Vertical Mile Challenge – Rocky Face Recreation Area – Hiddenite, NC – 6/17/18


Back in January, I made a return trip to Helen, GA to run the Hogpen 5k/18k double dip with the Harbison Trail Runners and fellow beer/running freak the Yerg. At some point, between a mountain top snowstorm and multiple post race beers and drinking from “das boot”,  Rick and Dean kept mentioning this race, the Vertical Mile. I think in my delirious, frozen and half intoxicated state, I actually thought it was just a really tough mile race in the mountains. Later, Rick kept asking me my precise birthdate and I wondered if he was with the CIA, monitoring my generally bizarre behavior. On the way back home, I learned that I was officially forced signed up to do the Vertical Mile. Apparently “Uncle Ricky”, Rick’s race registration happy alter ego, had struck again.  Twenty five dollars was the price of admission to enjoy watching me suffer.

But it was only a mile, right?? Yeah, not so much. It’s a mile of elevation gain, spread out over 17 miles and 8 loops of an insanely mountainous 2.2 mile course, called the “Stairway to Heaven” trail. But hey, 2.2 miles? As my words with friends/duathlon nemesis Tenacious J is wont to say, “how hard could it be?”. We’ll get to that shortly.

Rick and I attempted to drum up support for the vertical mile trip, but promoting a grueling 17 mile mountain race in mid-June is a bit of a hard sell. Still, Rick, Dean, Ken Hinely, Michael Nance, Justin Bishop and Jennifer reeves were game for trying their luck.  Rob and I were not fans of the proposed 4:30 am start for a day trip up to Hiddenite, so we decided to go up Friday afternoon. As is de riguer for trips with the Yerg, we made sure to include two brewery stops on the way.  We had quality pit stops with flights at Primal Brewery in Huntersville and a tiny place tucked in an office park called Ass Clown Brewery.  Decent beers all around but I like our Conquest/River Rat/Swamp Cabbage options in Columbia better. We eventually made our way to the metropolis of Statesville, NC, where our hotel was. Still 30 minutes from the race site but it was the closest I could find. Our Holiday Inn had a lovely view of the interstate and Miss Priscilla’s adult novelty store. Beautiful. I was tired of driving so we walked to the fine dining establishment of 1849 wings and pizza. No idea about the name but I think I ate a weeks supply of calories in wings and raw fries, essentially loading up the colonic cannon for the next day. We went back to the hotel to figure our supplies for the next day – I was literally in mid sentence describing our raceday game plan when I look over and see the Yerg already in a stage 4 coma. 7:47 pm.  The Yerg is a party animal. He made it all the way to 8:30 in Helen this year.  I made the Ingles run myself and tried to tour Statesville, but realizing it perhaps was not the go-to tourist destination, returned back to the hotel. I was probably out by 10.


We were up early the next day and got out by 7 am from the hotel after a multi-stage colonic destruction wreaked by the 1849 wings and Ass Clown beer. We met the others from the Columbia contingent and set up our camp – complete with Gamecock tailgating canopy, chairs and the official Blue Shoes race table. The others had GU and all kinds of stuff but all I brought was water and some Gatorade. Maybe I hadn’t thought this through…

About 100 or so people at the start. Most of these people looked pretty fit, and there was huge, sheer rock wall just to the side of us. I was getting nervous. Plus, it was already pretty warm at the 8 am start time. This might be pretty tough. With the gun we were all let loose on the first part of the course.  Started on pavement and then a gentle rolling trail through the forest. Oh man, this is easy.  Maybe a half mile in there’s a sudden drop and climb out of what feels like a dry creek bed.  There’s a slight incline through the forest for a few steps and then …. HOLY #$%^&% dear 8.2 lb screaming sweet baby Jesus.


As I should have surmised from the race site being called “Rocky Face recreational area”, here was the “Rocky Face”.  Wide open and exposed to the sun, the rocky face looked to be at least double the steepness of anything I’ve ever considered running, quarry crusher included.  I tried jogging the first 10 feet and my quads gave me a definitive EFF YOU, and walksies ensued. And I wouldn’t even call this a power walk. I was hunched over like Quasimoto crawling up like an arthritic grandpa, sweating like a pig.  There is a bit of shade roughly halfway through, which only serves to block your view of the worst of the incline, which is so steep that you could probably crawl/climb just as fast. At the top of this part of the face was the main aid station manned by some very enthusiastic volunteers blasting an array of 70’s and 80’s rock classics. Lap 1 was Highway to Hell. Yeah, no kidding. It levels out to just a regular hill right after that and dumps you into the forest again. Oooh, maybe this is the trail back down.  Let me start jogging again! NOPE. More insane climbing and the legs veto anything but my granny mall walker stride again. We come out of the forest and there’s another freaking rocky face. Mother of pearl.  We hit the forest one more time and finally, FINALLY, I see the trail back down.



You’d think the trail back down would be a relief. You would be wrong. OK, so it wasn’t rocky face wish-you-were-dead bad. However, my legs, which were now a mixture of jello and hamburger from the brutal ascent, were now falling downhill as fast as I could go. Which wasn’t really that fast since it was switchback after switchback. My Sasquatch physique is perhaps less than cat-like agile, so it was more like a controlled elephant stampede. Towards the end of 2 miles and there was a just a little flat stretch. I tried to ramp up the speed there and my toe caught a root, almost sending me into the dirt and releasing multiple F bombs into the air. Following the little flat part were two more rocky faces going down, the last of which was so steep I started having flashbacks to by cliff dive in Hawaii. Finally, you hit some steps and you’re back on the pavement and through the finish line for lap 1. JUST SEVEN MORE TO GO. Holy hell what have I gotten myself into.


I should note that I was dead last among the Columbia guys at this point. Hitting the rocky face for lap 2 I managed to catch up with Yerg and Hinely, both of whom were hating life. I ramped up my awkward power walk to pass these guys, though we stayed together for most of lap 2 I believe. I had to make a portapotty stop at the end of lap 2 since I was hydrating like a machine. Temps were approaching 80 degrees already. I managed to catch Rob and Ken again on lap 3 and passed them. I was running scared on the downslope but fairly soon I was on my own. On Lap 4  I was still doing ok, basically running all the way to the rocky face, walking every bit of the rest of the long climb, then running back down. Near the bottom of lap 4 I started feeling a bit mentally foggy and I realized I didn’t prepare at all for this race. I suddenly remembered the times from the 2017 race, most of which were 3.5 hours plus. This may be a 17 miler but ran more like a marathon. A grueling , unbelievably hilly marathon. I crossed lap 4 in like 1 hour and 48 minutes, so I was probably lucky to do sub 4 hours. I hate gels but this was desperation time. The table had a ton of gels of all kinds, so I stole a strawberry kiwi roctane.

For those interested, you can make a strawberry kiwi roctane at home. Just eat a bunch of strawberries and kiwis, and maybe a couple spoons of sugar. Then throw up in a bag, and heat it to 80 degrees. Voila! I just dumped the thing in my mouth and swallowed it with some water, trying to keep it down like Kobiyashi on hot dog #50.  After I was sure there wouldn’t be a reversal of fortune, I eyed a big bag of Fritos. I’m no huge Fritos fan, but I know they are salty as hell. I grabbed a fistful of corn chips in my hand and stuffed my face like a hungry raccoon,  taking off running and chewing at the same time, washing it down with some water. It was not a glamorous sight. As it turns out my lunch of puke flavored roctane and Fritos was quite the winning combination. I was back to just destroyed quads and hamstrings, minus the overlay of hypoglycemic delirium.  Good times.

Laps five and six were just brutal. Over two hours in, the rocky face was becoming a giant skillet, radiating the almost 90 degree heat back in your face.  Lots of people were just stopped on the rocks in the few spots of shade available. I just focused on maintaining constant forward movement.  Even did some side steps and backwards walking as one woman suggested to me. Anything to keep me going and avoiding sizzling on the skillet any more than I had to. It was great to have the 70’s FM radio gold contingent at the top of the worst stretch, giving out more water. I swear I must have consumed the equivalent of 6 or more full bottles, and I was perpetually thirsty.  I complemented course number one of my prix fixe lunch with another serving of frites de salt paired with a nice vintage purple G2. Delicious.  Loops 5 and 6 were my slowest, right at 30 minutes for the 2.2 mile loop. Blazing.

