True to the Brew Half Marathon – Croft State Park, Spartanburg, SC – 9/28/19


After an epic disaster at the True to the Brew 10k in March, which should be renamed True to the POO in my honor, I felt the need to redeem myself at the next race in the series, the TTB Half Marathon in Spartanburg. Columbia has more races than any city its size should, so usually I avoid anything out of town. But if you combine a trail race with beer and Erin Roof/GRIT puts it on, then my arm is easily twisted. I did this race last year, though I was one week post Table Rock 50k and ran it pretty easy. I was hoping I could improve on the 1:56 and 3rd masters performance from 2018.

Of course, given my hatred for early morning wakeups and complicated pre-race hydration and poop regimen, there was no way I was driving up from Columbia at o’dark thirty. Fortunately Drew and the Yerg (with girlfriend and fellow beer connoisseur Melinda) decided to make it very true to the brew on Friday and we hit up 2 of the local Spartanburg breweries. We were eager beaver beer nerds at the opening of Holliday Brewing right at 4 pm and got to talk with the owners. They opened about 6 months ago and have a huge selection of great beers, especially the Turtle Bay IPA. I highly recommend. Unfortunately, with the race the next morning and my paradoxically low tolerance for a large Irish man, I was only able to sample one of the brews at the actual race sponsor, RJ Rockers Brewery. Damn my 18 year old sorority girl liver. They had packet pickup there and a band, along with a free beer. Pretty cool. I even got to take a GRIT endurance spokesmodel photo. So much rugged handsomeness.


Race morning at the hotel kind of sucked because of the 7:30 gun time and our hotel was 15 minutes away from the start. It didn’t help our Holiday Inn had hidden blackout curtains and I was staring at a brightly lit gas station for most of the restless night. It was a pretty big crowd when Drew and I got to the start, as the race managed to sell out just a few days prior. I got a chance to see an old childhood friend Jason Paddock, who was trying his hand at running/hiking a trail race for the first time. I told him that this course would be pretty brutal, but I knew they had changed some of it, so maybe it would be easier. Yeah, we’ll get to that. Some familiar faces at the start were our esteemed president Roy Shelley, Jim Williams, David Russell, and of course the Yerg and Drew. Apparently Will Rowan, Deana Rennick and Alfred Baquiran were also on hand, but I missed them with all my portapotty jockeying and warmup, which, appropriately, and perhaps with a bit of foreshadowing, ended up being up a giant hill to a cemetery.

Scouting out the field, I figured I probably brought my main masters competition with me from Columbia, but there a fair amount of fit-looking unknowns. I was going to go out harder than last year, but I was a little scared of the unknown course, the still hot/humid conditions, and the distance. The course basically runs from Cedar Springs Baptist church into Croft State Park, and continues in the park for the entirety of the race, finishing near the horse stables and primitive campgrounds. Erin said there was an extra trail section instead of the open field loops we did at the end of last year. Surely it was flat like those loops, right?


With the gun, I take off and we get to separate a bit on the road before entering the trails about a quarter mile in. It’s still dawn, so the trail is a little dark, and I realize it has been a while since I went trail running. I’m already having to do some root dodging and my less than nimble sasquatch physique is taking a pounding. Yerg, Drew and David have left me for dead immediately, so I tell myself to focus on my own race. A girl is breathing down my neck in the first mile, so I let her pass. I try and keep up with her like a creepy old man, but she’s like a hundred pounds lighter and 20 years younger, so I succumb to the gods of age and fatness. I managed to hit mile one in a shade over 8 minutes, though the next few miles is pretty constant rolling technical trail and I fall into nine minute pace. The first aid station is about 4 miles in, and I make out a red Harbison shirt through the woods. IT’S YERG. I catch up with him and he said he’s having a bad day. We run together for a little bit and I hear somebody behind us say “ARE YOU FROM HARBISON? WELL YOU’RE IN MY HOUSE NOW!” What is this, trail trash talk?? OH HELLS NO. I put some pep in my step and gap Croft Park boy and Yerg a little bit.

At 4 and a half miles, I nearly blow past the turn as the course takes a sudden hairpin backwards in a loop around Lake Johnson, which I think is new. Just past the 5 mile mark I run out onto a field and I start getting severe misdirect anxiety. There are some orange flags on the grass but I’m not sure if they are from the race. I am almost convinced I have gone off track when I hear the siren song of Jon Bon Jovi belting out LIVIN’ ON A PRAYER from a police SUV, and an official race sign. WHEW. Jon is lying about being HALFWAY THERE because we’re not even close. There’s a nice stretch on a paved road here, which is sweet relief for someone who is 90 percent road racer. This relief is short-lived however, as we get dumped into another up and down trail section next to the lake. Here is where I started my series of Tourrette’s like F bombs, when my toe would catch a root and nearly send me tumbling. Somehow I managed to stay upright. Hopefully no children were nearby. Starting in late mile 7 is a glorious stretch of dirt road which is straight, and I was actually able to run freely and recover. Even though it was technically uphill, my road legs were loving not having to turn and root dodge. I ended up passing a guy in this stretch but I was mostly on my own for a long time.

Unfortunately the road ends at 8.5 miles and throws you into a trail section which gets brutally tough at the 9 mile mark. At this point, I realize my CRC jersey is causing some serious chafing and I am hurting pretty bad. I reflexively throw the front of my jersey over my head in a ridiculous half on/half off look that is sure to scare women and children alike. But at least it avoids the cursed bloody nips. There is a killer hill right before the 10 mile mark that brings me to a crawl. I’m panting like a banshee and the kid at the aid station looks a little scared of the sweaty albino monster with the navy blue crop top. After the 10 mile mark was another glorious section of downhill dirt road, which, in my memory, was the decline from the last tough climbing section. I’m done with the climbs! Yay!. Au contrare, you sweaty beast.
So my deluded self turns up the pace a little bit on a long straight stretch almost to the 11 mile mark, where all of a sudden I’m dumped back into some technical trail. My legs are kinda toast at this point so my case of trail Tourette’s comes back with a vengeance. LIFT YOUR F#%$G LEGS, ALEX! I yell out to the trail gods. The course keeps going up and down and at some point I pass a sign proclaiming, “SAFE – NO SHOOTING ZONE” which concerns me that I was potentially wild game up until this point. When I hit mile 12 I start trying to ramp it up for a kick but my legs are vehemently vetoing the brain on that decision. But wait, I can see hot girl who passed me up ahead. There’s few things I like better than taking down people younger, fitter and better looking than me, and this girl definitely had me on all 3 fronts. I almost bust my ass for the 40th time in this race, and she turns around, suddenly fearful of the albino bear chasing her through the forest. At least I had put the jersey back down for potential finish photos. I know we are getting close to the end when we break into a clearing near the lake, though the volunteer tells us “a half mile to go”. The girl has a good 20 meters on me but she makes a turn and I see her make some gesture of anguish. Sure enough, here comes a brutal hill. She suddenly stops halfway up and is gasping. I think I asked her if she was ok, but at this point I was in full Ed Aufuldish elbowing mode and basically going all-in that this hill was the last. Mercifully, I crest over this late course mountain and see the beautiful red numbers and finish arch. One last burst of speed for the cameras and I cross in 1:56:57. Pretty beat down, but I dare not do a collapse for Erin to photo and immediately dispense on all social medias. About the same time as last year, though with a different course. Garmin had 12.6 something miles but there’s no way GPS could accurately track all that trail distance. It was a solid effort and good for 3rd masters again/9th overall , so I will take it.


In the overall, Radek Mittelbach, a 38 year old from Columbia whom I’ve never seen or met, won the race in 1:40. Two upstate 25 year olds, Erick Martinez and Jacob Baer took 2nd and 3rd.

On the women’s side, 46 year old Rhonda Felder made me feel very inadequate by beating me by over 4 minutes and taking the win. Hannah Giangaspro and Nastasja Rittling finished 2nd and 3rd.

2018 champ Drew Williams finished 4th overall in a shade under 1:43 and first male masters, taking home an awesome swag basket. In the age groups, David Russell squeaked out 1st in the 30-34 by 50 minutes, on his birthday no less. Yerg struggled early but rallied some and still took 1st in the 40-44. Ryan Havens was 2nd. Roy Shelley won 1st in the 50-54. Jim Williams was 3rd in the surprisingly competitive 55-59.

“True to the Brew” half marathon held in Spartanburg Co.;perpage:10


Springdale 5k – Camden, SC – 9/7/19


The Springdale 5k is a race now in its 10th year, put on to benefit the New Day Transitional shelter via the United Way of Kershaw County. These days it’s a fairly standard road race, though it was originally an evening 5k completely on the horse racetrack, where you could see the whole race the entire time from the grandstand. This was a great concept, except

that a) it was held in August when it was usually 90+ degrees and humid, and b) there was ankle length grass almost the whole route. This led to some absolutely brutal conditions and ridiculously slow times. But at least they had beer at the first one in 2010.

The race has now evolved to a more traditional morning race on the roads next to the horse track. Erin Roof and her Grit Endurance company has taken over the race in the past couple of years, so she has included her penchant for awesome awards and post-race refreshments. Overall, masters and age groupers all get horseshoe trophies and there are waffles to be had at the finish line.
The course is definitely one you want to know before running it. It lures you in with a mile plus of downhill and flat, just begging you to go out really hard. What’s waiting for you at the mile 2 mark is a long slog up that same incline you plummeted down at the start, sucking the very life from your soul. Or probably something less dramatic if you’re not maniacally competitive – I wouldn’t know.

Although I signed up for this race months ago, I was definitely not feeling it this week. Kiawah training has started and the miles have started ramping up again, leaving me chronically beat down. Faux fall ended and second summer started with 90 degree temps coming back. I finished the summer tennis season with a long match on Tuesday where I tweaked my knee a bit. Then I had to start wearing glasses (which I haven’t done in 20 years) for a couple of weeks before they can set me up for cataract surgery. My wife tells me I act like I’m 20 years old but I swear my body thinks I’m 65. At least.

But hey, can’t waste a perfectly good race registration, right? Knees and eyes be damned. Surveying the competition for this one, I’m relieved not to have another showdown with Yerg, Ed or the Code. Whitney Keen is there but he’s a complete wildcard, running anywhere from low 19 to 21 minutes. He says he’s not in good shape, but, since he’s also in the mental health field, he may be using jedi mind tricks. Plex always comes out for this one and it looks like Camden coach Mark Chickering has brought out some of his high school kids to challenge the old men. CRC overall leader and brand new dad Joseph Kiprotich was there as well. Heather Costello is the only potential female winner I see. Erin’s reputation with the Columbia Running Club is legendary, so lots of CRCers out there. Steve Greer and Naomi Rabon are sporting their new jerseys. TDC legendary veterans Alex Ponomarev, Arnold Floyd, Rocky Soderberg, and Leeds Barroll were on hand. President Roy Shelley, Newsletter editor /JEDI runner photog Tracy Tisdale, Lisa Smarr, Jim Williams, Caroline Keen, Gabe and Ruth Barahona, GoPro guy Will Rowan, Tom and Lisa Hart, Betsy and Chad Long, Hou Yin Chang, Brie /Sabine/Quentin McGrievy, Jennifer and Jason Norris and John “Chap” Houser were representing as well.

I strolled up to the line with pretty low expectations and half-blind, because I wasn’t sure if my cheap glasses were going to stand up to the sweat and fury of a Blue Shoes 5k. I had one contact in my good eye and cataract eye was naked. Awesomely there was an armadillo mascot at the start, so I got a quick selfie, which of course is blurry BECAUSE I COULDN’T SEE. Oh, the tragedy.


Erin announces the start from a police megaphone and it was time to #GETGRITTY. And everybody is killing it off the blocks. I swear I was in maybe 20th place a quarter mile in as we make a right turn and start plummeting down Carter street. The knee is holding up OK but I am afraid to give it too much gas right away, plus, gotta save some for that last mile. Whitney is not leaving me for dead right away, so either he’s being conservative or true to his word about being off his training. Steve Greer is also keeping pace in the first mile and I’m concerned about some additional masters competition since he’s still new to the sport. There’s a long way down to Battleship rd and then it starts to level out a bit. My knee likes flats and uphills way better so I settle into a decent pace. I hit mile 1 at 6:20 with Whitney and Steve still right there. Heather Costello is also nearby battling it out with a girl I don’t recognize. She is shouting out encouragement to Heather. Darrell and I sometimes do this too, but usually there’s F bombs and taunting involved. I suddenly pass everyone in this mini pack just after the mile 1 mark, not sure if I sped up or the rest slowed down. All of a sudden something is about to cross in front of me and I wonder if I’m having a cataract hallucination, but turns out it is actually what I thought it was: a guy on horseback. Only in Camden. At the next turn, Jennifer Ward is out taking pics so I try not to look too bad, though I know this is probably a waste of time. There is no ugly like Blue Shoes racing ugly.

Mile 2 is mostly flat but things start to ramp up near the end. Split in 6:23 or so. I’m OK with this, should get me under 20 easily. Yeaaah, but mile 3 is an absolute beast. Basically unrelenting slow incline. Nothing really steep though. There’s a lot of curves in the road and I keep telling myself the next one is the home stretch. But wait, did that kid up ahead just look back?? THERE”S BLOOD IN THE WATER. Other than giving the Code or any of my masters compatriots a beat down, there’s few things I like better than shaming a cross country kid. I mean, I can’t imagine the shame when you’re a lean fit 16 year old and some pasty ass chunky middle aged guy comes sidling up against you. But sure enough, here comes the albino bus pulling up to the station and there’s nothing he can do about a blind old man with a gimp knee blowing past him. Time to launch into a kick. But damn, where is the $%^ home stretch? So many faux finish turns. Finally I can smell waffles and hear some noise so I must be getting close. One more turn and I see the clock. Dang this is slower than I thought. I crank it up to 11 through the Knights hill road intersection and onto the gravel driveway at 1000 percent effort just to squeak under 20. 19:57 officially. 6th overall, first masters. I thought maybe the course was long but it is a legit 3.12 by Garmin, certified too. Had a 6:33 last split despite all the masters vs. high school xc battling.

