New England Relay: 2 days, 6 states, 225 miles

I’ve been holding on to this post for way too long. It’s another guest appearance from my partner in all things Stride and Joy (the one who these days is actually doing all the running). Don’t worry, I haven’t hung up my sneakers altogether. I have a half-marathon coming up and a 5K or two (plus one in the bag that I’ll write about soon). In the meantime, enjoy …

Since the inception of Stride and Joy, we’ve run races all over New England. There’s been a jeans-based jaunt in R.I., a dizzying number of laps in CT, a truly Mad time in VT, AG awards for two in NH, an Old Port (or two) in Maine, and an abundance of miles at home in Massachusetts. So when the opportunity came to run across all six states in one weekend, it seemed like the easy thing to do. I mean we’d run there before, right? How hard could it be?

Um, really, really hard!

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The New England Relay: How hard could it be? (That’s me on the right.)

For you see, the New England Relay (or NER, because “New England Relay” is a lot to type over and over again) is a team event that covers 225 miles across six states in two days. This is something that is really only possible in the tiny states of New England. Run 225 miles in Texas and you are still in Texas.

This odyssey is the brainchild of a man named Brian Hamill. He came up with the idea several years back and diligently worked to create what can rightly be called a piece of running genius. It’s all back roads with some trails thrown in. At night, the run is along roads with little traffic but wide shoulders to ensure everyone’s safety.

The race starts in North West Rhode Island at the Casimir Pulaski State Park and quickly heads to Connecticut. I think there’s about 400 yards in Rhode Island, but that’s enough to count and get it quickly struck off the list. Connecticut is also quickly completed, with the runner of the second leg crossing the state line into Massachusetts during their first five-mile leg. From there it crosses Massachusetts from south to north and winds its way into Vermont.

The run is timed to go through Brattleboro, VT, early on Saturday night, when far saner people are enjoying a leisurely stroll on a warm summer’s night out on the town (am sure they would rather be running!). It’s then across the Connecticut River into New Hampshire. For a small state, there’s a lot of running (and a lot of hills) to be had. Finally, the race finishes at the water’s edge in Kittery, Maine, home to the world famous* (*may not actually be world famous, but they should be) Kittery Outlet Mall. There have got to be easier and less sweaty ways to get to this shopping nirvana.

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SeaWheeze 2013 recap, aka, I’m not nearly color co-ordinated enough for this run

In August last year, I arrived at the Lululemon SeaWheeze Half Marathon in Vancouver, British Columbia, with 30 or so races under my belt thanks to my 52 Weeks, 52 Runs challenge. So, even though I hadn’t exactly “trained” for SeaWheeze 2012 (faithful readers will recall my general crapness at sticking to any kind of training regimen), I felt prepared in an at-least-I’m-not-completely-out-of-shape-and-at-least-I-look-the-part kind of way.

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One of the free yoga classes SeaWheeze put on the day before the run. The weather was beyond gorgeous. Look at that sky!

Fast-forward to last weekend. I had been looking forward to SeaWheeze 2013 for a number of reasons. 1) You get cute (but teeny) shorts in the mail to train in. (Ha!) 2) You get to hang out in Vancouver in the middle of summer, which is lovely, even if for one weekend the city looks as though Lululemon threw up all over it. 3) You get to shop in the exclusive SeaWheeze store, which is fun if damaging to the wallet (good thing we did the entire trip on points), and you end up with clothing in colors you may not have considered in the past: namely, orange. 4) You get free stuff like massages and yoga classes. (OK, so unlike Hubby, I didn’t avail myself of either, but I could have.) 5. And you get to go to the half-marathon after-party/concert, which this year was in Stanley Park and featured Xavier Rudd (I have no idea who that is, but apparently he’s Australian and kind of a big deal).

