Hey gang, Allen here, coming to you live from lovely Sunset Beach, NC. Normally I don’t like to broadcast when I’m on vacation as I’m afraid some burglar might take the opportunity to ransack our home and steal some valuable item like, say, that age group trophy from that race in Concord that nobody’s ever heard of. But today is different as I’ll most likely be home by the time you start reading this so any would-be thieves would be forced to face these two vicious beasts:
But as is so often the case, I digress from the actual purpose of this blog. I’ve been MIA forever again and before my hordes of fans march on Sunset with torches and pitchforks, I need to get everyone caught up on the races I’ve run during my absence. I can (sort of) remember two. Without further adieu, the race recaps you have so patiently waited for:
RFYL Summer Track Meet Mile, Take 2
Just like one week earlier, I found myself standing on the starting line at the Myers Park High School track. And once again, I was about to race a bunch of younger and faster people. I bet none of them were standing there experiencing as many aches and pains as I was. Okay, maybe Rob.
At least this week I made sure to get a better starting spot. I lined up in lane one directly behind Bert. I guessed that he would fire out of the gate and I’d have plenty of room to myself. The gun fired and I was proven correct.
I took off and tried to find that elusive perfect pace that could be held for four laps. Rob snuck up in lane two and said something to me that I couldn’t quite make out – it really didn’t matter as I was way too busy sucking wind to be able to respond. I just smiled but sped up a little bit to try and make the other old guy in this heat work hard in lane two. The longer he ran from there, the better my odds of pulling the upset over the Stache & Dash captain.
He didn’t stay in lane two for long. He skirted past and cut over to lane one. He seemed to be cruising along a good bit faster than I was so I decided to bide my time and hope he came back to me later. Instead of going with Rob, I settled in behind a chase group of folks in my mile wheelhouse: Charlie, Carolyn and Sophie (apparently the Spada family feels that it’s not humbling enough for me to chase the dad, Stephen – I need to get regularly smoked by the teenage daughter as well):
Other than a few passes here and there by folks I don’t know – I passed a few and a few passed me – this is how it played out until the end. I chased the little pack of Charlie and the ladies who chased Rob. I thought, incorrectly, all along that this pack was directly behind Rob. It wasn’t until lap four that I realized my tactical error – Rob had put considerable distance between us. Flavia had come back a little and joined Charlie’s angels (70s retro allusion!) Charlie faded a little until it was just me in pursuit of all the girls (insert sexist joke here).
We rounded the last turn and I found myself in a familiar role – sprinting it out with members of Stache & Dash. I started to kick and got by Carolyn relatively quickly but Flavia would not relinquish her spot. I changed gears and so did she as we kicked stride for stride down the home stretch. She seemed to find another gear and looked to be dropping me – now playing the role of Dezi will be Flavia:
I had to reach deep and kick. If I’m being completely honest here, I think luck was on my side. Flavia began her kick just a little bit too early – she faded slightly right before the finish, just enough so that I was able to nip her at the line.
There is video of the mile here, if you’re really bored or if you want to see just how dangerously close Bert came to lapping us. That was it for my summer track experience – I spent the next couple of weeks limping around and icing my Achilles.
Racing in New Hampshire
The week of the fourth, Laura and I packed up the dubs into the SUV and started the long, long drive to New Hampshire to visit her sister’s family.
After 19 hours of bliss that included some 1,000 restroom stops, at least as many traffic jams (my personal favorite was the wrong turn that landed us on the Tappan Zee bridge at rush hour), and numerous confusing toll booths (I’m still expecting to be arrested any day for inadvertently blowing through an EZPass lane), we miraculously arrived in New Hampshire without any murdered children.
I’ll fast forward past the soul-crushing, Blue-Ridge-Relay-very-hard-rated-hill running through Laura’s sister’s neighborhood (quick aside – it ranks right up there with Gucci’s neighborhood for tough, hilly place to run. For the love of god, will some of my friends and family please move into a flat neighborhood? Please?!?) and jump straight to our Fourth of July race, the Center Harbor Foot Race, aptly named lest any of you Charlotteans got it confused with a NASCAR race or something.
Laura, her sister Alison, and I arrived in the idyllic little New Hampshire lake town of Center Harbor with plenty of time to spare and queued up to get our packets. My dream of possibly sneaking out a win was quickly and thoroughly crushed as I looked around and noticed a lot of thin, fit, folks, young and old, in split shorts and singlets. It would probably take a stellar performance on my part just to eke out an age group award.
I got pretty excited because the race tee shirts had a sweet patriotic winged-foot logo. This looked like a race tee one could actually wear without significant embarrassment. But alas, when we received our packets, we were informed by the volunteer that only people who had registered early enough received tees. This is a disturbing trend in road racing that is beginning to rub me the wrong way. This was the 37th annual running of this race – you guys haven’t figured out how to order the right number of t-shirts yet? Awesome, I was bitter out of the gate.
But t-shirt snubbing aside, we had a race to run. Laura and I warmed up while Alison abstained – this was her first road race ever. She ran four miles daily and was worried about the extra mile – she was concerned that the additional distance incurred warming up would prevent her from finishing. I firmly held that running four miles in her neighborhood (Pashtun tribesmen from the mountainous region of Pakistan go ‘Daaayyyum!’ when running in her neighborhood) was the equivalent of running eight anywhere else and that she’d be fine warming up, but she’d have none of it.
One couldn’t ask for a prettier backdrop to a race. We were starting immediately adjacent to beautiful Lake Winnipesaukee. My lovely wife and I jogged around and soaked up some of the New England beauty while I tried not to fret over my, as usual, painful Achilles, and the surrounding nasty looking hills. I tried to convince myself that somehow the race course would avoid these.
