15k’s , like their brethren the 10 miler and the 12k, are the red headed stepchildren of the distance racing world. They’re pretty tough to find, and no one knows how to pace them. I figure I’ve run a couple hundred road races by now, and exactly two of them are the oddball 9.3 mile distance.
My first attempt was in 2009 at the now defunct Labor Day Fitness Festival 15k. This is when I was just starting out and my main concern was my ability to actually run the whole distance. I set a distance PR at that race, managing to avoid the walksies and even push the pace in the last 2 miles to finish in 1:16. My only other attempt at the distance was in 2012 at the also now-defunct (do I sense a pattern?) Wildewood Fitness Festival 15k, which ranks as one of my most miserable performances of all time. I ran the race at an all out effort but managed to only pull marathon pace, slogging through in 1:10 and change (7:35 pace). https://tourdeblueshoes.com/2012/05/06/wildewood-fitness-festival-15k-and-4-miler-ne-columbia-sc-5512/ So, to say my 15k PR is a little soft would be a bit of an understatement.
I had planned to exact my revenge on the 15k last year at the debut of this race, but my wonky achilles at the time decided to make me a scratch just before the race day. I was bummed because reportedly there was some serious race swag in the packet. I ended up showing up and just taking pics at that race. Everyone seemed happy with the new event, save for a brutal course, so I definitely planned to make it back in 2015. This year there was also a course revision to take out a few hills – awesome.
Heading into this race I was feeling pretty good about the training. I’ve still struggled on some long runs since Kiawah but the 5k speed is coming back quickly. Pacing for the 15k would be a bit of a challenge. One good thing about being a total racing freak is there’s plenty of recent data to help. Half marathon in Savannah (totally flat and a huge PR) was like 6:44 pace, the Red Shoe 10k 2 weeks ago (also flat) was 6:34. Since the 15k falls almost right between the two distances, I decided to shoot for 6:40 – though I figured I’d probably skew more towards the half marathon pace with the hills.
I show up at the race, and the first thing I notice (other than freezing my nuts off in the 30 degrees +wind) is that this place is teeming with road racing studs. I think I’ve stumbled upon the absolute antithesis of the trophy hunt. The Strictly Red Storm front has apparently moved in, because all of them are out in force, even their ultimate ringer, Michael Banks from Charleston. Coach B has his elite ladies (except for injured Shannon) with Kenzie, MC, Erin, Jen and Linn. Coach B is running the 5k, and Ryan Plexico, Jeff Brandenburg, Jeff Godby, Luke Godwin and Jonathan Kinsey are also in tow. Palmetto Runners fielded Meme Spurgeon, Lucia Velicu, and Angel Manuel. Eric Ashton was on board himself, with his ladies team ( Excellent Athletics) of Alyssa Bloomquist and Heather Costello. And lets not forget the Black and Gold. Coach Bishop, Colleen, Michael Nance, Mike Compton, Chris Fawver, Ashley Horton, Eliere and Ivanka Tolan, Lorikay Keinzle, Julia Early, Daniel Patrick , Brittany Robbins and myself were representing from Team Utopia South.
Other Columbia Running Club peeps, in addition to many of the above, were Scott Flicker (also with Columbia Christian Runners), Larry Jourdain, Howie Phan, Winston Holliday, Geary McAlister, Jeff Burgess, Larry Bates, Trophy Mcgaha, Jamey Wilson, Joe Roff, Mary Howk, Rick Gibbons, Rafael Marquez, Coleen Strasburger, Mark Robertson, Kathryn Ryan, James Hicks, Jenn Covington, Mike Griffin, Michael Jensen, James Lichty, Lana Morrison, Lisa King, Harry Strick, Lynn Grimes, Wes and Rhea Spratt, Chris Vokaty, Teresa Harrington, Donna Freeman, Sandra Ricciuto, Renee McCormick, April Hutto, Tommy Outlaw, Paige Tyler, Ken Lowden, Pam Griffin, Lisa Smarr, Jim Manning, Brandi Bradley, Sherry Robertson, Jennifer Reeves, Birgit Spann, Barbara Brandenburg, Tom Beattie, Arnold Floyd, John Gasque, Pete Poore, Derek and daughter Madelyn Gomez, Chip Lupo, Rocky Soderberg, Patti Lowden, Henry Holt, Melinda Petruzzi, Sharon Sherbourne, and Sandra Manning.
Other familiar faces Heather and Will Brumbach (621 ninjas), Lee Moore and Robbie “O.G.”McClendon (Fitness World Running Club), Whitney Keen, Kristin Cattieu, Paul Drohomirecky, Hou-Yin Chang, Dawn Woodrow, Dolly Rodgers, Gregory Jones, Albert Anderson, Jason Lockhart.
