Monday, December 6, 2010

Mill Cities Relay

Photo above courtesy of Steve Wolfe (GCS).

Race #63 (ties me with last year) took me over to Nashua, NH to run leg 1 of the 27th Annual Mill Cities Relay (results).  The relay is 27.1 miles from Nashua, NH to Lawrence, MA, and zips through the towns of Hudson, NH, Tyngsboro, MA, Lowell, MA, and Methuen, MA in between (for 7 total towns, all winding along the Merrimack River).  The 5 legs of the relay consist of a 5.6 mile, a 4.75 mile, a 2.5 mile, a 9.5 mile, and another 4.75 mile.  The logistics and planning it takes to get all your team members to all the specific handoff zones, while also allowing them to effectively warm up, cool down, etc. is all part of the fun (especially when you are doing it all in one vehicle).

I first did this race in 2006 (December) and it was my first (uniformed) race back running after my hiatus.  I was in horrible shape back then but gave it a go in the 2.5 mile (3rd leg).  Then, in 2007, I gave it another go but this time, led off with the first leg from Nashua to Hudson, NH.  I ran pretty well back in that race (29:48) but had loads of company.  I had Matt Pimentel, Paul Larosa, and Casey Moulton to run with over the first 5.6 mile leg.  That helped push me through those middle miles where it is really rolly. We won the entire thing in 2006 and 2007 (overall club champions - MVS).  In 2006, we also had/set the current course record of 2:22:18 (as the team called 'The Challenged'). In 2008 I opted out of the race, as I had left MVS and my new club 'CMS' is not part of the Mill Cities Alliance.  In 2009, I was scheduled to run it as part of the newly accepted Goon Squad Runners, but I had come down with an injury that week that sidelined me for that weekend.  This year, I was yet again injured, as my achillies and ankle problems continue to plague my running, but I was not going to bail two years in a row on my same group of guys.  I decided to give it a go and run the first leg again, even though they had lined up a replacement for me the night before.

The name of our team was 'The Champ is Here'.  I think Dan Vassallo (recent winner of the Philadelphia Marathon) came up with this name.  I didn't know it until race morning, but the name comes from some ridiculous hip hop song (where every other word appears to start with an F), but I think that made it funnier.  Despite the incessant blaring of hardcore gansta rap emanating from the speakers of Matt Pimentel's car on the way up to the race start, I was able to keep it together and focus on the task at hand. Typically I rely on something a little more rock and roll to get me pumped up before a run, but I was so nervous about my fitness (from this horrible cold that won't go away) and my foot problems, that I was preoccupied with the whole notion of potentially letting my team down.  After scoping out the gym at the YMCA in Nashua and talking with some folks, I headed out for a 4 mile warmup (slightly longer than usual to try to loosen up my ankle/achillies as much as possible).  My foot started to get pretty bad on the warmup, but it wasn't enough to stop me from getting the run in.  The warmup was a nice easy jaunt through some quiet neighborhoods around the area from the YMCA. The morning was pretty brisk (below freezing) and I decided to go with some long tights to keep all my muscles in check.  If I was in tip top shape, I would have just gone with shorts or half-tights.  As I made my way back to the starting area, I started to notice a bunch of quicker looking guys, including Paul Larosa, milling around the start.  I figured it would be a decent leg and I'd have some guys (including Mike Cooney (WRT) ) to race with.

The race began with the dropping of the ceremonial brick, this year by my high school xc/track coach John Dicommandrea.

Video of the Start - 8am - Nashua, NH - courtesy of Wicked Running Club:

I quickly got out (although it didn't really feel that quick) to the early lead, took the first righthand turn, and that was it.  I occasionally glanced behind me to see who was going to come along for the ride, but nobody wanted it.  I chugged up and over the first bridge and down onto rt. 3A and was already pretty much alone.  I kind of wanted it that way, but at the same time, would have liked some company for a bit so we could push the pace.  I went out to the tune of 5:08 for the first mile, which I think was responsible for the solo effort that was to come.  I ran nice and steady after that, but felt slow due to the time-trial nature.  This race frequently becomes just that, rather quickly. Most of the time it is one team that just opens it up and takes it from the beginning.

