March for Meals 5k and Race Judicata 5k – Columbia,SC – 3/1/14


So this is one of the few weekends a year where the stars and races align to produce a double dip opportunity (i.e. 2 races in the same morning).  Last year was an even rarer occurrence, with 3 races perfectly spaced for a triple dip, culminating in an epic beatdown of the Trophy in race number 3. It was sweet. This year the Colorectal 5k  didn’t happen, so we were down to two. Is it a coincidence this confluence of excessive racing occurs on my birthday weekend? I think not.

I actually was thinking of just doing March for Meals earlier this week. March for Meals, after all, is the site of my first age group win and the spark that ignited the racing obsession. Judicata was also of Blue Shoe significance though, as the first official blue shoed race and first sub 20 5k. Recent years at Judicata had met with some disastrous misdirects and 20 year age groups, so my initial decision was to pass. However, Gasque told me they had really low registration this year and it was iffy a while back if the race would continue.  I’d like to say I then signed up to support the race, the cause and the Tour de Columbia. I wouldn’t be telling the truth. Whenever I hear low registration, my dark passenger wakes up and all I can think is…TROPHY HUNT.

I mean, you can revel in the honor of competing against the top competition in your city and regale in stories of valiant efforts against worthy opponents. Or…you can clean up some easy age group and overall points against 30 newbies who just finished the couch to 5k. I know – shameless.

Race#1 – March for Meals

The March for Meals is a 5k at Riverbanks Zoo, which, for those of us with multiple small children know, is almost completely flat. This would all be well and fine if we were running through the animal exhibits. What they don’t make fully clear is that the course runs around the outskirts of the exhibits and then crosses over the river into the botanical gardens. My first time running the race I had never been to the botanical gardens. FYI, the botanical gardens are on the TOP OF A FREAKING MOUNTAIN. Really. Like single track paved trail with switchbacks and STEPS. Just brutal. But at least miles 1 and 3 are flat.

I get there maybe 40 minutes early because I cant drag myself out of bed early enough for the 7:30 start across town. I made sure to park outside of the race area, which is an important double dip concept. If you get trapped in, you cant make a clean getaway for race #2. This was critical last year, when a train delayed the start and the 2nd race was only an hour later. Luckily there were no cops on Huger street that morning.

I get a little concerned at the packet pickup because some elementary school team leader is having a breakdown because they couldn’t find their packets. Seriously, I thought I was going to have to order some Haldol and Ativan. Luckily, I got out of there quickly because the line started backing up. Did a couple of laps around the huge parking lot as a warmup. There is a nice crowd, but my trophy hunting sense feels there isnt much competition. I dont recognize hardly anybody.  Pete and Gasque are there to double dip. Plexico has won this race like every year for the past decade so he was there. Diesel, Jen , Brady and Brooke were representing for Team Ward. Joe and Luke Naylor, Crystal Cordoba and Team Robertson is one board. Dave Hale is in full Velocity Distance Project regalia and is also double dipping.  And who strolls up the last second…Ken “damnit dont call me vowels” Vowles. Vowles has made it his mission this year to take full advantage of my gimp status and deprive me of age group points, and I unfortunately have been unable to stop him. Both he and Trophy destroyed me at a disastrous LRAH 10k last weekend. Did you notice no blog entry? Yeah too depressed and traumatized to recount.

