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Posts Tagged ‘Green Mountain Relay’

In order to squeeze all the juice out of the Green Mountain Relay, you must suspend your disbelief in love at first sight.

I’m not talking romantic love here, people. I’m talking about how my teammates all put aside that normal, gradual progression towards friendship and instead assumed our friendship was pre-existing, we just had to take it out of the box and pop in the batteries. Instafriendship. Boom, I got your back.

Admittedly, was worried. I worried that personalities wouldn’t gel, or would clash. I worried people wouldn’t feel included, or wouldn’t open up. I wanted everyone to have a great time; I wanted them to love this relay as much as I do.

Why did I worry? Silly TK.

It worked, like it always does. Slow White and the Eleven Dwarves all fell in love. We encouraged, joked, supported, empathized…and tweeted. There was a lot of tweeting, which was excellent. We also rubbed, tickled and spooned, but that was mostly Van 2 and I can’t share the details.

As captain, I did my best to have everything run smoothly. I wanted all the details covered so all my dwarves had to do was run and laugh, not necessarily in that order.

Here I must mention how much it means to me that NI, TW, SS, and AC returned to run with me again. I’ve been in the foxhole with them. They are the through line–the strand upon which I string the beads–connecting 2008 to 2012.

For me, the Green Mountain Relay is a potent mixture of new fun and old memories. Even though I am always thrilled with the present team, every moment from the past three GMRs I’ve done rise up throughout the weekend to tweak my nose. I pined for the affable, snarky, and weird spirits of runners with whom I’d shared a van before. God, I love those runners.

It was hard not being out there on the road this year. 99% of the time I was totally fine, in the moment and having fun. But when the tee-shirts got handed out and there wasn’t one for me? And when our medals were disbursed and there wasn’t one for me? The reminders that I wasn’t a runner this year pinched a little. Just a little, because otherwise I loved that I was there to help out managing the timesheet, driving the van, etc. Also, I loved that I could jump from van to van to hang out with everyone, and sleep in a bed while my dwarves were running legs 19 to 30. The sleeping, yeah that was pretty sweet.

Everyone ran their hearts out. They ran through direct sun and humidity, through the darkest dark; up intimidating mountains, and down quad-trashing hills. Some even ran through congestion, fever, and nausea; some ran extra miles. These are not runners we take for granted.

To the teammates new to SWATED this year: MW, SC, BG, MK, LL, LR, JS, MW–you were what I expected, and you were so much more. It was an absolute delight to get to know you to begin with, or to get to know you better. You are now SWATED alums, which means you have a standing invitation to return to the team.

Another person I’d like to mention is Paul, the race director. Over the past 4 years he has become a friend, too. I owe him–for without him founding this relay, I might have never met the dozens of wonderful runners I now consider friends. Late Friday evening, he texted me. “Just checking you got a race medal and tee-shirt for being team captain?” That really meant a lot to me, I was really touched he thought to ask. Thank you, Paul. I love your race.

Ultimately, we placed first in our division, and fourth overall. That was pretty thrilling, because I am after all still a competitive woman. However, it’s also slightly besides the point, since the point is (as I have already explained) the people with whom you fall in love at first sight. Image

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It’s my fourth.

Damn, I love this race. (And by race I indicate not just any relay, but the Green Mountain Relay. Just that one.) It’s a little torturous, like that emotionally unavailable lover who is your sexual ideal in bed? But that might be the appeal: the elusive hunt for the perfect team chemistry (everone’s fast, gorgeous and funny!), and the perfect race (no bonking, cement legs or nausea!).

It might be fair to say that, as a non-running captain of Slow White and the Eleven Dwarves, I’ve perhaps lost the hunt this year. I’m certainly not complaining, but it’s been hard to captain this team by myself. It’s been one of those labors of love. Love for myself–I want to participate in this relay again because of the ways I get to connect with other runners for 48 hours. Love for others–even though it would have been easy for me to bail when I knew there was no way I could run, I held up my end of the bargain for the rest of the team. And love for this race–it holds such sweet, sweet memories for me; and it needs teams to support it through participation. I guess I stuck with it to keep both my memories of and the future of the Green Mountain Relay alive.

Just saying, though: the ceaseless recruiting, endless emails and follow-up, the failed attempts to schedule a happy hour? They all reminded me of how crucial a good co-captain is to this experience.

But isn’t that true of most of life? Sure, I can take care of it myself. Sure, I can get it done flying solo. But the grind is a lot less wearing (and sometimes a lot of fun) when you’ve got a partner to share the drudgery. It leaves more time to share the laughs.

