Monday, May 21, 2012

OK, NOW I get it!

The Dixie200 Relay is behind me! As I said in a previous post, my goal wasn’t very specific. It was simply to NOT be the weak link. By that I meant, I wanted to make sure I could be a productive member of the team by simply finishing all my legs of the race! It was decided early on that I would be the lead off leg for Van 1. From past relay experience in college, I knew the lead off leg would set the tone for how our team would perform, so even though the conversation on the trip to Atlanta was mostly about having fun with this race, I knew in the back of everybody’s mind, they were thinking “Let’s get after it!!”. It’s been a LONG time since I felt the pressure of performing for teammates, none the less, actually trying to “Get after it!”

Thursday night was much like previous nights before races! A hotel room with a teammate and not much sleep! As 7 AM approached, I was really nervous! Considering I really haven’t raced in, well, I don’t remember when, I did not know what to expect! The first leg was a 7 mile straight shot down the Silver Comet toward Alabama. The race began, and I felt pretty good, thinking of pacing well to ensure I finished strong. The first mile went by pretty slow. The second a bit faster. The third even faster! My confidence built and I was able to maintain a pretty solid pace through the hand off to leg 2. When I looked at my Nike Sportwatch to see my average pace, I was surprised and pleased! I was really thinking, with little to no speed work and just a few long runs under my belt, 6:30 pace would probably hurt, but not be unrealistic. The Sportwatch said “Average Pace 6:19”!! It was as if a ton of bricks had been lifted off my shoulders! While 6:19 was modest for the caliber of runners we had on our team, I felt like it contributed to the team and set a good tone for what would turn out to be a very good performance for us!

Leg 13, a 4 mile jaunt starting in Piedmont on the Chief Ladiga trail, and my second leg. There was a pretty long wait between legs, which kind of reminded me of those long days at track meets waiting to run a second race! The delay was good for recovery, but it started to wear on me. I got a little anxious! The first mile, 5:52, was the first time I’ve run a mile in under 6 minutes in quite some time! I wanted to run faster, but 5:52 may have been a little ambitious! I finished the 4 miler struggling up a final hill that can only be described as just plain WRONG! I knew I slowed on the final miles, but was surprised to see a 6:10 average!

Leg 25, my final leg of the race, started at 5:15 AM on Saturday morning. I’ve been meeting a couple of friends at 5:30 AM on Mondays in order to prepare for an early morning race. Just a side note here, I AM NOT an early morning runner! The Monday runs have helped me appreciate beating the heat and “getting it over with”! However, I had not prepared for “sleeping” an hour in the driver’s seat of a 15 passenger van before taking off in the dark! Luckily, this leg was not only my shortest, but also the shortest of the event, a 2.85 miler. I began with the same fervor as the previous run hitting the first mile at 5:52. I don’t know if it was the euphoria of being finished with this long weekend or some old muscle memory kicking in, but the idea popped in my mind that I could hold sub 6:00 pace til the finish! And the GPS says………..Average pace 5:57!!! I was pumped!!

Now, I went through all of that to get to this! This was my first long relay event. I talked to many who had participated is similar outings and each said something like, “It was my favorite running experiece!” OK, NOW I get it! There is something about riding around in a van with some friends, navigating from one strange place to the next, cheering each other on, helping each other out with wet, stinky clothes, sharing Sticks, foam rollers, BodyGlide (EWWWWW!), scoping out the nearest port-a-let, keeping an eye out for Beware of the Dog signs, getting photos taken with volunteers at small churches, being there for a friend’s first meal at a Waffle House (thanks for that Jerry!), and finally, getting to the finish that makes you want to run FOREVER!

Finally, I cannot say enough about the fellow competitors, mostly Birmingham folk, who joined in the adventure, who made the race very enjoyable! Also, thanks a ton to the race directors who drove from checkpoint to checkpoint ensuring we could find our way and had all we needed to continue, the Sheriffs who kept us safe, the volunteers who provided food and encouragement, Apple for inventing the iPhone with Google Maps app, AND the whole Smiling Chewbacca crew (most of the team was hairy and smiles a lot) for giving it their all!! I hope we can do it again some time!!

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