The Sleigh Bell Trot is a 5k held in conjunction with the Saluda Shoals Park Christmas Lights exhibit, which is held the Tuesday night before Thanksgiving.
The race has always been a bit of a mixed bag for me. The good – Christmas Lights, holiday cheer, etc. etc. The bad – the can’t see s$%t factor, the hairpin twists and turns factor, the running through mobs of people factor…all of which adds to the fear of busting my ass factor.
To be fair, that last thing has never actually happened. At least not in this race. I give credit to the race organizers because they have slowly improved on what was initially a bit of a cluster. Just ask Code – dude wont even mention this race without shuddering. The first couple of Sleigh Bells were plagued by very late starts, inadequate bathrooms and just not enough space for so many people. There has also been some really bad weather, but they really cant control that.
The race grew so big, so fast, that the organizers very smartly chose to hold the walk and run on different nights in 2011. Previously the walk was free and bringing in so many people, strollers, pets, etc. that it was pretty ridiculous. This apparently helped things out a lot, so after staying home last year I decided to give this one another shot.
This was a good year for the race. About 800 runners, so this was still going to make it tight. There’s only so much space to run 3.1 miles in a relatively small paved area in the park. Thankfully they have altered the course to minimize the amount of back and forth traffic. In 2010 I came with my whole family and about took them out trying to blast through a horde of walkers in mile 3. Weather was pretty nice too – cool but not too bad – low 50’s at the start.
A huge crowd was there with quite a few familiar faces. Crazy Legs, Plexico, Teo, James Hicks, Geary, Rocky, Alex P, Sarah B, Burgess, Winston Holliday, Gasque, the Diesels, Gomez and his wife Jamie, Pete Poore and the Holts were all there. Gomez assured me he was just running it “easy”, but since the dude can now do sub 18, I was probably looking at 2nd in AG at best.
I lined up first row at a start that was packed like sardines and just a narrow strip of road ahead of us. Looking back, I couldnt see the end of the mob. There were a ton of high school and middle school kids there, who arent known for their restraint. Sure enough, the start was like the bulls in Pamplona. Total madhouse. I hauled ass to avoid being trampled by the stampede behind me. Teo and Geary take off like Usain Bolt and leave me behind despite my 5 minute pace burst in the beginning.
As always, it is freaking dark. Forunately theyve lit up the speed bumps in the road this time, because they were always about to trip me up in years past. It takes a full half mile in to make the crowd a little more sparse. Its still crowded at times – Teo passed me back ona downhill and then I exchanged the favor at the next flat section. I was doing way too much dodging with what looked like an 8th grade girl in front of me. Damned if she wasnt throwing elbows and making it impossible to pass. Somehow I’m always getting into pissing matches with middle schoolers these days. Finally I find a seam and pull a Barry Sanders out into some freedom. Hit the first mile in 6:20ish. I figure thats pretty decent pace – my PR on this tight and winding course is actually only 20:28 (2010). Second mile is mostly by myself. I feel grateful for putting some distance on the field, because I can see some of the crazy crowds on the switchbacks. Despite being my third race in 4 days, I feel surprisingly good. Hard to figure out pace though with the dark and no one else near me. It also makes distance almost impossible to gauge. I hit the 2nd mile in an identical 6:20. About this time I see Winston up ahead. Winston was on my Blue Ridge team and was also my target in the Get in the Pink 10k . I start pushing the pace and start making slow gains on him. A little over a half mile in I see Plex heading back my way to the finish for the win. Unfortunately I have no idea how long of a loop he’s just run so I dont quite kick it in yet. I finally reach the apex of the last loop and start kicking. Its a shorter loop than I thought and although I’m closing fast on Winston, I’m running out of real estate too. We hit the lighted 3 mile mark (6:09 split) and he starts sprinting it out. I ‘m so close but he holds me off and I finish 2 seconds behind, 19:46 , 12th overall, 2nd in AG behind Gomez’ walk in the park (19:10).
Definitely happy with the result. My Garmin had 3.17 miles and this was a full 44 seconds faster than 2 years ago. Plex won the overall by 27 seconds, and Gomez, Winston and myself were the next 3 in the field who can drink a legal beer. Lots of high schoolers in this one. The little kids were super fast in this race too – the 2-14 AG was all under 21 for the boys and the slowest 2-14 girl was 22:09. Wow. Sarah B took second in AG, Winston 1st. Burgess bitched and moaned about his injured ankle before the race and then ran a 20:16. Cry me a river JB! Teo crushed his age group and Gasque managed a 3rd in a huge field. Geary won his age group by like seven minutes (20:03). They screwed the 60+ runners with a 60-98 group, but Rocky and Henry Holt still placed 2nd and 3rd. Pete missed out on the awards but was able to get them to change it next year.