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.