Saturday, November 24, 2012

The 8th Annual Turkey Day 8K

One of my favorite events in Spartanburg starts early Thanksgiving morning when I roll out of my neighborhood toward downtown for the Turkey Day 8K. Usually Seth and Carroll join me, but this year I was all alone. Arriving in Morgan Square to hundreds of folks waiting to run is a really fun sight.

One year Carroll and I ran over in the pouring rain. Thinking very few would brave the horrible conditions, we were surprised to see several hundred people waiting in the parking garage near the start. The race went off that year without rain, which held off until Carroll and I started home.  Though the weather was miserable, the morning was, as it has been all these years, true community.

The numbers have increased each of the eight years it’s been run. After starting as a bet, attended by 40 people who brought canned goods as the entry fee, the race is now over 700, and we fill a box truck with food. I see a few people I only see at the race, and there are tons of people I don’t know. 

It's all about the socks.
The race has gotten more competitive as it has grown. There are no awards except for socks for the first 75 men and the first 75 women, no race results, just a clock and a course, but the winners generally run around 25 minutes these days. I ran about 30 seconds slower this year than last, and I dropped 14 places. Last year I ran the fastest I ever had, but dropped in place from previous years.

The start. Thanks, Facebook person, for the photo.
I think of this run as a tempo run, for sure, and end up running pretty fast out of excitement and joy. Yesterday the word was shouted, and off we went at a gentle downhill slope. I had totally forgotten what this type of start is like. I hadn’t warmed up a whole lot after I ran to the start, and had cooled off in the chill since then. I felt lumbering and a little out of sorts. 

The race starts through a series of rolling hills . My friend Harold pulled up and asked if I could maintain “6:19 pace” through the race. Not a chance. “That’s what you’re doing.” I haven’t run this pace since last year’s Turkey Day 8K, but it felt reasonably easy. I continued to pull through the crowd, a few folks passing me, as we settled into what was pretty much the line for the rest of the morning.

My friend Marguerite did roll past at about 2 1/2 miles or so. She’s a great runner, so I asked why she was back here with me. I don’t see Marguerite often, and she’s about my age. “I think you have to train fast to run fast,” she said. Sixty years of running experience between us--and both of us running way faster than we should have been.

The rolling hills on the course are fairly relentless. As we started up the last steep one, I said the the tall fellow running beside me that this one was going to hurt. To my surprise, it didn’t. Though my quads were pretty hammered, the uphill felt great and smooth. 

Socks in action.
Photo by Curt McPhail,
other leg by Laura Ringo
I was running with 8 or 10 others in a pretty tight group at this point, and I started to get nervous that the magic number 75 would end up being one of us. Not wanting to have a sprint finish of any sort (because I knew I would either throw up or get dropped in a second) I decided to string out that crowd a little. It’s my only hope, I thought, and surged a few times in the last 1/2 mile. 

That, actually, was super fun. I felt like I was racing, and I guess I was. The tall fellow ended up passing me at the end, but both of us were just striding and not really trying to beat each other. And of course, I got the socks--55th male in about 32:20 (I forgot to stop my watch). My friend Kam finished in 34:high something and was out of the socks. I’m telling you, I’m going to have to train for this dang thing next year.  

Monday, November 12, 2012

Camp Croft Half Marathon Report

With chilly temps at the start, we warmed up through the race to “entirely comfortable.”  I felt strong throughout, except for the usual down time from the radio tower--the highest point of the race, I think, but certainly not the end of the climbing--at mile 6 or so to the next aid station at 8.1 miles. 

I managed to go out just as fast this year as last, this time talking with Mark VG, so I’m blaming him (do you read this, Mark?). And going into the single track I found myself at the head of a long line. As we headed into the steeper climb, I figured that couldn’t last. Sure enough, four guys rolled past Mark and me. For a while they were close enough that when they went off course, I saw them and hollered them back on. That, I told them, was the best move I made all day, I even passed one of them. 

