In 2008, we barely made it to the starting line. Our fastest runner dropped out on race morning with an alleged death in the family. Our team captain had some sort of cardiac "event" while at the hospital for a lung function test and he was out. And, another runner got stuck at JFK airport and didn't make the start. That last runner's boyfriend filled in for her, even though he wasn't a runner. We found one more runner who was a lot slower than anyone else on the team, and she gamely gave us some miles. I ran a fourth leg that day - a very steep leg up the access road to a ski resort - to let another runner rest a bit more. Despite our best efforts, we skipped legs 16 and 17 and showed up last in the standings, even though we didn't really finish.
I skipped the race for some reason in 2009. Last year, I was out with some friends on the weekend of the Vermont City Marathon and someone asked if I was running the relay. I said no - my old team had disintegrated and I didn't have a team. A few days later, I was on a team. That team needed an alternate, in case a runner dropped out, and my wife agreed to be the alternate. Within days, someone dropped out, and my wife and I were on the team. We aren't a fast team, but it's a fun team. We finished fairly late last year, but we finished. This year, five of the six runners returned:
Christy: Team Captain
Kristin: The lady who was stuck in JFK in 2008
Jack: Her boyfriend, and now a two time finisher of the Spartan Death Race
Katie: A last-minute replacement after an injury took out another runner
Cheryl: My wife
Katie turned out to be a very solid and competitive runner, although I think she had a bit of performance anxiety. Every single one of us runs as hard as we can when we're running, but when others are running, we are pretty laid back - no pressure, let's have fun, make it to the finish sometime. But, Katie seemed to be putting a lot of pressure on herself. At one point during the day, I saw a team with a clipboard for recording splits. While I record my own time, if the team ever starts recording everyone's time, I want out. This might be a race, but I want it to be fun as well.
Kristin has run a 100K, her first two 100 milers, and at least on marathon already this year.
Christy had a tough time with asthma and blisters at the Vermont City Marathon earlier this year, but she's always in shape to race.
Jack has been swimming a lot since the Death Race in June. He told me on Sunday morning, after the race, that he was glad to have another non-runner on the team to prove that you could run this thing without run training. He meant me and my CrossFit and bicycling training.
Cheryl isn't in the kind of shape she was a year ago, when she paced the last 30 at the Vermont 100 and had a really good running year. Nonetheless, she took second in her age group in a 5 miler two nights before this race.
I'm in better shape than a year ago, lighter, a bit faster, and I've run a little more this year than last, but like Jack said, I'm pretty close to a non-runner these day, despite finishing a marathon in July.
Our running order was Christy, Jack, Cheryl, me, Kristin, and Katie. Runner #2 has the toughest day and runner #3 has the easiest. Number 5 is somewhat long but mostly flat. Number 6 has a hilly first leg and then things get easier. Runner 1 starts easily and ends with a brutal long climb in the afternoon heat. And my run started with a four mile climb in a 5.2 mile leg, an easy 4+ miler, and then a late-day 10K that seemed to be just slightly uphill the whole way. I've now run all of legs 3, 4, and 5, plus parts of 1 and 6 (the 2008 team led to us running mixed legs). I hope to someday be in good enough shape to be runner #2. On Sunday, I think I already claimed leg 6 for next year.
Compared to drama in other years (missing runners, a migraine that almost took out a runner, runners late for exchanges, getting lost, losing a required safety light, runner dropping on race morning, etc.), this year was fairly calm and methodical. The weather wasn't quite what we expected as some afternoon cloud cover dissipated and let temperatures go higher than forecast. Otherwise, things went very smoothly. Christy, Jack and Cheryl cruised through the first three legs. Jack lost a little time to an unscheduled "elimination" break, and Cheryl ran her 7 miles more than 5 minutes faster than projected.
I have to admit that when we are out there, we tend to find a team close to us and fixate on beating that team. It helps to keep us focused as we run. Last year, it was Team Port-a-Potty, and I can't remember if we beat them or not. I think we did. This year, we discovered that our ex-Governor, Jim Douglas, was the driver for Team Douglas. Between our teammates, I don't know if any of us had ever voted for Douglas, a four-term Republican. Christy and I, in particular, were adamant that we hadn't, and we targeted them as the team to beat.
I joked that we should be able to beat them, because the ex-Governor wouldn't be able to navigate correctly during the day. I assumed he'd turn right at every intersection. Regretfully, he knew how to make a left turn in a vehicle.
On my first leg, which was almost all uphill for the first four miles, I somewhat "stalked" the Team Douglas runner. I was waiting for the downhill in the last mile to make my move. The team met me partway up the hill, and I even told them that I was stalking my prey. Just before the four mile mark, I used a short downhill to close the gap. Then, just after four miles, I made my move and passed the Team Douglas runner.
Regretfully, they had their best runner in the #5 slot, and he was able to pass Kristin and open up a pretty good lead - about 6 minutes. That was somewhat disappointing to us, after having taken the lead. But, Katie came back in leg 6 and closed the gap to 3 minutes. So, after each runner had gone once, we were down three minutes.
Leg #1 had been pretty short, and Christy warned us that the #1 runner for Team Douglas was pretty strong, and they had a long leg coming up. This leg was uphill for just a bit, screaming downhill for a while, and then a moderate uphill for about 3 miles. Our deficit increased. On the next leg - the longest of the race - Jack maintained the deficit for a while, but eventually lost a bit more. Cheryl and I were running against their weakest runners, and we each made up some time, but didn't catch them. Team Douglas was an open team and we were masters open. Plus, they had 5 male runners and we had 2. At this point in time, it appeared to be a losing battle.
On the second longest leg, Kristin didn't seem to lose any ground, and we discovered that the Team Douglas runner needed medical assistance after pushing so hard in the long leg in the afternoon heat. We were glad that the runner was OK, but Jack and I, at least, quietly saw this as an opening. Next Katie ran another strong leg and closed the gap for us. As we started our last legs, we had three interesting legs to go. Christy had a long uphill leg that is very difficult. Jack had a four-mile uphill to run. And then Cheryl had a leg that rolled up and down for three miles, before a screaming 1.5 mile descent. Try as we might, we couldn't catch up to the Douglas team on these legs. Next, I had my final leg, a 10K. It started with a downhill mile, and then seemed to go up for most of the rest of the run.
At this point in time, fast teams that had started well behind us were starting to catch us. I had 8 runners pass me on this leg and I couldn't do a thing about it.
I handed off to Kristin, and she and Katie had great runs to the finish. While we were waiting to see if Kristin needed any aid, we were somewhat confused by two women hanging out at another team's van, dressed in nice summer dresses. This wasn't runner attire. It turned out that they were at a nearby wedding, they'd had too much to drink, and they were looking for runners from their college alma mater, and also randomly inviting runners to the wedding reception. We declined as we were seriously underdressed and we doubted that we'd really be welcomed by the rest of the party. We were sure they'd been drinking when they asked us how we were doing and Jack told them we were winning, and they didn't doubt it for a second.
Our final time was 15:03:19, about nine minutes behind the Douglas team. However, something still smells fishy. In leg 17, they didn't use the same runner who'd had the medical issue earlier. We don't know if they followed race rules and used runner #6 to run leg 17 and then runner #1 to run #18. However, we aren't competitive or petty enough to consider protesting something like that. Yet, we aren't non-nonchalant about the the whole thing to not at least think about it.
We did notice at the awards ceremony that the ex-Governor had gotten a finisher's medal. It was mentioned that somebody should have a few beers and then snip off his medal. But, nothing like that happened.
We also spent some time talking to the race winners - the Hello Kitty Athletic Club, who won for the second consecutive year with an average pace of 6:22/mile. A year ago, they averaged 6:10. They are quite a team - uniforms, patches, and they hand out Hello Kitty swag to their adoring fans. People on our team received a patch and a Pez dispenser.
We finally left the awards ceremony after dinner, somewhere around 11:00. We checked into a local condo for some well-deserved sleep.
Here are my mile splits from my legs:
7:44 (for 0.36 miles)
Total climbing for this leg was about 770'
4.11 miles, 9:36 pace, 200' of climbing
6.05 miles, 10:24 pace, 370' of climbing
My quads are shot from pushing hard all three legs. I averaged 10:05 per mile for 15.5 miles. Last year, I averaged 9:48 per mile for three easier legs. So, maybe I'm not really in any better shape than a year ago.
I can't wait to do it again next year.