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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“True to the Brew” half marathon held in Spartanburg Co.

https://runsignup.com/Race/Results/63244/#resultSetId-172396;perpage:10

https://www.strava.com/activities/2746514252

 

Springdale 5k – Camden, SC – 9/7/19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://runsignup.com/Race/Results/77754/#resultSetId-168824;perpage:5000
https://www.strava.com/activities/2687636299

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