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Race report: The Seneca 7

posted by Byline to Finish Line
Monday, May 2, 2011 at 6:30pm EDT

A chronicle of a sports reporter who ditched the sideline to discover her own power and strength by taking up endurance sports in her 30's.

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Less than a mile into my final run my core started to ache. I thought about leading with my heart center, breathing and relaxing. I let go of pace and just tried to work hard, yet the ache was still there. Maybe that last run up the hill took more out of me than I thought. Or maybe it was from laughing non-stop for the past three hours.

The inaugural Seneca 7 put me out of my comfort as my post from last week described. The race was a relay event to circle the 77.7 miles around Seneca Lake beginning and ending in Geneva, N.Y. Teams were comprised of seven members which rotated through the different run legs, each taking three segments. I was Runner No. 4 which means I ran legs 4, 11 and 18. I had no idea that the day would bring me such satisfaction both athletically and personally. Let me walk you through it:

Leg No. 4: Anthony Road Winery (Getting the fear out)

The van pulled into the Anthony Road Winery, the site of my first exchange and my first leg for our team. The 3.2-mile segment was described as “down and up” and I was nervous, which I announced to the entire van. I didn’t dwell on why I was nervous, but the feeling of pre-race jitters this strong had eluded me for some time. In a way, it was good to have them back. My teammates encouraged me not to worry, to just enjoy running a beautiful morning. The weather was perfect — sunny with a few clouds and temperatures in the mid-40s expected to get into the mid-50s by the afternoon. Just enjoy the fact that you can do this, they told me. And so, I took the old-school slap bracelet from Alison (our team captain and organizer extraordinaire) and took off down the hill.

The view along the route and relief after finishing my first leg

Team vans were not allowed on this portion of the run, so I was out there alone. I wanted to run hard, but knew that I had three more segments to run, so thought about keeping a good, strong, even pace through the rolling course. I was passed by a handful of people and wondered just how bad my pace was. My Garmin was set to distance only, to give m an idea of where I was on the course, but was not showing pace. I didn’t want to know. I wanted to work hard and have fun, not get caught up in the numbers. Anyway, other teams had runners of mixed ability, just like ours, so I let it go and just kept running.

The end of the leg was a hill with my exchange with our next runner, Alex, at the top. I saw Mary Lou, our driver and savior for the day, in the middle of the road, cheering me on. Then I heard the rest of my teammates cheering for me, giving me the extra motivation to dig in and get to the top. I handed off to Alex and accepted the round of “great jobs” by my teammates. I peaked at my Garmin average pace — I was running a pace that was about a minute faster than I had expected to. Rock on. I surprised myself with my run and the nerves were now gone, replaced with fun and excitement. Back to the van to reward myself with a small snack, drive to the next exchange station and cheer wildly for my teammates along the side of the road.

Leg No. 11: Clute Park, Watkins Glen (The hill)

As we drove to my next exchange point, I looked at the elevation profile of my next 3.7-mile segment. I knew it was described as  a steep uphill, but looking at the profile made me, well, kind of scared. It was steep. And then the “gradual” uphill went on forever. Maureen, a veteran and very good runner, looked at it and assured me it wasn’t really that bad.” See, it’s just this part here that’s a little bit up,” she said pointing to the nearly vertical line on the chart. “It’s over early and the rest is easy.”

Slightly off in our timing, we got to the exchange point just minutes before Alison arrived, leaving me no time to go and find a bathroom in the park. This was potentially a problem. Then again, it gave me something else to talk about rather than think about that hill. On this segment, I not only received the slap bracelet from Alison but a large, floppy, orange safety vest. Three parts of the race required wearing the issued the vest since the course at those points were on busy stretches of highway. It was for the safety of the runners. It was slightly annoying, ugly and provided endless opportunities for me to offer sarcastic and slightly inappropriate humor. So really, it was a win.

The orange safety vest and triumph after the hill climb of my second leg.

But on to the actual run. As I turned the corner around from the park, the hill rose before me. It was steep. Really, really steep. It hurt my legs. It hurt my lungs. It hurt my mind. I had given myself mental permission to walk a portion of this steep section, but alas, I knew the van of my teammates would be driving up behind me at some point. I could not let them see me walking, so in my mind, I made a rule that I could take a walk break only after they had passed. Cue the mental chatter:  So, where the freak are they?!? Seriously, did they go get coffee? What the heck? This hill is steep and I want to walk. Where are they? OK, I’ll keep running. Should I walk? No keep running.