I ran through the first aid station. I had a full bottle still, and a pocket full of GUs. I called out my number, chatted with the volunteers, most of whom are equestrian users of the trail. I appreciate them coming out for the race, which raises money for the Friends of Croft State Natural Area. They’re enthusiastic, and their cheers from the second aid station helped me get there without hurling. 

I didn’t mean to separate myself from anyone, but did by running through the aid station. The next mile-plus is flat and fast double track. I was still being conservative, wanting to save legs for the last four plus miles when you can really run and pick off the carnage from the tough course. 

Then came that bad spot. I felt a little nauseous, and ended up running mostly alone for a mile. I stopped at the aid station before a long downhill to the creek crossing, and filled up with gatorade to try to get some sugar in me. It didn’t help much, and I struggled through another mile or so. 

Crossing a closed, paved road gave me a boost, starting into the last part of the race as I had it. That Brian had caught up to me and even pulled ahead a bit for a while made me feel like I better get my giddy up (you reading this, Brian?). Except for a guy who came flying by--his first trail race I found out later--I led another little group through to the aid station two miles from the finish. Another enthusiastic crowd of volunteers there, including my friend Bud, but I ran straight through this aid station, too. 

Two guys latched on behind me through the last piece, the roughest trail, I’d say, mostly from overuse. Deep ruts, perpetually muddy sections, exposed roots to grab at tired feet--as I say, if you still have legs, you can take in a bunch of people through here. I’ve paid some attention to it lately, and have run it a pile of times in the last four or five years. As the guy behind me said, I seem to know the trail.

So having those guys behind me was a little disconcerting. I told them I felt hunted, and they both said they were hanging on. So was I. Then the guy right behind me told me he had completed an Ironman triathlon the week before: I thought, if I can’t drop the guy recovering from an Ironman... 

Through no real fault of my own, I did pull away. As we turned to climb the last stair-step “hill” to the finish, I decided I needed to put in some separation, and accelerated at the top of each step. I know how much that hill hurts; my friend Cate calls it a “f*** you” hill. 

I finished in 1:55:45, almost three full minutes off last year’s time. I’m not quite sure what to make of that: I’m probably not as fit, but I felt like I ran a smarter race this year, and a solid effort throughout. I always hope to say I ran as hard as I could, and I think I did. Since it’s the first time in a while I haven’t run faster than previous years on any race course, I’m not too worried about the age thing. 

As always the race was very well organized and marked. Thanks to Seth and all the volunteers who spent their morning feeding water to strangers.

My buddy Jason Sullivan, ultra-runner and inspiration.

Sporting the Team Fox jersey.

Wait, y'all are going the wrong way.

We all hit our watches to a chorus of beeps.

Even though I was a little wobbly, the show must go on.
We taunt the athletes every year at this event.

Week 24: Camp Croft Half Marathon

Wed 11/7 4 miles, including 2 miles barefoot. Again, I had only one of two fields. Plugged through eleven laps for about 2 miles.

Thu 11/8 7 miles at Croft, at night with Bristol. A great midweek run before a race: the dark kept me pretty slow. I really like these dark-time runs.

from Dairy Ridge: New Edition to Lake Johnson Connector to Palmetto.

Sat 11/9 15 1/2, including the Camp Croft Half Marathon. Another fun day in the woods

Sun 11/11 2 miles. I decided to start a new streak, to run every day until the Last Chance 50K on December 15. I may continue to streak after that, but we’ll see. I like the streak for what it does for me physically: last spring I wasn’t sore, I didn’t hobble at all, and the everyday running really gave me a huge confidence boost. Today I wobbled around the neighborhood after yard work.

Total  28 1/2 in four runs

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Kanawha Trace Darkness Falls 7 miler

I arrived at the race site for the Kanawha Trace Darkness Falls 7 mile race (with a 3 1/2 mile option) almost an hour ahead of the start, and the parking lot was already crowded. Though only 40 or so signed up, over a hundred ended up running one of the two distances.  I was super-excited to see so many folks—and definitely not all trail runners—out for a night race on trails.

