This race report comes a bit late thanks to a jam-packed Labor Day weekend and the aftermath of digging out at work this week. Now that the dust has had a chance to settle on I’on Swamp Road, though, I can say with assurance that this was one of the most fun races I’ve ever done. The Francis Marion Dirt Dash was exactly what I was hoping for–a small race with a ‘for runners, by runners’ feel in an absolutely gorgeous setting. To top it off, it was only about 73 degrees at the start and the dense forest provided good shade throughout the race. It was humid to be sure, but overall I found the race conditions to be quite comfortable.
Per the race instructions, we parked at a visitors’ center nearish the start and caught a shuttle van across the highway to the park. From there we walked back the access road about half a mile to the start line, which was literally just a heel-drag line in the dirt. We got our numbers, milled around a bit, and I griped with a few other runners about the lack of satellite telemetry at our particular global position. Truth be told, I was a mite nervous about running in the heat without GPS pace information. The trail ahead looked shady and cool, but I had no idea what to expect for the rest of the course or the weather. I decided to approach the uncertainty as a training opportunity to run based on perceived effort, and though it did make the whole exercise seem more productive, it did little to calm my nerves.
The Caveboy was running the 12K race, so when the runners assembled for the start we wished each other luck and my Long Run Buddy and I positioned ourselves nearish the front for the half marathon. At 7:00 sharp, Chad Haffa, the race organizer, yelled “Go!” and we were off. We settled in at what felt like a comfortably fast pace for the first out-and-back leg. LRB had MapMyRun going, so he called out splits for the first few miles. We were hanging around an 8:20-8:30 pace, which was a little faster than I was aiming for, but it felt pretty comfortable. There were few mile markers on the course (it actually only may have been at mile 2/11), but somewhere around three and a half miles in my watch found its bearings and I had pace data. For the next several miles I tried to soak up the scenery and serenity of the place and just enjoy the run. LRB and I split up around mile 7–he was ready to pick up the pace and I was feeling like I needed to reign it in a bit. I slowed to about an 8:40 and plugged along on my own for a few more miles.
I could only judge the distance left based on my assumed pace and overall time, but I guessed the next aid station I encountered to be about mile 10. I tried to confirm this with the volunteers, but they cheerfully informed me that they had no idea where they were. I for some reason found this to be quite charming and picked up my cadence a bit. I passed another runner about half a mile later who agreed with the 10-10.5 estimate, at which point I felt much more confident about my pace to the finish. The morning was definitely getting warmer, but I was happy with how I was running at that point. I’ve never considered myself a strong heat runner, but I was holding my own at a faster pace than I expected. With about half a mile left I passed one more runner, chatted briefly, and then focused on surging to the finish line.
I crossed the line in 1:53:26, less than 4 minutes off my PR. Given the trail, the weather, and the fact that I never really made myself hurt, I was thrilled with the race. The sentiment was further reinforced when I was handed a cold can of beer before 9 AM. (Breakfast of Champions.) LRB had finished a few minutes ahead of me, the Caveboy was relaxing with his libations already, and soon we were cheering for the award of the giant pinecones to the overall winners. (Seriously, best race trophies ever.) The full results were posted Monday, and I came in second in my age group and was the seventh overall woman.
My one regret of this race was the untimely demise of my beloved gen2 iPod Shuffle. I usually clip it to a loop I sewed onto the hip of all of my running shorts and skirts, but the stitching pulled out about a quarter mile into the race and I moved it to my bra strap instead. I promptly forgot about its new location and proceeded to dump water on my head and down my bra at every aid station. It actually continued to function for the rest of the race, but when I tried it the next day it was unresponsive. Oddly, the following day it worked again, but has refused to turn on since then. I tried packing it in kitty litter to dry it out to no avail (good Paleo girl that I am, I have no rice). I finally gave in this morning and ordered a new (used) one on Amazon.
Anyway, the rest of the weekend was what the Caveboy described as “one of the most tiring, relaxing weekends we have ever had.” We surfed, kayaked, and stand-up paddle boarded (which I officially love). I also squeezed in a short barefoot run on the beach before our flight on Sunday. I’ve been a bit off schedule on running this week, but I did a 5.5 mile run at my parents’ cabin on Monday, a 5-mile tempo at race pace and a 1% grade on Tuesday, 3 miles easy yesterday, and a 7 mile tempo a touch faster than race pace this morning. My long run is slated for Saturday, and next week the final build up to the taper officially begins.
Happy Unofficial Autumn!