Saturday, December 26, 2009

Race #68 – Cold Winter’s Day 5k – Columbia, SC – 12/26/09


When you think of Columbia, South Carolina, cold is not usually the first thing that comes to mind, but it was pretty chilly Down South for the Cold Winter’s Day 5k. Our last race in Columbia was the Hot Summer’s Night 5k back on August 1st, and let’s just say the 50-degree difference between the two races was definitely noticeable. It was actually a nice day for running though, and this was the final race of the season for the Palmetto Grand Prix and the final race of the year for me as well. The “off season” for me and Linda is short though — our first race of 2010 is at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve.
We were happy to meet up with some of the Charlotte runners who made it down — Tom and Lana Torkildsen and Bobby Aswell — and we were kind of surprised that more Charlotte runners didn’t show up since there were no Charlotte area races this weekend. I guess it’s that time of year when a lot of people are taking a little break.
This race was touted as “flat and fast” and I always like to hear that. It was pretty flat and pretty fast but there were a few minor uphill areas — nothing to get excited about though. The scenery was great, passing around a lake and through some pleasant neighborhoods on a circular course. Best of all was the finish, a tenth of a mile (maybe two-tenths) of nothing but a fairly steep downhill that took you to the finish line.
The after-race fare was excellent and included pizza, Dunkin Donuts, and fruit that included bananas as well as strawberries and pineapple. I completely wrecked my diet but it’s been a rough week in that department anyway. I’ll be getting back to business in the diet department now that Christmas is over, or suffer the consequences, which I really don’t want to do.
The T-shirts were great — long-sleeved tech shirts with the Strictly Running logo on the front and the words “See Ya!” on the back. I think Strictly Running probably uses these in a lot of races instead of getting race specific shirts, which is fine with me. I still have the same shirt (except short-sleeve cotton) from the Hot Summer’s Night race; it was one of my favorite shirts of the year and one of the few that I actually wear.
My Race Stats:
  • Time: 20:53
  • Pace: 6:44
  • Age Group: 3 of 15
  • Gender: 42 of 227
  • Overall: 50 of 439

Click Here for Race Results

Click Here for Official Race Photos

Race Rating

8 – 1-10  Website (Information, results, registration, photo links, etc.)
4 - 1-10  Awards (Quality of medals, trophies, etc.) (1 to 10)
7 – 1-10  Awards Presentation (PA system, winning times, etc.) (1 to 10)
8 – 1-10  Food for Race Participants (1 to 10)
8 – 1-10  T-Shirts (1 to 10 with 5 being average)
6 – 4/6   Part of Race Series (Grand Prix, etc.) (6=Yes and 4=No)
5 – 0/5   Professional Photography (5=Yes and 0=No)
6 – 4/6   Chip Timing (6=Yes and 4=No)
7 – 3/7   Certified Course (by USA Track & Field) (7=Yes and 3=No)
8 - 1-10  Course (1 to 10 with 5 being average)
5 - 1-10  Parking (1 to 10 with 5 being average)
6 - 1-10  Entertainment (1 to 10 with 5 being average)
10 – 0-10  Age Groups (10 if 5-year groups; 0 if 10-year groups)
0 – 0/5   Indoor Shelter from Elements (0 if none; 5 if provided)
6 – 1-10  Bathroom Facilities
0-10  Other
TOTAL – 94

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Race #67 – Thunder Road – Charlotte, NC – 12/12/09


