Lots of good stuff

So things are a little nuts.

I just started a sizeable corporate writing job, although I capped it at 20 hours a week. It runs through New Year’s Eve. Whee! If I gave you the description of the project, you’d probably wonder why I haven’t shot myself in the face by now. But in fact, it’s just the sort of project that appeals to me. I will be making real improvements to a big mess and the work taps into some of my obsessive-compulsive content strategist skills. I’m even getting to do a little on-the-fly usability work.

I’m putting the finishing touches on my second article for Running Times, the subject of which is “what do race participants want from their race directors?” Sound familiar? Yes, there was a reason behind that survey. To round things out I did some great interviews with directors of races both large and small, along with runner Kim Duclos, of Emerald Nuts Midnight Run gatecrashing fame. Unfortunately, because of tight space considerations, I could only use about 1% of their material. But maybe I’ll use it for something else eventually. That article comes out in December (Jan/Feb issue).

In the meantime, my first paid byline, a portrait of masters Marathon Trials qualifier Tamara Karrh, appears in the November issue, which should be hitting newstands and doorsteps in about two weeks. There is a companion profile for Karrh on Houston Hopefuls. That’s scheduled to autopublish tomorrow (I think — I put it on autopilot for a reason). Now I’m just trying to find the hours to transcribe and publish the latest excellent interview with Chicagoan Julie Wankowski. I may find those hours over the weekend as I…

…jet off to Arizona for a family get together from Saturday through Monday. I’ll have much time in airports and on airplanes. I am also hoping to do some work on the Fifth Avenue Mile elite interviews I did last week. They will take the same structure as my previous “A few minutes with…” pieces. Those seemed to work well and my questions are not tied to the event the runners were here for, so I can take weeks to publish them (much as I hate to). I’ll take this opportunity to say this again: professional runners are delightful people, by and large. They seem to like their jobs and most of them are, I suspect, brighter than the average person. When I find myself sitting there talking to one of them, I still feel like I need to pinch myself.

As far as what you have to look forward to, I had great chats with Shannon Rowbury (who won the women’s race), Leo Manzano, Molly Huddle, Alan Webb and Morgan Uceny. I’ll get those posted eventually. My one mistake with this race was not taking NYRR up on an invitation to sit on the “press truck.” This is a flatbed truck that drives along at the front of the race, outfitted with bleachers, from which gawking members of the press sit rearward, enjoying a panoramic view of the race as it unfolds. Well, that looked like a total gas, if incredibly dangerous. Yeah — like I said: total gas! My hope is that next year I can run in the race myself, go shower at someone’s apartment nearby, then come back and jump on the crazy truck for the elite races.

And there’s more. I’ll be at the finish line (and perhaps also along the course) of the NYC Marathon on November 7th, serving as aide de camp to photographer Stacey Cramp, who’s shooting the event for Running Times. I get a groovy press pass, a nice Asics jacket and entre to a big party on the Friday that kicks off race weekend.

And there may be still more. Later in November, Coach Sandra, who has several parallel careers, is agenting 10 elites from all over the place (people I’ve mostly heard of and, in the case of Adriana Pirtea, met) to a 10K race in her country of origin, the Dominican Republic. I may be able to get comped on travel costs in exchange for doing a writeup. That’s a big “we’ll see” at the moment, but it should be a lot of fun if it happens.

All these developments are almost enough to make me forget that these days I am a runner in theory only. But not quite. It’s been seven weeks since I’ve gone running. Since my insurance sucks, meaning my stratospheric deductibles require that I  pay out of pocket for things like MRIs and bone scans, I am going on the assumption that a stress fracture is what ails me and will take another 4-5 weeks off (or, rather, spend another month doing insane cross-training only and not running at all). Then I’ll try a run. It will have been three months by then. If I’m still in pain, I’ll bite the bullet and shell out the thousands required to look inside myself.

This was a long-winded way of saying that things might quiet down on this blog. But only because my offline life has gotten considerably more noisy.

Except for the running injury, everything else that’s happened is exactly the sort of thing I wanted to happen when I jumped ship from my corporate gig over the summer. Let’s hear it for leaps of faith.

Green Mountain Relay: Art Shots

Upon arriving in St. Albans, VT last Friday, I wandered around and snapped some photos of the local high school across the street. Some of my teammates were running. Crazy kids.

