True to the Brew 6.5 miler – Pomaria, SC to Peak, SC – 4/21/18

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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+.

https://runsignup.com/Race/Results/53330/#resultSetId-113123

https://www.strava.com/activities/1522390562

Photo credits to Tracy Tisdale, Roy Shelley and Ken Lowden. Great race, Erin!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ville to Ville Relay – Asheville, NC to Greenville, SC – 4/15/18

If you know me, you already know I’m an absolute freak when it comes to road racing. The only thing that perhaps exceeds my road racing enthusiasm is the relay. But what if you could have a relay without the sleep deprivation, include mountain scenery, and have breweries at the start and finish and along the way. Uh, are you kidding me?

And so obviously I was born to do the Ville to Ville . Seventy three miles through the Blue Ridge from Asheville to Greenville. Beer themed with start at Highlands Brewery and finish in Greenville sponsored by Thomas Creek. Drew Williams asked if I was interested in forming a team for this and I think I broke land speed records for texting back. We signed up on the day registration opened, which was over a year in advance. Apparently the running/craft beer combo is quite popular because I think the thing sold out almost immediately. This is basically unheard of for an event that hasn’t even happened yet. Whoever dreamed this thing up is a genius.

So after much consternation about team names, we came up with CAREBEERS, which means pretty much nothing, other than a nod to the absurdly ubiquitous cartoon/toy of the 80’s in which we all grew up. Rob Yerger was on board and he was hopeful he could get local awesome beer bar Craft and Draft to sponsor our team shirts. Randy “Silent H” Hrechko, Matt McGrievy and Michael Nance rounded out our team, drawn together by a similar freakish addiction to racing and good beer. It just so happened we are all old so we also got to be in the masters division. Our egos also speculated that maybe we could be competitive enough to win this thing, though of course this was a complete wildcard. Being in the mountains, maybe one of the insanely fast Blure Ridge Relay teams would decied they like beer too and would crash our trophy hunt. We would see.

Over a year passed and luckily we were all relatively healthy and ready to toe the line in Asheville. Randy, Rob, Matt and Drew were able to take off early on Friday and enjoy the packet pickup party at Highland. Me and other working stiff Mike Nance had to catch a later ride. At least we got a chance to visit the Trailhead restaurant/bar in Black Mountain, stormed each year by the Harbison Trail Runners in their quest for Mount Mitchell. A friend of Matt’s from college hooked us up with a sweet air bnb deal, so we got to spend the evening drinking beer on the porch overlooking the forest instead of some sterile hotel. Very nice. Unfortunately I make poor decisions a few beers in, so I woke up the next morning I had registered for my first ultra at the Table Rock 50k in September. My registering under the influence is legendary. Please keep a computer away from me when I’ve been drinking.

The next morning everyone was good to go thanks to the combined effect of my iphone alarm and the amazing amount of roosters inhabiting the valley near Black Mountain. Given our aforementioned grandiosity, we had put down a 6:45 relay pace, which is probably a good reflection of our 10 k average ON FLAT GROUND.  In case you missed it, Asheville is not on the coast. So, after fueling up on the breakfast of champions at McDonalds, we were set to go off in the last group at 8:40 am.

The relay setup was pretty simple – 6 guys running in order for the first six legs of the relay, with the same order for the second six. Twelve legs total, 2 per person. Total mileage per leg was about 3 to 10, and the total combined mileage varied widely depending on which legs you ran. There were also ultra teams, who obviously did a lot more with fewer people.

Randy, perhaps because he had to miss some of the team planning meetings, i.e. drinking beer at Flying Saucer, got stuck with Leg 1. Leg 1 is a 10k with an ungodly amount of climb, ranked number 2 overall in difficulty. They even call it “The Hiker” in the relay guide. And Randy hasn’t run a trail in forever. Plus, with a surprising 8 teams in the same start wave, this could be some brutal competition. Always stressful to go first because everyone knows where you stand against the field. I went first at the 2012 blue ridge relay and had some dude crank out 5 minute flat miles in front of me, leaving me several minutes behind. As expected with the brutal elevation and trail section, Randy was a few minutes off our spreadsheet, which we realized was going to be fairly worthless with all this elevation. Silent H came blasting into the exchange full of F bombs and the declaration that this was the hardest 10k ever. I don’t doubt it.

