The Race to the Finish is apparently in its 3rd year, and is put on by Northside Baptist Church in Lexington to help support their missionary work, with the race promotion through Run Hard and timing by Fastrak. It was actually a late add to the Tour de Columbia, though they picked a good weekend with no other races going on. That being said, these small races away from downtown pop up on my radar, as everyone knows I am an unabashed trophy hunter. Who wants to run against fast people when you can inflate your ego against kids and couch to 5kers? Duh. Anyway, this race looked like at least a fair chance for the ultimate holy grail of trophy hunting, the overall win. Of course when you are a slightly less than ripped Sasquatch, you have to depend on a little bit of luck.
When I showed up, the early crowd looked promising. No super lean types, no singlets, lots of race T shirt wearers. Perfect. Then a couple of high school kids show up, some lean beast in a blue singlet, and to top it off Plex arrives on the scene. It was looking bad for top 5 even. Oh well, such is life for an aging Clydesdale. Didn’t seem to be any known age groupers, so that was a plus. Code decided to take this week off after basically beating me at the Justin Pepper 5k, though I decided to handicap myself an extra quarter mile by touring the chapin baseball fields before finding the finish. Angel was in Connecticut, Gomez was busy coaching River Bluff at the Coaches Classic , and no sign of Striggles, Whitney, Drew, Nance, Yerg or Midden. I should be ok, though one must always be wary of the superfit soccer dads.
The course was totally new to me, so I tried to study it the best I could, trying to avoid another 5.5 k like last Saturday. It was pretty useless though, since there was a lot off the road and I had zero idea of the elevation change. In Lexington, though, you can pretty much count on hills. It was also two loops, a course type I struggle with, since I want to headless chicken it every time I see the red numbers of the finish.
There was a decent crowd on hand for a small race. The hardcore contingent of Alex Ponomarev, Leeds Barroll, Rocky Soderberg and Henry Holt were on hand. Andy Mikula, Hou-Yin Chang, and Travis Nichols were some other familiar faces.
The start was in the church parking lot and immediately takes you up a hill to a stretch on 378. I got passed by a bunch of teenagers, the lead woman, Plex and singlet guy immediately, so my trophy hunting appeared to be a complete bust. Luckily I wasn’t leading, because I would have plowed right into highway 378. A giant truck right in front of me suggested I might want to use the sidewalk. You go down the sidewalk for 100ish meters followed by a left turn back into the church grounds, which includes a decent size athletic complex for the Christian academy that is also housed there. The road towards the fields is awesome, nice and downhill. This was going to be piece of cake! But wait… all of a sudden Plex and singlet guy disappear. All of a sudden there’s an arrow, and you go from cruising down the pavement into a sharp turn into a narrow steep trail up to the football fields. Yeah, that is no bueno. My 5k pace gets slowed to a slog trudging up a dirt hill to the football field. I try and pick it up as we do a lap around the field, but the dirt hill has exacted a heavy toll and all the dew on the grass makes the air feel like a wet blanket. But wait, there’s more! Looks like the football field is essentially the turnaround point of each 1.5 mile loop, so here we go making up all that elevation we lost from highway 378. One of the teenagers is gassed, so I pass him and one of his friends, each obviously shamed by letting a giant albino masters runner beat them. I soon find that the whole way back to the finish area is uphill and cross country. Yeah, no sub 20 would be had today. I think mile 1 came back in 6:40ish, a shade faster than my road half marathon pace. More trudging up dirt mountains ensue, and by the time I’m back on pavement I am pretty much toast. Just in time to start lap 2 on that same opening hill. Yay! On the second stretch of 378 I’m pretty much on my own, though I can see Travis, another young guy and the lead girl up ahead. I try and save as much energy on the long downhill because the second climb is going to be brutal.
Up to the football field feels like death, with the top turning into a glorified power hike, yet not quite the walksies. Rounding the end zone, I realize I’ve made up some ground on the group in front. I was pretty sure these were 4th and 5th guys along with 1st female. Either way, I knew all of these guys had gone out hard and the course was taking its toll. My initial laziness seemed to be paying off some as I felt a little better on the second lap. It’s mostly just psychological I think, since I hate a double looper. Off the football field the long climb to the parking lot begins, and the heat and humidity are really making themselves known. I keep inching closer and closer to the pack in front though. Mile 2 was around 6:50ish, so I was going to be lucky to break 21 much less 20. With under a half mile to go, the ground levels out just a bit and I figure it’s go time. I’m in a world of hurt, but I catch all three of the pack just as we hit asphalt. Finally in my element, I go to full throttle up and start sprinting to the finish arch…which apparently is the wrong way. Travis yells out as I go blazing into the lot, and somehow I manage to veer at full speed back onto the course and losing only a couple of steps. Of course, we have to go up the opening hill halfway for a third time, then careening back downhill towards the church. Having probably overestimated the distance of my kick and the general beatdown of the brutal course, I am cruising in on fumes in the final stretch. I manage to cross in 20:48, 5th overall, 1st in AG. Hard to gauge this race without the usual guys I race against, but all in all a decent effort with a fast finish. Reminds me somewhat of the old Crooked 5k they used to have in Chapin – interesting mix of roads and cross country. Much harder hill-wise than that one though.
In the overall, the lean singlet dude Tim Sestak took the win in 18:51. Apparently he’s an assistant coach on Jud Brooker’s CIU team right out of college. Plexico was 2nd in 19:25. If Plex is running my usual road 5k time, that gives you an idea of how tough this course is. High schooler Nathan Andes was 3rd in 20:14. I initially thought I was 4th but I missed 31 yo Paul Jackson who finished in 20:28 for that position. The women’s win was taken by 19 year old Margaret Gaither, who got the “join the Columbia Running Club” full court press after the race from the CRC faithful. She showed up at the CRC summer social with the Fischer family so clearly that training paid off. Dawn Sullivan was 2nd and 3rd was taken by the race director’s daughter, 11 yo Lydia Metz.
Age grouper honor roll: Lynn Grimes won the 61+ female. Travis Nichols was first in the 21-30. Andy Mikula was tops in the 31-40. Alex Ponomarev and Leeds Barroll were top 2 in the male 61+, though Henry Holt and Rocky Soderberg would have also been age group winners in the 75+ by traditional age groups. FYI, the Tour points are always calculated on the traditional 5 year age groups as on the web site. Hope everyone stays safe this weekend with Hurricane Florence on its way. What was once a 4 race week on the tour is looking doubtful with the Race for our Troops postponed to November 11 and the Tunnel to Towers canceled for Friday.