The Resurrection Run is a small 5k put on by a women’s church group the day before Easter. It borrows the Cold Winter’s Day course and even borrows Strictly’s infamous “flat and fast” tagline. Historically, its been all over the map in how many people show up for the race, since the date of the event changes from year to year (i.e. whenever Easter falls). They had over a 100 people in 2012 but usually 40-60. We’ve had it on the Tour de Columbia a number of years, but you’d be hard pressed to find out any additional publicity.
Which of course, makes it an excellent trophy hunt. The trophy conditions were excellent this weekend. Cold, rainy weather and about 4 other competing area races were a good bet to drive down registration. To boot, the Boston Marathon siphoned off quite a few of Columbia’s best runners (i.e last year’s champ Justin “the A standard” Bishop) . And, in Charleston, there was a tri going on, so that took care of Brandenburg – a perennial podium finisher at this race.
Despite the favorable chances of shiny metal trinkets, I was considering blowing off this race. I had done a bunch in a row, including 2 halfs in the past month, so maybe it would be good to rest.
But then Trophy told me Vowles was running. After an epic( and losing) battle with one of the three amigos last week, I wasn’t about to let the other one come in and steal some age group glory. I was in. Apparently the Trophy let the Pale Beast know, because I start getting trash talk texts in the middle of my easter bunny shopping at CVS. Oh hell no. Bring it, Beast.
Still, I wasn’t signed up, and hearing the steady rain when my alarm went off made me second guess leaving my warm, soft bed. But then I thought about the “crap weather” trophy hunting principle, and I figured I had to give it a shot. I had put in a solid month of weekly speed sessions with Team Utopia South on the track and hadn’t had a 5k to try them out.
I get there and its a trophy hunter’s dream. Pretty much a ghost town. Cold rain. Perfect. My Palmetto 200 teammate Julie was on hand for her first race since college, and she was all nervous like the first leg of the 200. But I had indoctrinated her into the Blue Shoes race addict philosophy, and suddenly the girl who ran with a timex by herself was sporting a new garmin, enrolled in the CRC, and had 3 races on her schedule for April. I was so proud.
We did a mile warmup and by the time we gt back it was still pretty desolate in the parking lot. Stephanie Dukes was on hand, unfortunately without her husband, who takes (literally) thousands of pictures when he comes to races. She had been hitting the TUS training pretty hard too and was looking to throw down a good time. CRC regulars Pete Poore, Alex Ponamarev and Brie McGrievy showed up, along with TDC age group winner Lisa King. Vowles showed up as promised, assuring the age group showdown.
There were “opening ceremonies”, complete with a group stretches and a 50 meter jog up a hill. These small races rock.
At the last second, Jesse and Lisa Smarr showed up, along with James Hicks, so at least we had a solid CRC contingent to what was looking like a very small race – 40 -50 tops. As we all strode up to the start line I took a good look around. No singlets (except for the Pale Beast), no lean looking elite types. Oh dear God….this wasnt for age group glory. This was for the holy grail, the ultimate achievement for the trophy hunter – the overall win.
The race starts as 3,2,1..HE’S ALIVE! and we’re off. Sure enough, I take off up the hill with Vowles on my back and instantly it gets very quiet. No one is following us. Wow. The total Eric Ashton experience..if Eric was about 80 pounds heavier, 5 shades paler and hell of a lot slower. And he usually doesnt have the Pale Beast breathing his neck like a rabid bear taking down his prey. Vowles is right on my shoulder the first half mile and then wisely slips behind my sizable wake, letting me take all the wind and pacing duties.
It occurs to me that maybe I should race this tactically, as in doing just enough to beat your opponent. I consider this for a while and we hit mile 1 at 6:36, which is slower than I wanted but not too terrible considering the two decent climbs early on (one right at the start). I suddenly realize that this won’t work. Vowles has a killer finish, even besting the legen..wait for it..dary Blue Shoe kick at times. We get into a sprint at the end and its anyone’s race. I decide, like Drago from Rocky IV, I must break him.
But when and where? I have no idea. By this time I’ve kicked up the pace a notch but Vowles is still there just a few steps behind. Then we get to “the hill”, a nasty long incline at least a quarter mile long at about the 1.5 mile mark. I have no idea how Ken is on hills but its my relative strength (paradoxically, considering how much freight I have to tow). I’ve already commenced the wind suckage but I figure this is my chance. I attack the hill hard, and although it about kills me, it has given me some separation. I’m too afraid to look back. I suck on downhills but I try to power down the next one because I can still hear the Pale Beast behind me. Mile 2 then beeps but I’m too afraid to even look at the split.
Here it is – the holy grail – a mile away and symbolic retribution for that platform walker, the hours on the couch, the MRIs, the x rays, and all the frustration and pain. At the Resurrection Run no less. On the course where the race addiction started in December ’08. Time to throw down – hard.
Oh, and it sucks. I start stumbling deep into the pain cave, but I can feel the improved strength of all the speed training. As I turn the corner with a half mile to go, I am completely redlining it. striding out, headless chicken style. The taste of lung and death is now being matched by the pure euphoria of the finish line approaching. I still have a whisper of fear of Vowles coming to get me, but its not like I could give more effort anyway. The last stretch plunges you down a short hill and there’s the clock. 19:20’s?? Holy crap. I sprint it out and cross in 19:36, completely spent. 6:04 last mile, 5:19 pace last tenth. 1st overall.
Yes it may be a race of 44 people, only 25 of whom broke 40 minutes, but I’d totally be lying if I said I wasn’t giddy as a freaking schoolgirl. Overall win with a post-cliff PR? With a victory over the Pale Beast? It was poetic. Everything is awesome.
I suck wind for at least 30 seconds and I’m unfortunately too gassed to catch a photo of Vowles finishing in 20:12. This is probably his best time in the last few months, but as he put it “the most unsatisfying 2nd place ever”. I seem to have had similar feeling when he double dipped/double blue shoed me back in March.
