Hey gang, long time no see! Glad we have this opportunity to finally chat again! Let’s catch up, shall we? I have two race recaps to share, a quick one, the OrthoCarolina 10K, and a not-so-quick-one, the Blue Ridge Relay. Let’s go.
A few weeks ago, I ran the OrthoCarolina 10K. You didn’t miss much. Laura and I basically used this race as part of a ‘fast finish’ long run. So we ran some six miles beforehand then jumped into the starting corral and took off.
This race is tough enough when you run only its 6.2 miles. Throw in a few more and things get dicey quickly. But I felt okay. I locked into something around 7:00 pace and held on for dear life. And that’s pretty much how it all went down. I’ll share two anecdotes and we’ll move on to the Blue Ridge Relay.
With about a mile to go, this younger guy and I were running neck and neck and climbing yet another nasty hill while I thought, “At least this should be good training for Blue Ridge”when Alice Rogers rode by on a bike and screamed, “Yeah, go Allen! JITFO! Jog it the fuck out!!!” I tried to smile and wave even as I was being tortured up this hill. Literally just a few seconds later, two girls running on the sidewalk yelled, “Yay! Go Jeremy, go!” and the guy I was running with turned to me and said, “Yeah, I’ve got cheerleaders too!” and then screamed “WHAT??!?” in my ear. Which would’ve been very funny had he been Gucci or Chase or any of a thousand other of my funny friends but since this guy was a stranger, it was just weird and surreal. But I think Jeremy used a little too much energy yelling “WHAT??!?” as he very quickly fell off the back.
In the final half mile or so, I was all ready to crawl it in when I spotted a guy a few meters ahead – Han Zhang. The last time I’d run this race, in 2012, Han and I had sprinted it out in the last few hundred meters. I thought it would be kinda cool to repeat that. I formulated a game plan – I’d reel Han in and with about a quarter to go, I’d sprint past and break his will to come with me. Best laid plans.
Everything went exactly according to plan (at first). I picked up the pace, snuck up behind Han with about a quarter to go, and then sprinted by. Things seemed good, I felt like I had put sufficient distance between us, so I slowed back down, done and ready to jog it in. Then Han sprinted by me and I had no answer other than “Good for him. Way to go, Han!” as I shuffled across the line.
And that was it for the 2015 OrthoCarolina 10K. We cooled down for 3+ miles afterward to complete our long run.
The 2015 Blue Ridge Relay: JITFO vs Stache&Dash, the Rubber Match
Thursday: God Tries to Warn Me
It was Thursday, Blue Ridge Relay eve, and I was scrambling. On top of trying to pack everything – all my personal junk and blinkies, vest, headlamps, maps, etc. for the team – we learned that our race singlets would not be arriving on time and I was in damage control. We had been promised that our singlets would arrive by Wednesday – then when they didn’t, I was okay with getting them on Thursday, but Thursday was here and UPS tracking showed they would be arriving “by end of day Friday.” That did us no good as we’d be racing by then. After many phone calls and emails, our contact told us she would have someone pick up the package of singlets at the Charlotte UPS distribution center first thing Friday morning and drive them up to Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia, site of the race start, prior to our starting time. Good enough for me – first catastrophe barely averted.
But the mad dash to get ready continued. I exchanged texts/calls/emails with various teammates to make sure everyone knew when and where to meet in the morning, what items to bring, etc. Then Thursday afternoon I headed to Triple C to meet Sommer and Gucci (aka ‘The Freshnesses’) to go pick up the team vans at Enterprise. I left the house about 4:45, in plenty of time to pick up the van, bring it back home, and make it back to Triple C in time for ‘The Unveiling,’ the little presentation Rob (captain of our archrival team, Stache & Dash) and I give every year where we announce the (allegedly) secret lineup, each runner and what leg they’ll be running.
So I met the Freshnesses at Triple C and we jumped in their SUV and headed to the nearby car rental joint. We got there, filled out the paperwork (where the clerk asked me “So Mr. Strickland, what kind of protection do you prefer?” which made Gucci snicker out loud. Yes ladies, we men are 12 years-old forever.) and stepped outside to get our vans. I was so excited when one of the vans turned out to be one of those cool, newer model, ones.
