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!
Next week: Resurrection Run 5k