Thrilled for Julie, who captured the women’s win in 21:45. Must be nice to race for the first time in 6 years and take the overall. I should have known since she introduced me to her theme song at the 200
Lots of trophy hunting in the small field, but some fast times nonetheless – Lisa King took women’s masters in a sub 25 performance. James Hicks placed 2nd in AG with a strong 23:47 and 5th overall. Brie McGrievy had a girl ruin her trophy hunt (Trameka Persaud – finished 4th overall in 23:40, never seen her race before) but still took home 2nd in AG, 9th overall in 25:53. Stephanie “Stevie D” Dukes crushed her age group and just 2 painful seconds short of a sub 30. Lisa Smarr took the 50-54 by 13 minutes, which is less time than she gave herself to show up and register for this race! Jim Manning took the 55-59, while Alex Ponamarev and Pete Poore went 1-2 in the 60-64. Jesse Smarr won the 70-98.
Finally I get a chance to come back to the Palmetto Half. This race is near and dear to me as it is run on my “home course”. Like the roads I run every time I step out of the house. In fact, the Blue Shoes homestead lies just a few steps from the 7.5 mile mark on this route through Village at Sandhill, the Woodlands and Wildewood. Ken Calcutt, the race director, is a friend and the leader of my Sunday morning marathon training group, a ragtag bunch of age groupers that meets at o dark thirty out in Blythewood.
And most importantly to my grandiose, shallow ego , it was the site of one of my greatest racing triumphs – a glorious 14 minute PR in 2010, Palmetto’s first year.
I came back again in 2011 in a windy, nasty day that was the exact opposite of my previous year’s race, and I gave back 6 minutes. Then, the Palmetto 200 started trying to back their date up and coincided with this race the last 2 years. This year, the 200 decided to go even 2 weeks earlier, and while it messed up my chances to repeat at the Bunny Hop (surely I could have taken Justin Bishop down) it did allow me to come back home (literally) to this race.
As anyone who knows me, I am definitely not a distance specialist. The shorter the race the better I get. I’ll take anyone in a 200 or 400 meter race. Beyond that, the suckage begins. And a half is pretty far from a lap around a track. That being said, I actually have tended to do better in this distance than my kryptonite, the 10k. The half requires you to go fast, but somewhere in that “comfortably hard” range, i.e. not the whirlwind of torture that is the 5k or 10k. In the past, I’ve been able to find a groove for the first 10 miles before blasting out the last 3.1 as hard as I can go. Unfortunately I couldnt find a flat and fast half since the Charleston race in January 2012, where I painfully missed out on my sub 1:30 attempt (1:30:22). I was just contemplating coming back to Charleston in 2014 before that split second in Hawaii that cost me most of last year.
So this was my first chance to try the half marathon as a race since then. The Newberry half was a nice confidence builder – basically a 10 mile hard training run followed by a 5k as hard as I could go after that. That produced a 1:39, so I figured I could target 1:35ish for a race half at this point.
And who better to pace around 1:35 than the Trophy. Trophy is a human half marathon metronome. He has probably raced 10 of these things, and I think about 80 percent have been 1:34:xx. I think his last two were literally like 9 seconds apart. I almost bought him this race shirt:
That’s pretty damn close when you consider you’re out there for 90 minutes. So I figured I’d glom on to him like white on rice and see where the Trophy could take me.
The week leading up to the race kind of sucked. I decided a great way to celebrate spring after last week’s Climb the Clay was to wear my old battered pair of flip flops. My left toe, which had been so nicely quiet of late, decided to scream at me, something about taking the brunt of a 20 foot fall about 9 months ago. Yeah, it was sore as hell all Sunday. Felt better on Monday so I decided to reward my toe with a brutal 7 x 800 interval session with Team Utopia. The toe was beat into submission, but then Mr. IT band decided to speak up, first time since the Richmond marathon. After another obsessive Tuesday run, I decided to shut things down the rest of the week lest I ride the injury train straight into an extended layoff.
By the time Saturday morning rolled around, neither toe nor IT band seemed 100 percent, but I figured I could take it out easy and see if I needed to bag it. At worse, I figured I could just drop at 7.5 miles and walk 50 feet home.
I showed up about 45 minutes early and did about a mile or so warm up with Trophy, Spence and Syd. Trophy was ready to go with his “new” Trophy shirt, which he was afraid to wear for 4 months since he was “too fat and too slow”. Hey, never stopped me. Lots of familiar faces – the Yerg, Jeff, Lucia, Ilia, Mike Compton, Julia Early, Stephanie Dukes and Sheila joined Syd and Spence from Team Utopia (with Ashley doing the 5k), J-Lybrand, Linn Hall and MC Cox were representing from the SR elite ladies. Tommy Kahaly, Brad Marlow and Larry Jourdain were there from the A-team. Hrechko, Howie, Larry Bates, Mr and Mrs Diesel, and Alex Wilcox were also some of the people I saw at the start, but tons more regulars were in the crowd judging from the results.
With the start, I saw Omar Sharif take off like a bullet and Yerg and Spence were up near the front immediately. There had been a mini facebook pissing match earlier in the week about who would win between Trophy, myself and Syd. Syd apparently was taking it to heart because she took off like a beast immediately out of the gates. I was already locked on to Trophy in mile one, and surprisingly it was me doing all the complaining. Debbie Downer was in full effect early on. It was too warm, I wished I had switched to the 5k, we’re going too fast….wah wah wah. We hit mile 1 in 7:23, which was pretty much right where we wanted to be. Cresting the overpass over Two Notch, I could see Omar striding out and ditching the rest of the field by almost a quarter mile already. Damn.
