A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 2; 28th Edition
463.33 miles raced in 2007
Race: Lake Winnipesaukee 65.1 mile Relay
Place: Lake Winnipesaukee, NH
Miles from home: 539
Course Difficulty: 8.5 out of 10
Course Enjoyability: 5 out of 10
Weather: Mid 70s, bright sunshine
Finisher's Medal: N/A
Surfing the internet a few months ago I came across the Lake Winnipesaukee Relay, which is a 65.1 mile relay located in and about Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire (aptly named, huh?) I looked over the website and got an idea in my head. Getting in touch with the race director, Mark Fontaine, I asked him if anyone had ever run the race solo. More accurately, I asked if I could do so. In addition, I asked if I was allowed, if it was possible if I could could possibly start early. Given the serious elevation loss and gain during the race I was not sure if I would be able to make the time limits. However, after a short discussion, unfortunately, because of permit restrictions, I would not be allowed to start early. They said I could start early, run "unofficially" and my time would not count. But honestly, that was not what I wanted to do.
So I began to ponder if I could do it by myself within the time limits. While doing so, I mentioned to a good friend how if I could convince a second person to run with me, I had no doubt we could finish it. This friend, Katie, said matter-of-factly: "I'll do it, if you want." I was floored. This might actually be perfect. Katie, one of MarathonGuide.com's Outstanding USA Marathoners of the Year (2006) is a powerpacked runner squeezed into 100 lbs of get-go. How cool was this going to be?!
I spoke to Mark again and presented my plan to run as a duo. He was all for it. "Let me know what I can do to help". So just like that, where teams of anywhere from 5-8 would be splitting up 8 separate legs, Katie and I decided to take them all on. Having both done our first relay event this past July at the Ragnar Relay Northwest Passage Relay, we were no longer wet under the collar. We had both been in constant communication with another of our NWPR relay teammates, Christine, who was a planner extraordinaire. Now, I cannot say any of this "planning" really rubbed off on Katie and I but we at least KNEW what we were NOT doing!
What we did know that running was going to be tough beyond the obvious fact that we were both going to have to run 30 some miles. Ahead of us what a daunting logistical task. Let me explain.
Leg 5 was going to be one of Katie's three legs. Unfortunately, this leg (for whatever reason) is one where no support vehicles are allowed. In addition, no support vehicles were allowed at the exchange point between the 4th and 5th legs. Furthermore, where the 5th legs exchanged to the 6th leg, there were also no support vehicles allowed. As you can see, this presented a little bit of a conundrum for a team of two. So this is what we decided to do:
1. I would run legs 3 and 4 consecutively.
2. At the end of leg 3, Katie would park our car and hop on the shuttle bus provided to runners to the start of leg 5.
3. I would hand off to Katie to start her leg and jump on that very same shuttle bus back to our parked car at the end of leg 3/start of leg 4.
4. I would then drive NEAR the end of Leg 5, hike half a mile to the exchange, take the baton from Katie and hand her the keys.
5. Katie would then hike half a mile to the car (after just running 10.8 miles) and then proceed as we had the rest of the race.
Lost yet? (Review it, there will be a test later).
To make it more interesting we needed a little luck from Maine. How so? Well, the inaugural Maine Coast Half-Marathon was being run the day after our relay in nearby (a little over an hour or so away) in York, Maine and we wanted to run it. The catch? This is an "Women's Only" race with one exception. One and only one registered male will be allowed in the race. The male runner will be the winner of a lottery system where male runners pay $10 towards the right to run in this race. All proceeds from the lottery to go to a local school scholarship to a deserving graduating runner.
Unfortunately, we found out just 3 weeks before the race, I was not that One Lucky Guy (who ended up being Eric Vermilya of New Haven CT). Of course, that meant Katie and I could concentrate on the relay instead. So, arriving on separate flights (natch, since Katie lives in North Carolina and I in Virginia) into Portland, Maine Friday for the Saturday race, Katie and I grabbed our rental car and headed to New Hampshire. Scoping out the beginning of the race a little bit (accidentally as it just so happened our hotel for the night was about on mile 2 of the first leg) we grabbed our pace packets and chatted up some of the locals. In typical runner-fashion, few refused to be impressed when we told them that "Yes, this IS our whole team". Ah, runners.
We grabbed a quick bite to eat right on the lake in a boardwalk pizza place. Katie indulged me wasting a few bucks in the arcade (I love video games) and soon it was time for bed.
