of times during the relay. Only this time, the soft grassy shoulder turned out to be hiding a 6 foot deep creek bed.  As we all jumped out to help push the van out, we realized that a) distance runners have no upper body strength, and b) the van looked much more likely to flip into the creek than actually get free. I’m really surprised all the women made it out without causing it to tip.  Van one was officially down.

Now I am typically a cold hearted cynic, but my faith in human kindness was actually somewhat restored by this incident. Almost every van that came along offered to help, and one took our next few runners to the next exchange zone while we figured out what to do. And then there was Chris, the Saint of the Blue Ridge. He, his wife and kids came down to try and help, and when he couldn’t he called a friend with a truck, then ultimately called another friend who ran the tow truck for the county.  Mind you this in an area with zero cell phone coverage,  and no one on the team knowing where the hell we were. The tow guy came within an hour and after a complicated 10 minutes involving chains, winches and tows, he eventually extricated the van.  We paid the tow guy, but Chris would accept no money. He even went back to his house and offered us water and granola bars, and kept Beth and I company (we were left behind since we would be the latest to run)  until the tow truck came.  You have warmed my cold, dark heart, Chris.

After 2+ hours of fun with the stuck van, Beth and I eventually caught up with the team at the exchange zone between legs 6 and 7.  With all the ugly noises the van made in getting unstuck, I was deathly afraid of some other thing going wrong, but it held together. Miraculously, we were back on track.

Dean got the handoff from Heather and Van 2 was officially in business. Dean, whose energy and enthusiasm for the relay is rivaled only by the Code, took off like a jackrabbit on cocaine.  His leg was downhill first but followed by a killer 8 percent incline in the last mile, 5.4 total. Did I mention it was over 80 degrees and humid? He was definitely hurting by the end but blue shoed it to the finish, handed off to the Code, and collapsed on the grass. “I’ve never seen anything more wonderful than Darrell” – quote of the day, for sure. Code went blazing out of the gate as well, pulling low 6 pace from the get go. He had his easiest leg, and one of the most scenic – 4.6 miles along the New River. We got to the next exchange zone right by the river, where someone had left a chair right by the shore. Dean was the only one to have finished his leg, so he had the chance to partake in what had to be one of the best recovery ice baths ever.

It actually wasnt that cold, so even better. Pete took the next leg, and maintained the torrid pace, going low 7’s for 5.2 miles. Winston had the first big challenge of the daytime legs, pulling 8.2 miles with just a ridiculous 6 percent climb for the better part of a mile in the middle. He didnt even look tired when he finished. Karen had most of her 6.3 miler on the Blue Ridge Parkway, where the vans were not permitted. This kind of concerned me, because Karen had been laid up with a bum calf for the last several weeks, and there would be no way to know if she needed help.

In the meantime, I finally got to prep for my leg, and it was still way too freaking hot. Debated back and forth, but ultimately decided to eschew any     sense of coolness and go completely for comfort. So there I was,  ghostly chested with a GU belt, race bib belt , full reflective vest (required on the parkway), sunglasses and water bottle in hand. Let me tell you, I had to fight the ladies off with a stick looking that awesome.

I had waited all day for my run, and just short of 7 pm I got my chance. Karen blue shoed it into the exchange zone and I blasted off into the great beyond. This was leg 12, the same leg I ran last year with our 11 person team, and I knew it to be grueling. This year, in some effort to be “safe” they cut out the run on a highway in favor of twisting around to smaller roads…and adding on an extra 1.4 miles to make it a nice round 9.5.  Sweet.

Above is the old topo map of this run. Make no mistake, this is running up a mountain and over the other side. Five whole miles of almost unrelenting, punishing climb. And since its on the Blue Ridge Parkway, none of your teammates will have any idea what you’ve just endured. On the flipside, all your hard work is paid back with unbelievable views along the mountain crest with the sun beginning to set. Breathtaking, especially since any breath you had has been taken already after that 8 percent grade section.