In the overall, cross country kid Cameron Hoffman edged THE LIGHTNING Ryan Plexico for the win, with Pasha Ellisor 3rd. Amy Faulkenberry was the one running with Heather and she pulled out the win among the women with a 21:02. Sarah Hannon and Kat Clark were 2nd and 3rd. Female masters went to Heather in 21:33 while Naomi Rabon christened her CRC jersey with a 2nd place. Third went to Belinda Moon. Whitney Keen and Steve Greer took 2nd and 3rd in male masters.
Female age group honor roll: Ruth Barahona was 1st in the 11-14. Brie McGrievy won the 40-44. Caroline Keen and Tracy Tisdale battled it out for 1-2 in the 45-49. Lisa Hart was 2nd in the 50-54. Lisa Smarr was 3rd in the 55-59. Helene Lipe won the 60-64. Judy Meisner ran 26:50 at age 67 and won the overall age grade at 75.5%. Wow.

Male age group honor roll: Gabriel Barahona took 1st in the 11-14 boys in 23:18. Joseph Kiprotich took 1st in the 30-34. Chad Long was 2nd in the 45-49. Roy Shelley, Joey Swearingen and Mark Chickering won the 50-54. Jim Williams and new CRC member Phil Smith went 1-3 in the 55-59. Ron Lipe was 2nd in the 60-64. Leeds Barroll won the 65-69. Alex Ponomarev and Arnold Floyd took the top 2 spots in the 70+.;perpage:5000

Photo credits: Jedi Runner Photography, Springdale 5k facebook page


Little Mountain Reunion 5k/Hot Summer’s Night 5k Double Dip – 8/3/19

I saw a shirt worn by some crossfitter the other day that said “Obsession is what they call our dedication”. Well, I’m pretty sure double dipping road races in August in South Carolina just because you’re in race withdrawal from your family vacation just qualifies as plain obsession. But this was the first time in years a beach trip didn’t interfere with Hot Summer’s Night, and I couldn’t resist the lure of a mom n’ pop style small town trophy hunt like Little Mountain. So I was in for both. Since LM is in the morning and HSN in the evening, you would think this would be an easy double. Au contraire. Twelve hours between races means plenty of time for sasquatch masters runners to get super tight and gimpy. Not to mention trying to navigate the colonic calculus of trying to stay fueled during the day without leading to another True to the Poo episode like this April.
First on the docket, the Little Mountain Reunion 5k and 10k. When doubling, the obvious choice would be to go with the shorter distance, but this race has a secret. The 5k course is a tortured hellish pathway to the top of Little Mountain and back. This merciless monadnock will beat you down and leave you begging for the sweet release of death. Seriously, it is the hardest 5k course I’ve run in the midlands. I did it last year completely ignorant of what I was getting into and had to walk for a little bit. In a 5k. And I still finished second. So my brain says: LETS DO IT AGAIN. Of course.
The Little Mountain Reunion races have been around several years and are tied into the parade and festival, totally awesome small town vibe complete with classic cars and barbeque. The original race director, Glenn Shealy, sadly passed away a few years ago and the festival has continued to hold the races in his honor. Really nice. His intent was to make the races challenging, and he definitely succeeded. The 10k is not as soul crushing, but it’s no joke either.

Little Mountain is a solid 40 minutes from my house. So between the drive time, early 7 and 7:15 am starts and my still resolving jet lag from California, it was a tough coffee-fueled O’dark thirty morning. Decent crowd when I got there. I see Plexico, Pasha Elisor and Joseph Kiprotich and my immediate concern is trophy hunt: crashed. Fortunately all three were doing the 10k. Whew. Shawanna (5k), Jen Lybrand and Sarah Bonner (10k) were all there to make a competitive race on the women’s side. All three were also double dipping with HSN as well. Ivery Baldwin, Dianne Steadman, Harry Strick, Ayden Bazemore, Dorothy Hutchins, John Baker, Jeannette Farr, Cheryl and Tommy Outlaw, Rocky Soderberg, Chaplain John Houser were some familiar faces. The Hernandez brothers, whom I never see except at this race, were both back doing the 5k. Carlos beat me for the Holy Grail (overall win) in 2018.
The 10k went off at 7 am and only had about 20 people, though pretty heavy on the top end with all the beasts. I tried to finagle a bathroom attempt for reassurance in the 15 minute interim between races, but apparently someone was giving birth in there so I was forced to pray for colonic quiet. We all went off on time, screaming downhill for the first quarter mile. I got passed by about 20 people, but unlike many, I knew the hell that awaits. You get your first dose of reality pretty quick with a right turn onto the monster Jacob Shealy rd hill. I do most of my training climbing the hills of downtown Columbia, not to mention a couple of brutal runs in San Francisco last week, so I was able to catch a bunch of people right back on this mountain. Turning right is a bit of a dip and then another gradual incline all the way to highway 76. I managed to pass child prodigy Ayden Bazemore on this stretch who told me he I hate these hills. I said you haven’t seen anything yet. Mile one in 6:46, about 30 seconds off my usual 5k pace but probably appropriate for the course. You get your only flat on Hwy 76 and I’m still sitting probably 7th or 8th place. Looks like the two Hernandezes , Shawanna, and a bunch of high school kids up ahead. I manage to pass one of the guys as I turn right and plummet down a long hill. This was the hill I decided to accelerate down last year only to die a thousand deaths later. I put it in check as the pack of four up ahead gap me a little more. At the bottom of the hill is a right turn on MOUNTAIN RD. It seems harmless and flat at first, but gets real nasty , real fast. All of a sudden a kid starts walking, then another, as the 10 percent grade kicks in. Time to throw in a 1983 Night Ranger Sister Christian style surge. MOTORING! The kids look on in shame as the pale ass 40 something Clydesdale in the dorky blue shoes shirt leaves them for dead. My quads start burning on the incline and the walksie voices start screaming, but I swore I wouldn’t take a mid-race stroll again. Finally I see Shawanna and both Hernandez brothers coming down, so the turnaround can’t be that far. I have one more kid ahead of me. I know I’m sitting fourth right now and they have cash prizes for the top 3. MUST CATCH HIM. He beats me to the top of the mountain but he’s only about 5-10 feet ahead, turns around and takes off. Despite my distinct gravitational advantage, I suck at downhills, so my main goal is to not fall on this torn up old road and keep 3rd place kid in reach. The kid is cruising down the mountain and giving high fives, seems to be a local. He gaps me a little but I manage to keep him within 10-20 meters or so. Finally we hit a bit of a flat stretch at the very bottom and a woman tells him to go faster because someone is on his tail. An old, sweaty, maniacally competitive someone. We turn to the left back up the hill towards to the finish and MOTORING commences again. Time to exact his PRICE FOR FLIGHT. I pass 3rd place kid and launch into full headless chicken. At the top is a left turn to a flat stretch and then another left. The whole time I have this feeling that he’s one of these kids with a good finishing kick, or maybe he was taking it easy, but in either event I am going 1000 percent. I round the final turn in full blast and crash through the finish like it’s an Olympic 100 meter final. 21:31. Exact same time as last year. And the kid I was so sure was on my tail was thirty seconds behind. Third overall scored me 20 bucks and a chance to be in a winners photo that makes me look like Andre the Giant.
5k results: Carlos (18:45) and Noe Hernandez (20:40) took the top two male slots, while Shawanna was first female and second to cross the finish in 19:39. Eight year old phenom Dorothy Hutchins was 2nd female with Jessica Weems third. Age groupers: Ayden won the 2-14. Jeannette Farr took the 40-59 female, while the 60-98 was won by Cheryl Outlaw and Rocky Soderberg.
10k: Pasha Eliisor won the overall in 39:32 in a tight race with Plex (39:47). Joseph was 3rd in 40:46. Jen Lybrand took the women’s win in 46:05. Sara Bonner was ruthlessly blue shoed by Ashley Holman in the battle for 2nd and 3rd. I was teasing her about it which is probably bad karma. YEAH …WE’LL GET TO THAT LATER. Ivery Baldwin won the 40-59 and Tommy outlaw took the 60-98.


OK, fast forward about 9 hours later. Drive back home, short nap, 11 year old birthday party at the house. A wonderful pre-race meal of some chips and a piece of Domino’ s pizza from said birthday party, washed down with some coke to try and wake up some for part 2 of the double.
If Little Mountain is the quintessential small town trophy hunt race, Hot Summer’s Night is anything but. Held for over 25 years, HSN is put on by Strictly Running and brings out all the beasts. The race has been held on a rectangular course in Shandon which was modified this year to start and end at the Strictly Running store on Devine St. Contrary to Selwyn’s assertations about the Cold Winter’s Day course, this race is actually “flat and fast”. This year, Plexico had his foundation sponsored some awesome ginormous trophies for top overall, masters and high school finishers. Tracy Tisdale / Jedi Runner photography was out to document the event along with most of the Strictly team members volunteering. Sarah and Eric Allers were on hand to spectate. Craft and Draft was also doing a dollar off beer special following the race, so that was definitely part of my plan as well. I showed up an hour early and desperately did some warmup jogging to try and shake off some of the lingering effects of my morning beatdown. Things were not great but it definitely helped that the weather was about as good as could be hoped for in August in Columbia. Cloudy and mid 80’s.
As expected, all the fast people were out for this one. Although I lusted for that masters trophy, OJ Striggles was there and you could’ve engraved his name on that thing from the start. With Drew volunteering and Angel now living out of town, and the Code nowhere to be seen, it looked like the Yerg would be my main age group competition. Yerg fought off a vicious blue shoe kick at the Born in the USA 4 miler a month ago to beat me by 2 seconds, though he did fall victim to Ed Aulfuldish last weekend in another near photo finish at Guardians. I figured these guys, along with Ivanka Tolan, would be a good group to help me pace.
I had previewed the new course at the Columbia Running Club/HSN/Craft and Draft event a few weeks ago, so I knew this would be a pretty easy route through Shandon. The only wild card was how my legs would hold up to round 2 of the abuse. My goal was to break 20. Silent H had predicted a 19:45.

With the start, it was pretty nuts and I actually got boxed in with everybody going hard. Before I could even find some open ground, Yerg was blasting it out there like a maniac and leaving me for dead. Ed and Ivanka also were up ahead of me from the beginning. After the start on King Street, you take a left on Duncan and go all the way to Bonham at Sims Park. I was having trouble keeping a rhythm and staying relaxed, a combo of the post-LM stiffness and the 2 shotgunned Cokes from Drew McDonald’s birthday party. With all 3 in my unofficial pace group ahead of me, I figured I was failing miserably in my sub 20 attempt. My Garmin chirped back 6:20 at the 1 mile mark, so I was surprised to be actually well under goal pace (6:27). I guess everybody is just jacked up out of the gates. Yerg apparently took a pre-race hit of cocaine or something because he was at least a block ahead of me at this point. We rounded Sims Park at Bonham and started coming back on Duncan. Typical rolling Shandon roads, nothing too tough. Ed and Ivanka got reeled back in a bit and I was basically right behind them at this point. Definitely sucking some wind but I managed to pull even with Ivanka right around the 2 mile mark, 6:25 split. Still on pace but fearful that I’m bleeding time. It’s going to be close. Yerg has come back a bit but damned if Ed isn’t slowing down. Rounding the turn at Queen Street I feel like its time to throw down. Tank is about on E, but with the lure of the finish nearing, I start firing up the engines anyway. Somewhere between Queen and Devine I finally pass Ed and Jeff Fretwell , and turn onto Devine in an all out sprint.
And then I feel it. Having raced almost weekly since 2009, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had a blue shoeing returned to me. Ken Vowles at the 2014 Turkey Trot 8k is the last time I can remember. But sure enough, I can feel someone coming up close on my side. Holy S#$% this can’t be happening. Panic sets in as I try to find another level of sprint in my oxygen deprived brain and legs, but the reactor core is already in meltdown mode and there’s graphite on the roof. Like the Zapruder film, there have been various analysis of eyewitness accounts and video/photo documentation of what happened next. I suspect a desperation elbow may have been extended in the general direction of Ed Aulfuldish. In any event, after a few seconds of furious side-by-side thrashing (mostly on my part), Ed breaks my spirit and takes me down a few feet from the finish. Damn. Wow. Kudos to Ed at beating me at my own game, and he definitely has some wheels! But hey, the side benefit of a brutal all-out duel is crushing my time goal with an official 19:29 and 2nd in AG. I will take that and be happy with it. I hate “losing” but I’d be lying if I don’t live for finishes like that.


In the overall, ex-Dutch fork, ex-Clemson stud Roland Hakes took the win in 16:25 with 15 year old Zander Jeffcoat giving him a run for his money in second with a 16:44. OJ Striggles was third overall and first masters in 16:53. The women’s race was ruled a tie since friends and training partners Shawanna White and Joy Miller crossed the line simultaneously holding hands in a blazing 17:53. This is why women should be world leaders instead of men. Ivanka Tolan was 3rd overall and first masters in 20:01. Grandmasters (50+) was won by Ed and Alsena Edwards. Senior masters (60+) was won by Geary McAlister and my pre-med college advisor Eileen Korpita. The ageless Arnold Floyd and Pamela Bulak took the Veteran Masters (70+) titles.
Age groupers: Ayden Bazemore double dipped to 2nd in the 11-14. Katie weber was 4th in the 15-19. Nate Carrasco was 1st in the 20-24, with Ryan McCormick placing 3rd. Eddy Crisanto placed 3rd in his brutal age group with an 18:02 pushing his son in a stroller after running a 34 minute 10k that morning. Unbelievable. Nicole Rybar won the 25-29 women. Andy Mikula was 1st in the 30-34 men, while a double dipping Jennifer Lybrand won the 30-34 women with Wilson in the stroller. Wilson double dipped the kids race to be like mom. Jeff Fretwell was 2nd in the 5-39 men, while Sara Bonner (double dip) was 2nd among the women. Heather Hawn was 3rd in the 45-49 females. Greta Dobe won the 50-54 women while Presidente Roy Shelley placed 3rd among the men. Renee McCormick won the 55-59 women, with Rich Weiner 2nd in the men. Billy Tisdale won the 60-64 men – good to see him racing again! The 70-74 men was a clean CRC sweep with Peter Mugglestone, Rich Weaver and John Houser taking the podium.
Other familiar finishers/CRCers include Gena Ochal, Sheila Bolin, Will Rowan, Kana Rahman, Pete Poore, Sue Weaver, Nina Brook and sons Dean, Robert, and Ben, Shenequa Coles, Missy Caughman, Teresa Shelton, Hou Yin Chang, Kara Blaisure, Kerry Stubbs, Patrick and Dylan McCormick.

