Hogpen Hill Climb 5k/18k – Unicoi State Park, Helen, GA – 1/13/18



I got sucked into the Hogpen last year. Never one to  travel for most races (Columbia has something every weekend practically), El Capitan (Brian Clyburn) of my Palmetto 200 team talked this one up for years as a “must-do”.  Combine this with my internal engine of equal parts narcissism and masochism, a built in double-dip, along with a beer-fueled trip with the Harbison Trail guys, and I was in.  I probably cursed this decision a thousand times in the 11 miles up to Hogpen gap last year, but naturally, I got suckered in again.

The Hogpen is no joke. It bills itself as one of the”toughest races in America”. I don’t know if this is hyperbole or not, but it certainly has to be up there as far as relatively short paved courses go. It has almost 2 miles of downhill  to start, but the rest is insanely hilly, with a stretch after the 7 mile mark that is relentless with some 12-14 percent grade.  Brian told me last year that you should expect your time in the 11ish mile 18k to compare to your typical half marathon times. El Capitan is clearly delusional. My half marathon times are usually 1:28-1:30. My Hogpen 18k was a 1:44. Granted, this was the second race of the day after the 5k, but it was a 100% effort. Lots of walksies. We should also mention the 5k. Nicknamed “the Piglet” , the 5k is a rolling out and back through the mountains that would easily be the toughest 5k course in Columbia. I think it was meant for the friends and family of the 18k racers, but there is actually a double dip option to do both in the registration. The 5k is pretty small, and I’m guessing the actual number of double dippers is even more miniscule. So there’s an undercard 5k, with like maybe 30-40 people. Most runners think “don’t bother”. I think “TROPHY HUNT!!”.   Last year my trophy hunt was quashed by the Yerg, but also some kid who blue shoed him at the end and left us both with only medals. The overall winners, of both the 5k and the 18k, get an awesome mug, custom made by a local potter. This year, I decided the mug must be mine!


The Yerg and I decided to travel up to Helen, GA the night before. Me, to make the early 5k start time, Rob, to participate in the drinking of DAS BOOT.  Since we paid like 25 bucks for the ridiculous beer boot last year at Haufbrau house, it only makes sense we would go back for seven dollar refills.  For the uninitiated, White county Georgia’s cultural attractions include both the Cabbage Patch “Hospital” were your favorite mid-80’s bizarro fad dolls are made, and the faux alpine village of Helen. Helen is kind of like Sound of Music meets Myrtle Beach. The streets are all in German and the whole town looks like a movie set. I think its main purpose is an excuse to drink beer, which, while not the classiest of motives, is an idea I can still get behind. Our wild “night on the town” consisted of a hop from the Hofbrau Haus to “Bigg Daddy’s”, a restaurant noted for its wide selection of bar cuisine, if not for their spelling.  A zombie pizza (steak, sausage and pepperoni) and another beer later and I was pretty much done. We were back at the hotel at like 7:30 and Yerg was comatose by 8.  No one can hang with partiers like us.


The next morning I make the Yerg get up super early, eat breakfast and check out of the hotel to get there at 8:20ish for the 9 am start time. I hurriedly get my bib and warm up, fighting the 28 degree cold. On top of this is a stiff wind and the faintest of snow dusting from last night.  At 9 am there’s barely anyone there, and then the timer tells us the 5k is at 9:30.  It’s on the website. And, I’m an idiot. After more miles thrown in just to keep warm, I stroll up to the start and the trophy senses are in full tingle. At least 80 percent of the field is bundled up like their out for a stroll, and I don’t see anyone that looks super fast. I’m a little worried about one teenager though. With the start, I blast out to the front initially, then very quickly get passed by a Latino guy with a soccer player’s build, a kid, and the teenager. Between these guys and my sasquatch self as the lead pack, the Piglet’s less than elite status was getting cemented further.  But soccer guy was not playing around. He surges out to the front on a long, insanely steep downhill, which I knew would suck at the end of this straight out-and-back course. The little bit of flat at the bottom, and its looking like I’ll be lucky to be 4th in this thing. The ensuing long uphill stretch is killer though, and I blast through the kid and teenager who had been running nearly side-by-side. Soccer dude is still crushing it. The remainder of the outward stretch is non-stop hills and I eventually pull up right behind the leader. Suddenly I see the gate up ahead and no turnaround in sight. I distinctly remember the director telling us the turnaround was a little before the gate, and I remember it from last year. Me and soccer guy basically stop and look at each other after the gate. I have like 1.6 something miles on my Garmin, and there’s no signage in sight down the road. We create our own turnaround just after the gate and take off back towards the start. We’ve built a huge gap on the field, so its going to be mano a mano to the finish. Soccer guy has taken the lead and is trying to pull away . I’m stepping a little out of the 5k pace I want to run because I don’t want him gapping me too much. As we roll back towards the finish, soccer dude is officially kicking my ass. I had hoped to win and not have to try that hard, not locked into a brutal duel on what was definitely going to be a long course. My oxygen deprived brain decides to push in all my chips on that soul-crushing incline waiting for us at the end.

