Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Wild Rover Series

Wild Rover 1- JP McBride’s 3 Miler – Feb 22nd 2009

We arrive in Haverhill per Loni-time (i.e. WAY to early in my opinion) and find a prime parking spot close to the bar. The morning was sunny back in NH, but here in MA there were rumors of a noontime snow squall. There had even been some chatter about delaying the race all together. It made me laugh seeing the emails darting around from the race director. I could only imagine the chaos some people were stirring up.

As we grab our shirts and D-Tag chips I run into one of the bartenders who I play hockey with on Tuesdays. He tells me I’m nuts for running 3 miles, if only he knew what I did on some of the other weekends. He mentions the Chili and Beef stew that we’ll be treated too at the finish is secular and that was all I needed for incentive to knock out this 3 miler as fast as possible.

As the race start drew near Loni’s nerves started getting the best of her. This was her first official race since she finished the VT50. I try to settle her nerves and remind her that I ran 20 miles the night before with John out in Dover and I was in no better shape to suffer through this than she was. We dawn our Team Robert Shirts for the first time of 09 and join the crowd at the starting line. Just as the RD starts his speech it starts to rain/snow. This is great, perfect suffering weather. I smile with glee while telling Loni we’re going to knock this out sub 30 minutes. Loni on the other hand, zipped her jacket up closer to her neck and I believe told me I was “f-ing nuts.”

We knock out the first mile in 11 minutes, not too shabby with a blustering rainy head wind. We make of the first big turns and start back down the ¼ mile hill we had just climbed.
“How are you feeling Loni?” I gesture over my shoulder, and I’m replied with a simple “hanging on,” between puffs. 2 mile mark at 22:10, I’m happy with this, Loni might not be the speediest of my running companions, but she’s certainly consistent. We cross back over the river and are treated with a ½ mile jaunt down Main Street. I can tell we are reeling people in that had used too much gas on the hill. One woman yells at another guy saying he should “drag her in.” I try to offer her words of encouragement but I forgot I’m in Massachusetts AND at a road race, and I get the standard “who the f are you and why are you talking to me” look. Oh well, screw you lady.

On the final turn I’ve discovered that the police have decided to open one lane of traffic in front of the finish line. Ordinarily not a bad thing, here in idiots-ville Ma, not the best plan, because they didn’t make it one way, they just let cars back up head on, and then swerve over into the lane that the runners were finishing with. I ended up running between cars (on the double yellow) on the last dash to the finish while Loni squeezed through between traffic and the parked cars on the right. What a joke. We crossed the finish line in an impressive 32 minutes and enjoyed 3-4 bowls of well deserved chili.

Total Time: 31:23

Wild Rover 2 - The Claddah 4 Miler – March 1st, 2009

We wake up two 2-3 inches of snow on the ground and more blowing in the wind. Its cold, I’m hung-over something fierce. I’m not looking forward to this race. Dustin cooks the 3 of us up some sausage and scrambled eggs. While not the best pre-race breakfast, it was the perfect hangover cure. I left Loni in charge of directions, I missed this race last year due to the flu and I was looking forward to seeing a new course.

When we arrive in Lawrence Loni seems bewildered about finding a place to park. I told her she was in charge of finding a spot and telling me where to pull over. Meanwhile I was busy trying to NOT run over idiot people walking in the middle of the street as if they’d never understood the concept of crosswalks or sidewalks.

We grab our numbers from the much unorganized and very crowded Claddah. Loni, Chris, and Dustin had great things to say about this race last year and the pre-post celebrations, so far, I’m unimpressed.

We jog back to the car with about 10 minutes to start. Loni informs me that she doesn’t have gloves or a hat for the race. I spin out in typical josh over-reacting fashion, but turn over my gloves and my hat and try to jump around to stay warm. I grab an extra pair of Darn Tough socks out of my trusty binto bag and use them as my gloves. I feel like a tool, I’ve got nice shoes, tights, a custom shirt, and dirty beat up socks on my hands. Sigh, oh well, we walk to the start where everyone is in the middle of their pre race rituals, some stretching, some talking about how cold it was, some doing sprints back and forth. I do what I always do, find a spot in the back of the crowd and quietly people watch.