Lap 7 was the first time I started getting excited I may finish this thing. Legs were just destroyed, and I was on the verge of tripping several times a loop by now since I could hardly lift my legs. But just 2 more times? I can wrap my head around that. Lap 7 on the skillet was really bad. I looked up one time and saw some dude laying down under a bush, which I thought was funny until I realized it was Nance. Nance had caught a wicked case of the groin crampsies and was trying to let it subside. I offered help but he said he was OK. I was about ready to take on the nap on the rocks myself…if they weren’t 80 million degrees.  I dropped down the steps and was jogging towards the timing arch on lap 7 when I hear a “DONT LET ME LAP YOU” behind me. I look back and see Justin descending the steps on his 8th and final lap. OH HELL NO. I took off at 5:00 pace for 25 meters to ensure I didn’t endure a lap of shame. It about killed me.  I saw 3:12 in the clock which meant I should easily break 4 hours if I just keep going. I ran into J Reeves at this point, and she unfortunately had to pull out after her lap 4. I grabbed one last water and set off on my final lap.  Every step was killer on the skillet and  I think the 70’s rock crew were getting more water at this point because they were gone. I didn’t care because I was hell bent on finishing this thing. Once reaching the downhill I powered down the trail as hard as I could go. I think I scared a pack of people just out for a hike on the trail, as they saw a sweaty albino sasquatch bearing down on them at full speed.  I very carefully went down the last steps since my legs were wet noodles by this point. Sprinted as best as I could and hit the finish right at 3:40, 19th overall.


I was just obliterated. Had to move around and try and cool down as much as possible, which is a little tough at 90 degrees. The misting stations were awesome, where Rick and Dean were camped out and cramping like crazy. Dean crushed a 3:17 while Rick did a 3:32. Justin seemed to be fine, posting a 3:12 and taking the Columbia win and 6th overall. Yerg finished soon after me at 3:44, so good thing I pushed the last loop. Mike Nance did 3:52 despite all the cramp lounging on the skillet. I’m impressed he could finish with cramping like that. Ken Hinely had another tough day (his 2017 vertical mile story is legendary) but he took 30 minutes off last year’s time in 4:29. Most importantly, he was the owner of the raccoon ravaged Fritos bag. I am forever grateful, and sorry, Ken.

Will there be a next year? I will have to see, or maybe just wait or an email from Uncle Ricky.






Get in the Pink 5k and Crawdaddy Dash 5k Double Dip – Columbia, Sc – 5/12/18


So I looked at this weekend and swore I wouldn’t double dip. I would show restraint, do one or the other, maybe even spectate or take pics at the one I wasn’t racing. Sounded like a good plan. But, there it was, just sitting there. A double dip that’s been set up now for a few years, so much so that Coleen Strasburger has taken to calling it the “Pink Daddy” – the Get in the Pink 5k/10k at 7:20/7:30 and the Crawdaddy Dash 5k at 9:00. So close together you could even run between the two races. Plus, I realized I hadn’t done my specialty, the 5k, in a long time. Air quotes on the “long” since it was the March for Meals on March 10. That’s still an eternity for me. Between the Palmetto 200, Boy scout camping, Cooper river,  a 6.5 mile trail race and 2 5ks in full costume, I hadn’t really raced a legit 3.1 in 6 weeks. I was barely in the top 10 overall on the Tour, and not even leading my age group (I see you Ivery Baldwin!). It was time to throw down two in one day.

As noted above, logistics would not be an issue. I wouldn’t even have to employ my advanced double dip skills like early packet up, parking position etc. Even the courses were relatively benign for this kind of thing – no major hills or brutality to deal with. Of course, I did feel slightly less hardcore knowing at least Roy Shelley and Coleen would be doing the expert level 10k/5k double. That is just nuts, especially on that GITP 10k course.

Still, waking up on race morning was that all too familiar feeling of dread, knowing I had ordered 40 minutes of pain on the breakfast menu. It didn’t help walking out the door and realizing Columbia was overanxious for July. Already 70 degrees and the sun was barely up. Awesome.

I got to GITP my customary hour early and warmed up with Silent H and Drew. Between Drew and a Striggles sighting, I knew I was sitting 3 deep in age group points before I even started. Damn these fast old dudes slumming it in the undercard. I was sweating like a whore in church doing a 9 minute pace mile and a half. This was going to suck even worse than I thought.

There was huge CRC representation in both races, and the 10k started 10 minutes before the 5, so I camped out at Devine and Millwood to take pics with head CRC photog Tracy Tisdale handling the main duties at the start line. 10k looked like I had slightly better odds but Phil Midden was there to make second in AG the best I could have done in the main event. A Kenyan guy was running to finally give Ashton some competition.

I was actually nervous strolling up to the start since the heat was killer and possibly producing an epic bonk. My strategy, as in all 5k doubles, was basically to go balls out in race 1 and just see what I have left in the second. “A” goal would be to break 20 in both, “B” goal would be to average out a sub 20, “C” goal was not to die. Really not sure how I would do. I spend so much of my training slogging out 9 minute miles that I never know what’s going to come out when I open up my Saturday morning can of whupass.


I lined up actually a row back to avoid a headless chicken start. Leeds and Alex Ponomarev were nearby with Johnathan Kirkwood, along with my aforementioned masters nemeses Striggles and Drew. The gun goes off and of course everybody takes off way too fast. I try and rein it in knowing this course well from several previous years. It’s basically a tale of two halves – first half is mostly flat to downhill, devine to adger to devereaux, all the way to Brennan elementary. Second half you get to make up all that downhill, returning on Kilbourne. it’s pretty gradual but it really doesn’t flatten out again until you’re almost done on Devine st. I put in a good effort until Devereaux, then lay off a bit and ride my significant gravitational advantage on the next half mile. I am concerned about my pace because Kirkwood and Andrew Ortaglia are just ahead of me. My encyclopedic race brain engages and knows these guys have hovered around 21 minutes recently. Kirkwood is known for his fast starts but not sure about Ortaglia. I am also pretty sure Madelyn Gomez is just behind me, and though she has gotten crazy fast, I do not take kindly to getting chicked by a 12 year old. Luckily my Garmin chimes in a 6:16 at mile 1 about halfway down Deverereaux, so definitely on sub 20 pace. There’s a slight dip and rise as we cross Trenholm and we pass by Barefoot John and Andy manning the water station. I tell them I’m disappointed in the lack of donuts and ceremonial Blue Shoes toilet paper from their relay aid station. Char may have been there too but its hard to scan the crowd at 5k pace. We turn the corner and Larry Jourdain is there to cheer on his crew, and I see Erin Miller just ahead. Erin may have been 8 miles into a workout before the race but I have no shame in taking  down anyone in a weakened state – just ask Nance, Drew or Brandenburg. The slow climb commences on Kilbourne after the turnaround, and I’ve managed to pass Kirkwood and Ortaglia, leaving only Erin to chase in the immediate vicinity. I can see Drew way up ahead, but, as predicted, he is soundly kicking my ass. Mile 2 comes back in a disappointing 6:32,  over the magic 6:27 sub 20 threshold but I know I’m still overall doing OK. I ramp it up as we near the Devereaux crossing with the back of the pack 5kers still going outwards. Erin gets confused , or perhaps misdirected by a volunteer, and suddenly turns left. I yell out to her as I go by and I see she is headed back on course. With a mile to go, I start firing up the blue shoes kick. The turn on Devine is nice to be heading home but it is still a long way to the finish. I can see Drew way up ahead but I’m all by myself now. Surprisingly I haven’t noticed the heat before, but out in the open I can feel the internal baking commence. I am deathly afraid of Erin chicking me at the finish so I crank it up a couple of notches even though I know that’s a dumb thing with another 5k to go at 9 am. I miss the mile 3 split (6:05) with all the gasping going on, and of course I can’t resist a little headless chicken at the finish. I hit the line at 19:24, 6th overall, a “consolation” 1st in AG since Striggles won and Drew got masters. I got the same number of age group points as overall points. In case you missed it, the 40-44 is no joke.