Okay, quick aside, people who know me well know that I am not one to believe in signs/omens/superstitions. But what transpired on Thursday night, what I’m about to relay to you, was biblical, not at all unlike the plagues that God [allegedly] reigned down upon Egypt. It was nearly enough to make me think, “Oh, okay, there is a God, and that mofo hates me.” Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. Please allow me to continue.
Gucci opened the hip new van while I inspected the other. He called me over and pointed to the floor of the van. Biblical Plague #1 – ants. The van floor was covered with ants. Shit – we couldn’t ride around in that insect-infested death trap! We showed it to the van rental people and they got us another van – a boring, typical older model van. Booo.
As the other van was being pulled around, out of nowhere Gucci slapped me on the back. Then he showed me the palm of his hand which had a big splotch of blood on it. Biblical plague #2 – mosquitoes. In about half an hour, I would discover a good half a dozen quarter-sized itchy welts all over my body.
Oh well, at least we had procured two working vans. Gucci asked me if I was a Chevy or Ford man. Since Gucci is a self-proclaimed Ford man, and since I worked for GM-owned EDS for some 6 years, I went with Chevy and we both got in our respective vans and headed out.
I chose poorly. Biblical plague #3 – stench. The van I chose reeked. Badly. How I described it to Laura: “It smells like it was full of fat, hairy old men who wrestled for hours and then tried to cover the smell of their B.O. by smoking cheap cigars.” Later, when Laura first set foot in it, she described it as “It smells like the driver took a dump in the front seat and tried to mask the smell with Axe body spray.” I thought that description sounded better than the actual smell.
I left Enterprise shortly after 5:00 and headed home to drop off the van and pick up Laura. On a normal day, I would’ve gotten home by 5:30 with ample time to make it back to Triple C by 6:30 for our group run and then the unveiling. But nope, Biblical Plague #4 – monsoon.
Not only were the metaphorical thunderstorm clouds gathering, so were the literal ones. And they were ominous – dark, massive billowing things blacked out the skies and moments later the heavens opened up. So not only was I stuck in a van that would make a skunk decry, “Holy shit, what is that smell?!?” now I couldn’t roll down the windows to let some of the stench escape. I was literally gagging and wheezing.
Just having moved into our new house days earlier, I was not sure of the driving directions to Triple C so I plugged the address into Waze, the navigational app on my phone. Then Biblical plague #5 happened – lost in the wilderness (aka uptown). It seemed that every turn Waze gave me was onto a blocked off, closed, road. Did I mention I was in a torrential downpour? And apparently all of Charlotte had descended upon uptown and was being given the same bogus directions by their navigational apps. Forty years wandering around in the desert looked good to me – at least those guys weren’t stuck in a van with the smell of a hundred decaying skunks wrapped in shit, sulfer, and Armor All.
I eventually, miraculously, made it home, swapped out the shit van for a slightly-better-smelling car, and we made it to Triple C a little after 7:00. 2+ hours to travel about 13 miles – I could run faster on a bad day. The storm let up and we ran a little 3-mile shakeout and then proceeded with the unveiling. Here’s a pic for posterity:
As I started announcing JITFO’s roster, Caitlin (for those of you that don’t know her, she’s an elite Olympic Trials qualifying marathoner), who just happened to be in town visiting, walked towards me causing Rob and Stache & Dash to hold their collective breath for a second until she just sauntered by and walked out the door. It was good for a laugh at least. Maybe next year she won’t keep walking.
We announced our rosters and, thanks to a certain double agent who fed intel to both teams, there were no surprises. I already knew Rob’s roster and Rob already knew mine. And I think both of us thought we’d still beat the other. Here’s a group pic of the two archrivals side by side:
Our buddy Gurmit was kind enough to videotape almost the entire ordeal which you can watch here if you are so inclined.
With the rosters announced, I encouraged JITFO to go home and get a good night’s sleep because we needed to be fresh for the approximately 24-hour battle we were about to wage.
Friday morning arrived and I was still scrambling to try to get our singlets before race time. I texted back and forth with our printer connection who assured me she’d have someone at the UPS distribution center as soon as it opened. Laura and I threw our things into the AX & turd van and hit the road.
