But for those with very little patience for what will inevitably be a long story, here's the condensed version: Ran about 60 miles at the Palmetto 200-Mile Relay in South Carolina on 13-14 April, at an average pace of 7:15/mile, flew from Savannah, Georgia on 15 April to run the Boston Marathon on 16 April. Plowed through Boston in 3:13:27, in brutal heat, a lot better than most people fared, but failed to re-qualify for next year. Immediately got deathly ill the day after the marathon, sick for the remainder of the week, came back to work the following week to find that my plan to travel to Israel the week before the North Coast 24-Hour Race was, in my absence, totally hosed. Spent pretty much all day every day sorting things out, to manage to get my trip sandwiched between North Coast and the Massanutten Mountain Trail 100 (MMT 100). After a long, last-minute drive to North Coast, found myself physically and mentally exhausted at around 9 hours and 50 miles, and decided to pull the plug in the hopes of saving myself for MMT 100. Results of that decision currently pending . . .
But first, the Palmetto 200 Relay:
The story of the Palmetto 200 Relay, for me, goes back to this past Valentine's Day, which was a particularly crummy day for me, as my current romantic interest's interest in me was at an all-time low. So you can maybe sort of a little forgive my stupidity when Marie-Ange Smith sent me a Facebook message at around 10 am, when I was still struggling to shake the sickness from my stomach (maybe something I ate, but more likely, emotionally-induced), and asked me, rather insistently, to be on her relay team for the Palmetto 200. Nevermind that this would be a four-person, 200-mile relay, meaning about 50 miles per person, in a state that I had never been to (South Carolina), finishing up on the Saturday before the Boston Marathon (giving me only Sunday as a rest day, but mostly, a travel day). I had a (running) valentine, so of course I said yes, and felt temporarily better.
Then I had a couple of months to second-guess my decision. Setting aside the whole Boston re-qualifying thing (this would be 8 consecutive Boston Marathons, but a 9th could be in jeopardy with all of the miles I would be running beforehand), the travel logistics and general fear of the unknown set in. On the other hand, we only go around once, and, what the heck, why not see if I could pull it off?
Before I knew it, the 12th of April came along, and I was on an uneventful flight to Columbia, South Carolina, the start of the relay. Tim Waz, one of my relay teammates, met me at the airport, and we drove to the Hilton (swanky as it comes in this city), where we would be staying for the night. After lunch at Mellow Mushroom (a lunch that I remembered this time, unlike the lunch at Mellow Mushroom in Asheville after the Blue Ridge Relay, which is pretty much a blur in my memory), we went back to the hotel to hang around for a few hours and wait for Ed George (another teammate) and Marie to show up. We then assembled in Tim's hotel room, and, after a certain amount of derisive laughter at our sponsor, (Don't) Tri-Sports's pathetic contribution to our expedition, we were off on a misguided journey to a fittingly mis-named "Just Running and Walking" store (their local running store) to buy Ed compression shorts. We ran there, of course, and along the way, I learned interesting facts, such as the surprising prevalence of HIV in Columbia, and how giant my quads are, courtesy of Marie-Ange. When we got there, they had no compression shorts, so it was off to Dick's, where they also had nothing suitable, so finally, we found ourselves at Earth Fare, where the food was at least somewhat suitable (especially if you have strong moral objections to eating cute animals), even if the creepy clown-addled dining atmosphere left something to be desired. Somewhere along the way, I bought a "Black Panther" dark chocolate bar, we witnessed men in high heels behind our hotel walking in a "Sexual Trauma" rally (whom we could no doubt soundly defeat in their "walk" in our running shoes), and took silly pictures of Ed on the ground in front of a "Don't Be a Victim" sign in the hotel parking garage. All of this, and the race hadn't even started yet.
(In spite of what the above might suggest, we were, in fact, there to run.)
After a decent night's sleep in a real bed, we assembled at the "historic" (read: dilapidated) Columbia Motor Speedway to begin our adventure. Tim would lead off, followed by me, Marie-Ange, and Ed. According to this rotation, I would be running a little over 53 miles - by a small margin, the most on the team. But before I had a lot of time to stand around and think about this any more than I already had, the 10 a.m. wave started, and we did the requisite yelling at our runner that we could before it was time to move the car to the next transition zone (or, more accurately, for Marie-Ange's dad to drive us to the next transition zone, as our originally-scheduled driver had bailed on us just a couple of days prior to the race). Fittingly enough, I would start my first leg from a wastewater treatment plant.
