Race to Read 5 miler – Lugoff, SC – 9/27/14



Everybody remembers their first time…

Race to Read was mine. In 2010 I ran this race before it was on the Tour de Columbia, before it was on the Palmetto Grand Prix. Just a little rural race with a loop course to benefit Doby’s Mill Elementary school . I thought I was going to end up third in the middle of that race, and I was going to be pretty happy with that. There was a fit looking kid with a Lander college singlet out in front and Greg Howell seemed to be pulling away  for second place.

But the kid bonked at mile 3 and Greg started to fade. A quarter mile from the finish, I passed Greg in full-on headless chicken mode. I somehow suppressed two dry heaves on the last turn and came crashing through the finish in what was assuredly one of the most hideous finishes in SC road race history.

But I won. Not just the age group. The whole damn thing.

If my first age group win the year before was my gateway drug, this was pure cocaine. The overall trophy hunt was my new addiction.

But alas, this was 4 years ago. Betsy Long, the race director, got her race on both the TDC and the Grand Prix, and changed the date a couple of times to avoid other race competition. Although the race was still small, it certainly had no lack of speed. My chances at a repeat victory grew increasingly small – especially when beasts like Justin Bishop and Ryan Plexico started signing up.

But that doesn’t mean I  stop trying.  I even signed up last year, a few weeks removed from walking around in a orthopedic boot and bearing the multiple scars of my ill fated cliff dive in Hawaii. I finished 6 minutes slower than usual, but at least I got to relive the glory of the course.

This year I had been signed up for a couple of weeks but the race got talked up at this week’s Team Utopia South practice, so it became an unofficial side event for the team. Coach Bishop, the Code, Joyce, Julie, the Pale Beast and myself were all on board for the black and gold.  I also recruited my friend/coworker Michael Ferlauto to sign up after plying him with pizza and craft beer the night before.

There was a small but decent crowd on hand when I showed up. Of course, any thoughts of the overall win were squashed with Bishop showing up, but “Trackstar” Eddie Lopez was on hand to pick up the slack should the “A standard” get attacked by a stray country dog. Heather Costello was also there, which made getting chicked a virtual certainty as well. Billy Tisdale was there to provide me a nice pacer. In addition to the TUS crew, Jen Lybrand, Alex Ponamarev, the Robertsons, Rocky, Andy Mikula, Burgess, Shirley Smith and Ron Hagell were some familiar faces. I did a nice 2 mile warm up with the team, during which some Lugoff-Elgin high school guys dared to mock the Utopians. That was ok, because nothing feels better than administering a beatdown to a kid half your age (in a race, of course). Code was in typical “I’m going to suck because I have a (insert leg/foot injury or illness here)” mode. Julie was all spazzed because this was her first time competing in front of the coach, plus her chances of playing DJ Khaled were severely limited by the presence of Ms. Costello. And of course, the Battle of the Paleness was set up once again with myself and the Beast.  Bishop was on a most unpleasant race puke streak that he was hoping to break. Notably absent were the Wards, who live like 5 minutes away, and the Trophy. You’ve been officially called out, guys.

With the start, the first quarter mile is uphill, so the small crowd thinned almost instantly. Also instant, in my mind, was the fact it was a lot hotter than last week and wearing an undershirt to my racing singlet was a terrible idea. There had been some significant time since my last pool/beach visit, so the guns were back to their ghostly pallor, which caused me a moment of ill-fated vanity that morning. I mean, when did I start caring what I looked like in a race?? Racing ugly is my signature. Anyway, the heat was building up from the get go. I settled in behind Billy with Vowles on me like white on rice. Lybrand had done her usual sub 6 sprint off the line but she retreated back to sanity quicker than usual, and we passed her about a half mile in. The rest of mile 1 is flat on a country road into the sun, with the marker just as you turn right onto a gravel road. Split was 6:30ish, so not too bad. I didnt want to go out too fast with the hilly second half.

Mile 2 is almost completely on the gravel road, and mostly a slight downhill (with a slight bump towards the end). The downhill was nice, but Vowles was pretending he was a Garmin training partner. I became acutely aware that we were completely alone and that there was only one sound of feet hitting the ground. Completely in tandem. Damn, he means business today. I could see Billy up ahead, a Lugoff kid, then Code and Costello together. Justin and Eddie had pretty much dusted us by the time we neared the mile 2 mark. It was about this time when some significant suckage commenced. Whether it was the high mileage this week, or too much Ommegang Three Philosophers Quadrupel Ale (oh, you didnt know I was an epically douchey beer snob? Now you know.) the night before, I was laboring way too much. And Vowles was trying to leave me. Never! There’s a nice scenic route through Turtle Creek Farms in the third mile, but you tend to not notice the cows and horses because “the hill” starts kicking your ass. Its no Blossom Street or Quarry, but its long and highly sucky. I’m used to powering up it and dropping some road kill on the way, but Ken is actually dragging me this time.