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Speaking of hard, rob took leg 2, the HILLMAN. Although ostensibly named for Hillman brewing company, this 6 miler involved basically climbing a mountain and coming back over the other side. One part had 23 percent grade, which I can’t even fathom since the Quarry Crusher tops out at 10 percent. I didn’ t ask him about any walksies but I assure you I’d be doing my mall walker power stride that I brought out at the Hogpen races in January. This was rated the hardest leg in the whole relay, and the Yerg did not offer any argument on that. Matt picked up leg 3, the 5.61 miler sponsored by Blue Ghost brewery. Matt was feeling the pressure as technically the slowest on the team (still cranks out a 22 min 5k though) but he actually destroyed his projected time on this leg, so much so that I almost missed him coming in to the exchange zone. .He was doing so in style, decked out with a porn stache even Ron Jeremy would be proud of.  He handed off to Nance, who took off like his life depended on it. I should say at this point that there were a few teams full of young guys that were clearly going to kick our ass. However, in the masters division it was looking like a showdown between us and the REDNECK POSSE, another group of our brethren of middle age. Though they were even grayer than us, they were killing it in the early going and had a few minute lead on us.

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Next up was finally my turn. I am like the least anxious person on the planet but relays always make me a nervous wreck. I start catastrophizing about letting my team down, etc. I was a manic mess of stretching and portapotty destruction in the next exchange zone. I also decided to take one for the team and wear our official Carebeers shirt, which was supposed to be a sleeveless racing shirt but might of come out like an illfitting wife beater best suited for the trailer park. With my super white guns ablazing , I was only short a mullet from looking completely like Joe Dirt.  But I was 1000 percent ready to go,and maybe put a dent in the posse’s lead. Uh, or not. Before I could even think about what was happening, Nance come flying around the corner having just passed the redneck posse’s runner. Holy crap – he made up a ridiculous amount of time. All of a sudden I realized I was running just a few meters ahead of the Posse and being put in the position of essentially racing their guy head to head. Any conservative plan in my 5 miler went completely out the window. I went off like a Banshee, hauling ass from the get-go, which, in hindsight, is not what you want to do with a big ass hill at the beginning. This leg was supposedly the easiest in the relay, but the long climb at the start was giving me the beatdown by the time I reached the top. First mile was like 6:27, though was probably at 6 flat effort given the incline. I flopped down the other side and had a sharp right turn maybe 1.2 miles in. I caught a glimpse of the posse still lurking just behind me. MUST KEEP GOING HARD. Another incline met me at the turn and I was quickly realizing that I was revving the engine way too hard too early, but I had already committed to this pace. Second mile was right around  6:27 again. We got dumped onto the Oklawaha paved trail at 2.2 miles in, where I hoped it would be nice and flat. And it was, basically. Only problem was I was hurting really bad for being only halfway done. The next 2 miles were on the flat trail and I kept telling myself just to keep going. Pace started bleeding upward due to the nice lactic acid bath my legs were swimming in. 6:30’s then 6:40’s. I was definitely scaring the kids on the trail, wondering who let the crazed redneck loose. I was nearing the finish when the route suddenly turned right and into a hill. Not a terribly steep incline, but at that point I was completely on fumes and just absolutely dying. Headless chicken mode was fully engaged as I flopped into Hendersonville, NC and the site of Southern Appalachian brewery. In my delirium I started running into a random parking lot before having to turn around and get back on the sidewalk. Finally I saw the exchange after yet one more climb. I crashed into the zone and handed off to Drew, just completely spent. Way to save some for round two, hero. 6:38 average pace, so not too shabby considering the hill. Most importantly, I suddenly realized my few second lead over the Posse had grown to a few minutes. On the bad side, I was completely and utterly obliterated, the heat of the day was growing, and I had a hilly 6.2 miler to go with limited rest. Fan-freaking-tastic.

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I spent the time at the next zone chugging water and praying I would feel more recovered soon. Drew had a 5.65 miler which he absolutely crushed in low 6 minute pace and amped up our lead even more. Randy was all nervous about protecting the lead and feeling like we wanted to make up for his tough opening leg. He went out on a mission on “The Pickler” a 4.56 miler to start us off on the second cycle, ending in Tuxedo, NC.  By this time we had started catching up to the earlier teams and roadkill was aplenty, in addition to the transition areas getting pretty crowded. To their credit, the relay did an awesome job keeping the traffic and parking moving despite a potential chaotic situation. We ran into Ilia Owens and her team in Tuxedo, with Jennifer Conrick as their ringer they recruited just a week earlier. Pretty fast last second replacement!

