The Pumpkin 5k is put on by Erin Roof and company at the YMCA and goes to benefit their Annual Campaign to make the Y available to everyone through scholarships and financial assistance. I first did it in 2009 and I’ve run it several times since, including a scorching 42 minute 5k with a complainy 10 year old in 2013.
Little Alex did have a point – the course is pretty brutal and a little long (garmin has been 3.18 consistently), but it being a Y event I could count on it being well done and swagtastic.
Since it was Halloween, I saw they were encouraging costumes for this one. I am typically a purist – dont make me run through color clouds or eat a box of donuts halfway. Running Times not Runners World. Yes, I am an insufferable runsnob. But, I got suckered into buying a Hulk costume in a post-beer Target expedition with three overeager preteens, so I might as well get some mileage out of this thing.
The problem is that I am not the chunky beast I once was, so putting on the oversized green muscle shirt looked pretty pathetic. Like Hulk was dying of some horrible illness. Bonus is that masks have evolved since the 1980’s. The ones from my youth were oppressive sweat boxes for your face, forcing you to breathe through two pin holes until you hyperventilated and were about to pass out. Not to mention the plasticky Gi-Joe sauna suit that left you drenched on a typical 70 degree South Carolina Halloween night. This Hulk mask had padding and was pretty easy to breathe through, and the shirt was fairly comfortable.I even test drove it at Strictly Running’s costume Run for Pizza. This was going to be fine.
I was impressed at the turnout when I showed up on race morning. Erin had told me they were shooting for 800, which I thought was a grandiose delusion on par with something I would see at work. This was a week after Ray Tanner, so I figured it would be tough to get people out 2 weeks in a row. Some people think that’s excessive. BAHAHA. Amazingly, there seemed to be at least several hundred on hand, so hats off to the Roof publicity machine.
After doing a couple of warm up miles with Charlie Clements, I realize that this crowd is really slim on the competition factor. I don’t see any elite types, at least not initially. I ran into Angel and figured he might be eligible for the trophy hunter’s holy grail, the overall win. I mean, the Code is a former champion here, so mere mortals have prevailed in the past. That was all shot to hell when Dimery made his typical last second arrival. And when we finally lined up, there were some front row guys that at least looked really fast. I figured Liz Locke was going to win the women’s race in a cake walk (though disappointed she didnt choose the Stay Puft costume from the SR run). Alex Ponomarev, Pete Poore, John Gasque, Arnold Floyd, Peter Mugglestone, Brigitte Smith, Rocky Soderberg and Henry Holt made up a crew that have probably already put in 20+ races each this year. Pete O’Boyle, Karen Manning, Missy Caughman, Lisa Smarr, Wayne Shuler, David Pappas, Shelley and Marion Hinson, Pam Griffin, the O’Toole family, The Petruzzis, and Mike and Kat Hudgins (as Fred and Velma from Scooby Doo) were some of the familiar faces. Todd Heinecke, Paul Sadler and of course Erin and Sarah Roof were on hand as race staff.
At the start line I reviewed the course with Angel. You run up and out of the parking lot and then downhill onto Firetower Rd. From there, a mile of hellish, quad destroying hill, then turn around and come all the way back. Seemed simple enough. Luckily this time I wouldn’t have to endure watching my son getting chicked by a bunch of preteen Southern Strutt girls.
I lined up just behind Dimery and the start was a total stampede with so many people (results had 494, Erin said about 600 total registered plus the kids run). I am trying hard not to hit people, though when you’re nearly 200 pounds and wearing a Hulk costume, people tend to give you the right of way. The mask made it about 200 meters. It might have been fine at 9 minute pace, but the wind suckage at low 6 was not mask-friendly. In hindsight I should have just ditched it there near the parking lot, but I wanted it for the finish photo. We’ll get to that…
Luckily, the demasking helped a lot with the whole oxygen exchange thing, and I was able to settle in. As usual, there are all kinds of people all around me trying to crush the first mile. Did these dudes even look at the course? I guess not. Liz is taking a page from her SR teammate Jen Lybrand and is blasting it out too. Angel is surprisingly not in the picture. We round a turn near the mile mark and we get our first look at the multi-tiered mountain ahead of us. Oh God, this is going to suck. Mile 1 in 6:15, a little overcooked, but not surprising given the amount of downhill and adrenaline rush of the start. Once Mount Misery begins the pack gets real thin, real quick. Dimery and three other guys are a whole zip code ahead, but suddenly its just me and this familiar looking guy just ahead. He’s a got a few grays so he’s probably masters and threatening to take my trophy. He must be beaten! Despite the extra luggage of beers and pizza I carry around, I’m surprisingly good on hills. I power up the mountain taking down masters guy and Liz in the process. Suddenly it feels like I’m winning the race, if it wasn’t for the four guys with actual talent a quarter mile ahead of me. Speaking of these guys, they suddenly come into view again on their way back down the mountain, so I’m hopeful the turnaround is somewhere up there soon.