The mile 3 marker is at the top of this monster (definitely the slowest, almost 6:50) and my legs feel like lead. All the spring from last weekend is just gone. And the Pale Beast must sense the blood in the water, because he just takes off. Not a subtle surge, but he starts barreling ahead like the finish is around the corner. And I’ve got nothing. We finally turn the corner at an ancient gas station that looks like it closed in the Carter administration, and we’re back on the road home. A much welcome downhill all the way to the mile 4 marker. I suck at downhills but I’m trying my best to push the pace, but my spirit is getting crushed every time I look up. Vowles is speeding up and passes Billy. What the hell, did he snort a line of coke at the mile 3 marker??  I’d like to say I used this as the catalyst for an epic kick to the finish, but my legs were having no part of it. Split at mile 4 was actually about the same as the first two, around 6:30, but it felt slower with me getting so brutally Beasted. After the marker is the last nasty hill, over a quarter mile slog up to the Doby’s Mill back entrance, upon which you get treated to the weirdest loop in a road race I’ve ever seen. The “nature trail” – a twisty, winding paved trail on the elementary school grounds. It’s mostly out in the open, so you can see exactly where you stand in the race. At one point the trail loops back on itself,  and I could almost reach out and trip the Beast….not that I would ever think of something like that…never.  I had an outside chance of catching Billy right before the trail, but he can see me now, and he’s still got a killer kick. No way. After the trail you dump out onto the parking lot. I can make out low 32’s on the clock and I throw down as hard as I can in an attempt to get sub 33. And….nope. I hit the last turn, where I had the dry heaves in 2010, and the clock flips over to 33. Finished in 33:08, 8th overall and 3rd in age group.

So, not thrilled with the result, but I’ll chalk some of it up to a 50 mile week and the warmer weather. I have to give credit to the Beast – he crushed the last 2 miles in 6:01 and 6:08. No way I could have hung on to that this week. He crushed a PR and beat my best time on this course with a 32:16. Justin won the race, though Eddie was only 15 seconds behind. Unfortunately, this led to the puke streak remaining intact. Costello easily took the women’s win, finishing third and outkicking the Code, who took 4th., both in high 31’s.  The only L-E kid in the top 10 was Andrew Mills, who finished just ahead of Billy and me. Editors note: TUS placed 5 in the top 10.  Julie missed out on her win but did take second in sub 7 style, recording a 34:44. 62 year old racing machine Rob Kriegshaber also broke 35 just behind her.

Jennifer Lybrand rocked a new 5 mile PR with a 35:27 and 3rd overall. Burgess finished first in AG and looked ravishing in his pink princess backpack.  Andy Mikula also got 1st in his age group for Palmetto Runners. Oh, and I forgot Ferlauto had just turned 40, which got him out of my murderous age group and scored him a 1st place. I even had to deliver him his prize. Oh the shame. He did manage an epic blue shoe of Joyce, which I made sure to extensively photodocument. Gotta lift those legs! She still won masters and got a nice gift basket to console her. Shirley Smith and Ron Hagell also won 1st place AG mugs, along with racing machines Rocky Soderberg and Brigitte Smith.









Splash and Dash – Saluda Shoals Park – Columbia,SC – 9/6/14


So there were literally no races in a 50 mile radius of Columbia this morning, and I was supposed to run like 2 hrs 15 minutes according to my Kiawah training plan. But mention a relay race and I’m apparently willing to chuck the whole long run plan. Looks like I’ll have to feel the pain tomorrow. Speaking of relays, I decided against the Blue Ridge Relay this year. After following the Strictly Running team on FB the last 24 hours, I need to get back there. It’s just too awesome. Congrats to their team for the overall coed win in 24:11 – that’s blazing on that course.

The Splash and Dash was presented to me by Charley, a member of our long dormant Sunday morning marathon training group. He had done it before, and thought it was cool. I’m always up for a trophy hunt, and apparently he and Trophy himself had managed a 2nd place in 2012 (it was canceled in ’13 do to a high river level). I was in.

