I was looking forward to the drive much more so than the race. 20 MPW just won't do but with a non-horrible day, there should not be any doubt that I would finish. I figured that I was in shape for a 46:xx on a normal course and 48:xx here with hills and mild altitude.
I took the whole day off work on Friday and got off the interstate in NE Georgia (near Toccoa) and rode into Clemson (my alma mater) via mostly 2 lane county roads. I found the area on 76-123 to be much more built up and looked quite different than when I was student 10 years ago. I made a quick stop at a fruit stand hoping to see an old friend but she wasn't there then drove around campus for a bit. There was some construction but it looked pretty much the same to me. From campus, it was more country roads up to some of my old hangouts, which I visited quite often in times of stress. Table Rock was just as beautiful as I remembered but I had no time to do any hiking. Finally, my last stop in South Carolina was Caesar's Head, which is a scenic overlook just across the NC border at 3,300 ft. elevation. Unfortunately, it was too foggy to see anything.
Shortly after crossing into North Carolina, I picked up US-25 which should have taken me quickly into Asheville but I was caught in traffic so I stopped at an Applebee's for a steak and riblet combo and waited for the traffic to move again. I did not get into my hotel until about 7PM so I had little time to explore downtown. Fortunately, my hotel was just a couple blocks from the starting line. Even though it was high priced, it was a good call because parking would have been a problem race morning.
I saw the course elevation and I knew what I was getting myself into. It appeared to be roughly out and back with a loop in the midsection. The elevation profile showed about 250-300 feet elevation loss in the first half then almost all uphill on the back half. OUCH! Fortunately, it APPEARED to be gradual with a couple breaks. The elevation of 2,200 feet was not noticeable to me but it probably cost me 20-25 seconds over the 10K distance.
I aimed for about a 7:30 pace early then hoped to hang on for an 8:00 pace on the back half. The first mile began rolling with some ups and downs followed by 2 steep drops. Man, it's gonna suck coming back! Mile 2 was mostly a gradual decline and I figured that it would be okay coming up this section. Here, I got caught up in the race excitement and tried to keep up with one of the female leaders. The first 2 miles passed by in relative comfort in 7:13 and 7:09. I knew it was too fast so I intentionally backed off for a still decent 7:32 3rd mile. Then, we hit the hills and oh was it nasty! The loop that I referenced earlier contained a steep 3/4 mile rise with several curves in the road so you had no idea when it was going to end. I took 2 walk breaks and must confess that I really didn't give my all here. It was partly strategic because I knew this would not be the last of the hills. The next quarter mile here was a quad busting downhill that gave back most of the elevation gain and was so steep that I had to brake rather than just let it roll. Mile 4 passed by in an embarrassing 9:38 but I still had some fight left.
It was another long climb for about 1/3 of a mile but it was short enough to be run-able then thankfully, the next 1/2 mile was a nice steady downhill and my pace quickened to 6:50 range. Overall, I managed a 7:35 in Mile 5 to pass the marker just north of 39. Then, as I feared, the last 1.5 or so were steadily uphill but thankfully, it was not terribly steep. For my Birmingham readers, it was about on par with Highland Park on dead legs. I was hoping to keep the pace under 8 to secure a sub-49 finish but could not quite manage that as I came to finish in 49:04.
This was about what I expected. With a little more effort in Mile 4, I would have been in the mid-high 48s, which translates to a 46:xx on a normal course. I posted earlier that I did not expect to be much below 50 on this course and I did manage that by a comfortable margin. Once again, I placed well in my age group (top 20-25%) and unless you knew me, you'd never know I was sick.
Rest of the road trip:
I picked up US-19 which took me through the Great Smoky Mountains and the Nantahala river valley. It had been nearly 10 years since I had been on these roads and it was just as beautiful as I remembered. After crossing into Tennessee, I picked up the Appalachian highway through the north Georgia mountains on my way to Nick's place in Atlanta. We hung by the pool for a bit then saw the Braves beat Pittsburgh on a 9th inning homer. After a bad run the next morning, we had lunch then I hit the road this time taking the scenic route through the lake country in NE Alabama before picking up the interstate from Gadsden back to Birmingham
One of the many things I liked about upstate SC is that there is so much to do within a day's drive. You've got the mountains, beach and big cities (Charlotte and Atlanta) all within 3 hours. Birmingham is my home now and I don't want to leave but if I had gotten a job there back in '05-'06, I'd still be there and would have been happy if healthy. I'll be back that way again (I hope) for my 25th half marathon state in Greenville, SC in late October. My next consult is this Tuesday and I hope to get some answers. I have too much pride to continue competing this far below my peak. I'll still run casually but if I can't run say 21/45/1:40, I just won't enjoy racing and there is always the risk of a total blow up in which I have to walk by Mile 3-4.
At any rate, I have completed a minor milestone with the 10K in 10 states. Stay tuned for a brief run down of that completed goal as well as comments about my consult.