The Snowman 8k is a race that’s quietly been one of the oldest and most competitive events in the state, held at Caughman Road Park – a small, almost rural facility near Lower Richland High. This race, in part because of the decent prize money, has produced some of the fastest 8k times I’ve seen. Its often won by some pro out of state, and when that doesn’t happen, Eric Ashton is usually there to pick up the check.
That’s not to say this is a fast course. Far from it. I went in completely blind to the layout in 2011, went way too fast in the mostly downhill first mile, and suffered an epic death march most of the way in. Schmitz taunting me in mile 4 still haunts me. Just a cursory review of the course map would have shown roads like “Cliffside Drive” and the “Dominion Hills” neighborhood, so I should have known. Essentially its a net downhill first mile, followed by a mountain, then constant rolling hills until a pretty flat mile at the end.
I got to the race my customary hour in advance and had to sign up, because this race still holds on to snail mail only registration. The theoretical probability of me finding an envelope, my checkbook, a stamp and remembering to sign up are essentially zero. Luckily the race provides a “no-tshirt” option, which saves me getting the race-day gouge and from adding to my monumental pile of white race shirts.
Other than the registration issue, this race definitely treats its runners pretty well. CRC member Lisa Smarr directs, so when you have someone who knows about racing themselves, there’s usually a good outcome. They get local artist Ernest “Chicken Man” Lee to make paintings for the awards, which is exponentially better than a generic medal. You get lunch, and they even go 5 deep in awards for some of the male age group categories. This is on top of cash awards for first clydesdale, athena, and active and retired military.
After showing up I did a warm up with Ted and Billy. There was a big crowd, but I didnt notice as many elite level people this year. No professional singlet wearing dudes/ladies. Ashton was there, and I didnt see anyone else that was even in his ballpark. Dimery , Hedgecock and Gregory Jones were the only guys that I knew would beat me. Kenzie was clearly going to win the women’s race from what I could tell. Flicker was there to defend his Clydesdale trophy. Aubrey Johnson was making a rare appearance since going off to college. Masters elites Albert Anderson and Birgit Spann were good bets to pick up some cash awards. Diesel was finally breaking free of “coaching” (aka “hiding behind”) his son Brady so we could finally see him race for the first time in months. Jen was taking his place with Brady.
Trophy was MIA. Through my CIA level intelligence gathering, I knew he was stealth trophy hunting in Augusta. Turns out he got 4th in age group in a misdirected 5k. Serves him right! Speaking of MIA, WHERE IS THE CODE? Pride injuries take a while to heal I guess.
Ken Lowden and seemingly his entire SR crew were on hand. Sarah Blackwell, Ponamarev, Henry Holt, Frank Eichstadt, J-Reeves and daughter Rachel, Gasque, Amanda, Valerie, Mark and family, Mike and Pam Griffin were some of the familiar faces. Meg Weis showed up seven months pregnant, which was awesome to see.
I mistimed my preparation to the start line, so when they sounded the horn, I was caught strapping on the camera belt and trying to reset my Garmin while trying not to get trampled. It was probably good because it distracted me from the forgotten fact that the race starts uphill for the first quarter. By the time of the first turn, the pack had already thinned out a lot. Ashton was in another zip code, followed by Dimery. Hedgecock and Kenzie were running together with a kid and Gregory Jones in the same vicinity. Billy and I were already battling it out. We hit the long downhill in mile 1 and he blasts ahead, knowing exactly how much I suck on the declines. My race strategy was to take it easy on the first mile, and try to average in the 6:20’s overall. This all went to hell when I saw Billy gapping me pretty bad. I surged to keep closer. I didnt know my pace at mile 1 since my Garmin was offset from the start. Soon after the mile marker we hit the mountain that drained my will to live in 2011. Garmin then spits back a 6:08. Nice job, hero. Way to show some restraint.
I did manage to power up the mountain and draw even with Billy before he dropped me again on the ensuing decline. This basically happened for most of the next few miles. All rolling hills. I felt like complete death. Nothing is worse for me than going out too fast, and I’m betting the actual first mile split was closer to six flat. I kept cursing my self, spouting internal f-bombs when I wasnt having Flicker hallucinations. Somehow I had forgotten that Scott was running Clydesdale and that my age group was in jeopardy. So every time my belt made a noise I was deathly afraid of him blue shoeing me. Turns out my pace wasnt fading as bad as it seemed…my last Garmin check was at about 3 miles, 6:21 was the last split. After that I just ran by feel. And by feel, I mean the pace that was going to get me to the finish line without collapsing. Mile 4 was the worst. Sun started beating down, still a few nasty inclines. Sucking wind like there’s no tomorrow. On the upside, they started letting traffic in behind me, so I figured I at least I had a decent gap on the ghost of Scott Flicker.
And I was at least keeping Billy from getting too far ahead. On the last hill I drew pretty close, and tried to silence a volunteer who was yelling at me to bring him down. Ruining my stealth with your encouraging cheers – jeez! Sure enough he blasted ahead on the last decline as we headed on to a dirt road on the last mile. From the dirt road/Trotter road intersection, there was a half mile to the finish, having scouted the course just before the race. Billy looked back for a second, but I darted behind a bush at the corner, so I couldnt tell if he saw me. I was in a world of pain on the last stretch. I kept alternately giving up on catching Billy then getting overwhelmed by my dark, maniacally competitive side and surging closer. I was just about to close on him when he sensed the finish line and kicked it in, breaking my spirit in the process. When we head into the park driveway I see the sub 32 almost in reach. I try to blue shoe it but I am complete toast. I cross the line in 32:02.. 8th overall, 1st in age group. 26 second PR!
Then I turn around and see that I’ve been running from no one. Flicker does come in next in 33:11, winning the Clydesdale by like 15 minutes. Ashton ended up winning by 5 minutes, which was no surprise. Dimery took second and the kid, Brady Rafanan, ended up outkicking Hedge (masters winner) and Kenzie to finish 3rd. Kenzie won overall female by 3 minutes over Anna Johnson and Birgit Spann. Carol Wallace and Greg Jones took grandmasters, while Nita Eichstadt and Albert Anderson took great grandmasters. Frank Eichstadt won great great grandmasters in 38:59. Impressive.
Age groupers included J-Reeves’ daughter Rachel winning 3rd in the 20-24, Jen Ward winning the 30-34, Amanda and Sarah going 1-2 in the 35-39, with Matt McGrievy taking 2nd in my age group. Diesel took 4th. Ted Hewitt and Mark Robertson took 1st and 3rd in the 40-44, while Dana Burgess and Lisa Hart did the same in the female division. Teresa Harrington, Sandy Smith and Coleen Strasburger swept the 50-54, while Billy, Mike Griffin and Tom Hart placed in the men’s. Valerie Selby continued her domination of the 55-59 and Patti Lowden took home first in the 60-64. Del Soule and Ken Lowden went 1-2 inthe 65-59 while Henry Holt and Jesse Smarr won the 75-59. Lonnie Collins was the oldest finisher, winning the 80+ category. Oh, and Meg finished the race in 54:55, which is a little off her usual pace, but I guess I’ll cut her some slack.