We woke up to a foggy morning which we hoped would stay that way as long as possible. Temperatures were planned to be in the high 70s and with both Katie and I despising running in heat, the fog would at least keep the direct sunlight off our backs. We milled around a little bit before the start and noticed there were a ton of people here for this race.
The past two years had produced over 100 finishing teams each year so we knew we would have plenty of company on the roads. Given our car hand-offs and the need to be at exact places at exact times with little help, any assistance on knowing where to go was definitely appreciated.
We posed for a quick photo at the start showing off our fancy running singlets (more on that later). Look at the fog!
Shortly thereafter, at 8 AM, Mark the RD gathered everyone to the starting line for the beginning of the race. I meandered towards the front and readied myself for the race.
A few quick words, a gun shot into the air and away we went.
Leg 1: 10.7 miles (Time: 1:11:52; 6:42 min/mile) (Click each map below for a bigger picture and also the total elevation change)
I did not want to get too far behind the runners in this first leg but I most assuredly did not want to go out too fast. So, after the first mile or so when I was in about 5th place and a group of runners passed me, I decided to simply hang back and run a nice crisp pace. As you can see from the map below, I had a few risers in the first 5 miles to contend with but it was the 500 foot rise from 6.5 to mile 9 that I had in mind.
From about mile 3 on, I hooked up a with a runner ("Jay") on the Silk City Striders who was also doing multiple legs. Injuries forced his hand; I told him desire forced ours. When he learned what we were doing, he immediately told his support team and we all of a sudden had a new cheering section. I could see that Katie was working the sidelines as well because every time I would see her on the side of the road asking me if I needed my energy drink, a few new people would be cheering for us.
After cresting the big hill, I thought I had further to go before the hand-off than I did. However, a cluster of cars and lots of people standing about told me it was time for the first exchange of the day. Katie handed me the keys as I handed her the baton and away she went.
Leg 2: 11 Miles (1:21:02; 7:22 min/mile)
K&D: 270 lbs of Running Fury and had the same emblazoned on our running singlets (from Runningbanana.com). On the back Katie had a big "K" and I wore a "D". As if I did not already know her running style it was quite easy to pick her out of the crowd with a bright read "K" thrown across her back.
My map of Katie's run is a little off (her leg was actually 11 miles; I had to sort of guess exactly where the hand-offs were going just by directions given on the race website) but the elevation profile was true. This was by far the easiest leg of the entire course and I am glad Katie had it, as you will see later.
Looking just fine, I stopped a few times to give her some Gatorade and spread the word to spectators and other teams about how much butt she was kicking.
I was also quite shocked to learn we were somewhere in the top 15 or so. Uh-oh. Had we gone out too fast? I drove ahead to the next exchange and got ready for my back-to-back legs.
Leg 3: 9.3 Miles (1:06:41; 7:10 min/mile)
If read properly, elevation profiles do not lie. Often what looks like a big hill is just a skewed picture of a bump in the road made to look like a mountain by the small scale of feet on the side of the graph. This, however, was not the case with the third leg. As you can see above, in a no more than 1/4 a mile, runners had to climb over 300 feet. I think I actually laughed out loud when I turned the corner after taking the hand-off and saw what looked like a hill set on a right-angle in front of me.
I'd like to say I ran the hill but I have no idea if what I did could be considered "running". However, before too long after cresting the hill and heading down the highway (a vast majority of this third leg was run with cars screaming by) I claimed my first "roadkill" (passed runner) of the day. I did not count anyone from the first leg because of the fact that I could not remember who had been in front of me and who had been behind me during that initial sprint downhill. Before too much longer I claimed what I thought were two more runners but it ended up it was one and what appeared to be some sort of a pacer. After that it was less than a mile before I notched another on my belt. Was I going too fast? I surely wasn't trying to but I felt great.
Unfortunately, you can see this leg was a series of uphills and downhills. Even more so, exposed to the elements, the sun which had flirted with clouds all morning long had apparently scared them all off and began to beat down from above. There was a nice breeze and it wasn't terribly humid but my tan lines from the day let me know I was not imagining its influence.
Feeling well-hydrated and knowing Katie needed to go start the car merry-go-round I waved her on ahead. This was unfortunate as for the last 4 miles of this leg there was no liquid to be had. My only drink came when Jay and his team stopped and offered me a glass of Gatorade. Total class acts from guys I was competing with. I would have been in bad shape if not for this kind gesture.
