What: Relay race; “27 miles, 5 legs, 2 states, 1 river”
Where: Nashua, NH; Hudson, NH; Tyngsboro, MA; Lowell, MA; Dracut, MA; Methuen, MA; Lawrence, MA
Who: Team Wintry Mix! (aka 4 Shammies and me, plus our injured teammate/cheerleader) and a bunch of other Shammies teams, along with many other teams from the Mill Cities Alliance
Leg: first (5.4 miles; course map)
Time: 55:48 (10:18 average pace)
Splits (according to Simon):
-Mile 1: 9:26
-Mile 2: 10:13
-Mile 3: 10:51
-Mile 4: 10:34
-Mile 5: 10:22
-Mile 5.4: 4:22
Photos: (click to open larger versions)
Recap: The Mill Cities Relay is a big deal for my running club. Almost every Shammie runs it and the club pays everyone’s registration fees. It’s a friendly competition among the run clubs in the Mill Cities Alliance, and ends with a big party at the Claddagh Pub in Lawrence for pasta, salad, bread, cookies, beer, live music, and lots of good times. Since I first joined the club I’ve been hearing my fellow Shammies talking about it, but actually taking part in a relay never crossed my mind… I felt like I’d just slow my team down, so what team would want me?
As it turns out, Team Wintry Mix wanted me. Little did I know that one of the team members got injured running a marathon, so they were one runner short. I found all this out at the Shammies Banquet/Awards Night, which was held last Friday. I showed up, innocently expecting to have some food, enjoy an adult beverage, and sit in a corner true to my socially awkward self until friendly and outgoing Shammies made their way over to me. One such was Kristen, a relatively new Shammie who I met at one of the fun runs back in August. Turns out she was on Team Wintry Mix, and set her sights on me as their injured teammate’s replacement. She even introduced the rest of her team to me to try to
peer-pressure coerce make me feel welcome to join. While I liked the idea of Shammie bonding, the 6:45am meetup time and the cold forecast gave me pause. As I’m sure you can assume, I finally caved to peer-pressure and joined Team Wintry Mix… but only after they reassured me about 100 times that it didn’t matter how slow I run!
Two days later I was up at the crack of dawn, squeezing myself into multiple layers, and trundling off in the dark to the meetup spot with my bags of blankets and snacks. My team piled into a car and off we set for New Hampshire. On the way up, relay veterans filled us newbies in on what was about to go down:
- The Mill Cities Relay consists of 5 legs, covering a total of roughly 27 miles.
- Leg 1 = 5.4 miles, Leg 2 = 4.75 miles, Leg 3 = 2.5 miles, Leg 4 = 9 miles, Leg 5 = 4.75 miles.
- Each team is made up of 5 runners, and each runner can run only one leg.
- The “baton” is actually a slap bracelet, which is nice because you can wear it instead of having to hold it while you run.
- While one teammate is running her leg, the others pile into the car and drive to the next exchange point, where they stand wrapped in blankets until the exchange takes place. Then they hop in the car and drive to the next exchange point. Sometimes they stop at Dunkies for warm beverages.
I was so nervous during that car ride up to New Hampshire! My team was made up of the nicest, most awesome ladies ever – and that really helped! – but I still couldn’t shake the feeling that my slowness would hold everyone back. I was also nervous about running the second longest leg since I hadn’t run more than 3 miles since my half; I secretly wished to be running the 2.5-mile leg, but all the legs had been decided before I joined and I didn’t want to be princessy and demanding. Kristen offered to trade me for Leg 5, which was slightly shorter and would have all the excitement of the finish line, but I decided to suck it up and just run my 5.4 miles. Plus, running the first leg would get my part out of the way, so I could spend the rest of the race cheering on my team without worrying about hydrating, porta-potties, or anything else I tend to fret about before races.
The starting line was at a school in Nashua, New Hampshire. My team took advantage of the indoor bathrooms, snapped a few pre-race pictures, and then left me in the capable hands of fellow Shammie first-leggers. One lady promised to run “slowly” since she hadn’t been running much lately, so I decided to stick with her for as long as possible; I knew that “slow” to her was probably “way too fast” to me. I was right. I managed to stay with her for maybe the first half-mile, running at a pace between 7:30 and 9:00 according to Simon. I warned her that I’d probably fade back pretty quickly and that she should just carry on without me, and that’s exactly what happened. I watched her disappear into the horizon as I tried to find my pace, heartened slightly by the fact that there were at least a handful of runners still way behind me.