First Leg: 6.02 miles, 41 minutes, 30 seconds
It was a warm and sunny morning when Tim handed off the reflective slap bracelet to me, and I darted down the paved road away from the wastewater treatment plant in my beaten-up Asics Pirahnas. After our little bit of back-tracking, we turned left onto a gravel road, and it was APG Lunch Run in full effect, with a little bit more dust from the passing vehicles, on their way to the next transition zone. I plugged along and felt pretty good in spite of the heat, and I was passing people in front of me, to boot (a theme that would continue throughout the race). Before I knew it, I was at the transition zone, a little slower than I thought I would be, considering how the pace felt to me, but all in all, not bad for my first run of the day.
(chilling in the van after my first leg)
Second Leg: 7.99 miles, 54 minutes, 30 seconds
Now that we were getting into a bit of a rhythm, the horsing-around was in full effect. Before the start of this leg, I lost my Tri-Sports jersey, sporting my requisite reflective vest over . . . nothing, and inherited $200 pink sunglasses and a flower barrette, courtesy of Marie-Ange. So I looked a little ridiculous as I hauled down the paved road, over one of the hilliest sections of the course, but the fact remained that I was moving pretty fast. So fast, in fact, that I was genuinely surprised when I looked at my watch at the end of this one. Sure, I was pushing it up the last hill, but I didn't think that I was actually moving that fast. I probably picked up a good bit of my sunburn on this one.
(sweet reward for finishing my second leg)
Third Leg: 10.03 miles, 69 minutes, 45 seconds
Here was where things started getting serious (if "serious" is a word that could ever describe this endeavor). The mid-afternoon sun was now in full effect, and the road ahead was long, straight, and seemingly endless. I took the slap bracelet much more reluctantly this time, and chugged down the road the best I could. The 4-ounce bottle of water that I had been carrying as sort of a joke up to this point (since the rules required you to carry water with you during the day) was actually useful, and even inadequate, at this point. The paved road eventually gave way, after a left turn, to hard, ragged gravel. This was probably about the worst surface for my Pirahnas, but I tried my best to ignore it and post a time in line with my sub-7-minute-mile average. And I did, just barely, unfortunately failing to catch the "tall, fast guy" (not to be confused with the "less tall, slower guy") on one of the "ultra" (i.e. 6 people or less) teams that we were neck-and-neck with. That disappointment soon gave way to the "dog" incident - Ed was running behind another runner, who attracted two unleashed dogs. The dogs darted out into the road, and the runner in front of Ed avoided the dogs, as well as an oncoming pickup truck, but what did not avoid thedogs or the pickup truck was a third dog, darting into the road from the opposite side. The truck hit the dog, breaking its legs, and leaving it lying in the middle of the road, while the other dogs viciously attacked it. Ed backtracked, got in the bed of the truck, and the driver graciously drove Ed past the incident, lest he become a casualty. We watched in horror as Ed drove past us in the pickup truck, while another man came out and poked the downed dog with a stick, for some reason. So at least THAT wasn't me.
(a lovely lakeside scene that was not at all an omen of things to come . . .)
Fourth Leg: 5.25 miles, 36 minutes, 45 seconds
Coming into this leg, I was definitely hurting. Leaving the bucolic splendor of the waterfront, and the best barbeque restaurant along the course, for the increasingly fast-food restaurant, gas-station, and strip-club-riddled road to the next transition zone was not helping matters. The sun was low in the sky, and our transition was sloppy, because after asking me if I needed a headlamp (to which I responded "no," since I figured that I would be finished this leg before dark), the volunteer monitoring the transition point told me that I needed a headlamp, which delayed my start a bit. I had changed from my Pirahnas into my Asics 2150s, which seemed much more comfortable for the long haul. Slower, yes, but my feet were no longer being cut up, which was a plus (although the cuts still stung). I made it to the transition point right on 7-minute-mile pace, but not easily . . . but definitely before nightfall, so, take that, volunteer.