(Sometimes I worry that I take the metaphor too far in this blog. I take it so far that it stops being true. This metaphor could very well be headed in that direction. Pay attention; let me know what you think.)

This year, I captained well enough. Not as wonderfully and exhuberantly as I would have liked, but well enough that the rest can be filled in by my marvelous teammates. Teammates who, to a one, I am thrilled and honored to spend a weekend with. I kind of already love these people; I can’t wait to see how they handle being canned in a van. Canned in a van, with me.

So I might not have a co-captain, but I have a whole damn team. Lest we forget: Snow White would be dead in the woods, thwarted by an evil bitch, if it weren’t for her seven dwarves.

(Now that I think about it, that metaphor ended pretty well. Do you agree?)

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It was around midnight when we turned the race over to Van 2 at exchange 18 (still with a lead against our projected finishing times on the worksheet). We were all thoroughly exhausted and so we went immediately to Brandymeyer’s Lodge to catch a shower and a couple hours of sleep. I made MT drive, and then harassed him the entire route from the passenger seat. Watch out for that deer! Should you be driving this fast? Turn here! Even though we use Brandymeyer’s as our Saturday night crash pad every year, I always miss the sign and we end up having to turn around and drive through Weston, VT again in order to find the motel. Once we were in our rooms (girls’ room and boys’ room) JT opted to shower, but I was afraid that a wet head would chill me to the bone—it was very damp and the temperatures had dropped—so instead I tumbled into bed a sweaty mess and proceeded to rest fitfully for the next 2 and a half hours. We awoke in the middle of the night, hastily dressed, pulled all of our Garmins and mobiles out of their chargers, and hit the road to Exchange 24.

Since I was the first runner out of the van, I gobbled a piece of whole wheat bread during the drive to the exchange and fought off pre-race jitters. Why I was feeling nervous I have no idea, but this final leg was stressing me out. It has always been the toughest for me, whether I battle an upset stomach or a spiked heart rate. I had just 2.2 miles to run, the first mile being a yucky little uphill, and the rest being a sloping downhill I could really pound. It was still pretty dark so I was all decked out in my vest, headlamp and blinky light again. Throughout the entire race, whenever we pulled into an exchange, or I started out to race my leg, I would have déjà vu. The familiarity of all the stops along the way was cheering and comforting. I remembered that this final leg was short but nearly impossible to run evenly because of the hill, and I also remembered the delicious solitude of it. The vans take a different route to the exchange, so I would be all alone on that road for 2 miles, until I popped off the dirt road and into town.

Here came JK, tearing in, trying to catch and pass the runner ahead of him (there was one team we were neck-and neck with the entire race; ultimately they beat us by just 5 minutes). At 4:18 AM, I grabbed the rubber bracelet and tore off, determined to catch my skirted nemesis (once again with an escort) who had left the exchange just moments before. And in fact, I passed her within minutes of taking off. As I did so, I asked her to confirm that my blinky light was on and flashing (it was). Good, that way she can watch it get smaller and smaller as I run out of sight. Before I knew it, I was all alone in the darkness, just me and my panting, and I loved it. The air was cool, and I was running as hard as I could—it was my final leg so I had nothing to hold back. I’d been running for about 10 minutes when I heard a cock crow off to the left of me. I regretted it was dark because I was sure that the landscape was picturesque (I ran over a little footbridge, and a burbling creek again; there had to have been barns & gorgeous mountain homes around as well), but the rooster’s crow woke the whole natural neighborhood, and I was instantly serenaded and cheered along by the song of what seemed like a hundred birds. It made me smile, and lifted me up even though I was already feeling pretty grand. I kept giving it my all, and my last mile was a 7:34 which is very fast for me. I had to give myself a small pep talk to keep the effort going for the last bit. I was happy to see my teammates and the exchange and to hear them cheer me in. As soon as I was done I walked in circles, catching my breath. I wasn’t even terribly sweaty, so I hopped quickly into the van and off we drove to collect AC, who also had a short last leg. 2.1 miles ran in 17:29, for an average pace of 8:19. Splits: 9:10, 7:34, 0:44 (7:28 pace).

