Tuesday, 4 June 2013

#104 There's a Place

2013 Cabot Trail Relay Race: Our secondary success

Wow! What an incredible few days. It's truly impossible to capture in words what this event means to me. It is without a doubt the most widely anticipated and exciting event of my calender year, running or otherwise, and this year did not disappoint. In fact, it exceeded all expectations and surpassed the highest hype.

To give away the ending early: We came second. Again. Which was entirely expected. What wasn't expected (or even imagined) at all was that our team would win 5 individual legs of the race as well as come within 30 min of the first place Maine-iacs. That result in itself was utterly amazing! Getting to spend the weekend with these super cool and wicked fast guys was just icing on the cake.

It was thus no surprise that the collective mood of a majority of our guys in this week following Cabot was that of a mild depression. The post-Cabot blues set in pretty quickly and it was hard to get over how fulfilling the whole weekend had been. It was also the reason why I didn't rush to write this blog and thus am one week removed from the experience so you'll have to forgive me for my lack of detail, some of which have been purposefully left out. But here it goes, my recap and review of Cabot 2013...

11 of our guys, all members of BLT, met early on Friday morning at the city airport and flew Porter to Halifax where we met our 2 remaining teammates, Doyle who had left a day early to visit the folks, and Graydon, a new guy and so called 'top dog' who is doing his post-doc at DAL. We eventually picked up our rental vans, which turned out to be the same massive SUVs we had last year, and drove the ~4 hours north to Baddeck in Cape Breton. The drive was mostly uneventful. Sure, tensions started to rise when we skipped a couple stops that were supposed to be to buy groceries but all was well when we finally found some food. The other exception was us getting pulled over by the fuzz who issued Dave Clark a $180 ticket for apparently talking on his cell phone while driving. There was only one problem with this... he wasn't talking on his cellphone at all. That meant we got into a minor altercation with the guy who proceeded to issue the ticket without any evidence of guilt and which meant we (okay Dave and particularly Doyle) became increasingly livid and fired a few choice words at the officer. A short time later and upon our arrival in Baddeck shortly after 6pm, we picked up our team materials and checked into our accommodations, a lovely little place on top of the hill called "Sue's Inn." As captain, I was scheduled to attend the special meeting, and now being late, I ran down the hill as quickly as I could and arrived just as things were getting underway. The organizers went over all the finer details of the event, which is a logistical opera to put together. Well done to the fantastic people who have made this event happen for the past 26 years! Once that finished, I then joined the rest of the team for a nice dinner at a nearby restaurant where we were all overcharged for beer and made to wait for the only electronic debit machine in all Cape Breton. We walked back to base, had a few more beers, tried to hide our unsettled nerves and sooner than later, headed to bed trying not to think about our 5am wake up call.

We woke several hours later and were treated with a special 'all we could eat' breakfast from the owner of our little inn (Sue). With overcast skies and light rain falling, we drove the short distance to the official start of the Cabot Trail and the beginning of the race at St. Anne's Gaelic College.
The boys at breakfast. Thumbs up and ready to go!
Darren was our first runner who ran a solid 'time trial' as he put it and nailed the time he had in mind (1:03) for the 17.0k leg. He placed 3rd overall behind a super talented Cape Breton Roadrunner in Daniel McNeil as well as a Maine-iac, giving us a very good start to the race. It was barely 8am and Darren was already done his duty for the Black Lungs at Cabot.
The start of the race and leg 1 at St. Anne's College.
Next up on leg 2 was our 'ringer' Graydon Snider who silenced the skeptics (ie me) and impressed with a second place finish and a wicked fast time of sub 60 min on the nearly 18km (actually 17.92) rolling hilly route. He then proceeded to wander off for a cool-down jog and after looking everywhere for him for 20 min or so, we opted to leave to support on the next leg hoping he had found his way into another team vehicle. We didn't need him again until leg 15, so we had plenty of time to figure it out.

