The Labor Day 5 miler is the newest Strictly Running race, first put on a few years ago to complement the longstanding Cold Winter’s Day and Hot Summer’s night events. Strictly’s races are always well done, and always bring out the beasts. They usually put out time bounties for anyone able to break course records or break some ridiculous, super-human time. The Kenyans and studs in Blowing Rock, NC will make a run for it though, and its cool to race against some real elites, even if they’re gone in the first quarter mile.
This race, a relatively flat 5 miler through 5 points and Shandon, had money for sub 24:30 and sub 24 minutes. That’s like 4:45-4:55 pace. The cash was as good as mine.
Well, it might have been if I was 70 pounds lighter and born in Nairobi, but alas, I am saddled with the physique of the Albino Sasquatch. And a tired one at that. I usually double up on Labor Day weekend with the Saturday Crooked Creek 5k and the relay in this one. This year I decided I would actually run the whole 5 miles. But hey, why don’t I also mix things up and do the Palmetto Cross Country 5k at CIU on Saturday instead of Crooked Creek. Well, only 8 people showed up to that one, but since Yerg and Geary were 2 of them, it turned into a 110 percent effort through incredibly hilly and muddy trails. I about died. I decided to follow this up with a 9 mile “cool down” with Rob at Harbison forest, then biked/weights/swam on Sunday, a few hours with the boys at the pool, then a couple hours of singles tennis. When 5 am rolled around this morning (5 miler started at 7:30) a lot of voices screamed to sit this one out. I hadn’t even registered, so it was still an option…
For a sane person. No way was I going to be able to function knowing a race was going on. Not with some other 40 year old freak stealing my glory. I was in.
I get there over an hour early, in the dark, and sore just about everywhere. Code is the first person I see, and he wasn’t even racing. Our running nerdery knows no bounds. I asked if he wanted to relay it last second, but he is under strict Eric Ashton orders not to race. I could barely see the registration paper in the dark and kept wondering why I do this to myself. Did a couple of miles warmup with the Code, OG, Mario Alvarez, Geary and Joyce. Legs felt like I had been beaten with a stick. Kept praying to the Ibuprofen gods to work their magic.
As expected, this was anything but a trophy hunt. Beasts everywhere. The 60 year age group alone had Mike Compton, Pete O’Boyle and the OG. Pete Poore would have his work cut out for him today. This was an official Team Utopia South target event, so lots of black and gold. I’ jumped in halfway into their training cycle. Ike Davis and Ivanka Tolan have been making me work for it on the track, and they would be good pacers today. Coach Bishop, Lorikay, David, Carol, Joyce, Compton, Mike Nance, Kelbie, and Wade were also there for TUS. Strictly Running was fielding some beast relay teams with Coach B and Erin Miller in the coed division and Linn Hall and MC Cox for the ladies. J-Lybrand, Jonathan Kinsey and Matt Buffum were representing the Red Storm in the full race. Other familiar faces included Ron Hagell, Shirley Smith, Greta Dobe, Jennifer Glass, Wayne Shuler, Michael Jensen, Brigitte Smith, Henry Holt, Peter Mugglestone, Jim and Sheri Fadel, Alex Ponomarev, Pam Griffin, and Jennifer Reeves.
I basically knew the course from last year, when I ran the relay with my 11 year old son (Alex V, Blue Shoes, Jr.). You do a flat loop similar to the start of Strictly Running’s pizza run , return to Devine Street before flying down a cliff for a lap around MLK park. Quick tour through 5 points on Harden, then up the “Get to the Green” hill on Blossom and King. Once you’re at Hand Middle in Shandon (just over 2.5 miles in) its a big, relatively flat rectangle in Shandon with a long straightaway finish on Devine.
I again had no idea how to pace, since I was coming back from injury and having decided to wreck myself with activity over the weekend. My 5 mile PR is right around 6:20ish pace, so I figured 6:45 would be a reasonable goal for my current fitness, or lack thereof. I usually toe the line at the start but made sure to back off this time with all the beasts. The start predictably felt like crap. Legs thought they were done with racing this weekend and were not enjoying the extra helping of abuse. I was trying to find the goal pace but it felt like I was getting an epic beatdown since this race was so top heavy with fast peeps. At least the pizza run loop was flat. I’m used to J-Lybrand starting like a bat out of hell, but Ivanka and Ike were also leaving me in the dust too. What the hell? I kept screaming to myself to “run your own race” but the oversized ego residing in my melon head was taking a serious shot by getting such a heavy dose of whoop-ass. Despite all this internal turmoil, I was pleased that they had a race clock at mile 1 that gave me about a 6:48 split, so all was still ok. Just past the mile mark is the sharp descent into MLK park. I still don’t trust sharp drops (see July 2013) so despite my gravitational advantage over my peers, I was tiptoeing down the hill and got chicked in the process. Still felt pretty bad with the MLK loop, dreading the Blossom st hill. For some reason we crossed over the median on Harden halfway through, which was probably adding distance. I wasn’t sure if it was the official route or we were just all following the blazing fast Kenyan who was crushing the field. Thanks, Kimutai . Jeez.