After the overpass is a brief stretch on Two Notch followed by rolling hills in the Woodlands all the way to mile 4. Cruising down the long hill on Valhalla road reminded me of how much this would suck in another hour or so going up the other way. Trophy was getting a little frisky but I made sure I was riding him like a monkey (or perhaps oversized albino gorilla) on his back. For a long while we were running stride for stride with Jason Thompson, who was also in our high school class. Total Irmo High ’93 mini pack. Jason has been getting in pretty good shape and it took an epic effort at Get to the Green to take him down in the last mile. He actually started to drop us a bit as we left the Woodlands, crossing over Sparkleberry and heading into Wildewood, homeland of the Blue Shoes. I know Mallet Hill rd like the back of my hand and its pretty nice and flat. I was starting to hate life around then, just sucking more wind than I should. Plus, I must be slowing down because the Trophster and Jason are both starting to kick my ass. I start entering into Debbie Downer mode again and the “go home” option is seeming more attractive. I’m in the middle of my depressive ruminations when all of a sudden I look up and damn it if Trophy hasnt gotten a major bug up his arse and decided to leave me for dead. OK, I must be slowing down hardcore. Mile 5 pops up as 7:24 again so this is mildly encouraging,though the Trophy shaming is so painful for my giant head. As I start withdrawing into another funk, all of a sudden I remember Mr. Superfit. Mr Superfit is one of those soccer dads in Wildewood that could probably come out on a whim and take an age group. And I saw him at the start. The Superfits know I am president of the Columbia Running Club. No way in hell am I going to lose to that dude. Pick it up! I at least try harder after that realization but jeez, Trophy is another zip code even after my 7:18 mile 6. Who the hell slipped some crack in that guys corn flakes? At least Thompson is still reeled back in a little. Mile 7 passes in another 7:24 and then you face what I think is the nastiest hill on the course – Beaver Dam and Miles. Shorter than Valhalla but steeper, its just at a crappy point in the half when you can start to fade. It doesnt help that I face the same hill practically every day. It still sucks. I reach a low point coming out back onto Mallet Hill and go by my house. It takes a lot of willpower not to just call it a day right there, since the hill has sucked my will to live. But I actually start catching some people despite the fact I’ve definitely slowed down. Apparently the hill killed some other people besides me. The course then folds back on itself at about mile 8.5, so its good to start seeing some familiar faces in the crowd still heading out. Stephanie Dukes and Jennifer Tudor are rocking it out and even Merritt “McFraud” McHaffie (of quarry crusher video infamy) has decided to run this (on a whim, apparently). Mile 8 was by the slowest at 7:51 (with the hill) but heading back towards the finish and seeing the rest of the crowd is a morale boost. OK, time to make the pace at least luke warm again. I finally take down Jason after tracking him down for the last 3 miles. J-Lybrand is not too far ahead now, so I make an effort to keep her in my sights. I had opened a gap for awhile and then Barrett Boozer’s brother in law (I think) tracks me down and helps distract me for most of the run up to Mt Valhalla. I pass the mile 10 marker where Coach Phil is camped out, when all of a sudden I see Syd walking back and saying she feels faint. I struggle for a few seconds with whether I should stop to help, but we are right at the mile marker with volunteers so I continue on. Still feel a little guilty though. But at mile 10 is where I push all the chips in and go for it like a 5k. I power up Valhalla, sucking some serious wind but taking down Lybrand in the process. I am running scared the rest of the way fearing she will repay the favor. By the time I get back to Two Notch I am hurting pretty bad, but its only 1.5 to go from there. I’m half delirious but I see Wilcox up ahead and try and take him down. I try not to look like a headless chicken in front of Kenzie and Erin, who are camped out near mile 12, but I’m not doing a very good job. No points for style. But Wilcox is getting reeled in. The overpass to Clemson is just cruel, like Newberry’s finishing mountain or Blossom street at Gov Cup. OK not that bad, but it hurts. I thought I saw Trophy on the bridge but I cant tell between the blinding sunlight and my oxygen deprived brain. Wilcox is just 10 feet away at the top of the overpass, but then he pulls a major Emeril and kicks it up a serious notch. I got nothin. The bridge was triumphant in 2010 but I am dying this year. Pace has dropped to sub 7 and my legs are toast. I’m hating all those low mileage weeks about now. But who knows, maybe Lybrand, Jason or , God forbid, Superfit may be lurking just behind. No way, dude. I burn it to the finish and see 1:36’s on the clock, and flail around some more to get it under 1:37. Official finish 1:36:46.
OK, not the 1:35 I had hoped, but 3 minutes faster than Newberry and on no half -specific training, so I’m good with it. Nowhere near an age group, and yes, I got wickedly, viciously Trophied. Take a wild guess at Lady McGaha’s finish time. Shocker, its 1:34. 1:34:50 to be exact, apparently with a crazy kick that took down Randy and almost nipped Howie at the line (same finish time). Congrats Trophy, you straight up kicked my ass.
Omar brutalized the field in 1:14 and took the race almost 11 minutes. That’s almost two miles ahead of everyone. Nuts. Larry Massey and Mr. Jourdain also made all of us under 50 look awfully slow, taking 2nd and 3rd overall in 1:25. In the women’s race, Heather Costello took 1st in 1:26, with MC Cox taking 2nd in 1:28. In female masters, Linn Hall celebrated her recent 40th birthday my taking 1st, with Sharon Cole placing 2nd.
Spence took 1st in the 25-29, with Wilcox taking 3rd. Lybrand took 2nd on the female side with a 1:37. Yerg was disappointed with his 1:27 but still good for 2nd in the 35-39 men. Flicker was pacing someone else but ended up 3rd in the 40-44. Julia Early took 2nd in the 40-44 women while Hrechko placed 2nd in the 45-49. Brad Marlow finished 1st and Howie 3rd in a brutal 50-54. Coleen Strasburger and Lisa King did the same in a similarly tough women’s 50-54. Larry Bates easily took the men’s 55-59. Brigitte smith placed 3rd in the 60-64 while Jan Hardwick and Shawn Chillag went 1-2 int he 65-59. Jesse Smarr took 3rd in the 70+.
In the 5k, a familiar trio took the top3 with Jason Dimery, Parker Roof and Brandenburg sweeping the overall. Wait, did JB just get trounced by a 14 year old? Ouch. It’s OK JB, he would have beat me down too. Barb and Sue Porter went 1-2 in female masters. Ashley took down the 25-29. J-Reeves took 2nd in the 45-49. Lisa Smarr won the 50-54, while Alex Ponamarev captured the 60-64.
Oh, and Superfit finished 10 minutes behind me. Crisis averted!
Climb the Clay is actually a renaming of the old Earth Fair 8k, because apparently the Earth Fair festival at Saluda Shoals is no more. I actually always got it confused with Earth Fare, a crunchy grocery store that was my main stop for the best beer on the planet, Reissdorf Kolsch.