Leg 1 is the only leg that actually has an elevation gain, as most of this race is right along the river or at least following the river.  The gain is negligible at only a few feet (3), but it is the only one with an actual gain (Leg 2 loses 10 feet, Leg 3 loses 43 feet, Leg 4 loses 29 feet, and Leg 5 loses just 1 ft).  You can see by the elevation that it is a moderately rolly leg and it is similar to leg 2.  Both the first couple legs are not really within view of the river at all and are set apart by some distance, so the elevation loss isn't as evident as the latter legs, which follow the river quite closely.

I clicked through the second mile much slower (5:21) and as you can see from the elevation, it is entirely uphill.  I knew I ran 29:48 in 2007 and wanted to at least run faster than that this year, even with a bad cold and foot issues.  I figured I was in that much better shape that even alone and in sub-par shape, I could still run faster than when I was at my peak in 2007.  To do that, I would have to average 5:19s or better, which is what my average per-mile pace was for the 5.6 leg back then.

The third mile is more of the same, with a slight downhill, but mostly up.  I clicked through slightly quicker in 5:13 (for 15:43 overall) and kept chuggin.  The streets were quiet and the only real people out on the course were occasional cars loaded with other runners, making their way out to the next leg.  I passed 10 or so groups of other teams who were out on the course cheering.  Aside from that, it was a pretty quiet and lonely run.  I'm not sure why (seeing there seems to be more downhill than uphill in mile 4) but I came through mile 4 in a very slow 5:23 (for 21:07 total).  I had started to really feel the lack of sufficient training during this stretch and it showed.  My lead remained decent though, as I could hardly make out who was in 2nd, as I looked backed down the highway.  I clicked through the 5th mile in 5:05 (I was 5:04 for this mile in 2007) because it has got some good downhill sections.  My 5 mile time was an 'ok' 26:12 for this rather challenging leg.  The last .6 goes by very slow, as I was just begging for the finish line. Because the race is all on a wide open major road like 3A, you can see a long way in both directions and it just seems really long and slow.  I really do enjoy this section though, as aside from the seemingly continuous rolls, it is a nice stress free run.  I ran 3:17 for the last .6 miles and turned into the parking lot to hand off to Jon Healey, who was running the 2nd leg from Hudson, NH to Tyngsboro, MA.  I handed off to Jon in the exchange zone in 29:30 when I stopped my watch (5:16 pace).  Mission accomplished.  I ran 18 seconds faster than 3 years ago (even with my current issues and being alone for the whole race) and handed off in 1st place.  I timed the differential and the next runner (Mike Cooney - WRT) came in 1:19 later when he handed off to Craig Fram.

Photo above, courtesy of Steve Wolfe, of Mike Masse (currently at Boston College) running the 2.5 leg.

I didn't get Jon Healey's split, but the combination of Mike Masse (our 2.5 leg runner) and Jon was 38:17 or so. I believe Mike told me he ran 12:58 for his 2.5 leg (5:11 pace) so Jon was probably somewhere around 25:05 or so (around 5:16 pace).  Dan Vassallo headed out on the 9.5 mile leg from the UML boathouse along the river, up and over through UMass Lowell, and down along the river into Methuen. He would go on to hammer out a 48:23 (5:05 pace) 9.5 leg (which roughly equates to a sub 51 minute 10 mile effort, solo).  He handed off to Matt Pimentel in Methuen, MA at 1:56:04 and Matt would go on to run 25:30 or so (approx. 5:22 pace) over the last 4.75 leg (which includes a decent hill in the middle).  These combine efforts brought us in at 2:21:43 and a new MCR (current course) record (5:13 per mile pace for the entire 27.1).  Next year, rumor has it that the start will be pushed back even further into Nashua and the course could be lengthened by a mile or so.

For our efforts, we received the infamous Brick and enjoyed a great after party at the Claddagh Pub in Lawrence.  Great food, music, brews, and good mates capped off a great day of running around the Merrimack Valley.  Congrats to the Gate City Striders for putting together a deep squad to take the overall club title.

Here's a cool vid from the Winners Circle:

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