Spartan Race

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Palmetto Half Marathon

For the second time this spring, I decided to run a local inaugural event. This time, if they hadn't put the word "inaugural" on it, I'd never have known that this was the first time it had been done. This race was great from start to finish. I, however, was not.
Let me start out by saying that I did not run at all between the Shamrock Half and this race. Not a lick. I had basically just been a lazy slug for the last few weeks. I really don't have an excuse - for the first two weeks, I was busy, but I'm always busy. The week before the race, I was actually on vacation. My wife managed to get in a few miles while we were out of town, but me? Nada. I realized this just after I cruised into the very nice (especially for a freshman effort) expo about the time it opened. As I perused the vendors, it occurred to me just how little physical activity I had partaken in recently. At that point, it dawned on me that I actually had a race to run the next day.
By the same token, I also didn't even really think much about the logistics of the race until about 8 o'clock that night. I luckily was able to scrounge up a few Roctane and had the remnants of a jar of peanut butter left. When I started looking at the course description ("challenging but fast", which in Columbia basically means "hilly, but some of it is down hill"), I started getting a bit nervous. Though I'm usually a solo running guy, I also began to wish that I had a running partner for this one (Mrs. Running Quack elected to sit this one out). Preferably, a slower one. The motivation simply wasn't there. But hell, I paid for it, so why not.
I actually slept pretty well and remembered to wake up and eat my middle of the night sandwich. The next morning was a cool 45 degrees with a very slight breeze. After rolling out of my own bed, I got to the starting line about 6:30. Almost immediately I ran in to two guys I've known since high school. Naturally, I thought, hey maybe I can run with Alex and Tyler. Alex asked me if I had a goal time for this one. Nope. His goal time was about 1:30. So was Tyler's. Let's just say that that's comfortably faster than my PR. Not running with them, at least for long.
About that time, the runners were asked to line up, and before I knew it, I was off. This is a bit of an odd race in that it starts in the parking lot of The Village at Sandhills, a kind of combined living area/outdoor mall (which, despite the way it sounds, is actually a rather pretty spot), circles around the parking lot for the first several miles, heads up a highway overpass, and makes a turn into residential neighborhoods for an out-and-back with a short loop at its distal end. On a map, it looks a bit like a bent q-tip.
For whatever reason, this was a really fast out-of-the-gate crowd. Just running with the pack, I looked down at my watch and found myself running at a substantially faster pace than I needed to be. I had to make a conscious effort to slow down, despite the fact that people were flying by me. I slowed to my usual cruising speed about three quarters of a mile in. By mile one I was starting to pass most of the people who had flown by me earlier.
I settled into a pace that put me right at a PR time, and actually felt great, especially considering my lack of preparation. We turned out of the mall parking lot and had a brief run up an overpass, and then down a off ramp. I usually hate running off ramps, but the bank on this one wasn't so bad. After a quick run down a major thoroughfare, we made a left turn into a residential neighborhood full of rolling hills. I knew that I was going to have to come back this same way, so I kept telling myself that all the uphills would be downhills on the way back. I also tried to avoid thinking of the downhills as reverse uphills. Around mile five, the hills leveled out and we had a relatively flat run for a mile or so before turning into another hilly neighborhood for a short two mile loop. About mile eight, I realized that my lack of preparation was starting to hurt me. I also knew that in some perverse version of a bear hunt, I was going to have to run right back up all the hills I had just run down.
Miles 8 and 9 weren't too bad, because they were largely flat to slightly down hill. The sinusoidal topography of the first neighborhood showed up again around mile 10, and stayed with me until mile 12 or so. Mile 12.5 found me running up the off ramp I had run down about an hour and a half prior, albeit at a much faster speed on that go round. I could see the finish line at that point, and decided to push it. I did speed up for the last half mile or so, but simply didn't have the juice that day for a great effort. My time wasn't terrible - I was little less than 5 minutes off my PR - but I've certainly run better this year.
The post race finish was only missing one thing - beer. Otherwise, it was great. Lots of beverages and food, many local vendors, and live music. I ran in to my friend Alex, who happened to have finished second in our age group. I finished substantially later, but still managed to be in the top third. And it took me a whole 13 minutes to get home from the race.

I can't say enough good things about this race. For a race this size and a first effort, the organization was excellent, the crowd support superb, the involvement of local charities and merchants appropriate. And, importantly for superficial runners like me, the tech shirt and medal were well designed and crafted. The course was pleasant as it was, and had I actually laced up a shoe in the prior 21 days, would have been incredibly enjoyable - as it was, it wasn't bad. There wasn't a lot to see, but it had a good, almost leisurely stroll feel to it. I'll definitely run the race again. Mu.

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