Leading Boycotts, Dodging Hurricanes, and Judging Beer and Chili

Fate has an odd way of putting us in unforeseen circumstances.  Take today for example.  If you had asked me last February where I’d be this weekend, I would have answered, “New York, to run the marathon”.  And I would have been wrong.  Instead, Saturday, I was judging beer and chili contests in Concord.

The Great Huntersville Controversy

But I’m jumping ahead.  Back up to last Saturday where Laura and I ran the Huntersville Family Fitness and Aquatics Fall Harvest 10K.  When I left you last, I was using cyberspace to call on runners to boycott future HFFA running events.  I blasted them in my blog and then posted on some heavily followed runners’ pages (DART, Charlotte Running Club, and Run With Theoden) to boycott their future running events.  In addition to my online efforts, I emailed Huntersville city commissioners to complain.

This set off a mini-firestorm – the HFFA post was the most read post of Allen’s Road to Boston ever, eclipsing even my entry about my insane Boston marathon. Runners from as far away as Idaho responded with rightful indignation.  Huntersville Commissioner Charles Jeter emailed me and said that he’d get to the bottom of it.  Within days, a contrite HFFA director Dee Jetton had made things right, giving not only cash prizes to the 5 women who’d been wronged this year, but also to Caitlin Chrisman and John Compton who had won in 2010. Kudos to the HFFA for paying out their prizes, albeit belatedly.  She also gave all the winners (and me) free entries to future events.  So I’ve lifted the boycott – see you at the next HFFA race!

Start Spreading the News

Now back to fate changing plans.  I was scheduled to run the New York Marathon this week and had all ready paid my $250 entry fee months in advance.  But after having run the Wineglass Marathon only a month earlier, I was very reluctant to run another marathon again so soon.  And as the race date grew closer and closer, I still hadn’t booked a room or a flight.

I halfheartedly looked into rooms.  I saw Bob Heck at the OrthoCarolina Classic 10K and he mentioned that he was still injured and therefore not going to New York so we talked about possibly switching his hotel reservation to my name, but I never followed up.  A couple of weeks ago I messaged buddy Bjorn Norman to see about possibly sharing a room with him but he already had a friend staying with him.

My body wasn’t ready, my heart wasn’t ready, and my wallet certainly wasn’t ready.  I still had the option to defer until next year, so I bailed – I decided that New York just wasn’t meant to be this year.  But part of me felt like I would always regret not going.

Enter Sandy.  She changed everything.  The hurricane hit and left much of New York city flooded and without power.  But the marathon race director Mary Wittenberg insisted the race would go on as late as Thursday evening, and many of my friends scrambled to work through the logistics of hotels without power, closed subways, etc. etc.  After harsh criticism about running a race while the city suffered through the aftermath of a hurricane, Mayor Bloomberg and Wittenberg finally announced on Friday afternoon that the marathon had been cancelled.  My decision not to go proved to be for the best.

The Five Alarm 5K

So fate left me in Cornelius with an open spot on my race calendar.

I recently started my latest marathon training program and this week’s second stress workout called for some speed work.  I struggle doing these on my own, so I decided it would be easier to just run a 5K.  Laura, following the same program, was on board with this decision, so Friday, we started looking for nearby 5K’s to possibly run.

We looked at the Scaleybark Rock and Read 5K as a possibility, but I wanted to opt for something that I at least had an outside shot of winning.  A $200 prize here ensured some studs would show up.  I marked this one off the list.

There was a 5K dubbed “The Trick or Trot 5K” that was being run from Mallard Creek Elementary school down onto the Mallard Creek Greenway that I am very familiar with as I run it at least 3 times a week.  But this one seemed a little “iffy” to me as it listed very few specifics. I was a bit concerned about a race being put on by a company that had a misspelling in the their name, Fit Bye Pharr.  Maybe there’s some relevance to the Bye?  I decided to email the race director to ask about the race, specifically to find out if the race was USATF certified.  Here’s an excerpt from the response:

“The race is not USATF certified and we are doing the time using a Park and Rec timing machine, so it is not being done by an outside company.”

Ugh – that did not give me a warm and fuzzy.  I had visions of another 2.7 mile course.  And when he told me the race finished running back up the hill to the school, I was not happy – anybody that runs the greenway and finishes up that hill knows how nasty it is.  I wanted no part of that – I was out.

Which left the Five Alarm 5K in Concord, being run by the city’s parks and rec department.  My experience with the Concord (my hometown, by the way) folks has generally been good.  I’ve run 3 or 4 of their races in the past few years, and they’ve had minimal problems.  I was familiar with the course which mostly runs on the fast and flat McEachern Greenway.  The race day entry fee was nominal, $20, I knew how to get there, I’d have a shot at winning, Laura would have a great shot at winning, the course should be fast, the timing was being done by the ever-competent Queen City Timing, and the start time was 9:30 which left plenty of time for a good night’s sleep – I was sold.

Saturday morning, we scrambled to get all our stuff together, loaded up the car, then drove a few miles out of the way so I could get cash from an ATM to pay entry fees.  When we arrived, I was a little miffed, and amused, to see race day registration taking place about 3 feet from an ATM.  I’d gone out of my way for nothing – typical.

We signed up on the chilly morning, attached our bibs, and then started warming up.  I couldn’t find my gloves so I opted to wear a pair of Balega wool socks designed for warmth – they were almost too warm for a 40-something degree morning.  Laura and I ran about a half mile straight down along the course – I knew the first mile was going to be ridiculously fast, but man how I dreaded the finish as I assumed this was an out-and-back course which would have us running straight up for most of the final mile.