OK, so this isn’t a relay race, but its still a team event. You start off with 2 miles of trail running, then jump in a canoe and paddle a mile long course. After the canoeing you jump on a mountain bike and do 5 miles. All of this is in Saluda Shoals. You dont finish until your slowest member crosses the line, and obviously you have to do the canoe all together. Smith Harden, who does the Climb the Clay 8k, race directs.

So the only bike I possess is a woefully undersized road model, so luckily Charlie had an old mountain bike for me to borrow. Trophy had to hit up Mark again, who has like a garage full of bikes and other cycling stuff.

We showed up an hour early to scope out the competition. It was kind of difficult to assess since I dont think there’s a vibrant race canoe paddling community in Columbia. There was a fair amount of fit looking people, a couple of teams from Running under the Influence. The only runner I recognized was Tim Rollason-Reese, who is way faster than all three of us. Not a good sign. We were kind of a last minute team, so the only “team shirt” we had was our glowing neon Jacksonville Marathon shirts from 2011. At least everyone could see us.

I jumped on Charlie’s bike and, because he’s like 6’4″, the bike actually fit. Amazing concept. I hadn’t ridden a bike off road since I was in grade school, so this was going to be a total wing-it job. Not to mention the whole paddling thing. I did go canoeing one time on the Saluda with my parents in 1994, so I’m sure I could bank off that training.

The two man teams went first, with the three man teams starting 20 minutes later because of the limited number of canoes. We went for a brief warm up run and came back to see Rollason-Reese’s team finish the 2 mile together, but fortunately just around 16 minutes.

A few minutes later we were off. I figured the best chance at winning this thing was to absolutely crush the 2 mile. Its a short distance, but with all the hills, grass and trails it would certainly put a hurting on the non-running contingent. I went out like a total maniac. Not more than a half mile in, I was all alone…..except for the dude breathing down my neck like a rabid monkey on my back. At first I was glad that Trophy or Charley was keeping up, but it was a guy in a gray shirt. This dude was not fooling around. The course is crazy twisty, but thankfully well marked with a ton of red signs. Like any trail run it was tough to build up any momentum, and of course navigating my Sasquatchian physique around tight turns was more than a little inefficient. We hit mile 1 at 6:58 but it felt like I had been sprinting the whole way. Fortunately the crazy Kiawah mileage I’ve been doing started to kick in, and I tried to ramp it up even further. The whole last mile was like the Silver Fox 5k – big ditches, roots and sharp turns. Just nuts. I was constantly one false move away from doing a face plant. But damned if I was going to let someone keep me from my meaningless “win”. Finally I lost my shadow in the last half mile and hit the exchange right at 14 minutes. Gray team guy was maybe 10-20 seconds back. But WTF?? Where was my team? I walked around, got some water and put on my life jacket.

I was about to step out for brunch when Trophy and Charley come rumbling in. We all jump in the boat, and start paddling like champs, knowing the gray team was close behind. Did I say all? I meant Charley and I started paddling like champs. Trophy decided to nominate himself for a “supervisory” role on the canoe, i.e. Lady McGaha was pure ballast on this ship. My arms are taking a total lactic acid bath by the time we hit the first buoy, while Trophy is informing us that Team Gray is totally gaining on us. Sure enough, when we make the turn they are crushing it like a Harvard rowing team while we look like a raft of castaways. To make matters worse we hit a patch of river grass and we come to a complete halt, run aground like a beached whale. It takes every bit of leverage we have with the paddles to slowly extricate ourselves, because I’m too fancy to get my precious blue trail shoes wet. We pass by the launch point and head downstream to round buoy number two. Trophy is seabiscuiting me in the canoe though my arms have turned into complete spaghetti trying to paddle this thing. The worst is making the turn where I’m providing the sole paddle leverage to make a tight circle around the buoy. Not more than a few strokes back and Gray team is paddling right with us. I can make out the launch point again and getting caught by the Grays has stirred my dark paddling passenger, launching me into a frenzy. The next few minutes is total chaos, with both of us rowing like complete maniacs, water and paddles flying in an all out canoe kick. We finally hit the launch point again, with the Grays just a nudge ahead of us. I throw all caution to the wind and jump out of the canoe, soaking my shoes to the core instantly. I grab a cup of water and start the bike transition.