This is ya big boy. North Carolina’s biggest racing event of the year. This year a total of over 10,000 runners ran in one of the three races (marathon, half marathon, and 5k), about a 30% increase over last year. I ran the half marathon again, as I did last year in Race #14, thinking that I would like to do better than I did in the 2008 Thunder Road Half, which was my first, and I’m happy to report that things went really well. Last year I finished 16th in my age group with a time of 2:01:05; not terrible, but of course one always wants to improve next time around. This year I finished in first place in the 55-59 age group with a time of 1:35:34, which is a new half marathon PR for me.
I should also probably mention that it was the first time I finished ahead of Bob Nelson, who time after time throughout 2009 has managed to polish me off pretty good in every race. It was the first time I finished 1st in the 55-59 group and he finished 2nd, but I won’t gloat lest he goes home, trains harder than ever, and comes back and hands me my butt next time around, which I’m pretty sure he might do anyway.
No doubt I can run somewhat faster than I could last year, but maybe even more than getting faster I’ve learned a lot of things over the past year that have helped me in the races. Last year I drank too much before the race and had to use the porta-potty at about the 8th mile; this year I’m a lot more mindful about what I drink before a half marathon. Last year I started probably halfway back in the pack, which turned it into an obstacle course for the whole race; this year I started near the front and stayed far enough ahead of the huge pack behind that there was very little in the way of obstacles (i.e. slow people to pass). Last year I dressed like I was going to an Eskimo convention; this year I dressed a lot lighter, wearing an old sweatshirt that I tossed along the side of the road when I warmed up at about the third mile. Last year I was in run-walk mode a la Jeff Galloway, walking about 1 minute for every 4 minutes I ran, which I still think is a good idea for many people, but this year I seem to have reached a better level of fitness and now do very little walking in races. That’s just a few examples of doing things differently this year that have helped me shave nearly 30 minutes off of my half marathon time.
One of the great things about Thunder Road is that it’s centered around the Charlotte Convention Center. It’s possible to stay inside in the warmth of the Convention Center and leave just a couple minutes before the race begins, then when you’re finished you can go right back inside where it’s warm. It was also the setting for the race expo, which was held all day on Friday and until after the race on Saturday, and was also the setting for the awards ceremony.
Speaking of the awards ceremony, the 5k awards were handed out at 10:00, followed by the half marathon awards at 11:00, then the marathon awards sometime later (I was gone by then). The half marathon age group awards were kind of cool: a black and white checkered flag  with the Thunder Road logo. Mine was embroidered at the bottom with “2009 1st Place Age.” I like it and it would be kind of nice to hang it next to the medal and a good photo of me from the race if a miracle occurs and a good photo actually shows up. There were plenty of photographers along the course so maybe it’s a possibility.
I didn’t see the finisher medals for the full marathon but the medals for half marathon finishers were identical to last year’s except last year they had the year (2008) at the top; this year it was just empty space and the year was printed on the ribbon the medal was attached to. Nice medal though, definitely the best half marathon medal I’ve received in the 7 or 8 half marathons I’ve done.
The food was a little iffy. I didn’t really hang around to see what was available since it was so cold outside, but nothing looked exciting enough to keep me outdoors so Linda and I ended up at the Starbucks in the Convention Center.
The T-shirts were really nice. The half marathon shirt was a short-sleeved black Zorrel Dri-Balance tech shirt with the Thunder Road logo over the words “Amica Insurance Half Marathon” followed in big letters with the words, “FEEL THE THUNDER!” Linda’s 5k shirt was cotton but long-sleeved. I didn’t see the full marathon shirts but I’m thinking they were probably long-sleeved tech shirts.

Race Rating

10 – 1-10  Website (Information, results, registration, photo links, etc.)
6 – 1-10  Awards (Quality of medals, trophies, etc.) (1 to 10)
6 - 1-10  Awards Presentation (PA system, winning times, etc.) (1 to 10)
4 – 1-10  Food for Race Participants (1 to 10)
9 - 1-10  T-Shirts (1 to 10 with 5 being average)
4 – 4/6   Part of Race Series (Grand Prix, etc.) (6=Yes and 4=No)
5 – 0/5   Professional Photography (5=Yes and 0=No)
6 – 4/6   Chip Timing (6=Yes and 4=No)
7 – 3/7   Certified Course (by USA Track & Field) (7=Yes and 3=No)
8 – 1-10  Course (1 to 10 with 5 being average)
3 – 1-10  Parking (1 to 10 with 5 being average) (We paid 8 bucks to park nearby)
9 – 1-10  Entertainment (1 to 10 with 5 being average)
10 – 0-10  Age Groups (10 if 5-year groups; 0 if 10-year groups)
5 – 0/5   Indoor Shelter from Elements (0 if none; 5 if provided)
6 – 1-10  Bathroom Facilities
0-10  Other
TOTAL – 98

