Sometime around 4 am, on May 1, 2010, in the pitch black of United Drive in rural Huger,SC, I made a pledge. I was never, ever, doing this again. Dehydrated, legs wrecked on 20+ miles, seeing spots and weird colors, I was reduced to a slow walk after running seven minute pace for most of the inaugural Palmetto 200. But, seeing as my only recourse was to finish this 7.5 mile leg, I resumed a power walk and then started back to a slow jog. Nine years, 8 Palmetto 200s and 3 Blue Ridge Relays later, I’m still at it. Apparently the post race beer erases all the pain.
So I was definitely in for Palmetto 200 number nine. As always, our fearless leader Brian “El Capitan” Clyburn was already emailing us about this thing back in September. You’d think he’s be content with turning a hodge podge group of age groupers into back-to-back relay champs, but the evil mastermind of the Capitan is always scheming to make his creation even faster. This year, Jen Clyburn had decided to organize a women’s Palmetto 70 team, but co-conspirator Julie decided to be all selfish and get pregnant. The nerve. With her plan foiled, Jen decided to let Van on the Run, which had originally been very co-ed, finally turn to an all–dude sausage fest. Brian Kistner, a rookie from last year, was also out, so we had two slots to fill. All purpose road-racer/trail machine Michael Nance and Harbison Trail Runners co-leader Dean Schuster were more than happy to oblige. Nance was a relay virgin but Dean had a few Blue Ridges under his belt. Unfortunately, Dean had to pull out with a work issue only a week or so before the race, but local 17ish 5k beast Trey McCain was able to fill in on short notice.
It seems this year was a tipping point for the P200. While us and the Clemson Thundercats had battled it out for relay supremacy the last few years, I figured it was only matter of time before some other fast teams would start taking notice. Sure enough, our 12:30 start, which was still the latest, was populated by eight teams instead of the traditional two. We were definitely not going to have it easy this year. There was a huge Columbia representation in general, and our start featured two all star teams from the area, both with predicted pace times faster than ours (6:46). One was Larry Jourdain’s “Merry Band of Maniacs” , captained by Linn Hall, with SR beasts Mark Bedenbaugh, Brad Marlow, Erin Miller, MC Cox, Drew Williams, and a few other wild cards that were unknown to me. Jordan Lybrand also had an F3 team (F3 Ramblers) of which were a complete mystery to me, though they had the fastest projected pace at 6:37. Clemson was back again this year as well, with two teams this time, the Thundercats and Thunderkittens, both managed by P200 machine and VOTR killer Michael “Thunderthighs” Holland.
Our team was solid once again. We still retained the original core four of myself, Brian, David McNiece and Joel Pierstorff. Twenty eight P200s between us, the bumbling noobs of 2010 were now the grizzled veterans. Spring Valley four miler expert and multiyear See Spot Run 5k champ Dan Carter was back. Three hour flat marathon beasts Rob Gannett and Kevin Selinsky were on board, along with hundred miler mileage machine Tracy McKinnon. Grandmasters beast Geary McAlister was there to tear up the roads and chaperone the middle aged children of Van 2. Oh, and lets not forget my pace doppelganger and longtime archrival/nemesis/friend the Code. On paper, we were probably the fastest VOTR yet, though paper and 23+ hours of racing are decidedly two different things. Everything looked perfect from a weather standpoint with highs in the mid 60’s and lows in the low 40’s, and most importantly NO RAIN.
Usually our starts are kind of funny with only a handful of people and everyone else out on the course already. The start was once again at Red Bank Arena, which, while lacking in the cool factor of the previous old Carolina Speedway, is definitely more practical with parking. This year was quite different with the 8 teams and all the Columbia peeps around to see them off. We even had resident CRC photog Tracy Tisdale to take pics. Definitely more of an event this time around. I was in van 2 with Rob, Dan, Geary, Code and Nance, so our job early on was to hurry up and wait. We did decide to shadow van 1 for most of the first 6 to get a sense of the competition, soundtracked by Dan’s “aggro 90’s” collection and Rage’s “Renegades of Funk” taking up residence in my brain for the next 24 hours. Tracy McKinnon was our lead off with Coach B starting for Larry’s group. After our traditional assault on the Red Bank subway for lunch, we made our way to the first exchange, which has almost always been manned by Barefoot John’s wife Char and his dad Andy. Andy literally saved my butt a few years back with an emergency toilet paper roll (portapotties are ravaged by the earlier teams) so he dedicated a special reserved roll for me this year, stuck on a post with my name. I can only wonder what the other teams thought. Thanks again, Andy, from the bottom of my…well, you know.
