Lets first say that the fact that this event exists is a minor miracle. The former Columbia Marathon was officially declared dead in October last year, which was all of about 4 months and change from the race date. Most 5ks have more planning time than that, so I had already chalked this race up as a loss. There was an immediate surge from the running community to get the marathon back, but we were all thinking that this would assuredly mean a restart in 2015. I mean no one can put together a city marathon in 4 months, right?
Enter Jesse Harmon. My only recollection of Jesse was from one of my many wrecked trophy hunts, where he beat me in 2010 to win the ridicuously poorly attended Kiwanis 5k out in Lexington. Yes, I realize there are more important things to remember, but your name will be forever etched in my mind if you deprive me of my precious trophies. At any rate, he and his Run Hard organization (An after school running program for boys, analagous to Girls on the Run) swore that they would bring the marathon back to life in 2014. I admit – my first reaction was probably something like “good luck with that”. But damned if he wasnt enthusiastic about it. Not more than a month into the process he was recruiting a ton of volunteers, reaching out to the Columbia Running Club, securing sponsors and getting the police to approve the course. Wow, dude is serious.
So 4 months later, here it is. No idea how he put this thing together, because I know he has a wife and kids. He is a youth pastor so he probably had some divine intervention for sure. Just an amazing feat.
My plan all along was to field another relay team to defend Team Blue Shoes – Columbia Running Club’s win from 2013. We blazed a 2:48 last year, mostly on the backs of our beasts Angel Manuel, the Code and Derek Gomez. But Angel was doing the full marathon this year, Gomez had a cross country meet that morning and the Code said he was also doing the full. Suddenly I was the only returning member. And I was the slowest from last year, when I was also in the top shape of my life and hadn’t kissed the Hawaiian lava rocks at 20 mph. But if Jesse could resurrect the marathon than surely I could scrape together a team in a month. Spence and Trophy jumped in right away, and then we were able to secure my pale 38 year old archnemesis, the Vowles. OK, so we werent Nirvana, but at least we were the Foo Fighters. And I was still the slowest.
I had gotten the final relay email this past week, and it was looking good. Sure, I didnt recognize a lot of the teams, but none of them were racing teams and I figure we could hold our own with guys like “Team Sloth”, so the trophy hunt was still on. Even with some competition, I figured we were all solid age groupers and Spence was our 25 year old ringer. But then the expo happened. In comes Randy Finn all excited about a last minute mens relay team that Strictly was putting together. Him, Hedgecock, Steven Johnson and Coach B. The trophy hunt was officially flushed. At least we wouldnt get epically chicked by the women’s team though.
I got to the race my customary hour in advance and gave Trophy his bib. Spence showed up and was planning to warm up to Brennen Elementary…except it was 5 miles away and he didnt know where it was. Oh jeez. I guess he eventually figured it out. I was scheduled for the first 5.1 mile leg, Spence for the 8 mile 2nd, Tyler for the 5.1 mile leg 3 and Vowles for the last 8. Pretty good crowd on hand. Dean Schuster and Winston were handling pacing duties along with Kristin, Drew Williams, Rick, Larry Jourdain, Brad Marlow and others. Angel, Plexico, Bishop, Jen Ward, Jen Lybrand, Randy Hrechko, Joyce, Israel, Linn Hall, Jeff Godby, Mary Howk, Mike Compton, Joe roof, Anita Recchio, Usa, Carol Caulk, Mike and Kat Hudgins, Jesse Smarr, and Greta Dobe were all out for the half or full. I didnt see the 5kers since they started 30 minutes after.
