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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Results:

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!

https://ultrasignup.com/register.aspx?did=60007

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cold Winter’s Day 5k – Forest Acres, SC -12/29/18

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A little over ten years ago, I suffered through another Carolina loss to Clemson, and in my post game rage, I set out on a rainy run. I had briefly gotten into running in 2007 when I was living in Charleston, ran three races, got hooked, then promptly trained myself into getting nasty shin splits that completely sidelined me. It had been a few months since I had tried to give it another go that day in November 2008, but I came back after 3 or 4 miles (no Garmin then) and found I actually didn’t have pain. As soon as I was done, I went online and launched a fateful google search to pull up “Columbia Running Club” and “Strictly Running”. I saw they had a race I could train for in about a month. That race was Cold Winter’s Day. I was in.

2008 Columbia Running Club page

 

Somehow I managed to not get injured in that month. It probably helped I went down to the old SR store and got an actual pair of running shoes. Big, boat-like stability trainers, but they weren’t going to give me shin splints. I showed up to CWD 2008 not knowing the course, not knowing a soul at the race, and no idea of what I could do. I had managed 25 and change at the 2007 Reindeer Run, so naturally I thought, with a year of barely running and being injured, I’d try for a sub 23. The grandiose ego existed even in those days. So, like the noob I was, I went out way too fast and started dying. But then I saw the yellow arrow sign at the end of a long straightaway, which I was sure was the finish. I blasted away with some primordial version of the Blue Shoes kick, crossed a bridge, and realized this was an apartment complex not the finish. Oh @#$!  I death slogged the rest of the race, which was a good half mile, did another really ugly headless chicken sprint, and crashed through the finish at 23:59. I about died, and way off my goal, but the euphoria was palpable and my racing addiction was renewed. Signed up for the 2009 Red Nose 5k when I got home. And the rest is history.

Ten years and probably 350ish races later, I always come back to Cold Winter’s Day. Except this year, my body really didn’t want me to. I took several days off in early December thinking I was going to crush Kiawah. Shat the bed in that race when a well rested but tight as hell hamstring decided it didn’t want to do 6:40ish pace.  Took it easy since then. I was still running daily, but nothing that was going to make the hammy mad. Just when things felt good again, one of my disease vectors, I mean children, gave me a wicked head cold that basically destroyed my Christmas week.  Snotapalooza, headaches, coughs, insomnia due to all of the above. Good times. So I wake up on CWD morning with the idea I wasn’t going to race, just watch. All the TDC points were secured, snot still flowing, only a few hours of sleep the night before. Done deal. Still, I night as well put on running clothes to get a few miles in before watching the race.

When I got there, I thought about my bib. For some reason I felt compelled to pick it up. Maybe I’ll jog the course like I did when I was sick in 2014. Sounds good. Did a couple of miles warmup with Geary, Silent H and Jen Jik. There were some serious Tour de Columbia maneuvering at stake with the double points for this uber competitive race.

As such, everyone and their mom was out for this one.  Deogracias was on hand to throw down with the big boys. There were quite a few elite looking types that were probably going sub 16, including last year’s winner, Theo Kahler. Shawanna and Jen were clearly the tops in the women’s field, as none of the SR ladies were racing. Joyce brought out her whole tribe of Team Utopia Youth with 9 year old state record holder Kendra Miles. I can vouch there are plenty of strong adult male runners that fear getting a beat down by a 70 pound 4th grader.  THE CODE is making a rare 2018 race appearance. The entire CRC royal family, the Weavers (now Weavers and Loughlins) , were on hand. The CRC veteran hardcore group of Henry Holt, Pete Poore, Leeds Barroll, Peter Mugglestone, and Rocky Soderberg were there. There was talk of some hellacious Tybee training morning workout devised by Coleen Strasburger, fittingly wearing bib 666. I think they did the Starbucks’ early bus, regular bus, something in between, the 5k race,  then something post race.  Evil, indeed. Other familiar faces included the Fadels, Naomi Rabon, Jenny Prather,  David Nance, Dave Hale with canine sidekick Angus McCloud, Fiona Martin and her husband Lance Schultz, Hou-Yin Chang, Ivery Baldwin, Alsena Edwards, Brie McGrievy, Greta Dobe, Missy Caughman, Shirley Smith, Ron Hagell, Kat Hudgins, Lynn Grimes, Kerry Stubbs, Will Rowan, Lucy and Pheobe Fischer, Sharon Sherbourne, Jennifer Reeves, Matt Gregory, Greg Fowler, Robert Taylor and Amanda Wardlaw.  Andrew Touzel was making a comeback. Eric Allers was on hand to make sure the epic CWD blue shoeing of 2017 did not happen again, along with wife Sarah.  Strictly had Drew Williams, Geary, Derek Hutton, Colby Coulter, David He, Justin Jones, and Steve Rivard. TUS had coach Justin Bishop, Jen, Julia Norcia, Joseph Kiprotich, Sheila Bolin (paced by Mike Nance), Mike Compton, Jim WIlliams, Ronda Sanders. Without Limits had coach Trey McCain and Eric Gilfus.

 

So yeah, trophy hunt this was not. After my warmup, I decide the hammy seems to have loosened up some, and after a thoroughly disgusting desnotting, I figure I can at least jump into the race. Maybe even tempo it. We would see. Weather was ridiculously warm, in the 60’s. Fittingly for my 10th raceversary, CWD had gone back to their original pre-flood course. The famously NOT flat and fast course advertised by Selwyn. Cool.

Liz Locke started us off and I’m immediately swarmed by people hauling ass up the initial hill on Trenholm. I decide to ride Eric for a moment just to keep him guessing. He then left me in the dust pretty quickly. Doing my first semi fast run since Kiawah, my hammy is quietly complaining some and my lungs are wondering why the hell we are breathing hard after hacking all week. Being in a competitive race with a bib on,  the adrenaline kicks in and I feel like I have to at least do something respectable. I figure around 21 minutes would be acceptable to the giant ego.  After the initial Trenholm hill is a long decline on Spring Lake, another bump up, and then another extended downhill along Forest Lake golf course.  I manage to edge past micro beast Miles to temporarily avoid getting elementary schooled, and I hit the mile mark at 6:31. I can still see Code and Jik up ahead but I don’t recognize anyone else in the vicinity. I figure Silent H must be just behind me, relishing a chance to take down melon head boy. I cruise down to the flat area with 2 bridges and I know there’s that monster hill at the halfway point. Crossing the bridge I feel my hamstring has given up and stopped being tight. With the hill, all that Downtown Y weight work actually starts kicking in and I pass about 10 people on the incline. This only serves to stoke the internal inferno of race adrenaline and grandiosity, and by the top of the hill I realize I’m apparently going to race the rest of this hard.