My main fear with the festival going defunct was that the race would too. Columbia has so many races that its hard for some to exist, especially when spring or fall hits and there’s like three every weekend. I still mourn the loss of the Falcon 5k, Strides for Health and the Labor Day fitness challenge, but some years the organizers decide “Aint nobody got time for that” and call it quits.
But not this race. Which is cool because this is one of the better trail races in the area. The race director Smith Harden apparently didnt know squat about racing to start off (by his own admission) , but he has fine-tuned this race over the years into a really nice one. Interesting course, well-marked, and timely awards – plus a cheap 20 dollar advance registration rate.
It’s also a great trophy hunt. The field is usually relatively small (i.e. 50-70ish) and the race is often held on a popular weekend with lots of other competition. I think it had to go up against the Palmetto Half last year which really hurt it and made me fearful of race death. But this year was better. Most race organizers avoid the Cooper River weekend, fearful it will suck away all their potential runners. Sure it will take some, but there’s often been bridge run weekends with virtually no races in the area. I’ve always thought this to be golden opportunity for a local race to step in and avoid what usually is a brutally competitive environment for races in the spring. Climb the Clay decided to test the bridge run weekend waters this year.
Which apparently paid off, because they had a record number of runners this year. They also provided online registration, which helps, because its not 1985 anymore. They used go-green, which, although I am a bit of a Strictly loyalist, is nice to provide a participation list. This list is a trophy hunter’s dream, because you can scout the whole field at a glance. One look on Thursday showed that the fastest guy on the list was Ken Vowles. What? It was totally on like Donkey Kong. No way I was going to let my archnemesis claim this glory, and quite possibly the holy grail – the overall win. I had already imagined a Duel in the Sun between two pasty thirty something dads battling it out in Saluda Shoals. I texted him to make sure he was prepared for such an epic showdown.
But then I saw on facebook that Brandenburg and Robbie “OG” McClendon were going to run it too, so that pretty much eliminated the holy grail. Still an outside chance at the top 3 and there’s always the 35-39 AG up for grabs.
I got to Saluda Shoals and it was beautiful weather – a little on the warm side even. When your last weekend involved 2 runs in tropical storm like downpours, you will take 65 and sunny all day. A nice crowd was on hand – Ted Hewitt, the OG, JB and Barb, Sarah Blackwell, Joe and Luke Naylor, John Richards, Wes Spratt , Dina Mauldin and of course the Vowles were all representing. Meg Weis decided to come out after me, JB and OG hijacked her facebook post the day before about not doing the bridge run this year.
The course was switched up this year so we were actually starting the race right near the finish line instead of up the road near the river center. With the start JB and OG surged ahead immediately, while I tried to hold back. I know I still dont have my endurance back, and trails have a way of sapping my energy in way that the roads just dont do. I settled into a pack with the Vowles, Meg and Ted in the first mile. Ted was getting a bit frisky and was slowly gapping us while Meg and I traded places a few times. Garmins are always suspect on the trails but hit mile 1 in 7:24, which was about what I was expecting with all the twists and turns. I kept waiting for “IT”, i.e. “THE CLAY”, the nasty monster of a hill in the middle of Saluda Shoals for which this race is named. I mentioned this to Vowles who thought I was engaging in psychological warfare, ala my March for Meals strategy. OK, maybe I was. Finally I see OG way up ahead start trucking upward and I realize its coming soon. The OG has already seemingly put a quarter mile on our mini pack. A couple of turns later and bam – there it is. The clay monster rising suddenly out of the forest. Low 7 pace turns into a crawl as I awkwardly try to scale up this beast. There is no cool way to do this. I’m pretty sure I looked like a blue backed albino spider escaping from the light. Thankfully all the deluge from last weekend has dried and its not nearly as bad as in years past. That doesnt mean my legs dont feel like theyve been dipped in a hot lactic acid bath by the time I reach the “summit”. First wind suckage commences and Vowles decides to drop my ass. Meg takes the hill hard and is already talking about having a crap race. I wish I could do that and still have first overall, which was exactly her position at the time.
I started settling into a major debbie downer funk at about this point. Just couldn’t get comfortable and Ken and Ted were leaving me for dead. Started thinking about how bad I suck on trails, how the inertia of the giant melon and sasquatch physique make it hard to turn all these tight corners, how the warmth and humidity sucked, how maybe my training wasn’t paying off..Wah wah wah .
As we hit the 4k point (CTC is the only race I know using metric markers) we finally hit a fairly long stretch on flat pavement, which couldn’t have come at a better time. I was able to stretch out and seemingly flush out some of the lactic acid bath from the clay mountain. Meg was having a rough day and I think I left her at this point. I could see Ted and Ken in the distance with one 30 something looking race-shirt wearing dude in between. I was about to go from fighting for the holy grail to barely getting third in age group. Wah wah wah. Once we finally hit some more woods, I was feeling better and started trying to pick up the pace. I managed to catch up with race shirt guy who was hardcore boxing me out on the trail. I tracked him down like a rabid monkey until I found an opening and totally off trailed it elephant stampede style. He tried riding my tail for awhile but I pulled an Emeril and kicked it up a notch until I couldn’t hear him. I was pretty close to phoning it in after this, but I finally looked up after a technical trail stretch to see Ted and Ken noticeably closer. We hit a clearing and I threw down a hard surge. Just before another woods section, the Vowles must have noticed a blue blur and looked back. Oh, its on now. Another notch got kicked up as I chased Ted and Ken through the woods and caught them just as we hit a paved area. As soon as I pass them I’m already worried I expended too much energy catching them. Its at least a mile and a half to the finish. Oh well – the chips are already pushed in and all I can do is hold on for dear life. I pass the 6k sign and my rough, oxygen deprived metric conversion in my brain says there’s about 1.2 miles to go. I catch a glimpse of someone up ahead. Its the OG! Apparently I can be running completely on fumes but the mere faint possibility of me blue shoe-ing someone jolts me into action. I’m slowly gaining on him but I know he can sense the finish too. The OG’s kick is legen…wait for it..dary. I hardly ever get passed in the final quarter mile of any race, but the OG geezered me hardcore at the 2010 Get to the Green, producing this classic finish photo:
I was starting to make some major headway on OG when all of a sudden we came out into a clearing where you had to run along a bank and then onto a wooden bridge across a swampy area. If he didn’t know I was coming before he sure as hell could hear some elephant bearing down on him from the noise from the bridge. He’s not more than 20 meters from me now but since my cover was blown he is really getting it. Damn that kick. I am blasting it out now in full blue shoe mode but like Drago from Rocky IV, he must break me. And he does. Just cant find another gear and I’ve come up against a wall in the pain cave. I finish in 35:50 something, about 5 seconds behind the OG. Not too bad considering my suckage on the trails. Good enough for 5th overall and 1st in age group. My real prize was getting to capture Vowles’ finish on camera. It was beautiful.
