The Latest Injury Woes and the 2016 Blue Ridge Relay

October 23, 2016

Hiya gang. Anybody out there remember this blog? It’s okay if you don’t – I’m starting to feel like I don’t remember it, either. I think this is probably the longest I’ve ever gone between posts since the inception of Allen’s Road to Boston. But I know you’ll forgive me – life has gotten in the way. You know how it is. Since we last talked:

  • Laura wrecked her car.
  • Warren left the front door open and our normally-sweet dog Olive bolted out and randomly attacked the dog of some poor girl who just happened to be walking by. Don’t worry, both dogs were fine. Believe me, all the people involved were way more traumatized than the dogs. Afterward, poor lil Warren may have had to deal with the wrath of this blog’s creator.
  • Laura shattered the screen on her iPhone.
  • The now-former CEO of the company I work for, the company I’ve affectionately dubbed the Death Star) got grilled by a senate committe over his “Eight is great” plan that essentially led to millions of fraudulent back accounts being opened. Oh, and he also dumped some three million shares of stock right before the story went public. Darth Vader, taking over $100 million with him, jumped in his tie-fighter and flew away. And now there are rumors of pending displacements (euphemism for lay-offs) in my department due to ‘budget cuts’. Things have been difficult for us poor little, honest, hard-working schmucks left on the smoldering Death Star.
  • I lost (another) screenplay ‘contest’ (I use quotes here because it wasn’t literally a contest per se) that I was really excited about. I thought I had a shot because there were going to be 12 ‘winners’ and you had to be a resident of Charlotte to be eligible. So to ‘win’ (land a spot in a Sundance workshop), you had to a) Live in Charlotte b) Have heard about this workshop c) Have already written a feature-length screenplay and d) Complete a pretty rigorous application process. Surely there weren’t more than 12 people that met all those criteria, right? Wrong. I guess the most optimistic way to spin this is to say that I tied for thirteenth.
  • I felt like I had finally turned the corner and fully recovered from my knee injury/surgery – I had a 35-mile week under my belt and was actually feeling normal, dare I say good,  when I got hurt again. More on that in a minute.
  • And so on.

So you can see, 2016 has been a little tough on us here at Casa Strickland – I’m seeking your understanding and compassion here. But hey, I’m back to blogging, at least for today, so let’s get on with it!

First things first, recent developments. I’ll share a Blue Ridge recap after filling you in on the latest happenings.

The Running Gods Hate Me

If you look at my pity-party list above, you’ll notice most items on the list are first world problems. I can hear some poor, starving, third-world-country kid now, “Oh no! Your wife busted her iPhone?!? How tragic that must be for you! I am so, so sorry! But if you will excuse me, I need to step away so I can eat my daily ration of three grains of rice.” But the problem I’m about to describe is pretty much an any-world problem. I think most people in the world, regardless of their socioeconomic status, would agree that not being able to walk is considered a problem by just about everybody.

If you’ve read this blog at all in the last year, and/or are a friend of mine (and let’s face it, my friends are pretty much the only people that follow this blog – I’m pretty sure my Dad has never read it), then you know I injured my knee almost exactly a year ago and subsequently had surgery. I’ve been struggling to get back to running ever since. After months of aquajogging and elliptical training, I began running again, starting out with alternating segments of walk a minute, jog a minute. Ever so gradually, I increased the duration of the running segments, even eventually doing little workouts again, like minuters and short tempo runs. After Blue Ridge, where my knee gave me few, if any, problems, I started increasing mileage, even running a double-digit long run with one Gucci Freshness on a pretty demanding course in Kings Mountain. I ran a 35-mile week, complete with a tempo and a long run. I was back – all I needed to do was continue to ramp up the mileage until I was ready to start a more formal training plan for Boston 2017.

Last Saturday, on the drive to McAlpine, I turned to Laura and said something like, “For a minute there, I forgot which knee I had surgery on. To me, that’s the tell-tale sign of complete recovery. I’m claiming myself officially healed.” I should’ve known better than to flaunt such hubris in the face of the running gods.

We made it to the park, warmed up, and started running. Laura, making an injury comeback of her own, and I were cruising along on the crushed-gravel trails of McAlpine. Everything was going fine with the worst part being that I was struggling to keep up with her – nothing unusual there. It was a beautiful, picturesque day. We made our way to the one hill on the course where we were going to do a tried-and-true little comeback workout (see Brad Hudson on this, he’ll concur), 15-second hill sprints.

We were running 4-minute segments, incorporating 15-second hill sprints, with 1-minute walk breaks and it was going well, again the only problem was trying to keep up with Laura. We finished our third or fourth sprint and were leisurely jogging down the hill as I was slightly yelling down to Laura, who was naturally ten or fifteen meters ahead, when it happened. I was in mid-sentence when BAM! – intense pain in the left ankle. I screamed.

The tricky part here was that I was running down a very steep hill at the time so I couldn’t just plop down – I had to hop on my good leg for quite a ways as Laura turned around and ran back to me. “What happened?!?” she cried. “I hurt my ankle! It’s bad!” I said when my momentum finally slowed enough where I could sit down. And fuck, it hurt, it hurt bad, so bad I got a little nauseous. Yeah, like that. Laura said, “Maybe it’s not that bad and you’ll be okay in a minute.” But I’ve twisted my ankle enough over the years to know better – this was one of the bad ones. There would be no more running on this day.

Luckily, where we were was probably less than half a mile to the car so Laura, acting as a human crutch on my left side, helped me hobble back.

I was upset, very upset, as I’m sure you can imagine. This is how this latest development felt. Does anybody else see the Sisyphean irony/metaphor here? I was literally running up and down a hill as part of my injury comeback!

Here we go again. I’ve been holed up for a week now, RICEing. I posted this pic on Facebook, you know in a desperate attempt to garner some sympathy:

Damn you, running gods! Damn you to hell!

Damn you, running gods! Damn you to hell!