It was sometime during my van’s final rotation through the course that my mood started to wobble. While I was happy for a rest from racing, and looking forward to an excellent brunch, I was having too much fun and just didn’t want the relay to end. I decided to stay in the moment as best I could. My teammates continued to run strong and proud, even though JT had to slog through a complete downpour. We began urging our teammates to run faster because we were all starved! I may have even told one of my teammates to “pass the fat guy” who was trundling along shirtless (surely that is grounds for a DQ, right? Running shirtless with love handles?) a little bit ahead of him. Whatever it takes to keep people motivated. I washed my hair using bottled water and hotel shampoo bent over behind the van at one of the exchanges and felt like a semi-new woman (my body was still pretty stinky, despite heavy usage of the baby wipes). Matt finished his final leg literally at a dump—that was the site of the van exchange—so he could now add Vermont to his list of places he’d completed a Dump Run. Before we knew it, we were done with our bit of running for the race, and tried not to rub it in too badly to Van 2 as we sped off for brunch.

We ate brunch here. A moment of silence, please, for one of the best breakfasts any of us have ever eaten.

Ultimately, Slow White and the Eleven Dwarves finished in 25:15:30, running a collective, average pace of 7:40 minutes per mile. I only ran one complete mile beneath that average, with my average pace for the relay this year coming in at 8:14. Even though I was one of the slower runners on the team this year, I still ran faster than I did the past two times, and beat all my times from last year (I was Runner #1 in 2009 too) by a nice margin. We finished 6th overall, which is a massive improvement over years past, where we were definite middle-of-the-packers. In even better news, we actually PLACED in our division, coming in second in the Mixed category! Quite an achievement considering we didn’t even know this was a possibility when we started. In retrospect is a good thing, because if I had it in my head throughout the race that we were competing for a ranking, it would have added pressure (at least for me) and dampened my fun. The team had seven vets (4 from 2008, 3 from 2009) and 5 rookies, and I am hoping the team has even more vets next year. A lot can change and happen in a year, but I really hope everyone comes back to race again in 2011.

This year was a much better captaining experience for me. I had a long list of alternates at the ready to avoid that last-minute scrambling for teammates that was so anxiety-inducing. I had some capable helping hands backing me up which eliminated the rest of the pre-race stress of last year. And a few lessons learned last year helped improve “back-end” operations as well as the “in-van” experience. It was great to hear feedback from the team this year about how they liked the stuff we did to try and build team camaraderie, as well as things they would suggest we do differently next year. Unlike last year, this time I took actual written notes so that we can implement the changes for 2011.

After the finish line barbecue offered to all finishers, we hustled back into the van and headed home. I was frustrated by the rush to leave, since I wanted to hang out with Van 2 a little, and also I simply didn’t want the weekend to end. Throughout the trip, I caught myself sighing out loud, I am so happy! And I was. I didn’t want to leave the safe bubble of our van, which so effectively blocked out the pressures of the office and the dull grind of daily life. I would have gladly skimmed along the surface of those Vermont roads, and the surface of reality, for a few hours longer with my trusted companions. If it weren’t for the allure of a long hot shower and a big plate of vegetables waiting for me at home, I don’t know if I could have gotten back into that van at all. In my toast to the team on Friday night, I told them that the Green Mountain Relay means a lot to me—and I wasn’t just saying that. The 2008 GMR was a pivotal moment for me, and revisting the event year after year is both a celebration of my first relay and a terrific new memory for the bank. I’m so thankful that such a great relay exists—small, scenic, socially and environmentally aware—and that each year terrific runners say to me, “Yes, I’ll do this crazy 200-mile race with you!”

Report from 2009 // Report from 2008

AC’s Report, Part 1
AN’s Report
JT’s Report, Part 1

Matt’s Podcast
RJR’s Report
SS’s Report
TK’s Report, Part 1

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There are two very good reasons I have made the Green Mountain Relay a fixed point on my calendar each year.

  1. The chance to meet and get to know quality people who are also runners.
  2. The chance to run and laugh with runners who are also quality people.

It happens every year. We start out shy and awkward, polite and considerate of everyone’s personal space, since most of the runners hardly know each other. The questions stay in the realm of small talk, where do you live? what’s your job? what was your last race? But then, some time in the middle of the first set of legs, something switches and nearly every boundary falls (I can’t speak for Van 2, but in Van 1 we did keep our nudity contained to the seat farthest back in the van). Jokes get raunchier, questions get more profound, TMI becomes the standard, friendships are formed.  We laugh so hard we snort (okay, I laugh so hard I snort), tears pop out of our eyes, even the most reserved among us let loose belly laughs. Group dynamics take effect and we all find our role within. I, of course, am the OCD den mother, reminding everyone to run on the left side of the road, wear their reflective vests, and tidy up the van.

