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.

Lucky Leprechaun 5k – Camden, SC – 3/3/18

So I wasn’t going to do this one.  The Run Hard 5k/half/full marathon has always been close to my heart, so I was pretty sure I was going to field a relay team or maybe even make a go at the half. I also still had chick-fil-A coupons left over from my unexpected masters win in the 5k last year. But if you know Columbia area race directors, there are few more persuasive than Erin Roof. The Lucky Leprechaun was one of her new races and she wanted to make sure there was some CRC representation. I was resistant at first, but Erin knows my weakness: my insatiable ego and need for attention. So she first tried to ply me with the green beer at the finish and 3 deep masters awards. But then she found out that the race fell on the most egocentric of all days – my birthday. She pretty pleased and even promised a birthday cake at the finish, which I thought she was surely joking. She then sent her minions after me, so eventually I caved. I saw the race time at 9 am and figured I could score a double dip with the Run Hard/Chick fil a 5k. Perfect…or not. Going to sign up for chick fil a I realized that the start time was at 8 am instead of the 7:30 start for the half/full. I still held out hope for a double, but running the numbers, I realized Camden was about 40 minutes from the Run Hard race site. At least by safe, speed limit abiding google maps driving.  Pssh. While still theoretically possible, it would have made for an unbelievably stressful transition – like jumping in the car and speeding to Camden immediately. I decided that dying in a double dip attempt on my birthday wasn’t a good way to go, so I nixed the idea. In an effort to support my hometown race, I would at least take pics at the half/full start.

Race day set up pretty nicely, as the weather had cooled down from the summer-like February we had. I was able to park my trusty 2005 pilot/mobile locker room in a getaway position on Assembly St and it took a solid 35 minutes to get to Camden, even with my leadfoot tendencies. It was a good thing I didn’t try to double, since I really didn’t know where I was going either. As it turns out, Camden’s town square is in the interior of  a city block without named roads. I think I did 10 minutes of touring the downtown before I figured it out for sure.

There was a decent crowd on hand with a pretty good Columbia Running Club contingent as well as the usual Lugoff/Elgin crew. This race was on our tour in addition to Run Hard and the trophy hunt of the day, BC’s run to the plate. Drew Williams, Tracy Tisdale, Ken and Patti Lowden, Sarah and Eric Allers stood out as likely fellow Erin Roof victims, I mean targets, I mean friends. Jennifer Reeves and her fiancé Jason Norris, Whitney and Caroline Keen, Leeds Barroll, Heather Costello, Martie McCallum, Ginger Catoe, Kara Clyburn, Rocky Soderberg,  Jim Williams and Arnold Floyd were some familiar faces. Parker Roof was designated as the official Lucky Leprechaun, complete with Irish boxers. Erin apparently likes to have people run in their underwear. There was mention of a prize for anyone who could beat the leprechaun, which I had figured would be some dadbod costume wearer, not a sub 18 capable high school kid. Doh!

This race appeared to be a pretty easy rectangle in Camden, which I usually associate with being pretty flat. With the start, Parker takes off like a maniac and leads from the get-go, with Drew and Eric on his heels. I feel pretty good in the first quarter mile as we navigate north towards and across Hampton Park. This feeling ends with punch to the stomach with the turn on Lyttleton. There is a slight uphill grade for a good mile-plus, which wouldn’t be so bad except for the sudden gale force winds blowing right in your freaking face.  Everybody slows way down as it suddenly feels like I’m running in place. I spend my time debating the physics of whether my wind resistance is increased with my tractor trailer physique or lessened by the force of my mass. My 5k physics is less than ideal, but I’m awakened from my math by my Garmin chiming in at 6:24. Not too terrible considering the conditions. My other pre-race fuzzy math thought that mile 1 was near the turnaround point, which of course makes no sense on a mostly out and back 3.1 mile route. The Lyttleton hill and the 15 mph wind just kept going and going. I  had noticed Whitney Keen had crushed the first mile and had a huge lead on me, but my melon headed ego figured it was only a matter of time before I reeled him back in. By the turnaround on Greene St, though, I really hadn’t made much of a dent on his lead. We round the corner and its a big relief to get rid of the wind and the incline, with the remaining mile plus returning to the finish on a slight downhill. I wish I could turned it up a notch at this point but it took me most of the way to mile 2 to catch my breatth  again. 6:27 second mile split, which I was none too happy with. With a mile to go, I realize I’m going to have to really crank it up to catch Whitney because dude is still killing it. Meanwhile I notice Parker has completely fallen off the back of the lead pack and I’m catching up to him quickly. I’m not entirely sure, but I’m already betting Parker is under strict marching orders to let the Sasquatch beat him. I pass Parker and start laying the hammer down. I am making up a little ground on Mr. Keen but damned if i’m not making much progress. Pace gets a little hotter and I’m pretty much redlining it by the time we near East DeKalb near the town square. At some point on DeKalb I come to the harsh realization that I am getting a legit beatdown at 100 percent effort and there’s nothing I can do about it. Plus with this aging beast field, I count 3 fortysomethings ahead of me. At least Drew and Eric are going to get overall. I hear my Garmin beep but I can’t check it in full headless chicken mode. Whitney whips my tail by a good 15 seconds and I cross at 19:25. Knowing Erin is always poised to catch my post-finish pavement make out session, I make sure to remain on my feet, though I probably equally look like hell standing up. OK, so not a terrible time for me, especially considering the slowish first 2 miles, quick garmin check gives me a 5:53 last mile. Sure helps when the wind is behind you and the course is downhill. This would be a really fast course without that wind because the incline on the way out is not that bad.  Not thrilled with my placement as 2nd master, but a couple of green Rolling Rocks help drown my sorrows.

Oh, but lets not forget the awards. Erin decides to lead off the awards not with thanking sponsors or congratulating the winners, but with an extended Happy Birthday singing and presenting me with a cookie cake. Being in Camden, about 90 percent of the crowd are wondering what the hell this is about, but since most are hitting the Rolling Rock, they still oblige. All hail 5th overall. My giant head grows another size. Thanks, Erin!