Next thing we know, some crazed 6’5” beast comes rolling into the zone all hyped up on a adrenaline and f bombs, and we know that’s gotta be the Silent H. He went into beast mode on the Pickler and took down roadkill like a tractor trailer without any brakes. Handoff went to Rob, who had the “Tali-Ho”, the shortest but one of the hilliest legs at 3.53 miles. The elevation map looked like one big mountain climb. Yerg loves his climbs. Right before the zone was a crossover into South Carolina and a total freefall down the other side of the mountain. McGrievy was the benefactor of the decline, and his 6.2 miler to follow had 1100 feet of pure descent.  I’m sure it was nice to not power up any hills, but this leg looked like a complete quad meat grinder. At the next exchange zone, Nance was gearing up for a beast of a leg, 9.84 miles of up and down. I was starting to get nervous since my legs still felt like death and I was much more inclined to seek out a nap then run a hard 10k. Oh, and it had started getting warm.

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With Nance taking off and with us still having a sizable masters lead, I realized all I had to do was keep it together on my second leg. Even though there was obviously a net elevation loss over the course of the relay, somehow my 2nd leg was a net elevation gain and was rated the 3rd hardest. Awesome. I got to Beechwood Farms and I started getting really anxious. That warmth I was talking about had gone all the way to really freaking hot. Almost 80 degrees. No shade in sight. To boot, everybody and their mom was at this zone. Randy and Rob, who were done were already wolfing down hot dogs. The three portapotties had lines out the yin yang so I was prompted to use nature’s bathroom. Thankfully there were no code browns on the intestinal horizon. Of course, in what has now becoming a relay tradition, Char and John Richards were volunteering at this zone. They brought donuts for our team and my ceremonial blue shoes toilet paper roll. I am forever thankful!

Poor Mike had a finish to his leg out in the blazing sun  across Beechwood Farms strawberry fields forever. I got the slap bracelet and set out on “The Rabbit”, a 6.2 miler named after the Swamp Rabbit Trail where the leg ended. Immediately I get hit with one hill after the other. It feels like there’s no respite between these monsters and I start getting scared of an epic bonk. Everything feels like hell thanks to my balls out 5 miler earlier. And OMG it is hot. 80 degrees on the nose according to the gauge at Traveler’s Rest high school. There is one girl ahead of me who is keeping good pace and I just try and hang with her about 50 meters back. Pace is going all to hell, like 7:20’s, but I know all I have to do is keep this up and hold off the walksies…and the medical tent. There is no shade to speak of on this leg, and I am just in a world of hurt. My only solace is that I’m running alongside a virtual parade of walkers. Everyone is dying a slow death out here, and I’m knocking off about 10-20 roadkill per mile just by not catching the walksies myself. But damned if I didn’t want to. Hills just keep coming. Plus fast girl is actually slowly pulling away from me. I start recognizing part of the GHS swamp rabbit half marathon course towards the end and I get excited, only to have to dial it back when I feel the faintsies and the med tentsies start again. Finally we hit the main drag of the surprisingly hipster Traveler’s Rest and I am begging for the finish. I wasn’t sure where Swamp Rabbit brewery (exchange zone) was and I am just trying to follow the crowd. Some guy says watch the cars , pointing to the right, which I took as go to the right. As I cross everybody is screaming to go straight, so somehow I run completely across the exact center of the intersection. Very thankful that delirious Sasquatches get right-of-way in TR. I blast into the exchange zone, hand off to Drew, and stumble immediately around back. My teammates, already beered up and enjoying the beautiful day (if you’re not running a hilly 10k) are worried I’m going to go puke, but all I am desperate for is to not have the sun blazing down on me. A few minutes later all is good again and I’m ready to drive to the finish to get my beer on.

The finish area is awesome. Beer, food, 80’s cover band. Tracy, Brie, Kelly and Mrs. Blue Shoes herself (Mary) are there already and wondering why we are so far off our scheduled arrival. Turns out there were mountains. Somehow, Tracy got hooked into being the unofficial race photog, in exchange for a couple of beers and t shirts. Worked for us since she may have been partial to the Carebeers since her husband had the anchor leg. It didn’t take long for Drew to bring us home, rocking out a 8.78 miler in sub 7 pace in the same brutal conditions as my 10k slog just before. We cruised into the finish with a time of 8 hours and 48 minutes. Good enough for first male masters and 5th overall! Awards were a bottle of Thomas Creek’s official Ville to Ville IPA, which is amazing, and a trophy growler with the race logo. Wash everything down with beers and the best taco truck ever, and a good time was had by all. Later, we ended up at Barley’s taproom across from the official relay Aloft hotel. We met up with the Redneck Posse, who ended up getting 2nd masters, and they seemed like really nice guys. Carebeers will be back in 2019! Special thanks to Craft and Draft for sponsoring!