Heading into the bottom of the hill, the leader has maybe 10 feet on me. As soon as I hit the mountain, I unleash the dragon. A quarter of the way up I pull even with the guy and he is not having it, surging ahead. I then enter some deep, dark pain cave and the access the reserve rocket fuel tank. I surge ahead and get overtaken by my favorite drug- the pure adrenaline fix of first place. Yes, its first place in the undercard race of 40 some odd people, most of whom are treating this as a fun run, but in my mind it’s a showdown between Mo Farah and Galen Rupp. As I crest the hill, I have no idea where soccer dude is and Rob and the rest of the Harbison Trail Runner contingent are screaming for me to not get beat by the guy behind me. The remaining stretch is downhill and I’m blasting 1000 percent, legs burning and lungs sucking, scared to death of getting passed at the finish. I crash through the line at Mach 5, only to look back and see the other guy like a 100 meters back.  Damn those guys. Still, a win is a win. A shade under 23 minutes for 3.4ish miles. “Soccer guy” was Jose Flores and his son Joe took third place. Super nice people. Jose said he was doing the 18k too and runs around 19 minutes for a typical 5k, so I guess we were well matched. I will cherish my mug!



Of course, now I had just over an hour before a brutal 18k, after giving an unexpected 10000 percent effort in the Piglet. I was going to be absolute toast. I switched over bibs and discovered the Hogpen has the most bizarre swag bag. I am now the proud owner of  not one, but two Cake Boss “spoonulas” and a snow leopard coin purse. I know, don’t be jealous.


By this time, Rick Stroud, Marion Hinson and Ken Hinely had made their way to the race, opting for a day trip starting at 6 am that morning. Dean reportedly had something he had to do back home, like cowering in anxiety over a possible McDonald beatdown. The HTR guys are pretty laid back, but they definitely get competitive over this thing. Rick has been the beast on this course, clocking a 1:39 last year without walking a step apparently.  I’m so beat I spend half the time between the races heating my ass with my seat warmer and admiring my trophy mug. Suddenly I realize its 10 minutes until the start and I chug  a water and eat 6 month old fig newtons that have been kicking around my bag forever. Best snack ever. I make my way up to the “start” when I realize the 18k starts a third of a mile down the road. My little warm up jog turns into some 7 minute pace, as I hear the timer announcing 3 minute, then 2 minutes warnings. Finally, I come blasting into the start area, pose for one pic with the guys, then 30 seconds later we are off. I’ve already put in 6 miles between all the warmup and the 5.5 k, so my legs are giving me the big eff you when I think about staying with Rob, Rick and Ken. Marion passes me and I hang with him in the first couple of miles. The most important thing about these 2 miles is that they mean jack squat in terms of the whole race. It’s nice to fall downhill for awhile, but basically its a glorified warmup for the hell that awaits. I hit 7:32/7:54 on the opening miles. Felt like death already thanks to the brutal Piglet. This was going to be nasty.  Speaking of nasty, the next few miles have some tough climbs, but they reward you with some downhill so I was able to keep trucking along. Nothing blazing but I was definitely in survival mode. Rick, Ken and Yerg were long gone. Marion and I leap frogged a few times. This was Marion’s virgin Hogpen, though I’m sure Cpl. Stroud had filled him in with all the course data on the drive down. A few high 8/low 9 splits, which I was totally fine with. This is the section from last year wheret I fooled myself into believing I was going to crush this race.  Soon Marion and I hit the mile 5 marker and the course suddenly takes an abrupt turn to the right.