I blasted out from the start in my neon man-sierre, and the sub 7 pace hit me like a kick in the teeth. Felt surprisingly like I had been sitting around all day, stewing in my own nervous energy,  eating a bunch of granola bars and gatorade. Go figure. Took a while to feel OK, as I basically was doing a  fast warmup as part of the race. Took down my first roadkill a half mile in, and another 2 in the next mile. Pace was 7:15 out of the blocks, which is about what I wanted to do before Mt. Pain. Luckily they had plenty of volunteers out, because they had significantly altered the course. I had no sense of where I was or which direction I was going. Finally hit the start of the incline at 1. 5 miles in, and it was muy, muy sucko. Luckily the course was a winding road, because that at least gave me the brief, fleeting hope that the misery would end around the next corner.  No such luck. Dropped the pace down to 8:30 to stay alive and just focused on keeping going. My quads were screaming and pleading for the sweet release of death, or at least a nice walk. But I had made it a goal not to catch a case of the walksies, and soldiered on. Finally, after what seemed like forever, I reached the top of this hateful mountain. And again it was pure beauty for miles in both direction. I ran for about a mile on a pure adrenaline, coasting over the smaller inclines at the top.  I reached an awesome overlook with a few people taking pictures and they cheered me on, I waved back and was on a pure high, until… Wait a second, why are they cheering again???? One look over my shoulder and I saw the newer, better model Blue Shoes. Still wearing the ridiculous reflective vest over bare chest and blue shoes ensemble, but ripped, younger,  tan, better looking, and going about twice as fast. Damn you bizarro handsome blue shoes. He passed by me like I was out for a Sunday jog, even though I had woken up from my blissful reverie and ramped up to sub 7. I chased him for a while, but then we hit the downhill, and he left me for dead. Two miles straight of relentless quad destroying freefall down the mountain into Blowing Rock. He destroyed me, but we did take down 2 more roadkill in our wake. One last ugly hill after we exited the Blue ridge parkway and I finally reached Tanger Outlets and the van transition zone back to Van 1. Did the 9.5 in 1:14,  7:50ish net pace.  About the same pace as I did the shorter distance last year, so I’ll take it.  The red ninjas had nearly caught up with us at this time, so almost all of the two teams were there at the Outlets, which was a nice reception.  We then said our goodbyes to the rest of our teammates and headed to Canyons restaurant in Blowing Rock. Best recovery quesadillas and beer ever.

Part II to follow.



Blythewood Labor Day Run 5k/10k – Blythewood,SC – 9/3/12

The Blythewood Labor Day run is a 5k/10k put on by Blythewood Middle School to benefit their PTO and the local Fallen Heroes memorial. Its the third year of the race, and the second year where they’ve featured almost completely separate 5k and 10k courses.

Last year was my first try at this race, and it was, admittedly, a completely shameless trophy hunt. I had scoped out the race the year before, saw the field of kids and old ladies in the 5k, and went straight for it. This was a classic example of the “undercard maneuver” in trophy hunting strategy. Let all the fast guys battle in the marquee race. I’ll take my chances against the couch-to-5kers.

Last year my strategy nearly hit the jackpot. I was standing on the start line, looking around, seeing no one but myself to beat. Unfortunately for me, Eric Allers showed up last second with Tigs, and promptly smoked me. All was not lost, however, as my second place earned me thirty bucks.

When someone as slow as me starts winning overall placements with cash awards, this usually brings out the sharks the next year. I signed up again for the 5k merely because I have the Blue Ridge Relay coming up on Friday and, well, the 10k course is unadulterated torture. Seriously, I train on that loop all the time. Carowinds could make a ride out of those hills. Masochistic.

But I had no delusions that I would place again this year. However, this is before a game of dueling Labor Day races broke out between this race and Strictly Running’s Labor Day 5 miler. I seemed to be getting emails left and right about these races right up til this weekend.

These marketing tools, while carefully targeted towards most runners, are useless to me.  Just tell me which one has all the fast guys, and I’ll take the other one. Ultimately, the trophy hunt and proximity to my house led me to Blythewood again.

I got there about 45 min early and did a solo 2 mile warmup, which soaked me in sweat at 9 min pace. Total steam bath, and almost 80 degrees. Apparently the Columbia summer heard me reveling in the fall like temps of the Run Wild 5k and decided to come back really pissed off. I rehearsed the course in my head: Flat until the one mile mark at the second turn. Downhill on Adams Rd followed by nasty quarter mile uphill starting at a crossroad called “Gurganious rd”. After the hill its pretty much flat to downhill all the way back home. Pretty fast course, though the hill slows you down considerably. Plus, although certified, I remember the Garmin showing it was a touch longer than some other local courses.

As far as the turnout, Anton was back from a long racing hiatus. Rob Yerger was also back for a rare racing appearance after training like a beast with Larry’s A-team.  Team Schmitz, Team Allers, the McGrievys, J-Reeves and her daughter Rachel, Bri and Dan Hartley, Rocky, Geary, the Diesels, the Ferlautos, Ken Calcutt, Aaron West, Gasque and Ramsey were all familiar faces. I met a guy named Javier who said it was his first 5k and had read the blog – cool.

My first hint of a successful trophy hunt came when I was taking some pics of the 10k start, which happened 10 minutes before the 5k. While the crowd appeared to be slightly larger, apparently the Strictly race had siphoned off all the elites. Awesome. Unless some rogue kid  came out of nowhere, this race was Anton’s and Rob’s. I could only hope there was a similar “Strictly effect” on the 5k.