On our way up, we missed the turn-off that would have veered us to the east of Lake Champlain, and instead continued up up up I-87 North. We didn’t quite cop on until the exit signs started to include the word SORTIE. Immediately stressed-out, I got the vans to the nearest gas station to ask directions. I was envisioning energy-sapping and time-sucking scenarios, like we’d have to go up into Canada and over the top of Lake Champlain to finally get to St Albans, VT where rooms at La Quinta awaited. I hustled into the minimart, spotted a cross-eyed young buck attendant and a swarthy local with a beer belly, and made a beeline. My opening gambit was, Please don’t laugh but we need to get across to Vermont and are hoping there is a bridge or something? Young Buck said, “Just take the boat.” This didn’t even register as it seemed preposterously easy so I repeated myself and said How can we get to Vermont? Swarthy Local replied with a grin, “Yeah you can take the ferry!” Visible relief must have washed over me because they both started chuckling. I got all the info and was jumping up and down with gratitude and excitement. A ferry! I said to Swarthy Local, I am so happy I may hug you. I put out my hand to thank him and asked him his name. Much to my further delight, his name was Jerry. I heard about the ferry from a man named Jerry! The ferry ride was a mellow interlude in a long drive, a chance to get some sunshine, and allowed us to avoid the twisty slow-going back roads of Vermont. We decided this is how we’ll drive to the race every year.

This year’s team was a lot faster than in the past, which meant we got to start at a leisurely 10:30 AM (the slower your team is, the earlier you start, since the race director’s goal is to have all the teams finish within the same 2-4 hour window). The downside to this is that we were running our legs in the blazing sun; it was very warm on Saturday and we all suffered because of it. Once again I was Runner 1 (my legs were rated the easiest out of all 12 runners), so I got to toe the starting line for the team. I worked up a sweat just standing there eyeing the competition, and certainly not because they were so fiercely intimidating.  I tried not to get suckered into a fast start to my 4.5-mile first leg, but I think we all underestimated the heat’s effect.  Right away I dropped two of the other women who were starting with me, but the older woman in some hippie do-rag took the lead early and I focused on maintaining the gap, with the plan to close it and then pass her somewhere between Mile 4 and the exchange. Despite a challenging hill in Mile 3, I managed to keep myself tethered to her, officially passing the old lady with just two-tenths of a mile to go to the exchange. I am happy with my splits and my time, given the heat and my current fitness level. Oh and I also got to run over a covered bridge, that was quite peaceful. It’s like a church under there. (Numbers given are from Little G.) 38:03 over 4.61 miles, for an average pace of 8:15. Splits: 7:54, 8:10, 8:54, 8:23, 4:40 (7:41 pace).

After I finished my leg, I was seriously out of breath. I walked behind a truck plow to spit a bit (I always make a huge mess so best no one sees me slobber) and then drank some water and Gatorade in a shady spot. My teammates were already proving themselves to be super thoughtful — in addition to much tooting and cheering from the roadside, they met me at the finish line with beverages and had laid out my towel and knapsack for me on the sweat seat! I was touched! (The sweat seat is the way back seat in the van where the just-finished runner goes to clean up with baby wipes and change their clothes. By the end of the relay it’s quite damp and stinky.) Then it was time to cheer on the five other runners in our van, supply them with water along the course if they needed it (everyone pretty much did, if only to dump on their heads), and give them the props they deserve at the exchanges. I love this shit, the supporting and the marvelling at splits, the commiseration over the heat, the hills and the competition.  I love how the team naturally comes together to protect our own, and to also turn our wicked sarcasm against the other teams. Oh, in Van 1 at least it quickly became clear that JT, AC and myself would lead the way with the snark and the disparagement. The guys didn’t seem to mind and would pile on too. We finished legs 1 through 6 four minutes ahead of projection–it always feels good to hand off the race to the next van with a relative lead.

