Four years into racing almost every weekend, there are very few races I haven’t done in the Columbia area, but this was one of the last holdouts. The Festival of Roses races are a 12k and a 5k that are associated with a festival of the same name in Orangeburg, SC. They’ve been around a while, and at least recently has been put on by the YMCA. They’ve been on our Tour de Columbia the last two years and also Strictly Running’s Palmetto Grand Prix.
I usually wouldnt be much into driving an hour to a race, but this one has a double dip built in to the event, and actually has an award for the fastest one who can do it. They call it the “Double Down” and involves running the 12k first at 7:30 followed by the 5k at 9:00. Insane. And awesome. I was in.
I had little idea of what to expect in Orangeburg. Justin Bishop, who won the 12k last year, said it was flatter than Ray Tanner. I figured to give the 12k an all out effort and see if I had anything left for the 5k. My hopes of PRing in this odd distance werent that high. Ray Tanner in 2012 was a 49:12 6:36 pace effort, which I consider one of my best performances at any distance.
Also, I’ve been training like a beast recently with a couple of 50 mile weeks and a micro Robbie “O.G.” McLendon streak of 12 days straight. I certainly wasnt going to be at my freshest. Only about 3000 more days to go to catch up to the O.G. though. To boot, I was out late the night before catching Band of Horses at the Township, so I didnt get to bed till about midnight and a few 9 dollar beers. Yes, this is 2013 Alex late, not 1995.
Had a 5 am wake up call and felt OK. Once youve done a few relays you can run on no sleep, so 5 hours was a bonus. Took me a good hour to get to Oburg, and I by the time I got my packet and wrecked a perfectly good portapotty it was about 10 minutes to race time.
Quick check of the 12k start and its decidedly less competitive than I thought it would be. Amy was pacing 13 year old Marie Demetriades so I didnt have to fear another YMCA race beatdown a la the Bunny Hop a month ago. I became a little fearful I might have inadvertently stepped into a trophy hunt. At least Billy Tisdale was there. He’s pretty much my running clone, but beats me the longer distances. Ted Hewitt, the Outlaws, Birgit, Larry Bates, Pam Griffin, John Sneed, Nonie Hudnall were all on hand.
With the start, two unknown guys take off of my right at like Mach 5, and Billy surges ahead of me. There’s kind of a long nasty incline right at the beginning and I begin wondering if Bishop is delusional. Luckily the course levels out immediately afterward. Its an out and back, so I know the long incline will make for a nice finish on the way home. I latch on to Billy, who’s about 10 meters ahead. He runs the 10k like a beast, so I make a note to keep him in striking distance. Mile one comes back at 6:39, which is just about perfect. All of my PR’s have had close to even pace followed by the patented blue shoe kick, so this is right where I want to be. And all of a sudden it gets very quiet. The two leaders have left us behind and we’re now out of sight of the rest of the field. And thats just about what the race is the rest of the way out. Billy and I all alone in rural Orangeburg locked in a brutal one-on-one. He surges ahead on the downhills and I catch him on the upswing. There really arent many hills on the course, so Coach Bishop – you were right. Thanks to having Billy to pace, the miles tick off like a metronome – all low 6:30’s. I feel surprisingly strong either despite or because of the crazy recent weekly mileage. Its pretty comical with seemingly just two people in the race. Billy asks me if I have any stories to tell him to pass the time. Finally we hit turnaround and a little after mile 4 we meet up with the rest of the pack still heading out. Its a nice distraction as I bide my time, knowing this is going to come down to a painful fight down the stretch. The pace starts to get a little quicker in miles 4 and 5, right at 6:30 a piece. Billy has let me shoulder some of the pacing for awhile, though he is breathing down my neck the whole time. Im starting to hurt a little but I’m more anxious of what I know is going to be a showdown coming up. As we go past the 10kish mark, I start to amp it up a bit. Billy follows right behind. This is not going to be easy. Finally we hit a quick double turn and the beginning of a long incline. All of a sudden I realize we may be approaching that downhill finish on the other side. I glance down at the Garmin and see around 6.8 miles (12k is 7.46) and I decide its time to go all in. Billy has faded just a touch, and its like blood in the water. He’s way better than me on the downhills, so I blast up the last incline with everything I have, praying I havent miscalculated the course. As I crest the hill I can faintly make out the finish line in the distance. Im in a world of hurt from flying up that hill, but something dark and evil comes over me when I see that clock. I ramp it up as hard as I can go, deathly afraid of Billy catching me on this almost half mile long downhill stretch. Just before the finish theres an abrupt switch to a short uphill, and it about kills me. The Honey Bunches of Oats want to make an appearance but I manage to push breakfast down. I hear someone screaming that someone is right behind me, so I lose all form and headless chicken it to the line. Total fumes. I look up as I cross and cant believe its at 48:13. A PR by almost a minute! 3rd overall. I pretty much collapse at make sweet love to the pavement trying to breathe again. Turns out it was Tigs yelling at me (she and Eric were doing the 5k) and “right behind me” apparently meant 30 seconds back. I am just total toast. Looking back at the Garmin data shows a 6:20 mile 7 and a 5:29 last 0.46. That would certainly explain it.