One of my friends posted, “That’s a bad break. You at ER yet?” to which I responded “Nah, not broken, done this a million times playing basketball over the years. It’s not as bad as it looks in pic. But a good week plus setback to running.” A local chiropractor added, “That looks nasty. May want an X-ray of that. If you have done that “a million times” you have never rehabbed properly!” I never responded but it’s been bugging me, so I’m going to respond here because, you know, I have a blog and I can if I want to. Okay, so “a million times” is a bit of an embellishment – it’s probably more like ten times, with the last nasty one being in 2006 (derailing my plans at running the Marine Corps Marathon, I might add). I’ve run something like 13 marathons since, with about a half dozen Boston qualifiers in there, so I’m pretty confident it’s not a rehab problem. I think it’s just a dumb random luck problem. The comment just rubbed me the wrong way because it felt a little like he was trying to get some new business at the expense of my misfortune. But I digress. Again, please forgive me – you may have noticed that I’m a little on edge lately.

Laura ordered a new swimsuit for me. Looks like I’m an aquajogger again. Sigh. Here’s hoping I don’t lose what little fitness I have.

That’s it on current events. Let’s take a look back at this year’s Blue Ridge Relay.

The 2016 Blue Ridge Relay Recap

FYI – I started writing this next bit what seems like forever ago. It’s long. And I’m tired and my ankle hurts. So if it ends abruptly, like in the middle of the story, you’ll cut me some slack I’m sure. Here we go.

The story of this year’s Blue Ridge Relay began exactly one year ago today. (Author’s Note: It’s been more like 14 months ago at this point. Please do read on.) Our archrivals had just finished handing us our asses and I was none too pleased about it. My crazy fast pal Chad was arguably more upset than I was (he had been all set to join us until an injury prevented him). We took off the gloves. Chad, his wife Danielle, me, and basically all of JITFO and all friends of JITFO immediately went to work with one goal in mind – to build the fastest mixed team in Blue Ridge Relay history.

The Master Plan

I think we did more recruiting than Kentucky’s basketball coaching staff. It wasn’t very long before we had commitments from four – you heard me, FOUR – US Olympic trials marathon qualifiers, and a host of other very fast people. Let me make this clear – that meant that fully one-third of the team, 33.33%, had qualified for the Olympic Trials at some point. The Blue Ridge Relay mixed record was in very serious jeopardy.

But having done this a few times, I knew that the Blue Ridge Relay team you sign early is never the team that actually shows up on race day. So I came up with a plan to help hedge my bets. I’d build a second team, a farm team, a Triple-A team, whatever you want to call the feeder system, and recruit as many running studs as possible. If/when somebody from the A-team dropped out for whatever reason, we’d just move somebody over from the other team. If things went exceedingly well, I just might be able to field two teams that were both capable of defeating Stache & Dash. I was starting to grow a little weary of Stan’s jabs about JITFO always finishing second in our division. I thought it’d be extra special to knock Stache & Dash down to at least third.

So we built two teams. Our regular mixed team, JITFO, and now our second mixed team, JITFO Lil Jitty (affectionately given this name after a joke based on a newspaper picture emerged during last year’s race.)

This little guy became the inspiration behind Lil Jitty.

This little guy became the inspiration behind Lil Jitty.

 

The birth of Lil Jitty at the 2015 Blue Ridge Relay finish.

The birth of Lil Jitty at the 2015 Blue Ridge Relay finish.

And this plan worked, up to a point. When we lost two of our four trials qualifiers, we just filled the gaps with two of Lil Jitty’s lady speedsters, Paula Pridgen and Lucy Rogers – maybe not trials qualifiers (yet?), but not too shabby either. Between the two of them, they’d piled up quite a few wins around town, including the Triple C Know Your Craft 5K, the Orthoclassic 10K, and the Thunder Road marathon. JITFO was going to be just fine.

But then the Charlotte Running Club elite team came calling and snagged up our Lil Jitty star, Chase Eckard (plenty fast enough for JITFO but I needed to keep at least one big-time stud on Lil Jitty if we had any shot of taking down S&D – I wanted somebody to cancel out their speedster, Matt Longworth). Now our triple-A team was pretty decimated. And I didn’t have a double-A team. With less than three weeks til race day, I was in scramble mode to field a full Lil Jitty team, with at least four spots to fill.

I scoured race results. I started sending emails and Facebook messages to ladies I’d never met. But for whatever reason, a message from a stranger begging ladies to ride around the rural, mountain countryside in a van in the middle of the night with a bunch of complete strangers didn’t seem particularly effective. Luckily, my running friends know lots of other running friends and somehow, miraculously, with mere days to spare, we eventually fielded a full second team.

The Unveiling

Per the tradition of our rivalry, the teams of JITFO and Stache & Dash met at Triple C the Thursday night before the race so Rob and I could announce the rosters. Here’s the exact document, unedited and complete with typos, that I read from:

That's me in the white shirt as and baseball cap as I unveil our rosters. Rob gets a rock out of his shoe.

That’s me in the white shirt and baseball cap as I unveil our rosters while Rob digs a rock out of his shoe.

  • Runner 1

For Lil Jitty, this JITFO alum knows how to take, and bring, the heat having lived, trained and competed in the Amazon Jungle for 8 years. More recently this past July she was the 1st Over All Female in the Ionia, Michigan 1/2 marathon. She’s the only returning JITFO alum who is undefeated against Stache & Dash, Lisa Sluiter!

For JITFO, this first-time JITFOer once met Stevie Wonder and waved and he waved back. she won a slam dunk contest in high school, and she made her Hollywood debut in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” She was the women’s winner of both the Thunder Road marathon and the OrthoCarolina 10K. Please help me welcome to JITFO, Lucy Rogers!

  • Runner 2

For Lil Jitty, this next runner has won a bunch of local races including the Clean Air 5K and the King Tiger 5K and was the 1st overall woman in last year’s Run for Your Life Gran Prix Series. Ask her about her Montezuma’s revenge story. The first defector to either side since Claire Naisby, Flavia Brucia!

For JITFO, this alum is returning for his second tour of duty after surviving the infamous spot 11 last year. His recent accolades include a 4:49 mile and a 16:58 5K. The owner of 6 Strava course records (2 of which are clearly due to watch errors) and the only JITFO runner to have ever been outkicked by a convicted felon, John McCormick!

