The Vulcan Materials Company opens some of their quarries to the public for "Quarry Crusher Runs", in metro Atlanta, Birmingham (AL), Columbia (SC), Maryland, San Antonio (TX), and San Diego (CA). The race series apparently began in Columbia several years ago, and was first run in Atlanta in 2016. Originally I was due to run a hilly 10K in Tucker this morning, but due to low registration, the 10K was cancelled a few days ago. The 5K was still on, but I wasn't interested in another road 5K. The organizers of the Tucker race very kindly provided a refund, so I decided to join friends Brian Minor and Beverly Ford at the Quarry Crusher run.
The Vulcan Quarry is in Norcross, between Interstate 85 and Meadowcreek High School, which is the high school for our residence. Meadowcreek HS was also the recipient of race proceeds, and quite a few Meadowcreek students participated in today's race, proudly wearing blue Mustangs shirts. I arrived about an hour ahead of time, signed a waiver and picked up my bib, and then had plenty of time to explore. In driving into the quarry, the parking area was at least 100 feet below the surrounding land. A few dozen of the Vulcan employees were on the site to show off their machines and vehicles. Andrew let me climb up the Caterpillar 992K loader, a massive machine weighing 238,000 lbs, which is so heavy that it must be transported to the site in pieces. The Cat 992K costs $1.7 million, and is capable of moving a load of 25 - 30 tons of granite. Andrew said that he typically uses 330 gallons of diesel each day.
|Sense of scale: Andrew (above) is 6'4" tall;|
After a few warm weeks, we have experienced an unexpected cool spell, following some heavy storms two days ago. The temperature was predicted to be below 50 deg F, and windy, so I decided to wear tights and two shirts. My plan was to shed a layer after warming up, but it was quite windy and cool this morning. I really didn't want to risk getting chilled during the race, and wasn't sure if it might be colder at the bottom. As we lined up for the start, the other runners around me wore everything from jackets, to as light as tank tops and shorts. One man in front of me was wearing no shirt and just light shorts. I had warmed up earlier on the first quarter-mile of the race route, and knew that the running surface was a hard-packed dirt, which felt firm enough but also very forgiving. Given the recent rain, there were a few soft spots particularly along the sides, so I decided to wear trail shoes. The trail shoes are heavier but also have a nice tread, plus I haven't worn them all that many times.
|About 5 minutes before the start|
The race route was 660 feet down to the bottom of the quarry, and then returning to the surface, in a total of about 3.72 miles, about 6 kilometers. They advertised up to 10% grade in sections. Then there was a Double Crusher Run, 7.44 miles, just $10 more. I decided to pass up the discounted second trip, just hoping to return to the top on the first trip. I didn't really have a time goal for the race, not having any experience with a 6K distance, or the down-and-up nature of the race, but I did want to have a good experience. I set my heart rate monitor with high at 170 bpm, low at 155 bpm, and resolved to immediately take a walk break if the heart rate went too high, and likewise speed up - or return to running at 155 bpm.
|Ready to begin?!|
The announcer set a cheerful and positive tone as we gathered for the start, introducing a teacher from the Gwinnett County schools to encourage our race, and then we bunched up behind the starting line. The airhorn sounded! It took about 20 seconds for me to reach the starting mat, and then I took off. As soon as we began going downhill, I left myself speed up, but was careful to let gravity do most of the work. Once we got into the quarry bowl, I didn't notice any wind at all. The heart rate monitor was beeping "Heart rate too low" and so I tried to increase the pace. However, I never managed to get above 153 bpm in the first mile, 7:10 elapsed! One memorable sight from the first mile was a little waterfall, from an underground spring that had been broached. I was generally passing people on the way down, occasionally running to the left side of the path where the dirt was a little mushy. With the trail shoes, I had no trouble moving quickly on those surfaces.