Leg 4: 4.4 Miles (28:44; 6:31 min/mile)
When I rolled into the relay exchange, everyone started looking around to see who was going to take my hand-off. With no one in the chutes you could sort of see a slight look of concern on other racers faces which sort of gave off the feeling of "Uh-oh. His team isn't ready!" As I blew through the flagged cones marking where I should have exchanged the baton (there was no water at this exchange set-up when I went through which is the only reason why I would have stopped) a ripple of realization crested and grew through the crowd and a big cheer went up. I wanted to yell back "Do the same thing for Katie!" but I have a feeling the Doppler Effect would have left my supporters with a muffled "Aye, Aye Matey!" so I refrained.
After a split time for my first leg that seemed way too fast, I was happy that for my 2nd shorter leg I had brought my time back down to where I thought I was not burning too much energy. Then I remembered how the second leg had been much more difficult than the first and felt a little fear. I SHOULD have been slower. Was I STILL going out too fast? I decided to dial it back down a smidgen for the second part of my second leg.
That said, having passed three teams in the last leg, I was hungry to knock another one off before I handed off to Katie. I think it was this desire that made me run the next 4.4 miles FAR faster than expected. In addition, I saw absolutely no runners in front of me and none behind me (when I looked as I turned a corner or something akin to that) and I had very little to base my time on to know if I was going too fast. The mile markers Katie had experienced in her first leg were never present on any of my runs. So you can imagine how shocked I was when I rolled through the 4 miles here (after running 9 plus) in a 6:31 clip.
I turned down a desolate road, saw Katie waiting and handed the baton off to her. Before the start of the race we realized that carrying this baton might get a little annoying. While other teams would only hold onto it for a few miles per runner, we were going to be clutching the darn thing for about 4 hours each. As such, I came upon an idea to use my ROAD ID ankle bracelets to hold the baton in place in our hands. As such, we would not be so inclined to grip the baton and tire out our arms even more. It worked brilliantly and we were both glad we had done so afterward (Katie used my spare ROAD ID for her hand as her own ROAD ID is one that attached to her shoe). But I digress.
I had the lucky foresight to ask Katie to leave me a drink for my bus ride back to the car and I jumped right on the first liquid I had in 8 miles. Right then a bus started to pull by to take runners back and I hopped on. No one else was on it. My own private chauffeur took me back to my car at a snail's pace as I took in as much fluid as I could. Once there I gingerly got off the bus and realized my legs were cramping. I most assuredly needed to get water in me and soon. I also needed food. Luckily, while we did not prep the way Christine would have done, we did have a few sugary confections which would tide us over for the remainder of the race. While I drank some Propel I also scarfed down a sticky cinnamon roll and almost instantly felt better.
I then hopped in the car and began the 15 mile trek to the next leg.
Leg 5: 10.8 miles (1:29:49; 8:18 min/mile)
I know nothing about this leg other than what Katie briefly told me after the race. She said there were some great downhills but without a doubt you paid for them by quickly going back up another up hill. In addition, she mostly ran alone except where a few fresh runners runners had been able to overtake her. While I waited for the hand-off, I was able to put the numbers together and find out that we had been either 9th or 10th going into the leg. When Katie barreled down the last 100 yard hill to the exchange and passed the baton to me to a flurry of cheering spectators (who all seemed to know we were doing this race as a duo by now) we were still in 12th place.
This was the first time that it started to hit me how much butt we were kicking. Sure, we wanted to run hard but our goal was to be in the top 50. We definitely did not expect to be battling for a top 10 spot! I couldn't believe we only had ~20 miles left.
Leg 6: 6.4 miles (46:33; 7:16 min/mile)
To the cheers of many, I took off on my penultimate leg. I made sure everyone knew Katie was the one who deserved the cheers as well, told her where I had parked the car (remember, it was half a mile away! Poor girl!) and began motoring. Immediately I began to think about how tough Katie's part of the relay was. She just finished 10.8 miles and only had about 3/4 of an hour to rest until she had to crank out another 8.5 over what was going to be a very warm and very difficult part of the course. The logistics of the race could, without a doubt, lay waste to many a solid stout runner. I could only hope she had enough in her to tough through one last leg.