  • Runner 3

For Lil Jitty, this gentleman’s running career began when he joined his 9th grade track team where, on the 3rd day of practice, he tripped and cut open his chin. 4 stitches and several years later, he’s beginning to get the hang of this running thing. He ran a 2:55 under some tough conditions this year at Boston. Making his Blue Ridge debut, Ryan Wakefield!

For JITFO, this next runner is a stalwart of JITFO. Just after we finished the OrthoCarolina 10K this year, when he told me he PR’d, I didn’t say “Congrats!” or “Awesome!” or “Way to go!”, instead I said, “The Charlotte running club is going to come after you now. Your answer to them is ‘No.’ Later when I talked to the CRC guys and asked them why they didn’t go after this guy, they told me, “We know he’s loyal to JITFO.” He’s run for JITFO every year it’s existed and this year is no different – Adam Mayes!

  • Runner 4

Lil Jitty: True story, this next runner has never lost a race when he’s taken a pre-race dump into a Bojangle’s box (and believe it or not, this has happened more than once), hailing all the way from Golden, Colorado, JITFO alum, Matt Jaskot! (Oh and by the way Stache & Dash, we’re bringing a bunch of Bojangle’s boxes. I’m just saying.)

For JITFO, no matter what the Run for your Life results page says for this next runner’s Greekfest 5k time, we all know that in reality it was sub-18. If you don’t believe me, look at the pics of the clock. This lady has a couple 1:22 halves under her belt, and multiple sub-3:00 marathons. Another interesting aside – she paid her Blue Ridge entry fee with the proceeds she received from winning the Know Your Craft 5K right here at Triple C. She joins John McCormick and me as the only JITFO and North Carolina alums, Paula Pridgen!  

  • Runner 5

A few years ago, the fastest I ran in all of Blue Ridge was to run this next Lil Jitty runner down on the first leg so I could give her the baton that I forget to give her before the start. A minute later while I was trying to catch my breath, Matt quipped, “Or we could’ve casually driven down and handed it to her.”  Another JITFO alum, this runner also coaches and according to Runners Connect, she has qualified for Boston at least 8 separate times – Jamie Dodge!

For JITFO, this lady has won more Charlotte races than most of us have run, including the Thunder Road marathon. Her running speed is only exceeded by her logistical and recruiting prowess. This year’s official JITFO captain, Danielle Crockford!

  • Runner 6

Another former Run For Your Life Gran Prix winner, this Lil Jitty lady trains in the hilliest neighborhood of anyone here and also holds the honor of fastest Blue Ridge road kill ever captured on video. Everybody be super nice to this JITFO alum so she will hold a post-race party at her awesome neighborhood pool and clubhouse: Sommer Baucom!

This next JITFO alum may rival her friend and roommate Danielle for number of local wins. She recently won the Half Full She also was the overall, not just women’s, but the overall winner at the South End Shuffle 5K – after running a 20-mile training run earlier that day – JITFO runner6: Michelle Hazelton!  

  • Runner 7

This runner is the first grand master to ever run for any JITFO team. In 1980, he placed 3rd in the Hartsell Middle School field day 880 yard dash – the first 2 went on to compete in the county meet. To you, that whole JITFO story is that – just a story. He lived that shit. Lil Jitty Runner 7, yours truly, Allen Strickland.

The next runner is the only lacrosse athlete turned distance runner I’ve ever met. He has PRs of 1:13 in the half and 2:42 in the full and is a former winner of the Corporate Cup half: Chad Crockford!

Shirt by Craft. Logo by Laura. Guns by Chad's gym.

Shirt by Craft. Logo by Laura. Guns by Chad’s gym.

  • Runner 8

This next runner for Lil Jitty ran a 2:47 marathon in the New York marathon while wearing a Batman tank top. Not a singlet. A tank top. And he has the scar to prove it. Oh and earlier when I said John McCormick, Paula Pridgen, and I were the only ever JITFO Carolina alums? I lied because this guy is too: JITFO Lil Jitty runner 8, Franklin Keathley!

Franklin, "What am I, chopped liver?"

Franklin, “What am I, chopped liver?”

JITFO runner 8’s first name is Richard but he’s better known by a 4-letter name and no, not the 4-letter name that I screamed at Rob in last year’s race. This 4-letter guy is Walt and he’s famous for having survived multiple animal attacks while running: 2 owl attacks to the dome, one kamikaze attack from a squirrel (witnesses can be provided) and an attempted squirrel tripping. He also was the winner of the 2015 Wrightsville Beach Marathon and 2016 Corporate Cup half: Walt Guyer!

  • Runner 9

Stan will get a kick out of hearing that Lil Jitty’s runner 9 has run 2 other of these relays this year and her teams placed 2nd in their division both times. A friend of Dezi’s, this runner has scored multiple age group wins around town and plans to run her first Boston marathon this year after qualifying at Richmond. At that race’s expo, she asked a man for a picture and he tried to inject himself into it. Once Dezi explained to her that the man was Bart Yasso, the famous “mayor of running”, he was finally allowed in the pic. Lil Jitty Runner 9, Kate Bothe!

JITFO’s runner 9 has, I think, the fastest marathon PR of any JITFO runner ever at 2:35 and has also won more local races than we can name here. Another Run For Your Life Gran Prix winner,  he’s also won the USATF National Masters 10K. JITFO, runner 9, the fastest Brit in Charlotte, Paul Mainwaring!

  • Runner 10

For Lil Jitty’s runner 10, I’m afraid I know next to nothing as she is a very last minute addition to the squad. I know she’s another friend of Dezi’s (Dezi apparently did nearly as much recruiting as Danielle and I did). Anyway, I tried to google this girl a couple of hours ago and I did find a science article authored by a person of the same name entitled “a new partial-bounceback lattice-Boltzmann method for fluid flow through heterogeneous media”. I’ll ask Matt what that means later. So there’s that. Lil Jitty runner 8, Holly Burwinkle!