Race Report: Green Mountain Relay (Part 3)

In our last installment, I had showered and passed out with my two female vanmates in a cheap motel somewhere in Vermont at around 1:30 in the morning. I had my trusty Lunesta with me, but was hesitant about taking it. The stuff has a half life of about 4 hours, usually. But my internal clock was now so messed up that I wondered if it would compound my cumulative exhaustion the following morning. Yet, despite being tired, I realized while stepping out of the shower that my brain was still going. I took my chances and swallowed the blue pill.

About two hours later, the alarm went off. Wow. Was it hard to get up off that bed. Even more difficult was getting my head around the reality that I would be racing again in two hours. In the dead of night, we shoved ourselves back into the van and off we went to the next transfer point.

I don’t even remember what our start area looked like or any of the interactions with the other van’s team. My memory of those two hours is totally gone, if it was ever recorded. I must have eaten something, but I don’t remember what. In fact, I don’t even remember starting my last leg. My recollection of that race starts at about the .25 mile mark, when I felt some raindrops and thought, rather dimwittedly, “Oh, that’s nice. A little sprinkle to cool me off.”

Rainy days and Sundays always speed me up.

Three minutes later I was running through a downpour. But it was great. My leg was “easy” and under 3 miles. I raced that fucker, rain or no rain. It turned out to be my strongest leg of the three. I had been smart enough to pack my flats with the drainage holes. So the water poured right out as fast as it came in.

In the above photo you see me approaching the one person I would pass in this entire race. That’s The Captain’s hand on the steering wheel. My vanmates would stop to help the guy in front of me (traitors) — he was running with an iPod in the pocket of his basketball shorts and found it uncomfortable. (What is this, the local turkey trot?)

As they pulled away with his iPod, entrusted to return it to him at the next transfer point, they honked and he waved at them. What he didn’t know is that they were honking at me as I approached from behind. He was surprised to see me. We smiled at each other and I said, “I hope you like running in the rain.”

Drying off after 24 hours of racing on fumes.

The rain lasted until I hit the mile 2 mark, after which it quickly eased off to a drizzle. At that point, it was all downhill, less than a mile to go. I managed a 6:55 pace for that one. How delightful. Stats: 2.92 miles in 22:03 (7:33 pace), 94% effort. Thanks, Lunesta!

With that I was done. All that remained was to get changed out of my soaking clothes and wait for food. I needed food. I was starving.

But first, again, our team had two more legs to run. Then we needed to engage in our final transfer of timekeeping accessories and wristband to Van 2. This part is also something of a blur. I vaguely remember talking to Robert and having him tell me that he puked several times while racing the night before. That was also where we saw The Amber Van with Ambers done up in full bird of paradisery.

I also groggily posted a few Facebook updates, since we’d been in a total digital access dead zone for much of the previous day. I can’t use my iPod’s onscreen keyboard with any adeptness normally. This morning, I was a complete spastic. As a result, I ended up accepting one of Apple’s auto-completed words and posted an update that moments later completely mystified me.

“Pikers?” What did I mean by that? I’ve seen Snatch, but that wasn’t what I meant. For over 20 minutes, I wracked my addled, rusty brain. What had I been trying to say?

Teammate Amy finally figured it out, although she was laughing so hard that she could barely get the word out. “Pukers! Pukers!”

Lots of pikers, but not me.

A few moments later, teammate Matt removed his second layer and revealed a very interesting tee shirt. We were, um, impressed.

I remember breakfast because it was probably the best breakfast I’ve ever eaten. I knew what I wanted: protein, carbs and salt. And caffeine. Sure, I had to request a meal with a ridiculous name — the “Cock-A-Doodle-Doo” — a name that didn’t even really make sense, since it was poached eggs over sourdough with lox (later on I realized there was a joke in there: the “Cock-A-Doodle-Jew”), with a side of hash browns. I practically ate my plate.

What a total dick.

Since we were done and our Van 2 teammates were still racing, we had a leisurely breakfast. Once sufficiently stuffed, we waddled back out to the van and made our way to the finish.

I have to say that the finish was a bit anticlimactic. For one thing, it was really hot again. So we sought out shade and loafed, waiting for Van 2 to come in. They arrived around 11:30 (we were over 40 minutes under our predicted time). We all ran to the finish line together and it was time to eat again.

