Hairy Bison 15/30k – Harbison State Forest – Columbia, SC – 11/18/17

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The Hairy Bison is an event, or in the organizer’s terms, an “anti-race”, put on by the Harbison Trail Runners each year since 2013 on the last Saturday before Thanksgiving. The “race” is masterminded by runners/creative geniuses Rick Stroud and Dean Schuster, who put an incredible amount of effort into this thing for the apparent sole purpose of having a good time. Mission: accomplished.

I had missed out on the first few iterations of the Hairy Bison, mostly because of my unhealthy obsession with chasing down little metal trinkets on the road. But when the Runway Run went extinct and the Shandon Turkey Trot nixed their awesome turkey trophies, I went looking elsewhere. I was set to run the HB last year, but as bad luck would have it, I was having some particularly bad ride of the injury train I’ve been on since the mid 2000 teens, so I had to bail. This year, though, I was primed and ready to lose my Hairy Bison virginity.

I’ve known Rick and Dean for a few years, mainly for engaging in epic battles in the forest for trail supremacy, mostly at the Make my Day 12k. Although Dean fell victim to some of the most brutal blue shoe kicks ever, he finally found his revenge this year with an age group victory over me in the Firebreak Half Marathon. He was comfortably in the lead until the last quarter mile when he saw a sasquatchian figure thrashing in the woods behind him. A deep, dark force arose in the normally super-chill Mr. Schuster that day, as if his home forest’s spirit willed him to a sprint finish to secure the victory. See below.

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They followed it up by enticing me to run the Hogpen Hill Climb in Helen, GA, baiting me with the built in 5k-18k double dip of the race and that it was all on roads, so how hard could it be? Very, as it turned out. The Yerg (Rob Yerger)  and I battled it out in a ridiculously hilly 5k, and then we both proceeded to die a thousand deaths (and get smoked by both Rick and Dean) in an unholy 11 miler straight up a mountain. They were at least gracious in their victory by treating us to craft beer and pizza. There are few things in my life that those two items can’t help.

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Fast forward back to the Hairy Bison, which requires a little explanation. The “anti-race” is “forever free” and features a 15k (1 Harbison loop )and 30k (2 loops) option, is timed, with awards only going to the top male and female overall winners, thereafter known as Mr. and Ms. Hairy Bison. A pre-race briefing/performance starts the race, with the hopeful appearance of the Bison himself, if, as racers are instructed, “your heart is pure”.

Oh and the bibs. Dean and some graphic artists spend what must be an incredible amount of time designing unique themed bibs for the 200 some-odd runners. They really are works of art. You are given a bib when you arrive at the registration table, and as they say, “you do not choose the bib, the bib chooses you”.  When I showed up about an hour early, I was slightly upset as Laura Stepp informed me I had just missed out on a 38 special themed bib (i.e. one of my fav cheesy 80’s bands) and got the 39 “Thor: ragnorak” themed one. Well, with our chiseled jaws and ripped torsos, Chris Hemsworth and I are always being mistaken for one another, so I guess it fits. I also noted it was a 30k bib, so I guess I was doing 18 miles in the forest that day. I wanted to wuss out and do the 15, but one does not disappoint the Bison and his pagan forest spirit. 30k it would be.

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The prerace ritual was even better than advertised, with an ancient Egyptian theme and “Bisonubis” making an impressive entrance to pharaoh Dean Schusterkhamun and anthropologist Rick Stroud. I was told this was the biggest turnout yet , over 200, with some familiar faces including: Larry Jourdain, MC Cox, Derek Hutton, Jennifer Glass, Betsy Long, Jennifer and Mario Tudor, Joyce Welch, Rob Yerger, Roy Shelley, Brian and Jen (and top dog Tuff)  Clyburn, Pam Walker, Lois Leaburn, Teresa Harrington, Sheila and Ken Bolin, Michael Nance, Kenneth and Brooke Ebener, Tracy and Julie McKinnon, Trey McCain, Marian Nanney, Pete O’Boyle, Harry Strick, Jeff Curran, Bill Seibers, Jennifer and Chris Conrick, Darby Shinn, John and dad Andy Richards, Millie and Connie Hough, Robyn Culberson, David Nance, Jenny Prather, Pamela Knapp, Eme Crawford, Greta Dobe, Mackenzie Wilt, Tug Quarles, Mike and Janice Compton, Steve Rudnicki, Kelly Ghent, Wendy Hart, Stevie Dee, Melinda Petruzzi and Michael Beaudet. And I’m sure I’m missing some. Let’s not forget Adam Feigh, Mr. Hairy Bison 2016, who was returning to retain his title and hopefully break the mythical 2 hour barrier for the 30k. It should also be noted that Tracy, Ebener and Nance started at 5:30 to make this an unofficial 45k. Day-um.

By the time the start rolled around I was pretty chilled even with my CRC hoodie, but I made the snap decision in the first 100 meters to ditch it, which was definitely a good choice. As a roadie, and this not being an official race, my primary objective was to arrive at the finish line, preferably with no entry into the “best blood” category. I started off pretty leisurely and formed a peleton of about 10 with Roy Shelley and Darby Shinn going through the forest after everyone spread out. Fortunately I was at the front, because my fragile ego can’t take it, and no one wants a man the size of a bus breathing down their neck. Unfortunately all my pre-race “marathon in the woods” anxiety and hydration led to an early pit stop about 3 miles in. After using nature’s bathroom, I found myself at the tail end of a long conga line. After being a monkey on some dude’s back for about a half mile, I did a full on charge in the leaves to come back to the front. Again, giant untamed ego, but I’ll also blame the short-stepping angering my rogue right piriformis. After that I was loosened up some, so I decided to pick up the pace purely for the sake of limiting the time on my feet out there. Chris Conrick rode my slipstream for awhile before peeling off himself for a pit stop. Midway through was the aid station, complete with buffalo nickels (to prove you ran the loops, Barkley style) and the Bill and ted’s phone booth from Schusterween. Awesome. I caught up with the Yerg, who was operating on 3 hours of sleep from his overnight shift. The Yerg is a beast. We ran together for several miles before I ramped it up some more in the final miles of lap 1. The Bison makes you run the second loop in reverse, which is really nice since you get to see everyone ahead and behind you. Some random guy comes flying by at about my mile 8, which is a surprise since I wholly expected Adam to be on his own. Feigh wasn’t far behind though, and I figured he was just waiting to drop the hammer. All the faster people coming though hurt my pride a little, so I did ramp it up some more, even though I kept telling myself this was “only a training run”.  Mile 8 featured a random 80’s jambox playing “Jessie’s Girl” , and who can’t feel motivated with some rocking Rick Springfield? Finally I make my way to the finish area and Laura is there to remind me where to turn around. My road racing pride can’t take bailing with all the trail people around, so I head back out for loop 2. Jambox selects some “rock me like a hurricane” this time. Scorpions rawk!  I am actually feeling pretty good by this point, which is surprising to me. All these fall halfs must have actually given me some endurance. The next three miles are great because I get to see everyone behind me. My biggest fear on this loop is getting lost, since it looks completely different the other way. Fortunately I noticed on the first loop that a “pink ribbon fairy” had marked the way on a few tricky intersections, despite the proudly stated “no annoying course markings” stated on the website FAQ. I later found his name by chance, but his secret is safe with me. The “getting lost” fear ramped up when I passed the ruckers (hiking with heavy backpacks) around 4 miles in. I figured no one was behind them so I was on my own. And boy, was I . Dead silent for most of the next couple of miles. I did pass a coupls of guys and two mountain bikers, but mostly just me and the forest. This was nice, except the legs were starting to protest all this fun about 13 miles in. I pick up my second nickel and some water at the now abandoned aid station, and briefly think of taking selfies in the phone booth, but then fear of not being able to get going again. I catch up with some ripped looking younger dude who seems to be having a rough time, barely moving at this point. He tried to ramp it up when he saw the old albino sasquatch catching him, but he was toast. After him there was nothing. The last 4 miles got pretty brutal, I just focused on constant steady forward movement. Unfortunately the feet were developing a deep affection for the roots, and I was tripping 3x as much as the first loop. In an unsurprising coincidence, so were the loud F bombs. I did manage to keep the bus upright though, “blazing” down the trail in just under 10 minute pace. I decided I needed to keep this under 3 hours if I could. Near the end I must have been delirious since I ran out into the front parking lot instead of the education center, but I eventually managed to find my way. I rolled into the finish with like 2:50 on the clock , I believe. My Garmin was off since I forgot to restart it after the second nickel pickup. Not bad – I think my longest run by time since 2016 Boston. The finish area was great with what surely is the best soup ever made and chili. Adam took a nasty fall at mile 12 and had a grapefruit ankle at the finish, yet somehow still finished under 2 hours and finished 2nd by less than a minute. #hardcore.

Oh, and the raffle. TONS of great swag from fleet feet, half-moon, conquest beer, british bulldog pub, among others. British bulldog gave us free beer tickets. I won a yeti-like wine glass from Fleet feet and then came home with the huge $100 gift card from fleet feet as well after renewing my “Friends of Harbison State Forest” membership. All of this followed by some awesome beer at the British Bulldog after party, and it was quite a morning. Big thanks to Dean and Rick for putting this on. It is free but I highly recommend throwing them some cash their way to help support the amazing amount of work they put into the HB. I will be back again!

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SVPC Bizarre 5 and 5 Race for the Build – Columbia, SC – 11/4/17

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The SVPC Bizarre Race for the Build 5 and 5 (5k and 5 miler) is a race dating back 27 years, and despite its small size, is one of the oldest continuous races in the Midlands. Proceeds go to benefit Habitat for Humanity. Of course, I see “small size” and immediately my trophy hunting sense starts tingling. Plus, the race is literally 5 minutes from my house and is run on the ancient, hallowed Blue Shoes training grounds of the Woodlands neighborhood.

I was yearning to do this race since last year. Although it was in the middle of my college mini-reunion weekend and I ran a hung-overish 20:30 something in the 5k, I saw Randy Hrechko bring home the glory in the 5 miler. I should have known by my own trophy hunting rules – the “add on” distance to an established race is always the best bet for the shiny golden trinkets. Through my completely ridiculously encyclopedic race results brain, I knew this race to be ripe for a holy grail (overall win) attempt. Les Boan ran 22 minutes several years ago in the 5k for the win. Hell, even Wesley Spratt won one year when a course misdirect for the leaders gave him the podium.

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There is only one monkey wrench in the trophy hunting equation for this race, and that is one Dr Jeff Brandenburg. The race is held at his church (Spring Valley Presbyterian), even though it’s hard to fathom that someone whose friends call him “Lucifer” goes to a place of worship. Believe me, the nickname is well-earned. Anyway, with his 47-minute Ray Tanner 12k recently, he’s probably a notch faster than me at the moment. But the race brain was engaged and a quick meta-analysis showed he’s never done anything but the 5k. Between Brandenburgian 5ks and Hrechko’s win last year, the 5 miler it would be.

I got there 45 minutes early and there was not a huge crowd, so the trophy hunt was intact initially. Brandenburg made his arrival and luckily my race memory analysis was correct. He was doing the 5k with Kona (his Weimeraner). Things were looking really good for a while, but then Angel showed up. He’s a total wild card in terms of his fitness, so I never know when he’s going to just crush me or if I have a chance. He’s still hating getting Sasquatched in the Revolution Run Half (at mile 12.5) in September, so the target was definitely on my back. We are all talking about another epic showdown when Ediberto  “Trackstar Eddie” Crisanto shows up to crush the dreams of two old men. This was going to be a battle  for 2nd, not the holy grail.

Jennifer Lybrand + Wilson, Geary McAlister, the whole McGrievy clan (Matt, Brie, Sabine, Quentin), Mario and Jennifer Tudor, Arnold Floyd, Peter Mugglestone, Brigitte Smith, Henry Holt, Chaplain John Houser, Lisa and Jesse Smarr, Kerry Stubbs, Michelle Parnell, Barb Brandenburg, Lisa King, Leeds Barroll, Rocky Soderberg, Kerry Stubbs, Ron and Helene Lipe, Dave Hale were some of the familiar faces. High school/med school friend James McCallum with his two daughters, my Palmetto 200 teammate David McNeice and neighbor Danna Fields were also either volunteering or racing as part of their ties to SVPC.

I wasn’t sure about my strategy for this race, now that the holy grail was off the table. I did the 5 miler once before on a similar trophy hunt in 2015, where Kenneth Vowles showed up and left me for dead. I did take 2nd in around 32 minutes, so I thought I remembered the course as pretty decent. The first 1.5 miles of the 5k and 5 miler are the same, and I knew there were some nasty hills in that initial shared section.

The start to this race is pretty unique. There are actually 2 separate start lines, with the 5k start about 50 meters ahead of the 5 miler. As predicted, the 5  miler field was slim, with only about 30 people. With the start, Eddie takes off like a man possessed and immediately leaves us all. With my trophy dreams crushed, I just try to make an honest effort. Angel is on a mission, however, and blasts pretty hard out of the gate. There’s a little congestion early on as the two fields start to mix, but with a total number of maybe 70 people, navigation really isn’t a problem. The first half mile is pretty flat. There’s a 40ish guy taller than me suddenly running beside me early on who looks pretty fit, so I’m already worried of barely placing in my age group much less the overall win. Turns out the guy is Kristopher Dempster, who I’ve seen many times in the results but never placed the name with the person. I draft off of him or awhile before surging to make sure Angel isn’t too far ahead. The route heads off Valhalla and turns on to Hogan’s Run, which is a semicircle of suck. Sure, you get to plunge down for a nice downhill, but you end up paying for it on the other end with a multi-tiered mountain climb that destroys your will to live almost immediately. I reach the top of Hogan’s hell and I know to go straight this time and not let a confused volunteer lead me back to a 13 minute “5k” , which resulted in the top 10 being  DQ’d and Wesley Spratt’s infamous victory.

Mile 1 was 6:33 or something, which was OK by me. I’m not feeling particularly strong and my heart really isn’t in it. Angel started out pretty fast though, so maybe I can catch him. I‘m also trying to make sure Dempster doesn’t get any ideas about slaying the Sasquatch. A couple of tough hills on Fenrir and Norse Way, and the courses split around 1.5 miles at the front of Woodlands Country Club. Like 2015, after the split I am entirely on my own. There’s a crazy roller coaster downhill on Wotan but then a nice flat and downhill for the next couple of miles. It feels really weird, since I run these roads fairly frequently for training and the only difference is the bib. Pretty tough to maintain pace as Angel has a huge lead by now. Miles 2 and 3 are 6:43, 6:39 and I try not to think I just did a 10k in 6:23 pace 2 months ago. To be fair, though, the Dam Run course is WAY easier than this one.

I don’t fully appreciate this until the 4th mile.  I somehow deluded myself into believing the rest of the course was gently rolling, but this was not the case. Mile 4 greets you with nasty hill that brings you to a crawl pretty quickly. There’s some random jogger on the course and it feels like I’m barely passing her on this lactic acid bath section. I finally get to the top and see I’ve actually made some ground on Angel, though it would probably take a bonk of epic proportions for me to catch him with just over a mile to the finish. Mile 4 slowed to 6:45 with the killer hill. With a well-known, fairly flat stretch to the finish, I try to muster somewhat of a kick. But I don’t sense anyone behind me, and with Angel probably uncatchable, the motivation isn’t quite there. It is nice to meet up again with the 5k course and run with some of the 30ish minute 5kers for a while, a welcome break from my breathless solo “training” run.  As I approach the finish, I see I’m not even going to break 33 minutes, so the spectators were not treated to one of my headless chicken kicks. I cross the line in 33:16, good enough for 3rd place. 2nd in age group/masters behind Angel.  My only solace was that apparently I was taking up residence in Angel’s head the whole time and pushing him to some post race pukage for fear of getting Blue Shoed. You’re welcome, Angel.

There were some results issues with the two races, but apparently a kid named Fernando Castro beat down Brandenburg for the overall win in the 5k with a 19:31. His dad Carlos took 3rd.  Michelle Parnell continues her strong return to racing with the women’s win. Apparently all mental health providers in the Columbia area are prone towards the racing obsession. Multi-time champion Barb Brandenburg settled for 2nd while Brie McGrievy trophy hunted well to take 3rd.  5k age groupers: Sabine McGrievy won the 2-10 girls. Danna Fields was 3rd in the 40-44 women.  Jim Williams and the indestructible Dave Hale took the top 2 in the 55-59, while Lisa King won among the women. Helene and Ron Lipe were champs of the 60-64. Alex Ponomarev and Leeds Barroll claimed the 65-69 podium, while Rocky Soderberg win the 70+.

In the 5 miler, Eddie won in 28:24 with no competition. Angel took 2nd. Jennifer Lybrand may have been pushing Wilson but still won the women’s race by about 6 minutes. Cheryl Monroe and Jane McCallum finished 2nd and 3rd.

5  miler age groupers:  Quentin Mcgrievy claimed the 2-10 boys. Kris Dempster placed 3rd in age group and 4th overall. Don’t tell me my age group isn’t brutal. Just ask 4th place AG/7th OA Matt Mcgrievy.  Jennifer Tudor and Kerry Stubbs took top 2 in the 45-49 women. Lisa Smarr won the 55-59 group with Geary McAlister taking top honors in the 60-64. John Houser and Brigitte Smith were champions of the 65-69. Arnold Floyd and Peter Mugglestone won the 70-74, while Henry Holt and Jesse Smarr claimed the 75+.