As mentioned, Striggles won easily in the 5k, running 17:04 over teenagers Jonathan Tan and Jacob Mangione. In the womens 5k, Erin took the win in 19:51 despite the extra mileage. Madelyn Gomez crushed a 19:55 for her first sub 20 at age 12. Dayum. Chelsea Baker was 3rd in 20:04. Drew and Lynn Long took the masters wins.

5k age groupers: Chris Conrick won the 11-14 with Max Miller 2nd. Ivery Baldwin won 2nd in the 40-44.  Jamie Gomez (Derek’s wife and Madelyn’s mom) won the 40-44 women. Ortaglia ad Kirkwood went 1-2 in the 45-49 with 20:19 and 20:34 respectively.  Dave Hale won 1st in AG (55-59) and is now 20 for 20 in age group placings this year.  Donna Freeman was 2d in the 55-59 women. Helene Lipe won the 60-64.   Leeds Barroll  and “Podium” Patti Lowden were champs of the 65-69.  Sharon Sherbourne took 3rd. Henry Holt won the 70+ plus in a squeaker – only 16 minutes ahead of second. Dang.

Oh yeah, there was the “main event” 10k too.  Harrison Kiriawi took the win in a shade over 33 minutes, with Ashton a few seconds behind in 2nd. Heath McDonald took 3rd. Purity Muwene crushed the field for the women’s win in sub 6 pace, with MC Cox 2nd and Jennifer Conrick 3rd.  Phil Midden and double dipper Coleen Strasburger were the masters winners.

10k age groups – Brittany Robbins was 3rd in the 15-19. Matt Gregory was 1st in the 30-34 with Joe Russ 3rd. Jennifer Lybrand won the 30-34 women with Wilson in tow. Silent H won the 50-54, with Phil Togneri taking the 55-59. Marie Queen won the 60-64. Pete Poore was tops in the 65-69 men, while Lynn Grimes and Brigitte Smith went 1-2 among the women. Peter Mugglestone was the champ of the 70+.

RACE #2 CRAWDADDY DASH – I had plenty of time in between races, which was good since my legs felt pretty wrecked. Everything was completely soaked, so I went from the TUS singlet to the CRC one. With my albino sasquatch physique, singlets are less than flattering but I needed every bit of ventilation on this ridiculously warm day. It was only going to be worse at the 9 am Crawdaddy start. Last year, Erin Roof bribed me with a free registration to run in special-ordered crawdad underwear (actually large boxer shorts), so I felt obliged to bring the pair out for their one day in the sun. My wife had put her sewing skills to work last year, making a waist tie and closing the flap so that wardrobe malfunctions didn’t occur. No one wants their junk flopping around at 5k pace. I ended up just throwing the boxers on over my swamplike shorts from GITP anyway.

Thanks to some scouting of the course this past week, I was able to secure a prime parking spot on Holt street, right next to a house for sale by realtor Henry Rollins. Rosewood is so punk.

I managed to sweat another gallon on the short walk to the packet pickup table, then my colon decided it wanted to double dip too. Thankfully I just missed the portapotty rush because the place was getting crowded quick. FYI,  the CIA could get anyone to talk if they lock them in a well used 80 degree portajohn. Unspeakable horrors.

Crawdaddy is known for a pretty big turnout, though a significant portion are just there to jog the thing and get their crawfish fest pass. Trey McCain was there to probably win, and Jeff and Shannon Godby were on hand to likely race in my vicinity. Coleen and Roy Shelley were there for part two of their hardcore 10k/5k double, while Donna Freeman opted for my less intense 5k/5k option. Stephanie Fischer (with her CRC winning daughters Pheobe and Lucy), Jay Hammond and Christie Martin were some of the familiar faces, along with fellow psychiatrist Nikki Campbell. It was good to see Kathryn Livingston (Cavanaugh) back racing again after having a baby.

I had no idea what to expect in this race. Legs still felt like death, and I just wasn’t feeling like a warm up. I figured if a 19:24 5k in the heat didn’t get them warmed up then doing a slog jog wasn’t going to help anyway.  I strode up to the line with zero idea how my body would react. This was pretty similar to my triple dip in February (albeit one hell of a lot warmer). My second race then was the Lagniappe 5k featuring a similar elevation climb out to Rosewood in the opening mile. In that race, my legs were uber tight and my first mile was just over 7 minutes, which is like marathon pace for me. If I was to have a shot at a double sub 20, I would have to do way better than that on the opening climb. Once you get to Rosewood, the rest of the course is pretty easy, especially a blazing downhill 2nd mile on Ott St.


With the gun, Shannon takes off like a rabbit, and I try to keep her from leaving me in the dust. Jeff is using me as a windbreaker, which is generally a good idea. The main climb is right out of the gate near the old Memorial stadium grounds. It’s pretty rough, but since the legs slogged up from Brennan an hour ago, they slipped back into race mode surprisingly easily. I’m able to make up some ground on the field after the hill plateaus and I catch Shannon just before the turn onto Rosewood. I have no idea what my pace is,  so luckily the mile 1 split is just as you hit Rosewood, 6:32. Not terrible considering the climb, so I just try and maintain the effort. I hit an open patch in the field and then try ramping up the pace to get some momentum going on the downhill stretch on Ott. Legs have decided they don’t hate me and the shade on Ott is awesome. I start nearing some tan, young, superfit singlet dude and catch him about halfway down. I can feel his overwhelming shame of getting sasquatched by a Clydesdalian white beast with oversized crustacean boxers.  Loved it. With the adrenaline of passing superfit, I launch into a kick, which I realize is too early since I’ve misjudged the Ott/Jim Hamilton intersection. Oh well, guess I’m in for a hurting. Mile 2 in 6:07 right before the side of the soccer fields. OK , just need to throw down at least a 6:30 or so to get that sub 20. But giant melon ego has been tripped and the kick has been engaged, so there’s no going back now. I blast around the turn onto Jim Hamilton about bowling over hou yin chang taking pics. Gotta watch out for the bus, HYC.  Jim Hamilton is the road parallelling Owens field airport and it’s as straight as the adjacent runway. You can see the finish line area from way, way out but it takes a seeming eternity to get there. I try not to focus too much on the finish and just work on thoroughly spelunking this pain cave I’ve made for myself.  Luckily the wind is not out today but of course the roasting sun is out in full force. I start having flash backs to the duel in the sun horrific 10k from ville to ville. Luckily there is one dude in a neon shirt that I’m gaining on, so I just blast away hoping to pick him off. Unfortunately I’m running out of real estate to catch him, but as we near the last little turn I’m just begging for the finish. Garmin beeps at mile 3 but I can’t even look . Turning into the finish area, I’m shocked to see the clock just over 19 minutes. More adrenaline and pointless kick ensues, and I cross in 19:26.  I figured I would be fighting to go under 20 not 19:30 – Garmin confirms a 6:00 last mile and 5:46 kicker on a 3.14 miles. Actually faster than race 1 if you go by Garmin (both are certified though). I’m pretty excited about the results, as its the fastest 5k double dip I’ve ever done, and probably second only to my 2013 rose fest 12k-5k double in terms of  age graded performance.


Aftet the finish, I think I told someone how nice it would be to get a beer at the new hunter gatherer hangar. I found out a little later that they were in fact open. I carry 20 bucks in my phone case precisely for “emergencies” like this. I highly recommend their Zweickel , especially at 9:45 am. Best beer ever.  A celebratory toast was had with Trey for his win and Tracy for double dipping photo duties for both races.