Everybody made it to our meeting spot in Cornelius without incident – no car wrecks like the year before – and we made our annual trek to the Mooresville Target so we could fill the vans with the food we’d never eat (aside: I’ve run the Blue Ridge Relay seven years in a row now – every single year somebody buys a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread and I’ve yet to see anybody ever make a peanut butter sandwich).
While at Target, our printer connection texted to let us know they had acquired the singlets and were en route. We directed them to Target. I sent van one ahead – even though I had a nice built-in travel cushion by having the team leave extra early, there was no point taking any risks. They had to be there on time – van two could wait. So we waited.
Not for long as our buddy Robin got it done and showed up in mere minutes:
Unfortunately, apparently Laura’s image file names of FRONT and BACK confused the printer, and they got them backwards, printing the front image on the back and vice versa. So this logo that was supposed to be on the back became the front image:
Laura tried one on backwards and probably could’ve pulled it off:
But Matt tried it and couldn’t quite make it work:
Singlets in hand, van two rushed to the site of the starting line.
Van two rolled into Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia and as I was looking for a spot to park, Eric Bilbrey (president of the Charlotte Running Club and now my archest of rivals thanks to some excessive fantasy football smack talk and for dubbing me ‘Impenetrable Slowness’ in an unrelated incident), clearly very excited, came running up and waved down the van, crying “Look ahead – do you recognize the guy in the gray sweats?” Lo and behold, there was none other than the basketball coach of my alma mater – it was one of those surreal moments where two separate areas of your life collide somewhere they shouldn’t. Moments later, three UNC alums posed for this pic:
I scrambled to get us checked in and to make sure that everyone had their bibs and pins and that Danielle had the slap-bracelet-baton (I did NOT want a repeat of 2013!) We snapped the obligatory starting line team pics until there was nothing left to do but race.
Finally, the 2015 Blue Ridge Relay
Danielle led us off and ran a flawless first leg. For weeks I had been trying to pound the following into everyone’s head: “You have three legs to run. Do not go all out in the first leg. Run half marathon effort.” Danielle, being the wily veteran that she is, did exactly that – she looked calm, composed, and comfortable as she ran down the mountain. Stache & Dash’s runner, Stan, came in ahead of us, but only by some 30-40 seconds and he looked (and I hoped) like maybe he’d gone out excessively hard. Danielle seamlessly handed off to Michelle and I took van two and headed off to the transition zone where Mike “Ghost” Moran, runner seven, would get the van two gang’s running underway.
On our way, van two stopped in West Jefferson to grab some lunch. A little joint named Black Jack’s advertised “the best hamburgers in West Jefferson” – winner. Now maybe hamburgers aren’t the best pre-race fare, but damned if they weren’t delicious.
With our bellies full, we jumped ahead to Bald Mountain Baptist Church and waited. For some reason, I felt crappy, tired, lethargic – maybe it was from all the stress of the late/backwards singlets. I was getting reports of us being down by some ten minutes and I thought there had to be some mistake. I ran into my longtime running buddy and JITFO alum Nathan Stanford and we chatted for a bit while we waited for our respective runners to come in. When it was about time for our runner six, Sommer, to come in, van two loaded up sans Ghost. We were going to have to hoof it to beat him to the next exchange zone as he was running a super short 2.5-mile leg.
We piled into the van and pulled down to the bottom of the church parking lot where we would watch the exchange. All day long we’d been making jokes during exchanges about “coming in hot” like, “wow, she’s coming in hot” or “he is definitely not coming in hot” – that kind of thing. Well when Sommer crested the hill and came barreling in on the downhill tail end of leg six, she was coming in hot. And Ghost matched her speed for the exchange. When he took off, I decried “Oh crap!” because Mike was definitely coming in hot. I felt like I was driving the car in that scene in Terminator 2 where the evil robot was running down the car full of heroes – I couldn’t shake Ghost. I thought we were one or two stoplights or stop signs away from getting beaten to the exchange zone. I gunned it.
