Make my Day is a trail 5k and 12k, now in its 6th year, run in Harbison State Forest. It’s run by Half Moon Outfitters and proceeds go directly to benefit the park. Being a trail race, I didnt give it a try at first, but between the awesome shirts, pistol awards and major race swag, I finally gave it a go in 2013. I don’t remember a whole lot about that race, other than it being brutal and getting a beatdown by Charley and his dog Winston. Last year it was snowy and I was still recovering from the cliff dive, so I opted for the 5k. For some reason, the 5k became an epic cluster and people were running anywhere from 2 to 7 miles. I was upset since I thought I’d finally secured my age group pistol. Alas, they scrapped all the awards and I went home grumpy again. Never get between the Sasquatch and his shiny trinkets.
But I’m back to my pre-cliff self now, so I was going to give it another try, this time back in the 12k. Its one of the more competitive trail races, so I’d have my work cut out for me.
Trails and I have a love/hate relationship. I live a half mile from Sesquicentennial State Park, aka Jeff Brandenburg’s backyard. I do the trails there all the time, enjoying the soft mountain bike route and brutalizing myself on the mountain of the entrance road there. So training off-road has never been a problem. Racing, on the other hand, has been a whole ball of suck. I’m like twice the size of runners with similar ability. Put me on some winding single track and it’s more like an elephant stampede through the jungle. Also, I’m a faller, in case you didnt realize. You dont have to throw a 20 foot Hawaiian cliff in front of me – I busted my ass 2 weekends ago over the rugged terrain of a Devine Street sidewalk. Get me on the Harbison trails and you can pretty much bet I’ll be crashing down at some point. But at least I’m not like the Vowles clan. Ken (i.e. the Pale Beast, aka the Pointsmaster) and Colleen have both been bloodied by Harbison, and their son Kenneth had to go to the ER after an epic wipeout at Xterra last year. Yikes.
So it was not without trepidation that I showed up at Harbison for my first trail race since Climb the Clay last May. Like the Long Run, it is cold as balls again. Around thirty degrees, though at least its sunny. Its been pretty dry recently so the trails are in great condition. Warmed up about a half mile with James Hicks. All the trail beasts are on board, i.e. the Harbison Trail Runners. Rick Stroud has brought all his South Carolina Runners of Trails and Ultra Marathons (SCROTUM, the best running group name ever) to this thing, and they look ready to claim the home team advantage. Brian “El Capitan” Clyburn and wife Jen, Eric Bopp, Craig Wlaschin, Jay Hammond, Yerg, Drew Williams, Bill Siebers, Dean Schuster, Winston Holliday were out wearing the gray “Blood Chit” shirts and representing. CRC brought out our trail warriors with Geary McAlister, Larry Bates and Dina Mauldin from last year’s trail series championship. Other familiar faces included Micah Simonsen, Jason Thompson, Jeremy Becraft, Lorand Batten, Pete O’ Boyle, David Johnson, Joe and Luke Naylor, Sandra Ricciuto, Mark/Sherry/Alex Robertson, Teresa Harrington, Lois Leaburn, Greta Dobe, Sheila Subbarao and Paige Tyler in the 12k. In the 5k, Meg Weis appeared to have the easy win. Ian Clawson, James Hicks, Jennifer Conrick. Heath/Brady Ward, Arnold Floyd, and Stephanie “Stevie Dee” Dukes were also on hand.
With the start I apparently had too much caffeine because I took off like a bat out of hell. I think somehow I had a completely ridiculous thought I would run this at 6:30ish pace like a flat road 12k. Um, wrong answer. The race starts on an incline and then splits the 5k and 12k at the top. Entering the first section of trail, I am rudely awakened to the fact that a) this is definitely not like the roads and b) this sure as hell isn’t Sesqui. Roots, switchbacks, sudden inclines, crevices, logs – I feel completely out of control rumbling through this course and I’m firing all kinds of muscles I never use. I’m not more than a half mile in before Clyburn and his dog start what will be a virtual conga line of people passing me. After the Clyburn pass, I try and speed up but I feel like there’s a rabid bear chasing me down every step. Turns out this rabid bear is named Drew Williams, who passes me like I’m standing still. Man this sucks. I can feel the lactic acid and feeling of impending bonktastrophe overcoming me already. Here comes Bill, Bopp, Dean and Winston leapfrogging over me over the course of the next mile or so as I start entering full on Debbie Downer mode.
I have no sense of where I am, despite the number of times I’ve run Harbison, because in racing the course I’ve spent almost all my time looking at the ground, desperately trying not to fall. Not that I haven’t tried, as I’d already had 2 near wipeouts by the time I’ve reached the Midlands Mountain trail. At least I’m keeping up with the back of the 5 person Dean train ahead of me.