HSN photo credit: Jedi Runner Photography



Sweat it Out 5k – Columbia, SC – 6/1/19


The Sweat it Out 5k is now in it’s fifth year and is put on to benefit the National Foundation of Ectodermal Dysplasia, a group of disorders that includes hypohydrosis, or the inability to sweat. Race founder Jamie Duke goes out of her way to put on a great race for the foundation, meant to support her son Nick, who has been  diagnosed with the condition. Nick plays a big part in the race every year and even designed the T shirt.  Shannon Godby and now Erin Roof have directed, so I’ve always come out to this one. True to form with Erin’s races (now GRIT Endurance, LLC) this race has great swag, including prize money, door prizes, a full breakfast spread and custom Ernest Lee paintings for awards.

So, for the sad few of you that follow my Strava account, you know I’ve been injured for much of the past month. Runner’s knee, probably brought on by piriformis and hamstring tightness. And mostly because I like to run my body into the ground. So after one particularly painful and slow run, I decided to actually not run for awhile. Mind you, I find it impossible to be still, but I wasn’t going to keep wrecking the broken machine. So I’ve found the Peloton bike. Although I hate being indoors and anything resembling a treadmill is miserable to me, Peloton has me figured out. You basically ride a stationary bike that has a video streaming feed of a hot sports bra-wearing instructor, shouting you positive messages and encouraging you. All the while, the “leaderboard” on the side shows you where you stand against everybody else in the virtual room, basically from across the globe. By combining attractive women and stoking a relentless competitive streak, they might as well have a craft beer keg on the side and call it a perfect Blue Shoes workout machine.  But, I have slowly started leaving my Peloton mistress Ally Love recently for the allure of the actual road. Sure it’s been brutally hot, but the knee has tolerated a few slow but steady jogs out on the ovenlike streets of downtown Columbia. I’ve been taking it super easy and have done like 12 miles in each of the last two weeks, down from my obsessive 40-50.

ally love

“You’re my favorite, Blue Shoes!” – Ally Love


I took the triple dip week off, and also had to skip the Gov Cup weekend, but I figured Sweat it Out might be a good chance to get, as 1970’s Steve Tyler once said, back in the saddle again. In a another Alex-centric addition to the race this year, packet pickup was at local craft brewery Cottontown Brew Labs. With a free beer. Awesome.  I met some guy there literally triple fisting beers (i didn’t know this was humanly possible) talking about breaking twenty minutes for the first time in the race tomorrow. Now there is a man after my own heart.  Also ran into Pete O’Boyle, Eliere Tolan, the Lipes, Tom Lance and Harry Strick.  I’ve never been to CBL before but I will definitely be back. Their Tropicarolina IPA is already a local legend. You can even hipster double dip with the War Mouth restaurant next door.

Race time was 7 am to avoid the heat, so it made for an early morning. I had to get up at 5 am to make sure All was Quiet on the Colonic Front. Such are the hazards of your 5th grade graduate deciding on San Jose for the celebratory meal and downing burritos and dos equis at 8 pm.  And I sure as hell didn’t want a repeat of my last GRIT race on the Palmetto trail. Like early 90’s Red Hot Chili Peppers, avoid going “Under the Bridge” when you’re on the peak to prosperity passage. Trust me.

There was a big crowd on hand when I showed up, which was pretty late since I couldn’t fathom getting up before five. Me and Silent H went for a warmup jog and met up with Jordan Lybrand, who was there to spectate the race in his new hood behind the VA. The knee felt pretty good. The post San Jose’s tummy and general lack of conditioning, not so much. This was going to be rough. I had zero idea of what I was capable of. My only hope was that Ally Love had kept up some degree of cardio fitness and that the hulk legs hadn’t atrophied too much. I was definitely not going to blast out like the last month didn’t happen and probably die a thousand deaths in the last mile.

After one last portapotty stop, I strolled up to the line with about 5 minutes to spare. This was the biggest crowd the race had ever had. Ivanka, Leeds, Rich “Mr. Coupon” Weaver, Kirkwood, Jen Lybrand w/ Wilson and a couple of F3 guys were at the front. Eddie Crisanto was there to take the win for sure. Tracy was on hand for JEDI runner photog duty, and the Godbys were out to spectate.  All of a sudden, despite the big crowd, my trophy hunting senses started tingling. Hold the phone… except for Eddie, there were no regular known sub 20ers out there.  Hrechko noticed it too. “I’ll bet you wish you had two good knees”. No doubt, dude.

The start was nice and the girl that sang the national anthem was legit amazing. After they let a kid register and pin on his bib last second, we were off. Although I was toeing the line to get full grandiose exposure in the JEDI Runner photography spread, I made sure to back it off right away. This was my first venture into sub 7 pace in weeks. The knee seemed to be OK. The rest of the legs were awesome. Basically it was a reverse of my usual racing experience of exhausted legs and finely tuned cardio. I was sucking some wind early but it settled down. Maybe Ally Love was whispering encouraging soft nothings in my ear. I settled into a no-mans land about a half mile in.  Absolutely no one around but Silent H, Ivanka, Kirkwood, Triple beer fister and shirtless ripped guy were in a mini pack ahead of me. I was trying to keep my ego in check, which wasn’t helped by Jordan taunting me at the beginning of the first out and back loop “I know you like to kick, but c’mon, THERE’S A GAP FORMING”. Oh hells no. I need to keep these guys in shouting distance at least. Everything felt pretty smooth, which I guessed was like 7 minute pace, but I was shocked to have mile 1 come back in 6:36.  Well I’ll be damned. That’s a lot better than I’d hoped. I tried to focus on keeping that up. Jordan was probably right though because I could feel Ivanka and Silent H start to leave me a little. Pride injury was in progress. The second mile features a straight out and back with a turnaround folding right back into the same street, allowing you to see your competition.  Any cover I had was blown, because Silent H could see me coming now. Triple beer guy seemed to be facing the post beer fallout and I saw him catch a case of the walksies  just before the second mile mark. I feel your pain, dude.  Rounding the turn Jen Lybrand wasn’t too far behind me. Injury or not, I really didn’t want to get strollered. Mile 2 came back in the same mid 6:30’s.


Will Rowan’s course video  –

With a mile to go, I was struggling a bit as Ally Love’s cardio training wasn’t quite the same as weekly 5ks. Legs and the knee felt good though.  I knew the only real hill of the course was at 2.5 miles, and that would be make-or-break time. I had closed the gap on Hrechko some but he and Ivanka looked pretty strong. Kirkwood and a teenager were getting hunted down though.  Time to #getGRITty. As the hill started, I tried to summon the ancient blue shoes kick gods and throw down a bit. Kirkwood and the teen get passed but Silent H and Ivanka hold their own. Once back on flat ground I’ve basically conceded the race to them. But wait..there’s more distance than I remembered. OK, so I’m getting closer but there’s not enough real estate. BUT IS THERE?? Suddenly the dark demon living deep in my soul comes to the surface. TAKE THEM TAKE THEM!!! I round the corner of Meadowfield Elementary  and start emptying the tank. I’m in a world of pain but dammit I’m closing the gap. We hit Meadowfield Park, and with one more blast I pass H and Ivanka. There’s only about 50 meters to the finish, but the tank is just about on E. Knee worries have been completely replaced by ruthless maniacal competitive drive. I think I hear footsteps, so I move into heartrate 3000 mode and blast across the finish in like 20:20ish and do a classic post race flop for the ages. Tracy and Erin are paparazzi’ing the whole thing, sure to be permanently stored on Jeff Brandenburg’s phone soon, but I don’t even care. Second overall and first masters! 20:22 official time. With pre-race thoughts of 22 minutes, I will take that and like it.

First overall was Eddie Crisanto, who even stopped to run Nick across the line. That’s what you do when you’re a super nice guy AND fast enough to trounce the field by 3+ minutes. Silent H took 3rd, though took home 2nd overall prize ($50) when some narcissistic bastard decided to take the first masters money ($75) instead. I don’t know who that could be. Ivanka took the women’s overall in 20:28, with Kelly Engh second and J-Lybrand 3rd.  Kirkwood took 2nd masters and Steve Greer was 3rd.

Female age group honor roll: Jessie Weaver was 2nd in the 20-24. Gretchen Lambert and Missy Caughman were 2-3 in the 45-49. Darby Shinn and Greta Dobe were 1-2 in the 50-54. Helene Lipe was 3rd in the 60-64.

Male age group honor roll: Tom Lance won the 50-54. Eliere Tolan and Jim Williams were 2nd and 3rd in the 55-59. Ron Lipe and Harry Strick were 2-3 in the 60-64. Mike Compton, Walt Cole and Leeds Barroll swept the 65-69, while Peter Mugglestone, Rich Weaver and Ken Lowden took the 70+.

Prizes were awesome with all the award winners getting Ernest Lee paintings, and everybody getting a full breakfast spread. Door prizes were also amazing, as I took home a free round of golf at the Woodlands in addition to all the other swag. I think I already know where I’ll be on 6/6/2020!;perpage:10













Ville to Ville Relay – Asheville, NC to Greenville, SC – 4/13/19

Anyone who has read this blog with any regularity knows I love the relay. Ten Palmetto 200’s, Three Blue Ridge Relays, one Ragnar trail relay and one Ville to Ville. I apparently live for reflective vests, lack of sleep and stinky vans. But Ville to Ville knows how to do a relay even better. Let’s get rid of the middle-of-the-night misery, eliminate the dark and lonely runs, and total utter exhaustion. Oh, and let’s make it less than half the standard distance, make it one day, and add a craft beer theme. This thing was tailor made for aging white males working out their mid-life crisis with endurance sports and IPAs. Like this guy.

Ville to Ville number one was a resounding success. Selling out in days before it was even fully formed, this event went off without a hitch in 2018. My team, the Carebeers, had a knock-down, drag-out clash with our other forty-something nemeses, the Redneck Posse, in a battle for the ages. Although we about died in a mid spring heat wave, we managed to take the Male Masters victory. Many post race celebratory beverages were consumed , and with 364 days until V2V 2019 , we were already signed up for a second go-around.

Flash forward 11 months later, and we met to plan out our strategy at Craft and Draft. Basically this involved about 5 minutes of discussion and an hour’s worth of drinking, but it basically came down to me trading legs with Randy. To satisfy my insatiable need to be number 1, I was starting off this time with the opening leg and finishing first with a short 5kish leg 7. In exchange, Randy “SILENT H” Hrechko would get leg 5 and the Delirious 10k up a mountain in leg 11.  No doubt who got the better end of that deal. Our original lineup was back again, which basically was our two beast workhorses, captain Drew Williams and Mike Nance, along with the other 4 supporting actors – me, Matt “THE STACHE” McGrievy, Rob “THE YERG” Yerger and Silent H.  Tracy/JEDI photography got the photo gig at V2V after her pro bono work there last year , and scored us a team discount for 2019.  Sweet. Craft and Draft was awesome enough to sponsor our team shirts – thanks guys!

Although the relay itself was only 75 miles and all on one day, we drove up to Asheville on Friday for what is definitely one of the best packet pickups in road racing. You show up at Highland Brewery in Asheville, which is like a playground for craft beer fans. Free brewery tours, a complimentary first beer, live music, awesome swag and even…ARTISANAL HUMMUS. A virtual paradise for hipster gen Xers. We hit the tour and sampled some Highland Brews , before heading towards our air BNB in Black Mountain. We ran into quite a few Columbia area runners, including Sheila Bolin, Kelly Ghent, Makenzie Wilt and their FiA team, as well as beer mile director Bobby Scott and Sabrina Gandy.

We had dinner at the Trailhead, the mecca of Harbison Trail Runners for Mount Mitchell weekend. Enough brews were consumed that Nance, Yerg and I felt obligated to show the others the site of the most hallowed of HTR traditions, the dead legged Lake Tomahawk relay. Except for Drew and H, we each completed a lap in a warmup for the next day’s event. Nance somehow managed to keep his shirt on this time. Our gracious hosts from last year were out of town, but we still stayed at their place in Black Mountain.  Accommodations were comfortable save for a thoroughly confused rooster nearby who apparently thought the sun was coming up from midnight to 5 am . Doh. Thankfully I slept like the dead and avoided registering under the influence for Table Rock 50k like last year. I would say this was good judgement, except I had already signed up perfectly damn sober this year. I am an idiot.

Waking up for the relay this year, I was seriously worried about the status of my right knee. Having ravaged my body with 38 miles of Mount Mitchell and another 31 at the Palmetto 200 ultra, my running had gone to the toilet over the past month and there were lots of awkwardly moving parts to my gimp stride at the moment. The knee was going to have to suck it up though, because nothing is worse than bailing on a relay and dumping on your teammates. Randy gave me some KT tape to help the knee, though I’m pretty sure a piece of magnetic tape wasn’t going to reverse several months of abuse.

The start was at back at Highland Brewery and we had one of the fastest projected times, so we were in the last group to begin at 8:20 am. We drove up in our newest upgrade, a dedicated team van instead of the SUV train from last year. We had almost struck out at the rental agencies, which were gouging the vans for Masters weekend, but we were able to score a van from a friend of a friend for a cheaper rate. Ours did come with some extra “character” to include a less than detailed interior and some free old tangy BBQ sauce packets. Score.