Although being upstaged by a newly 43 year old sasquatch, Drew Williams took home the win in 18:31, besting 30 year old Colin Barth by 10 seconds. Third went to Eric Allers in 18:44. On the women’s side, Heather Costello took home the win in 20:58, with Sarah Allers second and Martie McCallum 3rd.

Masters winners were Whitney Keen with a blazing 19:11,  myself and 54 year old  James Miller. Female Masters winners included Belinda Moon, Sharon Cole,  and Caroline Keen.

Age group honor roll: Jim Williams won 2nd in the 55-59, Tracy Tisdale was champ of the 45-49, Leeds Barroll won the 65-69, Rocky Soderberg was 2nd in the “70-99”. Kara Clyburn celebrated her dissertation defense with a 1st in 40-44. “Podium” Patti Lowden was true to her name, winning 1st in the 65-69 women.

Thanks for all a great race and all the birthday love, Erin! Next years race date is March 2, birthday of Roy Shelley. I can only assume that all pasty white masters birthday boys will be similarly honored in 2019.

Photo credits to Tracy Tisdale and Johnny Deal!

Winter Challenge Triathlon – Springfield, SC – 2/17/18


For the last couple of years, I’ve made a point of trying to race some different events that are unique or challenge me in some other way than my standard weekly road race.  A couple of years ago, Columbia Running Club legend Lisa Smarr talked up this event  – something she and her husband (former 2:20ish marathoner and tri beast) Paul Laymon  had done for several years. It was a triathlon not of the typical swim/road bike/road run but of a 7 mile trail run, 6 mile kayak and 10 mile mountain bike. I balked initially at the idea, since I didn’t have a mountain bike and had never kayaked in my life. Ever since the atomic bonk of the 2012 downtown tri (i.e. the one I thought I could wing the swim on zero training and ride a borrowed mountain bike in a hilly road course) I have been seriously gun shy about doing any tri I for which I wasn’t thoroughly prepared.  But time passes. I end up meeting one of the Winter Challenge race directors (I think Chris Williams)  at the 2016 Heathwood Deck the Hall race and I finally bought an old used mountain bike to schlep the trails out at Sesqui. He and Lisa assured me I could just rent a kayak from Nature Adventures, who provided them to all the noobs wanting to race. I guess I didn’t have an excuse now. I think I saw the event on facebook a few months back, and in typical Blue Shoes two-beered mode, decided to take the plunge.

But that was months ago, and with the Columbia Running Club annual banquet to plan and my typical obsessive running/racing/tennis/kids activities schedule, it got put on the back burner. I did manage to get on the Bill Clinton era cannondale a few times out in Sesqui, once with fellow psychiatrist Michael Ferlauto and another with fellow psychiatrist and certifiably insane Jeff Brandenburg.  JB decided to put me through a Tour de Torture on the sandy hell of Sesqui,  where I ended up wiping out at least 4 times on a 10 miler. I think the bike got shelved since then.

So Winter Challenge weekend rolls around, and my “training” involved a few 50 mile running weeks culminating in last week’s leg-annihilating triple dip, 2 mountain bike rides, and absolutely zero paddling/kayaking. But hey, I paddled the Tyger river with my 11 year old last year in a canoe, so totally the same, right?

I had planned to join in on the Winter Challenge party atmosphere and camp out at the Dome Farms site in Springfield on Friday, but my suburban dad duties went a-calling and I had to take my son Jack to his baseball practice while the wife had a girls night. I had planned to follow up the Winter Challenge with a trip to the World beer festival with Drew, Mike Nance and McGrievy, but Jack’s boy scouts had camping at Sesqui that Saturday also. I figured showing up daydrunk with my 9 year old (who also wanted to come)  amongst the Boy Scouts would be poor form, so I had to nix the beering. The sacrifices I make for my children.

With the race at 10 am and the site at least an hour away, I left at 7 to make sure I got everything squared away well ahead of time. Yeahhh, we’ll get back to that. On the way, I blew by some truck with kayaks, so I figured I was going to the right way. A couple of seconds later JB calls me and wonders if I’m the jack hole hauling ass down 321 like its a Nascar track. Yep, he was recruited by Paul to run the 7 mile trail run for his relay team since Paul had an injury and couldn’t run.  After forever and several 30 mph speed traps through Gaston, Swansea and Springfield, we finally get to Dome Farm. Well, I should say JB and Paul did, since I decided to turn the wrong way at the sign and head towards Red Bank/Pelion oblivion before JB called and got me back on course.

I got there about 2 hours ahead of time and picked up my packet and got set up by Nature Adventures. The guy was kind enough to give me some kayaking tips and fit me into something suitable for my Sasquatch frame. Got my bike racked in the transition, all set. Lots of Columbia people on hand for this one. Lois Leaburn, Teresa Harrington, Mike Wainscott, Ken Lowden, Patti Lowden, Winston Holliday, Alfred Baquiran, Renee and Patrick McCormick and Chesson Merritt were on hand, in addition to Paul and JB. Michael and Kate Ferlauto were on relay teams with Kate’s brother Will and his wife Lorien. Sadly, Lisa Smarr was sick this week and had to pull the plug on this year’s event. Word has it she might have been weakened by being sucked into a triple dip last weekend by some idiot. Just rumors, I’m sure.