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I’m kind of gassed flopping down the hill on the other side, but mile 2 surprisingly comes back in 6:17.  I realize I still have a chance to break twenty minutes, the old benchmark, the one I epically failed to attain at the 2010 version of this race. And what unfolds next is that long straightaway to the apartments with the faux finish from 2009. And what’s better? Targets. And number one has a singlet with CODE on the back. Code’s keto diet apparently causes him to crash at the end of races, and he was definitely fading some. Fortunately, my beer and carbs diet leaves me plenty of “fuel”. As we near the apartments I manage to pass him, both pasty old men unable to speak for all the wind suckage. That’s good since I was afraid he would release the race demon from this year’s 811 run (i.e. YOU BETTER F%#*)&G RUN!!). Selwyn always talks about the downhill finish to the CWD course, but he fails to mention the roller coaster of hills to get to the top of said downhill. I’m suffering pretty bad at this point, but I see Jik up ahead with her head up, so there’s blood in the water. What started out as a tempo now gets launched into a 1000 percent effort. About a quarter mile from the finish, I manage to pass Jen and go into my typical maniacal kick mode. I can hear footsteps behind me which ramps it up even more, running scared from the ghost of Jen Jik behind me. I can see the clock still in the 19’s at the top of the finishing hill and its full steam ahead on the pain train. Mile 3 in 6:11. I crash through the finish in 19:40 and I don’t think I’ve felt so destroyed by a race in years. But hey, with Drew getting masters, and Nance pacing Sheila, Angel MIA, and Code ketoing out, I manage to pull off an age group win, AND A TROPHY. All is well again.

In the overall, this was a total beastfest. First place went to Gabe Haughey  in 15:11, followed by Theo Kahler , Johnathan McGinnis, Alan Deogracias and Colby Coulter all under 16:30.  Shawanna easily took the women’s win in 18:16, with Jen notching a sub 20 for second and Hannah Beach, Kendra Miles and Faith Boyer rounding out the top 5. Masters winners were Drew Williams, Adam Ward and Eric Allers on the men’s side with Sarah Allers, Julia Norcia and Naomi Rabon on the podium for the women. Grandmasters winners were Greg Fowler and Alsena Edwards, while Senior Masters (60+) went to George Sykes and Lynn Grimes.

Age group honor roll:  Lucy and Pheobe Fischer finished 1st and 3rd in the 15-19. Jessica Weaver was 2nd in the 20-24 while  Kyle Norcia won among the men. Steve Rivard, Gage Hicks and Derek Hutton took a very competitive 25-29. Justin Jones and David He were tops in the 30-34.  Justin Bishop took the 35-39 men, while Fiona Martin and Ronda Sanders were 1st and 3rd among the women.  Amanda Wardlaw and Brie McGrievy were 2nd and 3rd  in the 40-44 women while Code took 2nd among the men. Ricky De Shaw won the 45-49 men, with Johnathan Kirkwood 2nd. Gretchen Lambert was 2nd among the women. Sherry Fadel, Greta Dobe and Sue Weaver claimed the 50-54 podium while SILENT H easily won on the men’s side. Colleen “Satan” Strasburger and Sandy Smith went 1-2 in the women’s 55-59, Robert Taylor was 2nd among the men. Geary McAlister was champ of the 60-64. Mike Compton and Leeds Barroll were 1st and 3rd in the 65-69 men, with Sharon Sherbourne 3rd on the women’s side.  Peter Mugglestone and Ron Hagell  took 2nd and 3rd in the 70-74 men, while Henry Holt stood alone as the 75+ champ at age 83!

https://www.strictlyrunning.com/json/Index_JS_C4.asp?uRaceId=2622

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/3256367808

 

 

 

 

Sleigh Bell Trot 4 Miler – Saluda Shoals Park -Columbia, SC – 11/20/18

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The Sleigh Bell Trot has been a staple of the Tour de Columbia and the Blue Shoes road racing schedule since at least 2009. I believe the organizers said it is in its 13th year in 2018. It’s held at night to spotlight Saluda Shoals’ Holiday lights at Christmas, which opens the week of Thanksgiving every year. The race was previously a 5k, and known for being a little chaotic as the event pushed to well over 500 participants in a small area. Organizers cleared out much of the congestion several years ago as they went to two different nights for the walk (Monday) and the race (Tuesday). With the opening of the new entrance and sports fields near St Andrews Rd, the race morphed from a 5k to a 4 miler, which works out nicely to tour most of the light displays.

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But who has known me to be focused on light displays? Racing is about WINNING and TROPHIES, right?? So this is not usually a good trophy hunt. It’s at a weird time (Tuesday night), and in between Hairy Bison/Shandon Turkey Trot and the Turkey Day 5k, but it brings out several hundred people. Sure, there’s a large festive holiday walk/jog contingent, but there’s always a bunch of pesky local cross country teens that come out to beat the old men down. Those meddling kids.
This year, I had a free registration for this race that I won by placing 3rd at Go Leo Go, so I had no excuse to be lazy and skip. Late afternoon at work there’s always an internal struggle of going home to crash on the couch with a beer versus pushing myself to physiologic depletion for 4 miles. But my chronic FOMO anxiety, and more specifically, Fear of Missing Out on TDC points and trophies , kicked in and I decided to make my way out to Irmo.
As for the Irmese, I am a native and a loyal Yellow Jacket (Irmo High class of 1993), but damn you guys have it rough for rush hour traffic. Apparently, I-26 becomes a parking lot every day at 4:30 pm. Since my tolerance for traffic jams is extremely poor, I made sure to leave super early and avoid at least some of the nightmare. My geriatric 2005 Honda pilot is in its death throes so I had to say a little prayer every time we had to idle on the highway.
I made it to the race just after 5 pm, giving me a full 2 hours to kill. This actually works out well so I can relax and jog through the lights as a warm up. You know, like actually getting to look at the displays instead of hunting down 40 year old men at 6 minute pace and breathing like an injured wildebeest.

Getting back to the start, there’s a huge crowd on hand – almost 600 total. I see a few cross country teens and Ryan Plexico , so definitely no overall trophies today. Mike Nance showed up later, making even my masters hopes pretty dim. The CRC hardcore contingent were on hand, including Rocky Soderberg, Leeds Barroll, Henry Holt, and Pete Poore. Current race participation and grandmasters leader Dave Hale was back for more after trophy hunting at CIU on Saturday. Melinda and Reese Petruzzi , Gretchen Lambert, Michael Lambert, Will Rowan were some other CRCers on hand. Difficult to see everybody in the dark.

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With the huge crowd, I made sure to move up just behind Plexico in the second row. They kept telling the slower runners to move back but a bunch of little kids were still near the front. I’ve almost flattened kids in the start of this race so I wasn’t having that again. My plan in this race was basically to run it like a 5k, since I had no idea what “4 mile pace” is. Plus, per last years race, I knew the course to be a tad short. I had suggested they move back the start/finish like 5 hundredths of a mile last year, but like my wife says, no one (including her) listens to me.