After stewing in anxiety for awhile and having to put on a mandatory reflective vest , I was ready for leg 1. This was a little daunting, since the race director announced this was the “skinny, fast” group and I’m not sure I meet either of those descriptors. Redneck Posse was back again for showdown #2. Tracy verified they were out for CareBeer blood. Leg 1 was just 6.2 miles, though Randy had described it as the “hardest 10k ever” . The elevation profile seemed to support his claim, looking like a virtual mountain range, with Everest at about 2 miles. With the start, I take off way too fast and hang on to the back of the pack. Having no idea how fast these guys (and 2 girls) were, I tried to check myself as soon as we got out of the brewery area. A couple of young looking dudes and some ripped musclely guy were killing it from the get go. My attention was fixed on the Redneck Posse’s runner. He had gray hair but had the lanky body type of someone who was way faster in their youth. I remember he had an Atlanta track club shirt on from last year, and nobody slow ever ran for them. I hang back with a tall 40ish female in a minipack, with only the other woman behind us.  There’s a significant incline off the bat but then a long downhill. I was fine on the incline but the downhill is definitely no bueno on the gimp knee. I gingerly tread down the mountain with masters girl blazing past me. First mile was 6:55 or so. I had suggested a conservative 6:45 pace for my legs, but I realized that was the beer talking, because ain’t nobody doing close to their 10k pace with this terrain. But hey, the next mile is mostly flat and comes back about the same pace. I’m getting warmed up and things are going ok and maybe I’ll pick up the pace and …WTF IS THIS??? Suddenly, we veer off the road and onto a trail through the woods.  And it’s going up, with stairs. I jog up the first few switchbacks but me and masters girl quickly catch a case of the walksies.  Am I really walking in a competitive relay?? I manage to walk/jog most of the way up an endless trail mountain and then hit a stretch of up and down technical singletrack. 3rd mile is like 9:50. Sweet Jesus in the morning, I suck. More endless trail. Me and the woman basically leapfrog the whole time, me passing on inclines and her passing when I try to go downhill.  Finally at about mile 4 we get dumped out on the blue ridge parkway , followed by a left where we fly down a  road and give up seemingly all the elevation gain. At the bottom, we get to go up again, forever. I pass my running partner again on the mountain climb just before we enter a neighborhood and plummet downward again. There’s a “one mile to go” sign near the bottom, but I know from last year the finish is at the bottom of a decline. Which means we have to really go up. And we do. Basically most of the last mile is some serious grade, but since I was jogging in the woods I’ve got something left in the tank. I push in all the cards and motor up the mountain as hard as I can, finally reaching the top with a sharp left. Another plunge down and I can see the finish. Here comes Redneck Posse’s guy for leg 2, so hopefully I’m not too far behind.  I see another woman running up ahead, then I realize she is from the 8 am group. She gives me grief for blue shoeing her right before the finish, but I’m just trying to stop the bleeding from what feels like an awful leg. Total time was like 47 minutes. About 2.5 minutes behind the Posse.

Yerg took off on Leg 2 which apparently features a 23 percent grade at some point. Dayum. He runs faster than last year but apparently the Posse has seriously front loaded their team and we lose another 2.5 minutes. WTF? McGrievy is always worried about slowing down the team, but in his next leg he actually makes up 30 seconds on our rivals over 7 miles. Must be the porn stache and the mojo built from his 3rd place finish in the beer mile. Up next is Nance. Nance has also gone full stache, and in his words, “full douche”.  Stache, reflective colored sunglasses, and bandanna. LOOKING FIERCE. He hauls ass out of the transition and we wait at Southern Appalachian Brewery in Henderson. We meet up with Sheila, Kelly, Makenzie and Jacki Edenfield as well as Tracy making the photog rounds through the course.

We are hoping Nance makes up some time on the Posse, when all of a sudden Mike comes rounding the turn blazing full douche with no POsse in sight? HOLY CRAP. I about lose my mind. Nance says he saw the Posse guy having a rough time on the side of the road, ends up putting several minutes on those guys. Randy blazes out of the brewery and is still ahead with the pass to Drew at Hillandale elementary.  With one of our two best guys out on the course, I quickly try to loosen up at Tuxedo park for my second and final leg. My leg is a mere 3.5 miles, though it looks like almost the entire thing is uphill. Normally this would suck, but my right knee really doesn’t want any more downhill abuse.

Drew comes flying through the exchange and I’m off on my 5k from hell.  First mile goes by super quick as its actually mostly downhill. Knee is cashed but there’s lots of people out on the course now. The clouds look threatening and I’m hoping to get this in before any potential downpours. After a 6:45 ish first mile, there’s a sudden left turn. Oh dear God. Here it is. Straight up the mountain. I try to maintain 5k pace but yeah, 8 percent grade is not exactly speed inducing. Mile 2 in about 7:30. DAMN IT. With 1.5 to go and no no more legs to go I try and blast it out. I’m pretty cashed at the mountain top with a 7:11 3rd mile and I’m desperately looking for the finish. The Redneck Posse van, a stacked Mercedes WITH A DRIVER, finally passes me so I know we are still far ahead. Suddenly the course drops out and I’m careening downhill. Knee hates it but I can see the exchange zone,  right at the NC/SC state line. I hand off to Yerg and BOOM I’M DONE.

Yerg has an 8.8 miler ahead, mostly downhill but with a killer incline at the end. We fly down in the tangy BBQ van and halfway there the bottom drops out. Starts pouring. And thunder. Suddenly were getting twitter updates that they are closing exchange zones ahead. Sure enough, when we get to the leg 8-leg 9 zone, its a cluster of a few hundred people. Its all good for me, because I’ve shed my funk clothes and I’m in full recovery mode. They even had beer samples of a new England IPA. My favorite! Luckily the storm passed quickly and they start releasing the few dozen stalled teams every ten seconds. Fortunately we missed the delay perfectly and Yerg comes rolling in and passes off to McGrievy without having to stop. We find out that one of the Posse ran off course so we are probably sitting 20+ minutes ahead. All we have to do now is stay on course and hope the tangy BBQ mobile keep going. With McGrievy out on the course, I’ve taken over as driver and we start getting lost on our way to the next exchange. We follow another van then have to turn around. I’ve lost my cell signal and have a brief moment of panic before finally seeing the sea of vans up ahead. Mcgrievy crushes leg 9 as the sun and heat starts coming out big time. Matt executes the stache to stache exchange as Nance heads out on a 6.31 miler. This time I have the trip to the next exchange planned out and we end up at Beechwood farms, home of 2 dollar tamales and the best hot dogs ever. I haven’t eaten lunch so I order up a big ass chili dog and wolf it down in front of Silent H,  karmic payback for what he did to me last year.

The heat is now really intense and close to 80 degrees, also just like last year.  Nance crushes out his 10k despite the brutal conditions in like 42 minutes as Randy takes off on another 6.2 miler. The same leg I had from last year, where I got completely delirious and ran diagonally across a busy Travelers Rest intersection and tempted death. Good memories! We thankfully avoided the mud pit at Beechwood farms with our mystery machine and headed to Swamp Rabbit Brewery for the last exchange. Yerg bought us a round of beers and all was good as we waited for the H. After some tense minutes, we see a tall figure in the distance holding up the relay baton like the Olympic torch. Randy comes tearing into the exchange in full blue shoes-style delirium and just keeps walking like an extra from the Walking Dead. I feel your pain dude. We were able to revive the H with some water as we sped off towards the finish.

The finish area at V2V is pretty awesome. A taco truck , a pizza truck, live band and tons of beer from Quest brewery. No more artisanal hummus though. Despite the killer heat, Drew rocked the final 8.78 miles out in less than an hour, and the rest of us sore, dead-legged and slightly intoxicated teammates escorted him the last 20 meters home. CAREBEERS were masters champions once again!











Soda City Beer Mile – Swamp Cabbage Brewery – Columbia,SC -4/6/19


For years, everyone has been telling me to do a beer mile. Combining two of my favorite activities, this event is seemingly tailor-made for me. It’s a simple concept – chug a beer and run 400 meters, repeat times four. The 400 meters is probably one of my best events too – the less endurance involved the better for me, one hundred percent blue shoe kick. And theoretically, a nearly 6’3”” 190 pound Irish dude who loves beer should be able to handle 4 beers like it’s nothing, right?

Wrong. As a silly genetic joke, I was bequeathed the alcohol tolerance of a 90 pound freshman sorority girl. One beer = fine, Two beers = fine. Three = OK but probably going to mess up my sleep. Four = headaches and cotton mouth, Five plus = probably praying to the porcelain god. Obviously my therapeutic window for alcohol is ridiculously small, which is only amplified by my 5’3” wife, who can drink me under the table any day of the week. Seriously, she hardly ever drinks but don’t let her near a bottle of moscato on girls night out. On like donkey kong.
So 4 beers in 10 minutes is going to be a stretch for me. And I never chug beers, since I really don’t want to give my pansy ass liver too much to handle.
But hey, why not give it a shot? I was glad Bobby Scott finally got a good venue for this event, since nailing down a good running route and/or sponsors is a difficult thing for beer miles. Last year, I believe he held it on the Cayce block where he lived. The classic beer mile is on a track. But most tracks are at high schools or middle schools, and as it turns out most schools are not ok with a bunch of adults chugging and puking on the premises. Sponsors are not too keen on equating their business with drunken debauchery either. I know – no fun at all. But Swamp Cabbage Brewery was ideal, because, one, they are obviously ok with beer drinking, and two, lots of barely traveled roads nearby to set up a course. Score.
Once I signed up I had some decisions to make. Choice of beer is critical. Rules state that the beer has to be 5 percent alcohol or higher, which pretty much rules out all the light beers. That took out my go-to low gravity brew Amstel Light. They say stouts and porters are less carbonated and thus easier to get down, but I’m not a fan of either, and chugging thick beer sounded like a recipe for the pukes. I love IPAs, but these are mostly higher gravity, and I obviously have a very small margin of error in the alcohol content department. I finally settled on Heineken. Sitting right at 5.0 percent and pretty bland, I figured a Hiney was perfect for the beer mile. I read that you want the beer to be cool but not ice cold, since colder beer apparently has more carbonation. I got the beer out an hour ahead of time and put it in an iceless cooler, and figured that would work.
Thankfully the Code, who doesn’t drink, agreed to be my designated driver. I assured him the entertainment value of watching me suffer would more than pay him back for the job. Stacy also came along to witness the disaster in the making.
Apparently the spectacle that is the beer mile brought out a lot of people. There were 40 registered but probably double that on hand just to watch. I did a quick informal beer survey, looked like a lot of Bud variations, some Heineken, a left hand milk stout, some wicked weed napoleon complex, and some glutton for punishment with an orange chocolate stout. Jeezus.
Conditions were surprisingly hot, but I didn’t dare drink any water to preserve vital stomach space. Half of our Ville to Ville relay team, CAREBEERS, was on hand with Drew Williams looking for the overall win and Matt McGrievy absolutely rocking the porn stache like only he can. Liz Locke looked to be the early favorite on the women’s side, having traded beer mile wins in Columbia and Charleston with last year’s champ Ashley Hrubala, who was sitting this one out. Derek Hutton, last year’s men’s winner, was nursing an injury and was on spectator duty only, so new champions would be crowned that day.beermile1
Other familiar faces among the competitors included Gena and Caleb Ochal, David Nance, Jessica Weaver, Ian “IT’S LOCK-LIN” Loughlin, Chris Beattie and the RD himself Bobby “dare to wear short shorts” Scott. Trackstar Eddie Crisanto signed up late and was talking smack. I told him he was going down. As noted, there was a large spectating contingent with Mario Alvarez, Jim Williams, Pam Nadolski, Kana Rahman, Matt Havens with an appropriately large RUI entourage, Sheila and Ken Bolin, Jay and Joyce Welch, Kristen Loughlin, the newly minted Mrs. Jenny Nance, also newly minted CRC prez Roy Shelley and of course my designated drivers Code and Stacy Ohrin. Rick Gibbons and Sabrina Gandy were volunteering. Tracy Tisdale / Jedi Runner Photography was on hand to document the event.
Set up was basically a 400 meter track squished onto a 200 meter section in front of Swamp Cabbage. The beer table was in the front of the brewery with turnaround cones 100 meters on both sides. You turn right, round the first set of cones, run all the 200m all way to the second cones, turn around and back to the beer table. We lined up a few meters back from the street for the start, first beer in hand, where I nervously awaited my fate. Goal one was not to puke, which gives you a one lap penalty, and goal two was to break ten minutes. My mile time is around 5:20-5:30 but no way was I sprinting with that much liquid on board, or it would be a 1.25 miler for sure.

With the start, I crack open my first Hiney and start chugging away. I’m thirsty, it’s going down fast, and I’m going to crush this thing. But wait…. why is everyone screaming at me, and WHERE IS EVERYBODY?? Turns out my idea of crushing a beer is also about as weak as a 90 lb freshman sorority girl. As I finish off the last bit of foam I am literally the last person out of the gate. WTF?? I run a little harder than I thought just to get to the back of the pack. I’ve barely started and I can see Drew and McGrievy already making the turn. Man, I suck at this. There’s lots of burps, and I’m still stiff as hell from the Healthy Capital 5k (that morning) and from not really warming up much.
After putting on the jets a bit I’m still near the back of the pack when I crash into the beer area again. I almost had to stiff arm some people blocking the table. DO NOT BLOCK THE HINEY FROM THE SASQUATCH. Chugging this time, I try changing the angle of the bottle and holding my breath more. Probably a little faster. Still slow. The run definitely sucks this time with a full slosh effect going on in the belly. I slow it down to about 5k-10k pace, and basically spend the entire lap burping. Slowly making up ground on the pack.
Probably as an effect of the 2 pounded beers, this one goes down a lot faster, and feels like I just poured it directly into the roiling stew brewing in my gullet. Feels like I’m running with a milk gallon on my waist, but then again, I’m used to carrying excess weight. Nearing the first cones I see Liz, who has taken it out hard, paying the price with a penalty lap in process. Yuck. Rounding the turn I’m staying with 10k pace. I see Jessie Weaver who looks like she is experiencing a cross of extreme pain or sorrow, or perhaps both. Probably appropriate. I’m having a hard time keeping up the burping until I rip an epic one right in front of my presidential predecessor Rick Gibbons, volunteering at the second cones. “THANKS FOR THAT”. Lol.
Mildly buzzed, beer number four goes down pretty smoothly. With one breath in between chugs, I see Drew coming in for the finish but getting epically blue shoed by a guy with a HTR T shirt. Oof, that was rough. Fourth lap looks like a war zone near the beer area with lots of fresh penalty lap material all around. Trying not to look at it. Especially the subway sub one. Jeezus H, what did that guy eat? Running feels better on the last lap because there are no pukesies to be felt and no more Hiney to be had. I feel pretty good until I see McGrievy on the sideline “good jobbing” me. WTF, he’s already done??? Damn, he almost lapped me. One more pass of the second cones, and I see Alex Wilcox, i.e. the younger, better-looking Alex, and I turn on the blue shoe mojo. I crank it up to full sprint, and pass him just before the finish….as he continues on. I guess he had a penalty lap. Oh well, can’t turn down a good blue shoeing.
9:25 official time. 12th overall out of 41. No pukesies. I’ll take it. Better than having to take a troll poop in the woods under a bridge like last week. I thought I’d be wrecked after this, but I guess the liver manned up and actually processed that quart and a half of macrobrewed swill pretty well. Mild buzz and I felt ok afterward.