https://results.rmraces.live/SVE-Timing-East/events/2018/ville-to-ville-craft-brew-relay/results

https://www.strava.com/activities/1508305499

https://www.strava.com/activities/1508786825

Cooper River Bridge Run 10k – Charleston, SC – 4/7/18

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Truth be told, I am not a fan of “big” races. Corrals, hotels, and expos are really not my thing – I’m much rather drive to a rural mom n’ pop style race and go trophy hunting with a few dozen other people. But if you’re a runner in South Carolina, or anywhere in the southeast for that matter, you are going to do the Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston. Born in 1977 by the Charleston Running Club, that little 10k has grown to be one of the biggest races in the country, attracting about 40,000 people every year. The race brings out elites from all over the world, with the winners usually crossing the line around 28 minutes.

Despite running a race almost every weekend since 2009, I have only done the Bridge Run once, in 2013. This was the year after they had a snafu at the start with the shuttle buses not arriving on time, so I made sure I got like the first bus out at 5 am and sat in the corral for 2+ hours. FYI, this is not the way to do it. I ended up having a great race though, running a sub 20 second half en route to a 40:38 and a PR at the time. I spent most of that race focused on chasing down Shannon Iriel but couldn’t quite catch her. As the 2018 Long Run 15k proves, some things never change.

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2013 Bridge Run with Diesel

I might have returned the next year, but I decided to almost die that summer in Kauai, and rehabbing from that and a general distaste for 10ks kept me away since. Last year though, I had one of my best races ever at the Dam Run 10k with a 39:23. I was thrilled with finally getting my sub 40,  which not only accomplished a personal goal but qualified me for the “seeded” corral at Cooper River – the one just behind the elites. I think I signed up for Cooper River that night.

As is the case with most of my plans made over celebratory beers and a nearby computer, my intent on replicating the sub 40 at the Bridge got pushed to the wayside. Between struggling to keep healthy and the Palmetto 200, I didn’t really think about Cooper River until a week or so before the race. While I originally planned on bringing the whole family and staying in Charleston for the weekend, my equally impulsive purchase of Avett Brothers tickets made me have to be back in Columbia by Saturday night. I was able to change the hotel reservation and just make this a solo trip to focus on the race.

It should be said logistics is a big issue for this race, which they handle remarkably well. The course is point to point, with the start in Mount Pleasant and the finish in downtown Charleston. That means 40,000 people are going to want to get back to their cars at some point. Fortunately, they have a whole battalion of school buses for this purpose, and a bunch of potential shuttle stops. I thought I had gotten a hotel close to the start, but as it turns out it was more like 3.4 miles.  Luckily for me there were 2 shuttle stops close by, so I was still set. Despite an ill-timed Jimmy Buffett concert at the same place as the expo, I was able to swing by the day before, dodge some early hard partying Parrotheads and check it out. It’s as big as one for a marathon. I was able to make it out with only an impulsive 60 dollar hydration belt purchase. Apparently a fool and his money are soon parted.

My alarm rang at 5 am in my hotel room and I again wondered why the hell I do this to myself every Saturday. Everything went smoothly with the shuttle nearby and I was deposited at the start line just before 6 am. Weather was crazy warm – almost 70 degrees, and a bit of a swirling nasty wind. At least I wasn’t freezing my balls off like in 2013. I met up with Randy and his “bridge crew” – apparently these guys have been running the Bridge every year since 1998 or so. Silent H said he laid off the late nights this year, though he has been known to go heavy on the beers and Italian food the night before. I’d hate to be Randy’s race morning portapotty. It was nice to be able to kill some time with these guys. The H and I  then made our way to the start, did about a mile and a half to warm up on Simmons St. After a multitude of anxious potty stops, I got to take in the rarefied air of the seeded corral and my ridiculously low 122 bib number. Having squeaked in there, I’m sure all the lean singlet types were wondering who let the Sasquatch loose in the corral. Randy’s been there many times before with numerous sub 40’s but race organizers wouldn’t give him a seeded bib this year- c’mon guys the dude deserves it! Nate Carrasco, Shawanna White and current 2018 tour de Columbia  overall leader Mike Schrum were on hand.  It was cool to see all the elites warming up – these guys just glide over the ground – so jealous. Last year’s winner Shadrack Kipchirchir with his number 1 bib was right in front of me. I was sure to let him be my 4:30ish pacer.  As the start time approached, they merged all the top corrals together, so I ended up right near the front of 40,000 people with H, Geary McAlister, Brian “El Capitan” Clyburn and Jen Kryzanowski.  I was shocked Brian and Geary were running since they were both part of our walking wounded from the P200. Jen had her eyes on a sub 40 also, so I knew she would use her favorite blue shoed windshield to help.