The start, as always, was nuts. Downhill for the first quarter mile in a mad dash with a bunch of kids. By the first turn, the field had already thinned out. This was a big field but definitely light on the top end. I settle into what feels like a pretty brisk pace, but its impossible to tell in the dark. There’s a winding but flat stretch after the first turn until you hit the 12 days of Christmas display mountain, which is the main incline of the whole course. I’m a decent climber despite my Sasquatch physique so I drop a few kids on the hill.  Next is a plunge down the other side and past the armed forces display and the combined mile 1/mile 3 marker. 6:11. Whoopsie. Looks like that afternoon coffee from the Baptist hospital lounge has kicked in. Mile 2 is a climb past the dog park and into the beginning of the lollipop at the end of this out and back course.  I move past who I think is the first girl and latch on to the Team Utopia shirt of Mike Nance just ahead. I manage to stay with him through most of mile 2 , figuring he must still be tired from Marine Corps. Nope. Mile 2 comes back in another 6:11 and I’m on close to suicidal pace.

Mile 3 is a tough climb passing the shed from the old race packet pickup and the backroad to Cornerstone church. Not entirely sure, but I think I got passed by one of the Golbus twins in this mile. I’m scared I’m getting ready for an epic bonk, but rounding the turn at the Bush River Rd. entrance and getting back on the road to the finish is a psychological boost. Nance is still just ahead, running with a tall kid and Golbus. Mile 3 in 6:21 and I’m sucking some serious wind. But I can feel the finish and ramp up the pace as I climb the back side of 12 days of Christmas. Form is starting to go hell but Nance is right there and maybe, just maybe, I can catch him. At the bottom of the hill I basically push in all the chips. I catch the kid who fell off the back of the three person pack ahead, but damned if Nance and Golbus haven’t started crushing it too. I redline it all the way down the flat and I’m in full headless chicken mode in the home stretch up a slight incline. But its just not happening – those two are too strong.  Suddenly I look up and realize the clock has just crossed over 24.  Holy crap. I haven’t even broken 26 in a 4 miler. I crash through the finish in a mess of sweat and gasping desperation in 24:20. I’ve been trying not to flop like a fish at the finish but I had to briefly make sweet love to the pavement after that effort.  I quickly realize the course, by my Garmin, is 3.90 miles. Still, this is a minute faster than last years time on the same course and a 6:14/19:19 5k pace for almost 4 miles. Good enough for 8th place overall and 2nd in age group behind Mike. Pretty psyched about the effort, hoping I can ride that speed to the Kiawah half in 2 weeks.

In the overall, SR’s Colby Coulter took the win in 21:19, followed by Hayden Tuten in 22:11 and Ryan Plexico in 21:29. The women’s race was won by Ashley Golbus in 24:!1, followed by 12 year old Laela Caplinger and 11 year old Laurel Walls.

Age group honor roll:  Ryan Welch won first in the 2-8 girls. Ashley Wardlaw won the 11-12 girls while Tyler Wardlaw  took 3rd among the boys. Brady Rafanan crushed the 20-24 for first in 23:57, while Alexa Golbus won among the women.  Ronda Sanders and Tricia Roland went 1-2 in the 35-39 women. In the 40-44 men, Nance took the win while some Alex MCDONALDS was 2nd. That’s what happens when you sign up last second. Amanda Wardlaw was 3rd among the women. Gretchen Lambert was 2nd in the 45-49. Winston Holliday took 2nd in the 50-54, while wife Kimberly won the 50-54 women. Dave Hale took 3rd in the 55-59.  Leeds Barroll and Pete Poore went 1-2 in the 65-69. The over 70 group was swept by Henry Holt, Rocky Soderberg and Michael Lambert.

https://www.strictlyrunning.com/json/Index_JS_C4.asp?uRaceId=3007

 

Famously Hot Pink 5k/10k/Half – Spirit Communications Park – Columbia, SC – 10/13/18

The Famously Hot Pink Half Marathon/10k/5k is an event that has grown exponentially over the past decade. It has always been associated with the Walk for Life, a huge breast cancer awareness walk that attracts thousands of participants. Several years ago they decided to add a 5k race “The Race for Life”, then added a 10k. Two years ago they moved the whole thing from Finlay Park to the new Fireflies ballpark (Spirit Communications Park) and rebranded it its current somewhat awkward name.
While it has become a huge event, it also pops up on the Blue Shoes radar as a surprise trophy hunt. My advanced racing analysis has led me to believe that all the elites target the Ray Tanner 12k as their goal, which is next week. And most normal people don’t want to run a hilly half 7 days before a major race. Ah, but who needs normal?
I’ve run the half here twice, and finished fourth and third OVERALL. With times that are pretty lousy for me, because miles 10-12 are a damn mountain range. If a sasquatch like me can make the podium in a half with several hundred people, clearly the fast guys stayed home. But hey, Palmetto Health, my employer, saw my 3rd place finish last year and featured me on their facebook page The giant ego and cranium grew a few more sizes that day.

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With the aura of glory still lingering from last year, I was tempted to try my luck at the half again. Unfortunately the legs had a meeting with the grandiose brain and they decided HELLS NO. Between the seven hour Table Rock 50k and the True to the Brew trail half in consecutive weeks, my lower extremities have been pretty useless the last 14 days. Slogged out a bunch of 5-6 milers at 9ish pace since TTB, nothing long and definitely nothing fast. So hey, let’s jump back into a road 5k! While I pride myself on sound decision making in the rest of my life, road racing makes me act like an impulsive 3 year old.
So I went to the race with a certain amount of anxiety, afraid I would make a fool of myself with an embarrassingly slow time, since my road 5k training has been zilch since August. Because everyone cares so much about my 5k performance. Right.


I got to the park pretty early since the half starts at 7:15 and I didn’t want to be driving around when the race started (7:40 start for 5k) . They had packet pickup at the race starting line, which is like a half mile from the parking lot, so I ended up getting plenty of warmup just going to and from my car. As I had expected, a big crowd but heavy on the race-shirt-on-race-day T-shirt contingent and very few competitive types. I saw Jen Lybrand at the half start and wondered if she might win the race outright, since I didn’t recognize anyone in the first few rows. Rich, Sue and Jessie Weaver were there to represent the CRC royals. Renee and Patrick McCormick, Chris Fawver, Naomi Rabon, Eric Gilfus, Jim and Sandra Manning, Pam Nadolski, Kerry Stubbs, Donna Freeman, Alsena Edwards, Jenny Prather and Michael Lambert were also on hand. Ron Hagell, Kelly Ghent and Janette Robinson were doing bike marshall duty. Drew Williams was pacing the 1:45 group again. The 10k start was at 7:30 and another field light on the top end. Barring some completely covert elite out there, Justin Bishop would win this in a cake walk. Sara Bonner looked to take the women’s win as well. The McGrievys and Reese and Melinda Petruzzi were sporting their CRC gear, with the first hoodie sightings of fall 2018. Peter Mugglestone, Lynn Grimes, Gretchen Lambert, Lois Leaburn, Teresa Harrington, Sheila Bolin, Ken and Patti Lowden and Joe Robinson were the familiar faces. Oh, and Ashley Horton was making a rare appearance with a ghost pacer from races past, better known as Tyler “Lady McGaha” “Trophy” “Blackjack” McGaha. He still exists.