JB and I decided to do a brief 2-ish mile run warmup and it was still well before 9:30. We then decided to go out on the bike and see some of the combined run/bike course. Everything was fine until JB looks concerned about 2.5 miles in, and he says we should have finished one of the loops by now. So we decide to turn around. At some point we come back to the EXACT SAME SPOT and realize we have gone around in a big circle. Minor panic ensues. JB accesses the “return to home” feature on his Garmin and we try to go back. Nope. Meanwhile, the time is ticking and its already past 9:40. The pace gets quicker as more panic sets in. 9:50 and we still don’t know where the hell we are. Finally, about 9:55 we realize we’re in the right place and haul ass through the forest at mach 5 , arriving at the transition area at 9:58 with the pre-race briefing in progress. I rack my bike like a headless chicken, run at 400m pace to my car, throw on my ankle strap timing chip, pound whatever water and coffee I have in the car, and sprint back to the start. I usually hate late starts at races, but I’ve never been more thankful for this one. With my heart rate probably at 160, I hear they will get underway in 10 minutes. I’m exhausted but at least I have a second to relax. I am sweating and puffing away like I just finished half the tri already. I ran into Winston again at the start and he said he was doing the duathlon this year after doing the tri before. When I asked him if the kayak was really that bad, the look he gave me spoke volumes. Ruh roh.

PART I – 7-ish mile trail run

With the start, I try and lay back a little, not trying to jack up my heart rate again after the terrifying “warm-up”.  First 2.5 miles are a loop on the other side of the lake, not the 5-ish mile loop that me and JB already extensively toured.  I’m definitely warmed up, so the 7:30ish miles are not too bad. JB has left me for dead since he is just doing the run. After the slowish start, I pick it up some after finish the first loop. The other loop is decidedly more technical, so I’m making decent gains on the field by just maintaining pace. At some point I hit a 5 mile marker at 4.46 miles by Garmin. I just hope I’m not getting lost again.  A little later I catch a guy with  a 2015 era Harbison trail shirt (the SCROTUM edition) and he says he knows Rick, though I haven’t seen him on the roads. Six miles in and I start to really throw the hammer down, figuring I might need to have a substantial lead on the field going into disciplines I never do. I catch some guy who tells me to trash talk his nephew up ahead. I catch the nephew near the 7 mile mark, but there’s clearly more distance to go. I make sure and tell him his uncle is getting ready to kick his ass and then Blue Shoe him in the process. I hit the mat around 56 minutes for about 7.3 miles. Fairly wiped from the effort over the last mile but not too bad.


JB heckling me and the ambulance ready to take me

Part II – 6 mile kayak

So I jump in my rented kayak, in the first corral based on the run pace I submitted, and go to own. I hear Ken Lowden shout that I’m a natural. I plow ahead for a  few minutes and realize one thing: my whole upper body hates me. While my 11 year old son and I could fly down the Tyger river in a canoe, this was a completely still lake and I was embarrassingly slow. I knew there were 3 laps of this thing, and I wasn’t even halfway done with the first lap before I knew I was in a world of trouble. As it turns out, about half the loop was clear sailing and the other half involved navigating around trees and stumps and whatever the hell else was out there in this Dagobah like environment. In addition to being painfully slow, I was taking all the wrong lines and coming incredibly close to capsizing or crashing. I got hung up on a log once but somehow managed to free myself. I should note I was probably in the top 10 in the run, so I was getting passed by seemingly EVERYBODY. First relatively fit guys, then average Joes, older women, basically anyone with any kayaking ability whatsoever. After navigating the swampy part, I was so glad to finally hit the open water again. Of course, this is where people with actual paddling strength just fly by me like I’m sitting still, which I basically am. I remember the day before the race seeing Lisa Smarr in a paddling picture wearing gloves. I was so proud of being prepared and bringing gloves too. Those gloves were currently sittingin the middle of my passenger seat of my 2005 Honda pilot. I suddenly recalled this due to my hands screaming for relief from the multiple blisters forming. Awesome. I started gripping the paddle like an animal without opposable thumbs, desperately trying to save the area between my thumb and forefinger already rubbed raw. Of course this was even less efficient.  For those without small children, there is a character called Robee on the show “Yo Gabba Gabba”.

robeeBrobee has long, limp, lifeless arms. All I could think of on Lap 2 was that I was Brobee in a boat. My arms and shoulders were so wrecked that they were almost numb. Plus my core was wiped from stabilizing and steering the boat. Oh, and the legs were real thrilled to be crammed into a half sit-half dump taking position for an hour, after blasting a seven miler.  By the start of Lap 3 I was half delirious and just glad I wasn’t Lois, who managed to find herself in the weeds on the bank. At least there was another noob on the course. I hardly recall lap 3, other than I could barely turn the boat and I had to stop a few times and completely redirect the boat. Towards the end of lap 3 I started wailing away once I hit open water, just trying to get this misery over. In my last gasp effort I finally caught up with Podium Patti Lowden. By the time I drifted into the finish, I was just destroyed. I could hardly walk and my arms were just dead weights by my side. Results said 1:17 on the paddle, one of the slowest times out there. I later realized I was actually ahead of the eventual overall winners initially, but got smoked by them and probably 15 other people in the water.


PART III – 10 mile mountain bike ride

Ok, so I was in no condition to do anything but crash on the couch and have a beer after my embarrassing display on the water. But I still had 10 miles on my 1990’s cannondale with a sketchy gear shifter to go. I entered the transition area in a slow walk. Fifty two seconds just to put a helmet on and grab my bike. I basically chugged whatever was left in my one water bottle I brought to the race. Jumping on my bike, I knew this was going to be an epic struggle. There was no part of my body that wasn’t sore and exhausted. At least there was a big Columbia cheering section at the transition. The start was the same 2.5 mile loop from the run. Thankfully not too technical with some decent flat, open stretches. That didn’t save me from getting passed again by people presumably with biking skills and/or any energy whatsoever. After the 2.5 mile loop I was dying for some water, so I actually stopped and chugged multiple shots of HEED and water which I think was actually for the run course. Brandenburg was heckling me the whole time and telling me how bad I sucked. Dude, I know.  Some random girl in a lounge chair even told him to go easy on me. The next 3 plus miles were on the trails that JB and I had already gotten to know from our ridiculously frenetic warm up. Some flats but more single track and some tight muddy areas. I had a couple of near wipe outs and  I basically wrecked when my left handle bar hit a tree and sent me catapulting forward. Luckily I was so damn slow that I was able to catch myself before I fell. Five miles in the course suddenly crosses over highway 39. I’m hoping there may be a road stretch but its only a crossing, and I’m thrown back in the woods. My only solace is that there is a nice long open stretch leading into the next loop. Great! Maybe I’m done with the technical stuff? Wrong. Dead wrong. Suddenly I’m navigating the narrowest, hilliest area of the whole course. No way my legs can power through this – basically have to hop off and power walk my bike like a third grader through any time I hit anything remotely difficult.  Seven miles in, some kids are giving out more of the shot glasses of HEED/water. They are also offering, in a much more enthusiastic way, “DO YOU WANT WATER SPLASHED IN YOUR FACE!!??”. Being half delirious, I tell them no and grab their larger “face splashing” cup and chug it like a champ. They implied that cup may be less than hygienic, but damned if I cared at that point.  At nine miles, I am dead man biking but I suddenly hit the flat stretch again heading back towards the highway and hopefully, the finish. I instinctively gear up to the big wheel, and it appears my millennial aged bike has had enough I hear a crunch and my floppy chain jumps off the drivetrain. Between the crazy warm February day (70’s) and my dehydrated, exhausted self, putting the chain back on is a freaking feat of strength. I’ve faded so far back in the field by now I actually don’t get passed in my bike repair session. The last mile is a total blur – just going as hard as I can on the flat open stretch to home.  The bike feels a little off but I can’t tell whether its the wonky machine or the even wonkier person riding it. Finally I see the finish and roll on in in 3:24,  a 1:09 split for the bike, slower than I run 10 miles on the road. 34th place. But sweet baby Jesus I am glad to be done. I have not been that physically destroyed in a long time. I think the only thing close was the BQ marathon in Kiawah. So freaking weak.


What definitely was not weak was the post race spread. Awesome BBQ, hash, rice, rolls and apple pie. And a keg of Mama’s Little Yellow Pils. These guys know how to do a race right. JB introduced me to Brian Curran from Outspokin’ Bicycles in Columbia who was really nice to fix my chain and do a quick tune up on the gears of my geriatric bike. Thanks, Brian! I had to leave early to go camping but they had a bunch of swag to give away as well.  I will be back!

Thanks to Bryan Leaburn, Teresa Harrington and Ken Lowden for the pics!






Triple Dip 2018 – Race for the Place/Lagniappe 5k/Cupid’s Chase 5k – Columbia,SC – 2/10/18


The triple dip. Like a runner’s solar eclipse, the perfect storm of three races being geographically and temporally arranged to complete them all in one morning is an exceedlingly rare event. In the annals of Columbia Running Club lore, the only known triple dip occurred on March 2, 2013. That triple was completed by John Gasque, Cheryl and Tommy Outlaw, James Hicks and myself. That triple was made immensely more difficult since the old March for Meals course at the zoo was delayed by a train by 15 minutes, and had all the triplers get to the second race less than 10 minutes from the start. And of course there was the beauty of the secondary challenge of that day, Tyler “Trophy” McGaha seeking a rare Blue Shoe win by taking me on in the last race of the day. Let’s just say victory is sweet.


Triple Dip 2013

I should say that the triple, to be properly done, should be as close to 5k race effort as possible. Most regular runners are not going to have any problem running 9.3 miles (presuming all are 5ks). It’s the intensity of the 5k effort that is the challenge. Just one 5k, if raced at full effort, is brutal. Doing it 3 times in a row should hurt like hell.

This year, everything fell into place again, though very late. The webmaster or somebody put up an 8:00 am start for the Lagniappe 5k originally, but the sleuthery of Roy Shelley resulted in the realization that this was an error, and 9 am was the actual start. So, 2 weeks before the event, we now had the Race for the Place 5k in Shandon at 8, the Lagniappe 5k at City Roots/Owens Field Park at 9 and Cupid’s Chase at Maxcy Gregg Park at 10. The perfect storm had arrived.

I advertised this fact on the Columbia Running Club facebook site and even made an impassioned plea during our awards banquet for any possible triplers out there. I thought I was probably on my own. I don’t know why people balk at the idea of blowing 90 bucks to submit themselves to a morning of psychological and physical torture . Jeez.



As an expert level double dipper, I planned everything in advance. I was very thankful Strictly Running had early packet pickup for the last 2 races, so that would cut down on time. Jordan Lybrand prepared a route where I could actually run between all three. While actually possible, the logistics of navigating 14+ miles and potential for rain made me wuss out on that option. Next time, Jordan, next time. My race strategy was to go balls out in the Race for the Place, and then survive the last two. While I didn’t think three sub 20’s were likely, I wanted to at least get close. “B” goal was to definitely go faster than my 15k PR of 1:01:50. Hopefully place in age group in all 3. Knowing RFTP was the most competitive, this is the reason for the all out effort in race one.

Race prep included not sleeping a whole lot on Thursday post-CRC banquet and beer/pizza at Upper Crust on Friday night. I showed up to my getaway spot in front of St Joe’s church about an hour early and warmed up with the Silent H. Of course, my legs feel like crap and I’m cursing my decision to do a 6 miler on Friday afternoon. Plenty of fast peeps are already there and I’m already not liking my masters/age group chances. Eric Allers is still bitter over the Cold Winter’s blue shoeing and Mike Nance is going to kick my ass age group-wise. Both will probably beat me for masters glory. I’m interested who will win this race as Blythewood high/CRC beast Alan Deogracias has some serious competition with #triathalonAF Adam Feigh and brand new CRC member Mike Schrum toeing the line. Justin was hunting for the top team pizza party prize and there was a big TUS contingent with myself, Justin, Sean Marden, Nance, Sara Bonner, Sheila Bolin, and Mario Alvarez. Joyce was also there with huge Team Utopia Youth representation, including newly turned 9 year old phenom Kendra Miles going for the 5k state record. Randy would be facing off with his “identical twin” nemesis Johnathan Kirkwood. Other familiar faces included Sarah Allers, Pamela Knapp, Ken Lowden, Kat Hudgins, Tammy Carter, Marie Demetriades, Kimberly Taylor, Derek Gomez and his daughter Madelyn, Reese and Melinda Petruzzi, Alsena Edwards, Mario Tudor, Jennifer Tudor, Arnold Floyd, Sandy Smith, Leeds Barroll, Lois Leaburn, Teresa Harrington, Dave Hale, Brigitte Smith, Sharon Sherbourne and Mickie Ishizue.


Ryan Plexico and Lisa Smarr showed up a little later and they both said they “might” triple. Missy Caughman is an awesome race director and apparently ran the race as well.

With the gun, the start was predictably fast with all the beasts in attendance, especially because the opening stretch is slightly downhill. My whole body is immediately screaming for this insanity to stop, since I’ve been lazy about speedwork and just logging a metric crap-ton of slow miles recently. I even get mocked on Strava for my 9ish training pace sometimes, but again, it builds up the can of whupass to be unleashed on Saturday mornings. Take that , Strava bullies. By the time we reach the long stretch on Heyward street, the pack has completely thinned out and I am left all alone. I am just close enough to the Allers/Nance/Marden minipack ahead to have them to gauge pace. Mile 1 comes through in a pretty brisk 6:11. Mile 2 is just tough mentally. We’re still heading away from the start and every time I push it a little, the little debbie downer voices start reminding me that there’s 2 more of these to go.  I’m pretty miserable by the time we reach Queen street, the far end of this rectangle course, but its nice to start heading somewhat back towards the finish. It’s really hard to muster up much of an effort because I desperately need someone to push me. Finally mile 2 comes through in 6:36 or something and I realize I’ve really fallen off pace. I start kicking it in,  and I can feel the minipack start to drift ever so slowly back to me. Sean just hiked 400+ miles of Palmetto Trail so he’s falling behind Nance and Allers. I’m really struggling with wanting to make a headless chicken attempt at Sean but I realize the only points/position gain I could get is by catching Allers or Nance, and that just isn’t happening.  Apparently I make a living out of tracking down faster dudes when they’re hurt or recovering, like a giant white vulture feeding on the wounded. But Marden kicks it in enough to avoid the endless shame that poor Allers and Nance have had to endure previously,  and I mount a half-inspired kick to cross in 19:27.  Tracy, who is making sure to photodocument the triple dip, catches some absolutely beautiful finish line pics. I had been complaining of my lack of decent racefaces recently. I will complain no more.


In the overall, Adam Feigh crushed it for the win in 16:25, followed by Shrum and Deogracias. Justin also broke 17 minutes for 4th.  The ladies’ race was quite the showdown between youth and “experience”, as 12 year old Madelyn Gomez ran a blazing 20:55, followed quickly by 57 year old Sarah Allers in 20:57 and then 9 year old Kendra Miles in 20:59. Kendra’s time is a new state record by at least a minute and a half I believe. But most importantly, TUS won the pizza party. Gotta have your priorities.


I walked around a bit but realized I needed to head over to the Owens Field area for race number 2. The hard effort at RFTP left my legs pretty wrecked and I was super not looking forward to the Lagniappe. I got confused when I got there and almost parked in Owens Field park but then realized the start was at City Roots. I pulled in with about 15 minutes to spare so all was OK. Unfortunately, I realized the start was about a half mile from the finish, so I would have to factor this in for the triple logistics.

Strictly running had picked this as their preferred event and Brandenburg, Coach B, Drew Williams, Jordan Lybrand, Jennifer Lybrand, Plex and Justin Jones were representing the red and white. It was good to see Kimberly Hardin back racing, and she brought a cheering contingent including fellow runner Teresa Shelton. Columbia Running Club’s royal family, the Weavers, were all on hand as well.  Reese and Melinda Petruzzi were there to complete their double dip, with Bob and Alex joining them as well this time.  Arnold Floyd was also doubling up. Tracy Tisdale was racing , so briefly putting down her camera to actually run. She did manage to steal my iPhone to take most of the start line pics (minus the giant headed self-aggrandizing selfies of course).  Laurie’s son Cotes was also on hand. Eme Crawford  and CRC award winners Kayce Singletary, Rocky Soderberg, and Chesson Merritt, were in attendance.


The start on this one felt like death. I ran Lagniappe last year on a modified course due to construction, and they were going back to the old one this year. I thought we were being spared the hill on the crawdaddy course by turning left immediately on holt st, but it turned out it was just drawing out the hill on a more gradual plane. This would be fine normally but my legs had gotten super tight and my stomach was grumbling for some eggs and toast, not another gut wrenching 5k effort. It was tough to see Brandenburg and Coach B pull away since I usually hang right with these guys. Ian Loughlin was riding me like a circus monkey early on, but fell off some once we turned on to Waccamaw and got another dose of hill. I finally turned on to Rosewood and my Garmin spat out a 7 minute flat split, and I was deathly afraid my triple was already coming undone. Thankfully the course is basically all flat and downhill from there. I plowed ahead and finally got a little more comfortable after my legs finally realized they were going to be tortured again. I was able to make up a little ground on Coach B and JB, with an unknown girl just behind them.  The long stretch on Holly was thankfully a gradual downhill, and mile 2 came back in a more 10kish 6:28.  Mile 3 dropped us all the way back down to City Roots again and then headed towards Owens Field park with a long lap around the soccer fields. I entered the park with coach B and JB a little closer, thanks to JB wanting to take the scenic route near the old memorial stadium. I wasn’t sure how long the lap was in the park, but I could see the leader still hadn’t finished yet, so I guess the answer was LONG. The course was all on gravel road from here and for whatever reason I had a wild hair that I could maybe catch the guys. As I rounded the far turn, I blasted into full-on headless chicken. I could tell there was probably not enough real estate to get Coach B but unknown girl was about to get caught. I pulled alongside her and she was having none of it, surging ahead. Of course this triggered david banner green-eyed mode in myself, and I ratcheted it up about 4 unknown adrenaline gears into a ridiculous display that must have scared any nearby women and children.  Garmin recorded a 4:40ish pace over the last 0.12 after a 6:10 last mile. Crashed into the finish in 20:14 just behind Coach B in a whirl of fury and pain. Turns out the “unknown girl” was actually Mackenzie Jordan from SR, who took the overall women’s win. Hopefully her victory photos aren’t ruined by an maniacal sasqatchian 42 year old. Good enough for 1st in AG.