Tracy destroyed the opening 6.77 mile leg in 6:17 pace, which was surprisingly only good for third. This was definitely going to be a tough one. Speaking of tough, our incredibly precise, color-coded spreadsheet, Brian’s masterpiece, was thrown into disarray from the start. Brian announced he has been dealing with a torn labrum in his hip, which not only slows him down but makes it pretty painful as well. This led to a wholesale reshuffle of Van 1’s legs to ease off his total mileage. There was never doubt though that Selinsky would take the 2nd leg, a grueling 10.5 miler. Kevin was projected at like 6:20 pace and I think we were running 2nd after he knocked out the leg and handed off to Brian. Leg 3 proved to be pivotal, where our experience actually hurt us. We passed Brian in the van about mid way and he looked strong. We were waiting for him at the next exchange when all of a sudden all the teams came through with no Capitan. We feared for the worst and we sent out a rescue van. As it turns out, Brian was not hurt, at least any more than he already was. The course had changed from last year and Brian kept going straight where he should have turned. Ended up running a mile plus out of the way. To a man, we were all just glad he was ok, but if there’s anyone that’s going to take this hard, it was Brian. Kudos to the Clemson team who helped get him back on track. David did really well on the next leg with a super tough finishing hill, handing off to Trey, who took off like a man possessed on his first relay leg. We skipped the next exchange zone so I could get ready for me to lead off Van 2.
The Palmetto is known for having some tough hills in the first 12 legs, but none compares to the lovingly titled “MOUNT ST MATTHEWS” of leg 7. The leg is already a tough 8.5 miles, but in the middle sits this freak of South Carolina geography. A brutal half mile of incline that would be better suited for the Blue Ridge. I always made a point to capture the pain of our runners by taking pics from a side road about halfway up. It is notorious for generating walksies and just general misery. Well, as it turns out, my number was up in 2018. Leg 7 was all mine this year.
And believe me, I was scared. I was already less than 100 percent thanks to Richland School district 2 recently distributing some of their virus of the month, and colonic status was questionable heading into relay day. Speaking of colons, I also kept thinking of how Code ran this in the near 80 degree heat and we were debating an ER visit thereafter.
All of this went out the window when Joel comes in ahead of schedule and I take the relay bracelet hopped up on coffee, ibuprofen and existential dread. My assigned relay pace was 6:53, which shouldn’t be a problem on reasonable terrain, though Leg 7 is certainly anything but reasonable. I figured I could take it out a little slower to make my irritable right hammy a little happier and to give me energy for mountain climbing. Nope. Mile 1 in 6:35. F bomb number one of P200 2018 officially dropped. Rolling hills over the next couple of miles and I backed it off to around 6:50 for miles 2-4. Mile 4 has a nasty incline that makes you think you’ve hit the mountain, but nope here comes a roller coaster downhill. And then you see it. Sweet 8 lb newborn baby Jesus. F bomb barrier broken again. I can see my van parked up near the top, which I told them to do, and a couple of hecklers, I mean motivators, at the middle side road. Damn it. I hit the mountain with a vengeance and soon realized it was very similar in grade to the worst part of the Laurel St incline I run a few times a week. Well at least I was trained for it. I’m doing pretty well on the worst part , though the last half is pretty much torture. Legs are actually fine, since I have my own older, paler version of Thunderthighs, but those damn lungs are trying to escape out of my chest. Right near the summit, Code passes me a full bottle of water. I try and take a few sips, but since I’m panting like a banshee I can hardly get any liquid down. I end up spilling water all over my shorts and legs and probably look like I’ve wet my pants. Arms are pumping and thrashing as I finally crest the hill and I try to motion to the van to take the bottle but they’ve already taken off. I see a Bud Light can (the official beer of road litterers everywhere) and go against my eco-snowflake ways and drop the bottle next to it. Mile 5 comes back in 7:15, which I’m psyched about (I had predicted about an 8 for that mile). Unfortunately this is still an 8.5 mile leg and I’ve got a solid 5k to go. It takes about the next whole mile to clear out the Mt St Matthews effect, and then I settle back into 6:40-6:50 pace. It’s feeling a little harder now but I’m still maintaining pace. I’m feeling pretty good about myself until I start hearing footsteps. DAMN IT. A Clemson guy catches me, mutters some encouragement and then starts gapping me. NO ONE “GOOD JOB”S ME. My melon head can’t take the ego bruising, but at some point I have to realize that I am old enough to be this guy’s dad. Fortunately he passes me right as we start hitting the town of St Matthews with all the turns. I had memorized the course the best I could but 7.5 miles into a brutal leg are not optimal conditions for brain functioning. Clemson’s “grandpa”, so nicknamed for being maybe 25 instead of 21, helped lead the way. I try to blue shoe it to the finish, but I’m pretty much toast and I do have to keep the next legs in mind. I hit the exchange zone in 58:34/ 8.56/6:50 pace. Pretty happy with that, especially with the mountain climb.