As we ran deeper into the bowl of the quarry, I tried to speed up a bit more, to stay under a 7 min / mile pace, but my legs were moving about as fast as they could move! I had finally managed to silence the heart rate monitor as I reached 163 bpm in one of my fastest stretches. As we made another turn going down another level, I saw the waterfall again, now cascading down 100 - 200 feet of rock face. I wasn't that far from the bottom when I encountered the lead runner on the return trip. He seemed to be running about as fast uphill as I was running downhill, for what it was worth. At the bottom, there was a flagpole that we ran around, and then a water stop. I grabbed a cup of water and drank most of it on the first walk break of the race. I needed only 13:23 to get to the midpoint of the race, 1.86 mi.
|Elevation map over time (not distance): below 600 ft, the Garmin signal |
must have bounced off a wall of the quarry, as I didn't jump
straight up a 350 foot cliff. I estimate that we were
slightly above 200 ft elevation at the bottom of the quarry.
I began running again, and almost immediately felt the difficulty of going uphill. I had been careful not to tire myself out going downhill, but now realized that the second half was going to be quite difficult. As I passed the two-mile mark (14:31 elapsed), I checked my heart rate monitor, saw 169 bpm, and decided to take a walk break before the alarm had sounded. I walked for about 60 steps, approximating a 30-second walk break, heart rate dropped to 160 bpm, then I began running again. After each walk break, I felt strong again for a moment, and passed several people, but then felt that I needed to take another walk break much sooner than I would in the marathon. But I was staying under the 170 bpm mark, and decided that strategy would be fine to finish. I ran for a couple of minutes straight in one relatively level section that I had hardly noticed on the way down, but for most of the way I was alternating run-walk with fairly even intervals. However, my average pace wasn't too slow. I took another cup of water at a second water stop, then returned to running as I finished mile 3 in 11:31, 26 minutes elapsed.
|Heart pace vs. pace vs. elevation map. Looks like I took 17 walk breaks on the return trip. |
At least I was moving quickly as I reached the finish line!
Very shortly after passing the 3-mile mark, the same lead runner passed me going downhill in the second leg of the Double Crusher. I guess that meant that I was no more than 1.4 miles behind him. Knowing that I didn't have much further to go, I wanted to lengthen the running segments a bit, but it was really difficult. Amazingly, I wasn't pushing my heart rate above 170 bpm. I was trying to keep up with a woman in a yellow shirt that I had caught up to at the bottom. She and I seemed to alternate taking our walk breaks, and she would start running again just as I would catch up to her. The quarry staff were driving spectators down the race route in small carts, and when I saw a camera I tried not to stop running until I had passed the photographer. Finally I could see that there was only one more long stretch to reach the top. I seemed to recall that the grade wasn't as steep in the last half mile, and I was able to run for longer, although didn't completely eliminate walk breaks. However the woman in the yellow shirt opened up more of a lead - she won her age group - and I never caught up to her again, as she outran me by about 20 seconds on the clock and 10 seconds chip time.
|Other runners approaching the finish line, photo taken well after I had finished|
Near the top, the Caterpillar loaders came into view. I realized that was the turnaround point for the Double Crushers, and that it wouldn't be far to the finish line. I took one last walk break and then ran past the Caterpillars, and picked up a little more speed as the route flattened out. I saw Brian out of the corner of my eye and heard him shout, "You can beat 35 minutes!" Indeed he was right, as I crossed the finish line at 34:50, 34:28 chip time. In a nice touch, the announcer called out names as we finished, "Welcome back, Frank McDonald!" Journey from the center of the earth, indeed!
|54th out of 535 finishers, 6th out of 37 age group. |
Not bad for a race run without expectations, other than
staying out of the medical tent!
85 more runners completed the Double Crusher.
I grabbed a bottle of water from a volunteer but initially missed getting a medal, but when I realized that, I circled back to collect my bling! I seemed to quickly recover and circled back around to join Brian as he waited for Beverly. Shortly after Beverly's finish, the winner of the Double Crusher raced by, under 48 minutes. It turns out that he is a student at Meadowcreek HS and also won last year's race!
|Heavy finishers medal!|
|Brian won 3rd place in his age group. For his efforts, he received a rock!|
|Brian and I hangin' around after the race|