Sunday, August 14, 2011

Race Report: Steve's Raider Stomp, Decatur, MI

Having taken the week off due to sore feet, running a race may not have been the best decision in the world. However, this particular race would attract a bunch of my buddies from the Beyond marathon training group (Piper, Carolyn, Brent, Ginny, Frank and Angie) so I was willing to throw caution to the wind. It would turn out to be a grew morning and I'm glad I was there.

Steve's Raider Stomp is a charity race for the local track and cross-country teams in Decatur, and is a memorial for one of their outstanding student athletes who had died in a car accident a few years back. It's run by my friend Bob Smola, who was my group pace leader during the Beyond Marathon Training Program put on by the Kalamazoo Area Runners, and I was determined to show my support. The race included a 5k walk, 5k run and a 10k run. I thought about doing the 10k but since I had taken all week off I figured I would be better off with the shorter distance. It was a pretty small event and rumor had it there were around 400 participants between all 3 races (the 5k had 104 finishers).

Heading for Decatur, I was a bit nervous about the weather because there were some nasty thunderstorms rolling through north of Paw Paw (the town so nice they named it twice!). I wasn't too worried about rain, since I enjoy running in wet conditions, but lightning is where I draw the line. Fortunately the weather would hold for us and we wouldn't see a single drop of rain.

I met up with my friends outside the high school gym where they were handling registration. Checking in was super smooth, possibly due to the smallish number of racers, and took maybe 2 minutes. I went out and visited with my friends for a few minutes while getting my number pinned on and after a quick jog to the car to drop off my race shirt I headed for the starting line with the others. We met up with Bob briefly on our way over and got in some hugs and "how ya been!" before his duties as race director took him away. It was great to see him and the others. The summer running has been lonely since the marathon back in May.

The course started on the road near the high school and headed kind of northwesterly in a nice loop on country and neighborhood roads. Most of the roads were older chip seal surfaces. I figure they were probably done in the last couple years, as they weren't as rough as a road done this year, but were rough enough that they were slightly uncomfortable. My runs on the Kal-Haven Trail, Al Sabo and the trails in Marquette last week had prepared me well for the surface though, so it didn't really slow me down. Six months ago I'm not sure I could have handled it without I affecting my performance.

The roads were completely closed off, which was nice as runners weren't crowded into a bike lane or anything. It allowed a lot of people to hug the inside of the curves, which is something I didn't really consider, and I'm sure many runners were able to shave a few seconds here and there by staying inside. I would later wish I'd done it myself, but I'll get to that in a bit. At one point I did have a car behind me, but the fire chief was ahead making sure the road was clear for runners and he stopped to chew out whoever it was that was nipping my heels with their car.

The aid stations were well manned and the drinks were nice and big. I went out of my way to thank everyone for being there, even the spectators, as I hadn't been as good about that lately as I'd like. My last two races were ones where I had concentrated on speed and I had really gotten away from my usual crowd-cheering self. It was nice to get back to that. Almost everyone I thanked also thanked me for running the race which felt good. The crowds weren't the thickest I'd seen, but they were a good crowd regardless and their positive energy kept me running a brisk pace.

I had planned to stop and take pictures, but because the field was so small I thought I had a chance to medal if I ran it hard, so I didn't stop to take any. I did stop once though at about 1.5 miles in when I saw a kid who must have been around 13 stop at the side of the road. It looked like he was spitting water out, since he still had a cup from the aid station, or maybe was getting some loogies out. Other runners just kept running past him. As I approached though it was obvious he was throwing up, and as a parent I just have this instinctive urge to help when I see a kid vomiting. I stopped and said "dude, are you ok?". He nodded and waved me on before unloading his digestive system again. I was still a bit concerned and said "is there anyone I can call for you?". He shook his head and waved me on. In the meantime about 10 people passed us and I don't think any of them even slowed down. Savages. Anyway, after waving me on the second time I gave up. "I hope you feel better" I said and headed back into the pack. I probably lost a half minute, if not more, from my finish but I didn't care. I was worried he wouldn't make it back in.

Getting back in I focused on keeping a couple young girls in my sights. I was trying to persistence-hunt them down, but my week off was keeping me a little winded and it was all I could do to keep my pace. They would stay just out of reach until the finish line.

