The Ray Tanner Home Run 5k/12k is only in its 9th year, but has become one of the focal points of the road racing year, perennially drawing just about everyone who runs in Columbia. Its put on by Ken Lowden and his huge group of volunteers, so its always a well done race. Plus the course is one of the best in the Midlands – a two bridge route over the Congaree river and a finish at the home plate of Carolina Stadium.
That’s all well and nice, but the event has been a thorn in the side of my road racing career. Of all the races I’ve done, it remains the only one that I have no bling to show for it. Not one trophy, medal or shiny trinket. Not even an age group placement. Nada.
The primary reason for this is my determination to get the bling in the 12k. There is a 5k, and my primary trophy hunting rule is to always go with the undercard, but I’ve come so close in the 12 so many times that I keep going for it. And keep losing. I’m the Susan Lucci of the Ray Tanner Home Run.
One main reason – Superfit Soccer Dads. These guys stealth train and never race, remaining completely unknown until they show up and kick my ass at Ray Tanner. And they are always 35-39. Perhaps the most crushing was my course record 49:10/6:36 pace in 2012, which got me all of 23rd overall and eighth in age group. Eighth. One of my best races ever and I wasn’t even close. Damn them.
This year was looking up though. The Code was wussing out and not racing. The Yerg was chasing Boston at the Steamtown marathon. And I didnt see habitual Blue Shoe beatdowners Angel Manuel and Steven Johnson on the stalker list (the Ray Tanner website had a participation list). Even the Pale Beast was doing the 5k. The age group was looking good. Maybe, just maybe, this was the year.
I showed up my typical hour in advance, looking ridiculous again in my black TUS singlet, alabaster guns ablazing. No one ever said I raced pretty. Shirley and Sandy even ragged me for not combing my hair. Ugly is my trademark. Trophy showed up a little while later and started complaining about the weather, and with good reason. The weather sucked. Perfect if you wanted to hang out for a backyard barbeque. Not so good if you wanted to race 7.4 miles. Just ridiculously warm and humid for October. In the 70’s and 80 percent humidity, easy. My grandiose goal of breaking my course record wasn’t looking good. I did the first mini loop of the 12k course and realized quickly this was probably going to suck. I was soaked like it was late July and it didn’t help the legs were complaining about another 50 mile marathon training week. Was it too late to go switch to the 5k?
Everyone and their mom showed up for this one as usual. I thought Eric Ashton and Tim Jeffreys would have a showdown for the win. Justin was doing a marathon pace run but that would probably still place him pretty high. Plexico was also there to ramp up the local elite factor. The women’s race was decidedly less stacked – I didnt see any of the elite ladies from Charlotte, but Erin Miller and Linn Hall were there from the SR racing team to make it competitive. Shannon must have been pulling the wuss card with Code and Joyce. There was a rare Larry Jourdain racing appearance. David He was back in training and racing again. No surprise to see Flicker, Howie, Ty, Brad Marlow, Larry Bates and Burgess. Jennifer Lybrand was there a week after her ultra (you might have heard about it on facebook 😉 ). Colleen “Mrs. Beast” Vowles and Birgit Spann were on hand to race Jennifer. Charley Clements, Michael and Kate Ferlauto, Sarah Blackwell, Lisa King, Bill Haselden, the Robertsons, Bill Iskrzak, Pam Inman, James Hicks, Arnold Floyd., Henry Holt, Scott Marr, Peter Mugglestone, Cait Costello, Tommy Outlaw, Greta Dobe, Joe Robinson, Jennifer Reeves, Mike and Pam Griffin, Wes Spratt, Mr and Mrs Diesel, Lisa and Jesse Smarr were some familiar faces. Mike Jensen, Mike Compton, Ashley Horton, Chris Fawver, Tracy Meyers, Carol Wallace, Sheila Subbarao and Kana Rahman were there to represent the black and gold ( or not (cough) Ashley (cough)). And this was just the 12k.
I didnt see most of the 5kers since they start 30 minutes later, but the Beast, Jason Dimery, Meme Spurgeon, Eric McMichael, Brian and Jennifer Clyburn, Brady Ward, Sarah and Eric Allers, Jeff Smith, Luci Velicu, Debbie McCauley Meg Weis, Daniel Patrick, Jonathan King, Pete Poore, John Gasque, Rocky Soderberg, Tom and Lisa Hart and Jonathan Burrows were there. Apparently Ted Hewitt was there but he must have gone totally stealth.
After an intro by Ken Lowden and the Tanners, and a prayer from Jim Manning, we were off. First mile is a flat, track like loop taking you around a few blocks and right back to the start line again. I’ve told people time and time again not to go out too fast on this loop – you hit the start area again and there’s like 1000 people screaming, so of course there’s a tendency to speed up. I try to stay in control, but I think the oversized melon is seized with grandiosity and tells the legs to blast through the whole area alongside the stadium. It doesn’t help that Linn Hall has latched on the Blue Shoes express and is shadowing me step for step.