My tri transitions are ridiculously slow, but this is a lot simpler since I havent opted for cycling shoes. Just strap on the enormous helmet and take off. As we depart I realize that a) Gray team is really a coed team (so not really competing with us) and b) one of their members looks to be a 12 year old girl. I dont know whether these realizations result in shame or relief, probably a little of both. We all start blasting 100 percent out of the gate, because we thought we were competing against the two man teams as well. Mountain biking is completely different from the roads. There’s all these sudden tight turns that are tough for my Sasquatch self to manage on the run. Add 25 pounds of metal to the equation and its a damn miracle I managed to not end up flying over the handlebars. Thats not to say I didnt come close. Very close. Multiple times. But hey, at least my bike was the same beastly size as my body. Our only moment of shame was facing the clay mountain a couple of miles in. We had agreed to jump off and run the bikes up beforehand, which was a good plan since there was no way in hell I could have stayed upright. The last few miles involved a couple of ditches where I nearly did a face plant and a brief stretch where we caught up to a 2 woman team and I was breathing down their neck like an oversized gorilla. Sorry, ladies. It is not wise to position yourself between me and my trophies. Remarkably, we all stayed together as a team the whole time. When we finally hit the home stretch, you’d think it was a time trial at the freaking Tour de France, barreling through the finish like a herd of elephants at top speed.

Done. Not much later Smith tells us there are actually separate divisions for two and three man teams, so we were pretty much busting our tails for nothing.  But we got first place, so I was eternally happy. The trophy was a super cool custom Splash and Dash picture frame with free team photos you could take at a photo booth at the finish. Very nice. Overall it was a blast. I should be back next year. Hopefully I’ll learn to paddle by then.





Run or Walk a Crooked 5k – Chapin, SC – 8/30/2014



The “Run or Walk a Crooked 5k” is a race held on Labor Day weekend in Chapin that has been a staple on the Blue Shoes calendar since my first year of racing in 2009.
It’s a weird race, run completely at Crooked Creek park. You start with a lap around a soccer field, then go through a maze of paved trails, athletic fields and parking lots with the finish on the same soccer field you started on. It’s a touch on the long side and definitely not going to produce a fast time. Its also the only race that I know with no online registration. You can actually do the mail-in route, but this would involve the motivation and ability to simultaneously locate a checkbook, stamp and envelope. So yeah, that never happens.
So why do I love this race? OK, I do love the old school , “mom and pop” feel, but most of my racing boils down to my absurd lust for glory known as the trophy hunt.
And Crooked Creek sets up perfectly for this. Labor Day weekend has typically had a big race on the actual Monday holiday – previously the Labor Day Fitness Challenge 15k, then the dueling Blythewood and Strictly Running races the last few years. All the fast people go after these. Crooked creek is on the Saturday leading up to these races, its out of the way, and of course has the whole 1985 mail in vibe that usually keeps registration fairly low (50-100 range).
That being said, some fast guys always show up to win this thing. A couple of guys home from west point won it one year, Dimery also took home a victory, and Plex has been trouncing the field the last couple of times. I’ve usually placed in the 3rd-6th range. Never ever broken 20 minutes. Like, ever. My course best is 20:09, even when I was doing low 19’s elsewhere.

I showed up my customary hour ahead of time, even with the 40 minute drive to Chapin, because I’m obsessive like that. Not a huge crowd on hand, but the TDC diehards like Pete Poore, Valerie Selby, Cheryl Outlaw, Geary McAlister, Leeds Barroll, John Gasque and Alex Ponamarev were already there. On my way to the sign up table , the Pale Beast makes an appearance. Uh -oh  – dude’s been dropping some serious weight and has been jumping into Kiawah training at TUS practice “just for fun”.  Doing six 6:40ish one mile repeats in the furnace of the SC late summer doesn’t exactly meet my “fun” criteria, but to each his own. Plexico comes rolling in soon after to crush the trophy hunt holy grail opportunity, but competition still seems fairly weak. There are a couple of lean young guys, but being all ripped doesnt necessarily mean fast. And vice versa, so I’ve been told.

Strolling up to the start there looks like about 60-70 people as we line up on the soccer field. Henry Holt and Lisa Smarr have turned up as well. A fair number of unknown teenagers look ready to crush my trophy hopes. I dont see any other of my fellow age groupers except for Vowles, so at least we have that wrapped up.

