(warning - long read)
The Mill City Relay is a point-to-point relay race from Nashua NH to Lawrence MA. 27.1 miles broken up into five legs. This year had 140 5-person teams enter. This is the skinny:
I'm normally not one to get up before dark on a weekend without a damn good reason. Years ago, when I had just been bitten by the bike racing bug, getting up at 4 am sunday to make a 9 am start in the wilds of vermont or maine wasn't a problem. But I was younger then, less jaded, and less tired......_way_ less tired. So, when my alarm went off at 5:30 AM , sunday, December 7th, 2008, it was to my resignation and my wifes' chagrin. I half-way expected her to accuse me of some twisted 67th commemoration of the Pearl Harbor attack.
"what the hell are you doing?"
"going to that relay race, I _said_ I had to get up early"
"You said it was in lawrence"
"it starts in nashua"
"in the dark?"
"just go back to sleep"
"oh my gawd..." and she rolled the pillow over her head.
I normally don't have to worry about waking her up. She gets up at about 4 am every day, usually. She doesn't want to, she doesn't set the alarm, she just wakes up on a circadian rhythm...except for today. I had most of my stuff together, so I threw what else I thought I'd need in my bag and headed out.
It was cold. Cold enough to show, though it wasn't yet. I stopped off at the local Dunkin Donuts and bought my usual prerace meal - large medium regular coffee, a Chug of OJ, a Chug of milk, and a bagel.
I was surprised by the turnout in the claddagh parking lot. I got one of the few available parking spaces. I had never met any of my teammates before, so I wandered the parking lot looking for Frank. I asked several people if they had seen Frank.
Ummm....hmmm...drawing a blank here. I remember the email from Frank.....something. I hadn't anticipated that there would be pretty close to 100 people milling about in the claddagh parking lot at 6 AM.
"Frank, the captain of the masters team"
Finally someone pointed him out. We got the rest of the team together, hopped in Franks minivan, and headed out.
Now, I had been scheduled to run with the Masters Co-ed A team, headed up by Tina Dowling. A week before the event I was asked to run with the Master Men A team. Before I responded, I looked up the other names on the team in cool running results. One of the first listings was for Janos, at the 2006 masters indoor track championships, 5:15 in the mile.....I stopped looking, I didn't want to get depressed. But, "OK, I'll bite, if you can't find anyone else I'll do it, but just be aware that I'm generally speaking about a minute per mile slower than any one of you.....just so ya know....."
By the time we hit new hampshire in the min-van it had started to snow quite heavily. The ground was completely covered, the snow was getting packed, and it was slick. No one had thought to bring anything other than road running shoes, so traction was dicey at best. Brian was to run the first leg, so as soon as we got him set up with the baton, we hit the road. Dodge mini vans aren't known for their adverse weather handling, so we needed time. Fortunately, both Todd and I had worked in the nashua area for some time, and advised against following the race route. Single lane roads, runners looking for traction.......let's not get hung up. We went through downtown nashua, over to the DW highway, across the new 3/3a bridge, and made it with time to spare, although Frank bringing the van sideways approaching an intersection on the DW highway gave us pause that we might not make it.
During the ride there we had been talking about races and results. Brian, I was told, had been running a 5:30 pace for the past two months. At that point Janos looked at me and asked, "you want to switch legs?"
"YES!!!! I've been thinking all along that it's probably a good idea to have your slowest guy run the shortest leg"
So Brian pulled into the transition area in about 33 minutes.
Exceptional considering the conditions. The MVS Open Mens runner came in first had a good minute over second place overall. Brain was about 10th or so. The transition in the parking lot was treacherous. The driveway itself had turned to ice forcing the runners to stay on the grass. I saw a few runners down in the parking lot slip out and hit the ground. Janos took the baton and hit the road. Uh, bad euphemism. He took off, he didn’t actually ‘hit the road’, though we found out later that he _did_ take a spill out on the course. We caught up to him and frank got a few pictures, then proceeded to the tech school for my transition.
MVS still had a big lead - over a minute - in the overall at the 2nd transition. The Kid strolled through relaxed and smooth, taking long strides, almost smiling. He's one of those guys that makes it look easy. Down in Lowell the snow was very slight, and the roads were wet, so the run downhill into the tunnel was no problem. I took the baton from Janos, and headed off. There was a runner in a yellow shirt in front of me, maybe 15 seconds, that I looked to be gaining on slightly. I felt smooth, I had a good stride, I was running within my limits. Once we got out of the school though, the runner in front of me at first held his distance, then pulled away slightly, and kept going.
I'm new to this running thing. When there is someone right with me, it's easy for me to hold a pace and keep my form. But, when I'm completely alone, my stride drops off. My steps get very shallow. This happened repeatedly sunday; I would 'wake up', then drift back to the bad habits. I'm hoping, with time, this will change. Eventually, another runner came up on me, and I managed to use him to pace. The runner in yellow had pulled to about 30 seconds ahead by the time we reached the roarke bridge, and I was still only a few steps behind this new runner.
We came into the 3rd transition, and it was a mob scene. People standing all over the course. I had planned to run through it, handing off the baton to Todd, but I had to dodge other non-runners, as did the guy in front of me. Todd had to weave around someone in front of him after the hand off.
I'm not sure of my time, I forgot to start my hrm. Afterwards I was thinking I'll just get everyone elses' time and do the math. Well, it turns out Janos did the same thing, so with two variables in the formula and no corresponding simultaneous equation, there would be no reliable answer. At the 3rd transition, I ran into two of my cycling friends. One is one of the better masters riders in New England, and wins about half a dozen races a year. Turns out his wife is Cathy Pearce, who runs for Whirlaway and has this annoying habit of running a sub-six pace at the age of 44 - not bad for a girl (oops, sorry, gender stereotyping, bad blogger) . The other is more of a mutli-sport guy, but a good training partner. He has one speed - fast.
The temperature was now well into the 40's and good for running. We caught up to Todd at about the 5 mile point and he looked smooth and comfortable. He had passed one runner (at least), probably from that team that passed me at the end of my leg, and looked to be distancing another runner behind him. He said he felt good, so we left him and waited at transition 4. He had definitely put a gap on the runner that was behind him at that point. That change went off without a hitch, and Frank went on his way, taking on the only real hill in the entire course.
We went to the top of the hill and waited for him. Two runners came by, one was from whirlaway, followed by gate city. By the time Frank made it to the top over 1:40 had passed. Since this was about the two mile mark of a 4.75 mile leg, it didn't look too good for frank to catch them. There was a young kid behind Frank that had paced him up the hill, about 10 seconds behind him. As we headed toward the finish, we passed the gate city runner, but the whirlaway guy was gone. They had crossed the hill about 15 seconds apart, and the whirlaway guy looked like he was dying, but he must have hit the downhill like Bode Miller. He had a good minute on the gate city guy at that point, finishing 1:10 ahead of him. Frank came in 2:30 later. and managed to put 30 seconds on the kid behind him.
We finished in a time of 2:43:17. That was 7th over all and the 4th place masters team. I'll probably do this race next year, if they'll have me. The next thing I have planned is the millennium mile, and I'll be attending the indoor track works to prepare for that. But that was it for a while, I took the past week off. I mean, _really_ off. I haven't had my heart rate over 100, and I've been eating _lots_ of food. No, not all the Gu that was given away at the relay. It turns out, Frank had worked some race recently, and the gave him like a dozen cases of Gu. 48 packs in each one. He handed me two, that's 96 packs of Gu. Well over $100 worth. I'll be sucking orange gu for awhile. If you see me, ask for some.