The Quarry Crusher is back again for its 4th year in 2015, and this is also my 4th time doing the race. I entered this event on a whim in its first year and I keep coming back because its one of the most unique and fun events in Columbia. The concept is simple: run about a third of a mile on a road, then plunge into the center of the earth via a mile-and- a -half -long -ten -percent- grade gravel-laden -corkscrew- of- death. Oh yeah, then haul your butt back up to the surface for the finish. Total distance about 3.8 miles. My first year I went out like a headless chicken with the leaders, doing a 5:40 first mile. On my climb out I was reduced to a gimpy soccer mom on a mall walk, trudging up at like 14 minute pace and setting a new world record for F bombs in a race. It wasn’t pretty.
Since that time I’ve managed to do better, maintaining at least a slow jog on the way up, but I’m still on the fence as to the best race strategy. I’ve seen people do OK with the walk-run method too. The mile and a half incline is merciless and unrelenting.
Of course, what could be better than trashing your legs on a 400 foot drop into a pit and crawling your way out? Doing it twice. This year they decided to add the “Double Crusher” which was exactly that. Frequent racers such as myself possess a sick, twisted kind of masochism which makes this sort of thing seem appealing. Of course I was in for the double. Duh! Bonus: the quarry keeps getting dug deeper every year, so the race gets even longer. Awesome.
With the new double crusher in play, I was pretty psyched about this race. I showed up almost an hour early and I could tell this event is continuing to grow in popularity. Already a big crowd. Derek Gomez had told me he would be there for a warm up. Race day was also his 40th birthday, so my brief respite from the beasts of the 35-39 was quickly coming to an end. He was doing the single crusher, so my trophy hunt was still in play. A quick look online at the registrants for both races showed hundreds in the single but maybe only 70 in the double, so the “undercard” strategy was working for me in the shiny metal trinket department.
Speaking of 35-39 beasts, my Team Utopia teammates Michael Nance. Drew Williams and the Yerg were already there. Apparently kicking my ass on the track every Monday wasn’t enough. It should be noted that the Yerg kills this race. Dude is already fast, but something about him being super light and doing all that Mount Mitchell training makes him a total quarry stud. Speaking of Mt Mitchell veterans, there was a large Harbison Trail Runner contingent on board, ready to crush the spirits of all us wussy road racers. Fearless leaders Rick Stroud and Dean Schuster were there along with Winston Holliday, Craig Wlaschlin, Jay Hammond, Kenny Standley, Bill Siebers, Alfie Hipps, Marian Nanney and Rick Gibbons. Other familiar faces/CRCers on site included Steve Rudnicki, James Hicks, Greta Dobe, Mario and Jennifer Tudor, Henry Holt, Rocky Soderberg, Micah Simonsen, Wes Spratt, sisters Milly and Connie Hough, Robyn Culberson, Brigitte Smith, Emily Richbourg, Harry Strick, Pam Boggs, Makenzie Wilson, John Richards, Hou-Yin Chang, Shiela Subbarao and Jen Reeves. Milly and Robyn had mentioned something on facebook about trying to complete the single before I finished my double. Challenge: accepted! J-Reeves asked about the option of upgrading to the double the night before, and was emailed back that they already switched her. Time to man up JR.
This being my fourth crusher, I was actually pretty familiar with the course and racing strategy. You start off with a relatively flat third of a mile or so on paved road. The first little bit in the quarry gives you a false sense of security that it isn’t going to be that bad. A soft decline and even a water stop at the half mile mark (which actually I think is for the way back up). Once you pass the water stop there is a sharp decline, then a 90 degree turn to the left and another sharp decline. I call these the upper mountains. Once you reach the bottom of the second mountain, you reach a plateau I call Oh S$^%! corner. It’s a flat area with another water stop, and you get your first look at the corkscrew down into the seventh circle of hell. Hence the Oh S@#$#. The rest of the course is the Corkscrew of Death, finishing with virtually no rest before you have to go right back up. For the double crusher, you have a turnaround at the quarry gates to repeat all the fun.
My race strategy was to stick with the “just keep going” plan I’d done since the second race. If I start walking, I lose all motivation, so I planned to avoid it if I could. I had no idea if that was going to be possible the second time around. Competition-wise, if I could hang with in the middle of the Harbison guys (like Make my Day) I’d be happy. I dont make it out to Harbison much, but I train on Mount Sesqui all the time, so maybe that would help with the off road climbing.