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Race #66 – Jingle Bell Run – Kings Mountain, NC – 12/05/09


Races are like pizza: when they’re good, they’re really good; when they’re bad, they’re still pretty good.
We knew in advance that they were calling for lousy weather this Saturday morning, but as a card-carrying weenie when it comes to bad weather I know I have to get out occasionally in the elements and run, just so I won’t feel so out of my element when the time comes that I have to be out in the elements. Over the past week all of my runs were on the treadmill, and while I love basking in temperatures in the 70s while I run, this ain’t Florida, and the treadmill can get a little unrealistic in the middle of the winter. Thus I decided to run outside today come h-e-double-hockeysticks or high water. Last night’s hour-to-hour forecast called for about a 60-70% chance of rain at race time, but when I got up this morning and checked it the chance of rain had dropped to 10%, which was a welcome surprise. Linda and I ran this race last year and it was one of the coldest of the year, not too surprising for December, and the weather this year was similar, with the temperature hovering around 40 degrees throughout the morning. My apologies if you’re reading this and you live in an actual cold climate where 40 degrees seems balmy in December.
Kings Mountain is only a hop and a skip from Gastonia so when Linda did her usual routine of rolling over and playing dead when I tried to wake her up, I told her she could stay in bed if she wanted to and I’d just go by myself, an offer she gladly accepted. Just a few minutes later though, she was up and dressed. After all, she’s almost as addicted to racing as me, and it’s been nine long days since the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving.
There seemed to be a breakdown in the organization of this race. As I remember it, last year everything went smoothly from start to finish and I don’t recall any problems at all with last year’s race. Possibly there was somebody new in charge, I’m not sure, but there seemed to be major problems with tracking the race results. There were no electronic chips, but that’s not a big deal; we’ve been in a number of races where they did it the old-fashioned way without chips and things ran smoothly. In today’s race there seemed to be problems with missing results, gender identification (there wasn’t a gender designation on the registration form), and name mixups. It all worked out, I think, but people were freezing waiting for the results while things were being sorted out.
To me, the biggest disappointment was that they decided to switch the awards from trophies to Christmas ornaments this year for race winners. Last year’s ice sculpture trophies were some of the best awards we’ve received since we began running. They’re prominently displayed in our trophy case and will always be special, not because of their monetary value, which is not a lot, but because we got out of bed on Saturday morning and ran faster than everybody who didn’t get out of bed (and some who did), and for that we were awarded a trophy, which we proudly display in our trophy case, so when the kids or grandkids or anybody else comes over, they can say (or think): “Grandpa and Grandma haul their butts out of bed on Saturday morning and run races, which keeps them healthy and happy; maybe we ought to do that too,” thus inspiring (hopefully) a couple of generations below us to get with the program and develop a more active lifestyle.
Anyhoo, back to trophies. Medals are fine too, especially the custom-made ones with words so you can remember why you won them, but once again I feel like a voice in the wilderness denouncing all of the other trinkets that I’ve received as an age group winner. Last week I decided that since my trophy case was starting to look like a display case at a flea market I would remove most of the non-trophy awards. Now I have a box of pretty much useless items such as a variety of unmatched drinking glasses, a pizza cutter, a jigsaw puzzle, an inscribed hand towel, etc. I removed 20 items from the trophy case and have 16 trophies left in the case. My point is that the trophies have some value, even if it’s just to make me feel good about my accomplishments as a runner. The other