It’s almost a shame that there’s 13.1-mile run in there. Just sayin’ …

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The SeaWheeze 2013 start. I was in the too-far-back-to-care-about wave, which, as usual, meant no speakers, so we had no idea what was going on until we finally got to the front (40 minutes later). At least we got a countdown and a Mexican wave this year.

So, it won’t surprise anyone to learn that I wasn’t in shape for this race. I think I made peace with that fact about 30 minutes after I decided to throw myself into training (SeaWheeze puts out a very cool TackleBox schedule for runners) while I was at home in Australia. (I got bored.) I do better with racing-as-training. Hubby is the same way. I also wasn’t nearly as snappily dressed as I could/should have been. I forgot this run doubles as a giant advertisement for Lulu. I’m surprised they don’t funnel those of us not in the current season’s colors and styles to another event entirely. Or kick us out of the city.

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Haven’t hung up my sneakers yet

I’m dismayed. It’s been two months since I last wrote—and that post wasn’t even mine! But thankfully, my feet haven’t been as lethargic as my fingers (which are getting a stern talking to, by the way). I’ve continued to do races, just in a somewhat less elegant fashion than before (and considering I’m the world’s least elegant runner to begin with, that’s saying something).

Rather than write an individual post about each event (my memory isn’t that good and they stretch back to May), here’s a quick roundup of what I’ve been up to. Proof that I keep pinning on those bibs despite the fact that my form has seriously regressed.


Boston’s Run to Remember (5 miles)

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Boston’s Run to Remember, 2013. Freezing!

Boston, May 26, 2013
The event: well-organized, poignant, cold
My performance: middling (53.26)
Hubby: 1.35.57 (half-marathon)

* Despite being so late in May, it was a seriously cold morning (I saved a screen grab of the weather, and it was 6C/42F. Brrrrrrrrr). The 5 mile race was late getting started so we all stood around shivering in short sleeves for what felt like forever.
* There was a great deal of significance attached to this race, as it was the first biggie in Boston since the marathon. Sean Collier, the MIT officer killed in the aftermath, was prominent on T-shirts and in speeches. The “Remember” part of the Run to Remember, which usually refers to fallen law enforcement officers, took on new meaning for many. The race itself was huge. In the weeks after the marathon, everyone was a runner!
* The shadow of the marathon hung over this race in its extreme security: significantly, no one was allowed at the finish line and the runners’ area was strictly controlled. It wasn’t inconvenient, but it was sad.


P.R.O.N.E. 5K

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P.R.O.N.E. 5K with Tonto (star of cutedogsandhugs.com).

Boston, MA, June 1, 2013
The event: cute, fuzzy, very hot!
My performance: I walked (leisurely) the whole way, so it doesn’t count, but for those keeping score (i.e., me): 1.01.24

* I did this event last year in soak-you-to-your-bones rain, so it was only fitting that this year it would be boiling!
* This race is for Pug Rescue of New England, so there were lots of cute dogs around to make me sneeze, although probably not as many as there would have been seeing it was so hot.
* Tiffany from Cute Dogs and Hugs, her hubby, and I met for the first time at this race last year so it was only fitting that we do it again. However, Tiffany was pregnant this time around, so she, I, and Tonto took a 5K stroll. There goes my average! I’ll never look at Athlinks again.


BAA (Boston Athletic Association) 10K

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BAA 10K, 2013.

Boston, MA, June 23, 2013
The event: crowded, hot, poignant
My performance: dismal (1.16.31, a whopping seven minutes slower than my 10K PR)

* If any race deserved to be heavy on the “Boston strong” references it was this one. This was the BAA’s first run since the marathon, and it’s not surprising that their blue and gold signature colors, which had become ubiquitous across the city of Boston, were on prominent display here.
* It was heavier on the celebration than the emotion, which I appreciated, although there was a great moment after the race when the winner of the marathon, Lelisa Desisa, returned his winner’s medal to Boston Mayor Tom Menino and the city. There were some injured folk there from the marathon too, and they got an ovation from the huge crowd that stuck around.
* I also appreciated that this run wasn’t overzealous on the security. Hopefully a sign of things to come.
* Oh, my run was terrible. I walked a huge chunk (I didn’t have a dog with me, so there wasn’t really an excuse). It was hot and my heart and legs just weren’t in it. I’m beginning to think I dreamed 2012.