We now had about four or so hours to burn before I was up again, so we went to the Ben & Jerry’s factory for some ice cream. It was an appalling display of overweight and out of shape tourists, but we didn’t let that ruin our appetites for sorbet and smoothies. Then we headed straight to the next exchange, where we amused ourselves wondering how a 3-story building got a dent in the third-floor wall and gaping at the runner who finished his leg and then barfed multiple times right in front of the pizza stand. I was feeling pretty poor from that run in the sun, and used the down time to recuperate. I napped in the shade, drank copious amounts of Gatorade and water, and ate a Nutella sandwich. I’d perked up like a watered plant by the time I was set to take the “baton” (a yellow Livestrong bracelet, ugh) from JK, our runner #12. Night had fallen, so I was decked out in my Nana’s reflective vest (which MT miraculously showed me how to make tighter–by tying knots in the waist straps), headlamp for my front, and blinky light for my rear. The night legs are my favorite by far. Even though the beautiful course is obscured (these back roads through Vermont are picturesque in the most authentic way) by the darkness, the night offers up its own gifts. Although the humidity can be a factor, the temperatures are significantly lower and the cool air on my skin is sheer pleasure. Quiet hours are in effect, so there isn’t the noise of van support, which allows me to spiral deeply into my thoughts. The silence of the road is interrupted only by my own heaving breaths, the gurgle of a creek, the hum of the night insects. Towards the last mile, the sun was sufficiently set that the fireflies appeared to escort me the rest of the way to the exchange. At the beginning I passed a skirted female, racing her night leg with a male escort (how gallant), but was otherwise left alone to enjoy the vast solitude.  I began running at 8:31 PM, and completed my 3.89 miles in 31:06, for an average pace of 7:59 (it was a flat route). Splits: 8:19, 7:52, 7:55, 7:58 (7:50 pace).

Pretty much everyone felt good about their night legs. Van 1 passed more than half a dozen other runners on the road, which meant we were eating our way through the slower teams that had started before us–always an encouraging sign. I had excellent company in Van 1, including a minor celebrity, the host of the Dump Runners Club podcast and my friend Matt. Having him in the van was everything I’d hoped it would be: great fun combined with easy camaraderie and some strong race times. Matt gamely let me give him some of the hardest legs of the entire race as Runner #5 (I was Runner #1 and my legs were rated 1 for “Easy,” his were rated 12). He is a talented, speedy runner to begin with; also, Matt not only lives at altitude but he knows how to tackle hills, having successfully raced the Pikes Peak Ascent Half Marathon. Matt brought along his twin brother (MT), who chattered and joked nonstop, keeping us all laughing and alert (the level of humor hovering somewhere around 8th grade). He reminded me of the way my own little brother needles me to the brink of insanity, but then would end up making me laugh. Then, there were JT and AC, or the Snark Twins as I think I shall call them, separated at birth by only about 20 years. JT blogs at Races Like a Girl, and AC blogs at Runnin’ Around Uptown. These women’s feet are as swift as their minds are sharp, and I enjoyed their banter in the van and grit on the course.

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So, today at 4 PM EST I will be a guest on The Runners Round Table, a weekly podcast in which “runners from around the world share tips, tell stories, and keep each other motivated.” This week, the theme is long-distance relays, and my friend Joe Garland has invited me to sit at the table, so to speak, to share my experiences. I also roped in the race director of the Green Mountain Relay and Wild West Relay, Paul Vanderheiden, to sit at the table as well.

CLICK HERE at 4 PM to listen to me run my mouth off (for a refreshing change).

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treesYou can return to the same race, but you can never run the same race. Is that a running maxim? If not, it should be. My second Green Mountain Relay is proof that the exact same event can deliver two very different experiences, no matter how hard you may wish and try to replicate what had happened before

As I packed my bag, stowed team gear in a giant cooler, and got ready to hail a cab to the van rental agency on the Upper West Side, I could feel it in my bones: I was in for some other sort of team experience entirely this year, and the new and different would be both better and not better than what I remembered from 2008.  For starters, we adapted the travel plan this year to foster more team spirit, making the first 24 hours of the trip all about “the mingle.” To maximize “the mingle,” all the runners headed to Vermont together on Friday morning (last year Van 2 came up later and just met us at the first van exchange point). We mixed up the vans for the ride up; last year, one of things that added to my experience was getting to know the runners from the first van (I ran for Van 2) so I wanted to replicate that for my teammates this year. caution vanI liked doing this because even though I already knew seven of the eleven other runners (the three alums plus Sarah, EN and Cowboy Hazel), most everyone else was a stranger in a strange land. We also all had two meals together, lunch at The Log Jam in Lake George, NY, and then dinner at Junior’s Italian right near our hotel in Colchester, VT. All the togetherness time left this closeted introvert craving some alone time to recharge; but at the same time, I was so glad that everyone was getting along and laughing. Another benefit to us arriving at the same time is that we were all in Jeffersonville at the start to cheer off Runner #1 (me), which would add an extra layer of meaning when it came time, 26 and a half hours later in Bennington, for us to run our anchor, MDC, across the finish line as a mob of 12. 

