Blog Goulash – the Davidson Half, the Salem Lake 30K, and of course, Boston

A lot has gone down since last you read about my silly running exploits.  Let’s get to the business of catching everyone up.

The Davidson Run for the Green Half (Saturday, September 17)

I was originally slated to run the Hit the Brixx 10K on this morning, but as of Friday, September 16 (the day before), my legs were pretty shot, the left achilles continued to scream with pain, and I was growing pretty weary of getting my tail kicked of late.  At our weekly runners’ lunch, Norwegian guest star Bjorn mentioned to me that he had talked to Scott about pacing him in the Davidson half marathon the next day, but instead decided to run Hit the Brixx.  A seed was planted in my noggin.

Later that afternoon, I texted Scott and asked him his goal for the half which turned out to be 1:51, which translates to about 8:30 pace, very doable for me even in my battered condition.  I asked Scott if he wanted/needed a pacer and he answered that he did.

I love jumping in races to get my weekly long run.  Things are so much easier when you’re surrounded by other runners, supportive volunteers, and people lining the course to cheer you on.  And having someone handing you drinks regularly throughout the race beats lugging around water bottles and/or strategically placing them along a route, being forced to stop and bend down to retrieve your beverage.  When you’re old like me, you never know if you’ll be able to get back up.

Later, the Gypsy Kid texted me to find out my weekend long run plans.  When I told him about Davidson, he decided to jump in too.  Now it was a party.

I showed up on the Davidson Green about an hour before post time.  Adam Mayes was volunteering and race day registration went without a hitch.  Moments later, the Gypsy Kid came running by and I joined him for about 2 miles of warming up, which turned out to be at about 7:45 pace, much faster than my intended ‘race’ pace for the day.

Kevin and I saw and briefly chatted with DART’ers Dave Munger and Chad Randolph as we headed to the starting line.  I was beginning to panic a little since the race was scheduled to start in about 5 minutes and there was still no sight of Scott.  But as we lined up, Scott came running up with about 2 or 3 minutes to spare.

The race began and I immediately had to remind myself to throttle back as hordes of people blew by.    When I glanced at the watch, Scott and I were cruising at well under 8-minute paced.  I informed Scott and we pulled tight on the reins.  Be cool, be like Fonzie.

We continued to cruise along at a pace somewhat faster than Scott’s planned 8:30 pace.  I was a little concerned that we may be going too fast, but I checked on Scott regularly and he was comfortable, controlled, and conversational.  8:15’s seemed relaxed for him so we hovered around there, even a little faster on the downhill sections of this considerably hilly course.

I was thoroughly enjoying myself as we hit Davidson’s lovely new greenway.  This was a new portion of the race course and much better than the old course that merely wound through a subdivision.  A lady trotted up and asked if she could join us, telling us that we seemed to be maintaining a steady pace.  We shared introductions and learned her name was Gabrielle and that she was training for her first marathon, Savannah.

The leaders came towards us and Kevin and I exchanged high fives.  Kathy Rink came through and yelled to me, “Allen, what are you doing?”  with an almost accusatory tone and I yelled back, “I’m pacing Scott!”  Gabrielle and Kathy yelled to each other too.  It turns out that Gabrielle is a DART’er too and we know a lot of the same people.  It’s a small running world.

At the turnaround, Gabrielle stopped to walk so Scott and I were back on our own.  We continued along, still well under Scott’s goal pace.  I continued having a blast, right until a volunteer at a waterstop handed me a cup of coffee-hot Gatorade.  Seriously, not lukewarm, not tepid, but heated-up-hot.  My theory is that someone thought, “You know, it’s a chilly morning.  Let’s help these runners out by mixing up some hot Gatorade.”  I was thirsty and a little worried about dehydration so I begrudgingly drank it.  My stomach was not happy with this decision and grumbled in protest.  I soldiered on for my buddy Scott’s sake.

After another mile or so, my digestive tract finally recovered from the hot Gatorade.  Around mile 9 or so, a couple of guys passed Scott and I.  One of them wore a cotton t-shirt that read, “Dear God, please let there be someone behind me to read this.”  This shirt did not sit well with me.  I turned to Scott and said, “Dude, we cannot let these guys beat us.”  But they were moving along at a pretty good clip and it appeared that they would drop us soon.

But Helms manned up, if not for his sake, for mine.  We never let Dear God Tee drop us, always maintaining striking distance.  At mile 12, Scott turned to me and said something like,  “Take off man.  I’ve got my PR.  Go get those guys.”  I followed his instructions.  As I was taking off he yelled, “I want 8 road kills!”