As mentioned, the HTR runner Danny Ferriera smoked Mr. Williams at the finish for the win in 7:31. Drew did get 1st male masters and 2nd in 7:32. The surprise for me was McGrievy. His chug skills are apparently frat boy level, and he was first out of the beer zone almost every time according to the spectators. He was apparently in the overall lead until getting passed twice in the last lap, taking 3rd overall. In the women’s race, Liz had the extended pukesies and the surprise winner was Janie Campbell in 9:14. Triathlete Christina McCarthy took on a fourth discipline and claimed 1st female masters/2nd overall in 10:39. Gena Ochal was 3rd in 11:31.
Notable finishers: Eddie apparently deposited his five dollar footlong on the road and had to suffer the shame of getting beat by the Sasquatch due to his penalty lap. I see Tony Morales in the results and I swear the guy was in high school, but apparently he graduated in 2014, so it’s just my dementia setting in. Loughlin was the chocolate stout dude, which was not only 6+ ABV but 16 ounces, I believe. And he had a post-race beer. I can’t compete with that. Jessie Weaver won the race face category en route to a penalty lapped 15:51, probably never to drink a white zombie ever again.

Overall a really fun event and I hope to be back next year. Great job, Bobby Scott, Swamp Cabbage and all the volunteers in putting this on. All photo credits to Jedi Runner Photography / Tracy Tisdale.



Prosperity Fire Department 5k and True to the Brew 10k double dip – Prosperity/Pomaria/Peak, SC – 3/30/19


Having died a thousand deaths in the last leg of the Palmetto 200 with the Van on the Run ultra team, I figured I’d take this week easy. I was signed up for the True to the Brew 10k, but at least it was flat, and hopefully I could throw down a decent time without exerting too much effort. Sadly, the Bunny Hop had moved their date to this weekend, so my tenure as the 7 foot rabbit had to take a hiatus. I was halfway into a week of half-hearted slog jogs and too much tennis when Roy Shelley, the newly “elected” dictator president, of the Columbia Running Club, messaged me. He had a double dip challenge for us, with a time window so small it would probably need 2 cars and possibly some executive favors. As it turned out, the Prosperity Fire Department 5k and 10k were starting their races early, with a 7:30 10k and 7:45 5k. True to the Brew started at 8:30. The races were about 15 minutes apart, give or take, so if you could finish the 5k in well under 25 minutes, hop in the car by 8:10ish, there was about a 5-6 minute cushion to make it to TTTB. As probably the most enthusiastic double dipper in the CRC, how could I refuse?? 

Probably by exercising good judgement,  but I digress. Let me say this, Roy puts way more effort in planning things than I do. Dude sends me an agenda, the USATF race routes, road maps. I’m surprised he didn’t get us a police escort. Speaking of executive privilege, one of the hangups  to our plan was the 1 mile shuttle from the parking area to the TTTB start, so we made a plea to Erin Roof for a special parking spot. It seems the Palmetto Conservation Society was being kind of strict, so there was some uncertainty about whether we could get near the start. I figured we would be so late that no one would stop us, but just in case, Pres. Shelley printed out an official “parking pass”. Apparently you can get away with anything if you act like you know what you’re doing.

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We had originally planned to meet at the Pomaria ball fields (official TTTB parking) at 6:45 to drop my car off, but typical of my planning style, I called Roy at 6:25 to change it to Peak. TTTB is a point to point race and requires a shuttle to get back to the start, so I figured we might as well use our 2 cars for some good and enable us to leave TTTB at our leisure.

We got to the Prosperity race about 7:05, and actually had to register on site since our plan was hatched so late. We already had the TTTB bibs from early packet pickup, a critical rule of double dipping strategy. I had half-hoped for a trophy hunt at Prosperity. I figured 4 races on the Tour, and this one had both a 5k and a 10k , and it was way out from Columbia. It fit all the Blue Shoes trophy hunting criteria. One snafu though. Apparently there was prize money, so the first thing I see are two local Kenyan guys, Harrison Kirigwi and Norman Maihathi, who decided to split the races and easily take the cash. DOH! Kenzie Riddle was racing for the first time in 2 years in the 5k, and Joy Miller was running the ten. So we had our overall winners set from the start line. Coach B would be racing with me in the 5k for second place. The whole Pearson clan was on hand with Tim, Edy and Tori representing. Ivery Baldwin, Thomas Outlaw, Gretchen Lambert and Tom Lance were some other familiar faces.


At the 5k line, I think the RD saw me taking pics and delayed the start for a minute.  Thanks to me, now things were really tight. I took off pretty hard from the gun but my legs were still hating me from the P200.  Harrison leaves us all immediately, and at the first turn onto Main St, Kenzie and Mark pass me. This course is super flat, and I think I’m giving a decent effort, but I have zero spring in my step. The police car is guiding Harrison, so they send out a 4 wheeler to be the lead “car” for the mere mortals, which is nice. Mile 1 is like 6:37, a good 20+ seconds off my typical 5k pace. I try not to think about the 10k in my near future, but it definitely sinks in as we hit a long stretch on highway 76. I keep Kenzie and Mark within about 10-20 meters for most of the race. There’s a turn around near the 2 mile mark, and Roy is not too far behind, so hopefully we can jump in the car ASAP. I briefly flirt with pushing in all the chips to try and catch Coach B, but he’s summoning his own kick and I got nuthin. Kenzie is right ahead and I almost catch her with the small hill up to the finish but end up a second behind her. 20:27.  Ugly time for sure, but good for 3rd male overall in this trophy hunt. I grab 2 waters from the cooler and Roy comes in a shade under 23 minutes. We both head to the car a sweaty mess and take off, right at 8:10 by my watch. There were a couple of ways we could have gotten to Pomaria, but we decide to go by the Google maps quickest version. Yeah, google maps didn’t adjust for morning 5ks with a bunch of walkers. We end up sitting on 76 staring at someone’s boat trailer for what seems like an eternity. Finally we turn off 76 towards Pomaria, but everyone and their mom is also going that way. As far as the rest of the trip, I would give you details, but per my attorney driver, we “proceeded cautiously, obeying all road signs and observing posted speed limits“.  Let’s just say I didn’t need pre-race warmups to get my adrenaline going.


Roy tears into Pomaria, I mean eases into the town center, and as we randomly park.  I can hear Erin actually counting down to the start. I jump out of the car, hurdle over some grass, narrowly avoid plowing into Joe Roof , and somehow my Garmin miraculously finds a satellite in my 50 meter dash, as I hit the front of the pack just as the countdown hits zero. MADE IT! YAY!

But there was a price to pay. Apparently Thanos has exacted his infinity stone power on my colon because suddenly I don’t feel so good. 

Fifty meters in and I’m already scouting out the woods. Maybe it will pass. Maybe it was just the adrenaline of the start. Maybe if I pick up the pace it will go away. Negative, ghost rider. This was not going to be pretty.  First there’s a stretch of woods with barbed wire, then a swamp. Oh dear God. Then it goes away for a bit…then comes back with a vengeance.  Finally I come up with the bridge idea. I duck under a bridge at about 2 miles, have to climb down with gimp legs, watch for snakes, make 1000 percent sure there are no potential witnesses and sweet Jesus unspeakable horrors were then committed under that bridge. Thankfully there was also a stream there, also of questionable microbiologic content. I can hear everyone tramping on the bridge overhead, oblivious to the haz mat scene just under their feet. Finally, in what seems like ten minutes, but was actually about 4, I emerge like a enormous dazed troll from under the bridge.  And since I have completely blown any TDC points from this race, an enormous, dazed and depressed troll. I feel lighter though definitely with that not so fresh feeling. But there are 4 miles to go and this is not an out and back loop, so I push on. I at least try to maintain around 8 minute pace, because I’m just ready to get this thing done. For those not hampered by a distempered colon, it was a beautiful day on a flat trail through the forest. Just about perfect. I managed to catch up with a bunch of people who were thoroughly confused by my presence. It’s hard to find new ways to politely say I HAD TO TAKE A GIANT DUMP. The last mile or two I started catching some of CRC age groupers, so I picked up the pace to give myself a hell snowball’s chance of age group glory. Of course, I spotted Drew and Nance and Yerg and McGrievy at the start, so these guys were going to have to place and then go three deep masters for me to have a chance. I also forgot that my Garmin was stopped during my off road excursion, so instead of possibly breaking 50 minutes I was closer to 54. Still, there were a couple of middle aged looking dudes in the last mile and I took off , ending in a sprint on the bridge at the finish. Yeah, I should have saved my energy. 53:46, 7th in age group.


The finish line was awesome for this race as usual. There was a good band that actually played at a reasonable volume (as opposed to the occasional race DJs who think they’re at South beach at 3 am), subs,  and of course beer,  served up by the Craft and Draft guys. Weather was perfect too -70’s and sunny. There was a huge Columbia running club/Harbison Trail Runners/RWB/RUI contingent on hand with Brie and Matt McGrievy, Tracy Tisdale,  Bobby Scott, Sabrina Gandy, Ed Aufuldish, Pete O’Boyle, Winston Holliday, Naomi Rabon, Julie McKinnon, Ken and Sheila Bolin, Jen Clyburn, Mike and Pam Griffin, Mackenzie Wilt, Mario Alvarez, Matt Havens, Birte and Jeff Fretwell, Jim Williams, Jeff Longway, Lisa Powell, Ronda Sanders, Mike Ferguson, Renee and Patrick McCormick, Will Rowan, Joe and Janette Robinson, Betsy Long, Teresa Shelton, Lorand Batten, Michael Beaudet, Clara Nance, Lois and Bryan Leaburn, Teresa Harrington, Missy Caughman, Kara Clyburn, Bertha Woehl, Ron Hagell, Chesson Merritt, Maria Pray, Mike and Janice Compton, Sharon Sherbourne, Patti Lowden,  Harry Strick, and Shirley Smith. Amazing turnout for a day with so may other races going on.


Overall 5k winners were Harrison Kirigwi in 15:55, Coach B was second with the Sasquatch 3rd.  Kenzie won the women’s race, with Stacy Willard and Haley Thomason completing the podium.

5k age groupers were President Roy taking first in the 50-54. Tim Pearson took 3rd in the 55-59 with his new bionic knee.

In the 10k, Norman Maihathi took the win in 39 minutes, with Jon Lawson Cope 2nd and Ivery Baldwin getting third. Nice trophy hunt, Ivery!

10k  age groupers: Tori Pearson won the 30-34.  Thomas Outlaw (jr) won the 35-39. Gretchen Lambert took 3rd in the 45-49. Tom Lance won the 50-54. Edy Pearson won the 55-59, while Tommy Outlaw took the 60-64.

In the TTTB:

Mike Nance edged Drew Williams for the win in an epic showdown of Team Carebeers (our Ville to Ville relay team for April 13). Jeff Fretwell was 3rd.

Among the women, Birte Fretwell captured her second True to the Brew title after her half marathon win at Croft State Park last year. Sally Singleton and Jessica Weems were 2nd and 3rd.

Mens masters was won by TUS beast Ed Aufuldish, the YERG and Winston Holliday. Colleen Vowles, Jen Clyburn and Naomi Rabon swept female masters.

Female Age groups: Makenzie Wilt was 3rd in the 30-34.  Julie “2017 Scrotum of the Year” McKinnon and Brie McGrievy went 1-2 in the 40-44. Tracy “Jedi Runner” Tisdale was 3rd in the 45-49. Lisa Powell was 2nd in the 55-59. Lois Leaburn won the 60-64.  Sharon Sherbourne was second in the 65-69. Patti Lowden was tops in the 70+.

Male age groups: Beer mile director Bobby Scott won the 30-34. Matt McGrievy won the 40-44. Ken Bolin and Roy Shelley went 1-2 in the 50-54. Mario Alvarez and Jim Williams took the top 2 spots in the 55-59.  Pete O’Boyle and Jeff Longway were 2nd and 3rd in the 60-64. Mike Compton was 65-69 champ, while Ron Hagell won the 70+.

Prosperity Fire Department 5k/10k:

True to the Brew: Pomaria to Peak 10k;perpage:10

Alex’s true to the POO 10k:

Alex’s Prosperity 5k:




Palmetto 200 – Columbia to Charleston, SC – 3/22-3/23/19


Palmetto 200 #10

A few months ago,  I got a surprise text from the esteemed leader of our Palmetto 200 team, Brian “El Capitan” Clyburn. He was calling a secret meeting with the old guard, the original 4 dudes who had done every Palmetto 200 for Van on the Run since 2010. This band of diehards included Joel “Let me take a selfie” Pierstorff and David “Dmac” McNiece. It seems Brian had hatched a plan to have not one, but two VOTR teams for 2019. On one team, we were going back to our roots, with a coed squad that, while not competing for the overall win, could be competitive in the mixed category. The other team would be a competitive ultra team with 6 people.  Somehow, when given the decision between less miles and more women versus double the miles and 5 other dudes, I chose the latter. What the hell was I thinking?  Apparently, Brian’s plea to my ginormous ego to be on the competitive team worked. Nicely played, El Capitan.

Fast forward to race week, and I am deeply, deeply regretting my ultra team decision. Mount Mitchell had laid waste to my March. Apparently you don’t bounce back from a 37 mile race like a 5k. Especially when you turn 44 that month. Go figure. Anyway, my right knee has been a little wonky since, oh, I don’t know, the 19 miles of pounding down from the highest peak in the eastern US. Did I mention I got thrown into the singles spot for my tennis team on P200 week? Yeah, that was a poor decision too. So in a situation where my legs were of questionable speed and endurance, I was going to throw down 31.5 miles at 7:30 pace.  FANTASTIC. But hey, once you’ve committed to a 6 man ultra team, there is no going back. One, you drop out and your teammates get an extra 50k to share. And two, the pool of potential replacements for someone willing to take a day off from work and spend it running 30+ miles at a hard pace while barely sleeping is exceedingly small. So for better or worse, I was locked in. We had a strong team. Harvested from our original VOTR team was 1:19 half marathoner Rob Gannett, sub 3 marathoner Kevin Selinsky, and local masters beast/1:20 half marathoner and Lake tomahawk shirtless relay champ Michael Nance. Although the aforementioned ultra relay replacement pool is minimal, it is not zero, and Harbison trail runner/ultra beast Bill Siebers gamely filled in when Dean Schuster had to bail several weeks ago.

