Greetings all! I finally got the race pictures processed and uploaded so the race post I’ve been promising time after time is finally a reality. On May 9th my merry band of runners set out on a new adventure, this time in Springfield IL If you read this blog regularly, you should know that one of my favorite events are prediction runs (link Screaming Pumpkin Race). For those that are not aware of what this is, I’ll get some quick details. Essentially you can have a team of runners (up to 4) to complete a marathon distance. Your goal is to have the last runner on your team cross the finish line before midnight. The catch is you are not allowed to have timing devices so you have to rely on whatever pace each member feels they can complete their leg in. Your team starts running whenever they want …but obviously not too early because the closest team to midnight wins the race. I like to call it the perfect race for slow runners like myself since it levels the playing field and relies on cunning to come out victorious.
My wife actually found this race online somehow (never did ask where she heard about it). The rules being eerily similar to our Screaming Pumpkin run right down to the fact they are both held in old, hilly cemeteries. Springfield is not that far from where we live and I happen to have some roots there – I’m in! that was an easy decision. Lucky for me, my training buddies and Pumpkin Team (Sung and Ryan) were onboard as well. To add more excitement to the festivities, Linda also signed up for the fun run/walk 5K event giving all something to do that night.
To say this was an interesting night is an understatement. About a week before the race I started digging into the details to become familiar with the course and get a feel for the required timings. Unlike the first pumpkin race we would not have a practice run so we would be estimating blindly. By now the team is pretty familiar with their paces on our hilly training courses so it was a matter of determining if Oak Ridge was flatter, as hilly as or more treacherous than our comparison base. One statement on their website was a bit unnerving since they referred to the course as one of the toughest in the nation. Sung, Ryan and I have been training all year on the toughest courses in the area so this brought a quick chuckle between us. The other pre-race intrigue involved some start changes for the other races being held there – they were shifted for .. wait for it .. wait for it .. PROM. The excuse was some kind of picture event that happens near where the race started – that would be interesting.
We headed down to the race early that Saturday to drop the dogs off at my parents and then drove over to the race venue to pick up the packets. First thing that stood out is the lack of people. Based on the numbers we were seeing, it looked to have small participation across the board. We picked up the packets, Linda had to deal with a shirt size issue since they didn’t have the size she ordered and eventually found a perfect place for the Wombat a short distance from the starting line. The Ultra race (basically a fifth loop of the 6.65 mile course) started first with a whopping 8 or 9 people in it. It is an Ultra for god’s sake so the low entry didn’t surprise me that much – those dudes and dudettes are CRAZY. After that came the competitive 5K, then the Half. the numbers picked up a bit, but still fairly low in my opinion. Here is our traditional pre-race shot (thanks Linda). It was a number of hours before I had to run which is why I wasn’t suited up yet.
Hit the jump to see how we did
The next wave of runners was the non-competitive 5Kers. This was a test year for whether or not they should push the start time of the 5K further into the night so everyone had a chance to experience what it was like to run in a cemetery, in the dark, with basically just your headlamp to see you through. This was the wave that Linda launched on. Note, the 5K was a subset of the full loop so everything that applied to the difficulty of the full .. equally applied to the 5K .. just less of it. There were some comments about the hills from runners that were coming across the finish line, so let’ just say I was slightly concerned about how Linda was going to like this – that concern being more of the beating I was likely to get if a) it was as hilly as portrayed, b) a snake decided to visit her, or she got LOST.
I am not kidding about the latter. When the team looked at the course posted online we gasped. Unlike the Springdale races, this one wrapped back on itself all over the place to the point we really couldn’t tell which way we were supposed to go unless we zoomed all the way in. Sung had a great idea to laminate the map so we could check it if the course was inadequately mapped. If the following shot of that laminated card doesn’t scare the crap out of you, then you are not a runner. It still makes me cringe just looking at it
We did familiarize us with the course marking approach. Keep the blue reflectors on your left and other markers on your right. They also tried to put yellow arrows on the pavement in tricky areas. Our first team member launched around 7:40 – he was the litmus test for what we were in for. Sung simply went out there and OWNED that course coming in 3 minutes earlier than expected and ate up every hill they threw at him – included some extra time to consult the map a couple of times. He also quickly pointed out to us that there were a LOT of hills and to use the general rule if there is a water spot assume you will be immediately going up a big one. Obviously, our training stood up to the course so that gave us some confidence and he re-explained how the course was marked – reinforcing that you needed to pay attention to the blue reflectors and if there was a tricky part, look down at the road and spot the yellow arrows to get you where you need to be.