Justin Jones took the overall win in 17:18, with Jordan Lybrand in 2nd in 17:34. Plex completed part 2 of his triple in 18:26. Behind Mackenzie was Jen Lybrand, who ran 23:14 with Wilson. Third went to Kim Hardin in 24 minutes and change – pretty strong for not racing in close to a year.  Drew Williams and Gay Petrey won masters. Age group honors: Cotes Royson was the champ of the 11-14, with Reese and Alex Petruzzi also claiming the podium. Jessie Weaver won the 20-24 with Ian Loughlin  taking 2nd on the men’s side. CRC’s Lauren Mojkowski placed 3rd in the 25-29. Eme Crawford was 3rd in the 35-39. Tracy Tisdale won the 45-49 by a full three minutes. JB squeaked by with the 50-54 win in 13 minutes. Susan Weaver won among the women. Mark Bedenbaugh was champ of the 55-59. The 55-59 featured a double Lisa with Lisa Smarr and Lisa King crossing the finish line together. Harry Strick and Bob Petruzzi claimed the 60-64 men. In the 70+,  Arnold Floyd, Rocky Soderberg and a hoodied Rich Weaver claimed the podium.

Of course my headless chicken finish left me even more wrecked after race #2 . I headed over to the River Rat truck and claimed my post race “breakfast stout” beer, with a bonus extra shot of lager when the keg wouldn’t work. Nothing like double fisting at 9:30 in the morning. I can only imagine what I looked like power walking down Jim Hamilton blvd, soaked in sweat and pounding a beer. I eventually had to do the most blasphemous act of pouring out half the beer since I was running out of time.  When I got to my car they had me barricaded in for the Mardi Gras festival, so luckily some guys helped me out and I tore out of there. I pulled into the lot at the Lourie center (site of my original 2013 CRC banquet as prez) and had to high tail it to the start of Cupid’s Chase with Plex doing the same.

I strolled up to the start and they were already announcing t-minus 6 minutes to the gun. Whew, a close one. Didn’t have a lot of time to gauge my competition, but Nate Carrasco was on hand to give Plex a run for his money. Plex told me he felt like death, and I was right there with him, though it was great to be ready to finish. It was good to see the OG Robbie McLendon and Nicole after a long time. Matt Gregory and Alex Ponomarev were also on hand.   Sandy Smith, Brigitte Smith and Dave Hale were completing a double with RFTP. Lisa Smarr actually registered and walked up to the line less than a minute before the gun. Hardcore.


At the start, Nate takes off like a man possessed and gaps the field immediately. The first mile starts at Maxcy Gregg and mirrors the first mile of Get to the Green all the way up the hill to the King/Blossom intersection.  My legs are complaining again but I try and force them to cooperate and keep up with Matt. The hill is brutal but it helps me against the field. In my delirium, I see Ken Lowden cheering about my 2nd 5k, which I think I screamed “THIRD!!!” at him in a maniacal frenzy. Sorry, Ken! Despite my efforts, mile 1 is again slower than my half marathon pace in 6:57. But luckily the rest of the course is also flat and downhill like Lagniappe. I had forgotten how long the course stays on Blossom, and I’m practically begging for us to turn right and come back. Finally we hit the turn on Amherst and come back on Wheat. With the long flat stretch and heading back home, I launch into an extended kick well before mile 2. Just so ready to get this done.  I pass Matt and just pray the rest of the way in that he doesn’t blue shoe me in the end. Form is probably going all to hell my now, basically feels like I’m falling forward and trying not to wipe out. Mario Alvarez suddenly appears at Wheat and King and catches some pics of my flopping around. Mile 2 in 6:25. The whole last mile is pretty much a blur. If I can smell the finish, I will give up a lung and my sanity to reach those red numbers. The finish is awesome to this race – flying down Blossom in a reverse of that early climb. There’s a guy in front of me and I can’t tell how old he is, looks vaguely age grouper. With all these bearded millennials , I cant tell the real old from the faux old guys.  To his credit, he kicks it in pretty good, and once we reach 5 points, my gas tank is pegged on E. One half hearted flop towards the finish and I cross in 20:15, 6:05 last mile with a 5:49 kicker. SO glad to be done! Thankfully the age grouper guy was in the 35-39, so I was lucky to get 1st in AG again, especially with the one-deep awards.  The reason for the one-deep is that the swag is crazy good – I got a “love bug” stuffed animal and a 20 dollar gift certificate to BJ’s brewhouse. Pretty nice for an AG award!


Beauty and the Beast

Overall win in this race went to Nate in 18:39, which I think may be his first win. He’s gotten insanely fast really quickly. Major props to him. Dustin Cook took 2nd and a beatdown Plex still was good enough for 3rd.  I believe Jennifer Newman took the women’s win, as a guy named Joey accidentally got keyed in as a woman. Angela Titus was 2nd and Katy Mayhew 3rd.  In the age groups, Matt Gregory took the 30-34, and Sandy Smith won the 55-59. Robbie McClendon won the 60-64, while Alex Ponomarev and Brigitte Smith were champs of the 65-69.

I want to send a big shout out to all the Columbia Running Club people supporting me in this ridiculous endeavor, especially Tracy Tisdale for taking all the pics and my fellow triple dippers Lisa Smarr and Ryan Plexico. I didn’t do a triple sub 20, though I did calculate my total time as 59:57  – A 19:59 average.  Plus my last mile of my last 5k was the fastest, so I’m pretty pleased with the effort.  It was a blast!








