The Sleigh Bell Trot has been a staple of the Tour de Columbia and the Blue Shoes road racing schedule since at least 2009. I believe the organizers said it is in its 13th year in 2018. It’s held at night to spotlight Saluda Shoals’ Holiday lights at Christmas, which opens the week of Thanksgiving every year. The race was previously a 5k, and known for being a little chaotic as the event pushed to well over 500 participants in a small area. Organizers cleared out much of the congestion several years ago as they went to two different nights for the walk (Monday) and the race (Tuesday). With the opening of the new entrance and sports fields near St Andrews Rd, the race morphed from a 5k to a 4 miler, which works out nicely to tour most of the light displays.
But who has known me to be focused on light displays? Racing is about WINNING and TROPHIES, right?? So this is not usually a good trophy hunt. It’s at a weird time (Tuesday night), and in between Hairy Bison/Shandon Turkey Trot and the Turkey Day 5k, but it brings out several hundred people. Sure, there’s a large festive holiday walk/jog contingent, but there’s always a bunch of pesky local cross country teens that come out to beat the old men down. Those meddling kids.
This year, I had a free registration for this race that I won by placing 3rd at Go Leo Go, so I had no excuse to be lazy and skip. Late afternoon at work there’s always an internal struggle of going home to crash on the couch with a beer versus pushing myself to physiologic depletion for 4 miles. But my chronic FOMO anxiety, and more specifically, Fear of Missing Out on TDC points and trophies , kicked in and I decided to make my way out to Irmo.
As for the Irmese, I am a native and a loyal Yellow Jacket (Irmo High class of 1993), but damn you guys have it rough for rush hour traffic. Apparently, I-26 becomes a parking lot every day at 4:30 pm. Since my tolerance for traffic jams is extremely poor, I made sure to leave super early and avoid at least some of the nightmare. My geriatric 2005 Honda pilot is in its death throes so I had to say a little prayer every time we had to idle on the highway.
I made it to the race just after 5 pm, giving me a full 2 hours to kill. This actually works out well so I can relax and jog through the lights as a warm up. You know, like actually getting to look at the displays instead of hunting down 40 year old men at 6 minute pace and breathing like an injured wildebeest.
Getting back to the start, there’s a huge crowd on hand – almost 600 total. I see a few cross country teens and Ryan Plexico , so definitely no overall trophies today. Mike Nance showed up later, making even my masters hopes pretty dim. The CRC hardcore contingent were on hand, including Rocky Soderberg, Leeds Barroll, Henry Holt, and Pete Poore. Current race participation and grandmasters leader Dave Hale was back for more after trophy hunting at CIU on Saturday. Melinda and Reese Petruzzi , Gretchen Lambert, Michael Lambert, Will Rowan were some other CRCers on hand. Difficult to see everybody in the dark.
With the huge crowd, I made sure to move up just behind Plexico in the second row. They kept telling the slower runners to move back but a bunch of little kids were still near the front. I’ve almost flattened kids in the start of this race so I wasn’t having that again. My plan in this race was basically to run it like a 5k, since I had no idea what “4 mile pace” is. Plus, per last years race, I knew the course to be a tad short. I had suggested they move back the start/finish like 5 hundredths of a mile last year, but like my wife says, no one (including her) listens to me.
The start, as always, was nuts. Downhill for the first quarter mile in a mad dash with a bunch of kids. By the first turn, the field had already thinned out. This was a big field but definitely light on the top end. I settle into what feels like a pretty brisk pace, but its impossible to tell in the dark. There’s a winding but flat stretch after the first turn until you hit the 12 days of Christmas display mountain, which is the main incline of the whole course. I’m a decent climber despite my Sasquatch physique so I drop a few kids on the hill. Next is a plunge down the other side and past the armed forces display and the combined mile 1/mile 3 marker. 6:11. Whoopsie. Looks like that afternoon coffee from the Baptist hospital lounge has kicked in. Mile 2 is a climb past the dog park and into the beginning of the lollipop at the end of this out and back course. I move past who I think is the first girl and latch on to the Team Utopia shirt of Mike Nance just ahead. I manage to stay with him through most of mile 2 , figuring he must still be tired from Marine Corps. Nope. Mile 2 comes back in another 6:11 and I’m on close to suicidal pace.
Mile 3 is a tough climb passing the shed from the old race packet pickup and the backroad to Cornerstone church. Not entirely sure, but I think I got passed by one of the Golbus twins in this mile. I’m scared I’m getting ready for an epic bonk, but rounding the turn at the Bush River Rd. entrance and getting back on the road to the finish is a psychological boost. Nance is still just ahead, running with a tall kid and Golbus. Mile 3 in 6:21 and I’m sucking some serious wind. But I can feel the finish and ramp up the pace as I climb the back side of 12 days of Christmas. Form is starting to go hell but Nance is right there and maybe, just maybe, I can catch him. At the bottom of the hill I basically push in all the chips. I catch the kid who fell off the back of the three person pack ahead, but damned if Nance and Golbus haven’t started crushing it too. I redline it all the way down the flat and I’m in full headless chicken mode in the home stretch up a slight incline. But its just not happening – those two are too strong. Suddenly I look up and realize the clock has just crossed over 24. Holy crap. I haven’t even broken 26 in a 4 miler. I crash through the finish in a mess of sweat and gasping desperation in 24:20. I’ve been trying not to flop like a fish at the finish but I had to briefly make sweet love to the pavement after that effort. I quickly realize the course, by my Garmin, is 3.90 miles. Still, this is a minute faster than last years time on the same course and a 6:14/19:19 5k pace for almost 4 miles. Good enough for 8th place overall and 2nd in age group behind Mike. Pretty psyched about the effort, hoping I can ride that speed to the Kiawah half in 2 weeks.
In the overall, SR’s Colby Coulter took the win in 21:19, followed by Hayden Tuten in 22:11 and Ryan Plexico in 21:29. The women’s race was won by Ashley Golbus in 24:!1, followed by 12 year old Laela Caplinger and 11 year old Laurel Walls.
Age group honor roll: Ryan Welch won first in the 2-8 girls. Ashley Wardlaw won the 11-12 girls while Tyler Wardlaw took 3rd among the boys. Brady Rafanan crushed the 20-24 for first in 23:57, while Alexa Golbus won among the women. Ronda Sanders and Tricia Roland went 1-2 in the 35-39 women. In the 40-44 men, Nance took the win while some Alex MCDONALDS was 2nd. That’s what happens when you sign up last second. Amanda Wardlaw was 3rd among the women. Gretchen Lambert was 2nd in the 45-49. Winston Holliday took 2nd in the 50-54, while wife Kimberly won the 50-54 women. Dave Hale took 3rd in the 55-59. Leeds Barroll and Pete Poore went 1-2 in the 65-69. The over 70 group was swept by Henry Holt, Rocky Soderberg and Michael Lambert.