I lined up front row because my melon head cant take the fact I’m significantly slower. I took off fast at the start because I still think none of the last 8 months happened. It doesnt matter in the opening mile because its awesome. Mostly flattish couple of blocks around the state house and hunter gatherer/Sandy’s hot dog area before turning on Blossom for a freefall down the Gov Cup finish. It’s probably high 30’s at the start so my toe is pretty locked up, but all the adrenaline and the downhill helps. As the mile 1 marker nears around Maxcy Gregg park, Steven Johnson is still not too far ahead. Surprisingly, Erin Miller, who I knew to be doing at least the half, is destroying both of us already. I hit mile one in 6:20ish. Whoops. I was supposed to shoot for 6:45. And I’m already starting to suck wind. Not good. Some guy doing the half starts asking me about the relay, the gist of which is “ISN’T THAT CUTE, YOU DOING THE RELAY. WOW I’M SO MUCH FASTER THAN YOU”. Let’s just say he is lucky the baton is only plastic. I wanted to pull a Gilooly to his knees. About 1.25 miles in is the left turn onto the Saluda mountain. Its just soul crushing. Fairly steep and a half mile long, I knew it would be brutal. And it was. I’m getting passed big time. Even hot marathon girl in microshorts cant motivate me to go any faster. I saw Shufy at the “summit” taking pics and I tried to pose, but I wanted to just crawl into the fetal position and die. Thankfully there is a left turn off of Saluda onto Heyward that leads you into Shandon, which is a steep downhill. Instead of flying down the hill, I was stomping down trying to catch my breath. Jeff Godby, who is doing the half, passes me, followed by Linn Hall. OK, nothing shameful to be passed by these guys but I’ve got way less than half their distance. Pretty depressing for me. But at least Shandon brings back some flatness and I’m able to hold off the tide of people blowing by me. Steven and Erin are now out of sight. The one good thing is that I havent seen any more batons, though my paranoia is that they have them tucked away in some layer of clothing. Yes, I need some of my own meds. It seems like an eternity before we reach Kilbourne, because the fast start has rendered me completely useless to mount my usual negative split charge. Somehow I’ve forgotten that Kilbourne has hills, but damned if there arent some nasty little inclines. Once we pass Devine street there’s a mile left. I’m trying to speed up but there’s not much left in the tank. Until I hear talking couple. Suddenly right behind me is a couple chatting it up. And they are dangerously close to passing me. I even hear them mention the relay and get quieter (note: this may be my oxygen deprived brain causing psychosis). This awakens my dark passenger and I kick it into some unknown gear, exploring new sections of the pain cave that I’ve never spelunked. I’m making Devereaux street my bitch the best that I can, but she comes up and slaps me with one final hill just before Brennan Elementary. I round the corner in a haze of death and I can hear the band blasting some mid 90’s cover tune and Spence screaming at me. Total headless chicken to the finish. We pass the baton like its the olympic 4×100. Full running start and everything. Almost right at 34 minutes, 2 minutes slower than last year. I’ll take it though, because I’ll be damned if chatty couple was taking me down!
I find Shannon who confirms we are running second behind Strictly, so my paranoia was luckily just that. Not more than a minute later comes Leyden Hane of the 621 ninjas “Pardon my Fartlek” team. They are a coed team but pretty fast. I’m hopeful we can hold them off now that the blue shoed liability is done. I recovered and took pictures for about 15-20 minutes or so, but was soon faced with having to get back to the start. I debated several times about cutting it as short as possible (probably 4 miles) but eventually decided to experience the rest of the half course (8.1 miles) starting from just behind the 4:30 pace group. I was such toast I barely made any headway on the field for the first mile. It was interesting. Lots of run/walkers. One young guy was doing a weird pattern of taking off at sub 7 pace and then stopping to rest when he hit the mile marker. Everytime he saw me he started again, dodging through the 10 minute pace crowd. At mile 9 he was a little late and as soon as he took off I followed him. Because I’m an ass. A big one. Of course after I managed to pass him I had to then slog up Trenholm hill. Basically you turn left on to Trenholm at about 8.5 miles and its just one relentless incline to Gervais street about 1.5 miles later. My legs were hating me by this point and my toe was not liking the racing flats. Thankfully Sarah Blackwell and the hashers had their beer stop operational. It was probably just Bud Light or something but damned if it didn’t taste like heaven. Gervais street was kind of a haze. Twelve miles is my longest run since November and that was last weekend. The sun started beating down and it got a lot warmer. This was great weather for anybody else but I was hating this for the full marathoners. Three more nasty hills on Gervais, with the last one being the piece de resistance – a quarry crusher-eque 10 percent grade that I can only imagine what torture it must be at mile 23 on the second lap. I flirted with the idea of cutting the last loop off and going straight to the finish, but I decided to gut it out so I could get in the full 13.1. This is actually the best part of the course – pretty flat with an awesome finish down Main Street, through the Soda City market and finishing at the State House. Probably not as good if its only your first lap, but I was plenty happy to see it. Colleen (Ken’s wife) gives me this evil look, similar to the one she gave Ken at Judicata last week when he was behind me. Apparently I’m not going fast enough. Turns out she had missed Spence and thinks I’m phoning in the relay at 9 minute pace. You’d think she would know by now I never race less than 1000 percent effort. Turns out Spence absolutely crushed the 8 miles at 6:27 pace which pretty much sealed the 2nd place. Trophy actually got taken off guard and had to sprint to the exchange zone.