Dan takes the bracelet from me, and although outside his 4 miler comfort zone, crushes a 5.5 miler in low 6 pace. Although the top couple of teams have a nice lead on us, we are still, as always, running neck-and-neck with one of the Clemson teams. A Clemson girl with long blond hair takes off less than 30 seconds before Geary, and we encourage him to be a dirty old man and chase her down. Geary is a machine on relays and seems to go even faster than he runs individually. He’s making up serious ground on blonde girl immediately and we take off to Cameron, SC for the next exchange. Cameron, in addition its notoriety as a brutally strict speed trap (35 mph guys, believe me) has the most awesome church exchange zone with actual real bathrooms. When you spend hours running the microbiologic gauntlet of heavily used portapotties, a bathroom with running water feels like a day spa. A few minutes later, blonde girl comes into the exchange zone and says our runner is hurt. Shortly thereafter, Geary comes straggling in looking like he got shot. Thankfully it’s just mechanical, but his calf is wrecked, apparently just popped after he took the lead on the leg. It immediately becomes clear that he is definitely done running and the spreadsheet will be reshuffled again. Geary is a trooper though and volunteers to be our full time driver from then on. Code and Rob then ripped off some medium length legs, and we were almost back on spreadsheet pace by the time poor Mike Nance finally got his chance to lose his relay virginity. It’s tough being number 12 since you don’t get to run until after 8 pm with our start time. Nance blew out leg 12 in low 6 pace and we handed off to Van 1 again in Santee State Park, greeted by our faithful volunteers Miranda, Stacy and majorly preggers Julie. Thanks guys!
With the handoff, we were officially off until about midnight, when Code would be running his 9.67 miler. As relay vets, we know eating “real” food is critical when you’re throwing down at least 3 hard race efforts. We tried the Santee Pizza Hut but apparently it would be a “45 minute wait” with like 3 tables occupied in the restaurant. Uh, OK. Maybe they smelled us at the door. We settled on our old standby of the Cracker Barrel, with a full house of other similarly sweaty dudes. Jordan was there with his van, having just churned out a 5:40ish 7 miler. Beast mode was definitely engaged. Dinner took forever and unfortunately Code, knowing his Chernobyl-prone colon (I mean, he is Code Brown for a reason) , opted for some hash browns only.
After waiting an eternity at the Cracker Barrel we were finally off to Galilee church, where Code would start his aforementioned, much complained about, 9.67 miler. We only had a couple of hours to kill by the time we got there after 10 pm, so I didn’t get much of a chance to nap. It turns out awkwardly splayed out in the front seat with feet on the dashboard and Code nervously fidgeting behind you does not ideal sleeping conditions make. Go figure. Plus, Code was technically doing the last leg of Van 1, then Kevin doing van 2’s first leg, then Dan from our van, and then David was joining us briefly from Van 1 to do Geary’s second leg. I didn’t see sleep happening anytime soon. Despite the chaos, we actually had drifted the pace back to pretty close to the spreadsheet. Jordan’s F3 team and Larry’s SR peeps were well ahead of us though. Darrell took off from Galilee and we made our way to Greater St. Paul’s United Methodist church, which is basically the Times Square of the night legs. Lights and vans everywhere. Home of the best white bread and ham sandwich ever created, probably because you’re hungry AF by then and no place is open. They even have a creepy sleeping section in the church where you sleep in the pews. With midnight upon us, I was pretty beat and bemoaning the fact I still had two runs to go, as I usually have one left at this time in my standard van 1 position. I actually managed to drift off for a while, because next thing I know a sweaty ass Code jumps in the van bitching about how he hardly saw a soul out on the roads for an hour. This is usual prime roadkill time so clearly they altered the start times to get people to finish earlier this year. Kevin had a short leg to follow, and then Dan had another almost 10 miler, followed by Nance swapping for the longer 5+ miler. I might have drifted off again slightly, but the growing anxiety of my second leg started creeping in, as well as potential Cracker Barrel colon syndrome. Dan knocked out the 10 miler in record time and we were all too sleep deprived to mark down David’s departure time. We were just so glad we weren’t doing 4 legs.