With the gun, the crowd immediately thins out. What I thought was going to be a slightly cooler morning got hot and oppressively humid in a hurry, especially with the damp grass. Plex immediately jumps to the front but is being matched stride for stride with a skinny teenage kid, who looks like he might be fast. Before we exit the field though, Ryan has already gapped him. Kids these days. I’m in fourth as we complete the field lap, but I’ve got Geary working his industrial machine breathing down my neck and Vowles is riding me like an oversized monkey.  I make sure I block him at the parking lot where someone is taking pictures, eclipsing him with both my melon sized head and ego.

We exit the parking lot and plummet into the twisty, paved trail part of the course. Plex’s shadow and his high school buddy are already feeling the pain of trying to ride the Lightning. They are fading fast and sucking some serious wind. I passed the first kid then pull up alongside Plex’s shadow at the mile mark, hit in high 6:20’s. OK pace for this course. This kid apparently was OK with getting passed by lean singlet wearing dudes like Plexico, but is not taking too kindly to getting the beat down by an aging, Clydesdalish guy in a neon “Blue Shoes” shirt. Too bad dude. Oxygen debt does not discriminate.

We pull out of the forest and into a lap around a couple of baseball fields. I think I’ve gapped Geary and the Beast some, but Vowles starts talking trash behind me about cutting a corner. Its a fenced complex dude, its not like I’m going to jump into right field. Or am I? As I make the lap around the two fields, I had stopped hugging the fence to find some pavement. All of a sudden I realize I’m outside a wooden fence that is separating me from the course. Just when I think I’m going to have to go all parkour and some how scale a three foot barrier at 5k speed, there’s a gap. I have to make a sudden turn and haul ass to get back on the course, where I see the kid trying to take advantage of my little detour. Vowles and Geary have followed me, either because my melon has eclipsed all trail markings or in some gallant show of sportsmanship. I’m going with the former.

Either way, I return the favor by amping up the pace a bit, since I know we are closing in on the two mile mark.  We re-enter the forest where the course folds back on itself and pass some of the midpack. Always good to get some encouragement from the crowd, and someone confirms to me I’m running second behind Plexico. Just before the two mile mark is a long track-like oval encircling a parking lot, and there’s nowhere to hide. I remember this section all to well when I went out too fast (also  in 2nd place)  in 2010, only to get passed by Amy McDonaugh and another guy in this parking lot. As I make the last turn, I see Vowles has moved ahead of Geary and is way too close for comfort. I hear mile 2 beep and its definitely on like Donkey Kong. I don’t even look at the watch. No way is the Beast going to take down my 2nd place. Unfortunately there are some nasty twisty inclines as we enter the forest once again. I keep blasting around corners and scaring the hell of little kids and walkers at the back of the pack. I’m sure there was a sudden spike in Albino Sasquatch night terrors in the Chapin area this weekend.

Eventually I see I’m nearing the soccer fields and the finish. But having done this race 4 times before, I know there’s a killer 1-2 punch. A sharp, short incline up to a parking lot, then about a third of a mile lap out in the sun after you pass the finish area. I hardly ever get Blue Shoed myself, but this is where it happened one time back in ’10 or ’11. I power up the sharp incline, which hits me like a punch to the gut,  and there’s a vocal family there cheering. As I pass them, I listen carefully, and its way too short of a time before I hear the next cheer.  I can’t see him but I’m sure Vowles is out for blood. I hit the soccer field and see Plex finish. The sun is just killer and I’m in a world of hurt by this point. It feels painfully slow on the grass even though I’m absolutely redlining it by this point. I expect the Beast to come up from behind at any time. Finally I make the last turn and can see Vowles – not too far behind but I know now safely out of reach. Still burning it to the finish though, and I make out 1940ish on the clock. I want to get sub 20 so bad, but there just arent enough oxygen molecules in Chapin to carry me fast enough. I flop across the finish in 20:02 and give the grass a whole lot of Sasquatch lovin’. Vowles comes rolling in for 3rd at 20:17, and I believe Geary (4th) also broke 21.

I was certainly disappointed with not breaking 20, but then I realize this is a course record for me. Not a post-cliff record but an all-time best time for this race. All this Kiawah mileage must be paying off. Taking second sure is sweet too – prize money was 30 bucks, earning me back the registration fee. Thanks to Code and Jack Carmody for taking the day off and allowing me to have my day in the sun.

This race takes a long time to get online, so I don’t have the official results. I know most of the regulars scored age group wins – Lisa Smarr, Alex Ponamarev, Valerie Selby, Pete Poore, Cheryl Outlaw , Leeds Barroll and John Gasque. The F3 group also did very well in the age groups, with several wins. Great race!