Mad Half-Marathon Walk

Mad Half Marathon, 2013.

Mad Half Marathon, 2013. Rural splendor.

Waitsfield, Vermont, July 7, 2013
The event: fabulous, picturesque, very hilly
My performance: decent; a little slower than 2012, but fourth overall in the walkers category (3.05.17)
Hubby: 1.44.57

* I love this event. We did it last year (it was the first time I had done a half-marathon distance—I was a walker) and knew we had to go back. It’s an extremely hilly course but worth it for the views (although not necessarily the barnyard odors).
* I can never quite tell how many walkers are in front of me, but I could see at least two, and I knew I had to get ’em. They’re in the photo above, one is in bright pink and the other in the yellow scarf. It took me a while, but I eventually caught up with the pink lady. The woman in yellow was a formidable foe and we walked together for a few miles before I got slightly ahead at about mile 9 and spent the rest of the race alone. I mean, really alone. It’s a lonely walk at the end.
* I could barely move for three days.
* On the plus side, I kept all my toenails this year!


Shipyard Old Port 5K

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Shipyard Old Port 5K. Blistering!

Portland, Maine, July 14, 2013
The event:
hot, damn hot
My performance:
I’d rather not talk about it (44.13)
Hubby:
1.43.05 (half-marathon)

* Beautiful setting, but man it was crazy hot this year. The half-marathon course was very hilly and there was a lot of moaning afterward that it was too hilly for the weather, which is just silly.
* Last year’s 5K had a stairwell that we had to run down. This year, we had to run up it, too. Seeing as it was so hot, quite a few runners switched to the 5K. The result: a HUGE bottleneck at the stairs in the first mile. I’m talking almost seven minutes of standing around. I like a good rest as much as the next person, but this … well, I though it was pretty funny, actually. Good thing I wasn’t looking for a PR. I think that ship may have sailed …

This coming weekend: I’m doing the SeaWheeze Half-Marathon in Vancouver. Training? I’m not even going to go there. Promise it won’t take me two months to write about it.

The Back on My Feet 24-hour challenge

In July, Hubby will be running for 24 hours straight to raise money for the awesome organization Back on My Feet. That’s 24 hours of running. In a row. I think that deserves a guest post, don’t you?

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When I was a kid growing up in Australia, we watched the Lone Ranger on Saturday morning TV. He was cool, he fought for good, he had an awesome name (way more awesome than Walker Texas Ranger. Sometime in the future Chuck Norris may be paying me a visit), and he rode a horse.

Riding a horse is something that may make a lot more sense when I too become a Lone Ranger as part of the Back on My Feet 24-hour Challenge in Philadelphia on July 20.

Back on My Feet was started in 2007 by Anne Mahlum, who as a young woman found strength in running as she dealt with her father’s gambling addiction. Years later, living in Philadelphia, every morning she would run past a group of homeless men staying at the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission. Knowing how running had helped her, she contacted the executive director of the shelter and asked if she could invite the men along on her runs. The first group run took place on July 3, 2007.

From the Back on My Feet website:

The theoretical question that Anne asked herself was, “if we can change the way people see themselves, can we change the direction of their lives?” She felt very strongly that if we could help people experiencing homelessness see themselves as deserving, capable, hardworking, responsible, disciplined, focused and reliable, it would be possible for them to move toward independence. This question is no longer a theoryit is a reality.

There are now chapters in Maryland, D.C., Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Indianapolis, Atlanta, New York City, and Austin.