The VOTR mixed team looked good too. While they had lost our traditional speed demons Rob, Dan and Selinsky, they got some pretty fast women to pick up the slack. Trail machine/HTR runners Alfie Hipps and Jill Hinely, 2017 HTR “Scrotum of the Year” winner Julie McKinnon, and elite road racer turned trail runner Megan Weis were recruited. Jen Clyburn, who has run the fastest 7 mile leg post hotel water poisoning ever, along with speed demon/FBI agent/new momma Julie Bitzel were our original ladies. Julie said her mom was irritated that I wouldn’t be able to blog about her team this year. My apologies, Mrs. Bitzel. Our guys included Formula One van driving/disturbed colon/f bomb prone Darrell Brown, Geary “Gandalf” McAlister, David “perpetually sleeveless” McNeice,  Trey McCain, Joel and Brian. There was not one but two beautiful, color-coded VOTR spreadsheets. I’m sure it took him hours, but knowing Brian’s OCD tendencies, he probably loved every minute of it.

Quick primer on the Palmetto 200. It’s a 200 mile relay from the Columbia area to Charleston, styled on the Hood to Coast relay in Oregon. Traditionally it’s 12 people, each running 3 legs of anywhere from 2 to 10 miles on each leg. There is an ultra division for teams of 6 or less. P200 started in 2010 with us and about 40 other teams, and now it has grown to 150. VOTR was fortunate to take home the 2015 and 2016 overall wins, though the increased popularity of the race and our aging members are going to make another win pretty tough. The teams have staggered start times, with the slowest going off at Friday at 4:30 am and the fastest at 1 pm.  Teams usually finish in 21 to 36 hours, typically in the late morning and early afternoon of Saturday.

I think the full team had a 7:45 projected pace so they still had a 11 am start, and our ultra team was scheduled for 7:02 pace (oh jeezus) and a 12 pm start.  Made for a leisurely morning, which is nice when you’re facing the prospect of very little sleep in the next 24 hours. The 10 minute + pace teams may not be setting speed records, but they are troopers for having to be up before TWO sunrises.

Being a bundle of nervous energy, I got there just after 10, also so I could see the other team off. I made a last-second plea to get Trey to switch to the ultra, but no dice. Team shirts for the ultra were grey on black, earning our unofficial name of the Night’s Watch. Dan Carter was our Jon Snow,  and he had devised what we hoped would be a good plan. Instead of running every 6th leg, we were divided into three two person teams, where we would do 4 legs (2 per person) before passing on to the next mini-team. This would give us at least 8 legs between having to run again instead of five. The idea was the opportunity, between runs,  to get some rest, eat somewhere or dare I say, even sleep. Yeah…we’ll get to that.

I saw the full team off at 11 and we then had a chance to size up some of the competition. Our starting time the second latest/fastest and the last one that had any ultra teams, so the ultra winner would likely come from our group. Our main competition appeared to be an F3 team called Clandestine SOBs, which had a nearly identical proposed pace of just over 7 minutes per mile. The chances of our full team taking the mixed title also appeared slim, because Strictly Running’s Ashley Hrubala, 2018 beer mile champ, had put together a beastly mostly female team with Liz Locke, Mackenzie Jordan and a few other ringers, along with Brady Rafanan and a couple of other guys.

With the 12 pm start, Dan took off like a machine and we were off.  Where we were off to was definitely a question in the first few legs. The course had been altered quite a bit from years past and we were definitely in some places I had never seen. On the plus side, the new exchange zones, which were typically churches, had gone all out on the hospitality front. People were handing out water and food and most importantly, access to real bathrooms. Once you’ve navigated the microbiologic terror zone of portapotties, having running water is like the Ritz Carlton. Dan and Bill set the tone early and crushed legs 1-4. We were way ahead of the spreadsheet and my anxiety about potentially bringing the team down was ramping up. Nance was being eyed by a pack of hungry dogs to start his first leg, which may explain why he blasted it out even harder. He had perhaps the suckiest of the opening legs with a stretch of some thick sand on a dirt road.  I was deathly afraid of a repeat of the 2012 blue ridge relay, where our van was stuck for hours before a tow truck could come. As I was driving, I tried to plow through the sand hard and almost lurched over into Nance in the process.  Running over your teammate would definitely be poor form – think of all those miles to make up!

Fortunately Michael survived and handed off to Kevin, and by the time their second exchange happened we were already catching up with the VOTR full team. We were definitely not saving up for the long haul. We saw Trey take off from Mt Beulah church for leg 7, and Selinsky came rolling in just a few minutes later. Trey blasted through his leg to keep us at bay, but by the time Kevin and Michael had finished their legs, we were close again.

Finally, Rob and I got to run. I basically had to get ready while Kevin was on his leg, because Rob started off with a 1.88 miler. Dan had sadistically given Rob over 18 miles in the middle of the night, so he at least got to start off early. I was waiting at the exchange when Alfie told me something about a 5 dollar bet as to who would get passed by the ultra team. Meg handed off to Alfie and not more than 2 minutes later, here comes Rob “Ricky Bobby” Gannett. Dude had a 7 minute pace written down and I think he finished leg 9 in 5:50 something.  With the handoff, I launch into my first leg, a 6.54 mile jaunt just outside of St Matthews. As soon as I took off, I was relieved that the knee seemed to be OK. Perhaps all that foam roller love making and manic piriformis stretching had paid off.  My set pace was 7:30, so I tried to settle into a nice quick cadence. First mile 7 flat. DAMN IT.  I was setting myself up for a major bonk if I continued with this. I tried to back it off some, but after I froggered across a highway I could see Alfie in the distance. Don’t chase her down, don’t be an idiot….when all of a sudden I hear footsteps. WTF?? Sure enough, the SOB’s lean beast clandestinely comes by me and my ego can’t handle it. I manage to keep up with him for awhile, but soon decide this is a recipe for disaster, so I let him go. Damn these clandestine SOBs. Middle miles are like 6:59, 7:06, 6:50. I can’t seem to find 7:30,  which makes sense since I either run sub 7 pace or my 9:30 slog jog training runs. I make one last turn about 2 miles from the finish and then I remember. This damn leg finishes on the St Matthews mountain, that freak of SC geography that gives everybody a bad case of the relay walksies.  At least the exchange zone was now just halfway up it, our usual vantage point to make fun of whatever poor sap on our van had to run it (for the record it was me last year). After the turn with the full team van spectating at the corner, I ramp it up and finally overtake Alfie, hopefully earning someone 5 bucks. It’s not easy because she is pulling sub 8 pace herself. The last quarter mile of this leg is pure hell, as I charge up the mountain, fearful Alfie is going to get her five dollars back. The team with the driver in full clown costume is hiding in the woods at the roadside and I swear I’m in A bad stephen king IT remake. I come flying into the finish and hand off to Rob. I missed the first 0.75 miles on my Garmin, so pace was probably a hair under 7 minutes. Because that’s 50k pace, right? Nice job, hero.

And with Rob doing a 4 miler next, I basically jump into our van a sweaty mess,  and immediately head for the next exchange zone. There I see Code warming up, and he’s going next for the full team. Damn, I’m going to get overtaken by my own archrival. I down some water and do some of my ridiculous piriformis/IT band acrobatics, and an excruciatingly short time later, Gannett comes rolling into the zone. I’m now off on leg 12, a 5.58 miler through the town of St Matthews.  It’s hard to imagine but I’ve somehow managed to get stiff in like 25 minutes. Fortunately my initial awkward gait holds me to a more reasonable 7:25 and I try to hold that. I’m in a good place for about 3 miles until Trey pulls up in the full van and says CODE IS LIKE 2 MINUTES BEHIND YOU.  @#$@$!  There goes my Bob Ross happy place. I try ramping it up a bit, but damned if these hidden hills pop up out of nowhere. I swear I saw nothing on the elevation chart. The next 2 miles are pretty much on pace, though I am running from the ghost of Code, who I imagine on my heels at any minute. Finally there’s a long straightway for the last half mile, and I kick it in a little to make sure I don’t get Darrelled. As soon as I finish, Trey says he lied to me and that Code was probably actually 5 minutes behind. He still made major time on me, doing his leg in 6:30 rather than my 7:30. But hey, he doesn’t have 20 more miles to go.

It’s about this time that I realize the ultra team struggle is real. It’s gotten dark, and the couple of thousand calories I’ve burned are gnawing a hole in my stomach. With the full team you have plenty of time to go get some food –  the Santee Cracker Barrel or Waffle House has been a mainstay of VOTR. But there’s no way with one van and everybody completing their legs in under an hour. I am forever thankful I got two subs at the Red Bank subway at the start, because I start wolfing down the second one like a hungry raccoon after my second leg.  Dan opted out of the second sub and started cramping in his fourth leg, just after Rob and I did our first two. We had to make an emergency BACONATOR run for Dan to the Santee Wendy’s, which was desperately trying to close after being descended upon by an onslaught of ravenous sweaty people. After the baconator run, our relay was almost waylaid by my gas station soda purchase getting blocked by two very drunk guys slowly buying cigarettes and lottery tickets. Such are the perils of rural SC. Fortunately we made it back just in time to beat Selinsky to the next exchange. In the midst of the chaos, I had a haunting revelation that , in addition to lack of food, ain’t nobody going to sleep in this thing. At least I wouldn’t. With my Sasquatch physique, I need to sleep outside the van, and as we were basically constantly moving, that wasn’t happening. As far as the actual race, we still seemed to be making good time, though we weren’t banking any more time against the spreadsheet. But honestly, we weren’t entirely sure since survival was the operative word by this stage.

My big gulp pepsi seemed to provide me with a much needed boost as Nance and Selinsky were out for a couple of 8 and 7 milers. I saw Deogracias out there talking about his 5:30 pace legs, though I think he was out of place with his 9 minute pace team. I was surprised how awake I was since I struggle to make it past 10 pm on most nights. I know, such is my wild and crazy suburban middle aged dad life. My second batch of legs was mercifully short, only a 2.4 and a 4.6 miler near Holly Hill, but really in the epicenter of nowhere. My legs were basically shot already, just really tight. And damn, it was cold. It think under 40 degrees. Thankfully Dan was staying with us at the exchange so I could give him my hoodie at the last second, even while battling the toxic colonic effects of the baconator. My third leg was at 1:30 am and I am sure I looked ridiculous lurching off the start. Even with all my stretching and trying to get loose, it was definitely a tin man effect trying to get up to pace. I might have normally done low 6 pace on this tiny leg, but it took all my effort to manage a 7:36 first mile. I managed to loosen up somewhat and was at 7:16 my the end, but the whole thing was over in 18 minutes. Poor Rob then had a 9.6 miler ahead of him. We made our way to the next exchange zone, Galilee Christian church, home of the best 5 dollar ham sandwiches ever. The other guys got a little sleep. Of course I had to run as soon as Rob finished. I managed to doze off a little but I had to set an alarm. I left the van early to avoid waking the guys but I was freezing my ass off outside. I did some stretching and tried to warm up some, but yeah, it was 3 am and cold and all my body wanted to do was curl up in the corner. I forced myself to go up to the exchange zone a little early, but literally  the second I got there, here comes Rob. Dammit Ricky Bobby, too much shaking and baking out there! I threw off my hoodie and gave it to Rob as I took off into the night again. This felt even worse than before, basically the brain trying to veto the overwhelming consensus from the rest of my body that this was an exceedingly bad idea. First mile was an epic struggle bus, giving me a 7:53 split. Though pretty fast for a peg legged speed hobble. At some point in mile 2 things loosened up and I actually felt ok, as this leg was pretty much pool table flat. The knee was holding up and there were plenty of other teams to take down. And apparently one of those easy targets was me.  Despite turning in a 7:17 for mile 3, I’m hearing damn footsteps again. WTF?? Some guy surges past me and I of course try to follow. Apparently I’m high on the mania of no sleep and not much food and I manage to tail him for a while in a 7:10 4th mile. But then he puts the hammer down and leaves me for dead. I’m not sure what team he was on but Strava says I ran with BRIAN TUMA for that leg, with him rocking a 6:36 pace. Well played, Mr. Tuma. I was just hoping he wasn’t one of those Clandestine SOBs. I hand off to Rob, who then has another 8.8 miles – just brutal.  After Rob, Dan took off on his last set of legs from the insane exchange zone of “Hatchery Waterfowl Management”. It was like a war zone in there, with the object not to run over people or get your van blocked. Somehow I had become the driver again, probably because I was so jacked from my 4th leg.

Dan and Bill were doing great, but at some point I was not.  5:30 am hit and I was going down hard. Selinsky mercifully took over  driving duties and I zonked into a coma for a while in the back. It was painfully short but it was just enough to keep me going. I couldn’t bear the thought I had almost a half marathon to go. I managed to choke down some raisin bread and animal crackers as my “breakfast”, but we were too out of the way for a coffee run. I woke up to see some daylight and Nance do his version of the tin man starting his leg 6. I knew he and Kevin had super short final legs, so I was going to be back in the rotation real soon. Dan and Siebers were in great spirits, as they were done. Dear mother of God I was tired.

As luck would have it, my 5th leg was 7.5 miles, and the same leg in 2010 (the first P200) where I had hallucinations and a bad case of the walksies. I was definitely afraid of a repeat performance. My only saving grace was that this time it was daylight (9 am) and it had at least warmed up to the 40’s. I was insanely stiff once again and again struggled to a 7:51 first mile. Thankfully the course evened out after an initial slow incline. Somehow my legs remembered the 7:30 pace again and I just plowed ahead. There was a pack of five people I caught in the first 2 miles and then it was just me and the course. I knew at this time that the SOBs were a good six minutes ahead, so short of a repeat of 2016 (where I made up 3 minutes on a Clemson Thundercat because he caught a case of the poopsies, then the next runner got lost), we weren’t running for glory anymore. Just finish. I was locked in like a braindead zombie for the final 5 miles (final 4 splits 7:30/7:31/7:33/7:32) with a thousand yard stare and nothing on my mind other than finding that exchange zone. I was so glad to make that last turn and see Rob waiting for me. I even “kicked it in” for a 7:23 pace half mile. That was all I had.

