Late winter to early spring is always a crazy time on the Tour de Columbia, with a ton of races trying to capitalize on some key weekends. March 10 was apparently one of these, as the TDC had four races on the same day. There was an evening race making a double dip possible, but tragically none of the morning races worked out for a quick double up in the morning. I briefly considered doing a very drive-intensive double with the non-tour Newberry 5k (join the tour, Newberry!) , but with that race being 40 minutes from home and no points at stake, I opted out. Sadly, their overall winner clocked 24 minutes, so I missed an easy holy grail.
That left the morning races – the Woodlands 5k, Healthy Capital 5k and the March for Meals. I have been really wanting to do Healthy Cap again since its one of my favorite races from the rookie year of the Blue Shoes, i.e. 2009. But it doesn’t get more meaningful to me than my first March for Meals. I didn’t know a soul in the Columbia running community at the time, so I cajoled my friend Michael Ferlauto to come with me to the 2009 MFM, when it was held at the zoo. I ran like a man possessed and did an early prototype of my headless chicken finish to cross in 23:27, a new PR for me. Michael finished about the same time and we both headed home immediately afterward. A few hours later I checked the results and realized, inexplicably, I had won the 30-34 age group. The next day I came by Senior Resources and picked up my little golden trophy. And a switch was flipped…the addict had found his drug. Nine years and hundreds of races later, I’m still hunting down my little metal trinkets.
So I ended up choosing MFM again this year. It probably helped that longtime CRC member and friend Ted Hewitt, who is also is my insurance agent, scored me a free entry through sponsor Modern Woodmen. Thanks, Ted!
MFM used to be run at Riverbanks Zoo and up a ridiculously tough mountain up through the Botanical Gardens. They have since opted for Timmerman trail, a paved trail through the forest near the river in Cayce. While its not ideal for speed with all its twists and turns, it’s certainly flat, and perhaps most importantly, doesn’t smell like elephant poo. The first mile is actually mostly a flat road to get to the trail, and the last quarter mile or so is out in the open, with a slight incline to the finish. Jeff Brandenburg remembers this area well from last year when a pale white blur blew by him just outside the forest.
MFM does a good job advertising so they were able to get 250+ registrants to the race. When I got there, a quick look through of the competition told me there would be a tough masters race with Code Brown making a rare racing reappearance and Coach B in attendance. CRC regulars Leeds Barroll, Brigitte and Garriet Smith, and Alex Ponomarev were on hand. Daniel Patrick was coming back after a long layoff. Jessalyn Smith, Cotes Royson, Teresa Shelton and Dina Mauldin were some other familiar faces. Stacy Ohrin was rucking this in a 30 lb backpack. I thought running with a 30 lb weight disadvantage was only for me.
After warming up with the code, I stroll up to the line and see Nate Carrasco. Nate was running 20 min 5k’s a few months ago but recently has been flirting with sub 18’s. Beast mode has definitely been engaged. I figure he’s got this race in the bag.
With the gun, we all take off down the flat road. 5k pace always feels like a punch to the stomach when you’ve been doing mostly leisurely 9-ish miles. I’m surprised at the number of people still in my vicinity as we near the mile mark and entrance into the forest. Code has a few steps on me, Coach B is on my back, but there’s a few other unknowns still hanging around. Most notably, a tiny girl who looks like she’s barely out of elementary school but with legs of steel and perfect running form. Mini Kara Goucher beats me to the trail and pretty soon I’m struggling to keep up with someone 30 years younger and under half my weight. Mile 1 comes back in 6:24, though I remember this course is notoriously off from the Garmin since its has so many little turns in the forest. I see Code trying to pull away, so I stop terrorizing the twelve year old and jump on Code’s back for a while. Finally the 5k pace feels less brutal and the dividends of 40-50 mile weeks start getting paid forward. About a mile and a half in, I grow weary of drafting and just blast by the Code and another age groupery looking guy and head out into the clear. I usually save a move like that for the last mile or so, but passing opportunities are precious and few on this course. Once I’m ahead of that pack I’m completely running scared. Getting the beatdown by Code or Coach B does not sound great, but getting chicked by a middle school girl seems decidedly worse.
So I push the pace a bit to try and get some distance on the pack behind me. There’s a mile 2 marker as per the certified course, but the Garmin is completely wonky by now. I’m hurting, but then I see a flicker of white up ahead. WTF? Is that Carrasco?? Oh hell, it is. I’m already breathing like a maniac, but damned if I don’t ratchet it up. A few times I see him look back, which triggers me to go even faster. I figured the trail is deceiving about my distance from him, but after a while I realize I am definitely a lot closer. I keep begging for the finish stretch but 2 or 3 times I get fooled and its a bridge with more trail. Finally I can see the big opening up ahead, and I’m maybe 20-30 meters behind. He looks back and sees me, holds up a number 1 and sprints to up the face of the last incline. And that is when I made the critical, costly error of letting off the gas a bit, figuring he was just toying with me. As I crest the hill though, I can see him staggering a bit, and then he comes to a complete stop not more than 20 meters from the finish. Immediate karmic payback for showboating. The dude is either dry heaving or puking, so I sprint like a madman, staring at him. PLEASE. KEEP. PUKING. I’m drawing ever so close when he suddenly sees me bearing down on him like a runaway semi. He then makes a last gasp effort and makes it across the line. I finish about one dry heave, or 3 seconds, behind. Dang. SO close to a holy grail at my first age group race. Time is 19:12, so pretty happy about that. Garmin has the same 2.99 distance from last year, but again, certified course in a forest with a million twists/turns.
So Nate got the coveted first place trophy, a plate inscribed with “Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner” on it, so Dave Hale – there is your ultimate prize. 3rd place was Ross Shealy, now in the age group from hell, my 40-44. On the women’s side, the 12 year old was state record holder Jais Ward, clocking an amazing 19:53 for the win. Wow. Maggie Pat Rafferty was second in 20:57, also a crazy fast time for a 48 year old. Gina Rogers was third in 23:44.
Age group glory: Sisters Scarlett and Dorothy Hutchins finished together to take 2nd and 3rd in the 5-10. Cotes Royson took 1st in the 11-14. Daniel Patrick won the 25-29. Code finished 3rd in the 40-44 despite finishing 5th overall. I told you this AG is hell. Sonya Green-Sumpter was 1st in the 40-44 women. Joey Swearingen was first in the 50-54. Coach B was champ of the 55-59. Leeds Barroll broke 28 minutes for the first time in a while, clocking a 27:49 for 1st in the 65-69. Alex Ponomarev finished 3rd. Brigitte Smith took 2nd among the women.