This race is still old school on the finish, as they rent our 25 year old Columbia Running Club clock and do bib tags on a ring instead of chips. So I dont have results as yet. Good to meet TDBS reader Malechi at the finish line – good luck at the Quarry crusher! I know Brandenburg took the overall win followed by 2 guys I don’t know. Meg took the women’s win. Ted took his age group and 6th place overall, with Vowles next in 7th and 2nd in AG. John Richards took 3rd in AG. Sarah Blackwell had a brutal day with an IT band issue but still took home some hardware. OG took the masters win. Barb Brandenburg took at least at AG win if not masters. Wes also took home some age group glory. Joe and Luke Naylor each got an age group award – Luke had a tough day but ran all the way with our warm down group to the finish, picking up his dad along the way. That was awesome.
This is the race I swore I’d never do again in 2010. Forced into a walk of shame in the complete dark at 4 something in the morning, on one hour of restless sleep, after 20 miles of racing, seeing spots, and still having 3 miles to go, I was done. Never again.
I guess I lied – this now marks my fifth consecutive Palmetto 200.
Team Van on the Run was born back in 2009, when the Palmetto 200 first started their publicity for the inaugural event to be held the next year. Tour de Blue Shoes was merely me, “ColumbiaSC5ker” posting in the Runners World forums in the “Sub 22 5k” group. A random “MrSig” in the group turned out to be from Columbia and basically recruited me, sight unseen, to join the team he was putting together for the relay. Luckily this wasnt a Chris Hansen Dateline special and “MrSig” aka Brian Clyburn and his team turned out to be pretty normal and fun. And fast. Despite our complete hodge podge of local runners, we all rose to the occasion and turned in a very respectable 27 hours 55 minutes (8:18 pace) in our first try.
Over the years, people have dropped from the team, but Brian kept reloading with total beasts. Our once middling team got competitive quickly. 26 hours in 2011, 23:54 in 2012 and 23:56 in 2013. The 2013 time, with 7:13 pace, gave us the coed full team win, so we were coming back as defending champs.
Once having to carry the team, I was now more worried about them carrying me. Brian puts out his famous spreadsheet complete with paces, start/finish times, locations, degree of difficulty, phone numbers, etc. weeks before the event. The guy has this thing down to an absolute science. I mean how can someone be so obsessive about running? Oh wait..don’t answer that. He emailed me my pace of 7:30, which was 25 seconds slower than last year. I think he probably took last years time, multiplied by the new angle of my left toe, divided by the cliff height and came out with a post-Kauai corrective factor. I calculated everyone else’s pace from the spreadsheet and my suspicions were confirmed…I was slowest. My goal – to wreck that sheet and try and hit my 7:05 assigned pace in 2013 from “before the fall”.
A lot of the same crew was back from last year – Brian, David, Joel and myself were from the original 2010 team and all on our fifth consecutive relay. The Code, Connor, Brandon, Julie, Jen Clyburn, and Andy McNiece were on board for repeat performances. Local beast and blue ridge relay vet (but Palmetto 200 virgin) Drew Soltau joined Andy for “ringer/workhorse” duty. Our last recruit was a little dramatic. Thunder Dan got called in to a work emergency so we were down a member with about 48 hours to go. After some hardcore recruiting we were able to secure Ty Thomas to jump aboard. He’d have to meet us late, but he said he could meet us in St Matthews in time to run leg 12. Always nice to have another sub 20 5ker/Boston qualifier to come off the bench. Thanks to Trophy for also being willing to go.
A quick tutorial – the 200 miles are split up into 36 parts, called legs, varying from 1.7 to 10 miles. In the full team category, 12 members each run 3 legs. The 12 members travel in 2 vans, 6 per van. When a runner starts a leg, their van drives to the end of the leg and waits for the runner, who then passes the “baton” ( a slap wrist bracelet) to the next runner. The 12 runners can go in any order except you cant do consecutive legs.
The Palmetto 200 has a staggered start on Friday so that everyone will arrive in Charleston sometime in the afternoon the next day (Saturday). The teams with the slowest projected pace (usually 10 min/mile average) leave at 6 am. Our team of beasts now leaves at 12 noon. There seemed to be less competition this year since there were only 4 other teams leaving at our start time and only one after. Clemson has fielded some cross country teams that have crushed the rest of the field, even with as little as 6 members. They were leaving at 1:30.
FYI, 90 percent of the field doesn’t care about time. They are in it to finish and for fun. Crazy idea. These are the guys I see strolling up to the exchange zones, sharing reflective vests, taking walk breaks, smiling, etc. Our team does exchanges like the olympic 4×100. Mostly because we are a bunch of grandiose age groupers hell bent on a 24 hour trophy hunt. With us in the 12:00 start were the Banditos and the Rock Hill Striders, whose general theme is “50+ year olds than can kick your ass”. They included Geary McAlister, Howie Phan and new recruit Tracy Meyers. They also had a rogue 30 something guy that runs sub 3 marathons as their ringer. Luckily (for us) they were a few guys down and having to run at least 4 legs each. We were concerned about the “Flying Tiger Ninjas” in our start time, because we were afraid of another covert 621 Ninja late team trophy crushing entry (see also Columbia Marathon relay), but it turned out it wasn’t them.