Now, here’s my one criticism of the race organizers (I’m sure there were other lapses, but I was too tired to notice them) — if you’ve got people coming to you for lunch after running for 24-36 hours, you’d damn well better have enough food. There were ultra guys — teams of six (that’s around 35 miles of racing apiece) — coming in.

We lined up for food and I was surprised at how little there was. Worse (but I suppose this was a good thing), we were sternly instructed to only take one item: a burger or a piece of chicken, and one potato, etc. This was just crazy. I’ve seen more food available at the finish of 10 mile races.

We collapsed on the grass, ate our parsimonious portions, and tried to ignore the live bluegrass band. I think everyone had pretty much had it, because we made haste to the vans in order to start the journey home. After a quick transfer of foodstuffs and borrowed equipment, there were hugs all around and we piled back into the van — at least for me, it was with an odd mixture of eagerness and reluctance. Eagerness to get home. Reluctance to get back into the van. Eagerness to get out of the heat. Reluctance to end this crazy trip.

My vanmates

I would be remiss if I didn’t present a portrait of my vanmates.

“The Captain” (who wishes to remain completely anonymous, I suspect because he has a real job) is a still-waters-run-deep kind of guy. I initially thought he was standoffish. Then I revised my assessment to shy. Eventually, I realized he’s just quiet, observant and reflective. He lent a dimension of calm to a group that was otherwise fairly high-energy, verging on hysteria at times. I was glad he was half of the team in charge.

The infamously (and somewhat disturbingly) monkey-armed “Tennille” is Pigtails Flying. I’d met TK a couple of times previously and I knew her to be extremely extroverted and approachable. I’ll even go so far as to say fun loving. TK was a delight to be with and she had a sense of humor about her own tendency to randomly go all Control Freak on us. She is a natural leader and, as with The Captain, I was likewise happy to have her co-running the show. She also sent me (and presumably the other runners) a thank you note — I think she got this backwards — it seems within seconds of returning home. Her mamma raised a girl with manners.

Mike and Matt are identical twins. I found it difficult to tell them apart at times, although I finally figured out that their eyes are slightly different in shape. But I was able to distinguish them primarily by their voices. Mike was also the chattier of the two. I knew Matt already as host of the Dump Runners Club podcast. They frequently talked over each other and were engaged in a constant, seamless comedic exchange that would often crescendo into something that was so funny that it approached a total transcendence of space, time and dreariness.

Finally, there was Amy (“The Flying Finn”), a twentysomething runner, triathlete, soccer goddess and photographer extraordinaire (thanks for the blog snaps). Amy and I met at our GMR drinks meetup last month. I had thought at the time that she was reserved, verging on staid. But I quickly learned that, once put into an environment in which she a) could be heard and b) could be appreciated for her intelligence and wit, she was Ms. Personality (this reminds me of someone I’ve known all my life, but her name escapes me). She does a mean (and I do mean “mean”) Canadian accent and out-raunched and out-snarked all of us. She was also an excellent bedmate.

Race Report: Green Mountain Relay (Part 2)

In our last exciting installment, we hadn’t even started racing yet. Well hold onto your Baby Wipes, kids, because this is where the party starts.

Incidentally, did you ever notice that Baby Wipes smell like jelly donuts? We did.

Van 1, being Van 1 (a tautology, to be sure), started first. Since our two co-captains are in the federal witness protection program or something, they don’t wish to be identified, so I will simply refer to them as The Captain and (Toni) Tennille. Toni was our starter. After picking up our bibs and other accessories (and noting that one team had estimated their average pace per mile at 4:30 — I suspect it was the Canadians. Thinking in kilometers, those crazy northerners. I guess their little brains must be frozen!), Toni lined up with three other team starters and we eagerly awaited the official start of our racing adventure.

One other thing I should mention is that it was fucking hot. Probably around 82 at the start. Full sun. And a steady, hot headwind.

Another thing — I’m skipping around, I know — the van parked directly across from ours had a blowup sex doll strapped to the front. At the start, she was perky and upright. But as the race wore on, we would see her again, in various stages of decline. Just a few hours later, she had collapsed, her head suggestively lodged in her own crotch. Still later, she was a shell of her former bloated self, a dessicated, sagging sack of tawdriness long departed.