After the warm-up, I finally felt comfortable.  We lined up in the front and I did my usual surveying of the crowd looking for fast folks.  I spotted another master who looked fit and fast and wore the uniform of someone legit – split shorts, singlet, and calf compression sleeves.  Then I saw a fit looking kid, with good form, come trotting up to the start.  I pegged them as the 2 guys to beat.  I didn’t see any fast looking girls besides Laura – I figured she was a lock.

The kid lined up beside me so I asked him what time he was shooting for.  He hesitantly responded, “I don’t know.  What are you shooting for?”  I laughed and said, “Dude, I’m old.  I’ll be ecstatic if I can break 20.”  So he relaxed and offered up the truth, “I’m hoping to break 17:30.”  Looked like I would be racing for second place.

The lady called us to line up behind the timing mats, and moments later she signaled the start and we were racing.  The kid bolted out to the front and I let him go.  Red (the other master with the red calf sleeves) passed me within the first half mile and I tried to gauge if I should go with him or not.  When I looked at my watch and saw we were traveling at about 5:45 pace and he was pulling away, I opted for not.

As the kid and Red pulled away down the hill, I did my usual first mile dance – watch the heart rate, try to throttle back, get ‘comfortable’, etc.  But the hill was steep and we blazed down it.  A few of the usual “going out too fast” kids started coming back to me and by a quarter of a mile in, I was in fourth, behind the kid, Red, and another teenager.  It didn’t seem realistic that the kid or Red would come back to me, but the third place guy (resembling a teen-aged Chris Lamperski) didn’t look particularly strong, so I started planning on/hoping for a  third overall place.

We turned into the greenway and the asphalt trail leveled off.  Flat and fast as expected.  I came through the first mile in about 5:55 – my first sub-6 mile in a race (other than the mile or 2-mile during the summer track series) this year.  Uh-oh, seemed a bit fast, but it was downhill and I felt fine so no need to panic yet.  I kept on cruising down the pretty greenway.

We neared the turnaround and the kid, with Red not far back, came towards me.  They both looked stronger than I felt so any shot of catching either of them would be a pipe dream.  But third place, Teenage Lamp, looked to be struggling – it seemed inevitable that I would catch him, but he had 50 or 60 meters on me at the halfway mark.  I made the turnaround and started surmising the rest of the competition coming my way.  The next guy behind me looked strong and comfortable, just as I felt like I was starting to struggle.

When we reached the point where we had entered the park, the big hill, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this wasn’t an out and back course.  We continued down the flat and fast trail.  Oh thank god because I was dying and rapidly hemorrhaging time.  I quit looking at my watch because I didn’t want to know my pace.  If my watch blinked, “Too damned slow”, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

By the 2-mile mark, I was fading fast, and the strong guy at the turnaround comfortably passed me.  I had no response.  I switched into survival, just-hang-the-$%!-on, mode.  Teenage Lamp was worse off than me so I gradually reeled him in.

Man, I forgot how bad 5K’s can hurt.  We exited the park and I focused on reeling Little Lamp in.  He was done so it didn’t take much.  I passed him at the 3-mile mark and I was relieved when he didn’t come with me.  I really didn’t want to sprint it out at the end.

As I ran across the mats at the finish, I was disgusted at my time.  I’m not sure what’s wrong of late, maybe Old Man Time has finally caught up to me, but my time was pathetic enough that I’m too embarrassed to post it.  Look it up if you want to know that badly.  I did manage to finish fourth overall so that’s something.

Laura, as always, was close on my heels.  I barely had time to catch my breath and turn around when I saw her coming in.  As predicted, she won overall, by quite a margin – second place was nearly 2 minutes behind her.

I sulked for about 2 minutes, upset at my time.  Laura and I cooled down and I showed her some of the interesting landmarks of Concord –  the duplex that I rented right out of college, the cemetery where my mom, grandparents,  and uncle are buried, the water tower I once climbed on a drunken dare,  the site of the gym where I used to work out, etc. etc.  We changed into some warm clothes and started having fun.

We chatted with Laura’s friend Bill from the Huntersville Concord Tri Club.  Then we got our awards, Laura’s overall winner trophy looking like the Heisman, while my 45-49 age group winner award looked like the third place chess club prize.

This year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Laura Gray.

This year’s third place chess club prize goes to Allen Strickland.

Laura’s friend Bill won second place in his age group, so it was trophies all the way around.

Afterward, there were two contests that anybody who bought tickets could judge – a home brew beer contest, and a chili contest.  Score!  The home beers were amazingly good – I was stunned at how good they all tasted.  Laura and I worked hard to be fair judges by making sure to sample all the contestants’ brew.  My favorite, and the one I voted for, was the Pumpkin Pie Ale – delicious!

The Five Alarm 5K was a great race – an example of how to do a race right.  They had all the elements of a fun race -1)A fun, scenic, safe, USATF certified course 2) A fast, efficient, correct awards ceremony, and 3) A great post-race (beer, food, band, and a fun set-up for the kids complete with bouncy blow up thingies) – much fun for the entire family!  Kudos to the Concord Parks and Rec department – they have mastered the art of putting on races!

More pics from a spectacularly fun race day:

How good was this race? So good that Peter Griffin flew in all the way from Quahog just to take pictures.

A tiny little firewoman enjoys the festivities.

This guy didn’t scream “Jog it the %^&! out!” once.

My vote for best chili, Firestation #3.

My vote for best home brew, Pumpkin Pie ale. Delish!

So that’s how fate turned me from a New York marathoner into a chili and beer taster.  I couldn’t have been luckier.


One Response to “Leading Boycotts, Dodging Hurricanes, and Judging Beer and Chili”

  1. Bill Sandford Says:

    Great report Allen! Queen City Timing did a nice job out there this weekend. Pleasure to meet you.

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