So, yeah, everyone and their mom turned up for this one. The Code , Joyce, Tracy and Stephanie were doing the Save the Light Half down in Folly though. They certainly got the flatter course, and got to meet blog celebrity Amy “The Tiny Terror” Scott-Lundy.
I did less than a mile warmup with Trophy and Jamey, and its just freaking freezing. 28 degrees according to my Garmin. Thankfully they have the First Citizens building open, where I weaseled my way into an executive level bathroom. Certainly beats the frozen portapotties.
After the national anthem and an all-important mascot photo with Cocky, we were off. I was told the first few miles are flat and downhill, and they are as advertised. It includes a good bit of the Bunny Hop course. In the first half mile I’m running with Geary and Robbie and Geary starts “shaming” me that I’m running too slow. Whatever dude – you’ve smoked me plenty of times before. The first mile feels pretty brisk, and sure enough comes back at 6:26. I can see Flicker and Angel up ahead running beside an unknown girl in blue, and I try to focus on keeping them in range. I try to tell myself to slow down but someone is using me as a human windshield. I finally turn around and see that its Howie tucking behind my significant wake. Given my sasquatchity, I hardly blame him. Another flat mile for number 2 at almost the same pace. Mile 3 is deceptive because its actually a slow incline up to Gervais street, and I’m already feeling winded. This cant be good. It’s definitely a relief to finally hit Gervais, where it levels out again. Angel mysteriously drops out at this point, though says he’s ok. I hate to see people drop, but my evil maniacal trophy hunting dark side gives me the idea that maybe I can sneak in an age group placement now. Bwa ha ha ha. Mile 3 has a clock and I pass it right around 19:50. Just in front of the state house begins the very long, wonderful downhill into the vista. Man it was sweet. Its at a perfect decline to maintain your pace without feeling like you have to brake. Totally recovered from that first 5k. I know I would need it.
Up ahead, girl in blue is just killing it and has dropped Flicker like a bad habit. I finally catch up with Scott on the Gervais st bridge, having kicked it in a bit to lose my Howie shadow. Just after the bridge is the beginning of the pain. First a nasty little incline up to State Street which I hadnt even thought about. Bailing out to Cafe Strudel at this point sounds pretty good, especially seeing warm people sipping coffee and eating breakfast. But hey, wouldnt you rather be out in the 30 degree weather testing the limits of your pain tolerance? Yeah, I’m that sick bastard.
We do a weird turn on C avenue then right back on B avenue, infamous as the Ray Tanner 12k hill. Born from the diabolical dark side of Ken Lowden, B avenue is gradual and endless. Any good feelings from the flight down Gervais are way out the window by the time I’m halfway up. What’s worse, is the 15k course goes up a whole other block from the Ray Tanner turn off. I do manage to lose Flicker at this point and by the time I’m at the top I’m completely alone. There’s a nice flat stretch on 10th, E Ave and 9th , the entirety of which I use to stop sucking wind like a rabid polar bear in heat. The 2 mile slog up from the Vista has blown up my pace to 6:40 and 6:56 for miles 5 and 6.
The turn on to Knox Abbott is like heaven. A whole mile of downhill opens up and my lungs finally recover from their beatdown. I start getting grandiose and thinking about crushing the last 5k to get near an hour. I can actually see blue girl and another guy up ahead now, but it feels like I’m getting a police escorted training run, since they are letting cars go ahead and behind me. Mile 7 in 6:29. I start getting mentally prepared for climbing the Blossom Street hill. But as I cross the flat bridge, I realize I forgot about the damn overpass. Yes, again Ken Lowden has forsaken me. The overpass over the railroad on Blossom is the first nasty hill of the Ray Tanner 12k and it kills me every time. Today is no different. All the euphoria of Knox Abbott is blasted out of my lungs, and my legs are also beginning to complain about the abuse.
With the overpass punch to the gut still leaving me reeling, I get maybe a quarter mile of flat before Mount Blossom starts. Oh and it sucks. The part before Assembly is rough, but the area between Assembly and Main make me want to cry for my mommy. In the middle of my Price is Right hillclimber slog, a car full of sorority girls mockingly scream at me. I give them a full Ric Flair style “Woooo” before nearly collapsing into a walk. Whats worse is the turn on Main leaves a little more meat on the Blossom st bone, an agonizing additional incline that makes me want to crawl into the fetal position. Finally I make it to the back of the State house and its flat again. I’m trying to mount a kick but I am pretty much toast. I dont even look at the mile 9 split (6:57) but once I hear it I empty whatever I have left in the tank. I start hitting the back of the pack 5kers at this point but luckily they’re pretty sparse (this is like 40+ minutes after their start). I’ve actually closed on blue girl and the other guy but I’m too far behind to catch them. On the last straight I make out the clock around 1:01:30 and sprint it out to get under 1:02. 1:01:51 officially. 19th overall and agonizingly 4th in age group. Yes, the dude who covets his trophies most is the first person left out. I would have won the 40-44 if I was one month older, and would have placed in any of the other age groups. You 35-39 guys are killing me.