Graydon flies right out of focus!
Leg 3 (13.5k) was the first of two legs to be run by Michael Doyle. He effortlessly followed in my own footsteps from 2012 and ended up winning the leg outright and well ahead of 2nd place, which helped us to claw back some time on the other teams.

MDF finishes first overall on leg 3.
Veteran Rob Campbell took on the hugely challenging leg 4 (20k with a significant 2k uphill) and was surely affected by the intense heat that settled in half way through the leg. He was leading a trio of runners in 4th place when we first saw him at the top of Cape Smokey (he tried but failed to muster up a smile), but was bested by a much younger and strategically-instructed Kyle Fraser of Cardio Arrest. He gutted it out and came in for 5th place in a very respectable 1:21. Although he looked very near death upon his finish and needed some immediate attention, he quickly came around and was again good to go.
Rob leading the charge up Cape Smokey.
Chris Chapman, who would be leaving us shortly for the nation's capital and wanted a proper sending off, ran the ocean-side and truly scenic leg 5 which apparently started a full 5min early (which is unheard of). He spent the majority of the race battling it out with a Maine-iac who has a significantly faster marathon PB than he, but was eventually able to best him and finish on the podium in third place. This leg was a scorcher as the sun decided to show up and so we probably used about half the water we had purchased for the relay trying to keep Chappers cool and wet. This was perhaps the inspiration for what we hope will be the best themed water stop in the 2014 edition of the event (Look forward to that). Congrats also to Sheri Piers who ended up winning the leg outright as well as setting yet but another impressive women's record. She too would go on to feel the exhausting effects of the heat a short time later and luckily would be 'saved' by our very own A Davey and C Chaps.
Chapman making the final turn for the finish on five.
Tom Hesch took on the deceptively challenging leg 6 and also dug deep to assure himself and our team of an impressive 3rd place finish on the leg. He ran mostly alone and struggled with stomach issues during the 17.5k which also snakes along the wild and often windy shoreline of the Atlantic. He and those who came before him would be duly rewarded with a hot shower at the Cabot High School which is literally located in the very middle of no-where!

Leg 7 belonged and was owned by another 'doubler' Dave Clark who immediately made his mark on the relay by winning the 13.5k leg in an impressive time and was also well ahead of his next competitor. Even 'big' Clark was humbled by the vast stretches of untamed wilderness but made his leg look easy and was now tasked with getting the rest and recovery he would surely need before tackling leg 16 several hours later.

I was due up on leg 8 and was eagerly awaiting my opportunity to finally run for the team. I waited alone for the start of the leg while the others drove ahead (apparently in the wrong direction). The leg started at approximately 630pm and began on a relatively steep hill that I would soon learn kept climbing for the first full km before leveling off. I was revved up and ready to go and when the gun went off, so did I. I settled into the lead position less than 100m into the race and from that point on I ran entirely alone and out front. The first 3k of the leg rose gradually so it took some time to settle into a good pace (my first km was 4:00/k) but I knew that I was constantly building my lead and that I would not be challenged so soon began to relax and  settled in. Around 5k, the leg drops gradually but continuously and I kept telling myself how 'downhill' I thought the leg appeared to be. I truly felt like I was flying and figured I was running in the 3:20's for sure. However there was a slight but stiff headwind more or less the entire time and so when I crossed the line at 12k in a time of 42:41 (about 8 minutes ahead of 2nd place). I'll admit I was a tad bit disappointed that my overall pace (3:34/k) hadn't been quicker. I quickly brushed it off, went for a short cool-down jog, literally cooled down by icing my legs in a nearby river, and then began refueling and refocusing for my much harder and much more important task of running the anchor leg 17.
I forgot to rehearse a good victory celebration so opted for the crazy arms.
Anthony Davey was our chosen (volunteer?) sacrifice who ran leg 9, the so called 'the career ender' given how badly it beats a runner up and down due to its crazy ascent followed by an even more daunting steep descent. Davey was definitely victimized by this leg but was nonetheless able to do the team proud with a fine performance including taking down some competitors in the legs final few k's. He and many others were then rewarded with some 'real' food from a fine little restaurant in Pleasant Bay.

With darkness now having fallen and a wicked wind picking up steam from the south, Doyle set off on his second leg in less than 12 hours and was tasked with the unforgiving role of running almost entirely uphill for 14+k. The wild winds surely slowed down the field and this year seemed to pale in comparison to the calm and star-filled sky of a year ago when I ran this leg (by far the most significant and special run/race I have ever done in my life). I was only just barely able to see him finish, in a solid third, as the long day of excitement and non-stop action was finally getting the best of me.

I returned to our SUV, which was currently housing myself, Chandler and Dave Clark. Clark drove ahead all the way to the end of the downhill leg 11, which was being run by Kevin Gough. Even before the leg was set to start, somewhere about 14k back at the top of Mt. MacKenzie, I somehow managed to fall asleep, as did DC. I woke up in a haze in what seemed like only a few minutes later. I looked at my watch and thought it was the time that Gough would be finishing, so I scrambled out of the vehicle to see. To my surprise, we were completely alone. There was not a car in sight. In that moment I briefly questioned where I was and what I was doing. It didn't make sense. Where was everyone? A few seconds later it occurred to me that more than 2 hours had passed since we had stopped for a 'nap' and so we had missed not only the finish of leg 11, but the start and a majority of leg 12. I woke DC and the two of us drove along the empty road with a now emergent full moon bright in the sky. After awhile of driving we came upon the back of the pack of leg 12. We carried on into Cheticamp and stopped at the Tim Horton's where we were greeted by some of the others. Chandler would finish his leg in a solid second place (this was now two legs in a row where I missed seeing the finish)and could finally get some rest. It was now after 2am on Sunday morning and we had been up for over 20hrs.
Night legs (You can't see much)!
Not wanting to get stuck in the 'hold zone,' we drove ahead of leg 13 and stopped just beyond the 5k water station to wait for the arrival of David Hiddleston. We quickly realized that the winds were now howling worse than they had been all day and that the unfortunate runners of this ~10-mile leg would be battling a 50+kph headwind almost the entire way! Poor Hiddleston we all thought, and poor Hiddleston we soon saw. He had lost contact with Roger and was all on his own. I don't think I've ever felt worse for a fellow runner in my whole life. All I could think was how glad I was that it wasn't me. Ultimately the time and the distance didn't matter on this one. It was all about heart, and Hidds had just given all he had left. Well done David. You did us proud.
Hidds: Moments after completing leg 13.
The hurricane-like conditions continued into leg 14, a long and rolling 19.8k, where little Warren Ringler managed to out-duel a couple close competitors and hang on for 3rd place in what was finally a good time for this leg (all of myself, Rob, Doyle and Darren have run this leg before, and although it doesn't present any particularly brutal challenges, it is often run much slower than what would be expected). Had it not been for the conditions, Ringler would surely have put all our prior times to proper shame. Great job Warren. You're an asset to our team. Day break was now upon us and the race was winding down.

Graydon was set to run his double and although his pace slowed slightly from his first leg, he was rewarded with a big win on leg 15 where he finished more than 4 min ahead of the second place Maine-iac. At this point (the results and standings having completely alluded us overnight), we figured we trailed them by only about 30 min which had never been imagined at any point of the planning of the event (I had actually said coming within an hour of them would have been a success for us). We just needed to hold on for these final two legs.
The penultimate leg (16) was fittingly reserved for Dave Clark (who never ceases to remind us of penultimate benchmarks during our training runs and workouts). His winning ways and beginners 'luck' had seemingly run out however as he went up against a competitive field of foes but nonetheless finished in a solid 4th place.