At about 2.5 miles the race turned off the chip seal and onto a gravel road/driveway. There was a course marshall there who gave me a friendly "barefoot eh? This should get interesting!". I gave him a friendly laugh and said "yeah, we'll see!". The gravel was pretty rough, but there was a nice semi-mowed grassy strip along the road which I ran in. It made me super nervous because grass hides a lot of potential dangers for barefooters, but I bore down and kept pace, even passing some people who'd slowed down on the gravel. Eventually we crossed someones lawn and headed into some brush-hogged field and then onto a gravel two-track. There was no grassy shoulder on the two-track, so I just bore down and ran it as lightly as possible. There was a very slight hill here and I passed a few people, but they would overtake me again once we got back on chip seal.

After a few hundred feet on the chip seal we crossed a gravel approach onto Decatur high school's new track. It was that weird spongy stuff that I don't think a shoddie would take much notice of, but that reminded me of running in shoes again. There was a lot more friction and the give of the surface felt really strange. Bob was at the PA calling out names and numbers as they ran by and he gave me a big "way to go, Troy!" as I headed by before calling my name and number over the PA. I kept my brisk pace over most of the track, as I didn't have a ton left in the tank: I'd left most of it out on the course. Once I got around the bend and had a nice straight-away to the finish I kicked into sprint gear and finished as hard as I could. I managed to catch and pass not only a couple people who had passed me on the chip seal but the two girls I'd had in my sights for half the race.

I finished with a respectable 26:03, about 12 seconds off my personal best of 25:51. Later I would lament that if I'd hugged the turns tighter (I'd stayed on the outside where it was less crowded) and not stopped for that kid (although I don't think I would have actually done anything different in that situation) I may have been able to shave another minute off my time, which would have set a new best. It wouldn't have helped my standing though, as the 3 guys in my age group who beat me were all running around a 7:00 mile, and there was a 3:30 difference between me and the number 3 guy. I'd hang around the finish to get pictures of my friends finishing, which was cool. I actually got some pretty good shots!

Carolyn's last 5k finish before knee surgery!

Piper finishing strong on Decatur's new track

The kid who had been sick back at mile 1.5 would finish a couple minutes behind me, which was good.  When I saw him I gave him a "way to go!" and a "glad you're feeling better!"  he gave me a nod, but otherwise got a bottle of water and walked away.  Wasn't the nicest kid in the world, but I was glad he made it back ok.

The race swag and food would be yet another highlight of the event. As soon as you cross the finish line there was someone there with a cold wet towel (which felt great!) and a bottle of water. The next station had popsicles and a table of cool swag. The volunteer said "take whatever you want!" and we were stunned. There were water bottles, coolers, bags, golf towels and I think a couple other things. I grabbed a cooler and a golf towel and headed towards the results board and food tables with my friends (who had finished the 5k anyway... Ginny, Frank and Angie were all running the 10k).

The food was awesome! There were a fee varieties of muffins, which had to be some of the best I'd had in a long time. I even took one home for with my lunch and one for my wife (with the volunteer's blessing, of course). They also had fresh watermelon, apples, plums and peaches. Since Decatur is on the edge of fruit farm country, I assume the melon, peaches and plums were all fresh picked and local. Did I mention they were awesome? The plums were huge and juicy and the peaches were great as well.

My friend Piper placed 3rd in her division!
The medals were very nice, and some of us actually medalled! Piper would take 3rd in age group for the 5k while Angie and Ginny would take 1st in their respective age groups. The overall winners got some gorgeous glass trophies. They also had photographers taking pictures of the division and overall winners which were ready in about 5 minutes! I've never seen that before!

All in all this was a great event. It was small enough that you had a chance to medal as long as you gave it a good effort, and the food and swag were more superb considering the race only cost $17 to enter. The volunteers were great and everything was well done. Bob had put together quite an event and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a fun, fast race where anybody has a decent chance to bring home some hardware. My only reservation would be for other barefooters: the chip seal and gravel areas would be pretty bad if I hadn't been running on similar surfaces all summer. Some huaraches or minshoes would be recommended if you aren't used to rough surfaces.

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