About halfway into my leg I heard footsteps. Damn it. Without much fanfare a chap named Barry flew passed me. I told him good luck and he shouted over his shoulder that his team (MRC - Mixed Open; 10th place overall) was so impressed with us. Soon thereafter, part of his team pulled passed us and jumped out with a drink for him to take in. The weather was still warm and the sun was relentless. I had told Katie to get to the end as quickly as she could and not worry about me. With just barely a 10k to run and fully hydrated, I wanted her to rest as much as possible before her final leg. That said, when his team hopped back into their car, drove 100 yards and hopped back out, simply to hand me a glass of water, I cannot say how thankful I was they had done so. This was also the first time I realized this team was one that had contained a female a vast majority of runners had been behind in the very first leg.
After the next exchange, I had mention she was easy to identify by her pink, camouflage running skirt. As we walked to our cars to move on down the road, I also mentioned that if she ran again, she may be able to avoid having so many men running directly behind her if she made sure he skirt hadn't slipped a bit in the back revealing a nice little tushie. She immediately burst into laughter and said: "I knew I could feel it falling!" and her teammates began to rib her mercilessly. Just doing my part.
Also during this leg, a group of girls (Squash Grandmas; 13th place overall) who had been cheering for us all day long, also jumped out and gave me a glass of water. There are few sports where you will see such camaraderie amongst competing teams. It was just really wonderful.
I had a small misstep as I raced down the final stretch of this leg but nothing major. I had seen some painted lines on the road and a cone or two and for a second had followed it into someone's yard. Almost every exchange point ventured into a school parking lot or off the main road and I thought perhaps this was one of those spots. However, I soon figured out it was not the right way to go and only lost a few seconds. What exactly it was I have no idea and neither did the Race Directors I spoke to after the race.
As I gave Katie the baton for her last leg, I steeled myself for the toughest part of the course for both of us.
Leg 7: 8.5 miles (1:19:19; 9:19 min/mile)
This leg, in and of itself, is hardly a devastator. There are definitely some hills to contend with and the last one, as you can see, is a doozy. But for all the reasons I mentioned before, I knew it was going to give Katie trouble. I was only hoping she would hold on to finish strong and not run so far as to hurt herself.
I stopped a few times during her run to provide her with beverages and also pour some cold water on her. She was definitely overheating as she was stuck right out in the middle of the highway under the warm 3 o'clock sun. I saw a few runners had passed her but as it stood we were still in about 15th place. I knew she was bothered by anyone beating her but I kept reminding her that these people were fresh and we were still doing far better than we could have hoped to have done. I think my words helped.
As I parked my car and waited for her to run in, I began to prep myself. I only had 4.4 miles to go. I knew the hills were supposed to be tough but I felt absolutely fine. I was properly hydrated and I was ready to kick some butt. As a runner or two more came through than I expected before Katie made her appearance I think I got too jacked up on adrenaline. When she gave me the baton to start the final leg, I took off like a shot.
Leg 8: 4.4 miles (36:01; 8:11 min/mile)
Again, pay special attention to the elevation scale on this last leg. While I do not envy Katie's legs on this day because of the length of each individual run and the close proximity of her 2nd and 3rd runs, I would not wish this final leg on anyone.
To begin with, the adrenaline I had pumping through my veins made me shoot out of the exchange corral as if I was flying from a cannon. However, almost immediately I began having chest pains as I soared down the first hill. I could see one runner in sight and another way off in the distance. I figured I could get these two and be close to taking 15th place with a kick at the end. Yet, my energy level and the hills to come had other ideas.
As soon as I finished the downhill portion, my chest began to hurt even more and the uphill looked like Everest. I see now this first "hill" was over 350 feet in a mile. It just wrecked me. Forced to a walk a few times (as were some other runners in front of me who were "fresh"; this made me feel very good) I just wanted to be done suddenly, more than anything else in the world. I was able to pass one runner but shortly thereafter a runner passed me from behind. Pressing on, half-walking, half-jogging, fully wanting to die, I go to the top of the biggest hill. I could hear another team cheering for another runner behind me. Damn it. Well, buddy, you are going to have to work for it.
Working as hard as I could on the downhill, it was not until the absolute bottom of the hill that the other runner finally passed me. I had given it all I could. Energy sapped, I actually walked going downhill. Not good. Not good at all. Hands over my head in an effort to relieve my side-stitch I pressed on. Slowly making it to the top of the next hill, I knew I just had one more mile to go. Another runner passed me. I had lost count. I could not figure out where we were in the pecking order. More than anything this uncertainty was killing me. I tried following the pace set by this runner but soon he was pulling away from me. I could not make up any ground on the downhill. The finally uphill loomed ahead and it was all I could do to keep my eyes from visually scaling its peak.