We all gather at the start, and they have the PA system set up about 200 meters from the line. I can hear some of the speakers but figure someone will come up and fire the gun from the start. I’m turned around talking when I see Plexico say “I think they said go” and he takes off. I can barely turn around and almost get trampled because sure enough, somebody did. Most abrupt start ever. Fortunately Plex is the fastest and knows where to go, because the parking lot loop, which is usually coned off,  isnt really marked at all. Its over a half mile in the lot as we loop back towards the finish and head into the zoo. The large crowd has a very thin top end, as I expected, but I can already hear Vowles breathing down my neck like an oversized rabid monkey. Between Plex and our mini pack of pasty white 38 year olds, there appears to be only a few unknown guys in their early 20’s.  Things stay pretty static as we cross the bridge over to the botanical gardens. I would know my mile 1 split, but apparently I neglected to hit the start button on the Garmin in my haste not to die by stampede. I felt it important to educate Vowles about Mount Riverbanks, pointing to the ominous shadow of the mountain as we entered the trail portion. Total psychological warfare, Billy tisdale style. As soon as we start hitting the twists and stairs portion I blow past two of the 20 somethings, who probably were unaware of this hidden torturefest.  It starts out OK but the relentless climb starts killing me about 3/4 of the way up, and I get reduced to quarry crusher pace. Vowles uses this opportunity to climb down off my back and pass me. I am determined to keep him reined in. In reality though, I am crushed, because hills are where my gimp toe is the least noticeable. I have always been terrible at downhills, but especially post cliff. Vowles and I come out on the summit of Mt Riverbanks basically together and he suddenly turns off course. For a millisecond my dark passenger begs to let him go, but then I yell at him to go the other way. The mountain has one more little incline just to burn your legs one last time, before you fall off the other side. While the climb up is winding and gradual, the downhill is a complete freefall. I’m all legs and arms and trying desperately to not overstress my newly healed achilles. Vowles flies down the hill and puts a nice gap in between us. As soon as I’m back on the bridge I pick up the pace. Mile 2 is around this area by my memory but with no marker and no Garmin, I’m guessing. the next half mile is on the outskirts of the other side of the zoo. This is also what I call the elephant poop part of the course. Just when youre sucking wind on the last mile of a 5k, you get to get to inhale the eau de colon of 6 elephants. Fortunately I’m not one to hurl in races, but this area always gets to me. The elephant poop distracts me momentarily when I realize I’m tracking that Vowles kid down again. Oooh, I am totally going to pay him back for last week. I turn on the jets, but then we break out into the parking lot again and he just flat out dusts me. I’ve used that last half mile in the lot to blow by plenty of roadkill the last few years, but now I’m getting left for dead. I keep ramping it up to see if I can step a little further in the pain cave, but its not helping. Vowles almost catches the next two in front of us while I’m left to straggle behind by myself. I finish in 21:24 I think. Results aren’t up yet (i.e. this is not a Strictly timed race). I’m pretty sure I finished top 10 and 2nd in AG, but I guess we’ll see. I do know this is a lot slower than my 19:46 from last year, with just as hard of an effort.

Plex easily won the race despite going off course. He says he did about 18:30. Not sure on everyone’s times/finish without results, but Dave Hale wasnt that far behind me. Brady Ward crushed a sub 25 on this brutal course, so I’m sure he’ll PR on his next flat course. I stay to see most of the field finish before I take off for Judicata. Nice to have a 1.5 hour cushion this year instead of the 40 minutes or so from 2013.

Race#2 Race Judicata

Judicata has been around for at least a decade and is put on by the USC women in law, to benefit sexual trauma services of the midlands and the women’s shelter. This race is always a bit of a wild card. The race director changes every year and most graduate students dont have time to be regular runners/racers or race organizers, so there have definitely been some problems in the past. Last year it was a misdirect resulting in a 2.8 mile course. In 2009 we ran all the way to Rosewood and had to turn around for a 6k. And years past have featured 20 year age groups and a “50 plus” category that made our grandmasters level runners none too pleased.  But this years director, Michele Baxter, had reached out to myself and Gasque, and seemed genuinely interested in correcting the previous problems. So I had some hope things would be better. Whenever I get too critical of the law students, I think of the now defunct USC med school (my alma mater) race Strides for Strength, where the race ended after the director gave himself heat stroke in running his own race. Oh, and despite its problems Judicata has always had great swag – gift certificates to local restaurants.