After standing around forever and desperately trying to loosen up my crap right hamstring and piriformis, I finally got the chance to toe the line. I saw one fastish looking dude and my fellow consult liaison psychiatrist nemesis Jeff “Lucifer” Brandenburg. Like David Lee Roth it looked like I’d be Running with the Devil again. Daniel Patrick and Travis Moran were making racing comebacks as well near the start. Leeds Barroll, Alex Ponomarev, Pete O’Boyle, Barbara Brandenburg, Bionic Man Dave Hale, Shenequa Coles, Colleen Vowles, Tug Quarles, Rocky Soderberg, Sabine and Quentin Mcgrievy, and Sandra Manning were on board. My coworker at Baptist , Juliet Glover, and her husband Darius, were also representing the USC-Palmetto psych team.


The gun goes off and I’m instantly reminded of how much 5k pace sucks when you haven’t been doing any speed. Legs are still cinder blockish and the right hammy is pretty angry at being abused like this. Still, with the lack of elites, I’m actually running near the front, with the pace car in sight. Starting with a quarter mile of flat, you take a right turn up a nasty little incline, then a long flattish stretch on Harden St extension in front of the Tucker Center. The small, fast looking dude has taken it out fast but Travis, Daniel and JB are clustered a few meters ahead of me. I’m thinking I’m doing about 6:10-6:15 pace based on my effort and position in the race but the mile mark comes through in 6:30. Damn you, hamstring and slack Brandenburg. I try to pull an Emeril and kick it up a notch. At about a mile and a quarter you turn right on Calhoun. I catch up to Ken Lowden who informs me there’s ONE BIG HILL and it’s just ahead. I figured he probably designed the course so I’m sure he’s right. The man did not lie. Left on Gregg and up a long fairly steep incline we go. Although I hate hills, and you’d think my “less than petite” physique would be like a semi trying to haul upgrade. Paradoxically though, my freakish quads and daily hill training kick in on the mountain, and the incline helps stretch out the gimp hamstring. Furthermore, I’m catching up to JB and Daniel quickly and with a surge of adrenaline I pass them both.
Of course, now I realize there’s no turning back and I’ve just pushed in all the chips with half the race to go. Hitting the top of the hill I recognize the course from the Bunny Hop 5k and I try to channel the magical energy of the seven foot bunny costume. It seems to work, plus catching more 10kers make me feel like I’m flying. Mile 2, even with the monster hill, is a touch faster in 6:27. It’s going to be close to make this a sub 20. Fortunately, the course has leveled out and as we break away from the 10k route, we suddenly plunge down the side of the mountain we just climbed. Another paradox is that, despite my distinct “gravitational advantage”, I suck at downhills. I am deathly afraid of Brandenburg passing me on the decline as I flop down the hill, wrecking my quads in the process. With the turn back onto Gregg st , I know we have just a short way to go to the stadium finish. I’ve managed to rein in Travis a bit and he’s painfully close. I can even see the leader up ahead with the pace car. I start throwing down, thinking I might be able to catch Travis on the little blip of a hill leading into the stadium. Unfortunately, I’ve probably made my presence known, as 190 lbs of flailing sasquatch does not tread lightly. As we enter the stadium, Travis kicks it in and I can’t respond. I hear the watch go off a little earlier than I had expected, which probably means (with the certified course) I’ve navigated a little sloppily through those 10kers. I can make out the clock as I enter the stadium and see 19:30’s. It seems to take forever to make it to the line, but I manage to sprint it out to get a 19:49 chip/19:50 gun time. Good enough for 3rd overall, 5 seconds behind Travis and 32 behind the winner, 15 year old French Joseph (19;17). Definitely not one of my faster times but not too bad considering all the distance in the past month and lack of speedwork. Any Brandenburg beatdown is always a plus as well.


Results:
Half marathon: Annie Noffsinger was not only the women’s winner but the first runner to cross the finish line. She possesses the anti-Blue Shoes trait of looking perfect and effortless in running a 1:28:12. Jen Lybrand was 2nd female and third person to cross the line in 1:37. Third place was Denise Knight in 1:42. These ladies definitely put the guys to shame. Men’s winner was Derek Boucher in 1:33, followed by John Mouzakis and Andrew “Co”. I assume the name got cut off. Drew rode his 1:45 pacer duties to second masters. Naomi Rabon won female masters with Alsena Edwards 3rd . Triathlete Bill Wiseman won 2nd male grandmasters , while Renee McCormick and Donna Freeman won 2nd and 3rd female grandmasters. Age groupers: Pam Nadolski was 3rd in the 40-44 as a pacer. Chris Fawver crushed a PR (1:48:08) on this tough course en route to a 3rd in the 40-44 men. Pam Rodriguez was 1st in the 45-49. Queen Sue Weaver was 2nd in the 50-54. Jim Manning and Patrick McCormick were 2-3 in the 60-64. King Rich Weaver and Michael Lambert were 1st and 3rd in the 70+.
10k: As expected, Justin Bishop smoked the competition in 35:49. Steven Hicks and Neil Waldrop were a distant 2nd and 3rd. Among the women, Kelli Rembert and Barbara Turner were surprise winners with Kelli getting the lean at the tape for the win. Sara Bonner was 3rd , only 20 seconds behind.
TDC pointsmaster Matt Mcgrievy got 2nd masters, Jim Williams 3rd grandmasters. Lynn grimes, Teresa Harrington and Lois Leaburn swept the female grandmasters. Age groupers: reese Petruzzi won the 15-19. Brie McGrievy won the 40-44. Gretchen Lambert was champion of the 45-49. Joe Robinson took the 55-59. Pete Poore and Patti Lowden were 65-69 winners, while Peter Mugglestone and Ken Lowden won the 70+.
5k : Barbara Brandenburg was 3rd female overall. Brandenburg, Bill Bender and Pete O’Boyle took male masters. Chantal faure and Colleen Vowles were top 2 female masters. Sabine McGrievy was 2nd in the 2-10. Daniel Patrick won the 25-29. Juliet Glover won the 35-39, with Kathryn Livingston 2nd. Shenequa Coles won the 45-49. Tug Quarles and Dave Hale were 1st and 3rd in the 55-59, both coming back from injury.Bob Petruzzi was 2nd in the 60-64, while Sandra Manning was 3rd among the women. Alex Ponomarev and Leeds Barroll were top 2 in the 65-59. Henry Holt and Rocky Soderberg were top 2 in the 75+.
https://www.strictlyrunning.com/json/Index_JS_C4.asp?uYear=2018&uRaceId=2752&uEvent=5k

True to the Brew Half Marathon – Croft State Park- Spartanburg, SC- 9/29/18

The True to the Brew Half Marathon is the second in a possible series of races highlighting the Palmetto Trail, put together by  Palmetto Conservation and promoted by Erin Roof’s company, GRIT endurance.  I loved the first race in the series, a flat and fast 6.5 miler on the Peak to Prosperity trail in April, complete with tons of beer and music at the finish. I was all in when Erin announced this trail half, sponsored by RJ rockers brewery and running through Croft State Park, where I camped earlier this year. Unfortunately,  unlike a certain Supreme Court nominee, I don’t keep a very good calendar, so I didn’t completely think this one through.  Sure enough, I’m putting up my August/Sept/Oct months on my office wall, when I notice the end of September. Ruh Roh. Table Rock 50k Sept 22, True to the Brew half Sept 29.  This was going to suck.