I knew Eric would be there already, so I harbored no hopes of trophy hunting’s holy grail, the overall win. But sure enough, there were not any other recognizable potential winners in the group. There were a few fit young guys, so some wildcards. But no singlets.

With the start, Eric surged ahead immediately, and a random guy stuck to his hip like glue. Two or three other guys followed just behind, and the whole group took off with a blast.  By the first quarter this group had gapped the rest of the field, I guess headed by me, by about 20 meters. I made sure not to panic and just hold a steady pace. Sure enough, one guy fell off the back and I passed him before the second turn. I didnt look at the mile 1 split, but the Garmin shows a surprisingly slow 6:26, because I thought it was faster. The heat and humidity was making it tough for sure. After I crossed the mile mark we plunged downhill and went straight back up. I was able to make up some ground on the second straggler inthe front pack on the hill. I saw Eric finally gap his newfound friend by the top as well. The hill certainly left me sucking wind, but I closed fast and passed the second guy right before the turn on to Langford Rd.  We hit the two mile somewhere on Langford right before the turn home onto Trading Post rd. Eric nearly missed the turn and had to be redirected by the volunteers. I yelled at him to keep going straight. No, not really.  As I made the turn Eric and his buddy were not too far ahead. I knew it was unlikely I could catch Mr. Allers, but no.2 was hurting by his body language. As I got closer I could hear him making ungodly sounds like he was hacking up a hairball. Oh no, not the second puke in a row. Luckily he wasnt yakking but definitely slowing down. But … hold the phone,  ARE THOSE FREAKING FOOTSTEPS?? By this time, I’m hurting pretty bad, but I’ve ramped up the pace to about 6 flat with a half mile to go. But who is catching me? No one blue shoes the Blue Shoes. It sounds like someone really light, most likely a girl. Oh dear God, please tell me its not Bri Hartley. I mean, its only a matter of time before she blue shoes me, but at age 11?

But its not Bri, its that same 14 year old girl that I couldnt catch at Silver Fox. What is it with me and middle schoolers these days? I’m in “Oh hells no” mode, but she is really burning it. We blast past hairball guy and I amp it up into a whole new world of pain and suffering. But its not enough. Girl has decided she’s going to kick some old man ass and there’s not much I can do about it, because the light is on and the tank is on E. We round the turn into the finish area in the school parking lot, and I can’t believe I’m getting smoked by someone born in 1998. But the shame is unavoidable and I cruise into the finish a couple of painful steps behind her in 19:47.

I thank her for a good race and she probably thinks I’m a crazy stalker since I know her name (Hope). But when you are obsessed with race results like I am, sometimes the freak comes out. I later learn that Dan had gotten a bunch of the Dutch Fork runners permission to race unregistered for their workout this morning. So the results just show me finishing 2nd. Awesome , my shame erased for posterity.

I’m all excited about getting my thirty bucks again, when I realize they have cut out cash for all but the overall and masters winners.  And, they have even backed down to paper certificates for awards. Seriously, guys? They dont call it paper certificate hunting, now, do they? Oh well, I guess its for a good cause.

Eric of course won the 5k, with Steve Fink finishing third. Bri did actually win  overall female, but couldn’t take the check if she wanted to keep her amateur status.  Tigs was so gracious to take the check for her, though I guess she won masters anyway. Rachel and Jennifer each won some age group glory, with J-Reeves pulling a “no walker”. Awesome! Rocky, Gasque, Ferlauto, Jennifer and Brady Ward all took home age group glory. Geary won masters. Javier rocked a 27:04, besting my first 5k by a second and winning 3rd in age group. Congrats, man!

In the 10k, some rogue teen “wins” the race then pulls the most obvious bandit move ever by stepping to the side 1 foot before the finish chute. Anton won the legit race but didnt know it until I told him. Anton apparently is a lot happier when he wins. Yerger crushed a sub 40 and finished 2nd, really impressive for that course. Third place was like 6 minutes later, so apparently I could have trophy hunted in the 10k too.  Kristin karate chopped her way to the female overall win. Ken, Ramsey, Crazy Legs, Brie McGrievy,  and Carol Wallace all collected age group glory as well.

Coming up: Blue Ridge Relay!!