I finally motor over the summit of Mt. Firetower only to realize the turnaround cone is about 50 meters down the other side. Approaching the cone, I exhibit all the finesse of a speeding 18 wheeler trying to stop on a dime. There’s just no way to gracefully turn around on a downgrade at 5k pace. I jolt to a complete stop and try to power back up to the summit again the best I can. Turnarounds are good for scoping out the competition though. Masters guy (later identified as Anthony Hernandez) and Angel are on my tail a few yards back. Its looking like one 4 man race for the overall and one three man race for masters. Liz is miles ahead on the women’s side.
The mountain climb has given my lungs a gut punch so I do try to maximize my considerable gravitational advantage for awhile. Unfortunately my gorilla physique is not real efficient in turning that potential energy into kinetic power, because I can hear Hernandez riding me like a circus monkey. It is nice to see everyone on the way down – man this race is huge. I then push it for awhile and lose Hernandez, but then hear a slightly different set of lungs sucking wind. I hit the mile 2 marker and before I can check my Garmin (an ugly 6:42) I look up and Angel takes me on the right. I figure he’s gone out easy and is now going to crush it. I tell him to go get it, but damned if my oversized melon headed ego isn’t wincing from the pride injury. Time to man up. We complete the freefall down the mountain basically side by side. An all-out old man war is in progress. Angel surges on the last two long inclines to the Y, and I follow suit. We are both sucking wind like there’s no tomorrow, Angel now a step ahead. I’m sure I’m giving him rapid-bear-chase nightmares for months to come. I keep telling myself, maybe I can get him in the Y parking lot… except every bit of my being is screaming to stop this torture..and damn I wish I wasn’t carrying this ridiculous mask. Mile 3 (6:00) chirps back before we even hit the Y, so I know this is going to be longish. We plunge into the parking lot and I am just toast – I’m half worried my legs are just going to crumple in front of me. Angel is painfully close but he is sprinting it out like a beast too…and damn it’s going to be close to 20 minutes. But I just can’t do it. We crash through the finish with me a step behind, flashing my mask in my face for the photo op, looking absolutely ridiculous. 19:57.
Man, I hate to lose, but these battles are what I live for. No way I drop a 6 flat last mile without chasing someone. Angel is a beast too, so no shame in finishing a second behind him. I’ll take it. Nice tervis tumbler 2nd masters award, even without the first masters cash.
In the overall, the four man race was won by Joe Keitt, Justin Carder and Jeff Spraker – never seen any of them race before. Justin is from Pelion so I wonder if he’s a Coach B product. Dimery finished 4th, though he’s over 10 years older than the other three. Angel, myself and Anthony Hernandez finished 5-7th in the masters race. Liz Locke easily claimed the women’s win, with Ashley Culler 2nd and my former Blue Ridge relay teammate Karen Manning 3rd (and 1st female master). CRC’er Shelley Hinson took 2nd female masters.
In the age groups, Mary O’Toole placed 2nd in the 14-16. New CRC member Sarah Merriman took 3rd in the 25-29. David Pappas enjoyed everyone aging up and took the 35-39. April Hutto said she was “out for a jog” but couldn’t help placing 3rd in the 40-44, with Christina McCarty 2nd. Charley Clements, Marion Hinson and Todd Whalon (dressed as a neon fairy) swept the 40-44 men. Wayne Shuler placed 3rd in the 45-49. Pam Griffin crushed the 50-54. Ken Sekley and Tour Director John Gasque went 1-2 among the men. Lisa Smarr was champ of the 55-59 women. Petes O’Boyle and Poore were 1st and 3rd in the 60-64. Jan Hardwick and Alex Ponomarev were beasts in the 65-69, with Brigitte Smith taking the win among the women. Arnold Floyd, Peter Mugglestone and Henry Holt swept a super tough 70+ division.