In the overall, as mentioned, Trey crushed the field in 17:32 for the win, followed by Hunter Whetstone and a rare appearance by David He. Shannon took the women’s win , followed by Ivanka Tolan and Casey O’Meritt. Nine year old state record holder Kendra Miles was fourth. Beer mile director Bobby Scott was the neon shirted guy I was chasing on Jim Hamilton, and he captured 4th among the men in 19:19.  I got male masters while Jasmyne Huffman won women’s masters

Age groups:  Emma Charlton won 1st in the 11-14. Kathryn Livingston took 1st in the 35-39. Micah Simonsen won 2nd in another brutal 40-44, while Christie Martin was 2nf among the women. Jeff Godby won 1st in his new old man 45-49 division. Stephanie Fischer won the 45-49 women. Ken Bolin, Jay Hammond, and Eliere Tolan swept the 50-54.  Chantal Faure was second among the women. Colleen Strasburger and Donna Freeman were queens of the 55-59, with Mario Alvarez winning among the men. Jeff Longway was 3rd. Alsena Edwards won the 60-64 women, while Pete O’Boyle took 2nd in the 60-64 men. Alex Ponomarev and Ron Hagell were champs of the 65-59 and 70+ divisions. Ron double dipped as bike escort at GITP.

Special thanks to Tracy Tisdale/ Jedi Runner Photography for all the great pics!

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


Columbia definitely has more than its fair share of races, and this fact becomes all the more evident every spring. The weather is often perfect this time of year, and it seems every race director is eying a March or April date for their event. A couple of months ago our Tour de Columbia started filling in fast, and it seemed everybody and their mom decided to have a road race on April 21. On the Tour alone were SIX races all in one morning. The Palmetto Half/5k and the Heart and Sole women’s 5 miler were the big ones, along with trophy hunting opportunities at Jacoby’s Superhero 5k, Spring Hill Derby Day 5k, and Gamecocks for Babies 5k.

But when a race comes along that includes beer and the Palmetto Trail, I was definitely in, especially with Erin Roof at the helm. Erin’s new company Grit Endurance, LLC  was putting on this race , True to the Brew, to benefit the Palmetto Conservation Foundation. Since Grit’s first race (Lucky Leprechaun) was complete with the ego inflation of my own personal birthday cake and reference to being an “elite athlete” (I mean , obviously, since my physique just screams elite),  I felt more than obligated to try this one out as well. Of course, having free beer, food and music at the end of a cool point to point race through the forest and ending on an old train trestle didn’t require a lot of arm twisting.

Erin invited some Columbia running community leaders to a preview run a few weeks ago to get a look at the course. In addition to hearing the harrowing ordeals of Dean Schuster’s near arrest for peeing in the forest, I learned the race course was definitely not what I expected. I was thinking more Harbison/Sesqui trails, but this course was a wide open, almost completely straight line through the forest, very fast for an off-road event. Makes sense, since this part of the trail was an old railroad line. The finish is a beautiful refurbished train trestle over the Broad river. Very cool. With beer and pizza in our bellies and egos properly stroked, we all left pretty excited about this race. Erin played us all like puppets. They had capped the race at 200 but opened up another 20 spots filled with eager Harbison Trail Runners and Columbia Run Clubbers afterwards.

Apparently Mother Nature was also invited to the preview run, because race day was pretty much perfect. Cold start with the forecast to reach the mid 60’s over the morning. Not a cloud in the sky. I was a little later than I thought,  waylaid by the colonic aftermath of poor dietary choices at the Fireflies game on Friday night. I also left the house without knowing where I was going, and spent an inordinate amount of time screaming at my iPhone to correctly look up “TRUE TO THE BREW” and “ERIN ROOF”  in my email and trying to get google maps to understand “Pomaria”.  It probably helps to avoid the F bombs with voice recognition. For the record , “Wilson’s Grocery” works.

I got to the start only about 30 minutes early since I had to shuttle from the parking area with so many people at Wilson’s Grocery. I knew there would be a big crowd but I was also surprised at how many people that were unfamiliar to me. You attend a race every week and you get used to seeing the same band of hardcore freaks like yourself.   Faces that were familiar included Tracy Tisdale, Drew Williams, Derek Hutton, Adam Feigh, Roy Shelley, Kim La, Janette and Joe Robinson, Shelley and Marion Hinson, Ken Lowden, Sandy Smith, Teresa Harrington, Mike Wainscott, Maria Pray, Chesson Merritt, Jennifer and Chris Conrick, Sheila and Ken Bolin, Tracy and Julie McKinnon, Jennifer Clyburn, Pete O’Boyle, Kelly Ghent, Dale Stigamier, Cheryl and Tommy Outlaw, Renee and Patrick MCormick, Will and Amanda Rowan, Makenzie Wilson, Pam and Mike Griffin, Tammy Carter, Brie and Matt McGrievy, Harry Strick, Bryan Leaburn, and Jennifer Sparks.


After a short pre-race ceremony, we were off. The course, as noted,  is basically straight, wide open, and nearly impossible to get off-track.  It does have a gravel base with some dirt and pinestraw over it.  It might be better to wear trail shoes, though I opted for my typical road blue racing flats. Footing was mostly OK save for a few kicked rocks and squishy spots. From the get-go, Derek and Adam take off and leave everyone, with Drew not too far behind. I am sitting back from them a ways, and pretty quickly it’s just me, myself and I . I’m feeling surprisingly good, having taken a rare day off from my obsessive training schedule, loving the cold morning, and finally recovering somewhat from last week’s brutal Ville to Ville relay.  Mile 1 in 6:45 so not too shabby considering it’s still trail running. Feels pretty flat though the Garmin data shows a slight drop in elevation. Mile 2 in the exact same split and I start daydreaming a little, since Drew is way far ahead and I can’t hear anyone around me. Or do I? After a while I can hear someone a little ways back but I don’t dare turn around. I start doing my nerd runner race calculus and try to figure out who’s back there. Then it dawns on me. Where the hell is Tracy McKinnon? Technically he should be way ahead of me, though I know he just ran a  3:15 Boston Marathon in the worst conditions known to man, and he was already back in the saddle according to my daily Strava stalking. But damned if I’m going to check because the ego can’t stand being weak.

Just before the 3 mile mark I cross a road where my Palmetto 200 captain Brian Clyburn is there with his kids to cheer on his wife and Van on the Run teammates. I’m not through the intersection more than a few seconds before I hear Clyburn yelling “T-BO” (Tracy’s P200 nickname) and I know I’m about to get a beat down. I hear Tracy yelling that his cover is blown now and seconds later he pulls alongside with 14 year old cross country beast Chris Conrick. Initially, my thought is to let these guys go. But, knowing my extreme dependence on others to make me run fast, I decide to latch on and see how long I can handle it. I went out fairly conservatively, so might as well give it a try.  It seems to work – neither Tracy or Chris are hell bent on pulling away, so I sit back in the pocket between them. I hit mile 3 in 6:47 just as they caught me, but I’m able to stay with them with a little surge in pace.  The mile marks are definitely after my Garmin splits, so I know its probably going to be shorter than the billed 6.5 miles. I know the distance from Brian’s spectating spot is exactly 3.5 miles from the finish from the preview run, which was definitely a good bit before the 3 mile mark. My race brain calculates close to a 10k distance. The three of us cross mile 4 in a 6:42 split , and I can feel things start to accelerate a bit. I surge to the front for a bit, then get overtaken again, and I just sit back because I can’t lay out a kick this early, even it is getting into my 5k territory. I know from the preview run that you briefly go off the main trail to go under Broad River Rd about a mile and a quarter from the finish. I figure this would be the time to start ramping the pace. As we near the underpass, Chris surges ahead and I follow him, and surprisingly Tracy tells me to go. Is he just toying with me? I don’t have time to figure that out because Conrick is trying to pull away. Oh hells no. He may be almost 30 years my junior but a chunky middle-aged Sasquatch hopped up on race adrenaline is still a dangerous thing. Mile 5 in 6:34. I should mention at this time that all that good feeling of the first half of the race is decidedly gone. In fact, I’m pretty much dying, but I the course is so straight I can almost see the finish. I’m basically side-by-side with Chris the whole sixth mile, first part kind of tactical but the last part getting more frantic. As soon as I pass the Peak entrance of the trail I can see the trestle and all hell breaks loose. I surge ahead, then Chris overtakes me. At the trestle I launch into a full-on headless chicken and take the “lead”. I’m giving one thousand percent and fully expect that I’ve given him the beat down. Hundreds of races in,  I’ve been passed in the last 100 meters only about 5 times. But damn it, I can hear footsteps, and sure enough Conrick pulls ahead and I GOT NOTHING. No more gears to go. Painfully, I have to watch helplessly as he nips me by 2 seconds. Dang. Strong work, dude. I cross in 42:03 for a Garmin 6.34 distance, 5th overall, 1st masters (with Drew removed for his 3rd overall finish). I hate getting Blue Shoed but the head-to-head epic showdowns are what I live for. I’m pretty happy with the effort too, coming off a tough week post relay.