Poor Rob, having endured 19 miles in the middle of the night, had to face another 8.1 right after I finished. Our next exchange zone was at the Sewee outpost, home of the best coffee and sausage biscuit ever. Unfortunately, they moved the zone to the end of their long driveway, and I just didn’t have the energy to try and walk that far and get my coffee fix. I did some more stretching in the grass, but it was clear my body was revolting on all fronts regarding the idea of running again. But I had 4.86 miles to go, basically straight up highway 17 after a 1 mile loop in a neighborhood.

Rob killed the 8 miler in well under an hour and once again I was out on the course. I had to cross highway 17 , which was definitely sketch in the condition I was in. Fortunately or unfortunately I hit a break in the traffic and went straight across. Once in the neighborhood I was definitely hurting, but it was relatively flat and hey, this was my last leg, how hard could it be? Apparently, extremely and excruciatingly. I was ok through the neighborhood loop, but after mile 1 (a stiff legged 7:59) you get thrown out onto the shoulder of highway 17. It’s now close to 11 am, its warming up, the road is a constant slight incline,  but the worst is the damn wind. Straight into my face. Punctuated by cars going 55 mph+ a few feet to my right. I focus on chasing a guy in front of me, who finally just starts walking. I trade a “THIS LEG SUCKS” with him saying something about it being A DEATHTRAP. Or maybe that was just my sleep deprived brain.  Who knows. The road felt like it went on forever, and I couldn’t see anything resembling an exchange zone. In my mind, I knew I hadn’t  run a  mile over 8 minutes, and so I focused on trying to keep the streak going. 7:53, 7:56. Mile 3 to 4 was just torture and I could feel everything starting to shut down. The tank was on E and the light was on. Thankfully around this time I made out a police car sitting in the median in the distance. THAT MUST BE THE END. Streak failure at the 4 mile mark, 8:11. At least it was 31 miles in. The last 0.8 felt like a dream. Brain was foggy and legs were complete mush. I saw a big gap in the traffic and ran across to the median almost a quarter mile ahead of time, but damned if I was going to have to wait when I got to the zone. Thankfully the coast was clear when I finally reached the police car and I hobbled into the zone utterly depleted of everything. I handed off to Rob and walked off in a delirium. Somehow I ended up back in the van . I was DONE.

We sped off to the finish, because even though Rob’s tank was on E too, you never know when he might get frisky. We had an outside shot at 24 hours, but since I donated about 2.5 minutes back to the spreadsheet,  I knew that was probably cashed. What’s more, Rob had to face another gauntlet of 2+ miles on 17, which he later said was an absolute nightmare. He also caught the contagion of almost faintsies and a little walksies, but such is the price for nearly 40 miles of 6:30 pace. He rolled in at 24:02 as we all followed like a pack of tinmen into the finish. I literally couldn’t manage more than a speed walk. But VOTR ultra’s journey was complete!  2nd place ultra team is not too shabby. The SOBs were gracious in victory and were not true to their name – seemed like a bunch of really  nice guys. I’ll even forgive the superfit guy that shamed me on leg 1. The beer at the finish was awesome, and the Moe’s was like fine dining since I was probably 4k of calories in the hole.  I have been known to go back on most of my “never again” declarations, but I would like to publicly state that I will never do the ultra team thing again. I think most of my teammates agree. Double the legs and no sleep is no joke.


Our full team did great as well, also taking 2nd place among the mixed teams in 26 hours flat, behind Ashley’s “A Walk and a Hard Pace” team , who did 25 hours. Great to see all the Columbia peeps out there. Special props to the volunteerism of the Richards family, with JOhn and Char manning two zones, and Andy always providing me with emergency TP! Jordan Lybrand and Plexico’s team crushed second overall in a shade under 22 hours. Southern Stride with Wendy Hart, Ross Shealy and Julia Norcia took 3rd place mixed with 27 hours.;perpage:10












Lucky Leprechaun 5k – Camden, SC – 3/2/19


So I was kind of on the fence about this weekend- Silent H was doing the Run Hard half and I’ve been wanting to throw down on that tough course to see what I can do. However, I’m a horrible planner, and a quick look at February showed that this was one weekend after Mt Mitchell. I’m pretty dumb when it comes to running decisions, but I was pretty sure that racing a hard, hilly half seven days after a 40 miler wasn’t exactly in my best interest.

While I debated the run hard 5k and the allure of a years worth of chick fil a (masters win), Erin Roof started harassing me about this race in Camden. Last year the Lucky Leprechaun fell on my birthday and I got a cookie cake along with a forced happy birthday singalong by unwitting camdenites, 99 percent of whom had no idea who this melon headed megalomaniac was. Erin reminded me it was once again my birthday weekend and suggested I was definitely elite enough to get a race invite. Feeding the already ridiculous ego is an easy play for Mrs. Roof. Of course, I was still facing doing a 5k on ultra legs, so that didn’t sound super appealing. And it’s pretty much impossible for me to pin on a bib and not go 1000 percent. I’ve found only one solution to racing if I can’t run a fast time: COSPLAY. My act as the seven foot sub seven pace rabbit has been a fixture at the YMCA Bunny Hop 5k for years. And I’ve recently expanded my repertoire to the see spot giant dog and pharoah/viking/Hulk at the pumpkin run. And who better to play a little person character than 6’3″ sasquatch with a giant head?? At least there was the enormous ego and insatiable need for attention.

I spent a considerable amount of time scouring amazon prime for a leprechaun costume that was actually runnable. Plus, im not exactly one size fits all, so there’s that. I finally found one that had not only sexy green velour pantaloons but also a glowing review by some 6’4″ monster that said it FIT GREAT! Perfect. Oh and it was. Arriving in the mail in 2 business days, this was a cosplay masterpiece, complete with shamrock vest, bowtie, and miraculously, a hat that fit.

Fast forward to race day and legs were definitely still feeling the 7 and a half hours of mountain running from last weekend. Luckily the weather was pretty nice.  Good and chilly was perfect , especially for those in a green tux with tails. vThe race helps support the Camden Irish Fest and it looked like they had a cool set up for the event. Drew Williams, Mark Bedenbaugh, Jennifer and Jason Norris, Pete Poore, Leeds Barroll, Geary McAlister, Will and Amanda Rowan, Gabriel Barahona, Kara Clyburn, Michael Beaudet, Tom and Lisa Hart, Clara Nance, Ginger Catoe, and Melanie Lindsay were the familiar faces/Columbia Running Club contingent. Tracy aka Jedi Runner Photography lent her photo skills to document all the Irish glory. Looking at the competition at the start, it looked like Plexico versus a fit looking teenage kid in arm warmers. Drew looked to take the masters win but would probably make the overall podium. I had no idea about what I could do. I told Geary in  my warmup that the legs felt like death and I would be mailing this one in. Geary has raced me too many times to know I was lying to myself  “LIKE HELL YOU WILL”. Yep, he was probably right.


The course is pretty mostly a rectangle in Camden with a gradual, steady incline in the first half and then the reverse on the way back. If you haven’t run a 40 miler in the past few days, it can produce a pretty fast time. Course is pretty much right on the 3.11 by Garmin and is certified.

With the gun, I try to attempt 5k pace but it feels instantly like hell. My right hammy, notorious for being tight, decides to make itself known immediately that it is not ready for this abuse. I instantly fall back in the pack and seriously debate throwing down a few 7:30s and calling this a day. But then I get passed by the first female, and my ego is getting checked right off the bat. And despite the slightly awkward costume, the pantaloons are pretty freeflowing. Probably too much based on the pictures. Yikes. First mile is steady uphill and after the first mile my hammy relents a little and lets me pick it up some. I’m about 10 meters back from two grandmasters beasts coming back from injury, Coach B and Geary. I hit mile one in 6:56, about 40 seconds off my usual 5k pace, which kills me so I ramp it up some more. We round the block at the turnaround and I’m hot on the heels of a Camden XC kid who looks like he’s maybe 13 or 14. Surprisingly he turns and gives me a fist bump and says good job to the Leprechaun twice his size.  Mile 2 in 6:46, so at least I’ve gotten down to half marathon pace. Last stretch is a steady downhill and I’m thinking I can catch Geary and Mark if I really push it. Like Tom Petty, I I push the pedal down to make some time.  I manage to catch Geary about 2.5 miles in but Mark is kicking it in pretty hard. Arm warmer teen, who I thought might give Plex a run for his money, has adopted some kind of walk/run method and is just ahead stopped for a moment. I’ve seen him leapfrogging up ahead for the past mile or so.  He sees me coming and jumps back onto the road. Mark is up ahead, probably with tongue out and harnessing some of that old 14 min 5k speed in his kick. As we make the turn onto Dekalb St, I know we have about a quarter mile to go. Arm warmer teen stops again and I try to blow by him as hard as I can. With the last turn onto Market St, I know I cant catch Coach B . But as I try to pose for the Jedi Runner camera, I sense arm warmer approaching on my side. OH HELLS TO THE NO.  The dark passenger that dwells inside me comes to the fore and turns my race into Lucky Charms on meth as I catapult towards the finish, holding off arm warmers at the tape. Garmin records a 4:30/mile pace on the final stretch as I crash through in 20:30. Good enough for 2nd masters, 6th overall. It wasn’t pretty but I’ll take it in full costume on ultra legs.


In the overall, Plex took the win in 17:51. Sixteen year old Cameron Hoffman took 2nd with 2018 LL champ Drew Williams finishing 3rd. Nichole Hill, Olivia Robertson and Saskia Munn took the women’s overall Coach B, myself and Geary took the male masters podium, with Lori Tucker, Jill Surface and Bertha Woehl taking the top 3 masters women.

Age group: Will Rowan was 3rd in the 40-44 men,  Jim Williams was 3rd in a brutally competitive 55-59 group. Leeds Barroll and Pete Poore were 2nd and 3rd in the 65-69. Kara Clyburn won the 40-44 women. Clara Nance was 3rd in the 45-49.

Oh and let’s not forget the all important costume contest. Clara Nance, a dude with an Ireland flag cape and the 6’3″ leprechaun all took home wins and a Texas Roadhouse gift certificate. And 50+ Camdenites were forced once again to sing happy birthday to the random idiot in the costume. And I got birthday beer. The megalomania lives on.;perpage:5000





Mount Mitchell Challenge (40 miles) – Black Mountain, NC – 2/23/19


I think it was mere minutes after my first ultra, the grueling Table Rock 50k in Morganton, NC, before the Harbison Trail Runners were already brainwashing me towards my next bad running-related decision. Since I was a newly minted ultramarathoner, it seemed only fitting that my next task would involve taking on one of the most sought after races on the East Coast, the Mount Mitchell Challenge. I was assured that it was a super fun weekend, with lots of craft beer drinking, camaraderie, and oh… a little 40 mile jaunt to the highest peak east of the Mississippi and back. In the twisted minds of HTR leaders Rick “Uncle Ricky” Stroud and Dean Schuster, they knew they only had to get a few pints in me before I was prone to an itchy trigger finger on the race registration button. Somehow along the way I said I was totally in for 40 miles of “fun”.

Of course, I had to get in first. The race has a lottery system and is more than just a little bit popular. Luckily the HTR have become legendary at this race, making it an annual tradition, so much that several of them have 10+ Mitchells under their belt. Hopefully my relation to this group and Uncle Ricky’s magic helped turn the odds in my favor.

Of course, since I now had a coveted Mitchell spot, I had better train for the damn thing . My weekly diet of 5ks and slog jogs were probably not going to cut it. Instead of having a clear training plan in place, I was mostly driven by anxiety. I loaded up my weekly mileage most of December (to around 50-60 mpw) then did the Harbison 50k. My 5:58 was not exactly Western States worthy but it was a big PR for me, especially if you subtract my mid race near-dropout and portapotty demolition. I followed that up with what I call my “tired 20 milers”, i.e. doing 20 mile long runs on Sundays after racing on Saturday. In my complete ultra-noob brain, doing 20 mile slog jogs on flat roads would somehow prepare me for a race double the distance with basically zero flat stretches on rocky trails. I should be ultra coach of the year for sure.

I did try to taper the final week before the race, which I basically followed, except playing tennis and tweaking my knee and causing intense anxiety I wouldn’t be able to run at all. Somehow it cleared up and I was ready to go.

Of course running is only a small part of the weekend for the HTR, with the rest of the time spent brewery hopping. Despite my regular training in the discipline of beer drinking, I was fearful I would be outclassed in this department as well. Despite my love of craft beer and the fact I am an almost 200 pound Irish blooded man , I have the tolerance of a first semester sorority girl. Get more than 4 beers in me and its a completely unpredictable fine line between pleasantly sloshed and hugging the toilet.

Sheila Bolin, the Yerg, Nance and I carpooled up to Black Mountain early Friday  and we met Tracy and Julie McKinnon, Ken and Jill Hinely, Marion Hinson and Bill Siebers for lunch at Asheville Brewing company. They all made sure to stoke my ultra anxiety further which forced me to drink a couple hazy IPAs and half a pizza. Carb Loading, right? We followed that with a trip around the block to Hi-Wire brewing and met up with ex-Columbians Drew and Sarah Soltau. Only three hours in and I was going to have to pace myself with the beer already.


After our Asheville brewery mini-tour, we made our way to Black Mountain. Rick basically takes over the area near the finish with 3 rented houses. I think the HTR group was its largest ever, with over 30 people. We had an awesome house close to the finish line with Dean, the Soltaus, Shiela, Yerg and Nance. The pre-race dinner was huge with everyone converging on the biggest rental. There HTR’s from past and present, near and far, came to meet. I learned the lore of beasts like Kevin Frontz, Matt Stanek, and  Jeff Radenbaugh , all of whom had done over 15 Mitchells. Other familiar faces were CIRC girls Soleil Black and Nikki Hernandez, Barefoot John Richards (dad Andy was also running), Columbian turned Seattleite Scott Hodukovich, One hundred mile machine Kenneth Ebener and wife Brooke, Randy Smith , Jay Hammond, Clifford Corley, and Ken Cobb. As is tradition amongst the HTR, their most coveted prize is awarded there – SCROTUM (South Carolina Runners of Trails and Ultra Marathons) OF THE YEAR. While many worthy nominations were made (Dean, Marion, Alfie Hipps), ultimately the balls stayed in the family with 2018 winner Julie McKinnon passing the sack to husband Tracy.