And the misery begins. Mile 5 to mile 6 is like the opening intro to a really bad song that is the rest of this race.  Relentless upward climb. Really steep. I manage to leave Marion and just focus on keeping moving and avoiding the loud walksie voices. Last year I passed Rick and Dean on this mile using my Quarry crusher mountainclimber pace and thought I had them beaten. Yeah… that was a big negative, ghost rider. Thankfully I hit the mile 6 marker still on my feet and somehow managed a sub 10 minute mile, which is positively blazing for that mile. The stretch between mile 6 and 7 is glorious, because its almost all downhill. Easy coasting, feels amazing after that hard slog. How hard could the rest be? Answer: spirit-crushing hard.

Mile 7 in 8:53, and here comes the pain again, falling on my head like a tragedy. I manage to get to the top of the first major incline, only to face another series of hamstring wrenching, heart rate pounding, lung deflating hills. Fighting the walksies becomes a pointless debate, and now its all about how much of this I can actually run. I’m out there swinging my arms like a moms’ mall walking group. I just need a headband and a sweatsuit. I keep leapfrogging this guy who is evidently channeling that ultra running eternally-positive vibe, while I’m trying not to drop F bombs with every stride and every sub 20 degree wind. All this power walking is doubly killer because its making me colder and colder as we approach toward the summit. I take a few glances up and there’s a dark cloud and the mountaintop draped in white. Looks like winter is coming.  Miles 8 and 9 are really pretty comical. All these supposedly fit guys power striding and trying desperately to granny jog any bit they can. Twelve, thirteen minute miles are coming back now. I don’t even want to see my Garmin. Just tell me how many miles are left. Finally, at mile 10, there’s a bit of a reprieve and, hey , with all this walking I’m actually ready to run again. It’s a good thing because I am freezing my ass off. The surrounding woods is now a winter wonderland, and in my near delirium I’m sure a white walker has come to get me around the next turn.  I figure there’s only a little over a mile to go so I start really trying to push it on the next major incline. Nope. Walksies again. My water from the aid station freezes before I can even finish it. Finally I can see what I think is the last incline before the finish. Some guy is up ahead in neon shorts which I instantly recall is my new friend Jose. And yes, I am a total ass, so you can figure out the rest. Red lined the whole last hill, passed Jose about a quarter mile from the finish, which I can now see, and sprinted it home to complete the double blue shoeing. 1:48 and change. 23rd overall. 4th in age group. Wasn’t pretty but I will take it after the effort put forth on the 5k. The finish is pretty cool. Light snow flurries and a couple of inches on the ground. I decided to forgo the chicken soup this year in order to do a quick change into some dry clothes. Thankfully I remembered to bring like four layers of stuff in the drop bag instead of nothing and relying on Dean’s mercy sweatshirt like last year. No picture taking and socializing this year – we all hopped into the shuttle van as quickly as possible. Twenty something degrees with 20 mph winds and snow may have contributed.  Rick crushed the mountain again this year, PR’ing (i believe) on the course with a 1:37. Rob finished just ahead of Ken in 1:44 and 1:45 respectively. Marion claimed his first Hogpen in 1:54.  Not bad all around.  Celebratory beers were had again at Bigg Daddy’s. For some reason Rick had a fascination with knowing my exact birthdate. As my “gift” from the Harbson Trail Runners, I am now apparently signed up for the Vertical Mile Challenge in June. Thanks, Rick…I think.












Cold Winter’s Day 5k – Forest Acres, SC – 12/30/17


Cold Winters Day has always been my benchmark. In a galaxy a long time ago but not so far away, I burned off some angry energy with a run after watching the Gamecocks lose to Clemson in their 2008 matchup. Sometime during that fateful little slog through the neighborhood, I convinced myself I could come back and try to race again. My brief running career involved signing up for my first 3 races ever in quick succession in Charleston at the end of 2007, and what it earned me was 10 months on the bench with nagging shin splints. But the post Clemson run went OK, so I set my sights on what would be my first race in Columbia, the Cold Winters Day 5k at the end of December. In between my efforts at my first Flying Saucer beer plate, I trained pretty hard. I was sure I was going to best my PR of 25 something minutes. In fact, I was sure I could get it down below 23. Most of the race in 2008 was pretty much a blur, running in a big swarm of people. I thought I knew the course pretty well, having scouted it out the week before. Sure enough, I spotted the yellow arrow sign at the end of a long straightaway that meant the finish line was near, so I sprinted toward it like there was no tomorrow. What I found at the end of my first headless chicken kick was that I was still a half mile from the finish. Devastated and completely in a lactic acid bath, I basically jogged most of the thankfully short way in before another chicken sprint towards the end got me one  second under 24, with one of my ugliest finish photos ever:



But hey, it was still a PR. Three months later I scored my first trophy at the 2009 March for Meals, and the junkie had found his drug. The rest is history.