(Tim's leftover barbeque, and my reward for four legs down)
Fifth Leg: 9.67 miles, 72 minutes, 30 seconds
After the sun set, here was where this went from a like-clockwork endeavor to a real team sport. Marie-Ange's dad would no longer drive for us, since his eyesight was bad enough in the day without the darkness to complicate it, leaving us to take turns driving overnight, after a long day of a lot of miles for all of us. Tim's injury had gone from something that was slowing him to something serious, so while he did help me in donating the leftover barbeque that I didn't get to partake in before my last leg, he didn't help me by limping into this transition point, indicating that he may well be out of the rotation for the remainder of the race. Still, I consoled myself by the fact that this was my last "long" leg, and with Marie-Ange's just-barely-fitting black Graveyard 100 shirt to keep me warm, if I could make it through this, the rest of the race would be "easy." So I set off down the road, headlamp and blinkies blazing, and for about 6 miles of this leg, things weren't so bad. Then somewhere between 6 and 7 miles, between the growing darkness of the forest surrounding the road, the cold, and my increasing hunger, I ran out of gas. I walked briefly in a few places, but mostly, I just tried to get to the next transition point as quickly as possible, so that I didn't have to be out in the middle of nowhere, in the midst of random dogs barking and police car lights flashing (apparently to keep the dogs away and the traffic at bay, but it is pretty unnerving for red-and-blue strobe lights to be the primary sign of civilization for hours on end). I was overjoyed to reach the church parking lot, but went inside only to find that both bathrooms were occupied, and the only "food" they had there were ham and cheese sandwiches on white bread, which they were selling for $5.00. Yuck. But now that THAT was over, the worst was over, right?
(a brief interlude for something that we saw in a church bathroom, which made no sense)
Sixth Leg: 3.69 miles, 26 minutes, 20 seconds
And there I was, in the dead of night, preparing to run my first legitimately "short" leg of the race. I was excited about this, because I was now verifiably tired, and hadn't eaten very much after the last leg (because there really wasn't that much to eat, and dozing off in the van was preferrably to eating at this point). And as cold as it was now, I was excited to start running. But as soon as I started, my turnover stopped. My legs were pretty dead. I slogged through this one, but it FELT nearly as long as the other legs, as uncomfortable as it was. At this point, Tim's injury was now officially sidelining him, so it would be me, Ed, and Marie-Ange for the remainder of the race. I gratefully handed off the bracelet, and prepared for a sleepy blur until my next leg.
Seventh Leg: 3.2 miles, 25 minutes, 20 seconds
Now well into the night, with legs being traded and doubled (and, in some cases, us sleeping through transitions in the van), I was far from excited to start this leg. I tried to console myself with the fact that Ed had run a "double" leg that was close to 7 miles long, and Marie-Ange had run almost the same distance (with somebody on a bike that she had conned to run with her, since as much as we were concerned about her fear of the dark, none of us had the legs to run with her at this point). But in some sense, I felt as though I would rather be Tim (who had taken over most of the driving duties at this point, since his injury made him the most qualified to do this) as I headed out into the cold, police-strobe-light-checkered darkness for another "short" leg. And, sure enough, this leg felt just as long as the last one. But at least time-wise, it was over quickly, and I could laugh a little bit at the people who ran straight over the railroad tracks, missing the ONE really obvious turn in this section of the race.
Eighth Leg: 4.75 miles, 35 minutes, 20 seconds
DROP THE BISCUIT YOU'RE UP!