I dropped Dear God Tee instantaneously and felt good about it.  Another quarter of a mile or so and Adam came running towards me and joined in the fun.  He was apparently using the opportunity of running friends in to get in his run for the day – he told me he had just done the same for Kathy who ran a 1:29, finishing as the third overall female.  With Adam’s help, I ran the last .93 in 6:28.  (My Garmin measured the course in 12.93).

The Gypsy Kid, post-race

Scott finished in 1:46, crushing his old PR by 8 minutes!  After the race, Scott, his girlfriend Glenda (who ran the 5K), and I headed over to Flatiron Kitchen and Taphouse.  We didn’t really care about the kitchen but the taphouse was offering free beer to runners.  We hung out there and had a great time, relishing in Scott’s phenomenal PR.

Salem Lake 30K (Saturday, September 24)

Caleb, Kevin, Scott and I decided to carpool up to Winston-Salem to run the 30K.  I love this scenic race and and would be running it for the third consecutive year.

My plan was to run a marathon simulation, so I’d be trying to go 18.6 miles at my goal marathon pace.  My goal keeps slipping as my body seems to be falling apart lately – it was the left achilles for this race.  To add to the degree of difficulty, this was a trail race and it had been raining for days.  So with the bad achilles and the rain, I thought I shouldn’t try for much faster than 7:30 to 7:40 pace.  Sub-7:40’s would get me a course PR.

I shot over to Kevin’s house at around 5:45, and from there he drove us to the rendezvous point, Cracker Barrel in Concord, to pick up Caleb and Scott.  The guys loaded up their gear and jumped in.  The Gypsy Kid drove onto I-85 and we were Winston bound.

For whatever reason, there is never an address for this race on the website.  So I just googled ‘Salem Lake’, clicked on ‘get directions’, and saved the results in my phone.  Anybody reading this, for future reference, should never trust me with directions.  I really put the directions in my phone for precautionary/back-up purposes only – I fully expected Kevin to have planned out the route.  But he hadn’t and he asked me how to get there so I broke out the phone and read off the instructions.

I know the way to get to Winston – I worked there for a couple of years.  It’s Salem Lake itself that I’m a little iffy about (and yes, I know I’ve run the race multiple times but my memory is iffy too – never count on my directions or my memory for anything important.  Trust me on this.)  It’s kind of hidden, nestled away off some tiny, camouflaged road.  So Kevin foolishly followed my directions which took us to the wrong side of the lake.  “Idiot”, he muttered as he turned on his in-car GPS which easily got us to the start.  In-car GPS?!?  You have an in-car GPS system and you’re trusting me for directions?  I ask you, who’s the real idiot here?  But we got there, mostly on time – just in time to get one of the last remaining spots in the big church parking lot nearby, so no harm, no foul.

As we pulled in, Carolyn Maye and Michelle Hazelton had just parked very nearby and were stepping out.  I rolled down the window and yelled greetings, then hustled out of the car the instant Kevin parked.  Time was quickly becoming a factor.  My window to register and warm up was rapidly closing.  The church was half a mile up a hill away from the start.  I grabbed my gym bag out of the trunk and Caleb and I hoofed it down to the registration tent.  That would be the extent of my warm-up.

I rushed to the race-day registration booth and filled out an entry form.  When the lady said “That will be $45”, I countered with “Aren’t you going to let me pay $35 since the web site was down?”  The online registration was inexplicably shut down Wednesday night even though the site stated they’d be up until Thursday afternoon.  The lady met me halfway and only charged me $40 so I only got ripped off $5.  Oh well, better than $10.

The rain, only a drizzle moments ago, starting getting heavier and heavier.  I was not looking forward to running 18.6 miles in a deluge.  I scrambled to get ready.  In long races, I typically wear a Fuel Belt as it has little loops to carry gels, which works really well, but I have to pin it to my shorts to keep it from slipping and bouncing all over the place.  I usually do this the night before when I can lay the shorts down and pin the belt in all the right places.  But I hadn’t this time and now I was wearing the shorts and belt  – I couldn’t very well slip them off in public (not unless I was willing to risk an indecent exposure charge).  I was forced to ask Caleb to help out as I uttered the very unmanly request, “Hey man, can you pin this belt to my shorts in the back?”  He was a trooper and performed admirably – no safety-pin gouge to the back or anything.  He didn’t even make fun of me – runners don’t typically make fun of each other pre-race when everyone’s putting their game face on.  Dogging each other is usually reserved for post-race.

Usually.  As I checked my giant gym bag at the bag check tent, some random guy made the smarta$$ comment: “Geez, look at the size of that thing!  Are you moving in?”  It was a perfect set-up for a Michael Scott-style TWSS, but I wasn’t in a humorous mood.  I ignored him and carried on with the business at hand.