The wind is howling between these old brick buildings. The gun pops and the crowd leaches forward. It’s a very slow start as people funnel between the parked cars, I tell Loni we better pick up the pace, and it feels like we’re doing 14+ minute miles! Main Street fades away after a mile and the pack spreads out a bit. Some folks are chatting; others are nervously looking at their watches. So far it doesn’t feel like there is a lot of joy at this race compared to the others in this series, perhaps it was the weather. As we pass an apartment complex about a mile and a half in there are 3-4 kids in a big bay window, jumping up and down and waving at us. I smile and wave back and then look over my shoulder at Loni whose head is down and appears to be focused at the task at hand. I try to say encouraging words to her, but they seem to fall on deaf ears. The snow underfoot making the pavement not seem as brutal as it does in other races. Everyone has told me about “the hill” at this race, it’s a short little thing, maybe 100 yards max. I walk it in typical ultra runner fashion and still end up passing 4-5 people.

Loni catches up to me by the top of the hill and I welcome her with more warm words of encouragement. This is after all, her longest run since the VT50k back in September.

One of the spectators yells at us, “It’s all downhill from here.” He wasn’t kidding. It was a gradual two miles decline to the finish. We crossed the finish line, grabbed our metals, a couple of bottles of water, and as my dad would say, ‘got the heck out of dodge.”

Total Time: 44:11

Wild Rover 3 – Hynes 5 Miler - March 8th, 2009

It was an amazing sunny spring day. After getting my first good night’s sleep in a couple of days I felt as fresh as a daisy, or rather, as fresh as you could after completing 53 miles on the snow over the previous 36 hours. The drive down to Lowell was pleasantly uneventful; Loni had apparently got lost on the trip down to this race last year. Well the 2 hour drive didn’t do me any favors. As I got out of the car I could feel the exhausted muscles saying to me “are you nuts!?” I jokingly said to Loni, I wonder what these people think of me as I hobbled towards the school. We grab our numbers, shirts and get to see some of the costumes people have dressed up in. Anywhere from the tacky, “Wicked Irish” shirts, to a fine looking babe in a full Irish beer girl outfit down to the leggings.

As we make our way to the starting line I hear the race director going over the standard pre-race speech. Something stood out to me though, he said “Prizes will be based on gun time, but no need to get to the front because your time is chip based.” It was one of the stupidest things I’d ever heard at a race. How can you say two different things in the same sentence in a race that’s been around for 16 years? I laughed and told Loni I hope there is a fight at the end because someone gets a better chip time and gets screwed.

We knock out the first mile at an 11 min pace. I tell Loni she needs to start going faster and I shouldn’t be ahead of her after the weekend I’d had up to this point. One of the beauty things of this race is it starts going up, and it ends going up. No mercy and you get warmed up pretty quick. So by a mile and a half we start stripping layers. Loni does and tricky removal of her under-armor without taking off her shirt. Impressive in itself, doing it without missing a step on our now 10 min/mile pace even better.

3 miles becomes 4 and I’m feeling amazing, the stiffness has left my legs and I’m calling over my shoulder for Loni to catch me. As we make one of our last few turns we settle in behind a woman with the crazies hinnies I had ever seen. She had the calves and upper body of a woman that should weight 110lbs tops, but her rump was straight off a 2 biller.

Good for her for being out here at least.

We hit 4 miles well ahead of target and I tell Loni we can destroy her PR from last year if she can keep it up. As we real in another 10+ runners in the last mile I tell Loni to pick it up. It stinks, I’m kind of a bubbly runner and I like to share stories and talk while on these things. Loni however is very introverted and doesn’t speak much, nor give me any idea of how she’s feeling. It makes her very hard to share any kind of mileage with, but I suppose at these short runs you’re supposed to be working you butt off. Me, well I’m kind of a hack, I look at these races as just training jogs with friends and I try to help them set PRs.

The highlight of the run was as we crossed the finish line and got our metals a spectator yelled “nice job Team Robert.” We drank our 2 free Coors lights proudly in the sunny parking lot and I smiled knowing what I had just accomplished in two days, would be more than many people could or would ever do in a lifetime.

Total Time: 52:21.7

Overall Review:
Last year I ran this race series strictly for myself. I wanted to run hard and knock out some good times. This year I shared each race with Loni, and even with the personal frustrations I had with having to stay in a low gear, I’m proud to have been able to share her PRs (on these 3 courses, and personal distances). I’m also pumped to be able to complete the series metal after missing out last year.

My ability to finish the first race after knocking 20 miles out during the night run just hours prior along with my ability to plod through the 5 miler after completing 52.4 in VT the day before has left me feeling strong and confidant for my upcoming first attempt at a road marathon. My training hasn’t certainly been up to where it should be, but the running gods might just shine upon me after all.

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