Okay. Back to the race. Since this is all about me, I’ll just move onto my leg 1. It was classified as “Hard” and consisted of 6.6 miles with around 2.5 going up a steep grade. One section was over a mile straight uphill. It was probably around 86 degrees when I started at 1PM. As typically happens, I started racing and thought, “Well, this isn’t so bad.”

Within a mile, though, it was bad. I’d had plans to run the first leg at between 75-82% to save myself for the other races. Those plans went out the window as I watched my HR shoot up to 95% as I struggled to run 10:00 uphill. The wind had picked up too, around 15mph steady. There was virtually no shade. It was hard. Had I not been acclimated from some other hot races, and getting water every couple of miles, I don’t know that I could have finished the leg at the effort I was running.

A race through Hades.

I kept my HR at 92% average (that’s half marathon effort for me) and was really careful about paying attention to how I felt. One team dropped out after a runner of theirs collapsed, I think on this same leg (someone said it was 6.6 miles on Saturday at around 2PM). That would have put her about an hour behind me. She collapsed, out cold, broke teeth and had to be flown to an ICU. Last we heard, on Monday, she was out of ICU but still in the hospital.

I finished up in 1:00:16 (9:10 pace), a time I was happy with considering the awful conditions. No one passed me, which was about my only goal, other than surviving. Now it was time to wait and see if that effort would destroy my two later races. I had a headache that wouldn’t go away until around 9PM, just an hour before I would run again. My stomach was also iffy, which always happens after a big effort in the heat. I was a little worried. As it turns out, I needn’t have been. But others were not so lucky.

We spent some of our free time at Ben & Jerry’s, although I wasn’t up for ice cream. Unfortunately they don’t run the ice cream factory on the weekend, so it was just us and a zillion other touristas, eating cups and cones of instant diabetes. In a state of semi-delirium I bought Jonathan a tee shirt with cows on it in the gift shop. Then we went and hung out in the post-apocalyptic van transfer zone featured in Part 1. I attempted to sleep, but it was impossible.

At the entrance to the parking area, a local pizzeria had set up a stand, somehow having constructed a brick oven pizza. It looked good, if you could stomach pizza after a day of racing in high heat and sun. The race course ran right by the al fresco pizzeria, about .15 miles before the end of that leg, which means people were sprinting through. As I was people watching and waiting for more runners, one poor guy staggered in and promptly let loose a prodigous offering of projectile vomit mere feet from the pizza stand. He would not stop. “There goes the pizza business,” I thought to myself.

The Ambers.

It was in this particular parking lot that I noticed what we would come to call “The Amber Van.” Team members’ names were written in pastels all over the windows. We’d hoped to see some Tiffanys, Britneys and Ashleys. Where they lacked in bimbo names, they made up in costumery, however. We pegged the woman to the right in the above photo (yellow shoes) as “Amber” and also discussed the distinct possibility that her breasts were, in fact, miracles of science. Their van was parked right next to us and its occupants, in flagrant violation of event rules (and common sense), were splayed out on the pavement, just waiting for another van to flatten them. We declined this invitation, tempting as it was.

We basically mocked every other team within eyesight. I had no idea there were people on this earth who could be as relentlessly and mercilessly critical as I am. I was in good, cruel company.

As the day wore on, I was aware of my own growing sense of filth. I had done the requisite wipe down in the back of the van (and change into my lounging shorts and tee shirt), but there’s really no replacement for a proper shower or bath. I accepted my stank and moved on. I had been forewarned.

We opted out of finding a restaurant for dinner — too much time pressure, and I didn’t really want a full meal sitting on my already delicate stomach anyway. I grazed through the day and evening on safe foods like bananas, bread and crackers.

Soon enough, it was time for leg #2. This was at 10PM at night. Whee! My first experience not only running, but racing, at night. This leg was friendlier, rated “Medium” — an even 4 miles on a slight uphill grade of .05% average. Practically flat. The temperature had dropped into the upper 60s, but now it was really humid. Still, better than what we got in the afternoon.

I started my run and immediately passed a runner from one of the slower teams. For the next few miles, I ran alone. I felt remarkably good considering my oven-running ordeal earlier. The experience of night racing was one of shifting, sensual impressions. I was not really paying attention to pace or distance. Aside from passing cars and race vans (and a few huge tractor trailers, all of whom considerately moved over and gave me room), I was aware of just a few things: the rhythmic slapping of my flats on the pavement, the sounds of dogs barking in the distance and the constellation of gnats illuminated by my headlamp, and which I had initially mistaken for drizzle. I really enjoyed this run.