As noted from last week, my entire lower half was pretty much useless in the days following the 50k. Not to mention the epic chafing that had me walking like a bow legged sailor with VD for the rest of the weekend. I did manage a 2 mile shakeout on Monday and two 4 milers on Tues and Wednesday, but even these short jaunts were pretty rough. Legs like cinder blocks. I tried not to hate Tracy McKinnon’s strava when he posted a 10 miler at 7 min pace the Monday after beating me at Table Rock by over an hour. Damn that ultra beast.

Fellow racing drinking buddies Rob THE YERG Yerger and Drew Williams decided to join me this time. There was an alcohol restriction at Croft, so we had to make sure we got true to our brews at packet pickup instead, which was held at RJ Rockers on Friday night in Spartanburg.  They give you a free Palmetto trail pale ale coupon in the race packet,  but I also had a flight of some of their pale ale/IPAs. I made a point not to get wrecked like I did in Morganton before the 50k. Even though this was a hell of a lot shorter, 13.1 miles on destroyed legs was going to be tough enough. Hotel accomodations were significantly better than the sketch Days Inn from last week, though I had to do an epic late night grocery run to procure my race breakfast of choice, Pepperidge Farm cinnamon raisin bread. Don’t leave home without it.

Showing up the next morning I was definitely not feeling it. Between the dark early morning and the 20 minute drive to the start, my piriformis wanted to get crazy tight. I decided to skip any warmup because I was probably going to be slow as hell anyway on the race course.

Since this is a Tour de Columbia race (we bend the geographic rules if there is beer and Erin involved I guess), there was a decent Columbia contingent. Mike Nance was on board to pull a hell of a double – he was going to do the half in the morning and the “Beerlay” 8 mile and 4 beer relay in Greenville later that day. #hardcore status for that for sure. Lynn Grimes, David Nance (with Jenny Prather for support), Roy Shelley, Gabe Hipps, Darby Shinn, Mike and Janice Compton, Kara Clyburn, Michael Beaudet, Will and Amanda Rowan and Matt Gregory were some of the familiar faces.

With the start, we had a short run through the grass and a paved road at Cedar Springs church before almost immediately plunging into singletrack trail. I saw Drew and Nance take off and leave me in the dust almost immediately. It is a little disheartening when you see 2 age groupers kick your ass from the get-go, but I knew this race was going to be all about just finishing. I tried my best early on to at least maintain a brisk pace, because I knew my endurance was probably going to be shot. Ran through the first few miles in high 8 /low 9 pace. It felt faster than that, but this was decidedly not the peak to prosperity section – plenty of rolling technical trail and very little flat. Yerg was also feeling the 50k pain from last week, so he dropped off pretty early. I ran for a good while with Gabe Hipps , though I could definitely see he had the fresher legs. Eventually he and another dude left me, but I was able to keep up enough to see them to reassure me I was going the right way. The course was pretty well marked, but generally I will find a way to go off track if you can. The middle miles of the race on the Lake Johnson section of the trail were nice, since there seemed to be a fair amount of flat open dirt road. Any section where I could just relax and jog for awhile was awesome for me, because the singletrack is definitely a challenge for someone with less than cat-like agility. Particularly with 50k legs.

By mile 8 though, things were getting pretty rough. The flat road sections had disappeared, and all of a sudden I’m doing some serious climbing. At some point, I finally give in and succumb to a bout of the walksies. Luckily, just as I do, I reach the top of the monstrous hill. I double fist some water and the volunteers tell me its all downhill from here. I originally thought to the finish, of which I was sorely mistaken. They were right about the next half mile or so, which was a glorious downhill. Soon afterward though, I was back doing switchbacks and inclines again. There were some more walksies thrown in, though I tried to keep it to a minimum, because the legs and body in general wanted me to crawl into the fetal position in the pinestraw.  I started seeing more horse poop at this point, which actually motivated me. Not because of some bizarre fetish, but I remember lots of horse trails from my previous trip, and I knew the finish is right where we camped. The last few miles are a blur. At some point the forest opened up with a big weird valley of fallen and cut down trees. I have no idea what that was about, but of course the trail wound up and down and sapped any remaining energy I had. Finally I came upon the finish area. I knew at mile 12 I had an outside chance at a sub 2 hour finish, so I started kicking it in as I rounded the horse area. Just as I planned to headless chicken it to the finishing arch, a volunteer told me to run the other way. OH NO. I was deathly afraid there was some mile long loop or something and I was definitely on fumes. Fortunatelu, it was only an extra quarter mile, but damned if it didn’t rip the soul from my body. I cold actually see Gabe again at this point, but had no chance of catching him. I crashed through the finish arch just as the clock flipped to 1:59.  Just wrecked. So not a great performance, but  not too bad considering the gimp legs. Good enough for 10th overall and 3rd masters.

Drew ended up crushing the win in 1:43, with Michael Pryor 2nd and Nance third. The women’s winner, RWB’s Birte Fretwell from Columbia, actually was the second person to finish. She killed it! Jennifer Lee and Michelle Flemming were 2nd and 3rd.

Age groupers: Gabe Hipps finished 2nd master in 1:58. Matt Gregory won the 30-34. Darby Shinn and Roy Shelley were champions of the 50-54. Mike Compton and Lynn Grimes were tops in the 65-69. Kara Clyburn was 3rd in the 40-44 women. Janice Compton was 3rd in the 60-64 women.

Special note – I noticed Kristin Weaver and Ian Loughlin at the finish with Jenny, which I thought was an awfully long way to drive to support a friend.  Kristin pulled me aside and told me the real reason. David had told them to come since he had a surprise in his race vest – an engagement ring. David had a rough day on the course and we all kept nervously awaiting his arrival. Apparently he had a long speech planned out, but all he could muster at the finish was to drop a knee and pop the question. You can tell from Jenny’s reaction that she was genuinely surprised and of course said yes. Really cool to get to see this – congrats guys!