Tons of Charlotteans were milling about.  We stood around in the rain and talked when the race director walked up to a group of us.  He explained that there was a last minute change to the route since part of  the original course was now flooded.  He said we’d run one entire loop around the lake – about 7 miles – then go out a ways and come back for a total of about 18.8 miles.  I thought he must have meant 2 loops around the lake to get 14 then go a little over 2 miles out and back to get the 18+.  Then I saw Todd and he told me, “Yeah, 2 loops around the lake”.

It was nearly go time and we all started congregating around the starting line.  The race director climbed up a ladder and gave us the directions again. He confirmed that it was only 1 loop around the lake then out and back, which didn’t seem to make sense as the lake is only 7 miles around – all very confusing.

I was growing tired of standing around (shirtless by the way – didn’t feel like dealing with a heavy water-soaked singlet)  in the rain – it was starting to feel cold.  Finally the director yelled “Go!”  Thank god we were running at last.

The first part of the trail was fine – crushed gravel, much like McAlpine, which is typically a pretty absorbent surface.  No standing puddles, no muddy patches – things were going to be okay, I thought.  I calmly settled into goal pace and came through the first mile in 7:31.  1 down, 17 and change to go.

Rob Ducsay said “Hey Allen” as he ran past.  I briefly entertained the notion of running with him but thought better of it.  I figured I better just do my own thing.  Gordon Bynum popped up beside me and we talked about our upcoming races.  Gordon’s running Ridge to Bridge where I think he’ll have a huge PR and a Boston qualifier – he’s been running extremely well of late.  After a few minutes, Gordon turned to me and said, “Okay, gonna go now.  I want to average 7:40’s.”  Then he took off.  I glanced at my watch and nearly yelled, “But Gordon, we’re running 7:30’s!”  But he was already gone.

A few minutes later, Butch Holt pulled alongside me and asked about pace – he doesn’t wear a Garmin.  I told him I was running 7:30’s then he dropped back a little.  I pulled ahead more at the next waterstop as Butch slowed to a walk to drink.  I drank my Gatorade (nice and cold as it should be) shot-style in order to maintain pace.  The race was still going according to plan.

But then things got nasty.  A few miles into the trail, we entered a mudfest.  A large section of the trail consists of red clay, and the days of rain had turned this section, about 3 miles, into one giant, mucky mess.  I slipped, slid, and splashed my way through.  Running was extremely difficult and you could forget the tangents unless you didn’t mind running through ankle-deep mud.  I tried to take the driest line which was often the outermost edges of the trail – sometimes on the far right, sometimes on the far left.  I meandered back and forth in search of dryness.

I slipped and spun out what seemed like hundreds of times.  I nearly fell on numerous occasions (I found out after the race that Dean did fall).  Talking with one friend after the race, it sounded like we had very similar races.  He recounted to me, “It was like I had Tourette’s out there.”  Yeah, I got it – I dropped many an F-bomb on this day as I nearly fell, over, and over, and over again.  Of all my Salem Lake runs, this was by far the least fun.

I miraculously made it through the 7-mile loop still on pace.  I wasn’t sure where we’d turn around and I wasn’t up to doing much math during the run.  I was thinking/hoping/praying we’d somehow miss the muddy section after the first loop.  Nope – we’d get to do it again.  And again after that.

As I came upon the muddy section again, I started worrying that maybe I’d somehow missed the turnaround.  And as I started struggling through the muck again, I really started worrying when I hadn’t come across the  leaders yet.  They should have turned around and passed me a long time ago.  I continued soldiering on Tourettes-like through the mud, every third step or so accentuated with an expletive as my foot sunk up to the ankle and disappeared in mud, or as I stuck my arms out, airplane style, to gain balance when I nearly slipped and fell.  Again.  And again.  And again.  The effort needed to try and maintain pace in this environment was extraordinary.   I was rapidly becoming fatigued and I hadn’t reached the turnaround yet.  I cannot convey to you how much I dreaded coming back through this.  I contemplated quitting the race and just running a second loop around the lake – that’d get me 14 miles, a solid workout, and one less trek through the muddy hell.

Finally, some familiar faces started coming back towards me.  Chris Lamperski, in a crowd, headed back through and I yelled “Hey Chris!”  He yelled “Hey Allen!” and then, “The turnaround’s at the water stop – a lot of people are missing it!”  I was grateful to find out that I hadn’t inadvertently blown past the turnaround.

Kevin and Michelle came by and we exchanged greetings.  Then Gordan.  Then Rob.  I felt a little rejuvenated after seeing friendly faces.  And then I mercifully made it to the turnaround.  I was beginning the homestretch, thank god.  But the bad news was that I’d have to traverse the mud yet again.  Mudder @#$%er.  Here we go.

