Columbia definitely has more than its fair share of races, and this fact becomes all the more evident every spring. The weather is often perfect this time of year, and it seems every race director is eying a March or April date for their event. A couple of months ago our Tour de Columbia started filling in fast, and it seemed everybody and their mom decided to have a road race on April 21. On the Tour alone were SIX races all in one morning. The Palmetto Half/5k and the Heart and Sole women’s 5 miler were the big ones, along with trophy hunting opportunities at Jacoby’s Superhero 5k, Spring Hill Derby Day 5k, and Gamecocks for Babies 5k.
But when a race comes along that includes beer and the Palmetto Trail, I was definitely in, especially with Erin Roof at the helm. Erin’s new company Grit Endurance, LLC was putting on this race , True to the Brew, to benefit the Palmetto Conservation Foundation. Since Grit’s first race (Lucky Leprechaun) was complete with the ego inflation of my own personal birthday cake and reference to being an “elite athlete” (I mean , obviously, since my physique just screams elite), I felt more than obligated to try this one out as well. Of course, having free beer, food and music at the end of a cool point to point race through the forest and ending on an old train trestle didn’t require a lot of arm twisting.
Erin invited some Columbia running community leaders to a preview run a few weeks ago to get a look at the course. In addition to hearing the harrowing ordeals of Dean Schuster’s near arrest for peeing in the forest, I learned the race course was definitely not what I expected. I was thinking more Harbison/Sesqui trails, but this course was a wide open, almost completely straight line through the forest, very fast for an off-road event. Makes sense, since this part of the trail was an old railroad line. The finish is a beautiful refurbished train trestle over the Broad river. Very cool. With beer and pizza in our bellies and egos properly stroked, we all left pretty excited about this race. Erin played us all like puppets. They had capped the race at 200 but opened up another 20 spots filled with eager Harbison Trail Runners and Columbia Run Clubbers afterwards.
Apparently Mother Nature was also invited to the preview run, because race day was pretty much perfect. Cold start with the forecast to reach the mid 60’s over the morning. Not a cloud in the sky. I was a little later than I thought, waylaid by the colonic aftermath of poor dietary choices at the Fireflies game on Friday night. I also left the house without knowing where I was going, and spent an inordinate amount of time screaming at my iPhone to correctly look up “TRUE TO THE BREW” and “ERIN ROOF” in my email and trying to get google maps to understand “Pomaria”. It probably helps to avoid the F bombs with voice recognition. For the record , “Wilson’s Grocery” works.
I got to the start only about 30 minutes early since I had to shuttle from the parking area with so many people at Wilson’s Grocery. I knew there would be a big crowd but I was also surprised at how many people that were unfamiliar to me. You attend a race every week and you get used to seeing the same band of hardcore freaks like yourself. Faces that were familiar included Tracy Tisdale, Drew Williams, Derek Hutton, Adam Feigh, Roy Shelley, Kim La, Janette and Joe Robinson, Shelley and Marion Hinson, Ken Lowden, Sandy Smith, Teresa Harrington, Mike Wainscott, Maria Pray, Chesson Merritt, Jennifer and Chris Conrick, Sheila and Ken Bolin, Tracy and Julie McKinnon, Jennifer Clyburn, Pete O’Boyle, Kelly Ghent, Dale Stigamier, Cheryl and Tommy Outlaw, Renee and Patrick MCormick, Will and Amanda Rowan, Makenzie Wilson, Pam and Mike Griffin, Tammy Carter, Brie and Matt McGrievy, Harry Strick, Bryan Leaburn, and Jennifer Sparks.
After a short pre-race ceremony, we were off. The course, as noted, is basically straight, wide open, and nearly impossible to get off-track. It does have a gravel base with some dirt and pinestraw over it. It might be better to wear trail shoes, though I opted for my typical road blue racing flats. Footing was mostly OK save for a few kicked rocks and squishy spots. From the get-go, Derek and Adam take off and leave everyone, with Drew not too far behind. I am sitting back from them a ways, and pretty quickly it’s just me, myself and I . I’m feeling surprisingly good, having taken a rare day off from my obsessive training schedule, loving the cold morning, and finally recovering somewhat from last week’s brutal Ville to Ville relay. Mile 1 in 6:45 so not too shabby considering it’s still trail running. Feels pretty flat though the Garmin data shows a slight drop in elevation. Mile 2 in the exact same split and I start daydreaming a little, since Drew is way far ahead and I can’t hear anyone around me. Or do I? After a while I can hear someone a little ways back but I don’t dare turn around. I start doing my nerd runner race calculus and try to figure out who’s back there. Then it dawns on me. Where the hell is Tracy McKinnon? Technically he should be way ahead of me, though I know he just ran a 3:15 Boston Marathon in the worst conditions known to man, and he was already back in the saddle according to my daily Strava stalking. But damned if I’m going to check because the ego can’t stand being weak.