On Saturday, June 19th green mountain relay start lineThe NYC Running Chicks and a Few Dudes were at the start by 9 AM, and checked in with t-shirts and socks distributed by 9:20. All that was left to do was to pin on singlet numbers, apply sun block (though the weather all weekend was overcast and cool, with high humidity but it never rained once), and divvy up van supplies (headlamps, blinky lights, first aid kits, etc.). It hadn’t quite set in that I would be the runner at the start, the one with all the fanfare, when they announce the teams and our big send off, but there it was—me, toeing the line with the lead-off runners from Long Distance Relationship, Dead Last Ducks, and Fast, Fun & Forty Plus. I’m not ashamed to admit I was freaking out. It was a combination of things—panicking I’d forgotten some bit of direction for the vans, worried about how the next 24+ hours would unfold, and hoping my body wouldn’t let me down, since I’d so poorly prepared it. I was still coming off an injury, with only a few weeks of slow and short recovery runs behind me.

And then we were racing, and before had made it off school grounds I was the last runner, behind even the old guy, my heart pounding out of my chest. I had 4.48 miles to go – the furthest I would run since injuring myself back in March—so I decided to slow it down and try and keep the pace between 9:45’s and 10’s. This was a wise choice, since it put a bit of energy in the bank for me. I ended up passing the high school runner from Long Distance Relationship and gaining some ground on the old guy, finishing my first leg in 41 minutes (a 9:09 pace)! I gave CH, our 24-year old from Nevada, a hand slap, and then grinned my way around the exchange site for a while. Then, I was banished to the sweat seat* in while good old EN took over driving for a while. *The sweat seat is the bench all the way in the back of the van where the last runner goes to cool down, swab off with baby wipes and paper towels, and change into fresh clothes. 

a few dudesAnd so we went, hand slap after hand slap, as each van rolled through our legs. We fell behind our projected finish times, partly because most of us gave overly ambitious 10k times, and it was a little demoralizing to get passed by other teams, but what could we do? We all ran our hearts out, no one slacked, and as a team we improved our finish time from last year by nearly two hours. 

My second leg was my strongest, not surprising since it was it was perfectly flat (perhaps the only flat stretch of the entire race) and I ran it right after a satisfying dinner and nap. I started running at 8:36 PM , and finished the 3.9 miles in 34:29, or an 8:51 pace. Our runner #12, MDC, finished his first leg like the returning champion, with his arms up and a huge smile on his face. For me, one of the benefits of being the first person out of the van is that you are also the first person to wear the headlamp and the reflective vest, which means they are not yet sweaty. But even with a sweaty reflective vest, I love the night legs. Once the darkness had completely descended about two-thirds of the way through my run, I felt encased in a protective bubble that was defined by the buzz of evening insects and trembling beam of my headlamp. 

The wee hours of the race were the hardest for me this year. I had nothing to do except drive the team from exchange to exchange. I was cranky; though I am an excellent planner, when it comes down to the main event I’d much rather pass the scepter to someone else to issue the directives. I got a little bitchy, much to my shame–though no one except EN (thank you for that, friend) would ever be so honest as to tell me so. Also, I was henpecked by memories of other midnight drives that settled an unwelcome nostalgia and melancholy on my shoulders. Finally around 1:30 AM we arrived at our lodge in Weston, VT so we could crash for a couple of hours before meeting Van 2 at exchange 24 for our final set of six. 

Before I knew it, I was out there in a headlamp and reflective vest again (this time they were extra sweaty), all hopped up on Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies and waiting to tackle my final 2.14 miles. Yes, that’s right—the shortest relay leg in the whole damn race. I decided since I only had two miles to run I was going to sprint the whole way. Um, yeah. My excuse for such folly is lack of sleep, and a 4:50 AM start time to my leg. The first half mile of this course was all uphill, which I’d conveniently forgotten; and then (once presented with the evidence) chose to disregard; until finally I realized the hill had beaten me, I admitted I was in danger of fainting and slowed down. That’s right, I had my first ever full-on bona fide bonk. If you’d asked me how fast I was going based on effort I’d have said 7:30’s, but I was running 11:30’s! Holy Chagrin, Batman. I never walked, but I may as well have. I had to take about two minutes to let my heart slow down and my lungs stop seizing up. Nevertheless, once I got over that hill it worked out; I picked it up again and managed to eek out an 18:23 (or 8:35 pace). I wanted sub-8’s (Good Morning, Crazy!); but whatever, I was done! Stick a fork in me, slice me up and lay me on a platter with some fancy parsley. Done! 