A few minutes later, we were lining up in the starting corral when a friendly chap struck up a conversation. He informed us that the first three miles were gently rolling, the fourth went straight up, and we finished with a downhill mile. That sounded doable, sort of Copper-River-10K-esque.
The next thing I knew, we were racing. We ran roughly a quarter of a mile, including maybe 50 meters or so across a grass median – that was kind of weird – before we hit the first hill. I’d label it a ‘significant’ hill – I found this pretty foreboding as our friendly conversationalist barely noted it as rolling. Uh-oh.
I just tried to manage a pace that neared respectable for an old man (I’m only a year removed from 50 – where has the time gone?!?), I huffed and puffed while trying to hang on to sub-7:00 pace. I had some duel with a 10-year-old kid going on, always good for the ego. He passed me. I passed him back. Repeat like 50 times.
Then we started climbing for realz, like we needed ropes, crampons, carabiners, and sherpas to make it up this thing. To give everybody an idea of how seriously steep this pyramid was that we climbed – my mile 4 split was 8:43. My mile 5 split was 5:05. I shit you not. (Okay, so mile 5 was a little short, but not that short!) Mile 4 was a begging-for-air-where’s-the-ski-lift-rope crawl up. Mile 5 was a screaming-please-please-please-don’t-fall-thrust-by-gravity sprint down. In case you’re still questioning, here is a screenprint from Laura’s Garmin:
I managed to cross the finish line without falling and breaking something. This was enough for me to consider the race a success.
Post-Race: Now Playing the Role of Larry David
Afterward, we waited around for the results. I had told Laura pre-race that we could use our times to gauge our current fitness levels to determine workout paces for the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon training cycle. When she hit the mountain during the race, she realized that this was not the run to use to determine pacing, and turned around to go back and encourage her sister. When the results were posted, all three of us finished fifth or sixth in our respective age groups. So if there were masters awards, we would receive some age group awards. So we settled in and waited.
And waited. And waited some more. It took the race organizers forever to gather the official results. I chatted with a guy from Boston whose friend said, “I think that hill was worse than Heartbreak.” to which I responded, “Hell yeah it was worse than Heartbreak! It was twice as far and three times as steep!” That hill made Heartbreak look like a speed bump.
Finally, the race director – I called her ‘Ol Leslie Knope’ as she was the local Parks and Rec director and had a few years on Amy Poehler – started calling out the age group awards. There had also been a 2-mile whose awards we had to sit through first. I was growing more and more impatient.
I knew things were looking bad for an award for any of us when Ol’ Leslie Knope called out the top three finishers in the 5-mile without mentioning masters. No masters awards and 10-year age groups. Throw in the fact that we got no t-shirts and I was coming to the realization that we were getting hosed.
As I sat there waiting, I got more and more frustrated. If this silly race had standard masters awards and 5-year age groups, I’d be winning an award, which happened to be coffee mugs displaying that sweet stars-and-stripes-winged-track-foot logo. I wanted one of those mugs.
Ol’ Leslie Knope announced Laura and Alison’s age groups – their names were not called out. Then my age group winners were announced and I was left empty-handed as well. We waited through all the age groups and were just about to leave when I witnessed the following. A bunch of mugs had gone unclaimed. Some guy walked up and said something to the effect of “I’ve got some friends in from Sweden. They’d love some of these mugs as souvenirs. Any chance you’d share some?” and Ol’ Leslie Knope said, “Sure!” and handed over a couple of mugs.
Ah-ha! There was still a chance! I was emboldened! I walked forward and said, “Hi, so I drove a thousand miles from Charlotte, North Carolina to run your race…” and Leslie excitedly, grinning ear to ear, responded, “Oh! Are you from Raleigh? You’re the guy that emailed me from Raleigh, right?” and I said, “No, I’m from Charlotte.” She seemed crestfallen, as if Raleigh was Nirvanna and Charlotte was some hideous land of slums. “Oh. So you’re not from Raleigh?” But I was not to be deterred. “But anyway, I drove a thousand miles from North Carolina and ran your race, and if you’d had masters categories and 5-year age groups, I’d have scored an age group award…” Leslie interjected, “You mean kids’ age groups?” Me, “Huh? I mean I nearly got an age group but…” Leslie: “You mean 5-year children’s age groups?” We were having two different conversations and I got more and more frustrated. This went on for a while, both of us on bizarrely different pages, until I gave up and just said, “Look. I’m just trying to get a coffee mug. Any chance you could spare a mug?” Suddenly Leslie seemed downright rude, borderline belligerent, answering, “No. These are unclaimed age group awards. People will be coming in to get these.”
Okay. Look. I know I didn’t earn an age group award. All I wanted was a souvenir of the race. Apparently this was too much to ask for unless you signed up years in advance or had some friends from Sweden. I was suddenly Larry David. I swear to god, I entertained the notion of grabbing a mug and making a run for it – there was no way in hell Leslie could catch me. But we were directly in front of a firehouse with 10-15 young firemen milling about out front – if they saw their Parks and Rec director screaming ‘Stop! Thief!’ at me, one of those strapping young lads would surely run me down and tackle me, probably breaking the mug, my ego, and some of my bones in the process. I gave up the mug dream and stormed off like a petulant little dub, calling back to Leslie, “Thanks! We’ll be sure to run a different race next year!” Not my proudest moment, but what can you do? To this day, I remain Center Harbor Foot Race t-shirtless and mugless. Such is the world.
Stay tuned for more awe-inspiring motivational moments like these. Larry David would be proud.