After making out with a park bench and sucking all the oxygen out of Newberry county, and taking some CRC pics, I made my way to the afterparty. Awesome chicken bog and a free beer (Palmetto trail ale or RJ Rockers son of a peach) from the Craft and Draft mobile truck. Thanks to Shelley and Janette for donating their beers to the Blue Shoes intoxication fund. Awesome awards with Palmetto Trail camping mugs and cool medals for the overall winners.  There was a bit of a wait for the shuttle back to the start so I just relaxed and enjoyed the awesome weather. The band was really good too. After a while I looked pitiful enough in front of Tracy and Julie so I hitched a ride in their overloaded Camry with Sheila, Jen, and Ken – thanks so much for helping a sweaty beer soaked Sasquatch. Tracy then told me he ran 12.5 miles from his house to the start line (while Julie drove the car to the finish and jogged the course backward) , so that explains why he didn’t crush me out there. I appreciate you handicapping yourself for the race, T-Bo.


In the overall, Derek Hutton took the win with Adam Feigh second. Adam also decided to handicap himself with a 3 hour bike ride before the race. Damn I’m glad I’m not a pro triathlete (hard to tell, I know). Drew Williams must have run the whole race by himself in 3rd place.  The women’s winner was Palmetto 200 “99 problems” captain Sabrina Gandy, with Madeline Smith second and Chris’ mom and masters beast Jennifer Conrick.  In the male masters, it was me , Tracy and Ken Bolin taking the podium, while Denise Knight,  Julie, and Missy Judy won on the women’s side.

Age group glory:

Women: Kelly Ghent was 3rd in the 35-39. Jennifer Clyburn won the 40-44, with Tammy Carter 3rd. Tracy Tisdale won the 45-49. Renee McCormick took the 50-54. Sandy Smith and Teresa Harrington went 1-2 in the 55-59, while Cheryl Outlaw won the 60-64.

Men: Chris won the 12-14 . Dale Stigamier won 3rd in the 35-39, while Will Rowan took 2nd in the 40-44. Matt “Porn Stache” McGrievy took 3rd while running with Brie. Steve Conrick and Marion Hinson took top 2 in the 45-49. Roy Shelley was second in the 50-54. Mike Griffin was 2nd in the 55-59. Pete O’Boyle, Harry Strick and Bryan Leaburn claimed an all CRC 60-64 podium. Ken Lowden was 2nd in the 70+.

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









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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


2013 Bridge Run with Diesel

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

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

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

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

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


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




Palmetto 200 Relay – Columbia to Charleston, SC – 3/23/18-3/24/18

Sometime around 4 am, on May 1, 2010, in the pitch black of United Drive in rural Huger,SC, I made a pledge. I was never, ever, doing this again. Dehydrated, legs wrecked on 20+ miles,  seeing spots and weird colors,  I was reduced to a slow walk after running seven minute pace for most of the inaugural Palmetto 200. But, seeing as my only recourse was to finish this 7.5 mile leg, I resumed a power walk and then started back to a slow jog. Nine years, 8 Palmetto 200s and 3 Blue Ridge Relays later, I’m still at it. Apparently the post race beer erases all the pain.

So I was definitely in for Palmetto 200 number nine. As always, our fearless leader Brian “El Capitan” Clyburn was already emailing us about this thing back in September. You’d think he’s be content with turning a hodge podge group of age groupers into back-to-back relay champs, but the evil mastermind of the Capitan is always scheming to make his creation even faster.  This year, Jen Clyburn had decided to organize a women’s Palmetto 70 team, but co-conspirator Julie decided to be all selfish and get pregnant. The nerve. With her plan foiled, Jen decided to let Van on the Run, which had originally been very co-ed, finally turn to an all–dude sausage fest. Brian Kistner, a rookie from last year, was also out, so we had two slots to fill. All purpose road-racer/trail machine Michael Nance and  Harbison Trail Runners co-leader Dean Schuster were more than happy to oblige. Nance was a relay virgin but Dean had a few Blue Ridges under his belt. Unfortunately, Dean had to pull out with a work issue only a week or so before the race, but local 17ish 5k beast Trey McCain was able to fill in on short notice.

It seems this year was a tipping point for the P200. While us and the Clemson Thundercats  had battled it out for relay supremacy the last few years, I figured it was only  matter of time before some other fast teams would start taking notice. Sure enough, our 12:30 start, which was still the latest, was populated by eight teams instead of the traditional two. We were definitely not going to have it easy this year. There was a huge Columbia representation in general, and our start featured two all star teams from the area, both with predicted pace times faster than ours (6:46). One was Larry Jourdain’s “Merry Band of Maniacs” , captained by Linn Hall, with SR beasts Mark Bedenbaugh, Brad Marlow, Erin Miller, MC Cox,  Drew Williams, and a few other wild cards that were unknown to me. Jordan Lybrand also had an F3 team (F3 Ramblers) of which were a complete mystery to me, though they had the fastest projected pace at 6:37.  Clemson was back again this year as well, with two teams this time, the Thundercats and Thunderkittens, both managed by P200 machine and VOTR killer Michael “Thunderthighs” Holland.

Our team was solid once again. We still retained the original core four of myself, Brian, David McNiece and Joel Pierstorff. Twenty eight P200s between us,  the bumbling noobs of 2010 were now the grizzled veterans. Spring Valley four miler expert and multiyear See Spot Run 5k champ Dan Carter was back. Three hour flat marathon beasts Rob Gannett and Kevin Selinsky were on board, along with hundred miler mileage machine Tracy McKinnon. Grandmasters beast Geary McAlister was there to tear up the roads and chaperone the middle aged children of Van 2. Oh, and lets not forget my pace doppelganger and longtime archrival/nemesis/friend the Code.  On paper, we were probably the fastest VOTR yet, though paper and 23+ hours of racing are decidedly two different things. Everything looked perfect from a weather standpoint with highs in the mid 60’s and lows in the low 40’s, and most importantly NO RAIN.

Usually our starts are kind of funny with only a handful of people and everyone else out on the course already. The start was once again at Red Bank Arena, which, while lacking in the cool factor of the previous old Carolina Speedway, is definitely more practical with parking. This year was quite different with the 8 teams and all the Columbia peeps around to see them off. We even had resident CRC photog Tracy Tisdale to take pics. Definitely more of an event this time around. I was in van 2 with Rob, Dan, Geary, Code and Nance, so our job early on was to hurry up and wait. We did decide to shadow van 1 for most of the first 6 to get a sense of the competition, soundtracked by Dan’s “aggro 90’s” collection and Rage’s “Renegades of Funk” taking up residence in my brain for the next 24 hours. Tracy McKinnon was our lead off with Coach B starting for Larry’s group.  After our traditional assault on the Red Bank subway for lunch, we made our way to the first exchange, which has almost always been manned by Barefoot John’s wife Char and his dad Andy. Andy literally saved my butt a few years back with an emergency toilet paper roll (portapotties are ravaged by the earlier teams) so he dedicated a special reserved roll for me this year, stuck on a post with my name. I can only wonder what the other teams thought. Thanks again, Andy, from the bottom of my…well, you know.