Now it was just a waiting game. The marathon finish was exciting with an epic battle of the Justins. Justin Gillette, last years winner and winner of 73 other marathons, was nearly taken by our own Justin Bishop. The two were apparently together until just after the Gervais hill, when Gillette threw the hammer down and took the race by a minute. Hedgecock had the anchor for Strictly and they easily took home the win in 2:50. I was hoping we might get a sub 3, but Ken came into view just after, and we took 2nd in 3:01:50 – still sub 7 pace on this super hard course. Really proud of the team with the performance!
Turns out we had a 35 minute cushion on the other men’s teams, but the coed division was much more competitive. USC Running Profs, Brie McGrievy’s team, ended up in first in 3:06. Brie told me they have some blazing fast guys. Fartlek , with Leyden, Shufy, Lee and Jennings placed third in 3:11.
In the marathon, Jim Cooper from NY finished third behind the two Justins in 2:53. The top 20 was almost all out of area except for the A Standard, but Ty Thomas finished a very impressive 16th with a 3:21. Angel finished 21st after having a rough finish. In masters, Usa Engelbrecht took home the win in just over 4 hours. In the 30-34 Jessica Workman took the win followed by Kristin Cattieu. Kenneth Ebener won the 40-44, while Pam Rodriguez placed third. Pam Griffin finished third in the 45-49. In the 50-54, Jonathan King took the win followed by Howie Phan. Mike Griffin completed a good day for Team Griffin with 3rd in the 55-59.
In the half, Sango Assante came up from Moncks Corner again to vanquish Ryan Plexico for the second consecutive week. Erin Miller was on pace to easily take the women’s win but took a wrong turn at mile 12 and cut the course short. She actually disqualified herself even though she would have been the winner. Classy move – must have been really tough. Linn Hall took 3rd behind Caroline Peyton and Becky Younger. Joyce Welch was glad that Linn is one week short of 40 as she picked up the masters win in the middle of a training run. Jeff Godby and Randy Hrechko took 2nd and 3rd among masters men.
In the half age groups, Jennifer Lybrand crushed the 25-29 with a 3 minute PR in 1:36. PRing on this course is nuts and probably means she could go 1:34 or lower on a flat route. Mark Tibshrany won the 30-34 men while Jessica Chiu won the female division. Drew Williams won 2nd in the 35-39 as a 3:05 marathon pacer. Jennifer Glass crushed the 40-44 for the win with Betsy Long finishing 3rd. Matt Buffum took 1st in the 45-49 with Jim Fadel 3rd. Anita Recchio won her 45-49 age group also as a training run. A trio of speedy CRC ladies in the 50-54 with Lisa King taking the win over Coleen Strasburger and Sandy Smith. Larry Bates placed 2nd in the 55-59. Neil Derrick, Mike Compton and Jack Kuenzie swept the 60-64, while Mary Howk won first in the women’s division with an incredible 8:08 pace. Shawn Chillag placed 2nd in the 65-69 in bright green hair, making USC’s Internal Medicine department proud.
In the 5k, looks like Jason Dimery barely made it to the race on time, but easily won in 17:47. Brandenburg took 3rd in 19 flat, while Parker Roof finished just behind in 4th. Will Brumbach and Geary McAlister also placed in the top 10, with Geary winning masters as well. Among the women, Barbara Brandenburg just missed out on the win by 8 seconds to Kathryn Ryan. Maggie O’Toole took 3rd at age 15. John Gasque placed 3rd in the 55-59 while Alex Ponamarev did the same in the 60-64. Sharon Sherbourne took 2nd in the 60-64 women, while Ken Lowden won 1st in the 65-69 while doing volunteer duty as well. Wife Patti Lowden won the 65-69 women.
Overall, a great event and amazing it was put together in so short a time. Hope it will continue!