JITFO runner 10 is a pretty ok runner. She’s a 2-time Olympic Marathon trials qualifier and a 3-time NCAA All-American who has accomplished some pretty astounding things. Like running a 2:39 marathon after stopping mid-race to take a shit on the side of the road. Or like teaching 2-time Olympian and American record holder Molly Huddle how to create a Bitmoji. JITFO runner 10, Meagan Nedlo!

  • Runner 11

Lil Jitty’s runner 11 placed 2nd overall in the 2015 Hilton Head Marathon in 2:45 and 2nd overall in the 2015 Hilton Head Turkey Day 10K in 34:03. So my question to him is “Who is this guy who keeps winning everything in Hilton Head?” This gentleman also ran a 1:16 half in Myrtle Beach this year and a 2:51 in Boston. Running for Lil Jitty with a broken arm, in a cast, Paul Newnham!

When I asked everybody for bio stuff, JITFO’s runner 11 sent me the following. I’ll leave it up to you to determine fact from fiction: He’s:

“from Portland OR: 

*Former training partner of Ryan Vail and Galen Rupp – he holds personal bests of 14:52 in the 5K; and 8:36 in the 3K. 

*He was coached by Alberto Salazar in high school but left after refusing to take experimental horse amphetamines

*He took a ten-year running sabbatical to get his PhD – he’s currently an economist at Harvard 

*He ran his first marathon in 2:48 after reading a Couch-To-Marathon training plan 

JITFO runner 11, Ben Bushong!

  • Runner 12

Here’s what Lil Jitty’s runner 12 gave me for his bio:

  • 63% of all his marathons would not have qualified for Boston…or have been good enough to make a JV cross country team.
  • He once almost beat a 7-month pregnant woman in a 5K. She only beat him by 2 minutes.
  • He’s faster than his wife when she’s on roller blades.
  • He was faster than his son until he turned 4. Runner 12 hasn’t beaten him since.

But I Athlinks’d him and found he ran a 1:26 half in Corporate Cup last year. Lil Jitty runner 12, Raj Ravi!

JITFO runner 12 prominently displays a can of Spam that she was awarded upon winning a mountainous race in Arkansas. Oh, and she has also run the US Olympic marathon trials. 3 times. Oh, and she was the 3rd US woman in Boston this year. If you want to know more, look her up on the Chicago marathon’s elite athletes page. Runner 12, Laurie Knowles!

And that was that. I urged the two teams of JITFO nation to go home and get to bed early even as Laura seemed to want to hang out all night – we were the last 2 JITFO members to leave Triple C.

At the unveiling: 5 JITFOers and 1 should be JITFOer. From left to right:

At the unveiling: 5 JITFOers and 1 should be JITFOer. From left to right: Chad, Danielle, Michelle, Ben (Bushong who will forever be known as Birdsong to me), Meagan and Melissa. What Rob doesn’t know: Ben Hovis and Mike Beigay are Stache & Dash’s MVPs as they cost me at least 2 good runners every year.

 

I will give Stache & Dash this. Their shirts look GOOD.

I will give Stache & Dash this. Their shirts look GOOD.

Amassing the Troops

Approaching race day, I sent out multiple emails about various race day logistics. I caught much grief and was, of course, mocked mercilessly by my teammates for sending out the address of our meeting place no less than five times. But come race day, of course, somebody still got lost. Which is understandable as maybe I sent out some incorrect directions. This is all par for the course for the race – why do you think I pad our gathering time by hours? And as the lost folks were not egregiously off course –  they were very close to the Target we’d be heading to momentarily anyway – I directed them to just meet us there. No harm, no foul – we were still on time.

The rest of us met in the parking lot of a condo in Cornelius that I own. I have us meet there because a) It’s on the way and b) there is ample safe parking (I am unaware of any criminal activity having occurred there in the nine or so years I’ve had this place). JITFO teams have met there for years without incident. Until this year.

As the vans pulled up and we runners milled about in the parking lot a, um, let’s say rotund lady, walking two little fru-fru dogs, approached us and asked (and in my estimation, a wee bit too belligerently), “You know this is private property, right?” To which I replied, “Yes, I own that condo right there.” as I pointed to my unit. She then snootily asked me what my name was and while I very much wanted to reply, “Mr. None-of-your-fucking-business”, I said, “Allen Strickland” and I may or may not have snarkily, emphatically, spelled my name out. She then proceeded to take her dogs to the little grassy section where they began to relieve themselves at which point I called out to her, “You know you’re required to pick that up, right?” She then reiterated that she would be calling our home owners’ association at which point I definitely snarkily reiterated the spelling of my name. HOA Storm Troopers, gotta love ’em.

Both teams gathering in Cornelius, right before some lady messes with us. I wish we'd gotten a photo of her - public shaming might do her some good.

Look at this riff raff! No wonder that condo Nazi lady was so concerned! I wish we’d gotten a photo of her – public shaming might do her some good.

After that, we hit the Mooresville Target, gathered the rest of our troops, loaded up with snacks, drinks, and ice, and headed up to Grayson Highlands State Park, site of the race start, without further incident (okay, maybe one further incident when Lil Jitty’s Paul, he of the already broken arm, got whacked on the shin by the van door. He received a pretty sizable knot but he seemed to recover quickly.)

Finally, The Race

We made it to the park with plenty of time to spare and I went about the business of captaining. I signed in Lil Jitty and got our shirts and bibs and ran around gathering everybody’s John Hancock on the waiver. For some reason, race officials were sending off the waves about three minutes early so I made sure to tell Lisa (Lil Jitty) and Meagan (JITFO) this little tidbit, and I also took the opportunity to remind them, “Okay, remember, this leg is four miles straight down. Take it easy – don’t go all out or your quads will be fried and your next two legs will suck.” Lisa was nice and magnanimous, “Got it.”, while Meagan’s response was brutal in its honesty, “I’m not you.” Ouch, Meagan, very ouch. And before I knew it, they announced teams (in addition to JITFO, Lil Jitty, and Stache & Douche, Charlotte-based Crazy Legs was starting with us as well), and then sent everybody off. Our 2016 Blue Ridge relay was officially underway.