When we arrived at the start area at the old Columbia speedway, things looked ominous. It was noon but pretty cloudy and dark. One look at the Weather Channel app and we were cringing. It appeared a tidal wave of green was about to crush us on the radar. This was going to get messy.
As a Van 1 member this year, we were first up. For years, I was driving Van 1 and let the El Capitan, his wife and Joel have the glory legs in Van 2 in Charleston. Why? Because Van 1 gets to start right away, has two nighttime (read: not hot) legs and most importantly, finishes in the early morning on Saturday (read: plenty of time to stuff your face on breakfast, rest and celebrate early). Brian gave me the glory leg (finish line) last year and unfortunately discovered the Van 1 secret. Its no coincidence he took Van 1 again in 2014. At least he let me, the team mascot sasquatch and resident gimp, back in Van 1.
Julie got the first leg this year – a lap around the speedway and then onto the course, 5.6 miles. To say Julie was keyed up about it might be a bit of an understatement. I think she was stretching and warming up for two hours. To her credit, the first leg is scary because everyone is watching and you really feel you are racing the other guys in your start group. I expected her to start way too fast, but she played it smart – letting three of the guys burn up the track, only to almost catch the second place guy at the finish. While we waited at the first exchange zone , Char Richards (wife of barefoot John) let us know John’s team already had a flat tire. I started having nightmares about the van/ditch incident of the 2012 Blue Ridge relay, so I made sure to remind Joel not to take Van 1 offroading. Julie passed off to Brian, and he tackled what I call the Dust in the Wind 10k (leg 2 – my leg in 2011). Its mostly on a very dusty dirt road through the middle of nowhere and under interstate 77. Brian rocked it out in less than 7 minute pace, but had the shame of the Strider ringer beating him and everybody’s tail on the leg, despite him being minutes behind everyone else at the start of the leg. Brian handed off to the Code. I didn’t know what to expect with the Code, he always seems to be battling some injury but refuses to stop running. He also hasn’t raced except for our training pace Newberry half last weekend. And this was 9.26 miles – the leg that about killed me in 2010 where I was half delirious and dehydrated with the heat (the old dates were a more summer-y 4/30-5/1).
Code absolutely destroyed leg 3. The Striders had a big lead on us and Howie (who has a 3:05 marathon PR) had been out on the course for a few minutes before the Code even started. I started getting ready for my leg (leg 4) when Howie came into view, figuring I’d have a few minutes. Um, try about 30 seconds. As soon as Howie comes into view, the Code comes rounding the corner. All of a sudden I realize I’m going to be virtually racing with Geary on my leg.
Geary is not more than 50 meters away when Code comes flying around the corner so fast we botch the bracelet handoff. I have all of 2.6 miles. This is the leg I viciously mocked the Trophy for whining about in his year. Like taking pictures of him collapsing at the finish, asking if he was feeling so fly like a two-six, etc. Until the next year, when I had it. Yes its short, but it is pure torture. You go all out in the flat and downhill start, especially because its your first leg and the distance is less than 5k, then you die a slow and painful death for the next 1.6 miles. See elevation profile below. In 2012 I went out in 6 minutes flat and was breathing so hard at the end I could taste my lungs. So I tried to rein it in. Did 6:30 this time, cruising along, thinking how I was going to make this hill my bitch this time. Geary was going to get tracked down. Oh yeah!….Uh, no. All the euphoria of the first mile turned south in a hurry because someone turned up the treadmill to 8 percent incline and wouldnt let me off. Dear God. I tried to power up this monster but it by halfway up it was all too apparent who was doing the bitch-making. My lungs and heart were having a boxing match as to who could escape from my chest first. Geary was destroying me. Pace was going to crap. What’s worse, no one sees you until you’re finishing, and all I could think of was me confirming my slow-gimp status by race facing it on a 2.6 miler. Well, I basically did. Had a 6:57 2nd mile and a wicked 7:15 positive split “kick” that looked and felt like I was giving birth. But hey, at least no one passed me.
I handed off to Joel who took off on a nasty 6.2 which went through an uncharted mountain range in central SC. I could describe it further but I was still panting like an injured wildebeest and delirious from my 4k. Brian had did some lineup shuffling and brought in Soltau to run leg 6. Why? Because only Jen was left in our van and you dont give leg 6 to your wife. In fact you don’t give leg 6 to anyone without apologizing profusely. It has a few miles similar to Joel’s mountain 10k just before the piece de resistance, “Mount St. Matthews”. It is impossible to fully grasp the magnitude of this monster in pictures, because it never seems to capture the pain and suffering that this thing creates. Because of the 8 mile length of the leg, it only shows up as a blip in the elevation profile. http://www.mapmyrun.com/us/oak-grove-sc/palmetto200-leg-6-congaree-baptist-churc-route-63086128
This is no blip, trust me. Despite the warnings, Soltau takes the bracelet from Joel and takes off in a full sprint. Not a “going out too fast” start. More like 4:00 pace. It was awesome because the other teams all had this WTF? look. We then journeyed to a school at St Matthews which is usually blazing hot, being out in the open. It was surprisingly cool, probably because of the clouds of the apocalypse on the horizon. I think we were just barely outrunning the storm. Some singlet wearing dude comes flying into the exchange zone next having left Drew for dead. He started a few minutes ahead and he must of done low 5 minute pace the whole time. Cruised in without even breathing hard. Drew follows a few minutes later, having rocked it out way below 7 pace despite all the mountain climbing. Jen then took the baton and crushed the shortest leg on the course, a 1.6 miler through St Matthews. She almost caught the older woman on singlet dude’s team despite being a half mile behind. The handoff went to David in Van 2 and we were officially off for several hours. We waited a little bit to pick up Ty, and dropped him off with the rest of Van 2 at the next zone. On to find some food.
