Mill Cities Relay
27.1 mile relay
Nashua, NH to Lawrence, MA
Sunday, December 7, 2008
*Included running last 3 of 5 Legs officially.
Early December and bad weather for a runner in New England means The Mill Cities Relay. And so for the third year in a row, I got myself on a fun relay team — this year called rather approapriately ‘CdA 2009’ in how we all are signed up for Ironman Coeur d’Alene ’09 — where I would run the entire way (27.1 miles) while officially taking the baton for a Leg or two.
Having done this the prior two years, I found myself thinking about this challenge months out. It’s a great way to have fun and get in a little adventure in the month of December. For me, I don’t know why, but it seems to really get me in the spirit of the holidays, for the run is always brutally cold or snowy or both, I get to see so many friends on the road between Nashua and Lawrence, and the afterparty, complete with fresh pints of sturdy ale at a popluar area Irish pub, and even a band, is always fun.
This year, the 25th annual running of the relay, was no different.
The morning started early, with all team members meeting at the Claddagh Pub, site of the finish line and fun afterparty. Arriving at the designated hour of 6:30 AM I learned right away that our team of 4 was reduced to 3. This meant that Brian would take the first leg, Terry the second, and me the last three. Which was fine with me since I was running the entire way anyway. The only thing it meant was that it would, for the first time in three year, make my legs all that much more important and give me incentive to run strong once I picked up the baton at the second interchange.
Brian, Terry, and I hopped into the car and drove to Nashua for the start. We weren’t there long before Brian and I, althoug with all the other Leg #1 starters, were on our way.
With a snow falling from the sky, I ignored the fact that I had such a long day ahead of me and instead thrust myself into the moment. It wasn’t hard because of the incredible slippery conditions. So bad it was that not a single runner could hit their pace. It was just too slick. But at the same time, for me it was absolutely gorgeous and a great way to start the day. Early December, snow falling from the sky, me out on the road prancing through the winter wonderland… it was awesome. And fun!
After a mile of slipping and sliding, I finally decided to run more in the middle of the road, in the line made by car tires, the only dry to pavement area of the road, and once I did that I was able to open up my stride and finally hit, by mile 3, what I estimated was marathon pace. Because I started in the back, I was passing runners steadily.
At the first exchange, where Brian would be coming shortly, I stopped with Terry and some others to chat. Sure enough, Brian came quickly, right on my heels, and handed off to Terry for the rolling hills of Leg #2. I took off after Terry, chatted with her for a bit, then decided to not throw off her race or pace with my mere presence. And so I punched on, back to marathon pace. With one mile remaining in the leg, I came upon another guy who suddenly sat on my shoulder. I slowly picked up pace, seeing how I was able to push him. Sure enough, he was still there, keeping up with every of my moves. And so I decided to coach him through an all-out-hammer to the end. I warned him first by saying, “You look really strong. I’m going to slowly increase pace to all-out. I’ll increase as long as I hear you breathing behind me. So let’s go.” And with that, we hammered through the leg. That was fun!
Now at the second exchange, I refilled water bottles with Gatorade I had planted the day before, gobbled a Gel, and the went to the exchange point waiting for Terry. By then Brian had gotten the car and returned to the exchange, so we chatted a bit with members from our triathlon club.
By now the footing was a little better, but only because sanding trucks had time to get around. Running pace wasn’t as difficult as the first leg, but you still had to watch your footing.
Although I wanted to stay and chat longer, as we had barely gotten through the hellos, Terry was clipping along sturdy and strong with baton in hand. I goofed around in taking and then bobbling the baton as an Olympic Relay member. And I was off for the 16 miles to the finish that would see me taking on three Legs.
I set as a goal to take the next segment, officially Leg #3, the short leg, as a period to slowly work up to marathon pace so that I could hit what I imagined marathon pace for the long Leg #4 and through #5 to the finish.
And that’s what I did. I was pleasantly surprised when I came through the exchange point after completing the short leg (#3) but before the long (#4) to see Brian and Terry. I had told them to go on, so I wasn’t expecting them, which is why it was really nice to see them. I asked both if they wanted to take the baton. They laughed. I was stuck! And so off I went, for the long leg.
Although my legs were starting to fatigue and the bottoms of my feet giving me issues in the normal spot, I was actually feeling pretty good. Something that’s amazed me since the Lake Placid Marathon backing June in my preparations for Ironman Lake Placid a month later was how marathons, time-wise, seem to go very quickly, whereas all of my previous marathons seem to take forever, regardless of whether I’m racing or pacing or simply jogging. And so now with footing much better and flurries still falling from the sky, I enjoyed the hell out of this long stretch. It, in a sick way, is my favorite, because it is long, boring, way too flat, and not much of anything to help in the form of motivation, it is a trial period, like no man’s land in a marathon.
My goal over this stretch was to catch a club mate on another team who started about 5 to 10 minutes ahead. After a stop to refill water bottles and gobble another Gel, and after conquering the nothingness of no man’s land, with only just over a mile remaining, I caught my club mate. By then I was well into pace, at marathon effort or more, and feeling tired but well within to be able to hold to the end.
Into the exchange area I went, now with one more leg to go, the final Leg #5 with the big, long hill and the fast run to the finish, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many members my triathlon club. They were cheering and smiling, and again, I tried to force the baton on Brian or Terry. Neither would take it. So I set out for the next and final leg, still feeling good to make it to the end.
During that final stretch I couldn’t help but given thanks for what I was accomplishing on this day. I was finishing up running over marathon distance, and it was almost easy, as if I could do it any day. And that’s just it. I have been blessed with a strong drive and a healthy body to keep up, where I am able to spend a snowy Sunday doing what I love, challenging myself in a highly social environment, and having friends surrounding me who get it.
And with that I run on in to the cheering of Brian and Terry and all of the others.
Team CdA 2009 completed the relay unofficially in 3:40:00.
Afterwards we all gathered inside the warm pub for soggy pasta and other treats, freshly poured beers, and a fun time to cap off a festive good time.