Tracy destroyed the opening 6.77 mile leg in 6:17 pace, which was surprisingly only good for third. This was definitely going to be a tough one. Speaking of tough, our incredibly precise, color-coded spreadsheet, Brian’s masterpiece, was thrown into disarray from the start. Brian announced he has been dealing with a torn labrum in his hip, which not only slows him down but makes it pretty painful as well. This led to a wholesale reshuffle of Van 1’s legs to ease off his total mileage. There was never doubt though that Selinsky would take the 2nd leg, a grueling 10.5 miler. Kevin was projected at like 6:20 pace and I think we were running 2nd after he knocked out the leg and handed off to Brian. Leg 3 proved to be pivotal, where our experience actually hurt us. We passed Brian in the van about mid way and he looked strong. We were waiting for him at the next exchange when all of a sudden all the teams came through with no Capitan. We feared for the worst and we sent out a rescue van. As it turns out, Brian was not hurt, at least any more than he already was. The course had changed from last year and Brian kept going straight where he should have turned. Ended up running a mile plus out of the way. To a man, we were all just glad he was ok, but if there’s anyone that’s going to take this hard, it was Brian. Kudos to the Clemson team who helped get him back on track. David did really well on the next leg with a super tough finishing hill, handing off to Trey, who took off like a man possessed on his first relay leg. We skipped the next exchange zone so I could get ready for me to lead off Van 2.

The Palmetto is known for having some tough hills in the first 12 legs, but none compares to the lovingly titled “MOUNT ST MATTHEWS” of leg 7. The leg is already a tough 8.5 miles, but in the middle sits this freak of South Carolina geography.  A brutal half mile of incline that would be better suited for the Blue Ridge. I always made a point to capture the pain of our runners by taking pics from a side road about halfway up. It is notorious for generating walksies and just general misery. Well, as it turns out,  my number was up in 2018. Leg 7 was all mine this year.

And believe me, I was scared. I was already less than 100 percent thanks to Richland School district 2 recently distributing some of their virus of the month, and colonic status was questionable heading into relay day. Speaking of colons, I also kept thinking of how Code ran this in the near 80 degree heat and we were debating an ER visit thereafter.

All of this went out the window when Joel comes in ahead of schedule and I take the relay bracelet hopped up on coffee, ibuprofen and existential dread.  My assigned relay pace was 6:53,  which shouldn’t be a problem on reasonable terrain, though Leg 7 is certainly anything but reasonable. I figured I could take it out a little slower to make my irritable right hammy a little happier and to give me energy for mountain climbing. Nope. Mile 1 in 6:35. F bomb number one of P200 2018 officially dropped. Rolling hills over the next couple of miles and I backed it off to around 6:50 for miles 2-4. Mile 4 has a nasty incline that makes you think you’ve hit the mountain, but nope here comes a roller coaster downhill. And then you see it. Sweet 8 lb newborn baby Jesus. F bomb barrier broken again. I can see my van parked up near the top, which I told them to do, and a couple of hecklers, I mean motivators, at the middle side road. Damn it. I hit the mountain with a vengeance and soon realized it was very similar in grade to the worst part of the Laurel St incline I run a few times a week. Well at least I was trained for it. I’m doing pretty well on the worst part , though the last half is pretty much torture. Legs are actually fine,  since I have my own older, paler version of Thunderthighs, but those damn lungs are trying to escape out of my chest. Right near the summit, Code passes me a full bottle of water. I try and take a few sips, but since I’m panting like a banshee I can hardly get any liquid down. I end up spilling water all over my shorts and legs and probably look like I’ve wet my pants. Arms are pumping and thrashing as I finally crest the hill and I try to motion to the van to take the bottle but they’ve already taken off. I see a Bud Light can (the official beer of road litterers everywhere) and go against my eco-snowflake ways and drop the bottle next to it.  Mile 5 comes back in 7:15, which I’m psyched about (I had predicted about an 8 for that mile). Unfortunately this is still an 8.5 mile leg and I’ve got a solid 5k to go. It takes about the next whole mile to clear out the Mt St Matthews effect,  and then I settle back into 6:40-6:50 pace. It’s feeling a little harder now but I’m still maintaining pace. I’m feeling pretty good about myself until I start hearing footsteps. DAMN IT.  A Clemson guy catches me, mutters some encouragement and then starts gapping me. NO ONE “GOOD JOB”S ME.  My melon head can’t take the ego bruising, but at some point I have to realize that I am old enough to be this guy’s dad. Fortunately he passes me right as we start hitting the town of St Matthews with all the turns. I had memorized the course the best I could but 7.5 miles into a brutal leg are not optimal conditions for brain functioning. Clemson’s “grandpa”, so nicknamed for being maybe 25 instead of 21, helped lead the way. I try to blue shoe it to the finish, but I’m pretty much toast and I do have to keep the next legs in mind. I hit the exchange zone in 58:34/ 8.56/6:50 pace. Pretty happy with that,  especially with the mountain climb.

Dan takes the bracelet from me, and although outside his 4 miler comfort zone, crushes a 5.5 miler in low 6 pace. Although the top couple of teams have a nice lead on us, we are still, as always, running neck-and-neck with one of the Clemson teams. A Clemson girl with long blond hair takes off less than 30 seconds before Geary, and we encourage him to be a dirty old man and chase her down.  Geary is a machine on relays and seems to go even faster than he runs individually. He’s making up serious ground on blonde girl immediately and we take off to Cameron, SC for the next exchange. Cameron, in addition its notoriety as a brutally strict speed trap (35 mph guys, believe me) has the most awesome church exchange zone with actual real bathrooms. When you spend hours running the microbiologic gauntlet of heavily used portapotties, a bathroom with running water feels like a day spa.  A few minutes later, blonde girl comes into the exchange zone and says our runner is hurt. Shortly thereafter, Geary comes straggling in looking like he got shot. Thankfully it’s just mechanical, but his calf is wrecked, apparently just popped after he took the lead on the leg. It immediately becomes clear that he is definitely done running and the spreadsheet will be reshuffled again. Geary is a trooper though and volunteers to be our full time driver from then on. Code and Rob then ripped off some medium length legs, and we were almost back on spreadsheet pace by the time poor Mike Nance finally got his chance to lose his relay virginity. It’s tough being number 12 since you don’t get to run until after 8 pm with our start time. Nance blew out leg 12 in low 6 pace and we handed off to Van 1 again in Santee State Park, greeted by our faithful volunteers Miranda, Stacy and majorly preggers Julie. Thanks guys!

With the handoff, we were officially off until about midnight, when Code would be running his 9.67 miler. As relay vets, we know eating “real” food is critical when you’re throwing down at least 3 hard race efforts. We tried the Santee Pizza Hut but apparently it would be a “45 minute wait” with like 3 tables occupied in the restaurant. Uh, OK. Maybe they smelled us at the door. We settled on our old standby of the Cracker Barrel, with a full house of other similarly sweaty dudes. Jordan was there with his van, having just churned out a 5:40ish 7 miler. Beast mode was definitely engaged. Dinner took forever and unfortunately Code, knowing his Chernobyl-prone colon (I mean, he is Code Brown for a reason) , opted for some hash browns only.

After waiting an eternity at the Cracker Barrel we were finally off to Galilee church, where Code would start his aforementioned, much complained about, 9.67 miler. We only had a couple of hours to kill by the time we got there after 10 pm, so I didn’t get much of a chance to nap. It turns out awkwardly splayed out in the front seat with feet on the dashboard and Code nervously fidgeting behind you does not ideal sleeping conditions make. Go figure. Plus, Code was technically doing the last leg of Van 1, then Kevin doing van 2’s first leg, then Dan from our van, and then David was joining us briefly from Van 1 to do Geary’s second leg. I didn’t see sleep happening anytime soon. Despite the chaos, we actually had drifted the pace back to pretty close to the spreadsheet. Jordan’s F3 team and Larry’s SR peeps were well ahead of us though. Darrell took off from Galilee and we made our way to Greater St. Paul’s United Methodist church, which is basically the Times Square of the night legs. Lights and vans everywhere. Home of the best white bread and ham sandwich ever created, probably because you’re hungry AF by then and no place is open. They even have a creepy sleeping section in the church where you sleep in the pews. With midnight upon us, I was pretty beat and bemoaning the fact I still had two runs to go, as I usually have one left at this time in my standard van 1 position. I actually managed to drift off for a while, because next thing I know a sweaty ass Code jumps in the van bitching about how he hardly saw a soul out on the roads for an hour. This is usual prime roadkill time so clearly they altered the start times to get people to finish earlier this year. Kevin had a short leg to follow, and then Dan had another almost 10 miler, followed by Nance swapping for the longer 5+ miler. I might have drifted off again slightly, but the growing anxiety of my second leg started creeping in, as well as potential Cracker Barrel colon syndrome. Dan knocked out the 10 miler in record time and we were all too sleep deprived to mark down David’s departure time. We were just so glad we weren’t doing 4 legs.