At the 3.4 mile mark I heard someone approach from behind, what experienced relayers call a “ninja.” She was a younger woman, running 7:20s to my 7:55s. We said hello, noted the humidity and encouraged each other: “Good job.” I tried to stay with her, but couldn’t. That was fine. I was glad for the company for a minute, and she did pull me along for a bit. I was sorry when the run ended. Stats for that one were 4.08 miles (you can’t run the tangents unless you run in traffic; no thanks) in 32:16 (7:55 pace). Average effort for that one was 91%. I simply couldn’t run any harder than that.

I was now exhausted. I wolfed down some bread with semi-frozen Nutella. At 10:30, we still had two more race legs of our set of six to do, then a 40 minute drive to our cheap motel, where I would collapse and sleep the Sleep of the Dead for 90 minutes. But not before taking a shower to wash off the layer of skeev that covered me like cheap vinyl siding on a Neutra.*

Tomorrow: inclement weather, tasteless tee shirts, the best breakfast I’ve ever eaten, singing Kumbaya.

*See, this is why I pull in buckets of money as a writer. I sleep on a golden threaded pillow from my creatively facilitated earnings, people. Note the clever simile, followed by a sophisticated cultural reference that further contains a subtle reference to my age. Fucking brilliant, I tell you.

Race Report: Green Mountain Relay (Part 1)

If you’d told me that spending approximately 55  hours straight with a bunch of strangers — with well over half of those hours crammed into a smelly van — would be the most fun I’d have in quite awhile, I would have told you to go away and stop lying to me.

But it’s all true. I’ve drunk the relay race Kool-Aid. The Green Mountain Relay was a complete and utter gas, and I credit our two team co-captains and my fabulous teammates for that (with a tip of the hat to the race organizers too). Good people all, and pretty damned good runners to boot.

I’m not bragging or anything, but we kicked ass on that course, even in terrible conditions. More on that in a bit. We placed 6th out of 46 teams. 2nd in our division (“mixed” — meaning guys and gals, all ages). We ran our little hearts out, finishing in 25:15:30 for 200 miles. That’s an average pace of 7:40 per mile.

Our adventure began at a car rental place on West 96th Street on Friday morning. Since our 12 would be divided up into two teams of six for most of the trip, we were jumbled up for the ride to Vermont, mixing members of Teams 1 and 2 so we could mingle. I did at least half the driving, since driving staves off carsickness and I figured I may as well contribute while I still had energy.

"Don't get out of the van. Never get out of the van."

Perhaps this is why we managed to miss an early exit, something we noticed only when we saw signs for Plattsburg (“Hey, isn’t that the last town before the Canadian border?”). Luckily (very luckily), there is a ferry to Vermont that goes across Lake Champlain, and it was running every 10 minutes. Crisis averted.

At an early rest area, we were approached by some people from another team. They didn’t seem that organized. We asked them what their team name was and they didn’t even know. Losers. It was easy to spot the other runners because everyone else in the place weighed about 400 lbs.

On the way we stopped somewhere, I don’t know where, for lunch at a pizza place. There we surreptitiously mocked the waitress (who was also the cook, and who may also have been the town whore). And learned a new expression for ordering pizza in Vermont. She cryptically referred to a “four cut” and an “eight cut.” We had no clue what she was saying until she brought out the order. Oh. Okay. Four slices. Eight slices. Then the theory emerged that she was actually crazy and the only person in the world who uses that expression. (I forgot to try it in our Italian restaurant that evening to see if it was a Vermonticism.)

Petrified frog in the parking lot of the La Quinta. It was crushed by someone or something by the time we left.

On the way up we talked about, surprise, running! It’s fun to spend time with people who are similarly obsessed and single minded. Eventually the conversation opened up to other topics, but not for several hours.

In no time we were at our destination, the La Quinta inn of St. Albans, VT. Two members short (they would arrive on a late evening train), we headed out to dinner at our second fine eating establishment. There I had some sort of odd local raspberry beer that I couldn’t decide if I liked or not. It tasted vaguely of shampoo.