JITFO and Lil Jitty, 27-strong! (2 teams and 3 drivers)

JITFO and Lil Jitty, 27-strong! (2 teams and 3 drivers)

 

Seago about to get road killed right out of the gate! Be smart, Jay!

Seago about to get road killed by JITFO and JITFO Lil Jitty right out of the gate! Be smart, Jay!

Here’s a video of the start with Lisa “raising the roof” seconds before making my buddy, Let Me Run coach and NoDa neighbor, Jay, our first road kill of the race. Here’s what guest blogger Meagan (god I miss her blog!) had to say about the first leg:

Guest Blogger Meagan Nedlo on Leg 1:

I was leadoff leg for our team, which meant I started with 3.9 miles straight down the mountain. Having done leg 2 of Hood to Coast many years ago, I remembered how trashed my quads were for the rest of the relay (to say nothing of the days that followed). So my main goal for leg one was to run relaxed, not push it but also not brake too much, and finish knowing I hadn’t trashed my legs too much for my second two legs. It was fun being the first runner for the team and getting support and cheers from all the vans as they drove past me down the mountain.

This is me cheering on Meagan. It must be nice to make running so fast look so easy.

This is our van giving support and cheers as we drive past Meagan. It must be nice to make running so fast look so easy.

In terms of competition, there were about a dozen teams that started with us (the race starts with slowest projected finish times to fastest, so we were in the second to last wave). A guy from Godiva (an all-men’s master’s team) absolutely took off from the start and I never saw him again, but for the first few minutes I ran stride for stride with Carolyn from our rival team Stash and Dash. This proved beneficial about 2:45 in when I realized I’d somehow forgotten to start my watch at the beginning and Carolyn graciously let me know where we were at. Shortly thereafter I started pulling away from her (but not by much!) and from there it was all gravity as I stomped down the mountain towards our second leg (Ben!). At one point I had a stunning panorama to my left of nothing but mountains and trees as far as the eye could see, and even though I know it’s super cheesy I’ll admit I offered up a silent “thank you” for the ability to be here surrounded by so many of my friends doing what I love. (To be clear, this sentiment would not be replicated during leg 2…). After I handed off to Ben I jogged a bit with Laurie, who was warming up for leg 3, and then the van picked us up a little ways down the road. And so Blue Ridge Relay 2016 had begun!

Back to Lil Jitty. I quickly gathered up the Lil Jitty van two peeps and we headed off towards the first transition zone where I’d be running leg 7.

Our van zipped past the leg 2 exchange zone and out of the park. Laura read from some driving instructions she’d found on the website and we turned left out of the park – this seemed a little fishy to me as the runners were headed right and I didn’t remember turning left out of the park in years past. And boom, just like that, on the very first driving turn of the race, we went the wrong way.

Luckily, this became evident pretty quickly as the next turn didn’t materialize where it should have according to the directions. So after a few minutes, we backtracked and abandoned the instructions we were using when we found the Team Handbook instructions which clearly indicated we should have turned right. Note to future Blue Ridge Relay teams – do not use any driving directions other than the ones outlined in the handbook! No biggie – we were only a few minutes behind.

We rushed to West Jefferson and found the restaurant where JITFO’s van 2 was dining. Paul (Newnham, Lil Jitty, not to be confused with Mainwaring of JITFO) sat out the meal having apparently acquired some motion sickness thanks to the jackass driver who, after the initial wrong turn, felt it necessary to race along curvy mountain roads like a NASCAR driver amped up on Red Bull – my apologies Paul. That dude is a trooper and guaranteed inductee to the JITFO Hall of Fame for racing with not only a broken arm in a cast and a knot on his shin, but now also driver-induced nausea.

I started getting even more antsy when our waitress told us there would be a delay as they were crazy busy (we weren’t the first teams to eat there). Stache & Dash joined in on this lunchtime fun so I took the opportunity to introduce our Lil Jitty newbies to the evil, archrival captain, Rob. S&D got antsier than me even and bailed before their food arrived – I wanted no part of that because leaving meant the food-waiting clock would just reset to zero. The food came soon thereafter and I was glad we waited – it was delicious and we finished with plenty of time to make it to the nearby transition zone. I don’t think I ate even half of my food – I was the first runner in our van and filling up so near my first leg seemed like a bad idea.

We rushed through lunch and headed to the exchange zone. This felt a little surreal to me because prior to this year’s race, the first transition zone had always been at the same spot, Bald Mountain Baptist Church. This year it had been moved to Frosty’s Choose & Cut, which was strange not only for being new to the race, but also bizarre because of the strange juxtaposition between summer and winter: The temperatures on this hot, sunny day were now well into the eighties as we were pulling into a Christmas tree sales lot, complete with a giant snowman, eerily reminiscent of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters. It was all a bit overwhelming.

My beautiful wife with ominous Staypuff Marshmallow, I mean Frosty the Snowman, looming in the background.

My beautiful wife Laura with the  Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, I mean Frosty the Snowman, looming ominously in the background, apparently about to trample port-a-johns and come after us.

I was the most nervous I’d been about running in a long time as this was my first (real) race in nearly a year and I wasn’t sure what to expect. After all, only a few weeks earlier, I was still taking walk breaks during runs. The knee was finally feeling close to 100%, but I’d only managed ~25 mile weeks leading into this thing (and a factor in cutting myself from JITFO). I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I did know that I’d better take it relatively easy on this first, very hot leg. I had the nervous, nauseous pre-race jitters that I hadn’t felt in quite some time.

But I started getting amp’d up, in a good way, when I saw Adam take the baton from Lucy for JITFO. He cranked off into the distance as I cheered wildly and waited for my turn to go.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

We found out that one of our runners had taken a wrong turn on the many-turns leg through West Jefferson. And now my time estimates were considerably off and we were farther back than originally expected. Rob got the baton for S&D and I continued to anxiously await my turn.