Hogpen Hill Climb 5k/18k – Unicoi State Park, Helen, GA – 1/13/18



I got sucked into the Hogpen last year. Never one to  travel for most races (Columbia has something every weekend practically), El Capitan (Brian Clyburn) of my Palmetto 200 team talked this one up for years as a “must-do”.  Combine this with my internal engine of equal parts narcissism and masochism, a built in double-dip, along with a beer-fueled trip with the Harbison Trail guys, and I was in.  I probably cursed this decision a thousand times in the 11 miles up to Hogpen gap last year, but naturally, I got suckered in again.

The Hogpen is no joke. It bills itself as one of the”toughest races in America”. I don’t know if this is hyperbole or not, but it certainly has to be up there as far as relatively short paved courses go. It has almost 2 miles of downhill  to start, but the rest is insanely hilly, with a stretch after the 7 mile mark that is relentless with some 12-14 percent grade.  Brian told me last year that you should expect your time in the 11ish mile 18k to compare to your typical half marathon times. El Capitan is clearly delusional. My half marathon times are usually 1:28-1:30. My Hogpen 18k was a 1:44. Granted, this was the second race of the day after the 5k, but it was a 100% effort. Lots of walksies. We should also mention the 5k. Nicknamed “the Piglet” , the 5k is a rolling out and back through the mountains that would easily be the toughest 5k course in Columbia. I think it was meant for the friends and family of the 18k racers, but there is actually a double dip option to do both in the registration. The 5k is pretty small, and I’m guessing the actual number of double dippers is even more miniscule. So there’s an undercard 5k, with like maybe 30-40 people. Most runners think “don’t bother”. I think “TROPHY HUNT!!”.   Last year my trophy hunt was quashed by the Yerg, but also some kid who blue shoed him at the end and left us both with only medals. The overall winners, of both the 5k and the 18k, get an awesome mug, custom made by a local potter. This year, I decided the mug must be mine!


The Yerg and I decided to travel up to Helen, GA the night before. Me, to make the early 5k start time, Rob, to participate in the drinking of DAS BOOT.  Since we paid like 25 bucks for the ridiculous beer boot last year at Haufbrau house, it only makes sense we would go back for seven dollar refills.  For the uninitiated, White county Georgia’s cultural attractions include both the Cabbage Patch “Hospital” were your favorite mid-80’s bizarro fad dolls are made, and the faux alpine village of Helen. Helen is kind of like Sound of Music meets Myrtle Beach. The streets are all in German and the whole town looks like a movie set. I think its main purpose is an excuse to drink beer, which, while not the classiest of motives, is an idea I can still get behind. Our wild “night on the town” consisted of a hop from the Hofbrau Haus to “Bigg Daddy’s”, a restaurant noted for its wide selection of bar cuisine, if not for their spelling.  A zombie pizza (steak, sausage and pepperoni) and another beer later and I was pretty much done. We were back at the hotel at like 7:30 and Yerg was comatose by 8.  No one can hang with partiers like us.


The next morning I make the Yerg get up super early, eat breakfast and check out of the hotel to get there at 8:20ish for the 9 am start time. I hurriedly get my bib and warm up, fighting the 28 degree cold. On top of this is a stiff wind and the faintest of snow dusting from last night.  At 9 am there’s barely anyone there, and then the timer tells us the 5k is at 9:30.  It’s on the website. And, I’m an idiot. After more miles thrown in just to keep warm, I stroll up to the start and the trophy senses are in full tingle. At least 80 percent of the field is bundled up like their out for a stroll, and I don’t see anyone that looks super fast. I’m a little worried about one teenager though. With the start, I blast out to the front initially, then very quickly get passed by a Latino guy with a soccer player’s build, a kid, and the teenager. Between these guys and my sasquatch self as the lead pack, the Piglet’s less than elite status was getting cemented further.  But soccer guy was not playing around. He surges out to the front on a long, insanely steep downhill, which I knew would suck at the end of this straight out-and-back course. The little bit of flat at the bottom, and its looking like I’ll be lucky to be 4th in this thing. The ensuing long uphill stretch is killer though, and I blast through the kid and teenager who had been running nearly side-by-side. Soccer dude is still crushing it. The remainder of the outward stretch is non-stop hills and I eventually pull up right behind the leader. Suddenly I see the gate up ahead and no turnaround in sight. I distinctly remember the director telling us the turnaround was a little before the gate, and I remember it from last year. Me and soccer guy basically stop and look at each other after the gate. I have like 1.6 something miles on my Garmin, and there’s no signage in sight down the road. We create our own turnaround just after the gate and take off back towards the start. We’ve built a huge gap on the field, so its going to be mano a mano to the finish. Soccer guy has taken the lead and is trying to pull away . I’m stepping a little out of the 5k pace I want to run because I don’t want him gapping me too much. As we roll back towards the finish, soccer dude is officially kicking my ass. I had hoped to win and not have to try that hard, not locked into a brutal duel on what was definitely going to be a long course. My oxygen deprived brain decides to push in all my chips on that soul-crushing incline waiting for us at the end.

Heading into the bottom of the hill, the leader has maybe 10 feet on me. As soon as I hit the mountain, I unleash the dragon. A quarter of the way up I pull even with the guy and he is not having it, surging ahead. I then enter some deep, dark pain cave and the access the reserve rocket fuel tank. I surge ahead and get overtaken by my favorite drug- the pure adrenaline fix of first place. Yes, its first place in the undercard race of 40 some odd people, most of whom are treating this as a fun run, but in my mind it’s a showdown between Mo Farah and Galen Rupp. As I crest the hill, I have no idea where soccer dude is and Rob and the rest of the Harbison Trail Runner contingent are screaming for me to not get beat by the guy behind me. The remaining stretch is downhill and I’m blasting 1000 percent, legs burning and lungs sucking, scared to death of getting passed at the finish. I crash through the line at Mach 5, only to look back and see the other guy like a 100 meters back.  Damn those guys. Still, a win is a win. A shade under 23 minutes for 3.4ish miles. “Soccer guy” was Jose Flores and his son Joe took third place. Super nice people. Jose said he was doing the 18k too and runs around 19 minutes for a typical 5k, so I guess we were well matched. I will cherish my mug!