Dinner was fun. I was sorry I had to say goodbye to half the table the next morning, at least until we saw them at the first van exchange. So, here’s how a relay works, briefly: On a 12 person team, you’ve got two vans. Each van runs six “legs” of the race, and then the next van takes over and they run their races. In the meantime, the non-running van attempts to rest and recuperate.

This cycle plays out three times. Every six races, the vans meet up at a transfer point and exchange the “baton” (a rubber wrist band that team members pass to one another from leg to leg) and the running stopwatch and sheet upon which everyone’s times are recorded.

Teams start at different times, according to projections made that are based on the members’ 10K times. So slower teams start very early in the morning (like at 4AM or something) and faster teams start later. The goal is to have everyone come in within several hours of each other so we can all have burgers and potatoes and sing Kumbaya together. We started at 10:30AM with a handful of other teams.

A transfer point. Nice, huh?

The transfer points are big, because all the vans meet up. With 46 teams, that’s a lot of vans. As the race progresses, people are more and more exhausted and between the crappy parking lots, filthy vans and runners strewn on the ground trying to sleep, it’s positively post-apocalyptic. As you can well imagine, this was quite the thrill for me. It was like being in a real, live zombie movie!

Tomorrow: dangerous heat, Ben & Jerry’s, acceptance of filth, Puke-a-palooza, the magic of racing in the dark.

Plans for the year

Summer and fall race planning is in full swing, with training plans to be built around it. Basically, I want to continue to run shorter races, either as full out efforts or to supplement training as either race pace runs or to substitute for speedwork.

The fall is going to be all about the half marathon. I want to reach the end of 2010 having excelled at this distance. I’ll state now that my goals are lofty: a half by year’s end in the mid-1:20s. If I can run a half marathon at 6:30 pace per mile, I will feel much better equiped to start training for a marathon again.

So the summer’s got a lot of shorter stuff, with opportunities to score some points for the New York Harriers, and run many races I haven’t done before. Then I’ve got at least three half marathons I can run, about a month apart (I don’t count the Bronx Half, since it will probably be incredibly hot; if I do that one at all, I’m betting it will be as a training run).

The goal race for the fall is Richmond, VA. Jonathan may or may not do the full, but it’s a combined race, so we’ll figure it out as we get closer. I have it in the back of my mind that if things go spectacularly well this fall I’ve always got the option of doing the full there instead of the half. I like having options. Jonathan has a grad school friend who lives in St. Mary’s, Maryland, and whom we haven’t seen since (gulp) circa 1991. So we can hit her with a visit either on the way there or back. Long drive. But I’m good at those, my record being 11 hours from here to northern Maine in one day.

I will unfortunately miss Grete’s Great Gallop (a half marathon in Central Park) in early October as I’ll be out of town. That’s one I’d like to race, not only because of the whole Norwegian themed aspect (and a chance to meet Ms. Waitz), but also because it’s a club points scorer and I should not only be in good shape by then, but also in shape to race that distance in particular. But I’ll pencil that race in for 2011.

May
May 31*        Ridgewood, NJ 5K 

June
June 8*        1500 track race, Icahn Stadium
June 12*       NYRR Mini 10K, Central Park, NY (club race)
Jun 19-20*     Green Mountain Relay, VT (approx 15M over
                 three races)

July
July 5         Firecracker 8K, Southampton, NY
July 10        Women's Distance Festival 5K, Rockland
                 County, NY
July 17*       NYRR Run for Central Park 4 miler Central
                 Park, NY (club race)

August
Aug 7*         NYRR Team Championship 5 miler (club
                 championships - double points)
Aug 15         NYRR Bronx Half Marathon

September
Sept 11 or     NYRR Mind, Body, Spirit 4 miler (club race)
Sept 12        South Nyack 10 miler (could go either
                 way between these two on this weekend)
Sept 26*        Jersey City Half Marathon

October
Oct 10 or      Westchester Half Marathon
Oct 17         Bay State Half Marathon

November
Nov 13*        Richmond, VA Half Marathon

December
Dec 5*         NYRR Joe Kleinerman 10K (club race)

*The asterisks indicate that I've prioritized these.

I got short legs

I spent a pleasant 90 minutes yesterday evening enjoying drinks (for the record, I had water) and nibbles with the majority of my Green Mountain Relay team, plus one interloper/potential spy from the Hash House Harriers’ team (girlfriend of one of our team members, and pretty darned charming — as spies so often are).