Can’t let her get in front of my posturing for pictures. Mile 1 is hit right around the corner from the stadium after the loop. I figure aiming for about 6:42 (50 minute pace) would be a good start. I let out the first F bomb of the day as soon as I hear my Garmin beep and give me the split. 6:16. That’s a decent split for me…for a 5k. I thought I was doing OK despite the ridiculous first mile, but directly after the mile marker is the long slog up the Blossom Street railroad bridge into the Greek Village/Colonial Center area. The sun started beating down in my face and I wanted to crawl in the fetal position and cry. Wind suckage commenced. Howie started leaving me for dead and Linn took the lead on me. Luckily the course flattened out in the Greek Village and gave me some time to recover. I scared the hell out of some early rising (or perhaps still awake) sorority girls who had never seen an Albino Sasquatch. Sorry Tri Delts. A long straightaway to the Colonial Center, and Flicker gives me the beatdown just as we turn up the Green St hill for a mini loop before turning back. Linn is starting to gap me but I’m keeping her in sight. Mile 2 comes back in 6:52. Um , yeah, just a touch slower.
Mile 3 is a trip back down the straightaway and back over the railroad bridge. By this time I realize that I have really shot myself in the foot with mile 1, because I feel like death. It hurts me deep inside to think about the hills to come. Somehow I manage a 6:51 for mile 3 but the wheels feel awfully close to falling off. The cruel twist of the 12k is that you go right by the finish line (Carolina stadium) right at the mile 3 marker, and it takes every ounce of willpower not to just step off the course and walk on over. But there’s the Strictly photographer and MC Cox taking pics, so I cant let that shame be documented for posterity. So I soldier on over the Blossom Street bridge into Cayce in what feels like a snail’s pace. To add to my sense of slowness, the 5k has begun and the leaders start to pass me. Two kids and Eric Allers blow by me like I’m standing still. Oh God, please let me make it to B avenue (the 5k/12k split off) before the Pale Beast catches me. By the time we reach the State street turn I notice I’ve reeled in Linn just a bit. Even though I’ve already accumulated an oxygen debt I cant afford to pay, a little bit of race adrenaline goes a long way with my overblown ego. But as I near the notorious B avenue mountain, my Garmin shows I’ve faded to 7 flat, and I start dropping more internal F bombs. What’s worse, some kid in racing spikes is in the 5k and is chasing me down with the most annoying click clack sound ever. I will not let him break me! Plus, I figure Vowles has got to be right behind him.
Finally we reach the Inspiration station with the steel drum band and all of Ken’s friends volunteering. I try to use this energy and ramp it up to avoid getting Vowlesed and to attack the mountain of B avenue. B avenue is not super steep, just endless. It sucks jogging up the thing. Racing up it is pretty soul crushing. A quarter of the way up though I actually catch Linn, who is also dying a thousand deaths. She swears she will never chase me again. I swear I’ll never go out like Jennifer Lybrand on crack again. Surprisingly, my wind sucking has abated somewhat – probably the product of finally recovering from the start and also the heavy mileage volume of marathon training. I feel a little better because of it, though its all relative since no one feels good climbing this monster. Less than halfway up Eric Ashton, Tim Jeffreys, Ryan Plexico and Justin come flying by on their way back down. But there’s hardly anyone after that, so I know there’s not too many people up ahead. Maybe, just maybe I can age group?
Few things are nicer in your road racing year than finally reaching the top of the B ave. mountain. Mile 5 at the top is 7:08 but its always way slower with the climb. Unfortunately I dont have much drive left in the legs to really crush the downhill like I’ve done in the past. It is nice to see everyone behind you on the way down. Even catching Diesel getting the walksies near the bottom. C’mon dude!
Legs feel like toast after jackhammering down the mountain, and it starting to feel like summer with all the heat. I scare Tenacious J’s daughter Sophie (running the 5k with dad Jeff) by trying to yell some encouragement. Jeff tells me I’m not trying hard enough if I can yell, which is a good point. Apparently the lungs are enjoying the marathon training more than the legs.
The turn off of State street is kind of a nightmare because the 12k is now fully merged into the back of the pack 5kers, some of whom are walking like 4-5 people across. And we are crossing the Gervais street bridge, with one lane of active traffic. So now I feel like a mega-douche for screaming at people to get out of the way on the far left, but its either that or I get run over by a truck. Plus there’s one stretch where literally the whole lane was blocked by walkers and a woman pushing a stroller right in front of me. I’m sure she and her child are having nightmares by now of being chased down by loud, panting polar bear, screaming ” ON YOUR LEFT!!!”