We then made our way to Berkeley Elementary School just outside of Moncks Corner, the start of my second leg. It was 3:30ish and I was just wrecked. Tight right hammy was hating me not to mention my brain screaming at me to get back in bed. Oh yeah, and it was cold. Like under 40 degrees. I kept on trying to warm-up jog around the school but would hop back in the van after freezing my nuts off. The palmetto 70 start was also here and I was amazed there were actually teams beginning at 3:30 in the morning. Someone told me David should be here at 3:45 so I was busy jogging around and having frequent dates with the portapotty to make sure any rectal bombs were thoroughly defused. I’m busy doing my 11 min pace miserable jog when I hear a distant “VAN ON THE RUN!!!!!”.  Immediately I jump into an outright sprint and see David standing there with a big WTF look on his face. Sorry dude. I take off like a maniac down highway 52 and the right hammy is vetoing that pace real quick. I settle back down to what I think is 6:30ish, but it turns out the 3:40 am tight as a mofo post-cracker barrel conversion factor means 7:05. This is only a 3.8 miler and I’ve just thrown down a slower pace than my 8.5 mountain climb. DAMN IT. I try and speed it up some but there is no denying that this is one of those “Why the eff do I do this to myself?” moments, which always hit a peak at 3- 5 am anyway. Also, how the hell is this leg so uphill??  We’re in the low country but somehow I’m on a slow incline punctuated by an overpass that I never saw on the 50 times I looked at the map. Oh well, I’m clearly going the right way because there are blinky lights EVERYWHERE. Going sub 7 amidst the 10 minute teams makes you feel like a world-beater, but damned if my “pick up the pace” mile is still only 6:55, and again slower than the much harder leg 1. I did scare the living hell out of 2 girls in tutus running side by side, apparently my “ON YOUR RIGHT” in the middle of the night sounds a lot more serial killery than usual. Probably didn’t help I was out of breath and at point blank range.  Turned on to another highway and applied a little more effort. Hammy was finally warmed up enough to work in rhythm with the rest of the oversized machine. Roadkill by the plenty on highway 402. Mile 3 in 6:44 and closer to where I should actually be. With less than a mile to go, I crank up whatever kick I have. I catch some guy who is doing low 7 pace and is not too fond of getting sasquatched. He trails me for awhile, but now I can see the exchange zone way up ahead and its on like Donkey Kong. A few more tutu girls and bike escorts later and I come blasting into the exchange zone, 6:28 pace last split, 25:45/3.78 mi/6:49 pace for the whole leg. Pretty terrible by my usual standards but still under my assigned “spreadsheet pace” so I’ll take it.  Rob took the baton from me and the rest of the van napped while I went out to meet him at the insane exchange zone 24. Char and Andy were volunteering at this zone too, which is an amazing amount of work. Big hats off to them. I even got to see my ceremonial toilet roll hanger again. Awesome.

Rob cranked the 7 miler out in low 6 pace and we were well ahead of the spreadsheet by now, despite the chaos and injuries. Joel had tweaked his calf as well, though he was still running on it. Somehow, Brian felt compelled to switch with Joel for his longer legs to save his calf, all the while probably wrecking his own torn labrum further. Such are the perils of an aging Van on the Run. Fortunately, David had stepped up to cover Geary’s 2nd leg and mileage machine Tracy McKinnon would be working overtime to cover his 3rd. Our van 2 journeyed to Laing middle school to try and catch some rest as a hobbled van 1 went to work. The Middle school was pretty crowded but since it was just after 5 am, no one seemed to be afflicted with loud talkeritis, which is rampant at the Blue Ridge for some reason. The other guys crashed in the van while Dan and I bundled up and “camped” on the grass outside. Dan outdid himself with an air hammock, eye mask and of course the Big Lots dearfoam slippers. Like the Ritz-Carlton of relay sleep setups. I made love to the sweet green grass in my sleeping bag and pillow and woke up a good hour and a half later, feeling like a new man.

I jumped into the van to eat my breakfast and realized I had been noseblind to the serious stinkage our van was now exuding. Dayum. We were now definitely the renegades of funk. I stuffed my face with my Pepperidge farm raisin bread (relay breakfast of choice) and we made a quick coffee run. It was terrible gas station brew but damned if I could feel the life slowly coming back to me as the caffeine hit my veins. Once an addict, always an addict.

Nance took off on our final cycle of legs just before 8:30 am. My only beef with the relay over the years has been the progressively less scenic/less symbolic finish line, though the afterparty is always amazing. The original finish was almost on the beach in Folly, then at a folly park, then james island county park, then patriots point, but now it was in north mt pleasant without even going into Charleston. Probably has something to do with the traffic dodging and relatively treacherous legs in downtown chucktown, but certainly takes away from the feeling of the arrival at your destination. Last few legs were essentially a loop back to the middle school, though cool views on the IOP connector and Sullivans Island. While scenic, Mike had the unenviable leg that was mostly on the connector, a long 8.33 miles. Tracy had the next leg (2.9 miles) , the site of the beginning of our epic comeback when the Thundercats had a pooptastrophe followed by getting lost. Tracy was running so fast that we were half afraid he would beat the slow as hell van ahead of us. We managed to pull in only a few minutes to spare with Tracy rocking a 6:20ish 4th leg. Dan, who originally had Tracy’s leg, took Geary’s and knocked out one of his patented 4 milers while Code was next. Code took off like a vengeance on his 2.9er while I waited nervously at the next exchange. Apparently traffic laws are not in Code’s leg 3 vocabulary because he tears through a Mt P intersection playing version 2018 of Frogger. Dude is on a mission. Another round of portapottying and a light jog, and damn I was wrecked. While mentally awake from adrenaline and caffeine, my legs were destroyed. Right hammy again tight as hell. We were still sitting ahead of the spreadsheet and both Clemson teams, though we had at least F3 ramblers, Larry’s team, Paul Martino’s Let Me Run and maybe a couple others ahead. Motivation was low from a competitive standpoint but I was so ready to get this 4.6 miler done.


Code comes tearing into the exchange zone as I launch into my final leg at 10:28 am. And oooh, not so good. Apparently not enough warm up because my gait is all out of whack with the crap hamstring and general lower extremity abuse of the last 12 hours. But I’m going to hobble as fast as I damn well can. I’m taking tiny steps with an insane cadence like a damn oversized desert roadrunner, probably looking like a maniac. Mile 1 in 6:50. Just. Keep. Going. I soon realize I’m about to hit the IOP connector again, which is like 6 lanes of traffic. I’m kinda far from the intersection on rifle range rd when I see it turn green. I hit the gas and sprinted pretty hard, flying across the IOP in stride, with the light turning just as I hit the other sidewalk. Some Mt P teens told me “nice job, dude”, impressed by my gimpy ass sasquatch sprint I’m sure. The next turn is onto Sweetgrass and fortunately I crossed to the left side since the right is chock full of other teams headed the other way. Legs are finally starting to loosen up. 6:47 and 6:51 splits for mile 2 and 3. It’s cool to get on Hwy 17 and see some familiar vans. I yell at Jay Nester and the guys in the Skeleton Crew ultra van and sure enough here comes Curtis tearing up the sidewalk. Always great to see those guys – they’ve been relaying almost as long as us. After mile 3 the euphoria of the finish is palpable and I really start throwing down, so ready to get this thing over with. Mile 4 in 6:42 and I can now see the Hamlin road intersection in the distance, which I know is the turn for the exchange zone. All the chips get pushed in and headless chicken is engaged. I blow by an F3 guy that I hope is in our start time, but I can’t be sure. With the turn onto Hamlin, I play my own version of frogger and haul ass to the other side. A few SUVs want to run me off the road, but what else is new. I hit the exchange in 31:02/4.61 miles/6:44 pace, handing off to Rob for the final glory leg. So unbelievably glad to be done.