In the overall 15k, Michael Banks just missed resetting the state record set last year by Kimutai Cheruiyot, taking the race in 45:49. Unlike last year, where Cheruiyot was seven minutes ahead of the field, Banks had company with Chapel Hill’s Hillary Too. Too finished just 6 seconds behind in 45:56. Both around 4:55 minute pace – incredible. Oh, and Too is 35, so I cleared one measly Tour de Columbia point. 40 cant come soon enough. You can tell I’m not bitter though. Brett Morley finished 3rd in 49:31. C’mon Brett, 5:19 pace? So weak.
In the women’s race Zipporah Chebet (53:55) won by a minute over EA’s Alyssa Bloomquist (54:57), with SR’s Kenzie Riddle (57:56) placing third. All smokin’ fast as well.
In masters, Ashton claimed first and 4th overall. You know you’ve got an absolute beast of a field when Eric doesnt get top 3. Linn Hall claimed female masters.
Age group honor roll: Brittany Robbins took 3rd in the 15-19, while TUS also scored in the 25-29 with 2nd place Daniel Patrick. Jennnifer Lybrand finished 2nd in the 25-29. Justin Bishop had to resort to a rare age group, winning the 30-34 with Jonathan Kinsey 2nd. Kristin Cattieu and Jamey Wilson went 1-2 in the women’s 30-34. Erin Miller won the 35-39 with “the blue girl” Heather Brumbach placing 2nd. I would have recognized Heather but she so rudely never let me catch her. Lee Moore decided to go ahead and turn 35 and win my age group, with Michael Nance a second behind. Third place went to Toby Selix, who was about 45 seconds in front of me. Doh! Some familiar names in the 40-44 with Colleen Vowles, Jennifer Conrick and Julia Early taking the women’s division, and Scott Flicker , Jeff Godby and Whitney Keen in the men. Winston Holliday, Jeff Burgess and Paul Drohomirecky won the 45-49. Jenn Covington doesnt race much but apparently has gotten blazing fast of late, taking down the speedy Dawndy Plank in the 45-49 women. Larry Jourdain and Howie Phan went 1-2 in the 50-54. Chantal Faure and Coleen Strasburger won the 50-54 women. Beasts Geary McAlister, Larry Bates and the OG swept the 55-59. Lorikay Keinzle, Alsena Edwards and Donna Freeman clamed an also very competitive 55-59 women. Mike Compton, Jack Kuenzie and Harry Strick swept the 60-64 men. Mary Howk continues to amaze with a 1:13 in the 60-64 women that would have also beat all the guys. Her 85 percent age grade would place her 5th overall among all men and women in this race. Lynn Grimes took 3rd. Shawn Chillag and Ken Lowden went 1-2 in the 65-69, while Brigitte Smith took 2nd among the women.
Let’s not forget all the trophy hunters in the undercard 5k. FYI, though the 15k has its mountains, the 5k is a blazing flat and fast course. Jud Brooker took the overall win with Plexico second. 15 year old Johnny Clemens placed third. EA’s Heather Costello took the women’s win in 18:58 followed by SR’s MC Cox and Theresa Penney. Sadly I missed the epic battle of masters beasts with Jeff Brandenburg just edging Mark Bedenbaugh 18:51 to 18:55 to place 4th and 5th overall. Birgit Spann won female masters.
Age groups: Madelyn Gomez is apparently as talented as her dad, blazing to a 29:06 at age 9 and taking the 2-10 division. Ashley Horton took 2nd in the 25-29. The 35-39 was no joke in the 5k either, with Luke Godwin blazing a 19:02 and Will Brumbach 2nd in 19:21. Lucia Velicu placed third among the 35-39 women. Meme Spurgeon took a break from receiving CRC and Palmetto grand Prix accolades this week and easily won the 40-44. Barbara Brandenburg won the 45-49. Gregory Jones smoked a 19:18 and crushed the 55-59, with John Gasque 2nd. Melinda Petruzzi has adopted a Blue Shoes style racing schedule and won the women’s 55-59. Pete Poore took the 60-64 with Sharon Sherbourne taking 2nd among the women. Albert Anderson and Ron Hagell wwent 1-2 in the 65-69. Patti Lowden won the women’s 65-69. Arnold Floyd and Rocky Soderberg went 1-2 in the 70-74, with Henry Holy taking the 75+.