Table Rock 50k -Morganton, NC -9/22/18

Soleil, Yerg, Cobb, Marion, Dean, Tracy, Andy

As it seems, the fateful night was sometime in mid-April. The Ville to Ville Relay, the beer-themed race from Asheville to Greenville, where my team, the Carebeers, where crashed out in an air bnb in Black Mountain, NC. As the Airbnb was hosted by one of Matt’s old college friends, and in the spirit of the theme of the weekend, many beers were had that night. Just before I went to bed, Tracy McKinnon tagged me in a facebook post about a mountain 50k called the Table Rock Ultra. With craft IPAs running through my veins, I impulsively threw down the 90 bucks and declared myself an ultramarathoner- to- be. In classic Alex fashion, I woke up the next morning to the confirmation email and asked the same question David Byrne asked in 1983, “MY GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE??”

Elevation profile from hell

Months passed, and I thought surely I would train for something as monumental (for me) as running 31 miles. Bear in mind, I don’t really match up well to an ultra marathon. I live for garmins, certified courses, chip timed starter mat go-all-out road races. I’m not used to slogging all day in the woods and worrying about food and chafing. But September kept approaching, and I wasn’t getting my ass out in the woods much. To my credit, I did the Grandfurther 25k in July and the Vertical Mile 18 miler in June so I guess these 3-4 hour runs could qualify as “training”. But hey, no one is going to mistake either of these for ultras. Plus, Table rock was supposed to be equally hard terrain and double the distance. The last marathon I did was in 2016 and the longest run I did on the roads all summer was probably 16 miles. This was going to be ugly.

But as underprepared as I was, I am also equally stubborn. No way was I going to back down, though it sure was tempting to opt for the 30k they also had. But 30k finishers got a medal and 50k finishers got a HOODIE. I was all about getting an ultra hoodie. All my 5ker friends would be so jealous.
I drove up to Morganton the night before with fellow race traveler/bad influence Rob “THE YERG” Yerger. We drove up early on Friday, dropped off our stuff at a decidedly sketch Days Inn and headed straight to Catawba Brewing for packet pickup. Like the uber nerds that we are, we got there right as they started at 5pm. We did a flight of Catawba beers and ran into Soleil from the Harbison Trail runners as well as Jen Ward and Betsy Long from the Camden-Lugoff crowd. Tour de Morganton part II was at Fonta Flora Brewery with more of the HTR crew with Ken and Jill Hinely, and Randy Smith. I was perfectly fine to call it a night after that, and Yerg is usually dead to the world at 8 pm, but he really wanted to try yet another brewery, appropriately named Sidetrack Brewing. Between the breweries and a Greek feast later at Yianni’s, this was probably not an optimal prerace strategy.

Flight #1 at Catawba. Beer snobbing with the Rhubarb Gose

Sure enough my sleep was crap, I was all dehydrated and we won’t speak of the colonic destruction that commenced at the Morganton Days Inn. With about 4 hours of sleep, an unsteady tummy and my body generally a ball of anxiety we headed to the race start/finish, Steele Creek Campground. We got there well before the start (7 am), and it was dark and already uncomfortably warm. I am not an anxious person, but I was suddenly struck with the realization I had no idea what I was doing and was probably woefully unprepared for what was supposed to be a 7-8 hour brutal race. I kept going over my gear, which included a Nathan hydration vest, a couple of granola bars, some Fritos (my survival food from vertical mile), band aids and toilet paper. I said a little prayer to my colon I wouldn’t have to use that last one.  Soleil and Rob were trying to calm me down but I was pretty much a wreck.

Yerg not quite awake, Soleil ready to go

After a short pre-race briefing we were off. I was in full jog mode from the get go, 10ish minute pace. The first mile was through the campground and across a completely open grass field. The majority of the HTR group was ahead from the start but I was dead set on my “all-day long” pace. Well, until we hit the first creek crossing and trail area. All of a sudden everybody was walking and I’m trapped in a long conga line. My mind can’t wrap itself around walking this early into a 31 mile race , so I pull off like a jungle elephant and stampede through about 10 people and break out into a clearing. The rest of the initial 4.8 miles is on a rolling grassy wide open road to the first aid station, “Gods Country Road” (cue the Joshua Tree). I had decided to break the whole race down into aid stations, written on my arm per Yerger protocol. Speaking of Yerg, I got frisky in the first few miles and passed him and Hinely. I felt pretty good early on, since I had about 4 days rest leading up to the race. I managed to pass Yerg and Hinely, and I could see Dean pretty far ahead. I cruised into God’s Country road feeling pretty fresh. Filled up my water bottles. I figured out pretty early on that my hydration bladder tasted all plasticky and probably less than sterile so I was basically carrying 5 pounds of dead weight. Still, I was so afraid of my grandfurther dehydration incident that I wasn’t going to bail on the H2O just yet. The next station was at just over 10 miles. This section was initially a rolling mountain road but quickly narrowed down to single track and multiple creek crossings. Rob had told me there were two creeks but there had to be at least 4 in this section. There was one technical part near a huge waterfall and I had minor PTSD from my cliff dive in 2013. Me and a guy named Kellyn from Raleigh were pretty much running together, which made sense since we realized our road racing times were pretty much identical. I’m jibbajabbing some story when all of a sudden its SONOFABITCH WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT. Sure enough 4-5 wasps decended upon me and machine gun stung me. I put some pep in my step and plunged into the creek in an attempt to wash out the venom. Yeah, that doesn’t work. Felt like someone jabbed me with a needle in my leg and arm the rest of the race. Awesome. A little while later, a few guys had caught up with us, when suddenly I hear BEES BEES MOVE MOVE MOVE. Me and Kellyn launch into  a freaking 50k sprint, launching over technical trail as fast as possible while 5 middle aged dudes ran for their lives. These bees were not effing around. Kellyn went back and attended to one of his friends, who apparently was throwing up and not doing well afterward. Hope he was ok. I pushed on and eventually reached a Barkley style gate with a turn onto another mountain road going uphill. There were a few people coming back down already, which I initially thought might be 30kers, but that didn’t make sense with them starting 15 minutes behind. I soon realized it was a short out and back to the aid station. I trudged up the road super slow but maintained at least a jog. I never saw Tracy but Dean showed up just before I hit the 2nd aid station. This was 10 plus miles in, so I figured some food might be good. They had PB and J quarter sandwiches so I stuffed a few of those down and refilled my water bottles. The next several miles were all wide open mountain road. I thought about tracking down Mr Schuster but remembering the elevation profile, I was plenty skeered. I knew the 16 mile aid station to the table rock summit at mile 19 was a couple thousand feet elevation gain. Yeah, that wasn’t going to be flat and fast. I managed to run/jog the whole rolling mountain road section all the way to mile 16. Tummy started acting up a little and I started scouting out some poop friendly area but I couldn’t imagine the nightmare of trying to pop a squat with my wrecked legs and everything soaked with sweat and creek water. YUCK. Luckily the colon calmed down.  Hit up some more PB and J’s and a couple shots of coke at the mile 16 aid station. I knew the next aid station was the summit. And damn they weren’t kidding with that elevation profile. Walksies hit immediately as I was hit with a trail straight up the GD mountain. Amazingly the race leader passed me coming back down just as I hit the summit trail. Dayum, dude.