We then made our way to Berkeley Elementary School just outside of Moncks Corner, the start of my second leg. It was 3:30ish and I was just wrecked. Tight right hammy was hating me not to mention my brain screaming at me to get back in bed. Oh yeah, and it was cold. Like under 40 degrees. I kept on trying to warm-up jog around the school but would hop back in the van after freezing my nuts off. The palmetto 70 start was also here and I was amazed there were actually teams beginning at 3:30 in the morning. Someone told me David should be here at 3:45 so I was busy jogging around and having frequent dates with the portapotty to make sure any rectal bombs were thoroughly defused. I’m busy doing my 11 min pace miserable jog when I hear a distant “VAN ON THE RUN!!!!!”. Immediately I jump into an outright sprint and see David standing there with a big WTF look on his face. Sorry dude. I take off like a maniac down highway 52 and the right hammy is vetoing that pace real quick. I settle back down to what I think is 6:30ish, but it turns out the 3:40 am tight as a mofo post-cracker barrel conversion factor means 7:05. This is only a 3.8 miler and I’ve just thrown down a slower pace than my 8.5 mountain climb. DAMN IT. I try and speed it up some but there is no denying that this is one of those “Why the eff do I do this to myself?” moments, which always hit a peak at 3- 5 am anyway. Also, how the hell is this leg so uphill?? We’re in the low country but somehow I’m on a slow incline punctuated by an overpass that I never saw on the 50 times I looked at the map. Oh well, I’m clearly going the right way because there are blinky lights EVERYWHERE. Going sub 7 amidst the 10 minute teams makes you feel like a world-beater, but damned if my “pick up the pace” mile is still only 6:55, and again slower than the much harder leg 1. I did scare the living hell out of 2 girls in tutus running side by side, apparently my “ON YOUR RIGHT” in the middle of the night sounds a lot more serial killery than usual. Probably didn’t help I was out of breath and at point blank range. Turned on to another highway and applied a little more effort. Hammy was finally warmed up enough to work in rhythm with the rest of the oversized machine. Roadkill by the plenty on highway 402. Mile 3 in 6:44 and closer to where I should actually be. With less than a mile to go, I crank up whatever kick I have. I catch some guy who is doing low 7 pace and is not too fond of getting sasquatched. He trails me for awhile, but now I can see the exchange zone way up ahead and its on like Donkey Kong. A few more tutu girls and bike escorts later and I come blasting into the exchange zone, 6:28 pace last split, 25:45/3.78 mi/6:49 pace for the whole leg. Pretty terrible by my usual standards but still under my assigned “spreadsheet pace” so I’ll take it. Rob took the baton from me and the rest of the van napped while I went out to meet him at the insane exchange zone 24. Char and Andy were volunteering at this zone too, which is an amazing amount of work. Big hats off to them. I even got to see my ceremonial toilet roll hanger again. Awesome.
Rob cranked the 7 miler out in low 6 pace and we were well ahead of the spreadsheet by now, despite the chaos and injuries. Joel had tweaked his calf as well, though he was still running on it. Somehow, Brian felt compelled to switch with Joel for his longer legs to save his calf, all the while probably wrecking his own torn labrum further. Such are the perils of an aging Van on the Run. Fortunately, David had stepped up to cover Geary’s 2nd leg and mileage machine Tracy McKinnon would be working overtime to cover his 3rd. Our van 2 journeyed to Laing middle school to try and catch some rest as a hobbled van 1 went to work. The Middle school was pretty crowded but since it was just after 5 am, no one seemed to be afflicted with loud talkeritis, which is rampant at the Blue Ridge for some reason. The other guys crashed in the van while Dan and I bundled up and “camped” on the grass outside. Dan outdid himself with an air hammock, eye mask and of course the Big Lots dearfoam slippers. Like the Ritz-Carlton of relay sleep setups. I made love to the sweet green grass in my sleeping bag and pillow and woke up a good hour and a half later, feeling like a new man.
I jumped into the van to eat my breakfast and realized I had been noseblind to the serious stinkage our van was now exuding. Dayum. We were now definitely the renegades of funk. I stuffed my face with my Pepperidge farm raisin bread (relay breakfast of choice) and we made a quick coffee run. It was terrible gas station brew but damned if I could feel the life slowly coming back to me as the caffeine hit my veins. Once an addict, always an addict.