Next up was Ryan to take another loop, now with an extra 3 minutes of time. Like Sung, he also tore up the course and thought he was actually well ahead of planned pace so opted to shed a few of our extra minutes crossing the line at a minus 1 minute for the team now half way through the race. That was excellent news since that took a lot of pressure off of me for the last half. My recommendation ahead of time was to give yourself some pad since the double loop wouldn’t allow me to make up a lot of time as in the previous year. Ryan did reiterate that the course was hillier than expected and validated my fears that it would be easy to get lost if you were not careful. They were having some issues in slightly better lighting conditions – the deeper black of the last two hours before midnight was just going to make this harder.
Thanks to the great work of the team, I was able to launch on the third loop with some comfort. If I got a little sidetracked I could use the extra minute they gave us and the little bit of pad I added to get back on track. Off I went with the lighted baton and trusty map into the darkness. This is probably a good time to point out one other interesting element of the night. The forecast was to have rain the entire duration of the race. Just before the even started, Linda checked the weather and the wet stuff was pushed off until midnight. Having just ran a half with Sung in an all out downpour a few weeks back I really wasn’t excited about hauling wet shoes around again. The downside is it remained cloudy which darkened the course significantly and provided a really eerie feel in the cemetery with the humidity and fog mixing along the low points of the course. The plan was to run 9:15s for the third loop but I got spooked around the 2 mile mark when I swore I had gotten lost to the point I was repeating the exact same loop – the tombstone and terrain looked exactly like the section leading up to the first water stop. Crap, Crap Crap. Shades of two years before where I went off course before being corrected by some oncoming runners. Figuring I was costing significant time depending on how much was being repeated I turned up the gas to help compensate for it. For the remainder of that course I went up, I went down, I went up, I went down.. up some more, down some more and was pleasantly surprised when I ended up in the right area by some War Memorials that were identified on the course map – apparently the feet stayed on course the entire time contrary to my concerning thoughts. When I crossed the finish line of the third loop I had inadvertently came in 3 minutes earlier than expectations putting the team at a -4 minutes below projection. The team fueled me up and took my laminated map – pretty familiar with the course now and my hands were getting too sweaty to hold on to anything beyond the foam baton. Now with a decent pad, the 4th and final loop was initiated. Legs felt good, lungs felt okay but they were reminding me that they were pushed the loop before. Things were looking up when all of sudden it started pouring buckets – the weather gods were impatient. Once again, memories of the U of I half came flooding (hehehehe) back to me. Slosh, slosh, slosh went the shoes as they became heavier with every footfall. Two things filled my thoughts, first being how difficult it was to see the reflectors, much less the little yellow stickers on the ground – by now I was staying as close to the reflectors as I could and literally staring down one or two feet out trying to keep sight of the markers. The second thought was more foreboding – with rain comes the chance of lightening – with lightening comes a likelihood of shutting down the race. After finishing over 3/4ths of the race already, this was dreadful. To punctuate that, fog from the warmer roads were building up to a nice scene from the Hound of Baskerville (now correctly titled). No choice but to speed it up and try to get done before lightening came. Slosh, slosh, slosh now at a faster pace.
Of special note here, is the fact I passed another marathon relay runner about two miles into the 4th loop. There is a risk in passing people since it could mean they are still on pace and you are off yours. Pretty sure I was ahead of my pace and if they were on theirs.. then you can kiss that finishing place goodbye. I had bigger issues to worry about so opted to pass – told her to keep up the good work, noticed her glow necklaces were wrapped up around her calves (how cute) and moved past eventually putting enough distance between us I couldn’t see her headlight anymore. Just me and the night (and rain) once again. Still pushing it a bit even though I had compensated to 10:15s for the final loop assuming I’d be fighting some fatigue. The good news is the rain stopped about halfway through the loop which reduced some sloshing but still left it difficult to see the road. For the second time I rubbed Lincoln’s bronze nose for luck and set my sites on the final 2.5 or so miles. It is at this point things got interesting. Guessing with about 1.5 or so miles to go I came up on two runners each carrying batons. Hmmmm, this would require some thinking. I had to be ahead of pace by now, there was no one to be seen behind me and now two competitors ahead of me. It is hard to think to strategically when you are fatiguing, but my conclusion was I was ahead but in good shape and had my competition right where I wanted them – trapped. The two ahead of me were gabbing away (well, the lady with the glowing calves was talking a lot, the larger guy on the left was laboring). I tried to keep a fair distance behind them, but they knew I was there which was an error on my part (I would have prevented that, but they didn’t have their batons on at the time I first noticed them and thought they were running the solo marathon together and not the relay – as a result I maintained my faster pace and reduced the distance. Still, I had them so didn’t worry about it too much.
