Stomp the Swamp is a 5k course run entirely on the River Bluff High School campus and goes to benefit their high school cross country teams. It’s put on by Derek Gomez, their coach, who also has a part-time gig beating the crap out of me in road races and triathlons. Not to mention making everybody else around him feel very unfit. But at least he’s nice while he’s doing it. First year was a success in 2014, so Gomez was hoping for even bigger this time around.
The race is hard to categorize, but would probably be closest to the Crooked 5k in Chapin – a high school cross country style course that is actually mostly paved. Start and finish are really cool in the River Bluff football stadium, which would make most small colleges proud. I mean it has a swank press box, gigantic video scoreboard and a posh looking area over the endzone, which I can only assume is for elite donors or something. Pretty nice.
The course is pretty tough but definitely unique. I somehow survived joy rides on Corley Mill rd back in high school, when it was a narrow roller coaster of death through the woods. Now I’d have to be running this thing. First mile is flat out of the stadium then a climb out to the entrance road. You then get to hike up a paved mountain (the announcer was calling this the “calf crusher”) only to circle around a cone and plummet back down to the entrance road. For mile 2, you then go across a parking lot, over a covered bridge and slight incline to a second entrance road. Then there’s a twisting paved trail that hides the fact you are going straight up a hill. Dont worry, your quads will remind you. Once you reach the top of the paved trail hill (about 1.75 miles) the rest is almost all downhill and flat. You careen down the trail hill, out into a parking lot, pass the 2 mile mark, and a long downhill . A very short uptick near the front of the stadium, before cruising downhill again and onto the football field for the finish. In short, lots of climbing in the first 2 miles with a very fast 3rd.
I knew this one would be tough for me, but I’ve been able to start speedwork with Team Utopia South again, albeit a lot slower after all the injury downtime. I ran last year’s race in decent shape and still didnt break 20 minutes, not to mention getting brutally chicked by Bri Hartley and Anna Jenkins. Shame has new meaning when you get smoked by girls born in the 21st century. So I figured anything south of 21 minutes would be acceptable.
The only problem to my race strategy was the Social Distortion show in Charlotte on Friday night. My friend going with me even asked me months ago – “won’t you be running a race that next morning??” “I’ll be fine” I said. To quoth Social D, “I was wrong”. There was dinner at a Charlotte bar, 2 opening acts, a long show, a 1:30 am arrival time back in Columbia, and a very thirsty Sasquatch throughout. I woke up at 5:30 feeling like my head fell off another cliff and my mouth stuffed with cotton balls. Nice work, hero. I’m forty years old but apparently my 19 year old brain still hasn’t gotten the memo.
Most people would probably bail at this point, but my race obsession knows no bounds. I was shotgunning Gatorade, Tylenol, Ibuprofen and coffee the whole way to Lexington, cursing my poor beer mathematics throughout. Showed up late, looking like death warmed over. Got my packet, finished another round of toilet destruction and did a snail’s pace mile and a half. This was going to suck.
Which is too bad, because it was an absolutely perfect morning. Unbelievably cool for an August morning, like mid 60’s and low humidity. There was a pretty big crowd on hand. I couldn’t scope out the competition too well , since F3 and FiA had huge groups doing a pre-race workout as part of a double down event associated with the race. A lot of these guys looked pretty fit, but difficult to tell if they could run. I was sure there had to be a few of the stealth superfit soccer dads that trash my trophy hunts on a regular basis. No clear elites in this race. Avery Johnson (last year’s winner) and the Dutch Fork team had a meet elsewhere and I didnt see Plex, Ashton or Justin. Team Utopia South fielded Michael Nance, the Yerg, Joyce, Julia, Mike Compton and myself. I decided to not disgrace the black and gold this morning. Robbie “OG” McClendon and Nicole came all the way from Bishopville, which was cool. Ty Thomas was on hand, hoping for another pic showdown like our battle at Lexington Race Against Hunger. I told him there was no chance of that. Arnold Floyd, Peter Mugglestone, Rocky Soderberg, Henry Holt, Leeds Barroll, Pete Poore, Brigitte Smith, Eric Bopp, Devon Shirley and Jennifer Conrick were some familiar faces. The Code and Wendy Hart showed up to spectate and help take pics.