The culmination of an around the lake race was just a few hundred yards ahead but it felt like 10 miles. I looked behind me and saw a runner approaching.
With everything I had, I pushed forward. I dug up every last bit of energy I had left. How could I have possibly felt so good just 3 plus miles ago and feel on death's door here right now? Why did I think this was a good idea? Were there indigenous cats on Melmac or did ALF acquire a taste for them AFTER he landed on Earth?
Cheers erupted from the crowd as I hit the cutes. Twenty yards to go. Am I going to break 8:20? Are they stringing a winner's tape across the finish line? Am I going to have enough energy to actually break the tape?
I hit the mat, weakly raised my arms nailed an official time of 8:20, took ten steps to get out of the way and immediately laid down on the ground.
People swarmed over me. I insisted I was absolutely fine but had absolutely no energy left for anything. No glass of water could be held by my exhausted digits. I couldn't possibly chew anything now to save my life. I most assuredly did not want to get back up as "down" would be where I would quickly be going if I tried standing.
Katie materialized and asked me if I was ok. I got one word out: "Tired." she totally understood. "He's fine. Just a little beat," she said to everyone. After a few seconds, two guys offered me their hands and I stood up. More cheers. I pointed to Katie. Even more cheers. I waved my hand feebly in the air and got over to a picnic table as quickly as possible.
"How'd we place?" I asked Katie. "I am not exactly sure. Let me find out". As it turns out, when the final results were tallied we finished exactly 20th. Out of 86 team that finished the race. We averaged a 7:41 mile pace for 65 miles of extremely hilly terrain.
I have been happy with a handful, if that of races in my life, where I was actually proud of my achievement and felt I have given that race everything I had. We can now add the Lake Winnepesaukee Relay to that short list. How Katie and I beat nearly 70 teams is beyond me. But I am so proud of her and of us as a team. I cannot wait to relive this over and over in my mind for many years to come. We far exceeded anything I could have possibly hoped for and made many friends and admirers along the way. And if we inspired a single person to do something because they can see that much is possible if you put your mind to it, then that is even that much better.
As for the race itself, I have very few complaints at all. Katie and I both thought long and hard and could think of very few, if any, negatives about the race. The only thing that came to mind was the race could have used some more aid stations. Granted, the vast majority of people running this race were doing just one leg and therefore either didn't need any aid or were supported by their crew. However, given the heat of the day and the exposure to the elements (in this case, direct sunlight) one more aid station on each leg would have been just about perfect.
And honestly, that is about it. I have thought really hard but haven't even been able to make up negatives. I mean, the website could have had a better representation of the hills (the elevation charts were a little hard to read) but I figured that out on my own. And in today's internet age, everyone can do that.
Sure, the course was hilly and very tough at points but that is part of the challenge of it. Conquering obstacles such as this is what runners crave. And what a beautiful part of the country. The Lake itself and the small towns that dotted its beaches were reminiscent of those good old-fashioned old-style towns that time has forgotten. In fact, while set in Maine, "On Golden Pond" was filmed in and around the area where we spent 8 hours running. So, if you want to see the splendor we witnessed, check out that movie (or wait for a few of my pictures to be posted here soon!)
The race organizers were so friendly (Mark grabbed me at every exchange and asked if there was anything he could do to help) and as I have pointed out, not only were the runners friendly but may locals cheered for the runners too as they went about their daily business. I have a feeling many probably did not even knowing what was going on (the course was not closed to traffic which was a little bit of a pain but not much) but that didn't stop them from cheering or being friendly. Well, if you don't count some lady in a Lexus who on my last leg, pulled out of a parking lot and damn near hit me and then went 50 yards up the hill and pulled back into another parking lot and damn near hit me again! Then again, she had Florida plates so I think the Granite State people don't deserve the blame.
Top to bottom it was a wonderful experience. People asked if we were going to get 6 other friends and do it again the next year. Honestly, as fun as it would be to try and win the thing, if I were to do it again, I would definitely want to race as just a team of two. It was exhilarating to push ourselves so far and see if it was even possible. Then to do as well as we had, well, I cannot even explain the elation.
So, if I am signing up again next year, chances are it will be as a duo. I am sure Katie will join me. We might go for the top 10.