Nance took off on our final cycle of legs just before 8:30 am. My only beef with the relay over the years has been the progressively less scenic/less symbolic finish line, though the afterparty is always amazing. The original finish was almost on the beach in Folly, then at a folly park, then james island county park, then patriots point, but now it was in north mt pleasant without even going into Charleston. Probably has something to do with the traffic dodging and relatively treacherous legs in downtown chucktown, but certainly takes away from the feeling of the arrival at your destination. Last few legs were essentially a loop back to the middle school, though cool views on the IOP connector and Sullivans Island. While scenic, Mike had the unenviable leg that was mostly on the connector, a long 8.33 miles. Tracy had the next leg (2.9 miles) , the site of the beginning of our epic comeback when the Thundercats had a pooptastrophe followed by getting lost. Tracy was running so fast that we were half afraid he would beat the slow as hell van ahead of us. We managed to pull in only a few minutes to spare with Tracy rocking a 6:20ish 4th leg. Dan, who originally had Tracy’s leg, took Geary’s and knocked out one of his patented 4 milers while Code was next. Code took off like a vengeance on his 2.9er while I waited nervously at the next exchange. Apparently traffic laws are not in Code’s leg 3 vocabulary because he tears through a Mt P intersection playing version 2018 of Frogger. Dude is on a mission. Another round of portapottying and a light jog, and damn I was wrecked. While mentally awake from adrenaline and caffeine, my legs were destroyed. Right hammy again tight as hell. We were still sitting ahead of the spreadsheet and both Clemson teams, though we had at least F3 ramblers, Larry’s team, Paul Martino’s Let Me Run and maybe a couple others ahead. Motivation was low from a competitive standpoint but I was so ready to get this 4.6 miler done.
Code comes tearing into the exchange zone as I launch into my final leg at 10:28 am. And oooh, not so good. Apparently not enough warm up because my gait is all out of whack with the crap hamstring and general lower extremity abuse of the last 12 hours. But I’m going to hobble as fast as I damn well can. I’m taking tiny steps with an insane cadence like a damn oversized desert roadrunner, probably looking like a maniac. Mile 1 in 6:50. Just. Keep. Going. I soon realize I’m about to hit the IOP connector again, which is like 6 lanes of traffic. I’m kinda far from the intersection on rifle range rd when I see it turn green. I hit the gas and sprinted pretty hard, flying across the IOP in stride, with the light turning just as I hit the other sidewalk. Some Mt P teens told me “nice job, dude”, impressed by my gimpy ass sasquatch sprint I’m sure. The next turn is onto Sweetgrass and fortunately I crossed to the left side since the right is chock full of other teams headed the other way. Legs are finally starting to loosen up. 6:47 and 6:51 splits for mile 2 and 3. It’s cool to get on Hwy 17 and see some familiar vans. I yell at Jay Nester and the guys in the Skeleton Crew ultra van and sure enough here comes Curtis tearing up the sidewalk. Always great to see those guys – they’ve been relaying almost as long as us. After mile 3 the euphoria of the finish is palpable and I really start throwing down, so ready to get this thing over with. Mile 4 in 6:42 and I can now see the Hamlin road intersection in the distance, which I know is the turn for the exchange zone. All the chips get pushed in and headless chicken is engaged. I blow by an F3 guy that I hope is in our start time, but I can’t be sure. With the turn onto Hamlin, I play my own version of frogger and haul ass to the other side. A few SUVs want to run me off the road, but what else is new. I hit the exchange in 31:02/4.61 miles/6:44 pace, handing off to Rob for the final glory leg. So unbelievably glad to be done.
Rob of course crushes the remaining 7.7 miles faster than I could even do fresh, and as we all gather at the finish, I can tell we are going to beat our best overall pace. Sad to say though, we are sitting at least 4th by our calculations, so no chance at glory this year. We cross together in 23 hours and 17 minutes, a cumulative 6:44 with the new 207 mile course. Good enough only for 5th in the most competitive P200 yet.
Jordan’s F3 Ramblers killed it with a 22:23/6:28 to take the win with Larry’s team taking 2nd in 22:38. Paul Martinos’ Let Me Run was 3rd overall and first ultra. F3 Hickory Nine beat us to the line by 9 minutes for 4th. Top women’s team went to “I’ve got 99 problems but running ain’t one” – a ridunkulously fast all-star team captained by Sabrina Gandy and including Shawanna White, Shannon Godby, Ashley Hrubala, Liz Locke, and Pam Knapp. I think they won by like 3 hours. Julia Norcia, Ross Shealy and Wendy Hart were on the top mixed masters team Southern Stride, finishing in 26:31.
Afterparty was awesome as usual, with good beer and tacos. I hope the Blue Ridge relay will take note of how to do this right, because the P200 nails it. Somehow a couple beers in and all the pain is forgotten, and we’re already planning for next year. Gotta come back for the big 1-0 in 2019!