At the start, I realize I haven’t hydrated well because I’m actually thirsty before I even take a step. It’s on the warm side and super humid. This was going to be rough. I had lined up about 3 rows back, but with the start I’m getting passed left and right right off the bat. It was OK, I had a strong feeling I would be seeing them again. Rob, Drew, Derek and Nance dropped me immediately, and I let them go. Drew and Gomez were doing the single, so I knew they would be hauling. Nance and Yerg were going to crush me in the double. I decide to latch on to Micah as a pacer. A half mile in I plunder the first water stop, double fisting the cups like I’ve just done a marathon, chugging like its a beer mile. At least I’ve got the dehydration thing taken care of. I am getting passed left and right on the Upper mountains. It’s the Sasquatchian Paradox: all this weight and can’t go fast on downhills. Rapid acceleration down walls of rock has never been a good thing for me either. I take another chug at Oh Sh@##$ corner and proceed to the Corkscrew of Death. I hit mile 1 in like 6:40, which I guess is OK, considering the double. I’m experimenting with all kinds of form on the way down, trying to get the most speed without turning my quads into hamburger meat. It’s not working very well. Between all the pounding I start hearing vague echoes from below, like some kind of ghostly hallucination. Before I start questioning my sanity, I see they’ve actually got a band down at the bottom. It’s weird because you can’t hear them at all at the top. Appropriately they are playing ” (I am) My Own Worst Enemy” by Lit when I get there. #truth. This year the bottom is a big loop, and damned if Gomez, Yerg and Nance are already completing the loop and going up again by the time I drag my butt down. I finally hit “rock bottom” and start the slog up. Somehow I always forget how much the climb sucks. It does…very much. I try very hard not to think of how long it is to the top. Micah and Craig are up ahead doing some walk running pretty much immediately. I just chug along, blazing a ten minute pace. I do seem to be passing quite a few people, though Simonsen is keeping the gap up with the run intervals. The walksie voices start screaming pretty loudly near the top of the Corkscrew but Oh S@#%$ corner gives me a brief respite to flush out some lactic acid. Irish handcuffs again with the water. The Upper Mountains really suck but you can see the top on the second climb, so that briefly distracts me from the burning, quivering masses that used to be called my legs. Reaching the top is usually euphoric but I can already see the leaders coming back from the turnaround ahead. The double crusher is suddenly seeming much less attractive. But actually the way back down is much nicer. My legs are so grateful for the climbing break, I swear I’m going faster on the second trip down. It’s nice to be able to see a bunch of familiar faces, especially when you’re freefalling and they are in an epic struggle. Yes, I am a terrible person. I am still latched on to Micah, who by now is probably REALLY getting sick of having a rabid bear chasing him. Sorry for the nightmares, dude. At Oh S@#$ corner I realize my shoelaces are coming untied. Unfreakingbelievable. A couple hundred races in and I still can’t get basic stuff right (that and being able to pin a bib on straight – I really suck at that). I realize this is probably a hazard flying down a 10 percent decline, but, as has been thoroughly documented, I am not known for my sound racing decisions. I manage to make it all the way down the corkscrew with laces flying, when I finally come to my senses and stop to tie them. It about kills me because I can see Micah leaving me behind, and then Winston passes me too. It’s not fair! At least that’s what my inner 5 year old says. He actually guides much of my other behavior too, apparently. Starting up again is tough, since I’ve decided to come to a dead stop at the bottom with a mile and a half of torture to go. I launch into my power jog once again, which may have even been under 11 minute pace. Blazing. Band is playing “Inside Out” by Eve 6 and I wonder how many race/quarry related songs these guys know. I was impressed. One thing I notice on the slog back up – its not actually any harder. It still sucks royally, but I guess your legs get used to the abuse at some point. I keep drawing near Winston, Micah and Craig when they walk but as soon as I get close they take off again. Damn them! Women’s leader Marian Nanney passes me on the run then I pass her back with my relentless shuffle on the Upper Mountains. As we near the summit of the second lap, I can see everybody start to quicken the pace, and I slowly start to fire up the engines. We reach the gate area and we’re only a third of a mile on the road to the finish. Micah and Craig seem out of reach, but Winston has fallen off the back a bit and what’s this?? It’s a pink Ray Tanner shirt! Must be Milly or Robyn. And then the beast is awoken. It feels like I’m taking a twitchy stick shift out for a ride, but I quickly switch about 5 gears up to 5k pace, and then all out headless chicken mode. With about 50 meters to go I pass Winston and then Robyn, who I think said something unprintable on my way by. In an all out sprint, I try to take down Micah, but he finishes a step ahead and narrowly avoids being run over by the Sasquatch bus. I cross the line in 51:19, 12th overall in the Double, and inexplicably, 1st in age group! Apparently it pays to be 40 this time – i would have been 4th in the 35-39. Awesome ginormous race bling for the age group winners – bigger than a lot of marathon finisher medals.
In the Double, Brad Popple won the overall by like 5 minutes. Dude looked like a pro and was running up the quarry looking like my 5k pace. Harbison trail runner Marian Nanney took the women’s win. They only did 1st in AG for the double, I guess because of the small field. In the 30-34, Sheila Subbarao beat out a host of elite 30-34ers to take the win, with Craig Wlaschin winning among the men. Bill Siebers took the men’s 45-49 and Catherine Harris took the women’s title in a pink tutu. Stole my idea. Kenny Standley ran an amazing 44:49 to take 2nd overall and win the 50-54. I am not worthy. Wes Spratt won the 55-59 but paid for it with one of the best finshing photos of all time. Dr. Shawn Chillag took the 65-69.
In the Single, Derek Gomez celebrated his 40th in style by taking the overall win, edging out Trent Morrow and Jeremy Becraft. Strong work, dude! Jennifer Oblinger took the women’s win. Ryan Sacko placed 3rd in the 30-34. Drew Williams technically took 3rd in the 35-39, though they used chip time on age group awards instead of gun time, so he was left out. Rick Gibbons won the 55-59, and Jack Kuenzie took the 60-64. Brigitte Smith won the 65-69, while Henry Holt and Rocky Soderberg went 1-2 in the 70+.