In the final 3 tenths of the mile, my heart sank a bit. I looked to my right off the trail and noticed a dude STANDING there in the woods. He saw me spot him and then quickly tried to fake a stretch. That pissed me off since I immediately knew what was up and made sure I kept my light on him as long as possible as I passed by. The rule for predictions races is you are not ALLOWED to stop at the end of the race – a rule that is strictly enforced at the Pumpkin Race by race officials lining the final .5 looking for people who stop and humiliating them to continue running. Well there went first place – luckily there were only two runners ahead of me so still in good position until ….. but the bit.. sorry.. the lady abruptly stops and goes and stands in the woods off the trail. WTF!! Now I am totally pissed. We now have TWO blatant cheaters leaving me third at best or kick integrity to the curb and do the same (at least shame them into making it valid competition). Integrity wins and thankfully the dude still ahead of me opted to keep his as well and continued moving to the end. He did slow significantly at the end which I matched but again, we kept moving. You can kind of see him in the orange directly ahead of me in the shot below.
I finally crossed at 1:55:40 – a little over 4 minutes ahead of plan which was pretty much my own doing on the first lap and the lightening panic. Not too bad considering we started running around 7:40 that night and did not use any timing devices on the course with an unfamiliar terrain. Problem is, the best we could do was third thanks to the blatant cheaters still standing in the trees. The lady must not have seen the guy standing behind her because she came out about 2 minutes later and jogged to the end all happy like. I think she thought she had one, but the other dude came out of the woods with like a minute left and easily jogged in ahead of midnight – there was one and two – now the waiting game.
Waiting, waiting, a slight scare as marathoner came through – not a relay member whew, waiting, waiting, another dude comes around the curve and people start assessing his chances – he kicks it into high gear but comes across just seconds AFTER midnight. That sucks .. but not a relay person so somewhat of a surprise we did take THIRD place (and kept our integrity).
The race is all about being clever – they even used the word cunning when they described the strategy required. Neither of those words illicit the concept of cheating. The race administrators left the race clock up there with the hours and seconds adding up since the first race began so everyone knew exactly what time it was when they started their loop – this is valid and required since you really wouldn’t know when to be there for the handoff if you didn’t know what time it was at the start of the loop. Too be hiding in the woods and stopping on the course just before the finish line (you could not see the timer from there) means there was additional on course signals (or actual time) at play. Oh well, we took third and as a team pretty happy about that since we had no intention of getting anything when we started.
The sad thing about this ending is what transpired afterward. We were slowly walking up the course because like last rainy race I was quickly turning into a paint store shaker machine and the legs were slightly more useful than a Twizzler. A lady comes bounding up the steps and proceeds to complain that we were going much too slow for her. A look back confirmed it was the lady who STOPPED on the course ahead of me. We laughed it off and then she asks if we have ever done a prediction race before which we affirmed (cutting myself short of … and apparently one of the few that know the rules). Here next response brought a wave of realization. “My team didn’t leave me enough time to finish my loop.” I immediately realized she was the lady I passed early in the second loop – SHE NEVER PASSED ME AGAIN (no one did). She cut the course short. Wow, that is pretty pathetic.
Oh well, we went, we saw, we competed within the guidelines and can be proud of our fruits. Although, the real winner that night was Linda! I skipped over this earlier, but she finished her first 5K ahead of expected time on a super tough course – I recall her mentioning that the hills kicked her ass as she was trekking through the final tenth to the finish. NICE JOB!! (… is it too soon to mention the BIX SEVEN!?!). We forgot to get a team post race picture, but I did get one of Linda so she can remember this milestone.
Pretty sure that is the look of someone who wants to make another loop (or not hehehe). Oh, also forgot to mention the prom thingy again. Turns out that the local high school proms tend to use this location for their pre-party pictures. This resulted in an interesting mix of sweaty runners and decked out girls in their incredibly racy dresses (I am definitely getting old, but seeing the soccer moms swoon over their daughters in dresses that are more fit for the Vegas nightclub scene is kinda creepy). In kind, here is our “prom” picture for the night!
too bad we didn’t have tuxedo t-shirts (ha).
I actually have a few more memories from that race (like how loose they were with the beer), but this post has already gone longer than you probably wanted, so going to call it a post. Next up …. Steamboat