I rushed to park at the next exchange zone, right next to the S6x pistols’ van, driven by Coach Williams. We got out about the same time and all walked over to the actual spot where the exchange was to take place. Ghost’s leg ended on the top of a hill where, in order to see who was coming, one had to cross the street to look down. But the volunteer there chastised anyone that tried to cross, “You have to stay on this side of the road!” Until Coach crossed the street – his crossing was met with silence.
We expected Ghost to cut into Stache&Dash’s lead here, and he did, but not by as much as we’d hoped. Apparently S&D’s runner, Inga, had come into this thing fit. I was noticing a trend. Mike came barreling up the hill and handed off to Adam and I hoped that the rumors I’d heard of S&D’s next runner, Eric, being a little out of shape were true.
They weren’t. Adam, arguably JITFO’s strongest runner this year, made up no ground. Now I was worried.
But I had no time to dwell on such things – my job until I ran was to get the van to the next exchange zone before our runner got there. And this was not as easy as it might sound. Adam’s leg was 3.1 miles – we had about 18 minutes and change to gather up five people, one of which was busy cooling down, and haul it down the road before the speedster beat us there.
And so it went. I kept hoping/expecting our next runner to make up big ground on S&D even as I scrambled to work through logistics. But it never seemed to happen. Kathy, Laura, and John all ran solid legs but we just couldn’t seem to make up any ground.
Before I knew it, we parked the van at the start of leg 12 and I was up. At least this year I was organized – I kept an amphipod reflective vest, blinkies, and knuckle lights in one ziplock bag in a specific pocket in my gym bag – I would not spend half my time fumbling around looking for these things as I had in Blue Ridge Relays past. Since my first leg was on the Blue Ridge parkway, I had to wear the reflective vest. Since I was running in the late afternoon, and it was still hot, that was the only top I wore.
I started warming up but the road seemed kind of busy so I tried to find a less traveled spot – I noticed what looked like a side road, nice and flat, so I started down it. I’d gone less than a quarter of a mile when it dead ended at someone’s trailer. A guy who looked like he would’ve fit right in in the Deliverance ‘squeal like a pig scene’ stepped off his front porch, towards me, and called out “Can I hep ya?” to which I responded, “Nope, just warming up for my race, thanks.” I quickly turned around and headed back to the exchange zone.
Moments later, John came cranking in and handed me the baton. And after weeks of telling everybody, “Don’t go all out on your first leg – half marathon effort!”, I ignored my own advice and jetted out like we were running a 5k.
I did this for two reasons: 1) I am not very bright. 2) I knew if I only ran at half marathon pace, Carolyn, the S&Der running my leg, would increase their lead even more. She’s faster than I am so if I didn’t push it pretty hard, JITFO could lose substantially more ground.
But after glancing at my watch and seeing my heartrate spike into the 180s, I knew this was a fool’s errand. Dropping dead on the course probably wouldn’t help our team much. So I backed off down to something more manageable, something around let’s call it 10k effort.
I saw a tiny little lady with black hair climbing up ahead and I made a concerted effort to catch her. I prayed she was Carolyn, but as I got closer I could tell she was moving way too slowly – no way I was that lucky.
After studying the elevation chart, I knew the first four miles of this leg were rolling with some significant – red on the elevation chart graph meaning ~6% grade – hills. “Just survive to the 4-mile mark. Just survive to the 4-mile mark.” I kept telling myself.
When I crested the eternally-long (actually ‘only’ one mile) hill from mile three to four, I knew it was time to crank so I just took off and let gravity do the work. But while I felt like I was sprinting – “I must be breaking 5-minute miles!” – every time I looked at my watch, I was never under 6:30 pace. I cursed myself and aging in general.
But at least I was going downhill and felt like I was making progress unlike that death-slog from a few minutes ago. With a little more than a quarter of a mile to go, I passed Stan going in the opposite direction. I tried to gauge how big their lead was but I had no idea how far he’d come. Then leg 12 ended with a cruel joke – the last quarter of a mile or so was straight up. Oh joy.
I made every effort to finish strong but my legs were mush – I felt like I was trying to run through quicksand. My goal at this point was just to try to look like something akin to a runner and not some fat old man staggering up a hill. I turned into the Mt. Vernon Baptist Church driveway and handed off to Danielle and desperately hoped I hadn’t lost too much time.