So, I always come back to Cold Winter’s Day. It’s been held since at least 2005, put on by Strictly, and usually features some of the fastest people in Columbia bent on going out with a bang in their racing year. Age group bling is a rare commodity in this uber competitive race, but everything aligned back in 2012 and I managed to win 1st in the 35-39 with an 18:52. You could sense the trophy lust in my awards pic. MY PRECIOUS.


This year I wasn’t sure what I could do. My Kiawah half was a big disappointment, missing my time goal by 2 whole minutes. I did the Arthritis Foundation 5k the week after and generally felt terrible en route to a 19:45. My only glimmer of hope was the 2 weeks of racing rest and that really good race at the Lugoff Jingle Bell – a 19:17 on a 3.18 mile course by Garmin. With no chance at moving in the Tour de Columbia standings (a distant 2nd to the Plex in the overall), I figured this would be a good race just to go for it. It was going to be cold, and hopefully having some competition would help my maniacally competitive self.  I had eaten a steady diet of 50 mile weeks in the last month, though with zero speedwork outside of races. We would see.

My main problem in 5ks is basically being a wuss. I’m too afraid to push it right out of the gate. I set my sights on trying to go out hard in this race, in a plan I called the OPEN UP A CAN OF WHUPASS. I was going to go out fearless, maybe shoot for 6 flat pace in mile 1. Turns out this was easier said than done. Selwyn told me they were staying with the post-flood modified course in 2017. What was once a rolling course in years past was now mostly climb in the first mile and a half. The tradeoff being a blazing fast flat and downhill second half.

I showed up my customary hour early and warmed up with a lap of the course. Naturally, legs felt like crap and I was slogging along at 10+ minute pace. The Fadels and their warm up group, who I thought I’d catch, gapped me even more. Renee McCormick flew by me like I was standing still. Between all of this and the hilly first half, my debbie downer mode was in full effect. Wah wah.


By the time the start rolled around, I was standing amidst a bunch of beasts. Doing the masters and age group math, it wasn’t looking good. OJ Striggles, Drew Williams, Michael Nance, Angel Manuel. I was looking at 5th in age group at best, maybe worse if one of these lean singlet dudes was one of those stealthy fit 40 something soccer dads. Nothing’s worse for an insanely obsessive racing freak than getting beat down by a casual runner.

It was pretty damn cold at the start, for once matching the race’s name. I even brought out my running tights for the first time, probably showing way too much Sasquatch to the public. For the ladies of Forest Acres, I apologize. With the gun, operation WHUPASS was underway. And wow did it suck. Nothing like doing slog jog miles for weeks and then trying to run a fast 5k. Like a sucker punch to the legs and lungs. Particularly having to do it all uphill.  Drew and Nance left me for dead instantly and Angel politely waited 100 meters before passing me. The first half mile plus is basically a hike up Mount Trenholm road. Not super steep but plenty long, slowly sucking your will to live. I kept telling myself to push, and I was sucking some serious wind by the turn onto Spring Lake. Thankfully the only decline of the first half occurs there, and I used my gravitational advantage among my fitter peers to coast on down, of course getting passed by a few in the process. I saw the mile 1 clock and it just seemed to take forever to get there. OOh maybe I’ll hit 5:55, oh no maybe 6, 6:05? Nope, right at 6:15. So I went out hard, missed by goal by 15 seconds, built up Chapter 11 worthy oxygen debt and now had half a mile plus uphill awaiting me. Fantastic.

Suprisingly though, the 50 mpw legs were strong, and I made up some time on the field as we approached the left to Laurel Springs. Laurel Springs is just a whole lot of suck. Basically you get to climb all the way to the highest part of Trenholm Road, very quickly. Definitely the steepest part of the course. But I knew the top meant you were home free to the finish, albeit a mile and a half away. I powered up Laurel Springs with about everything I had, and just like Mr Miyagi’s paint the fence/wash the car/sand the floor, all those after work climbs up Laurel street downtown finally paid off. Somewhere in that stretch I passed Angel and a big pack of fit looking dudes, presumably shamed by getting beat by a pasty clydesdale in shapely yoga pants.

I hit the top of Trenholm and I actually have some energy. Time to empty the tank because its mostly downhill from here. Mile 2 went off on my Garmin but I didn’t even look, because holy crap I was gaining on Eric Allers and Mike Nance.

Some people race to feel the wind in their hair and strive for their personal best. Some would blue shoe their own child if it meant winning some more tour de columbia points. Anyone that knows me in the slightest knows what category I fit in.

As I hit the top of the last incline I draw even with Eric. Unfortunately Eric is also in that latter category.  And with my less than svelte self pounding down the road at balls-out effort (maybe literally , with those pants), there’s nothing stealth about my approach. Eric guns it and pulls ahead with me, but I now my melon head is amped to 11 on adrenaline and grandiosity, so I blast ahead some more and leave him. It turns out he fell off a roof this week and was less than 100 percent, but my ego has no shame. And with him potentially chasing me down, I launch into a full speed kick down the hill. For a brief moment I’m drawing near Nance, but he can see the finish line too and I can’t go any faster than the 1000 percent effort I’m already putting forth. Justin calls out a 3 mile split at like 18:30 or something and suddenly I realize a return to the elusive sub 19 is in reach. I make out the clock in the 18:40’s and absolutely red line the last bit,  staring at those numbers all the way. I blast through the finish in a blur of black spandex and crash on to the pavement in a display Hou Yin Chang would be proud of. One look at my watch and I was so jacked to still see 18’s! 18:56 officially, my fourth fastest 5k and best time since early 2015. I guess all those half marathons and high mileage weeks paid off after all.


In the overall, Theo Kahler took the win in a blistering 15:48, followed by CRC’s fastest man 16 yr old Alan Deogracias III in 16:32. Mike Schrum was third in 16:50. In the women’s race, no one could challenge Shawanna White, who won easily with an 18:01. Jennifer Lybrand took 2nd and Ivanka Tolan 3rd, as well as first women’s master.  Orinthal Striggles was kind enough to take male masters in 16:59, letting a lucky mere mortal sneak onto the age group podium.

Age group honors: Katie Weber took 2nd in the 15-19. Nate Carrasco was champion of the 20-24, with Kyle Norcia 2nd. Agnes Barroll placed 3rd among the women. Sean Marden faced the most brutal of age groups and took 3rd in the 25-29 with an 18:14. Justin Jones won the 30-34. Justin Bishop took home top honors in the 35-39, with Omar Armstrong 3rd. Fiona Martin set a new PR in 22:29 and won the women’s 35-39, with Sara Bonner 2nd. Drew, Nance and myself swept the podium in the 40-44, a trio that would  certainly win over all the age groups in beer snobbery. Brie McGrievy was champ of the female 40-44. Beastly Bill Baldwin came down from NC to claim the 45-49 in 17:42, so Eric Allers and Randy “THE H IS SILENT” Hrechko had to battle it out for 2nd and 3rd.  The 45-49 women was claimed by Julia Norcia with Tracy Tisdale 3rd. Renee McCormick, Sherry Fadel and Sherry Blizzard swept the 50-54 women. Jim Fadel was 3rd among the men. Among the 55-59 men, Robert Taylor won 1st with Mario Alvarez 3rd. In the 55-59 women, Sarah Allers, Coleen Strasburger and Donna Freeman claimed the podium. Carol Wallace set a new PR in 23:41 and crushed the 60-64 women. Helene Lipe was 3rd. Geary McAlister was the winner of the 60-64 men with Harry Strick 3rd. Blazing fast Greenville-ite David Spark won the 65-69 in an amazing 21:37, while Alex Ponomarev took 3rd. Lynn Grimes took top honors in the 65-69 women, with Brigitte Smith 3rd. The 70-74 men was won by Peter Mugglestone, while CRC’s top hoodie model Rich Weaver took 3rd. The 75-98 was impressively competitive with whippersnapper Arnold Floyd besting the ageless Henry Holt.