We assembled on the 14th floor of the Library Hotel on 41st St and Madison, in the Bookmarks cafe (notice a theme?), with a little table and benches under the skylights. We were sternly warned beforehand that if we all didn’t get there at 6:30 we’d lose our special area and have to drink with the riffraff at the bar (which was noisy, which means I’d have no chance of being heard).

This meant that I had to take a train that got me into Grand Central at just before 6:00, which then meant I had to kill time. So I wandered the streets, walking to the 41st St. branch of the NY Public Library to gawk. Then I couldn’t take these mindless perambulations anymore and just went on up. I got there at 6:20 and saw, sitting in our space, a bunch of fat, pasty complexioned people in conservative business attire. “Oh, shit,” I thought. “Are these my teammates?”

It turns out they were cubicle jockeys who were squatting our reserved space. The hostess summarily booted them out. So I got to sit alone, awkwardly (because that’s how I roll), awaiting the hopefully not fat, pasty-faced arrivals. They trickled in, all looking fit as fiddles, and I recognized the two I’d met about a year ago at our Blogging Runners meetup.

Anyway, it was nice and they were nice, as I’d no doubt they would be, since at least one of the team captains, TK, seems a good judge of character (she likes me, doesn’t she?). And I know the other captain, [B.], is at least generous, as he paid the bill, and also has a sense of humor; we already have an inside joke involving Zamfir, Master of the Pan Flute. Yes, I think this will be fun. Once I sort out the logistics of how I’m going to feed myself and maintain an acceptable level of personal hygiene during this odyssey, I should be good.

The “legs” in the title of this post refer to the three sections of the race that have been assigned to me, not my actual legs. My legs aren’t long, but I wouldn’t say they’re short either. I’d say they’re just right. And very sturdy. Sturdiness is going to count for a lot in about a month.

My “leg” is Leg 4. Which means I’m Runner 4. But everyone seems to just say “You’ve got Leg 4.” The way the relay works for a 12 person team (there are “ultra” teams made up of 6 people, but that’s too much fucking running) is that you each get one leg consisting of three separate legs, or the distances of the entire 200 mile race that you’ll contribute to by racing your little heart out along them.

So, let’s review: there are 12 runners and each of us runs three race distances staggered throughout a total of 36 sections of the race, and our collective three legs are also known as a “leg.”

Still with me? Okay, now, to further complicate things, the legs (meaning the collection of three) are given a rating from 1-12 based on their overall difficulty, as determined by distance and elevation gain. Difficulty score 1 is the easiest and Difficulty score 12 is the hardest. My leg, Leg 4, is also conveniently rated “4” in difficulty. I initially wasn’t happy with this, since I’m an overachiever and like to work hard and didn’t want anyone feeling that I either wasn’t pulling my weight or — worse (and I worry about this) — giving me a lameass leg because I’m old(er).

But after some thought, and examination of my, um, legs, I realized that what they gave me is perfect, both in terms of what my strengths are as a runner in general and the distances I have been racing lately. (Incidentally, there’s one leg that ends at a brewery. I didn’t get that one.) Here’s the breakdown of my legs’ vitals:

Leg 4 (section 4): 6.6 miles, Difficulty: Hard, Elevation: -657/+633
Leg 4 (section 16: 4.0 miles, Difficulty: Medium, Elevation: -247/+354
Leg 4 (section 28): 2.9 miles, Difficulty: Easy, Elevation: -309/+197

I warned them that I am a godawful downhill racer and actually preferred uphills given the choice. I’m only doing 13.5 miles total, but that’s fine because I think I’ll be able to actually race all of them at a decent effort given how they’re ordered. I had planned to run the first, whatever I ended up getting, in the 80-85% HR range so I don’t fry myself, and then focus on cleaning up in the final two with a full effort second race and whatever I’ve got left for the third. Heck, it’s less than 3 miles!

The subject of the Mini 10K race, which is week before the relay event, came up and there was much excitement, with at least one team member having decided to spectate rather than run it given the presence of Paula Radcliffe and Kara Goucher, who will be doing it as a fun run since they’ll both be fairly pregnant by then. I admitted that I’m planning to race that one like a rabid animal (since now I have team scoring to think about), regardless of the physical commitment I have a week later. No eyebrows were raised in worry or judgment.

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