I can’t see most of the 12kers in front of me now, with the huge crowd of walkers, except for shirtless guy. I think he was one of the dudes that passed me early on, but he’s fading a bit. After the bridge is a nasty climb on Gist and Huger street, and you can stick a fork in me. Still, I can’t tell how old shirtless is, and maybe he’s one of the Superfit Soccer Dads. All of a sudden Rocky Soderberg, who’s doing the 5k, surges right next to me and tells me to take down Shirtless. Rocky runs about 9 min pace 5ks these days (at age 72) but he apparently can still harness some of that 1966 SEC mile champ speed (http://a.espncdn.com/photo/2014/0702/Men’s%20Indoor%20Track%20and%20Field%20Record%20Book.pdf) (See page 6). Oh jeez, I cant let Rocky down. But I’m in world of pain by now and it would be so nice to just phone it in. Plus, Shirtless is ramping up the pace as we near the finish. Once you crest the Huger St hill, its all downhill to the finish. I hit mile 7 in 6:39 and try to muster a kick. I’m starting to give up on catching the guy but my ego will not have it. I start to draw within 10 meters or so as we hit the tunnel of the stadium. I hear Shirley announce my name on the stadium PA system and seeing the finish line sends me into an all out headless chicken. I blow by Shirtless right at third base and flop across the finish at home plate, in what is surely one of the ugliest finishes of all time, preserved by Milly Hough:
No one ever said I raced pretty. 50:34, 16th place. And……4th in age group. Trophy was more than glad to inform me of this fact. More painful was seeing that I would have placed in every single age group…except my own. Susan Lucci’d once again. Oh well. At least I was able to tell “Coach Rocky” that I did what I was told. It turns out Shirtless is named Matthew Pollard and is all of 28, so it never mattered anyway. Sorry for my douchery, Matthew. You can take solace in the fact you look way better in your finish photo than that abomination in the foreground.
In the 12k, Eric Ashton smoked the field in 39:34/5:19 pace, nearly two minutes clear of the field. Incredible, especially at age 46. Tim Jeffreys and Ryan Plexico went 2-3. Justin Bishop nailed his marathon pace at exactly 6 minutes and still finished 5th in what was essentially a tempo workout. I think I hate him, even if he is coaching me. Erin Miller crushed the women’s field in just under 48 minutes, with Linn Hall taking second and Kristin Lowe third. No surprise to see Larry Jourdain and Howie Phan take male masters and grandmasters respectively, with Chantal Faure and Birgit Spann winning for the women.
In the 12k age groups, Alex Robertson won the 14-16. David He took the 25-29 over the guy in the background above. See, being eleven years older gets you squat. Jamey Wilson took second in the female 25-29, just ahead of Jen Lybrand taking third on tired legs. Bishop won his age group by 8 minutes in the 30-34. Phil Midden took second in my group in between Daniel Carter and David Taylor, neither of which I’ve ever seen before. Flicker said he was doing a marathon pace run and took first in the 40-44, but unless he’s going sub three he night have been racing a little. Colleen “Don’t call me Mrs. Beast and definitely don’t call me Vowels” Vowles won her age group by four minutes over Dorette Coetsee. Pam Inman won second in the 45-49, while Ty Thomas and Jeff Burgess went 2-3 on the men’s side. Brad Marlow went out for a jog and still won his age group, with Phil Togneri finishing 3rd. Lisa King and Tracy Meyers went 1-2 in the 50-54, while Larry Bates won the 55-59. Alsena Edwards and Carol Wallace went 1-2 on the women’s side. Lynn Grimes captured first in the 60-64 women, while Mike Compton finished second among the men. Bill Iskrzak and Peter Mugglestone finished 1st and 2nd in the 65-69. Brigitte Smith claimed 2nd in the women’s 65-69 while Arnold Floyd blew away the competition in the 70-74. Racing legends Henry Holt and Jesse Smarr claimed the 75+.
In the 5k, Greg Lowing from New Jersey won, ahead of locals Hunter Jarvis and Jason Dimery. Megan Weis claimed 3rd overall female behind Caroline Peyton and Heather Elliott. Team Allers cleaned up on the masters division, with Sarah and Eric both taking the win. Steve and Charlene Fink did the same in the grandmasters division.
Age groupers include: Tus’ Daniel Patrick winning the 25-29. The Pale Beast Ken Vowles took the 35-39 in 19:28, his second best time behind last week’s 19:10. Jen Clyburn won the 35-39, with Lucia Velicu second. Meme Spurgeon claimed 3rd in the 40-44 in a super competitive age group, Jennifer Conrick placed second. Lisa Hart placed second in the 45-49. Jonathan King took 2nd and Jeff Smith third in the 50-54. Rocky Soderberg took the 70+ by a mere 17 minutes.