I felt like dog shit. How the hell was I going to do this two more times?!? I jogged around the parking lot and tried to cool down, preferably without puking. After a few minutes, my vanmates and I piled in and headed out in search of food.
We drove into Boone and after a few mini-directional-mishaps (if you’re going to have these, it’s always best to do it when you’re the inactive van and have a little time to spare), we finally found Panera where we met our evil archrivals to break bread not bones. And everybody was super nice and friendly which made it hard for me to hate them even though I tried. I was starving by this point and some chicken noodle soup in a bread bowl tasted like manna from heaven.
And then we were back on the road, heading to the next transition zone where van two would start their second round of legs. I was getting more and more uptight as every report we got indicated that the Stache&Dash lead continued to grow.
So now it’s hovering near lateish, around 10:00PM, and I’m starting to get chippy. I’d been driving this shit-tank now for-fucking-ever, trying to keep logistics straight, trying to navigate, and now I’d recently run balls-to-the-wall for 6+ miles up and down a mountain, all seemingly to no avail as our archrivals continued to gap us. As I’ve described the Blue Ridge Relay to folks in the past – the first round of legs is all puppies and sunshine, the second round is when things start getting dicey.
We pulled into the transition zone and it was one giant mess – vans and people mingled about everywhere in a big, muddy field. I pulled in slowly as obliviots (a term my friend coined, short for oblivious idiots) moseyed along in the pitch black, directly in front of a long line of vans trying to find parking. I marvel at the miracle of how no one has ever (yet?) been run over during this race.
I drove up to a row of vans where I would need to back the van in to get a decent parking spot. I don’t know if you recall reading this in the blog before, but I am not particularly adept at parking, and it gets even worse when I’m trying to maneuver a 15-passenger van into a tight spot. Now re-read 2 paragraphs above. Did I mention I was already chippy?
I started backing in the van, badly. John was in back helping me, “Cut it, cut it…” but I was still too close to the adjacent van and I was getting stressed about it. All the while, some asshole driver in the van behind me kept impatiently inching forward and shining his bright lights directly into my eyes. Then I heard the driver say something like, “Way to park – you’re blocking that other van in.” I snapped. I yelled as loudly as I possibly could, “Mother fucker, I do not do this for a living! ASSHOLE!” Everyone, except for Laura who desperately tried to calm me down by gently repeating “No, no, no, no!” went silent, presumably in shock over my outburst. Then, from the other van came a burst of guffaws from the driver. It was Rob. So then JITFO van two burst into laughter too, all of us relieved that it was just Rob and not some big guy about to pommel me into oblivion. Then from the back of our van, “The only thing that could’ve made that better was if it had been Roy Williams”, quipped John, instantly making the JITFO one-liner hall of fame.
And that story is a nice little metaphor for our 2015 Blue Ridge Relay – JITFO struggled to maintain composure, sometimes failing, while Stache&Dash laughed and cruised. I would love to relay lots of details about other stories of the race, like how newcomers Paula Pridgen and John McCormick became JITFO legends, how Ghost and Adam gutted out their last legs in torrential downpours, how phrases like “you got the sun poi brah” and “Lil Jitty” were added to the JITFO lexicon, how I gave a “Let’s win one for the Gipper” motivational speech before our last round of legs, how the Charlotte Running Club and the Asheville Running Collective raced a drunken leg 37 in the wee hours of Saturday night / Sunday morning, and on and on and on, but we’ve got a ton of Ikea furniture downstairs that not’s going to assemble itself and I’ve run out of allotted blogging time.
Making a longer story less long, we never caught Stache&Dash. I tip my hat to them. They came in fitter than us and simply kicked our ass – no wrong turns on our part, no logistical slip-ups – they just ran faster than we did. Here is a pic from Thursday where I begrudgingly turned over the trophy, the JITSTACHE cask, to the victors:
But we still performed pretty admirably in my estimation: We finished faster than last year (even with an additional mile added to the course) and higher overall: 8th place overall (compared to 10th last year) , 2nd in the mixed division.
Join us next year when JITFO attempts to bring the cask home where it belongs.
I’ll leave you with a few more pics: