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!