I get to the race about 30 minutes prior to the start, but I can tell almost instantly that my trophy hunt has been sabotaged. For one, Vowles, basking in the endorphin glow of another victory, decides he cant get enough of beating down the blue shoes, and registers on site. Angel Manuel comes bounding in a moment later. Plex is back to defend his title and complete his double dip. Brandenburg suddenly is back racing again. Randall Hrechko, new CRC member Alex Wilcox, Arnold Floyd, Stephanie Dukes, Gasque and Poore are all on board to make this a very CRC and age group winner dense crowd. There is definitely a small crowd, but at least six of the above names and 2 of the 35-39ers could beat me. So much for phoning it in for an easy age group win.

The start was a touch late but I’m glad the race has gone to an official certified course, using the Hot Summer’s Night route. The start feels predictably rough. An hour or so is plenty of time to get tight and the 40 degree temps with wind don’t help. Still, I’ve found the second race of double dips to not be as bad as they might seem. I’ve actually run the 2nd race faster on most occasions. About a half mile in and I’m feeling pretty good. Vowles is close behind me. Ken’s wife Colleen is at one of the corners, offers me some lukewarm words of encouragement before laying into Ken about being behind me. I hear Ken saying he’s “pacing himself”.  Great.  The course has some long straightaways and a mile in I can still see the lead car. An African looking guy actually is giving Plex the beatdown, whcih I’m sure he wasnt prepared for. Behind him is another guy I dont know, then Brandenburg. Hrechko and Alex Wilcox are locked into an epic battle, running virtually side by side. And then there’s me, trying to maintain a sense of pace. The toe is slightly tighter this go around but not too bad.  For awhile I sense some distance between me and Vowles, but at the turnaround just before mile 2 I can hear him again.  I am trying really hard by now, but my lack of endurance is starting to catch up to me again. I’m glad to see the course marked well this time, so at least this will be a legit distance. The rabid elephant behind me is getting closer and making grunting noises. I remember the last turn as being 0.39 miles from the finish, because I am an incredibly obsessive running nerd, and because this is where I usually kick it in. Unfortunately, Ken uses this turn to burn past me. NOT AGAIN. I hang with him most of the way there, but I’m running on fumes and his kick is too good. Colleen has come back to watch the finish. I look over and she she gives me a sheepish look and says “Sorry”. Oh, the shame. I finish in 20:38, 4 seconds behind Vowles, 3rd in AG and 9th overall.

OK, so I guess this is payback from last years triple dip and my shaming of the Trophy on facebook and this blog afterward. I now feel your pain, Trophy. On the bright side, this is my second road race back from my achilles nightmare of January, and at least I didnt reinjure myself. All this shaming is providing me some motivation to get back to my old form too.

Sango Assante was the winner over Plexico. He’s from Moncks Corner but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen his name before – I think the Runway Run where he battled Eric Ashton. I’ll have to check this. Plex still ran a 17:44 on double dip legs. Third pace went to Rick Southard, whom I’ve never seen race before. On the women’s side, it remained a trophy hunt. 49 year old Karla Cummings won in 23:16, followed by Kathryn Ryan and Allison Truitt.  Masters went to JB and Meredith Mona. In the age groups, Alex Wilcox easily took the 25-29.  Angel won my age group, followed by Ken. Stephanie Dukes won the 40-44 and is poised to break 30. Hrechko barely edged out the 45-49 competition by a mere 9 minutes. Dave Hale broke 22 minutes en route to winning the 50-54 and claiming the double dip. Alex Ponamarev and Pete Poore finished 1st and 3rd in the 60-64, while Arnold Floyd ran a 23:31 at age 71 to win his age group. John Gasque completed his double dip but somehow got squeezed out of the AG, as I almost did.  Double dippers included Plex, Ken, Dave,  Albino Sasquatch, John and Pete. Very happy with the changes Michele made this year to the race, hopefully this will help Judicata grow again.

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