Eventually, I saw the unmistakable sight of Sommer approaching (I’ve run with her quite a few times so knew her form from far away)  so I lined up by the orange cone marking the spot where’d we make the exchange. She flew up Frosty’s driveway and I noticed that she didn’t have the slap-bracelet baton off so I motioned and called to her to remove it, which she did, just in time to hand it off to me. I took off, fumbling with all the things that needed to happen – start my watch, apply slap bracelet to wrist, don’t run so fast my heart explodes, etc.

I tried to relax but the heat combined with an uphill start combined with a giant fucking snowman who seemed to be mocking me to run faster all made my heart race. When I glanced at my heart rate, I could’ve sworn it was in the four digits. So I backed off.

And I knew my ego was about to take a solid kick square to the nads because the two elite teams of Charlotte and Asheville were coming any second and there wasn’t one good god-damned thing I could do about it. I would be the first roadkill of both elite teams. Oh joy.

First came Charlotte’s Ed Schlicter who blew past me like I was moving backwards. Granted, I wasn’t running an Olympian’s pace, but I wasn’t exactly crawling either, although Ed made me feel like I was. He zipped past and called out, “Trip him for me!” referring to the rapidly approaching Asheville runner. I yelled to Ed, “Don’t worry, I’ll get big!” Which I did. Which meant I drifted ever so slightly to the right. Obviously, I couldn’t compete with the Asheville guy, but I didn’t have to make passing me the easiest thing in the world ever. My allegiance is to Charlotte so that when the Asheville guy came up directly behind me, a car headed towards us from the opposite direction, and as there was little room between me and the double yellow line, he was prevented from immediately jetting past me, which is exactly what he did once the car drove by.

“Well that was a little humiliating”, I thought. I struggled through my ‘easy’ first leg of ~2.5 miles, finishing on a ridiculous open-wound-insert-salt of an incline where I handed off to Franklin – someone who would’ve made Charlotte and Asheville work a little harder had he run one leg earlier. We jumped in the van and rushed to beat Franklin to the next exchange zone where a joyful Ben Hovis told me, “Thank you! Thank you for that! That did my heart good to see things line up perfectly so you could be our first road kill.” You’re welcome.

Franklin, unlike me, crushed his leg, despite battling some issues that we later traced back to the prior day’s low fat ice cream. Google “low fat ice cream warning” if you’d like to better understand. But Franklin gutted it out (literally?) and his smoking fast times gave no indication of the war he was forced to wage against his gastrointestinal tract. You can add the name Franklin Keathley to the BRR JITFO hall of fame.

Or ice cream runs for you? Or you get the runs for ice cream? There's a funny joke in here somewhere, I just can't quite find it.

Or ice cream runs for you? Or you get the runs for ice cream? There’s a funny joke in here somewhere, I just can’t quite seem to find it.

Guest blogger Meagan’s Second Leg:

After our entire van crushed their first legs (in near 100 degree heat!), it was time to rest and grab some lunch/early dinner while van two ran. Unfortunately for me, because I was the first person to run again, by the time we got into downtown Boone and seated at a restaurant with food in front of us, I had less than an hour and a half remaining until my second leg, which would be my toughest and longest by far. I’d barely eaten since breakfast and couldn’t afford to wait until afterward, so I settled on half a chicken salad wrap and saved the rest for afterward.

We drove to the next exchange zone, a huge church parking lot, and I waited for Paul Mainwaring to come into view. I took the handoff (in hilarious fashion due to a wayward volunteer–see my Instagram for photographic evidence) and set off for 9.2 miles up and down the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Author’s Note: Allen here again. Let me jump in to share a pic of that momentous hand-off:

Easily the greatest runner exchange in Blue Ridge Relay history!

Easily the greatest runner exchange in Blue Ridge Relay history! Or maybe Paul just subscribes to the Trump view of women and is copping the feel that he as a celebrity is rightfully entitled to.

Meagan’s second leg recap continues:

The first 1.5 were mostly flat, but from there until 6.5 was almost all uphill. It was one of those bizarre scenarios where I couldn’t believe I was trying to hard and yet running so slow and yet still passing so many people (many of whom were literally walking on the steeper sections). Finally I crested what I hoped was the top of the last hill as dusk gave way to night, only to be greeted by a punishing downhill into downtown Blowing Rock (helloooo quads). Once I came into town (after having to stop at a huge busy intersection to let traffic go through) I was jolted back to the reality that normal people were enjoying a leisurely Friday night out at bars and restaurants instead of punishing themselves with this masochistic pursuit. I couldn’t have been happier to see the “exchange zone” sign indicating I had less than a quarter mile to go. I think this was around the point where Mike Beigay (driving for the CRC men’s team) passed me and yelled out “Hey Nedlo, having fun??” It’s a testament to my exhaustion that I was only able to muster a shake of the head and a vigorous thumbs down. I handed off to Ben and immediately walked over to the nearby grass to start dry heaving and wondering how I was ever going to run again, much less in less than seven hours.

Splits for your enjoyment:
6:35, 6:48, 7:58, 7:26, 7:31 (roadside bathroom break obvs), 6:44, 6:38, 7:05, 7:12 (stoplight), 1:20 for .2

Back to Lil Jitty. Insert lots of stuff that went down here, most of which I can’t remember. Dinner at the Ham’s of Boone (I can’t believe I can’t remember the actual name of the restaurant). Everybody in Lil Jitty van 2 making me proud. Raj getting stoked about the race. Me fighting weariness and sleep deprivation and stopping at some random gas station to buy a giant coffee.

Who wears this shit into a restaurant? Quit judging, it's a college restaurant for chrissakes.

Who wears this shit into a restaurant? Quit judging, it’s a college restaurant for chrissakes.

Here’s a quick recap of my second leg:

I was super nervous about my second leg because my entire body, and especially the bad knee, felt super tight and no matter how hard I tried to warm up and get loose, nothing seemed to work. I had a long wait at the exchange zone and everyone in the van was sleeping. I felt kind of lonely until I ran into Dirk and later Nathan and had a great time chatting about everybody’s race so far. Before I knew it, Sommer crested the nearby hill and came barreling in. I grabbed the baton and took off.