There are many theories on relay nutrition strategy, but I am firmly in the “you need to eat real food” camp. I tried to subsist on crackers, gatorade and GU the first year, fearing GI disasters, but this most definitely did not work. I think we did Hardee’s thickburgers the next year, and while certainly creating nuclear grade portapotty moments, produced much better racing. Luckily, Brian is in the same camp and makes the awful Waffle, i.e. Waffle House, part of his relay ritual. I had already destroyed a 12 inch subway sub an hour before, so all I had was a day’s worth of caffeine with the bottomless “America (‘Murica?) the Beautiful” cup refilled by the ever present quick draw coffee pot waitress Tasha. The others threw down some serious grease, though balked at my suggestion to get the hash browns scattered, smothered, covered, chunked, diced, peppered, capped, topped and country. Lord help us what is in Bert’s chili.
By the time we had journeyed to the Santee Waffle House and arrived at Santee State Park (with a brief CVS side trip for Joel to get a toothbrush – because oral hygiene is critical when you dont shower for 36 hours) there wasnt a whole lot of time to relax. Our team was decimating the spreadsheet and we were close to a half hour ahead of schedule. But the tsunami of green on the radar had started to win the race. It started with some sprinkles at the Awful Waffle but it was coming down pretty steady by the time we were at the park. This was going to be a rough night. It had just started to get dark when Ty comes rolling in ahead of schedule and handed off to Julie for our second round (leg 13). She only had 4.2 miles so we high tailed it to Lone Star barbeque, site of my next leg, and also where I stuffed my face last year. Sooo good, by the way. Did I mention it was raining? It was. In freaking buckets. Joel held an umbrella for me at the zone but it was about 0.43 seconds before I was drenched head to toe after Julie handed me the bracelet. My leg was 5.6 miles right through the heart of downtown Santee. I was on a mission. Jacked up on three cups of Tasha’s finest Waffle House brew, I was going to put a major hurting on that 7:30 projected pace. Bedecked in the required Palmetto 200 nighttime couture of reflective vest, double blinky lights and headlamp, I went blazing down the main downtown drag in full beast mode. Mile 1, 6:42. It was a total monsoon.I was dodging lake-like puddles, jumping onto sidewalks, avoiding certain death from unaware locals barreling down main street at 55 mph. Bring it, bitches. Luckily we had caught some earlier teams by then and I just focused on the lights, Carol Ann. The leg was just a straight shot for most of the next 4 miles and almost completely flat. Pace faded into the 6:50’s but was holding steady. I knew the last half mile was a sudden turn off the highway and into a school parking lot, where the next leg would then turn around and go back. As soon as I was sure of the turn, the chips got pushed all in and the pedal hit the floor. Except they moved the zone a few hundred yards down the road from last year…DOH. But I could see the finish, and I could see another road kill in my sights, and I came in like a wrecking ball past the high school. Scared the crap out of a poor girl who is probably having nightmares about rampaging sasquatches this weekend. Passed off to Brian and finished in 37:23/6:49 pace. As soon as I finished and stopped tasting my lungs, I was a little frightened, because this was not leaving anything in the tank for leg 3. Fortunately I had the longest break of the relay scheduled before my last (and longest) leg – 11 hours. I knew I would need every second of it.
Brian then had a nine miler back on highway 15, crossing I-95 and ending just short of Holly Hill. I was completely wrecked but managed to recover by the time we reached the next zone, Target AME church, which rocks. Almost all of the exchanges are churches or schools but Target has awesome volunteers and a sweet locker room like bathroom set up. Perfect to defunk after running 5.6 miles in a complete downpour. I ran into Jenny Prather and Travis Cowan, who were also on Barefoot John’s team, First Losers. These guys are always positive, so definitely great to see them, especially when its dark, in the middle of the nowhere, in a complete monsoon. Andrew Touzel was also there with his team, so it was a total Columbia party going on. After getting marginally dryer, my stomach decided to wake up and demand to be fed ASAP. I had missed out on the Waffle feast but I figured I could get something in Holly Hill, site of the Hardee’s thickburger gorging of 2011. Brian crushed the nine miler like it was nothing (must be all that Boston qualifying and Mount Mitchelling) and handed off to Jen for her 5.6 miler. I told Joel to hit Hardee’s and we got there a few minutes before 10, where we got the silent treatment from the drive thru. Thanks guys. We then rushed down the road to the Subway which still had the door open. My sandwich artist told me sweetly “We’re closed” with eyes that said F$%K OFF!. So I was SOL with the food, since Holly Hill is not noted for their impressive selection of after hours cuisine. Luckily Julie had a virtual Sams club running in the back seat. I had some of her crackers and was praying the church that serves food in the middle of the night would be open again this year. Jen finished her leg under pace and handed off to Code, but said her calf was really giving her problems. Injuries are always scary in relays, because they can cause someone to do the dreaded 4th leg. I had to do one at Blue Ridge in 2011 and count it as one of my most unpleasant runs of all time. Fortunately the Code stepped up like a champ and traded in his last 3.7 mile leg for her last 7.5 mile one, before even doing his second leg. He is a better man than me. Joel was now out on the course doing his short and sweet 2.4 miler and the rain just seemed to get even more relentless. Joel said he had a fast start but a lousy finish..sounded a lot like my 2 miler. He passed off to Soltau as Brian had done a van switcheroo to let Drew take this 9.67 mile beast. At the end of his leg was the answer to my prayers. St Pauls was open with food. They were charging six bucks but I would have gladly given them 20 for the sandwich, chips, banana and a water. Best midnight dinner ever. After Drew arrived, Code was off for 3.75 to wrap up our 2nd round. It was around midnight and I think everyone was wrecked. I seem to remember Clyburn breaking into a solo danceathon to #selfie in the front seat. We declared it Joel’s new favorite song.
Code blazed through his leg and we then journeyed another 5 zones ahead to try and possibly get some sleep. I was worried because I usually camp out on the grass with my sleeping bag and pillow, as my gargantuan physique does not take kindly to sleeping in vans. This was clearly not going to happen this year with the rain. But when we got there I realized I could just about squeeze into my row in the van, so problem solved. Another major bonus is that it was completely quiet. Usually all the teams coming through, jacked up on coffee and GU, catch a bad case of loud talkeritis, between bouts of screaming. You could hear a pin drop this year though, as absolutely no one was outside with the rain just continuing to intensify. I remember seeing sheets of water coming down when I conked out for about an hour and a half. Awoken, not surprisingly, by even harder rain.