I did get a little nervous, though, when I went to warm up on the opening and closing mile of the race. Probably because it was not quite dark, the glow sticks didn’t seem to be very bright. I had a little hard time following the trail. All those worries were taken care of, though, once we started: it was darker, and the lights showed up better, and with a crowd on the trails, I just settled into following others as we made our way up the service road to the single track about a half-mile into the run.

I had decided I didn’t want to run this one by myself, and figured I’d settle into a group from the start. The leaders went out a little hotter than I wanted, but I hung on for a little bit anyway. By the time we turned uphill for the first significant climb (of two) I was in a pretty good crowd. The climb changed that right dramatically. By the time we crested the hill at about 2+ miles, I was with three others, with folks trailing behind. The leaders were gone, for the most part.

We quickly dropped down toward the finish area where the 3.5 milers would stop. The 7-milers continued on around for a counter-clockwise (and slightly different ) loop that would reconnect to the starting trail with about 1 ½ miles to go. I was with one other runner (Philip) and we seemed to be hanging well together, pushing each other enough to make it feel like a race. Again, the leaders were long gone, and I figured all of those ahead of us were running the longer distance.

I asked Philip if he wanted me to lead; I felt bad he was doing all the route-finding. He said he liked running in front unless I wanted to speed up. Then he asked me if I often found myself in the position we were in: the leaders were mostly out of sight, and there was no one pushing us. I hadn’t thought much about it, but told him, yes, I had been racing for almost 30 years, and I ran a lot of those races in between groups.

After the finish area we turned back uphill. This one seemed steeper than the other, and I used the ultra-tool of walking with hands on quads pushing myself up the hill. Philip and I stayed together, though I thought at first he was going to pull away. We hit the top, and you could tell that the rest of the course was downhill and flat. We made our way around on a gas-line right-of-way, coming back to the single track by the creek and then the service road.

Philip and I were rolling along pretty well. I did take the lead on the gas line right of way, wanting to do my share. We slowed some on the single track, but once on the service road I speeded up again, and ended up pulling away from Philip. We went around the little pond again and finished—in the dead silence. There were people there, those who had finished the shorter distance, and the 11 who had finished ahead of me in the longer one. But no one said anything. Naturally, I cheered for the spectators; they had little response.

Afterwards I hung out and chatted with a guy I had run with before, and ate some soup (served up with a slotted spoon—I know, right?). I had worked harder than I thought I would, and felt good for it. I ran 1:06:19, good for 12th place out of 67.

Week 23: Hometown Visit

Wed 10/31  4 miles on Cottonwood

October totals 83  miles in 12 runs
Year-to-date  1244 1/2 in 199 runs

Thu 11/1 4 miles, including 2 miles barefoot 

Fri 11/2 9 miles, including the KT Darkness Falls trail race. This was a really fun race, and it worked great for my schedule. I drove up to see my mom, six hours of seat time. I arrived there about 4, and had a couple of hours before I drove the fifteen minutes from my mom’s place to the race.

Sat 11/3  Marshall game with my mom. Absolutely the highlight of the trip. We greeted lots of folks in the tailgating area, lots of them making sure to speak to my mother. We sat in my parents regular seats for a while, behind the chief of police sitting with his dad who was my high school baseball coach.

The view from the boxes
We moved to the boxes after the first quarter or so. Again, I appreciated how much attention friends there paid my mother.  She is something of the matriarch now, I guess, and due deference was given. Don't doubt that it was received graciously.

Marshall did their darndest to lose the game, but the time I spent with my friend of 45 years Rob and his dad Bos, both television news anchors in my hometown, meant a lot to me. Bos is charming and avuncular, with a memory stocked with all the greatest moments of Rob’s and my childhoods (not to mention the history of television news from its beginning). Rob and I have known each other so long and done so many things together we are like brothers, and time away does not diminish our friendship.   

Sun 11/4  5 miles in Huntington. This is a route I’ve run so many times before, passing the houses that friends used to live in and enjoying the rather miraculous Ritter Park. That place is legend in our family, the site of much carousing, playing, running, carousing, carousing, and, yeah. Drove home after a really remarkable weekend. 

Total: 22 miles in 4 runs