After about 5 minutes of sucking wind I finally come to the painful realization I have to do a 5k in just over a half hour. Its not looking good – the legs, which felt pretty great for the first 6 miles, were definitely complaining about that last 1.46. I took a bunch of pics of the 12 k finish. Good to see Birgit crush the women’s field for the overall win, chicking Ted (who won the 40-44) in the process. Steve Annan is 67 and ran 52:08, an 82 percent age grade. John Sneed and Nonie Hudnall also had near 80 percent performances. In fact, I was the only finisher in the top 14 under 40. Who says it gets easier when you get older? Chuck Hiers easily won the overall male with Bob Sams finishing 2nd. Marie won her age group of one with a strong 1:03 performance, good enough to get Amy a first in AG as well! Pam Griffin, Cheryl and Tommy Outlaw all age group placed. Billy had to settle for 2nd because they only went one deep in the overall. Brutal. Larry Bates won the 55-59 by seven minutes. Impressive.
I was hating life by the time of the 5k start, but what are you going to do? Erin Roof, the race director, hoped that I could pace her son Parker to another sub 20 attempt. I remember her saying something on facebook about not “wearing yourself out too much in the 12k”. She forgets that self-restraint is certainly not my forte. Billy, Marie and Amy, the Outlaws, and Hou Yin Chang are a few of the people returning for the Double Down. Sarah and Eric have come out to run the 5k only, along with Marie’s mom Kimberly. I am acutely aware that neither of the top 2 12k finishers are returning. Looks like the Double Down championship is coming down to me and Billy.
At the 5k start, some kid in a blue shirt takes off and Eric falls in behind him. I let a bunch of people pass me. Why? My legs are giving me a major “Are you f#$%g serious??” reaction. On the other hand, I can at least match my 6:30ish pace I had locked into in the early part of the 12k. Parker , who blasted out to a 6:00 mile in our last 5k, is smarter this time around and is only a few meters ahead. Tigs is also ahead of me, and I’m already dreading the crap I’m going to take from her when she beats me. And damn that Billy, he’s a good 30 meters ahead only a half mile in. I hold 6:30 pace and start to catch quite a few guys as I approach the mile mark. Just past the mile (6:32) I catch up with Tigs and Parker. Tigs tells me she hates me. I love it. I tell Parker he’s right on pace but I think he’s fading a bit. I surge ahead though Im not going any faster. And then suddenly its just me and Billy again. Billy is a good bit ahead, and I start trying to calculate how many seconds I have to still get the Double Down if he beats me. I am slowly gaining on him though. I hit mile 2 at 6:39 and realize that most of the soreness has dissipated. Oh jeez, time to throw down again. Blood is in the water again as a quick surge puts me right on Billy’s heels. We hit the same incline as the 12k finish, and its complete deja vu. I blast up the incline, pass Billy and give a million percent effort all the way down. Honey Bunches of Oats start getting jumpy again but thankfully stay where they belong. Unbelievably I still see 19’s on the clock and blast it out to a 19:41 finish, 3rd overall again! Didnt think sub 20 was possible after those first two miles. At first I thought there was a short course, but I had 3.09 on this certified route. Garmin check reveals a 5:59 last mile. I have no idea where that came from, but apparently if you offer me a trophy chance I will virtually kill myself to get it.
Eric battled it out with the young guy for the 5k win and they had a virtual photo finish, with the same time. Unfortunately for Eric, the other guy (Daniel Patrick) must of outleaned him at the tape. Tigs took home the women’s overall . Parker didnt get his sub 20 but still took first in his age group. Marie was by far the youngest double downer (13), finished 3rd in her age group in the 5k and won the female double down championship! Ashley Horton finished 2nd in the 25-29. I think her sister finished 3rd. Amy won her age group even with a 26 minute time. Ted managed 2nd in 21:52, which is probably the best 5k performance of the double down compared to our usual times. Parker’s dad and Erin’s husband Joe Roof finished 2nd int he 45-49. Billy easily won his age group with Mike Griffin in a strong second. Both of the Outlaws won their age groups, despite both doing the double down. Alex Ponamarev finished third in a tough 60-64.
Oh, and so I won the overall double down! Between the two age group wins I picked up 3 pint glasses total. And even better..a $150 gift card to Grove Park Pharmacy. I first had visions of a cartload of toothpaste and shampoo, but it turns out this store has a big selection of high end sunglasses. I went there right after the race and picked up a pair of 150 dollar Costa polarized shades. Awesome. Erin Roof and Todd Heinecke are definitely the road race swagmasters! Thanks guys!