Of course, now I had just over an hour before a brutal 18k, after giving an unexpected 10000 percent effort in the Piglet. I was going to be absolute toast. I switched over bibs and discovered the Hogpen has the most bizarre swag bag. I am now the proud owner of  not one, but two Cake Boss “spoonulas” and a snow leopard coin purse. I know, don’t be jealous.


By this time, Rick Stroud, Marion Hinson and Ken Hinely had made their way to the race, opting for a day trip starting at 6 am that morning. Dean reportedly had something he had to do back home, like cowering in anxiety over a possible McDonald beatdown. The HTR guys are pretty laid back, but they definitely get competitive over this thing. Rick has been the beast on this course, clocking a 1:39 last year without walking a step apparently.  I’m so beat I spend half the time between the races heating my ass with my seat warmer and admiring my trophy mug. Suddenly I realize its 10 minutes until the start and I chug  a water and eat 6 month old fig newtons that have been kicking around my bag forever. Best snack ever. I make my way up to the “start” when I realize the 18k starts a third of a mile down the road. My little warm up jog turns into some 7 minute pace, as I hear the timer announcing 3 minute, then 2 minutes warnings. Finally, I come blasting into the start area, pose for one pic with the guys, then 30 seconds later we are off. I’ve already put in 6 miles between all the warmup and the 5.5 k, so my legs are giving me the big eff you when I think about staying with Rob, Rick and Ken. Marion passes me and I hang with him in the first couple of miles. The most important thing about these 2 miles is that they mean jack squat in terms of the whole race. It’s nice to fall downhill for awhile, but basically its a glorified warmup for the hell that awaits. I hit 7:32/7:54 on the opening miles. Felt like death already thanks to the brutal Piglet. This was going to be nasty.  Speaking of nasty, the next few miles have some tough climbs, but they reward you with some downhill so I was able to keep trucking along. Nothing blazing but I was definitely in survival mode. Rick, Ken and Yerg were long gone. Marion and I leap frogged a few times. This was Marion’s virgin Hogpen, though I’m sure Cpl. Stroud had filled him in with all the course data on the drive down. A few high 8/low 9 splits, which I was totally fine with. This is the section from last year wheret I fooled myself into believing I was going to crush this race.  Soon Marion and I hit the mile 5 marker and the course suddenly takes an abrupt turn to the right.

And the misery begins. Mile 5 to mile 6 is like the opening intro to a really bad song that is the rest of this race.  Relentless upward climb. Really steep. I manage to leave Marion and just focus on keeping moving and avoiding the loud walksie voices. Last year I passed Rick and Dean on this mile using my Quarry crusher mountainclimber pace and thought I had them beaten. Yeah… that was a big negative, ghost rider. Thankfully I hit the mile 6 marker still on my feet and somehow managed a sub 10 minute mile, which is positively blazing for that mile. The stretch between mile 6 and 7 is glorious, because its almost all downhill. Easy coasting, feels amazing after that hard slog. How hard could the rest be? Answer: spirit-crushing hard.

Mile 7 in 8:53, and here comes the pain again, falling on my head like a tragedy. I manage to get to the top of the first major incline, only to face another series of hamstring wrenching, heart rate pounding, lung deflating hills. Fighting the walksies becomes a pointless debate, and now its all about how much of this I can actually run. I’m out there swinging my arms like a moms’ mall walking group. I just need a headband and a sweatsuit. I keep leapfrogging this guy who is evidently channeling that ultra running eternally-positive vibe, while I’m trying not to drop F bombs with every stride and every sub 20 degree wind. All this power walking is doubly killer because its making me colder and colder as we approach toward the summit. I take a few glances up and there’s a dark cloud and the mountaintop draped in white. Looks like winter is coming.  Miles 8 and 9 are really pretty comical. All these supposedly fit guys power striding and trying desperately to granny jog any bit they can. Twelve, thirteen minute miles are coming back now. I don’t even want to see my Garmin. Just tell me how many miles are left. Finally, at mile 10, there’s a bit of a reprieve and, hey , with all this walking I’m actually ready to run again. It’s a good thing because I am freezing my ass off. The surrounding woods is now a winter wonderland, and in my near delirium I’m sure a white walker has come to get me around the next turn.  I figure there’s only a little over a mile to go so I start really trying to push it on the next major incline. Nope. Walksies again. My water from the aid station freezes before I can even finish it. Finally I can see what I think is the last incline before the finish. Some guy is up ahead in neon shorts which I instantly recall is my new friend Jose. And yes, I am a total ass, so you can figure out the rest. Red lined the whole last hill, passed Jose about a quarter mile from the finish, which I can now see, and sprinted it home to complete the double blue shoeing. 1:48 and change. 23rd overall. 4th in age group. Wasn’t pretty but I will take it after the effort put forth on the 5k. The finish is pretty cool. Light snow flurries and a couple of inches on the ground. I decided to forgo the chicken soup this year in order to do a quick change into some dry clothes. Thankfully I remembered to bring like four layers of stuff in the drop bag instead of nothing and relying on Dean’s mercy sweatshirt like last year. No picture taking and socializing this year – we all hopped into the shuttle van as quickly as possible. Twenty something degrees with 20 mph winds and snow may have contributed.  Rick crushed the mountain again this year, PR’ing (i believe) on the course with a 1:37. Rob finished just ahead of Ken in 1:44 and 1:45 respectively. Marion claimed his first Hogpen in 1:54.  Not bad all around.  Celebratory beers were had again at Bigg Daddy’s. For some reason Rick had a fascination with knowing my exact birthdate. As my “gift” from the Harbson Trail Runners, I am now apparently signed up for the Vertical Mile Challenge in June. Thanks, Rick…I think.