Sweet Baby O 5k – Saluda Shoals Park – Columbia, SC – 8/5/17

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The Sweet Baby O 5k is a race in its 4th year, going to benefit Hands of Hope, an organization to help support children with life-limiting medical conditions and their families. It is specifically held to honor the life of Lexington’s Owen Walker Caldwell (the “O” in the title).
Hundreds of races in, you’d think I’d have run every event in Columbia, but somehow this one escaped me until now. I usually try to do the Hot Summer’s Night race in the evening, but due to the service for my wife’s father that afternoon, that race was clearly off the schedule. So here I was on a Saturday morning, still brutally jet lagged from the 20+ hours of travel from Brussels on Thursday, with nothing to do (I know, my first world struggle is real). Sounds like a good time to throw yourself into 20 minutes of pain.
Of course my race prep was pretty much nil for this one. I had hardly run in the nine days in Europe, though my legs were either blasting out 25000 steps walking all over the place or cramped up in a train or plane. On top of this, I hadn’t raced since the July 4 two mile relay, which, if you know me, is an absolute eternity.  At least I had made it back for a couple of Team Utopia practices to sharpen the speed.
The course this year was in Saluda Shoals, which is one of my favorite race venues. Not only the site of the CRC annual banquet and my chance to wear my totally money Vegas blazer, it was where I ran my fastest 5k in the past year – a 19:03 at the Sleigh Bell Trot in November. It’s amazing what the fear of losing to a 10 year old (Connor Forche) will do for your speed.
This course was slightly different, an out and back route that I believe is the same as the Trail to the Ale 5k a few weeks back. The only problem with this, I surmised, was the nice downhill start of Sleigh Bell would make for a nasty climb at the finish, a la the Healthy Capital 5k at Columbia High.
Getting there my customary hour early, the Columbia summer decided to remind me it’s still here. I had gotten too used to mid 60’s and breezy in the UK and Belgium, and it was a mid 70’s sauna already. A couple of solo miles for a warmup. I figured most of the competitive crowd would be doing HSN, and I was wishfully thinking of a potential overall trophy hunt with this one. Those hopes came crashing down in the span of like 5 minutes when Plex and Mike Nance both show up. Miles Fowler and a couple of fit looking teens pretty much secure the fact that an aging Sasquatch is not going to bring home any podium glory. Not a huge CRC contingent, but the hardcore gang of Gasque, Rocky, Pete Poore, and  Leeds Barroll (where are you Ponomarev??) were representing. Sue and Rich Weaver, Jessalyn Smith, Steven Johnson and son, Josh Sadler, and Brigitte Smith were also on hand.
With the start, Plex and Miles rocket out to the front while all the rest of us run way too fast down the opening hill. Intermingled in the mob is a whole bunch of little kids, which is always a potential hazard when my 18 wheeler body comes rumbling through a sea of Priuses. Especially when about 90 percent of those Priuses will break down and stop a quarter mile in. Sure enough, I start juking and doing tailback moves as kids start bailing all around. Nance gets blindsided by an errant 8 year old and momentarily runs off the road on the first turn. A half mile in the road levels out some and the kids have been weeded out. I see Plex and Miles locked in a battle way up ahead, with Mike and two unknowns in another mini pack. My pack is me, myself and I. Like no one around. Feels like I’m out for a training run and I forgot my iPod.  There’s one big hill towards the end of mile 1, where they have the 12 days of Christmas lights at Sleigh Bell, followed by corresponding drop on the other side. I catch a glimpse of the clay mountain from Climb the Clay on the right and I’m so thankful I don’t have to suffer up that today. Mile 1 was 6:16, which probably means I was I was doing 5:45 on the first half. Nice job, hero.
Second mile is pretty flat, though there’s a slight rise as you approach the turnaround at the dog park. Nance is surprised to see me at the turn because he thought the big dude breathing down his neck behind him was a grandiose Blue Shoes. As I make the turn I see a pretty nice gap between me and 7th place. There’s a brief folding back on the course followed by a dirt detour through the woods onto the paved sidewalk walking trail. This is pretty straight and flat, and feels like I’m flying since the only traffic is some random walkers. At some point in this tunnel through the forest I hit mile 2 in like 6:28, though I thought it was much faster. That’s the problem with running completely solo. I’m starting to hurt as I finally make out the opening back onto the gravel road. I see Nance as I emerge and realize I have to go back down a bit , pull a tight turn in the gravel, and then head all the way up. Any sense of feeling good gets drained pretty quickly as I hadn’t planned on this entire half mile ending being uphill. Fortunately there’s no one behind me, and more importantly, no random graying superfit soccer dads to challenge the masters/age group. I still have one whole more week before Nance turns 40.
I can see the finish forever, and it feels like it takes about that long to reach it with the incline. Garmin spits back a 6:32, which is completely against the Blue Shoes ethos of bringing it in the last mile. But I’m pretty much gassed. I do a mini kick to make sure I’m not too close to 20 minutes, crossing the line in 19:43. Not super thrilled about the time, but considering the jet lag, heat/humidity and no one to pace against, I guess it’s OK.  I had one of the River Bluff high guys call me sir and explain he was out of shape (his excuse for getting beat by a chubby old man). Good enough for 6th overall, 1st in the 40-44.
In the overall, Miles and Plex had a battle, with Miles edging out the win 18:04 to 18:07. Nance kicked it in and just missed 3rd, running 18:40 to Ryan Strickler’s 18:39. Among the women, Jessica Johnson took the win in 21:22, followed by Celeste Schnabel and Vicki Allen.
Age group honor roll: Lily Sadler took home the girls’ under 14, Agnes Barroll won the 20-24. Sue Weaver was champion of the 50-54, while Brigitte Smith continues to dominate the 65-69. Nance won the 35-39 with Josh Sadler 2nd. Greg Fowler took the 45-49, while Tour Director John Gasque conquered the 55-59. Leeds Barroll won the 65-69 with Pete Poore 2nd. Rocky Soderberg  and Rich Weaver were 1-2 in the 70+. 
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