The Course

So it was about 3 miles to the summit, but damned if it wasn’t my slowest 5k ever. I walked most of the first part en route to a 25 minute mile. Blazing. At some point I decided to jettison the funky hydration bladder and dumped a couple of pounds. After the initial climb were some possibly runnable areas, though I was also having to let the lead pack pass. The female lead was killing it though was sporting a bloody leg. #hardcore status for sure. I eventually met up with Tracy, who had to be a couple miles ahead of me. He warned me of the “conga line” of tourists up ahead who were not too keen on letting racers pass. Sure enough, a whole group of older hikers were also navigating the summit trail not too far ahead. By this time they were accepting their unfortunate timing and were pretty good giving the sweaty hydration pack crew  the right of way. It seemed to take forever, but suddenly the trail broke open into an incredible view for miles around. They had a photog just under the summit and I tried my best not to look like hell, though the result was mixed.

Table Rock Summit

I took a few pics at the top and some horrendous selfies before descending back down. The actual aid station was in the table rock summit parking lot about a quarter mile down. The Rock Hill Striders had an awesome spread with everything you could want. More PB and J’s and coke with more water refills.

Summit

Dean passed me not too far from the aid station, and I think he actually went the wrong way initially. He is a master downhill runner though, so I knew he would kill me most of the way back down. Sure enough, I struggled not busting my ass the whole 3 miles back down to the mile 16 aid station, which was also around mile 22.

I saw Jim Cobb not too far behind me, followed by Yerg, both Hinelys and Marion on the way down. At the 16/22 mile aid station I had to briefly convince one of the race dudes that I wasn’t on my way up. I told him I may have a sasquatch physique and a food baby full of PB and J squares, but this chunky boy can run. I guess he believed me.

The next section was promised as being nice and downhill, as we were cutting off a lot of distance of the initial 19 mile climb and making it back in 12. Sure enough there was a much more run-friendly soft trail for miles 22-25 and I actually managed to jog almost all of it. I was actually feeling pretty decent at this point, maybe all the “rest” from the power hike up the summit and the PB and J fuel was kicking in. Eventually I made it down to the area where the original mile 6 was and I knew we were headed back towards home. This would be reassuring, except the good feeling of the early 20’s miles was fading quickly. The heat of the day had really ramped up and I could feel the body asking me WTF did I think I was doing. It was refreshing somewhat to trudge through some of the cold creeks but I could feel a case of the cramps coming on as I stepped up out of one of the crossings. Ruh roh. At least we weren’t back in bee city again.
Mile 25 greeted me with a rolling gravel road that seemed a lot more uphill than I remembered it the first time. Of course I was going in reverse this time. Walksies ensued on every climb, but I tried to run all the flats and downhills. There was another guy with me at this point and we formed a spontaneous soccer mom power walk group on the mountain road. Finally we made our way to the Gods Country Rd aid station again, the first and last one, 4.8 miles from the start/finish area. I was so close to home, but I was definitely a little worried. The heat was getting brutal, there was little shade coming back, and every part of my being wanted to stop right there. I loaded up on my last course of PB and J’s with a side dish of chips and coke, double fisted some water and headed out.
And wow it was whole lot of suck. First part out of Gods Country was a long, grassy and sunny incline that just killed me. I had gone through the aid station at 6 hours flat, and figured I had a chance at a sub 7 finish, but even that 12ish min pace average was highly questionable at the rate I was going. Walksies were happening every incline. I at least tried to approximate a jog on the downhills but hell even those were getting difficult with the jello under me that passed for my legs. I kept eying the Garmin and trying desperately to make it to each mile. 27…28…29… I managed to catch a few 30k stragglers but I wasn’t exactly blowing by them either. Right around mile 30 there was a patch of shady singletrack and a creek crossing I recognized from the first 10 minutes or so of the race. SO CLOSE. To the finish, and unfortunately also collapsing. Almost cramped in the creek again, but as I pulled out of the water I could see the field right before the campground. I decided that, hell or high water, I was going to run the rest in. And man, its not as close as it seems. Probably about a mile, and over a completely open, long grass field in the 85 degree heat. I summoned all the 95 degree famously hot Columbia afternoon training runs and embraced the hell. All out pace at this point was 9ish minutes, but I was going to finish dammit. Finally, FINALLY, the road turned and across the bridge I went into the campground. I glanced at the Garmin and saw a 6:59 and ramped it up a touch, an extremely feeble blue shoe kick. I was crushed though, because the clock flipped over to 7:00:00 literally 20 meters away from the finish arch. I crossed in a mixture of delirium and euphoria, grabbed my finisher hoodie and made a bee line for the shade. SO GLAD TO BE DONE. I crashed next to Dean, who had finished in 6:47 or so. Dean was calling out my name in a fog, laid out flat on his back. I sat down and my legs proceeded to straight lock up. Literally couldn’t move.

Thankfully Soleil, who unfortunately had a DNF, as well as Jen Ward (30k) helped us get water and not die. I’m forever thankful. Tracy, who finished in 5:45 and must have already showered, got me my celebratory beer. It took a good 15 minutes for me to return to the land of the living, but I was so excited to finally call myself an ultramarathoner! Best part – my official results had me at 6:59:26, breaking 7 hours after all. 40th out of 215.

KILL ME NOW

In the 50k overall, Reese Wells won in 5:00:56, with women’s champion Amanda Morris finishing in an amazing  5:02:58, third person to cross the finish. Male masters was won by Sonny Girardi in 5:47:15, with our own Tracy Mckinnon less than a minute back. Female masters was won by Valerie Wrenholt in 6 hours flat.

Columbia contingent:

Tracy McKinnon 5:48

Dean Schuster 6:48

Alex McDonald 6:59

Sid Tyner 7:00

John Corbett 7:06

Raymond Hrin 8:01

Jill Hinely 8:05

Jared Holt 8:07

John Ryan 8:27

Martin Herbkersman 8:28

Scott McDOnald 8:28

Rob Yerger 8:28

Andy Richards 8:33

Ken Hinely 9:10

Marion Hinson 9:10

Jonathan Walvoord 9:19

Lets not forget the 30k – Chad Motz won among the men in  3:24, with Jennings Garry winning the women’s title in 3:38.