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As expected with the swarm of beasts at the front, the start was mayhem. My goal was to take it out in the 6:20’s and see what happens. It’s really tough not to get carried away when everyone around you is crazy fast. I was even able to draft off some bigger guys, which never happens in local races. Any help against the wind is golden, because its swirling all over the place. Jen is right off my shoulder as were able to navigate the crowd pretty easily after the first quarter mile or so. First mile in general is pretty much flat, and my Garmin gives me a 6:20, which might be a bit fast, but not too bad . In hindsight though, maybe mile one would be a good one to lay off a bit in prep for what’s next. Why’s that? Because miles 2 and 3 suck with a capital S . Yeah…the whole bridge thing. I like to fancy myself an expert hill climber, but I’m really good at knocking down short, steep grades. The Bridge’s incline starts ever so slowly and just sucks the everloving life out of you. There’s a especially nasty incline with the onramp from coleman blvd, and I’m telling myself – hey I can see the top right there, the incline’s not so bad, yada yada yada. Then I realize that we haven’t even hit mile 2 yet, and mile 3 is just over the top. Mile 2 comes back in 6:40 with the first part of the bridge taking its toll. MUST KEEP PUSHING. Yeah, the third mile is just a nightmare. Between the wind, the humidity and the brisk first mile, the wheels are wobbling and ready to come off. The top of this bridge seems so close but it just never seems to come. Feels like I’m power jogging in place and I can feel this race is about to be an epic disaster. I lose Jen behind me but I’m getting passed left and right as the struggle bus winds its way to the summit of this mountain. Finally the bridge levels out , but I’ve got a bad case of jello legs and the gasping for airsies. I seriously debate pulling the plug on this bonk, but I can’t handle the shame of walking with a freaking 122 bib and getting passed by tens of thousands of people. I suck it up though the first eff bomb gets dropped with my 7:10 split for mile 3. Nice marathon pace in a 10k , cool guy! The 5k split is just a hair under 21. I try and ride the downhill as much as I can on the other side to make up some time, but lungs and legs have discussed it and they decide EFF NO.  I do manage to use my Sasquatchian physique and Newtonian physics to decent effect on mile 4,  clocking 6:35, but its almost all downhill. Finally off the bridge, we take a left turn and head into downtown on Meeting Street. I know its all flat on the peninsula, having lived in Charleston for 2 years and visited countless times, but I am really hurting by now.  I keep hoping I will get a second wind and I’ll start kicking it in any moment, but it seems like my racing legs have decided to call it a day. Going as hard as I can and getting about 6:40 for mile 5. By now I’m just begging for the finish and I keep eyeing my Garmin to see where I’m at – which  I never usually do. I hear someone call my name and all of a sudden Brian Kistner from last years P200 team comes up behind me and passes me. I hate getting passed but I’m actually more surprised he’s been behind me all this time – dude is a beast. I try and latch onto him and though he’s definitely gapping me, at least there’s someone to chase. Finally we hit the turn from King street to wentworth and back on meeting. I hear the Garmin chime but I’m to gassed to look at it, but I can see the mile 6 gun time click over to 40 minutes.  Way to hit your goal time, hero. I launch into a feeble kick as there are a couple of age groupery guys lurking about,  and I cross in 41:25. Just wiped.  Again, probably started too fast and the conditions were rough, but still pretty bummed about the time. Still managed 240th overall, 19th in age group, 41:22 chip time.

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Not a whole lot of good times from people I knew, though major props to Nate Carrasco crushing a 38:38 for a big PR. Randy wasn’t happy with his 43:16, but he still scored a top 10 ag finish with a 7th in his new 50-54 age group. I may not be back every year like Silent H, but I’m sure I’ll “get over it” and try to conquer the bridge again soon.

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