Walk or Run a Crooked 5k – Chapin,SC – 9/1/12

The “Walk or Run a Crooked 5k” is a yearly event in Chapin’s Crooked Creek park held to benefit Meals on Wheels and kickoff the Labor Day festival there.  I dont know how long this race has been going on, but this year marks the fourth time I’ve done it. I have kind of a love/hate relationship with this race.  I think the course is awesome, with about half of it on grass/dirt surrounding the ball fields and the other half in winding paved trails. On the other hand, the name alone screams there arent any regular road racers directing it, and they still use mail in registration and non-chip timing like its 1987. But maybe they’re going for retro-cool, I don’t know.  Either way,  I don’t think they ever have any local competition from other races, so I always run it. In a truly amazing occurrence, I managed to dig out a stamp, envelope and check and actually register ahead of time this year.

I got there my customary hour in advance and did a couple miles warm up with Geary, Plex and Crazy Legs. The Code, who also usually does this race, was MIA again. He’d better show up for Blue Ridge on Thursday.  We did a few loops around the last part of the course, which helped me mark where I might be able to start throwing down a kick if needed. As usual, there wasnt a big competitive group here. Decent size crowd, but only a few regulars.  Jennifer Reeves, Ted, Alex P, the Holts,  Cheryl Outlaw,  Pete Poore, Teo and Rocky were there. Jack Carmody, who runs like 2 races a year, was there to at least keep Plex from jogging to a win. Claudia Nunez-Lopez was the only competitive female I saw.  So basically, I could have predicted the outcome of the race before it began, though you never know when some rogue kid might come out and throw down a good time.

The course starts with a half mile lap around the soccer fields, then enters a very convoluted stretch of paved trail. At about a mile and a half, you do a loop of a baseball field then come back into the curvy trail portion, another loop in a parking lot, then back to the trails with a finish in the same soccer field where you started. Got that? Last year they had about 75 percent of the field take a wrong turn at the baseball loop and cut off a quarter mile of distance, so I hoped they had fixed that.

They had an actual starting gun , which was cool, and may have jolted some adrenaline to put me in the lead for about 10 meters before Plex,  Jack Claudia and some other guy jumped ahead.  It had rained earlier in the week, and running on this grass gave me some PTSD from the Springdale race. Luckily it wasnt as long as there, but there were definitely some muddy areas. For those behind me, I apologize they had to witness my very ungraceful leap over a 6 foot patch of muck. Can’t get those new blues dirty now, can we?  By the time the soccer loop was done, plex and jack had already disappeared and all I could see was Claudia and other guy. Other guy had headphones on, which in my running snob mind, meant there was little chance he was going to hold this pace.  I did manage to catch him just before the mile mark. I decided not to look at my splits, because I know I’d feel let down. This course has way too many turns and grassy areas to race a good time – my course record is 20:15 from 2011.  After passing the guy, I was suddenly all alone, though at times I could see Claudia up way ahead.  I tried to at least keep her in range because once I run completely alone I get a major case of the slowsies.  Plus, I had heard the industrial machine breathing of Geary just behind me when we first entered the trail portion.  Got to the baseball loop and fortunately they had made extra sure no one took the wrong turn again, placing a barricade of cones.  The course then turned back on itself, and Rocky was there to give me an update on my position. After another brief trail section came the parking lot loop. No sooner than I took the first turn when I saw Geary and Teo bearing down on me, uncomfortably close.  Crazy Legs was soon to follow. I tried to make the most of the straightaways in the parking lot, ramping up the pace to match my road 5k speed. I was able to make up some ground on Claudia but she was still well ahead. After the parking lot loop I was hurting pretty bad. We’ve been blessed with some great weather over the past few weeks, but this morning was about 80 and humid, so I was definitely feeling the pain. By the time I reached the soccer field again, I was just toast.  The sun was bright and the dewy grass felt like sludge. I knew I wasnt catching Claudia and a quick look on the turn showed there was no one behind me either.  The tank was officially on E when I made the last turn, and I watched helplessly as the 19’s faded away. I threw in one mini-burst at the very end just to break 20:10, with my official time at 20:09.  4th overall, 1st in AG. I hate going over 20 minutes, but this was a new course record for me, so I guess I should be satisfied with that.

As I warmed down, I realized that I actually got 3rd overall male,  which I hoped might score me an overall prize. Sure, there is some shame to accepting an overall male award when you’ve been beaten by one of the females, but there is little dignity to my ridiculous trophy hunting anyway. What defies logic though, is that the race gave overall awards to the top 3 finishers only, without separating out the males and females.  WTF? I didn’t care so much for me (see above shame) but this is totally stiffing the 2nd and 3rd place women.  Claudia also missed out on a first place overall award, which i believe was 50 bucks.  Very lame.

J-Reeves placed in her age group, throwing down an awesome blue shoes style kick to break 31 minutes – see pics below.  Ted, Schmitz, Geary, Cheryl, Pete, Alex P, and the Holts all got some age group glory as well.