Well deserved, indeed. We followed the dinner with a quick walk up to the White Horse bar for the packet pickup and race briefing. There had been much consternation about the weather – icy conditions could shut down the summit and limit the event to the “undercard”, the Black Mountain marathon only. Fortunately (unfortunately?) the weather called for brutally cold rain and wind, but no ice, so the challenge was still a go. They did have to reroute the summit portion to the roads only, which would shorten the course slightly (i.e. 37ish rather than 40 miles).  So I guess that was plus for me, if not for the trail purists of the bunch.


Although some opted to stay out, I was too afraid of getting sloppy like my legendary Sidetrack brewery visit pre-Table Rock, so I went back to the house and tried to prepare. It was supposed to be mid 30’s, windy and raining most of the race. This would not a huge deal for a road 5K, but I figured 7 hours plus for me out there. I had no idea what to wear. In another paradox, my 6’3″ “insulated” frame gets chilly like a 90 pound woman. And I hate being cold. So after a restless, lousy sleep, I woke up and came up with my very chic attire:  long sleeve tech shirt, HTR short sleeve tech, covered up by not one but two tech running jackets, tights and shorts, thick winter gloves, a hat, and the piece de resistance..heavy blue poncho. I looked like a complete noob idiot, so I guess I was conveying an accurate message.


Course map Black Mountain (start) to Sourwood Gap (6.9 miles)

After a quick photo op with the entire HTR crew, we headed to the start line in downtown Black Mountain. At the start, the rain was barely a mist and it was probably 40 degrees, so not too bad. With the gun, we all lurched into the morning darkness. The first 2-3 miles are on the paved roads of Black Mountain and Montreat, so certainly my element. Given my fear of the distance, I went out in my “all day” pace of 9:30 or so. Even with the slog jog pace, I was already getting hot. I thought about just dumping the poncho, but I took it off and tied it to my backpack like a giant blue sail. I’m sure the others were impressed by my elite look. About a 5k in we get dropped into the Rainbow trail, which is a nice, soft single track that made for effortless running. Incline wasn’t too bad and I was all like, “this isn’t too bad at all!”.  I managed to leapfrog a few guys and felt generally great. The weather was misty but not really too cold, not much wind. Somewhere in the 6-7 mile range is the first aid station, one of the biggest on course, Sourwood gap.  The second I got there, it was clear things were going to change. The wind picked up, the trail appeared to widen significantly and it was suddenly a lot colder. I strode over to the aid station smorgasbord and realized my go-to ultra food, PB and J squares, wasn’t there. Ruh roh. Fortunately my stomach , while ready to revolt with alcohol, is cast iron when it comes to food. And sweet baby Jesus they had animal crackers. I have an embarrassing fetish for blando semi-sweet things and damned if I don’t love those little bits of animal shaped goodness. Seriously, my wife buys me the family size Barnum’s crackers sometimes, and by “family”, I mean me. I took down a couple of orange slices and stuffed a couple of handfuls of animal crackers into my mouth like an overzealous albino Cookie Monster. I’m sure the aid station ladies could barely control themselves.

With a gullet full of citrus and white flour, I headed out onto the next section, the Old Mitchell toll road. Things turned south in a hurry. Gone was the smooth singletrack of Rainbow, replaced with a wide swath of what can best be described as a rocky creek bed. With all the rain, some parts were actually flowing with water. To boot, the incline ratcheted up significantly, and between the high stepping and rock dodging, I had my first case of walksies. As a road racer, I hate walking more than anything, but I’ve tried to learn to embrace some strolling on ridiculously hard mountain races. This terrain went on for miles. The only break to the creek bed trail were a few hunt camps were apparently the quarry are bears. Great, as if I don’t have enough race anxiety already. In between those were a few apparently abandoned trailers that looked like they were last used in the Carter administration. Spooky. The next aid station was at Pot Cove and more crackers and oranges were shoved down with a few shots of coke. I was worried about trail code browns, but so far the belly was behaving. Continuing up the trail,  a few other guys and I kept leapfrogging with our alternating walk/run. I usually do well on inclines, so I was making slow progress against the field.  At some point amidst zoning out for miles, I looked down to check my progress. About 12.6 miles in, I saw I was registering a blazing 2 hrs and 40 minutes. As a 1:30 minute road half marathoner, this was humbling to see as it is, but then I remembered the 3 hour cutoff at about 14 miles. Oh hell, I’d better stop all this soccer mom mall walking and get my ass in gear. In this case “in gear” meant 10 minute miles, but at least I was constantly jogging. Gabe Hipps was crushing it in the marathon and he was already coming down so hopefully the cutoff point was close. After a tense few minutes, the blue ridge parkway/marathon turnaround came into view around 2 hrs 50 minutes. Dang, I came within 10 minutes of getting pulled from the challenge and dropped back to the marathon. Whether this was a good or bad thing remained to be seen.


Sourwood Gap mile 6.9 to Blue Ridge parkway mile 14

Coming out to the open parkway it was considerably colder, windier and the rain had picked up. Between the animal crackers and oranges, out came the sexy blue poncho again. The next few miles sucked with a capital S. I was thrilled to get out of the rocky nightmare and back on to the roads, but the parkway was steep. I caught up with one dude, whom we will call “Mr. Beard”, a 28 yr old who was dropping more F bombs than me and doing walk/runs. He assured me he was a 17 min 5ker if he was training and that he was a running coach. Hey man, whatever makes you feel better about running with an ultra noob 43yo sasquatch in a giant blue Mary Poppins poncho. Instead of hitting the Buncombe horse trail this year, we got diverted straight up the Mt Mitchell park rd. After putting some distance on Mr. Beard, Marion Hinson catches up to me during one of my low points and gets me to start running again. After a while he started walking and I just kept going to see how far I could stand it. By this time the road was super steep and you couldn’t see more than a few hundred feet ahead. I’m sure the vistas are usually beautiful in this area, but when it’s 35 degrees, pelting sideways rain in 30 mph gusts… not so much. The whole scene was wrapped in an apocalyptic fog that seemed right out of a science fiction movie. You tend to question your life decisions when you’re leaning into a brutal torrential hellwind , yelling F bombs when the poncho flaps back in your face. Good times. But at least there was company to the misery. Tracy is the first to come down from the top proving that there was indeed a bright spot ahead. Kenneth was soon after, and then Rick was clearly having a good run as he was right on the heels of these ultra studs. Nance, Drew, Bill and Hinely followed in succession. My presence had been a voodoo curse to Hinely in previous races, so it was good to see him running well. With all these guys coming at me, it was encouragement to at least muster a jog, because who wants to get caught in the walksies while everyone else is crushing it downhill. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally approached the summit a little over 4 hours and 19 miles in. Legs were pretty cashed from all the climbing, but it felt great to make it to the whole point of the challenge. And I was definitely getting a damn picture at the sign. Problem is, my phone was locked and there was basically nothing dry to be had anywhere, much less on my person. After a tense few minutes and some desperate raisin fingered screen pushing, I managed to get my code in and get a surprisingly great pic. The girl at the top is a real trooper for indulging all of our grandiose picture needs.


Marion hit the summit soon after and he took off back towards home. We stopped briefly at the summit aid station, but he started flying down the mountain at a pace I couldn’t keep. Why? My legs felt like trash and the pounding hurt like hell with all the sudden downhill. For the next few miles I kept up a slow slog jog down all those miles of road, in between getting passed and cursing myself for not being able to take advantage of what should have been my absolute strength. A few miles down from the summit I hit the Steppes Gap aid station and it felt way too good to stop. I made myself lurch forward again and felt a touch of the wobblies, but managed to get back on the downbound train. With all the downhill and no more walking, the Blue Ridge parkway/marathon turnaround came up shockingly fast. I really thought there was a mile plus to go to the station when I saw it, so I guess my race brain delirium had set in. When I got there, I was greeted by HEY ITS PONCHO GUY by one of the kids there. I’m so proud. The volunteer woman, also known as the race director’s wife, was talking about how a few of the racers who missed the cut off weren’t so nice to her. I was a mumbly cold mess, but I assured her she was an absolute saint for standing out here in the brutal cold and rain for hours on end. She was tending a giant cauldron of Top Ramen that smelled like heaven. With no spoons to be had, I shoveled/slopped the soup into my mouth with reckless abandon. It was not my classiest moment. With a belly full of ramen and another dose of animal crackers, I was set for Old Mitchell Road again.  A few lonely minutes on the trail made me a little nervous that I had somehow missed a turn, but soon people started showing up. First one, then two more , then another three. Yep, it was official, I was sucking. Between my less than agile frame, fear of falling on rocks from my near death experience in 2013, and the cinder block fatigue of 23+ miles, I was barely moving down the mountain. I tried to quicken my pace, take more rapid smaller steps, NOPE.  What’s worse, here comes mr beard bounding down the mountain, “See, it’s good to learn downhills!” REALLY, DUDE?? Just then, I hear a beep on my Garmin. Wow, that must have been a quick mile! Checking my pace, all I see is LOW BATTERY.


Blue ridge parkway mile 14 to Mt Mitchell summit mile 19

MOTHER#@$#^&#$!  Sure enough, just before 29 miles, the black screen of death pops up on my 5 year old garmin 620. DAMN IT. I’m a slave to the Garmin anyway, but especially in a long race, and this about killed me. A girl passed me about this time and I decide to pick it up the best I can to soldier through the rest of this. From the Pot Gap station all the way to Sourwood Gap, I’m unintentionally riding her back, but she’s not going any faster and I’m desperately trying to stay in motion. I’m cursing every damn rock by this time but at least a woman half my size is helping me now where to step. Hitting the Sourwood station is glorious because I know the way back is shorter and maybe 5 miles to the finish. One last blast of bland animal shaped goodness and a few orange slices and I’m good to go. I apologize to the poor woman for chasing her down like a depraved bear for the past few miles, and let her have a few seconds to have a rest from the trackdown. With the turn off the Old Mitchell Rd, the weather gets warmer and less rainy and thank the Lord less rocky. Before I know it I’m careening down a gravel road, and I meet up with a nice dude from Ohio who helps distract me for a couple of miles. He had done Western States in 23 hours, so I knew he was just out for a stroll with Poncho Boy. But I appreciated it nonetheless. Finally we break off the gravel and go flying down an even steeper ski slope of a paved road, dumping us back in Montreat. Being back on flat roads, and the euphoria of being close to the finish, makes me ramp it up. It feels like we are blazing, but I’m guessing its 8ish pace. Of course I can’t tell with my dead Garmin. There’s  a few weird miles near town where we go in and out of some roadside trails, and I’m desperately just trying to follow the signs. Finally there’s the “unofficial” aid station with beer and whiskey apparently. Although sorely tempted, I have my eyes on that finisher fleece and a warm shower, so I blast through. My trail buddy succumbs to the alcohol and I’m alone for the last mile and a half. As I near Black Mountain, I see a guy in red that I take as Marion in his HTR shirt. I start really blasting it out then, thinking I can definitely catch him. And I do, but then I realize its not him. It looks like I’m definitely going to be DFL of the HTR challenge guys. The finish of the race is a half mile around Lake Tomahawk. After passing faux Marion and a couple other guys, I’m high on adrenaline. And then I see him. MR BEARD. OH HELLS YEAH. All of a sudden my 8 minute pace turns to 6 minute pace and BEARD starts walking. I manage to show self restraint and avoid a great chance at a snarky comment, but try to blast past as fast as I can. One more bridge and I come flying under the finish line arch like its a damn 5k, 7 hours and 32 minutes after I started. TOTAL EUPHORIA, PONCHO BOY WAS DONE. Rick and Cliff are at the finish line and I ask to be immediately directed to the fleece table. Never have I been so happy to get a jacket in my life. It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t that fast, but it was done!


In the challenge, newly anointed SOTY Tracy Mckinnon harnessed the power of the sack in a 5:54, 3rd master finish. Kenneth Ebener wasn’t far behind in 6:05, and fearless HTR leader Rick Stroud ran an impressive 6:14. Bill Jordan ran 6:21, Mike Nance did 6:33,  Soltau clocked a 6:44, Bill Seibers 6:51, Ken Hinely 6:52, Marion Hinson 7:18, Nikki Hernandez 8:03, Kenneth Johns 8:26.

Columbia/HTR finishers in the Black Mountain Marathon: Gabe Hipps 4:27, Luke Walden 4:33,  Matt Stanek 4:53, Craig Burnworth 5:13, Cliff Corley 5:22, Jeff Radenbaugh 5:25, Kelley Fejes 5:35, Jim Cobb 5:37, Jill Hinely 5:46, Dean Schuster 5:46, Randy Smith 5:48 Julie McKinnon 5:49, John Bradley 6:06, Rob Yerger 6:13, Kenneth Johns 6:22, Eric Johns 6:22, Sarah Soltau 6:23, Eli Stewart 6:25, Kevin Frontz 6:35, Brooke Ebener 6:37, Matthew Quinton 6:49, Andy Richards 6:56 (at age 73!) , Tim Burke 7:43, Sheila Bolin 7:43.

And we can’t forget the most hallowed of HTR Mitchell traditions, the Dead Leg Lake Tomahawk relay. Done at night, and perhaps after a few adult beverages, teams of 5 challengers/marathoners circle the half mile Lake Tomahawk in an all out sprint for glory. Sadly my team of Soleil, Barefoot John, Randy Smith, Ebener and myself pulled off a next to last, with perhaps an illegal Blue shoe stiff arm of a sprinting Nikki in a desperate attempt to save pride. I’m not sure who won, though a shirtless, highly enthusiastic Michael Nance in the 30 degree night may have been the highlight.

Big kudos to race director Jay Curwen and all the amazing volunteers  and sponsors for putting on a truly great event. I’ve never been so appreciative to the aid station crews who braved hours of miserable weather to keep us all alive and healthy out there. Another major shout out to Rick Stroud and all the HTR’s who showed this road racing ultra noob the kindest hospitality in a great weekend!