Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Toughest 20K in the Southeast

Yeah...I'm still here. Yeah I still have a blog.

It seems that I have gone into a bit of a running 'funk' since the Marine Corps Marathon. I've not wanted to run, and I certainly have not wanted to blog. Chalk it up to cold weather, the time change, darkness all the time, or just missing the marathon experience...whatever it is, its tough to kick. My old recipe for avoiding this slump was to schedule another race, but even signing up for the Paris Mountain Road Race, and Charleston Marathon didn't seem to pull me out of it. Go figure.

Don't get me wrong, I've still been running. In fact during the week of Thanksgiving I hit 52 miles, but it was a drudgery to get out the door and make it happen. I was able to run the Paris Mountain course on a couple of occasions, and I am SO glad that I did.

The week leading up to the Paris Mountain race, we had some rain around here, and if you know anything about me, the bed won't let me up if there is even a chance for rain. So knowing that the mountain was going to be pretty grueling, I had a bit of an un-intentional taper, carrying only 12 miles for the week into the race.

Packet pickup was on Friday, and Christy went to pick up my packet for me. Why not "our" packets you may ask? Well she is still trying to rehab her injured achilles. This will be the 23rd race I've done...and the FIRST without my partner and inspiration.

She picked up the my..ahem 'packet' and sent me this pic of my bib.

I have never seen a more plain bib before. I promise I didn't just print this on my printer.
Turns out there was no "packet", just a few race flyers and brochures. Oh and there was no t-shirt either. They hadn't come in yet, and we'd have to pick them up at the race on Saturday.

Even though I had run the mountain twice, I still didn't know what to expect with regards to a racing pace. Would it be like a half pace? Was that too ambitious based on the elevation profile? As the race got closer, I thought that if I could land somewhere between 8:00 and 8:15 pace I'd be happy with that. I know I keep referring to the elevation profile...perhaps I should show you.

For you cycling fans, this is the same mountain that the USA Pro Cycling Championships ride up and over in their race each year in Greenville.
We had nearly perfect conditions to race in. It was about 40 degrees and bright sunshine. We did have a bit of a breeze that turned gusty at times. I can thank my wife for helping me not to make a grave mistake and overdressing for the day. Thankfully I went with short sleeves and arm warmers for the start instead of the long sleeve, as it got a bit warm in full sun.

I had quite a treat for this race. Since Christy wasn't racing, she had all the kids in the van, and they were going to be my support and cheering crew! She walked me up to the starting line and soon I was off.
Fleet Feet Greenville did not provide any compensation for wearing this shirt, but if they see this and want to give me a pair of shoes, I'm not going to turn them down.
After the race began I had a funny thought as I looked at all the bibs. I thought, this might be the easiest race in the world to bandit. As I was about to die nearing mile 3, I asked myself, who would want to?

My cheering wagon showed up around mile 2.5, which was a welcome psychological boost. I think it helped me pass about three other runners, just by seeing them and hearing them cheer me on. The Track Club (race organizer) did a good job of having music BLASTING at the first water stop at the peak of Paris Mountain. You could hear it as you got closer, so with every step it got louder and more motivating.

With this terrain, you'd think that once you reach the peak, the hard part of the race is over. My quads would like to respectfully disagree with you. On the descent I made up a lot of time, but it came at a price.

I saw my cheering group again at mile 7 where the "mountain" is officially over.

Mile 7...I just got passed
At mile 7, this lady (Blue Hat henceforth) passed me...and would open up a significant lead on me. I realized that based on the numbers of who I passed vs. who passed me...I am much better on the uphills than I am on downhills. As Blue Hat would go down hills, she would extend a lead on me, and as we'd climb I'd close the gap. I thought I had lost her on a couple of occasions as she disappeared from sight, but she'd be there around the next bend. I made it my goal to catch her. As we passed mile marker 11 I pulled even with Blue Hat. We exchanged pleasantries, and how much we'd like to kill the race course designer.

I crossed the finish in 1:40:22. At the time I really wasn't processing what that meant. But it would have been just under 1:46 marathon. Considering my half marathon PR is 1:42 on a completely FLAT course. I was over the moon excited with that time. It made me feel great to know I was in good shape leading up to Charleston in 40 days.

On the race website, it said that finishers will earn their horns this year. I didn't know what that meant, but I speculated it would be a Viking type hat, while another runner speculated that they would give out medals with horns on them. I hoped for the latter. Guess who was right?

I finished 36th overall out of 137, and finished 4th in my age group..that is in a 35-39 age group. This race featured 10 year age groups...which I am never fond of, but definitely not a deal breaker.

After the race I looked for the food, and sadly found about 5 bananas, and a half eaten package of cookies. Apparently the 5K finishers ate VERY well, or the race was not organized well. I went to pick up my shirt, and they had given them all out because there was a large showing of race day registrants. Which of course reminded me of this.

Why would a race organizer give all the shirts to race day registrants knowing that the pre-registered racers had not picked up their shirts?!?

Without a T-shirt, without a race medal...What exactly did I pay for? No food, no shirt, no race packet....did my $40 bucks pay for a viking hat? I'm pretty sure I could get this thing at the Dollar store for about .99 cents. Look, I'm not expecting a buffet meal, but when you charge half-marathon prices for a race, you'd better have something more than a cookie. They've been running this race for 41 years...FORTY ONE'd think they'd have this kind of stuff worked out by now.

Unless I'm convinced that significant changes are made, this will be my last time at this race...but I can assure you not the last time on this course. The next time I need a "hill" workout...I know EXACTLY where to go.

All the race operation issues aside, it was a great day, and extremely fun to have my support team cheering me on. Our kids don't get to see us race very often, but it is so cool when they are there to cheer you through the finish!

Totally worth it.