Just before the 3 mile mark I cross a road where my Palmetto 200 captain Brian Clyburn is there with his kids to cheer on his wife and Van on the Run teammates. I’m not through the intersection more than a few seconds before I hear Clyburn yelling “T-BO” (Tracy’s P200 nickname) and I know I’m about to get a beat down. I hear Tracy yelling that his cover is blown now and seconds later he pulls alongside with 14 year old cross country beast Chris Conrick. Initially, my thought is to let these guys go. But, knowing my extreme dependence on others to make me run fast, I decide to latch on and see how long I can handle it. I went out fairly conservatively, so might as well give it a try. It seems to work – neither Tracy or Chris are hell bent on pulling away, so I sit back in the pocket between them. I hit mile 3 in 6:47 just as they caught me, but I’m able to stay with them with a little surge in pace. The mile marks are definitely after my Garmin splits, so I know its probably going to be shorter than the billed 6.5 miles. I know the distance from Brian’s spectating spot is exactly 3.5 miles from the finish from the preview run, which was definitely a good bit before the 3 mile mark. My race brain calculates close to a 10k distance. The three of us cross mile 4 in a 6:42 split , and I can feel things start to accelerate a bit. I surge to the front for a bit, then get overtaken again, and I just sit back because I can’t lay out a kick this early, even it is getting into my 5k territory. I know from the preview run that you briefly go off the main trail to go under Broad River Rd about a mile and a quarter from the finish. I figure this would be the time to start ramping the pace. As we near the underpass, Chris surges ahead and I follow him, and surprisingly Tracy tells me to go. Is he just toying with me? I don’t have time to figure that out because Conrick is trying to pull away. Oh hells no. He may be almost 30 years my junior but a chunky middle-aged Sasquatch hopped up on race adrenaline is still a dangerous thing. Mile 5 in 6:34. I should mention at this time that all that good feeling of the first half of the race is decidedly gone. In fact, I’m pretty much dying, but I the course is so straight I can almost see the finish. I’m basically side-by-side with Chris the whole sixth mile, first part kind of tactical but the last part getting more frantic. As soon as I pass the Peak entrance of the trail I can see the trestle and all hell breaks loose. I surge ahead, then Chris overtakes me. At the trestle I launch into a full-on headless chicken and take the “lead”. I’m giving one thousand percent and fully expect that I’ve given him the beat down. Hundreds of races in, I’ve been passed in the last 100 meters only about 5 times. But damn it, I can hear footsteps, and sure enough Conrick pulls ahead and I GOT NOTHING. No more gears to go. Painfully, I have to watch helplessly as he nips me by 2 seconds. Dang. Strong work, dude. I cross in 42:03 for a Garmin 6.34 distance, 5th overall, 1st masters (with Drew removed for his 3rd overall finish). I hate getting Blue Shoed but the head-to-head epic showdowns are what I live for. I’m pretty happy with the effort too, coming off a tough week post relay.
After making out with a park bench and sucking all the oxygen out of Newberry county, and taking some CRC pics, I made my way to the afterparty. Awesome chicken bog and a free beer (Palmetto trail ale or RJ Rockers son of a peach) from the Craft and Draft mobile truck. Thanks to Shelley and Janette for donating their beers to the Blue Shoes intoxication fund. Awesome awards with Palmetto Trail camping mugs and cool medals for the overall winners. There was a bit of a wait for the shuttle back to the start so I just relaxed and enjoyed the awesome weather. The band was really good too. After a while I looked pitiful enough in front of Tracy and Julie so I hitched a ride in their overloaded Camry with Sheila, Jen, and Ken – thanks so much for helping a sweaty beer soaked Sasquatch. Tracy then told me he ran 12.5 miles from his house to the start line (while Julie drove the car to the finish and jogged the course backward) , so that explains why he didn’t crush me out there. I appreciate you handicapping yourself for the race, T-Bo.
In the overall, Derek Hutton took the win with Adam Feigh second. Adam also decided to handicap himself with a 3 hour bike ride before the race. Damn I’m glad I’m not a pro triathlete (hard to tell, I know). Drew Williams must have run the whole race by himself in 3rd place. The women’s winner was Palmetto 200 “99 problems” captain Sabrina Gandy, with Madeline Smith second and Chris’ mom and masters beast Jennifer Conrick. In the male masters, it was me , Tracy and Ken Bolin taking the podium, while Denise Knight, Julie, and Missy Judy won on the women’s side.
Age group glory:
Women: Kelly Ghent was 3rd in the 35-39. Jennifer Clyburn won the 40-44, with Tammy Carter 3rd. Tracy Tisdale won the 45-49. Renee McCormick took the 50-54. Sandy Smith and Teresa Harrington went 1-2 in the 55-59, while Cheryl Outlaw won the 60-64.
Men: Chris won the 12-14 . Dale Stigamier won 3rd in the 35-39, while Will Rowan took 2nd in the 40-44. Matt “Porn Stache” McGrievy took 3rd while running with Brie. Steve Conrick and Marion Hinson took top 2 in the 45-49. Roy Shelley was second in the 50-54. Mike Griffin was 2nd in the 55-59. Pete O’Boyle, Harry Strick and Bryan Leaburn claimed an all CRC 60-64 podium. Ken Lowden was 2nd in the 70+.
Photo credits to Tracy Tisdale, Roy Shelley and Ken Lowden. Great race, Erin!