en bikeOne thing that struck me about this year’s race that hadn’t made such an impression last year was the beauty of the course. I got to run over a covered bridge on my first leg; I loved the shady silence of that. Except for my middle leg, I was able to look around as I ran and see the green rolling hills, the diverse forests, and charming pastures and farmhouses. And I did a lot of ogling the landscape while we were leapfrogging from exchange to exchange. On EN’s first leg, he ran by a field with three cows. As he approached, the lead cow gave a big moo, and her two buddies came moseying over–I swear it was to watch the crazy man jog by. And, at the same time, a whole posse of motorcyclists in full-on Harley regalia came rumbling by on their bikes. So cool! Sarah ran across a bridge that went over a waterfall, and past some picture perfect red barns; they reminded me of the Fisher Price toy set I used to have as a child, with the cardboard silo. (Remember? When you’d open the gates to the barn the cows would moo?) barn

Now that it’s all over, I don’t feel quite as euphoric as I did last year. Perhaps it’s because I wasn’t physically able to compete at the level I would have liked; perhaps it’s because the sense of discovery is never there the second time around; perhaps it’s because captaining just didn’t suit me. But, not everything worth doing ends with improbable joy. 

This relay gave me much-needed evidence that my body’s back—I can start running again four to five days a week and not fret about injury. That’s a huge and encouraging realization for me; even though it comes with the sobering knowledge that my endurance is for crap. I have, quite literally, a long road ahead of me before I’m going to be able to run 10 church miles every Sunday again. (Just some comparables: last year I ran a total of 17.25 miles at an average pace of 8:33 in the 5th hardest runner slot, this year I ran 10.52 miles at an average pace of 8:55 in the easiest slot. Sigh.)

And, once again, I got to know a wonderful group of humans. Admittedly, I stacked the deck with a few known entities – my EN, the audacious Sarah, goofball Cowboy Hazel; plus team alums JD, MZ and TW – but as I suspected, the newbies are all fabulous, unique, decent people. TS charmingly goes from zero to full-on crowing laughter like I do; CH is the best navigator, calmly telling me we’re headed in the right direction even though I nervously questioned him every 30 seconds; RF’s precision is eerily familiar; MDC’s humor and energy added much to the ride up; and JK’s chatter filled many a quiet moment. I am simultaneoulsy baffled by and completely understand why most of us are coming back next year (with MZ as captain, phew). 

Unsurprisingly, a few of my other teammates have already posted to their blogs about the relay. Here are the links.

green mountain relay finish

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Relay Time!

In half an hour I will jump in a cab with my duffle bag, a cooler packed with race equipment, and my team spirit to go meet the rest of the New York City Running Chicks and a Few Dudes at the van rental agency. It’s officially the weekend of the Green Mountain Relay, and if I haven’t sorted it out yet (any of those preparatory details), it ain’t gonna happen. Please think of me and my teammates as we trot through the sun, rain, darkness and haze this weekend!

You can follow our progress and escapades on Twitter on my pigtailsflying page; and Sarah may be live blogging from her iPhone.

caution runners on road

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Honeysuckle, I thought, as I inhaled deeply during my Saturday morning workout.  Ironic, I thought next, since the sweetly nostalgic scent was coming from the trash-strewn railroad yards. It was a startling interruption to my prescribed 30 minutes of easy running through an adjusted Sunnyside Loop–when I run on the roads now, I am listening so intently to what my body is telling me that rarely do I notice anything other than my posture, my form, and the random snags and twangs of my muscles. I don’t even notice my effort level, which means I am running entirely too fast for this stage of rebuilding endurance and mileage. Before I know it I’m completely out of breath, pooped after two miles, and chiding myself for the 8:41’s I foolishly executed. It’s all herky-jerky, this stage. It is worse than those first few jogs after marathon recovery because even though my body is extremely well-rested, it is also extremely out of practice, and has no sense of rhythm or fluidity yet.

The Green Mountain Relay is this weekend, and I am embarrassed by how woefully untrained I am for the event. Last week there was a happy hour for the three teams coming out of New York City (NYC Running Chicks and a Few Dudes; NYC Hash House Harriers; and Free Candy Van) so we could all meet, mingle and share war stories with the rookies.  The event did a lot to push along my excitement for the relay (somehow, as captain, I’m more stressed out about it than excited), but I also neatly sidestepped questions about my training and recovery. I cautiously claimed the easiest position, and will log a mere 10.8 miles over 3 legs. I gently remind myself that my greatest value to the team is not as a runner this year, but as the organizer, the one who will keep hold of the balloon strings lest the whole bunch scatter across the Vermont skies.

Author John L. Parker, Jr. has left a comment in response to my review of his novel Once a Runner. Unfortunately it has been sitting in the spam list for a weeks; I hope he doesn’t think I was being a censor. I fear I’ve upset him. He’s challenged me; I have yet to respond. For now, I can only agree, in that if I hadliterary pretensions they would in fact be dubious; however I have worked in the publishing industry for too long to be anything but completely disillusioned.