And with that I made it up the hill, running the hardest segment of my race (and one of the toughest stretches of the entire course) in a very respectable amount of time. The route, however, continued to go up, just not as steeply as the killer hill. One of the guys who passed me last time, passed me again, noting, “We sure picked the wrong leg!” After I had crested the hill, my van full of teammates did pass, and they yelled and screamed and made me smile, giving me an emotional pick-me-up.

But the route continued to be difficult and at times the running felt hard and long and endless. My mind wanted to be discouraged, but I redirected it. Alison had told me if I get too much in my head to look to my left and take in the view of the lake. I did that several times. What a beautiful sight. What gratitude I had for being able to run and participate in this. When my mind wandered to concern over my pace and the possibility that I was letting my team down, I looked to my left and realized the only way I could let my team down is if I failed to find the joy in the experience.

Finally, I saw orange cones ahead and parked cars — the best way to spot the oncoming exchange point. There was Alex, ready to take the slap bracelet from me. My teammates came over and hugged me. “Amy is my hero for doing that leg,” one of them said as the words “hero” and “rock star” were bandied about. They had driven over what I had just ran and were amazed when I told them I didn’t walk. Maureen asked if I hated her for low-balling the difficulty of the course. Not at all. It actually helped me work harder, because she told me I could do it.

Leg No. 18: Sampson State Park (Bringing it home)

At this point, we started to get confused. From Leg 16 on, the distances were inconsistent in the official race literature. Some places said my next leg was 2.9 miles. Another said 5.4 That’s quite a range. The course book, which was supposed to be our “race bible” said it was 4.5. The terrain was relatively easy, but that’s a good distance to run at a fast pace at the end of a long day. I was a bit more concerned that I should have been and anxiously awaited Alison’s arrival at the exchange point. I did a little bit of a dance when I saw her running in. Kate captured a picture of it. “I have another picture of Amy doing something weird,” she said. “You must have a lot of those,” Mary Lou replied. It made me smile. Yep, I was all about the fun and the silly and apparently, I was at least slightly entertaining to my teammates.

When in doubt, look to your left. The beauty of Seneca Lake

This section followed the Mussleman bike course, which, fortunately for me, I was familiar with. Early in the segment, the route comes up to a large metal gate. The actual road goes to the right but the path continues down, straight ahead, There is a footpath to the right of the gate. However, on the approach to the gate, there were no indications of where runners were supposed to go — no orange cone or volunteer or signs or markings and at this point I was alone on the course with no other runners in sight. I hesitated, but remembered the Musselman bike course and went straight. On the other side of the gate were race markings — my decision was vindicated. Later, however, my teammates told me as they were driving they saw runners who were lost, who must have taken the turn at the gate to get off course. They were slightly concerned I followed an errant runner in front of me.

While I stayed on course, I still had problems on this segment. I was getting tired. My pace was slower than I wanted it to be and I mentally had to stay focused, believing I had to run over four miles on this segment. If I could just keep a good steady pace, I thought, then at the four-mile mark I’ll dig deep and really pull out whatever I’ve got left. A man who lived on the route told me I was doing a good job and that all I had to do was get to the end of the road. I glanced at my Garmin. No way, I thought. I’m only at 3.6 miles. But alas, I started to see the makings of an exchange point. When I realized that it was the final exchange, I kicked it into high gear. Damn! I was saving the last bit of my energy for the last half mile. Instead of 4.5 miles, this was 3.8. I was disappointed because I held back a bit too much. But I ran well, nonetheless, impressed with the close-to tempo pace I sustained despite the long day.

The big finish

We all joined Maureen for the run through the finisher’s chute, coming in as a team. In all, we ran the 77.7 miles in about 11 hours and 16 minutes. We weren’t first. We weren’t last. We were middle of the pack. But our overall results were just a number for our amusement. Because aside from the actual running, it was an amazingly powerful day. Our team (Team Luna Chix as many of the members of the team run with the sponsored group in Buffalo) had a wonderful mix of ability and experience. Some were faster than others, but somehow, all of us had similar philosophies. We were here to do something unique and different and have fun, not to be serious and competitive. And from my vantage point, every single woman rocked. Kate ran a distance personal best in her milage for the day. Colleen ran four miles faster than she ever had before. And Alex, Maureen, Lenore and Alison all had similar days, running extraordinarily well for who they are and where they were in the lives at that moment.

Through the course of two days, and 12 hours in tight quarters in a mini-van, we shared personal stories, we encouraged each other and we laughed. I can’t even tell you everything we laughed about, because, well, we just laughed. We were in the moment, being ourselves and enjoying this shared experience. As tired as my body is from the weekend, my being is revived. I thought this event would be about pushing the limits of my comfort zone. Turns out, it was exactly what I needed to find my center.

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