Brian is preparing for his leg 3 when there’s a flurry of texts and calls between him and Brandon. We cant seem to find each other and Ty is nearing the end of his leg. Someone finally realizes the problem. We are at the wrong freaking exchange zone. In his #selfie induced euphoria, Brian had led us to our old exchange zone from previous years when we should have been 2.3 miles down the road due to our van overlapping. Code came back from one of his signature epic portapotty breaks around the same time as Jen, and we get them to jump in the van and take off. But its just not going to happen. Even with clear roads we cant make it there in time, and certainly not with all the teams starting to converge. David agrees to take one for the team and take Brian’s leg at the last second. He gets doubly rewarded for this act, because not only has he saved the team precious minutes, he gets 2.3 miles for his last leg and is done at 3 in the morning. Nicely played, Mr. McNeice.
Once we see David we have to turn around and head two zones down, since his brother Andy was taking the nine miler from our erroneous sleep zone. Two zones down happened to be our least favorite exchange – Huger Francis Marion Forest rec area, aka the House of Horrors. So named because of their restroom – basically a seat over a hole in the ground. No light. All you see is unspeakable things from your headlamp in that hole that will stay with you forever. One year David had to puke in the woods there. I got viciously attacked by my thickburger in 2012 and made it back from the woods just moments before our exchange. No happy memories here. Andy just destroyed his nine miler leading up to House of Horrors in low 6 pace. Amazing also since it was pouring rain the whole time. Code was due up but graciously let Jen take the short 3.6 miler next. Because of the rain there were frogs everywhere. I’m sad to say that Jen claimed the life of one of these poor creatures on this miserable night. She was injured but somehow soldiered through the leg in low 7 pace. Do not doubt this girl’s toughness. She got violently ill from nasty hotel water the first relay and still finished her legs – it was incredible. Code then took the Huger fire station leg, site of my hallucinations and walk of shame in 2010. While it was bad then at least there was some light. This year it was pitch black and the rain was unrelenting. He rocked the first 5 miles and then his leg locked up on him but still managed about 7 minute pace. Joel headed out for the next leg, which usually has beautiful scenic views of the marsh as the sun rises. Thanks to the team’s blazing pace (now 30+ minutes ahead of schedule) and the mini tropical storm going on, it was just miserable and very dark. The next exchange was at the most awesome Seewee outpost, home of the best sausage biscuits on the planet. Unfortunately I was up soon and couldnt partake except for more coffee. Joel race faced it to the finish of his leg and was done, and handed off to Julie for a trip down Highway 17.
I was up next. Leg 3 always sucks. I don’t do well on little sleep and my legs are always toast since I have no sense of restraint. Now here I was having to go run a race pace 6.48 miles in the rain when I’d have rather crawled into the fetal position at Seewee and cuddled with a sausage biscuit. Plus, there was pressure. Brian was sure we now had both the coed and overall full team lead. We were also now running near the head of the entire relay. This is difficult to fully assess but can be indirectly measured by the fresh smelling portapotties and much fewer vans. Julie came in ahead of schedule and I thought I had caught an awesome break – the rain had completely stopped and now the sun was up. I made sure not to go out too fast because I was running on fumes. The fear of the walk of shame always lingers. I hit mile 1 in 7:08 and was slowly tracking down a fast girl. Perfect. I ended up catching her just past the mile marker but I was half afraid she might catch me back – she was getting it. Legs felt like crap but my gimp toe was actually causing me no problems. Things were great by the mile 2 marker but it started to sprinkle just a bit. And then sprinkle turned into firehose in about 30 seconds. I have less water pressure in my shower at home. I did a couple of 7:15 miles and then got a little delirious. Screw the rain! Just started flailing away as hard as I could go. Rifle Range road seemed to go on forever – just flat and straight. I’m sure you can see forever on a clear day but I could only see to the next stop light with the wall of water crashing all around me. Shoes started weighing like bricks and ankle deep puddles were everywhere. But I was on a mission. Took down a couple more roadkill and turned on the very aptly named 6 mile road, as I was approaching that mile marker. I’m sure I looked like a complete maniac – full race face and yelling out at times trying to keep myself going. And dont forget the lovely blinky light and headlamp ensemble. As soon as I hit 6 miles I pushed the chips into the table once again and emptied the tank. Total headless chicken. Dear God where is the finish?? Finally I rounded the corner and saw Julie and Jen yelling up ahead. I sprinted into the DMV parking lot and didnt see anyone until Brian suddenly jumps out of a pack of people, grabs the bracelet and takes off. Well I can say one thing – nothing was left on the course. Just completely spent. Managed 7:08 pace with virtually no sleep in the pouring rain after going 100 percent in my 2 previous legs. I will take it.
Brian blazed another 5.6 miles over the Isle of Palms Connector (which is cool for me since this was the site of my first 5k) and our van was officially done. I’d like to say we rode with Van 2 all the way to the finish, supporting them all the way. Nope. We instantly jumped in the van and went straight to IHOP to stuff ourselves. OK, then we went to the finish. We were so far ahead of schedule that they were still setting up the finish line when we got there. It turns out a team called Moose Knuckles sandbagged about as bad as we did and finished in 23:48, crossing the line first at 10:48 am. We knew we were ahead of this pace when we exchanged with Van 2, but a lot can happen in the last leg when everything catches up to you. Julie made sure to play “All we do is win” by DJ Khaled just for good karma. Just make sure your hands stay there when they get thrown up. Although there were some tense moments, Van 2 arrived well ahead of time and said Andy was on schedule to finish by 11:20 something. Sure enough, Andy comes blasting into the park just after 11:20 and we cross the line as a team in James Island County Park with a huge team PR in 23:22. First full team! For a brief moment we thought we might get first overall, but those pesky Clemson kids ultra team crossed 24 minutes ahead of us. Oh well, they usually crush the field by a couple of hours. There was a very nice afterparty with beer and Moe’s at the park, where we got to drink from our finishers mugs and celebrate the victory. This will be a hard act to follow for next year’s team, but I’m sure we’ll be there.