Looking back at my Garmin data, I tackled my leg pretty valiantly considering I didn’t train for this race at all:
You can see that I started fast and gradually got slower before more or less leveling out. I took 6 walk breaks (the sharp valleys; the one other valley was when I had to wait at a stoplight that wasn’t policed by a cop or race marshal) and the sudden spikes are, I’m guessing, where I sped up to cross the street as cops held traffic for me. The last big spike (7:16 pace!) is when I turned the last corner and heard “Shamrocks! 192!” through the bullhorn as the PA man announced my club and team number to warn my waiting teammate to prepare for the baton exchange.
I was so excited when I saw my teammates and heard them all cheering my name, knowing that I was done with my piece of the race. I handed the baton/bracelet off to my Leg 2 teammate, then pretty much crashed into another teammate who wrapped me in a blanket. It was cold! It was about 23* F during my leg and windy, and I remember during one particularly boring stretch of road (I later learned that Leg 1 is the ugliest and most boring part of the race, going past suburban sprawl and strip malls before meandering past woods and highway on-ramps) I had been entertaining myself by watching the huge breath-clouds I made every time I exhaled. (I said it was a boring stretch of road!) I was wearing thermal tights (under shorts, because that’s how I do), a single thermal base-layer under my singlet, thermal gloves, a hat, and Smartwool socks under a fun, stripey pair of old soccer socks. I was pretty cold waiting at the start, and got a bit chilly during walk breaks (motivation to run again quickly!), but otherwise I was happy with my choice of kit. I was warm enough while still moving, and actually got quite sweaty, which then got instantly icy as soon as I finished running. I was very thankful for the fleece blanket waiting for me!
I have to say, it was very nice to be done that early on so that I could relax and enjoy the rest of the race. I had brought a change of clothes (something else I was very thankful for, so that I wouldn’t have to stay in my icy, sweaty kit the rest of the day!) and changed in the backseat under a blanket. However, I had only brought a t-shirt, hoodie, and track pants, so I spent the rest of the race with my giant blanket wrapped around me. My team hopped out at the next exchange point to cheer and wrap our 2nd Legger in blankets, then sped off to the next point to repeat the process. It was so much fun to pass all the runners (we pretty much stuck to the course as we drove to each exchange point), because we’d roll down the windows and cheer/honk at every Shammie we saw. Some people’s faces lit up, some would wave or give thumbs-up, and others barely acknowledged us because they were too much in The Zone. It was fun for us regardless!
After we picked up our 3rd Legger and saw our 4th Legger off on her 9-mile journey, we stopped at a Dunkies for a rest stop/sustenance stop. The team had made a Dunkies stop during my leg (since they knew I’d take about an hour), so I was excited to have a turn with hot beverages and treats. I had already downed a bottle of Nuun and some chocolate milk, but I was really excited for something hot to warm my still-chilled bones. That Dunkaccino and frosted doughnut tasted amazing! It also felt nice to take a breather somewhere other than the car, and a ton of other relay runners must have agreed because the Dunkies was pretty mobbed and almost every other customer was wearing a singlet or run club jacket or hoodie.
After we enjoyed our treats, we bundled back into the car and drove along the most scenic stretch of the course to the next exchange point. The 9-mile leg traveled along the Merrimack River through Lowell, under train bridges and past huge renovated mills, and was really quite lovely. The exchange point was fun too, because we got there early enough that we were able to see a ton of runners take off on the last leg, including many of our fellow Shammies who we cheered on with gusto. There was music playing and people were dancing to keep warm, and it felt like a weird, cold party of blanket-draped people clothed almost entirely in wicking material. I loved it.
At 11:15, all remaining 5th leggers took off together in the interest of time (with whatever remaining 4th leg time to be added on to our total time at the end), so we cheered on Kristen and then waited for our 4th legger to arrive. When she did, she was glowing – she had just run her fastest pace ever for the whole distance and was totally giddy, which made the rest of us giddy, and we hopped in the car all excited to race to the finish line. Unfortunately the crazy traffic once we hit Lawrence meant that all but one of us missed Kristen’s finish (she hopped out at a stoplight to make sure someone was there to meet Kristen with a blanket and a cheer) as we tried to find parking. Once we did, we reunited and entered the Claddagh victoriously, ready for our pasta and celebrations.
I am so, so happy that Kristen
peer-pressured convinced me to take part in this race. I never would have thought of doing it otherwise, and I had so much fun and really loved getting to spend the morning with some amazing Shammies. I was proud of my time – I was shooting for 55 minutes at best and came pretty darn close! – which was definitely helped by knowing that there were people waiting for me at the end. I met a bunch of “new” Shammies (not new to the club, but new to me) and loved the running solidarity among all the different run clubbers as our paths crossed during the course. The only con of the race was that there was no water stop during the first leg (which ticked off my teammates when I told them), which would have been really nice. Regardless, now I can’t wait for next December so I can sign up for the MCR again!