Rob of course crushes the remaining 7.7 miles faster than I could even do fresh, and as we all gather at the finish, I can tell we are going to beat our best overall pace. Sad to say though, we are sitting at least 4th by our calculations, so no chance at glory this year. We cross together in 23 hours and 17 minutes, a cumulative 6:44 with the new 207 mile course. Good enough only for 5th in the most competitive P200 yet.


Jordan’s F3 Ramblers killed it with a 22:23/6:28 to take the win with Larry’s team taking 2nd in 22:38. Paul Martinos’ Let Me Run was 3rd overall and first ultra. F3 Hickory Nine beat us to the line by 9 minutes for 4th. Top women’s team went to “I’ve got 99 problems but running ain’t one” – a ridunkulously fast all-star team captained by Sabrina Gandy and including Shawanna White, Shannon Godby, Ashley Hrubala, Liz Locke, and Pam Knapp. I think they won by like 3 hours. Julia Norcia, Ross Shealy and Wendy Hart were on the top mixed masters team Southern Stride, finishing in 26:31.

Afterparty was awesome as usual, with good beer and tacos. I hope the Blue Ridge relay will take note of how to do this right, because the P200 nails it. Somehow a couple beers in and all the pain is forgotten, and we’re already planning for next year. Gotta come back for the big 1-0 in 2019!






March for Meals 5k – Timmerman Trail -Cayce, SC – 3/10/18

Late winter to early spring is always a crazy time on the Tour de Columbia, with a ton of races trying to capitalize on some key weekends. March 10 was apparently one of these, as the TDC had four races on the same day. There was an evening race making a double dip possible, but tragically none of the morning races worked out for a quick double up in the morning. I briefly considered doing a very drive-intensive double with the non-tour Newberry 5k (join the tour, Newberry!) , but with that race being 40 minutes from home and no points at stake, I opted out. Sadly, their overall winner clocked 24 minutes, so I missed an easy holy grail.

That left the morning races – the Woodlands 5k, Healthy Capital 5k and the March for Meals. I have been really wanting to do Healthy Cap again since its one of my favorite races from the rookie year of the Blue Shoes, i.e. 2009. But it doesn’t get more meaningful to me than my first March for Meals.  I didn’t know a soul in the Columbia running community at the time, so I cajoled my friend Michael Ferlauto to come with me to the 2009 MFM, when it was held at the zoo. I ran like a man possessed and did  an early prototype of my headless chicken finish to cross in 23:27, a new PR for me. Michael finished about the same time and we both headed home immediately afterward. A few hours later I checked the results and realized, inexplicably, I had won the 30-34 age group. The next day I came by Senior Resources and picked up my little golden trophy. And a switch was flipped…the addict had found his drug. Nine years and hundreds of races later, I’m still hunting down my little metal trinkets.


Drew “enjoying” the 2010 MFM trophy (same as 2009’s)

So I ended up choosing MFM again this year. It probably helped that longtime CRC member and friend Ted Hewitt, who is also is my insurance agent, scored me a free entry through sponsor Modern Woodmen. Thanks, Ted!

MFM used to be run at Riverbanks Zoo and up a ridiculously tough mountain up through the Botanical Gardens. They have since opted for Timmerman trail, a paved trail through the forest near the river in Cayce. While its not ideal for speed with all its twists and turns, it’s certainly flat, and perhaps most importantly, doesn’t smell like elephant poo.  The first mile is actually mostly a flat road to get to the trail, and the last quarter mile or so is out in the open, with a slight incline to the finish. Jeff Brandenburg remembers this area well from last year when a pale white blur blew by him just outside the forest.

MFM does a good job advertising so they were able to get 250+ registrants to the race. When I got there, a quick look through of the competition told me there would be a tough masters race with Code Brown making a rare racing reappearance and Coach B in attendance. CRC regulars Leeds Barroll, Brigitte and Garriet Smith, and Alex Ponomarev were on hand. Daniel Patrick was coming back after a long layoff. Jessalyn Smith, Cotes Royson, Teresa Shelton and Dina Mauldin were some other familiar faces. Stacy Ohrin was rucking this in a 30 lb backpack. I thought running with a 30 lb weight disadvantage was only for me.

After warming up with the code,  I stroll up to the line and see Nate Carrasco. Nate was running 20 min 5k’s a few months ago but recently has been flirting with sub 18’s.  Beast mode has definitely been engaged. I figure he’s got this race in the bag.

With the gun, we all take off down the flat road. 5k pace always feels like a punch to the stomach when you’ve been doing mostly leisurely 9-ish miles. I’m surprised at the number of people still in my vicinity as we near the mile mark and entrance into the forest. Code has a few steps on me, Coach B is on my back,  but there’s a few other unknowns still hanging around. Most notably, a tiny girl who looks like she’s barely out of elementary school but with legs of steel and perfect running form. Mini Kara Goucher beats me to the trail and pretty soon I’m struggling to keep up with someone 30 years younger and under half my weight. Mile 1 comes back in 6:24, though I remember this course is notoriously off from the Garmin since its has so many little turns in the forest. I see Code trying to pull away, so I stop terrorizing the twelve year old and jump on Code’s back for a while. Finally the 5k pace feels less brutal and the dividends of 40-50 mile weeks start getting paid forward. About a mile and a half in, I grow weary of drafting and just blast by the Code and another age groupery looking guy and head out into the clear. I usually save a move like that for the last mile or so, but passing opportunities are precious and few on this course. Once I’m ahead of that pack I’m completely running scared. Getting the beatdown by Code or Coach B does not sound great, but getting chicked by a middle school girl seems decidedly worse.

So I push the pace a bit to try and get some distance on the pack behind me. There’s a mile 2 marker as per the certified course, but the Garmin is completely wonky by now. I’m hurting, but then I see a flicker of white up ahead. WTF? Is that Carrasco?? Oh hell, it is.  I’m already breathing like a maniac, but damned if I don’t ratchet it up. A few times I see him look back, which triggers me to go even faster. I figured the trail is deceiving about my distance from him, but after a while I realize I am definitely a lot closer. I keep begging for the finish stretch but 2 or 3 times I get fooled and its a bridge with more trail.  Finally I can see the big opening up ahead, and I’m maybe 20-30 meters behind. He looks back and sees me, holds up a number 1 and sprints to up the face of the last incline.  And that is when I made the critical, costly error of letting off the gas a bit, figuring he was just toying with me. As I crest the hill though, I can see him staggering a bit, and then he comes to a complete stop not more than 20 meters from the finish. Immediate karmic payback for showboating. The dude is either dry heaving or puking, so I sprint like a madman, staring at him. PLEASE. KEEP. PUKING. I’m drawing ever so close when he suddenly sees me bearing down on him like a runaway semi. He then makes a last gasp effort and makes it across the line. I finish about one dry heave, or 3 seconds, behind. Dang. SO close to a holy grail at my first age group race. Time is 19:12, so pretty happy about that. Garmin has the same 2.99 distance from last year, but again, certified course in a forest with a million twists/turns.

So Nate got the coveted first place trophy, a plate inscribed with “Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner” on it, so Dave Hale – there is your ultimate prize. 3rd place was Ross Shealy, now in the age group from hell, my 40-44. On the women’s side, the 12 year old was state record holder Jais Ward, clocking an amazing 19:53 for the win. Wow. Maggie Pat Rafferty was second in 20:57, also a crazy fast time for a 48 year old. Gina Rogers was third in 23:44.

Age group glory: Sisters Scarlett and Dorothy Hutchins finished together to take 2nd and 3rd in the 5-10. Cotes Royson took 1st in the 11-14. Daniel Patrick won the 25-29. Code finished 3rd in the 40-44 despite finishing 5th overall. I told you this AG is hell. Sonya Green-Sumpter was 1st in the 40-44 women. Joey Swearingen was first in the 50-54. Coach B was champ of the 55-59. Leeds Barroll broke 28 minutes for the first time in a while, clocking a 27:49 for 1st in the 65-69. Alex Ponomarev finished 3rd. Brigitte Smith took 2nd among the women.