24 February 2014

One For The Thumb

It’s pretty clear that my injured, hobbled world isn’t changing soon. It’s pretty clear that Boston is a big question mark – do I run it and risk not re-qualifying, or defer and guarantee the consecutive streak ends at seven? But it’s also pretty clear that one way or another, life goes on. The sun still rises, it still snows in New England in the winter, and late February means it’s time to run the Hyannis Marathon Relay with my local club.

Hyannis is an end-of-winter ritual that usually comes with weather that reminds us that it’s not over yet, despite my annual pronouncement that spring starts on March First (no matter what the calendar says). Hyannis is four and a half thousand people converging on Cape Cod, briefly waking it from its mid-winter devoid-of-tourists-and-almost-all-signs-of-life slumber. Hyannis is a bit of old home days, meeting friends, enjoying the camaraderie of racing (even with friends in funny hats) we share frequently in the summer but more rarely in the winter. Hyannis is a mix of a few perpetually overzealous (and somewhat edgy) course marshals countered by plenty of more friendly and fun volunteers (like the terrifically enthusiastic water stop crew at the thirteen mile mark) otherwise starved for running excitement. But mostly, Hyannis is the tradition of winning the Men’s Masters Relay and walking off with another set of hand-painted clam shells, in my view one of the cooler awards on the New England racing circuit.

Winning this category traditionally hasn’t been all that hard, as the competition hasn’t been all that stiff, in part because it’s often conflicted with another New England event that draw the big guns (as it did again this year). Still, finding four old farts over forty who are in sum total pretty quick isn’t the easiest task, and we’ve never enjoyed an unopposed year (nor would we want to). Part of the mystique is that we never know just how many teams are out there in our division, let alone who’s on them, and even while on the course, with the mixture of team types, there’s really no way to tell. So there’s no other option than to let ‘er rip full steam, and tally up the wreckage later.

But having won the event for four years, this year we came with a hole in our fabric. Each of those years, our lead-off man was John Tanner. After last year’s win, we had no way to know we’d lose him a mere three weeks later. This one was for John, our fallen soldier, and it was fitting that post-race, our team captain “You’re Awesome” Dan delivered a fitting dedication to him from the awards podium. Which sort of gives away the outcome, but let’s face it, you knew that anyway. We came looking for number five, or as “Mean Joe” Greene of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the seventies, owner of four Super Bowl rings and looking for the fifth called it, “One for the thumb”. He didn’t get it. We did.

Into his shoes stepped my long-time training partner Issam, a man not only of superb racing ability but also of shifting preference for a blog name. We occupied a mile of our post-race back-half-of-the-course run debating his new preference to be known as Mile High, owing to his preference for shorter races including the mile, but at my insistence including the asterisk that his choice has no relationship to either the stadium or the newly legal recreation of the state of Colorado.

Every year I counsel Awesome Dan not to rest too much of his self-worth on another win, as we just can’t control who will show up. Every year I expect that crew of ringers to appear. And some day it will happen, but for yet another year, it didn’t. We should have known the gods were smiling on us from the start. I mean, with four and a half thousand people showing up, what’s the chance that upon arriving late, the parking marshals would usher us to the Executive Parking Spot literally (I’m not exaggerating this) ten feet from the starting line. Clearly, an omen.

On top of that, it wasn’t raining, snowing, or even all that cold. There would be no repeat of last year’s hypothermia. Decent weather for Hyannis? Go figure. But as always by the sea in the winter, oh, the wind, she did blow, and knowing how cold that wind blows down by the beach, right up till ten minutes before my leg I was still clad in tights despite the mid-forties air. I knew I could cheat fate since after all, I had a changing room parked ten feet from the starting line, which happened to also be the exchange hand-off zone. Gee, how convenient! Minutes before my leg I pulled the trigger, hopped in the back seat, off with the tights, on with the shorts, into that glorious windy day.

And just in time, as our second leg man Eric appeared five minutes ahead of expectation. Mile High Issam had singed the pavement with six-flats and hit the Craigsville Beach exchange zone ahead of every other relay team, no matter their age. Eric turned his expected seven and a halves into a pace closer to sevens, and met me with our team still second overall. I proceeded to run the slowest of my five Hyannis third legs, indeed, just about my slowest race ever of that distance class, not quite holding six and a halves into the same stiff wind that Mile High had conquered so easily. Still, I clicked off four or five full marathoners and held our second place ranking till I handed it off to Awesome Dan, at which point I would know nothing till getting back to the hotel headquarters and waiting for news.

We hung at the exchange zone for a few minutes until seeing the next relay team who were clearly youngsters, then a few minutes more to verify no threatening old guys were near, before heading out for what had always been John and my traditional back-forty cool-down run, only this year, no John. But with fine weather and Mile High at my side, despite the pesky Achilles making its presence known once again (I’d pretty much ignored it during my leg, the discomfort of the inadequacy of my lungs taking precedence over all else), we had what one of the most enjoyable back-forties of my five Hyanni (plural of Hyannis, right?). Nothing beats a casual slog, watch free, scenic route, perfect weather (away from the wind on the back side), chatting it up with the water stop crews, picking up lost and found stuff, dropping to the street for push-ups for a particularly enthusiastic youthful course marshal crew, and contributing some inspiration to a few full marathoners along the way.

In a twist of irony, my last minute change won another runner a burst of late race adrenaline when he spied my togs and determined that, wearing split shorts, the epitomic opposite of the ghetto-blasting knee-obscuring basketball skirt-shorts of the masses, I must have been a contender (say that like Brando) – one he had to take down. He caught, he took, but since we were no-longer-contenders (nolo contendere?) he didn’t gain any places from us. Still, it lifted him through mile twenty-five, a boost that any marathoner appreciates. In another twist of ironic fun, we caught the women’s winner about three-quarters of a mile out and offered up a little good-natured taunting to assure she wouldn’t fade and risk her spot. Turned out she had a seven minute lead, but at that point, who knew?

Great fun, but what happened to Dan? Had he held on? We hadn’t seen anyone who looked like a threat, but we weren’t exactly paying full attention during our pleasant jaunt. And so as happens every year at this event, the wait for the verdict was, well not agonizing, but at least a little angst-ridden. Several soups, snacks, and secreted beers later, our reward was bestowed. The mildly disappointing bit was that there was only one other men’s masters team. Our two-fifty-seven, second best among our five trips around the circuit, topped them by a good seven minutes to earn our clamshells. But winning a field of two lacks a certain, how shall we say, flair? Making up for that, however, was the knowledge that we had indeed held our second overall place among the ninety teams of all sorts, including the youngsters. There was no award for that, but we were happy to settle for some good old fashioned satisfaction.


  1. It was a great time at Hyannis. Everything including the weather was perfect. Congrats your win!!

  2. As the marathon runner who was "lifted" by you "through mile twenty-five, a boost that any marathoner appreciates", I gotta say that it was all due to those all-too-sexy split shorts, a sure give away for a master runner. I for one saw just how much fun you guys were having. As I approached, I kept thinking in my marathon induced comma, 'Why is this guy talking with his pacer? He should be in that mode of just wanting it to end." I was sure you were in the marathon. Sure of it. Why? Marathon induced brain. In the end, you provided all the motivation I needed to keep going and get that "three, oh, ex"!

    Thanks for the push along, and great connecting after the race!



Humor me. If you read it, if you liked it, even if you didn't, let me know!