I felt surprisingly good with the temps and the downhill leg contributing mightily, I’m sure. I cranked out by far my fastest miles since surgery, with the first three under seven minutes, including a 6:29. I came through the 5K in a much faster time than any 5K I’d run in the last year. I felt like screaming into the fresh mountain nighttime air, “Yippee! I’m a runner again!”

Somewhere during this leg I heard something move up ahead to my left. I shined a knucklelight in the direction and standing there, untethered, staring directly at me, was a pit bull. “Oh shit!” I thought as I tightened the grip on my knucklelight, totally prepared to use it as brass knuckles if absolutely necessary. But I think the bizarre sight of an approaching Christmas tree, with all the blinkies and knucklelights and reflective vest, made this intimidating specimen of a dog even more afraid of me than I was of him (if that’s possible) and he took off in the opposite direction. Thank god it was the opposite direction because he ran much, much faster than I ever could.

I was running on a pitted dirt road and the effect of my knucklelights, combined with the darkness and cool temps and now the onset of sleep deprivation, made me feel like I was running on the surface of the moon. It was bizarre, surreal, even dream-like. But after running nearly at top speed, after dodging a lot of bumps and potholes for nearly four miles, not to mention the toll the earlier leg in the heat had taken on me, I started to run out of gas. Oh, and did I mention I hadn’t run more than 25 miles in a week in months? My fourth mile was just over seven minutes and the fifth was just under 7:30. Luckily I had less than a mile to go from the time I really started to peter out and I hung on for dear life until I reached the exchange zone and gratefully handed off to Franklin who bolted into the night.

Guest Blogger Meagan’s Final Leg

I was awoken in the van from a surprisingly deep sleep circa 2am by Ben telling me that Paul would be arriving to the exchange zone in about 30 minutes. I groggily got up and dressed for my final leg, struggling to wrap my brain around the fact that I had to run hard again. Fortunately this leg was only 4.3 miles and started with 3 miles flat to downhill before a gradual climb to the finish. (Note: this was not 4 miles as indicated above–definitely 4.3–but it was the closest race distance option I could select.)

Sure enough, Paul came in right on time and I took off with nothing lighting the way but my flashlight and the occasional flicker of the blinking lights of runners ahead. After using the first mile to basically wake up, I felt amazing. Despite all reasons that this should not be the case, I felt strong and fast and even somewhat fresh as I whipped down the mountain roads, passing people like they were standing still. It was quite bizarre but I just rolled with it. Even the uphill climb, while tough, energized me to keep pushing to the finish. Maybe it was the excitement and relief of knowing I would be DONE in just a few short minutes, or maybe I’m just so out of shape that I literally gained fitness over the course of the relay, but whatever the reason I was pumped to end on such a positive note.

Cooled down with Laurie’s warmup at the next exchange during Ben’s leg, then jogged a few more minutes with Ben after he finished to wrap things up.

Splits: 6:42, 6:13, 6:14, 6:50, 1:40 for .3

Allen again:

More stuff I can’t remember and/or don’t have time to write. Some highlights: Holly cranked out a short leg and approached the exchange zone when Franklin said, “Wow, is she on a bicycle?” Everybody was awesome in the van. Laura kept me from getting lost and was her usual relaxing presence. Raj and Franklin provided comic relief. Just good, fun, smart people, and fast runners – the perfect recipe of Blue Ridge teammates.

Finally, my last leg approached and I dreaded it: the Mountain Goat, arguably the most intimidating of Blue Ridge Relay legs, one flat mile before 5.5 miles of ever-climbing, tortuous switchbacks. And I wasn’t particularly fit. If I’m being completely honest here – I was scared.

Everybody in our van slept. I tried, and may have drifted off for 20 or 30 minutes, but eventually gave up and wandered around. I ran into Seago,  Bobby Conrad, and Paul Martino of Crazy Legs and chatted for a few minutes before they had to roll. I got some of the god-awful instant coffee at this, the pancake exchange zone, and thought about going for the full breakfast but figured it would just wind up on the road somewhere up the mountain so thought better of it.

My vanmates woke up, Laura snuck in a little run of her own, and they joined me at the exchange zone as we waited for Sommer. Somebody snapped this hilarious pic around that time:

Ryan, done, recovered, apparently showered, fresh as a daisy, enjoying a pancake feast, while Franklin and Matt look on, um, disgusted? All of them having a grand old time moments before I get tortured on a mountain.

Ryan, done, recovered, apparently showered, fresh as a daisy, enjoying a pancake feast, while Franklin and Matt look on with what, um, disgust? All of them having a grand old time moments before I get tortured on a mountain.

I spotted Sommer on the distant horizon so tried to steel myself for the torture that awaited me in mere moments. She rolled in and handed off to me and I began the descent, or rather ascent, into hell.

Shit's about to get real.

Shit’s about to get real.

I was a little upset because I had expected cool temps, had been waiting around in cool temps, and looked forward to more cool temps. But by the time I got the baton, we were already well into the 70’s. Fuck me.

The first mile of this leg is flat so I tried to just get comfortable and cruise. But I felt like shit and my heartrate was spiking early, even at high seven’s, like 7:45 – 7:55 pace. Oh god, this was not good, this was not good at all – I was on by far the easiest portion of this leg and yet already felt shitty.

Then we started climbing. I passed some dude, kind of a stocky yet muscular guy, and he said, “Good job” and I replied, “Thanks, you too.” I wound up the ever-climbing switch back and it got tougher, and tougher, and tougher still. I told myself, “Okay, relax, just keep running. Just don’t walk. Let’s keep things under 10-minute pace.”(Around 10 was my estimated pace.)

A van of my former teammates, the Providence Harriers, the guys who introduced me to this race way back in ’08 or ’09, drove past and their intrepid leader, Henry Ijams, yelled out the window, “Allen Strickland, you’re my hero!” Laura would later tell me that he confessed to her, “I saw Allen back there. He’s looking good! Okay, that was a lie – he really looks to be hating life.” Henry speaks the truth.

Right about here I'm wondering, "Why do we call this race fun again?" This is pretty fucking far from fun.