The Back on My Feet program is designed to build personal responsibility. Resident members have to be 30 days sober and maintain a 90 per cent attendance record at three weekly runs. In return, they receive running gear. After six months of participation they get admission to other Back on My Feet partnership programs, which can assist with education and employment.

I read about Back on My Feet a few months back and was inspired to contribute to their fundraising by competing as a Lone Ranger in the 2013 Stroehman Back on My Feet 20IN24 challenge.

The object of the challenge is to run as many laps of the 8.4-mile course as possible in 24 hours. Yes, there are certainly easier ways to contribute, but how often do you get to run around the clock!

Before you start getting sympathy blisters, competitors don’t have to be on the course the entire time. Rest breaks are permitted and, given that it’s summer and I am the palest Aussie, probably wise. How far will I get in 24 hours? Well, I am no Cliff Young. (What, you don’t know who Cliff Young is? He was an Aussie who won the 544-mile Sydney to Melbourne ultra-marathon at the age of 61 in a then record-breaking time of five days, 15 hours. My goal is somewhere around 50 miles.)

Some of the other 310 Lone Rangers will do many, many, many, many more miles. There are events over the course of the 24 hours that I do really want to be on the course for. These include the Midnight Madness run, where another 525 runners do a lap in reflective gear (I am definitely cueing disco music on my RoadNoise vest for this) and a Pajama loop at 7 a.m. (just what you want to see after a night of little sleep—well-rested runners). After the race finishes at 10 a.m. on Sunday, I am sure it will not take me long to get into my pajamas. Monday will not be a work day for this Lone Ranger.

Since signing up for the challenge, I wanted to see Back on My Feet at work, so I have run several times at one of the Boston locations. The residents and the volunteers do an amazing job and the benefit to those participating is definitely apparent.

If after reading this you’d like to either a) support Back on My Feet or b) bet on how far I can run, please make a donation.

For whom the cowbell tolls

Because the weather has been seven levels of crap here in Boston, I thought I’d cast my mind back to a happier time—one that didn’t involve wearing winter socks at the end of May and shivering my butt off. (UPDATE: So, Memorial Day turned out to be a stunner, but it was a cold, cold road to get there.) My sunny time-machine moment comes courtesy of the Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10K in Richmond, Va., which was a month ago, but I had to post about my awesome adventures in Pittsburgh first, so I’m a little out of chronological order.

Ukrop's Monument Ave 10K 2013

Waiting for the elites to start the Ukrop’s 10K. Look at that sky!

I’ve done a lot of races, but the Ukrop’s 10K is officially my favorite. It’s the happiest run around. You should all put it on your calendars for next year. Ukrop’s is a huge event (40,000 participants) but run so smoothly you’d think it was tiny. It has a superior expo (having also been to a number of expos, I know that for sure. Is it possible to get expo fatigue?). And it has a fantastic course: flat as a pancake, which, as you all know, speaks to me. As do pancakes, but that’s another story. The route, which travels out and back along Monument Avenue (wide road, gorgeous houses) is lined with great bands and crazy spectators. There are so many bands, in fact, that you don’t need headphones. I love that, because my new headphones suck.

It’s such a big race that Hubby’s 10K is over before mine even starts, which I find more amusing than it probably is.

Ukrop's Monument Ave 10K 2013

Walking to the start of my run. Hubby has already finished running. Or has he …

It’s become a cliché to say that I wasn’t prepared for a race, but this time I had a legitimate excuse: a horrible, no-good, weeks-long cold, which on the flight down from Boston had developed into horrible ear pain. At the risk of sounding like a whiner, it was really, really, really bad.

But I wasn’t going to spend yet another runcation stuck in the hotel (hello, North Carolina Half), so I decided to suck it up. I was meant to be in a slightly faster corral, but I hung back a bit, assuming I’d just walk the whole way. Hubby, who had finished his 10K in fine form, as is tradition, decided he’d run/walk along with me for moral support. He also brought along a cowbell.

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