Columbia area finishers:

Alfie Hipps 4:47

Bridgett Bailey 5:06

Chris Claypool 5:16

Jennifer Ward 5:44

Kathryn Britt 5:50

Will Britt 5:50

Betsy Long 6:14

Rhonda Ware 7:19

Overall this was an awesome race  – scenic, well-organized and awesome swag. Great post race tacos and beer as well. Major props to Tanawha Adventures for putting on the race and White Blaze Marketing for providing on-course pics.

http://ultrasignup.com/results_event.aspx?did=56223

tablerock

Race to the Finish 5k – Lexington, SC – 9/8/18

rtf1.jpg

The Race to the Finish is apparently in its 3rd year, and is put on by Northside Baptist Church in Lexington to help support their missionary work, with the race promotion through Run Hard and timing by Fastrak. It was actually a late add to the Tour de Columbia, though they picked a good weekend with no other races going on. That being said, these small races away from downtown pop up on my radar, as everyone knows I am an unabashed trophy hunter.  Who wants to run against fast people when you can inflate your ego against kids and couch to 5kers? Duh. Anyway, this race looked like at least a fair chance for the ultimate holy grail of trophy hunting, the overall win. Of course when you are a slightly less than ripped Sasquatch, you have to depend on a little bit of luck.

When I showed up, the early crowd looked promising. No super lean types, no singlets, lots of race T shirt wearers. Perfect. Then a couple of high school kids show up, some lean beast in a blue singlet, and to top it off Plex arrives on the scene. It was looking bad for top 5 even. Oh well, such is life for an aging Clydesdale. Didn’t seem to be any known age groupers, so that was a plus. Code decided to take this week off  after basically beating me at the Justin Pepper 5k, though I decided to handicap myself an extra quarter mile by touring the chapin baseball fields before finding the finish. Angel was in Connecticut, Gomez was busy coaching River Bluff at the Coaches Classic , and no sign of Striggles, Whitney, Drew, Nance, Yerg  or Midden. I should be ok, though one must always be wary of the superfit soccer dads.

The course was totally new to me, so I tried to study it the best I could, trying to avoid another 5.5 k like last Saturday. It was pretty useless though, since there was a lot off the road and I had zero idea of the elevation change. In Lexington, though, you can pretty much count on hills. It was also two loops, a course type I struggle with, since I want to headless chicken it every time I see the red numbers of the finish.

There was a decent crowd on hand for a small race. The hardcore contingent of Alex Ponomarev, Leeds Barroll, Rocky Soderberg and Henry Holt were on hand. Andy Mikula, Hou-Yin Chang, and Travis Nichols were some other familiar faces.

The start was in the church parking lot and immediately takes you up a hill to a stretch on 378.  I got passed by a bunch of teenagers, the lead woman, Plex and singlet guy immediately,  so my trophy hunting appeared to be a complete bust. Luckily I wasn’t leading, because I would have plowed right into highway 378. A giant truck right in front of me suggested I might want to use the sidewalk.  You go down the sidewalk for 100ish meters followed by a left turn back into the church grounds, which includes a decent size athletic complex for the Christian academy that is also housed there. The road towards the fields is awesome, nice and downhill. This was going to be piece of cake! But wait… all of a sudden Plex and singlet guy disappear. All of a sudden there’s an arrow, and you go from cruising down the pavement into a sharp turn into a narrow steep trail up to the football fields. Yeah, that is no bueno. My 5k pace gets slowed to a slog trudging up a dirt hill to the football field. I try and pick it up as we do a lap around the field, but the dirt hill has exacted a heavy toll and all the dew on the grass makes the air feel like a wet blanket. But wait, there’s more! Looks like the football field is essentially the turnaround point of each 1.5 mile loop, so here we go making up all that elevation we lost from highway 378. One of the teenagers is gassed, so I pass him and one of his friends, each obviously shamed by letting a giant albino masters runner beat them. I soon find that the whole way back to the finish area is uphill and cross country. Yeah, no sub 20 would be had today. I think mile 1 came back in 6:40ish, a shade faster than my road half marathon pace. More trudging up dirt mountains ensue, and by the time I’m back on pavement I am pretty much toast. Just in time to start lap 2 on that same opening hill. Yay! On the second stretch of 378 I’m pretty much on my own, though I can see Travis, another young guy and the lead girl up ahead. I try and save as much energy on the long downhill because the second climb is going to be brutal.

Up to the football field feels like death, with the top turning into a glorified power hike, yet not quite the walksies. Rounding the end zone, I realize I’ve made up some ground on the group in front. I was pretty sure these were 4th and 5th guys along with 1st female. Either way, I knew all of these guys had gone out hard and the course was taking its toll. My initial laziness seemed to be paying off some as I felt a little better on the second lap. It’s mostly just psychological I think, since I hate a double looper. Off the football field the long climb to the parking lot begins, and the heat and humidity are really making themselves known. I keep inching closer and closer to the pack in front though. Mile 2 was around 6:50ish, so I was going to be lucky to break 21 much less 20. With under a half mile to go, the ground levels out just a bit and I figure it’s go time. I’m in a world of hurt, but I catch all three of the pack just as we hit asphalt. Finally in my element, I go to full throttle up and start sprinting to the finish arch…which apparently is the wrong way. Travis yells out as I go blazing into the lot, and somehow I manage to veer at full speed back onto the course and losing only a couple of steps. Of course, we have to go up the opening hill halfway for a third time, then careening back downhill towards the church. Having probably overestimated the distance of my kick and the general beatdown of the brutal course, I am cruising in on fumes in the final stretch. I manage to cross in 20:48, 5th overall, 1st in AG.  Hard to gauge this race without the usual guys I race against, but all in all a decent effort with a fast finish. Reminds me somewhat of the old Crooked 5k they used to have in Chapin – interesting mix of roads and cross country. Much harder hill-wise than that one though.

In the overall, the lean singlet dude Tim Sestak took the win in 18:51. Apparently he’s an assistant coach on Jud Brooker’s CIU team right out of college. Plexico was 2nd in 19:25. If Plex is running my usual road 5k time, that gives you an idea of how tough this course is. High schooler Nathan Andes was 3rd in 20:14.  I initially thought I was 4th but I missed 31 yo Paul Jackson who finished in 20:28 for that position. The women’s win was taken by 19 year old Margaret Gaither, who got the “join the Columbia Running Club” full court press after the race from the CRC faithful. She showed up at the CRC summer social with the Fischer family so clearly that training paid off. Dawn Sullivan was 2nd and 3rd was taken by the  race director’s daughter, 11 yo Lydia Metz.

Age grouper honor roll:  Lynn Grimes won the 61+ female. Travis Nichols was first in the 21-30. Andy Mikula was tops in the 31-40. Alex Ponomarev and Leeds Barroll were top 2 in the male 61+, though Henry Holt and Rocky Soderberg would have also been age group winners in the 75+ by traditional age groups. FYI, the Tour points are always calculated on the traditional 5 year age groups as on the web site. Hope everyone stays safe this weekend with Hurricane Florence on its way. What was once a 4 race week on the tour is looking doubtful with the Race for our Troops postponed to November 11 and the Tunnel to Towers canceled for Friday.