Right about here I’m wondering, “Why do we call this race fun again?” This is pretty fucking far from fun.

My pace, heart rate, and the course kept climbing. 8-minute pace went to 9-minute pace when to 10-minute pace. “Keep running! Keep running!” But my heartrate hit the 170’s – I couldn’t maintain that (without risking a heart attack) so at some point I had to stop and walk. The stocky guy passed me. “Fuck that”, I thought and ran and passed him back. “Good job”, he said.

I stopped and walked again until stocky guy passed me again. “God damn it!” I passed him back again. “Good job” again. “Oh my God! Fuck you and your good job! I hate you!” I thought. I would crest a hill, turn a switch back, be out of sight of Good Job, so I would walk again. Until he passed me again. Over and over and over.

At some point, both Lil Jitty vans were parked up and above and all of Lil Jitty was out of the vans and cheering me on. I greatly appreciated, even loved them, for this, and I also greatly resented, even despised them, for this. Because while they were there, I ran. But oh dear God, I so, so, so desperately wanted to walk. As soon as they piled into the vans and drove away, I walked. Until Good Job guy passed me. Then I ran. “Good job”, he said. “Oh how I hate you mother fucker!” I wanted to respond. Then this:

I've never hated Stache & Dash more than I did when I saw this. But hey, it made me run, so thanks!

I’ve never hated Stache & Dash more than I did when I saw this on the mountain goat leg. But hey, it made me run, so thanks!

With maybe half a mile to go, Good Job guy passed me and I couldn’t pass him back – I had so very little left. But I ran, just not quite fast enough to catch him. I nearly fell, completely spent, handing the baton off to Franklin. Finished, I loved and wanted to hug Good Job guy. That bitch got me up the mountain and I am grateful to him for that. Ironically, a couple of Thursdays after Blue Ridge, I spotted Good Job guy at Triple C and we talked all about that leg. He’s an incredibly nice guy and now someone I follow on Strava. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that he regularly runs at a good clip so I have allowed myself minimal shame over losing to him.

Epilogue

Let’s wrap this shit up. I have another dub soccer game to rush off to. The rest of the story, quickly:

  • JITFO crushed it, becoming the second fastest mixed team in Blue Ridge history (only behind the elite Charlotte Running Club mixed team of 2011) and our first overall podium finisher with only the all-men’s open teams of Charlotte and Asheville running faster this year. I am so proud of their performance and of their fearless captain Danielle who ensured logistics didn’t get in the way of all those crazy-fast runners.
  • JITFO was the only (officially) mixed team to beat Lil Jitty. So my goal of finishing one-two in the mixed division came true. We were not without controversy as Stache and Dash argued that since I didn’t run for JITFO, their win over S&D was somehow null and void. We went back and forth on Facebook before Rob ultimately, somewhat begrudgingly, gave up the cask. And a former Charlotte Running Club president (not Aaron, not Bill, not Beigay) and former member of S&D sent me a nasty little message on Facebook. Maybe we can make wine from those sour grapes to fill the JITSTACHE cask.
  • Screenprints from the official results:
JITFO podium finish!

JITFO podium finish!

 

Top 2 mixed teams!

Top 2 mixed teams!

 

After this Blue Ridge, I really feel like JITFO (and that obviously includes Lil Jitty) is my family.

I want to share so much more about Blue Ridge, but I’ve run out of time. I’ll add some more pics at the bottom of this post.

I’m so grateful to everybody that ran for, and drove for, and recruited for, and did everything else for JITFO and Lil Jitty this year. Danielle is a rock star, having masterfully captained JITFO. Laura, Joe, and Gucci all drove and did so much more, for both teams. Chad and Danielle did a yeoman’s share of recruiting for JITFO, as did Flavia for Lil Jitty. I owe Dezi huge for helping to convince her two friends, Kate and Holly, to join Lil Jitty. Those girls were warriors. Kate ran one of the nastiest legs in the race and didn’t utter a word of complaint. Every single person in each van put forth amazing effort to help. There are so many incredible stories to tell. I wish I knew and could tell them all.

In the state I’m currently in, I may never race again. I mean someday your last race will be your last race, you know? Maybe Blue Ridge was mine. And you know what? That wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Now enjoy some pics.

This is me trying to put on a happy face, and failing, after just completing my second leg.

This is me trying to put on a happy face, and failing, after just completing my second leg.

Lil Jitty men of van 2, minus Raj (if I didn't know better, I'd swear Raj was avoiding having his picture taken).

Lil Jitty men of van 2, minus Raj (if I didn’t know better, I’d swear Raj was avoiding having his picture taken).

 

lil-jitty-finish-raj-stiffs-kid-on-high-five

Ah, there he is (far left)! Raj brings it home, anchoring Lil Jitty. This was taken mere moments after he risked his life, froggering that shit across a busy road in downtown Asheville!

 

Holly finishing strong on her first leg!

Holly finishing strong on her first leg!

 

Lil Jitty immediate post-race pic.

Lil Jitty immediate post-race pic. From left to right: Raj, Lisa, Flavia, Joe, Holly, Matt, Jamie, Ryan, Franklin, me, Laura, Kate, Paul, Sommer. (Why does Raj look so tired here?)

 

I'm not mentioning any names, but somebody doesn't look hurt here and actually looks like they could've helped the team had they run. I'm just saying.

I’m not mentioning any names, but somebody doesn’t look very hurt here and actually looks like they could’ve helped the team had they run. I’m just saying. I kid! I kid! From left to right: Kate, Jamie, Joe, Lisa, Flavia, Sommer, Laura

 

These are the crazy cool kinda pics you can get at Blue Ridge. Paul about to hand off to Raj with the sun setting in the background.

These are the crazy cool kinda pics you can get at Blue Ridge. Paul about to hand off to Raj with the sun setting in the background.

 

Kate finishing one of the nastiest legs of the race and handing off to Holly. Dezi did right by JITFO by helping us sign these ladies to Lil Jitty.

Kate finishing one of the nastiest legs of the race and handing off to Holly. Dezi did right by JITFO by helping us sign these ladies to Lil Jitty.