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.