Recently the song “Swim” by Jack’s Mannequin was gifted to me; the first time I heard it, the lyrics captured me like two firm hands cupping my face, their owner imploring me to sit and listen. Life has been inordinately full these past weeks, and not always in the best sense of full. Work has been overwhelming (in fact, that storm capsized my boat) and shows no signs of letting up much before August. There are two silver linings to this cloud, though: my departmental peers are amazing (supportive, funny, real, and willing to lend a hand if I ask), and I’ve had the chance to play as hard as I’ve had to work. Laughter makes all the difference, even if it means I’ve made someone else laugh with my own cleverness, cynicism or goofiness.

william faulkner's home

The first weekend of June I traveled to Oxford, MS with colleagues to celebrate the publication of an author’s memoir. This was a landmark event for me. It was the first time I chose to travel with coworkers for a “social” occasion; this is the first time in 11  years of being an office employee that I have felt like I wanted to spend extended time with my officemates. On one hand, I was proud of myself that I had built enough of a friendship with these folks that they’d even invite me to go with them; on the other, I realized how strange it was that it’s taken me more than a decade to sort out sincerity from phoniness. Apart from acknowledging how developmentally delayed I was in this regard (ha!), I loved Oxford. rowan oak oxford, msLoved the people, loved the town square, loved the literary history and local cuisine. I consorted with the ex-mayor, sipped sweet tea in the shade of a balcony overlooking City Hall, visited Rowan Oak, and ate grits (twice!) and biscuits made with lard (just once, I hope) for breakfast, and pimiento cheese sandwiches for lunch. My hosts explained to me about how to a certain segment of the Southern population nothing dresses up a trailer like a lattice skirt and how every self-respecting Southern woman has at least three sets of silver. I was driven by Eli Manning’s house (er…) and met a gentleman named Parker Pickle. That’s his real name! When we parted ways, I couldn’t resist calling out, “Goodbye Mister Pickle!” Oxford was exotic, full of the kinds of marvels and oddities that simply don’t flourish in New York City.

Next week is the second Media Challenge, and I will run this one (mind you, not race it). I’ve promised to run along with my coworker SN, who has just begun running again after a 10-year hiatus. Mind you, he’s a smoker and a drinker and while he’s not overweight he hacks a phleghmy cough if he laughs too hard. Bless his heart for he wants to participate in these races even though he insists he returns home blue from lack of oxygen after his trots around the reservoir. Granted: considering my own sorry state of endurance, he and I will probably stagger across the finish line together, sweaty, light-headed and gasping as equals.

There’s much more to say, but I think I’ve written enough to give you a sense of the work and the whimsy of my past weeks. Special shout-outs to Matt, Ari and Joe; to EN; to SA (lunch was lovely) and to my ever-faithful best friend, my lighthouse, my foil: CB (I’d be nuts without you).

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Surely, there are those among you who have read my race report and other pieces posted around the web about the Green Mountain Relay and thought, “That’s cool. I’d do that.”

Well, now’s your chance. Feel like getting sweaty and staying up all night with me and some members of Pigtails Flying‘s cast of supporting characters (like Sarah and EN)? Feel like running as hard as you can three times within 24 hours, and still having a ton of fun with 11 other cool kids?

Yes, this is my recruiting pitch. Post a comment if you’re interested or want more information! We still need four runners to complete our team (NYC Running Chick and a Few Dudes, which is ironically mostly dudes right now) for this year’s GMR, Father’s Day Weekend, June 19-21.

Click on these links if you want to read more:

FYI:

  • you’ll need to take off Friday 6/19 from work–we depart from the Upper West Side of Manhattan that morning to get to Vermont 
  • your portion of registration, van rental, hotel, & snacks will be around $400 
  • no whiners, cranks or bosses allowed! We run as fast as we can but primary objective #1 is to have fun 

Last year, clutch runner JD came to the team via PF, and I have faith I’ll see similar results again.

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JMW — my best friend’s boyfriend, my friend in his own right, and also an all-around good guy (smart, funny, kind) — invited me to contribute a guest post to his blog, A Special Way of Being Afraid, about what I consider to be the Best of 2008.

Here’s the post. While you’re there reading me, please do click around and read him, too. He’s not a runner, but I don’t hold it against him so neither should you.

If you really have nothing else to do, you may also wish to read my Best of 2006 (scroll down a little). I enjoyed re-reading it the other day; it felt a little like “The Birth of Pigtails.”

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