stuff has almost zero value. Sure, I can drink out of the glasses, but I already have a set of glasses that actually goes together; I can cut pizza, but I could already cut pizza with the pizza cutter I’ve had for the last 20 years; I could work the puzzle, but I don’t want to work a puzzle. I could donate the box of stuff to Goodwill, but nothing in there would be worth more than about a quarter to anybody else. I know this is not an issue of great importance to most people. It won’t solve the unemployment problem or bring peace to the Middle East or cure cancer, but other people more qualified than me are already working on those problems. I have to start small and this is my small way of making the world a better place (to run).
mitchell-rippy-empty-handedOne last thing about the awards: Mitchell Rippy was the overall winner of the 10k race, and as you can see from the picture on the right, he walked away completely empty-handed. Seems they forgot to print up a Christmas ornament for the overall winner, so they promised him they’d mail it to him. I guess that was the case for the 5k winner also. Mitchell took it in stride, but I think he was a little bummed that he didn’t get a nice trophy for being the overall winner in a race. I don’t want to get started again on the trophy rant, but every race should give a nice trophy or something of significance to the overall winners (male and female) in a race. Being the overall winner in a race is an accomplishment that most of us will never attain; it’s a big deal (even in a fairly small race) and should be treated as such.
Something else that deserves a mention is that the 5k course was actually longer than 5k by about .15 miles, so the race was actually 3.26 miles. Bubba Anthony pointed it out to me at the finish line and my Garmin agreed with his that the course was long. He said in previous years they had turned around in a different spot but this year we turned around at a traffic light beyond the previous turnaround, which of course affected the finishing times for the 5k runners.
Something that probably adds to the confusion is that there are actually four separate races: a 10k, 5k, 600-meter run for kids, and 2-mile kids run. Seems like they could just have one kids run and one adult run (either 5k or 10k) and simplify things tremendously.
Going back to my pizza analogy, there were some bright spots as well. The long-sleeved cotton T-shirts are great. The design was like last year’s, which was nice, but this year they were Carolina Blue, which I like better than the black ones from last year, and Linda and I are still wearing last year’s shirts from this race, while the majority of race T-shirts (probably at least 80%) have ended up at Goodwill.
The after-race food was a huge improvement from last year as well. There was hot coffee and some type of warm blueberry pastries I wasn’t familiar with, homemade possibly, and delicious, as well as some type of white chocolate fudge and slivered almonds. There were some other things, I think, but I was strung out on those blueberry pastries so that’s as far as I got.
I took some photos before the race and also some of the finishers. There are a total of 90 in the slide show. As always, you can click on the slideshow to go to the Picasa site and view full-screen photos or download the full-size photos (4000 x 3000 pixels) for free. No registration is required.

Race Rating:

3 – 1-10  Website (Information, results, registration, photo links, etc.)
2 – 1-10  Awards (Quality of medals, trophies, etc.) (1 to 10)
3 – 1-10  Awards Presentation (PA system, winning times, etc.) (1 to 10)
8 – 1-10  Food for Race Participants (1 to 10)
8 – 1-10  T-Shirts (1 to 10 with 5 being average)
4 – 4/6   Part of Race Series (Grand Prix, etc.) (6=Yes and 4=No)
0 – 0/5   Professional Photography (5=Yes and 0=No)
4 – 4/6   Chip Timing (6=Yes and 4=No)
3 – 3/7   Certified Course (by USA Track & Field) (7=Yes and 3=No)
4 – 1-10  Course (1 to 10 with 5 being average)
6 – 1-10  Parking (1 to 10 with 5 being average)
6 - 1-10  Entertainment (1 to 10 with 5 being average)
5 - 0-10  Age Groups (10 if 5-year groups; 0 if 10-year groups) (10 years in the 10k — 5 years in the 5k!)
0 – 0/5   Indoor Shelter from Elements (0 if none; 5 if provided)
2 – 1-10  Bathroom Facilities
0-10  Other
TOTAL – 58