Slip.  Slide.  Spin out.  Drop F-bomb.  Repeat.  I saw more friendly faces on the way back and they kept me going.  “Deano!”  I yelled to Dean who responded, “Where’s the turnaround?”  Again, my brain was functioning more poorly than usual, if that’s possible.  I tried to quickly ascertain how far I’d just traveled since the turnaround, but I couldn’t recall/figure the distance so I just yelled, “At the waterstop!”  I could tell Dean too was grateful to be nearing the turnaround.

I was exhausted.  When Todd came by, he and I tried to reach across and exchange high-fives, but I misjudged and we ended up barely brushing fingertips.  Oh well, we both understood the gesture.  Carry on with the muck slogging.

I was ecstatic to reach the crushed gravel.  I was nearly home free and all the mudding was over.  Now it was just a regular run and the rain had finally let up as well.  Let’s finish this thing.

But I was spent and running on fumes for the last few miles.  My pace slowed into the 8’s for the first time.  If I could just hang on and gut it out, I would still PR.  But alas, it was not meant to be on this day – I watched my PR come and go and I was still slogging.

Finally, some 2 hours and 26 minutes after the race director yelled “Go!”, I finished.  Looking around, I noticed everyone’s calves were covered in mud.  I looked down – yep, mine too, and specks of mud ran all the way up the backs of my legs.  I staggered around for a while, drank a few Gatorades, and, once I had adequately recovered, ate a couple of Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

I retrieved my bag so I could change out of my drenched and muddy clothes.  I yearned for dry attire.   As Dean and I discussed our respective races, I dropped a few more F-bombs in retelling the tale.  When Dean complained about his mud-encrusted calves, I offered him some wipies from my gym bag.  Caleb, within earshot, walked up and said, “Wipies?  What else is in that bag?  Did you bring your tampons?”  See.  Friends wait until after the race to make fun of you.  Some guy yelled to Caleb, “Hey!  Family-friendly event!”  I made a mental note, “F-bombs, family friendly.  Tampons, not.”

But the wipies came in handy as I took a ‘wipie shower’ in the port-a-john and wiped all the mud off my legs.  I was refreshed and relatively dry moments later.

We hung around for the awards and afterward someone snapped this photo of a big contingency of Charlotte Running Club runners:

Charlotte Running Club conquers the muddy Salem Lake 30K! From left to right: Yours Truly, Scott Helms, Caleb Boyd, Chris Lamperski, Karin Helmbrecht, DJ Gypsy Kid, Michelle Hazelton, Carolyn Maye (women's overall winner!), Butch Holt, Jocelyn Sikora

After the awards ceremony, we headed back south and stopped off at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Concord to grab a couple of beers and to watch some football.  My Heels choked, falling to Georgia Tech in a close game, but I didn’t especially care.  It was a good day, despite my relatively poor showing and my now even more painful, throbbing achilles.

Boston

I tend to get off-track with this blog, sometimes forgetting its original purpose – to chronicle my quest to qualify for and run the Boston marathon.  I take a lot of tangents.  Apparently, Allen’s road to Boston is a very meandering one.  But now I’m getting back to the reason for this blog.  One of the greatest milestones along this incredible journey happened recently.

The latest word on Allen’s road to Boston is, “In”.  Finally, after some 8 years of work, 1 knee surgery, and 6 marathons, I qualified, registered, and got accepted into the Boston marathon.  I made it past one of the final hurdles to getting in – I survived the online registration process.  The day for me to register was September 14, and I took the day off from work and parked in front of my computer, anxiously awaiting 10:00 a.m. when registration would begin.

At 09:59 on Wednesday September 14, 2011, I was on the website with the registration form pulled up.  I quickly filled it out.  At 10:00, I hit the enter button.  By 10:01, my entry was electronically on it’s way.  On Friday, September 16, I received an email from the Boston Athletic Association.  Here’s the key line from that email:

This is to notify you that your entry into the 116th Boston Marathon on Monday, April 16, 2012 has been accepted.

Ecstasy.  All you talented runners out there that crushed your qualifying time at your first marathon probably won’t get it, but all my friends who have tried for years to qualify will.  It was just an amazing feeling to read that one little line, that one-sentence affirmation that says, “All that work you did – it was worth it.”  I’m confident enough in my manhood to admit that I got a little misty-eyed upon reading that email.  I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder for anything in my life.  If I worked this hard at writing screenplays, I’d have won an Oscar by now.

And to make things even better, many of my friends will be running it too – Nathan, Kevin, Caleb, Joel Thomas, John Chambers, Chad Randolph, Todd Hartung, Todd Capitano, Mike “Ghost” Moran, Brian Sammons and more.  I can’t wait to run with you guys in the grandaddy of them all!  See you in Beantown!

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