And now, with me in and out of sleep, the team pulled the ol' switcheroo on me. I was looking forward to another leg of 3.69 miles, and then a final 3.1 mile leg. But as I sat in the van with the sun coming up, eating a sausage biscuit, Marie-Ange came rolling into the transition zone, and Ed turned to me from the passenger seat and said "you're up." And with the dead conviction that statement carried, I didn't argue for a second - I clumsily put down the biscuit, put my shoes on, and staggered out of the van to take the bracelet. And of course, I felt slow, and even slower running down the left side of a major highway on a windy morning, with oncoming traffic only adding to the headwind. After half an hour passed, and I saw no sign of the next transition zone, I started to panic - I hadn't seen any indication that I was supposed to turn, but I also hadn't seen any other runners. So I slowed a bit, looked around, and, not knowing what else to do, decided to keep moving forward. A few agonizing minutes later, I saw the transition zone, and jogged in, complaining that I thought this leg might have been long, maybe because it had been measured from the other side of the road, where the inside of the long, gradual curve was. That's when Tim and Marie-Ange admitted that the leg was nearly 5 miles long - much to my chagrin, they had switched the legs around, so now I would be running a little more than anticipated. Oh well, all in a day for Team Sexual Trauma, right? (At this point, that had become our unofficial name.)
Ninth Leg: 4.2 miles, 36 minutes, 30 seconds (33 minutes, excluding "bridge penalty")
On my way to what I thought would be my last leg, we took this silly picture:
(Marie-Ange and me, clearly not having slept enough, although our animal friend seems okay.)
Which is a clear indication of my mental state at this point, as I requested that they drop me off at the 5K finish line that we passed on our way to the next transition zone, at which point I looked at the food, it all looked terrible, and I walked back to the transition zone with nothing in my hands. And before we had time to argue about why I didn't bring anything back for anybody else, there was that damn bracelet again, and I was off . . . to find that about halfway through the leg, a drawbridge was up, and a group of people in front of me were stopped there. I slowed to a walk heading uphill towards the bridge, but I suppose that I could have slowed further, since I still spent about 3.5 minutes there, waiting for the bridge to lower. Meanwhile, traffic over the bridge (one lane each way) was backed up pretty far, and it occurred to me that I might make it to the transition zone before the vehicle did. Sure enough, that's exactly what happened, and the volunteer at the transition zone suggested that I just keep running until the vehicle caught up with me. (The answer to this was an emphatic "NO".) After about ten minutes, the van showed up and Tim took my bracelet - he wanted to get in a little more distance, so he could go over a marathon, and offically run an "ultra" distance during the relay (he was at 26.2 at that point). Marie-Ange went along with him, and Ed and I drove to the next transition point, where the bathrooms were painfully inaccessible, so we both wound up relieving ourselves in the bushes. But at least my part of the race was over, right?
BONUS: Tenth Leg, 3.3 miles, 24 minutes, 45 seconds
Unbeknownst to me, the rest of the crew was splitting up the last two legs a little differently. Ed wanted to run the entire 6.6-mile last leg, but the leg before that was 6.8 miles, which was a lot of distance all in a row, so somebody was going to run the second half of that leg for him. I thought that was going to be Marie-Ange. But when the transition time came, they all looked at me, so, with a heavy sigh (and heavy legs), I got out of the van one last time to run through historic, scenic downtown Charleston. Marie-Ange's argument that I would get to "tour the city" was at least somewhat valid, as there was plenty of interesting people-watching, and even a few runners for me to chase down (one of my favorite things to do, even, it turns out, when I'm dead-tired). I arrived at the transition zone, and a few of the people who had seen me stranded at the last transition zone joked again about my team, and where the rest of them were. Fortunately, this time, Ed wasn't far away, just in the bathroom, so he came jogging up about a minute later, and finally, I passed off that darn bracelet for good. I was more tired than I thought I'd be, but at least Marie-Ange was there to gently clean my nipples with a Wet Wipe. (Or whatever).
(the team, 200+ miles and many sexually traumatic incidents later)
All in all, it was an awesome experience, especially since we really had to pull together as a team to get it done. And even though I might sound a little cranky about being dealt some "surprise" extra mileage, in retrospect (i.e. about a month later), I'm glad that I had the opportunity to be lost on a highway, stopped at a drawbridge, and chasing very literal tail through downtown Charleston in a very sleep-deprived state. These are the kinds of things that will be burned in my mind forever as running memories (the fact that I remember them right now is proof). So even though I found myself in quite a different place on race day than I did when this whole idea was hatched on Valentine's Day, it wound up being its own weird, twisted, but nonetheless special expression of running, sexual trauma, and love, and I (still) don't think I would trade a better shot at requalifying for the Boston Marathon at Boston for this.