I was feeling marginally better at the start, as some of my hangover concoction started kicking in. I lined up pretty much on the first row and got passed by a ton of people before we even left the stadium. The first quarter mile gives you some flat before the pain begins. Nance and some other guy already were separating from the field. I saw Rob and Ty up ahead, and damned if Compton wasn’t crushing it out of the gate too. I had no idea how to pace under my current conditioning and decidedly poor “race prep” so I was flying blind. I was definitely not going to push it though – no need to end the no-puke streak. Brief climb to the entrance road then up the “calf crusher”. I heard the stadium announcer talking about the “leaders heading into the parking lot” but it turns out it was just Wendy and the Code trying to haul ass to get a better vantage point for pics. Nice speed work guys. The calf crusher sucked as expected. Ty was already mocking me for being so slow when he saw me on his way back down. He’s known for his psychological torture tactics. I made the turn and gimpily ran down the mountain, fearful of reinviting the shin splint and plantar fasciitis combo back into my life. The crusher dumped you back into a parking lot for mile 1 – 6:58. Through the covered breezeway, then up onto road number 2 and the start of the paved trail. I had briefly pulled ahead of Compton but he passed me again on the road. On the paved trail we were shoulder-to-shoulder, breathing like an industrial machine, total Geary McAlister style. I tried to drop him but he was riding me like a monkey and my grizzly bear agility wasn’t helping me with all the twists and turns. Finally I broke free a little as we reached the summit of the trail hill and started the downhill section. I was basically flopping all over the place on the way down, trying not to slip and fall, which I’m really good at (see July 2013). The trail dumped out into another parking lot and it was great to have some flat, straight pavement again (Dean Schuster and Rick Stroud shudder in unison). Mile 2 in 6:58 again. I felt pretty good, probably because I had finally cleared out last night’s toxins and probably because some part of me realized I was doing something north of my old half marathon pace. Time to pull an Emeril and kick it up a notch. It helped there was a nice slight downhill by this point. A muscular looking F3 dude was ahead of me and I got close enough to see some slight flecks of gray in his hair. AGE GROUPER! Must take him down. I took a tentative step into the pain cave and started ramping up a kick, though there was at least a half mile to go. We went plunging down a hill and I managed to pass F3 guy with the slight incline in front of the stadium. I looked up ahead and was surprised to see the Yerg. I knew he was up near the leaders at the beginning, so he must be fading. I start spelunking the pain cave even further as I pass another guy and blast into full on blue shoe mode. I’m sucking wind like there’s no tomorrow on the road outside the stadium but I get a jolt of adrenaline once I hit the artificial turf of the football field. One lap in the stadium and my lungs are begging for mercy. But the Yerg is in my sights with blood in the water. I’m starting to draw near on the first turn, and then try to pull a ricky bobby inside pass . The only problem is Rob also hugs the corner and we collide at the shoulder. I’m briefly stunned but given our huge mass differential, I can only think the Yerg got the worse end of the deal. I then launch into an all-out headless chicken to the finish, crossing in 20:37. 7th overall, 1st in AG.
Ok, so I would not have predicted a few months ago that Rob and I would be racing for a mid 20 minute 5k time. But I’ll take it at this point, especially with the way I was feeling at the start. The last mile had to be close to 6 flat, so that’s a good feeling, even if it was downhill. Still beat my terrible Springdale 5k from 3 weeks ago on a lot harder course.
In the overall, Nance scored his first overall win in recent times, staying with Daryl Hammond at the beginning and crushing the last mile for 18:34. Daryl won male masters at 51 years old in 18:52 – very strong. John Henis took 3rd at 49 years old, so it was apparently an all star masters race. Devon Shirley had the easy win for the women. Female masters went to Jennifer Conrick. All the overall winners scored awesome gator head trophies, of which I was exceedingly jealous.
Age group honor roll: Yerg captured second in age group after our “epic” showdown to finish 2 minutes slower than our PRs. Anthony Hernandez was the age grouper mentioned above, and sure enough was in the 40-44, taking 2nd place. Ty Thomas broke 20 minutes on this tough course and still finished 2nd in a brutal 45-49. Mike Compton was a monkey on my back and rode it to a grandmasters PR for him in 21:12. OG, Pete Poore and Leeds Barroll made up the rest of the 60-64 top 4. Alex Ponomarev was back and scored 1st in the 65-69. Arnold Floyd, Peter Mugglestone, Henry Holt and Rocky Soderberg were tops in a super competitive 70+. Henry is back running low 28’s despite being 6 years clear of the other youngsters.
Among the women, Derek’s daughter Madelyn Gomez scorched the course in 24:43 at age 10. Wow. Team Gomez also scored with wife/mom Jamie , taking 2nd in the 35-39. Heather Mullenax took 1st in the 40-44. Joyce Welch and Julia Early had a battle for the ages, running together the whole race. Joyce took it by a step, though I’m thinking Julia may have let up. Aren’t these ladies competitive? I would give up half a lung to beat the Code (and have, on occasion). Joyce and Julia took the top 2 in the 45-49. Brigitte Smith came up from Aiken once again to claim the 65-69.