Midlands Mountain is aptly named. My legs, already burning from the abuse of the first few miles, trudge up a hellacious climb and I’m reduced to nearly a walk. Luckily everybody else is dying too. We pass a group from Kore fitness with Jenny Prather and David Nance, with Jenny telling me “Looking good!”. I didn’t know she was capable of such lies. I’m just about cashed – I had momentarily caught Winston when he stopped for water, but he’s passed and dropped me again. Another nasty incline with switchbacks, and my caboose to this train is about off the tracks. I’m losing sight of the guys in front of me, and my brain is begging me to just mail in the rest.
But all of a sudden we start hitting some flat stretches. Gloriously flat and straight. My legs, fried from all the lateral movement and climbing, can finally stride out. I wouldn’t say I felt good again, but at least I wasnt crumpled over in pain. I start making some serious headway on the guys in front of me and I eventually catch up to Winston and a younger guy. My Garmin suddenly beeps and I realize I’ve been ignoring it the whole time. I look down for my 4 mile split and it gives me like a 7:50, which is probably useless with all the hills and forest. But just as I put my arm down the split time goes away and I do a double take…holy crap its for five miles. Somehow with all the shoegazing I mentally missed a whole mile. Sweet – lets get this thing done.
A long slightly uphill, but straight, stretch opens up. Winston passes the other dude and I follow suit. Dean’s about 50 meters ahead. I start recognizing some of the finishing stretch of Rudolphs rampage and Xterra, so I know we are getting close. And thats enough to start throwing down. Knowing Dean probably could navigate Harbison in the dark, I take aim at him and start chasing. One problem, he’s speeding up too. Over a couple of logs, then a short water crossing. Like a steeplechase from hell. I’m redlining it pretty bad and not making a lot of headway, sort of a slow creep. I know there’s one brutal hill to go, and I’ve drawn pretty close as it comes into view.
I attack the hill as hard as I can go, figuring this is my chance. I can’t fly gracefully over technical singletrack, but I can get my sasquatch ass up a hill. My neighborhood is a freaking mountain range and I make Jeff Brandenburg’s Sesqui sand hell part of my weekly routine. About three quarters up I finally catch Dean. I’d like to say it was a triumphant pass. But it was decidedly less so with both of us barely moving and sucking wind like two grandmas out for a mall walk. As soon as I reach the top I headless chicken it. Hard as I can go. I keep worrying that I’m at very high risk for falling now, but I’m dead set on getting this thing done. I know Yerg hasnt passed me, so I think I might have an outside chance at some age group glory. Finally I hit the last stretch and almost catch a kid as I flop over the line in 56 minutes and change. I barely turn around and Dean finishes just a couple seconds behind me. Good thing I didn’t look back!
56:47 officially, and 2nd in age group! First time I’ve placed in this race, though technically 1st (Tim Gibbons) and 2nd (Jeremy Becraft) are in my AG too, so I’ll claim all of 4th place and 3 points on the Tour de Columbia on this one. It was a good trail effort for me, and I’m very happy to finish even in the middle of the pack of Harbison runners. I was initially disappointed they scrapped the awesome pistol awards this year (it was their signature), but the sponsors went nuts on the swag. Besides the medal, 2nd place got me a pair of 65 dollar shoes from Half Moon. Very nice. Drew got first and got a 100 dollar gift card and a hat. Pretty sweet for an overall, much less an age group.
Speaking of overall 12k, Tim Gibbons won in 50:13, followed by Jeremy Becraft and Christopher Powell. In the women’s race, Jani Linde took the win in 1:00:36, followed by Emily Morrow and Shamia Thompson. 12k AG honor roll: Luke Naylor took home the 1-12 win, with Alex Robertson claiming 2nd in the 13-19. Micah Simonsen finished about 30 seconds behind me to claim 3rd in my AG, with Jason Thompson right behind him. I better watch my back. The 40-49 group was just insane with all 3 under 56 minutes: Eric Bopp, Brian Clyburn and John Gibbons. The 50-59 wasn’t much easier with Jay Hammond winning over Geary McAlister and Larry Bates – all three under an hour. Harry Strick took the 60+.
Jen “She Hulk” Clyburn won the 30-39 women. She doubled up with the Polar Bear challenge at Lake Murray later. #hardcore status earned. CRC’s Lana Morrison took 2nd in the 40-44, with tri beast Lisa Powell winning the 50-59. Brigitte Smith was champion of the 60+.
In the 5k, Brian Carrington took home the win in 21:34 followed by Chris Hill and Ryan Gadow. As predicted, Meg Weis easily took the women’s win followed by Sarah French and Jennifer Conrick. In the age groups, Brady “Junior Diesel” Ward placed 2nd and Tyler Robertson 3rd in the 1-12. Ian Clawson claimed 2nd in the 13-19. James Hicks trophy hunted well in the 30-39, taking 1st. CRC went 1-2 in the 40-44 women with Stephanie Dukes and Tracy Tisdale-Williams taking home some swag. Roy Shelley placed 3rd in the brutal men’s 40-49. Arnold Floyd had a tough competitior (Donald Cline) in the 60+ but held him off for the win.