A turn onto Blossom with a similar 6:41 split for mile 2. I finally pass Jen, who probably ran a 6 flat first mile. Blossom street hill is pretty brutal, not for being overly steep, just really long. Paradoxically, I’m pretty good at uphills so I manage to pass a few people of the way up. The relay exchange at 2.5 miles had me just over 17 minutes. The course doesnt really level out until Hand Middle on King St and by then I’m commencing with some pretty bad wind suckage. Mile 3 was an ugly 6:58 or something, but I was too afraid to pick it up, not knowing my race endurance at this point. Long stretch on Heyward, which I’ve run a million times. Finally I start to gain some ground on Ivanka and pass her about 3.5 miles in. She isn’t backing down much though, and I have to throw in a surge to keep her off my back. I can now see Ike up ahead and make him my next target. He isn’t giving in much either and I think it was just before the 4 mile mark that I finally overtook him. Mile 4 in 6:46. I start thinking about kicking it in but I hold off at first. With the turn onto Devine I decide it’s time to throw down. There’s a green shirt kid at the corner though, and he is not taking to kindly getting passed by a pasty Clydesdale twice his age. He surges and rides my shoulder for awhile. Oh dude, it’s on like Donkey Kong. The pace goes from luke warm to scalding hot in a hurry. Green shirt surges again just ahead of me but the race monster has been awakened like a green-eyed David Banner. I ramp it up again, plunging into 5 something pace and pulling alongside him again. The finish line is drawing closer – you can see it the whole time on Devine. My lungs are blasting into overdrive, but no way is this kid breaking me. I’m half aware that I’m passing what appears to be an age grouper pretty close to the finish, and Justin is there calling out its only 400 meters. And then I decide to go all in, pushing the chips on the table and charging like a deranged white Incredible Hulk towards the finish. Green shirt finally gives in and I start pulling closer to another guy as the finish line looms in the next block. I’m giving about 1000 percent effort when I can see some gray flecks in the hair of the guy ahead. AGGH another age grouper! But I’ve run out of real estate, crashing through the finish in 33:38 (6:44 overall pace) and making sweet, sweet love to the Devine street asphalt.
After about 30 seconds of breathing like a jackrabbit on crack, Ike pulls me off the street and Ivanka is right behind, both crushing awesome times. I figure I’m probably out of the age group chances but at the results tent I’m shocked to see I got 2nd. So glad to be out of the 35-39! Of course, the dude in front of me was 44 and got me by 4 seconds. Well played, John Gibbons. The epic finish was necessary though, as 3rd place was indeed the guy I passed on Devine, finishing 9 seconds behind me. You are now in my radar, Andrew Ortaglia. I suppose I should also give props to 25 year old Wilson “green shirt” Harvey, who paced my 6:18 final mile and got 2nd in AG to boot.
In the overall, the aforementioned Kenyan Kimutai Cheruiyot ran an incredible 23:56, taking home like 2000 dollars. 4:48 pace. Wow. Adam Freudenthal took 2nd in 25:20, a lowly 5:04 pace. Slacker. SR’s Jonathan Kinsey placed 3rd in 26:53.
In the women’s race, another Chapel Hill Kenyan athlete, Susan Jerotich, took the win in 26:58. Caitlin Bullock rocked a 29:12 for second, and Sara Powell clocked a 31:12 for third.
Age group glory: TUS’ David Russell won the 25-29, with SR’s Jennifer Lybrand winning among the women. TUS coach Justin Bishop claimed first in the 30-34, with Ike Davis 2nd. TUS’ Ivanka Tolan claimed 1st in the 35-39 with Marian Nanney 2nd. TUS’ Michael Nance placed 2nd in the brutal 35-39 men. Jennifer Glass ran a 45:36 to claim 2nd in the 40-44. SR’s Matt Buffum claimed the 45-49, with Wayne Shuler 3rd. Joyce Welch (TUS) took the female 45-49, with Sherry Fadel 2nd. Greta Dobe (TUS) finished 3rd in the 50-54 women, with Mario Alvarez winning among the men. Geary McAlister claimed the 55-59, while Lorikay Keinzle (TUS) and Carol Wallace (TUS) went 1-2 among the women. Robbie McLendon, Pete O’ Boyle and Mike COmpton (TUS) swept one of the fastest 60-64 divisions ever (all sub 37 minutes) . Alex POnamarev and Brigitte Smith were champs of the 65-69. Arnold Floyd, Peter Mugglestone and Ron Hagell swept the 70-74. Henry Holt and Jesse Smarr went 1-2 in the 75+.
In the relays, the Benedict men dominated, taking the top 3 spots. Strictly Running claimed the coed division with Coach B and Erin Miller blazing a 30:04. Strictly also took the women’s relay title, with Linn Hall and MC Cox running a 31:54.