I was able to see him finish just before being whisked away to the start of leg 17 which was again altered due to construction of a bridge along the usual route of the race. I arrived at the start with only about 10 min to go and we did an oral 'count-off' to ensure that all the teams were present. In what seemed to be the middle of nowhere, and with none of our teammates within miles, 70 runners debarked on the final 19.3k leg of the race with our final destination the finish line in downtown Baddeck. The start of the leg was on a gravel road heading uphill and a couple of my fellow competitors took off ahead of me covering me from head to toe (and eyes) in mud and dirt. Early into the leg, I settled in behind the lead Maine-iac while a younger unknown runner from an unknown team ran essentially by my side. This continued for the better part of 3k when I felt the pace slowing slightly and deemed it time to take it up a notch. I made a move on a medium sized hill and dropped both the Maine-iac as well as 'the kid' who clearly lacked experience. I could tell that while the Maine-iac was content to maintain his current pace, the kid tried to follow me and was right on my heels for several minutes before he began to drift further and further behind. Soon I was all alone in the front and all I could do was keep telling myself that the finish was too far away and that I shouldn't get excited about anything. It was extremely lonely out there and my pace changed rapidly given the constant ups and downs. The winds had almost completely settled down and the temperature was near ideal. I continued on not paying any attention to my pace, and having the unexpected assistance of each km being marked on the pavement, meant that I knew exactly how far I had gone, and how far I had to go. At 10k (approximately halfway), I began to play mental math games to pass the time, by listing all the legs I would have finished by now when I reached a certain distance (leg 8 at 12k; legs 3 and 7 at 13.5k; leg 11 at 14k, etc. etc.). A very long and challenging hill from about 14 to 16k provided a nice mental break before I began to visualize the finish and being done. With about 2k to go, I asked some random spectators if there was anyone behind me. They replied "not for miles" at which point I must have got a shot of adrenaline knowing that I was about to head into Baddeck first, win the glory leg, and finish the relay before any other team. With 1.5k to go, the final and continuous downhill into Baddeck begins. It was about this time that a stupid and impossibly happy smile was cemented to by face. The crowds began to appear and at first all I could do was thank everyone for being there in my moment of triumph. Then I got the first glimpse of my teammates and although I was not flying at close to 3min/k coming toward the finish, I almost wished that time would stand still and that I could relish that moment for all eternity. Unable to think given my unbridled elation, I performed every type of victory celebration I could imagine: high fives and hand slaps for everyone, I did the airplane (thanks Simion), crossed the line with a backwards moonwalk and topped it off with the Tiger Woods fist-pump.

In sum, I was as close to a real-life heaven as I will probably ever get! After taking about a microsecond to catch my breath, which was just enough time for the local photographer it seems, I ran excitedly back to my teammates and we celebrated together a whole weekend of awesomeness. Chapman had fulfilled my wish and handed me a beer which I downed straight away and we also managed to take a bunch of hilarious photos of the whole team (who just naturally happen to also look hilarious). Congrats gentlemen and a sincere 'Thanks' for being a part of the adventure. In the end, my time of 1:10 on the final leg was added to the team total of 17hrs, 30min and 32sec. 2nd overall (and also 2/2 (ie last) for all-male teams). 28min behind 1st. 1:20 ahead of 3rd. 3:48/k for 276k! Can't wait to see what we do next year...

And that Ladies and Gentlemen, is the story of the 2013 Cabot Trail Relay as experienced by me and my Black Lungs.
The Black Lungs 2013. From left: Doyle, Chandler, Chaps, (a little bit of) Darren, Graydon, Gough, Davey (face entirely obstructed), Dan, Coach Campbell, Tom Hesch, Hidds, Ringler and Dave Clark.

Sure, lots of fun stuff happened afterwards too...We ate lobster and carrot cake, drank beer, danced (terribly), sang (even more terribly perhaps), went for a quick dip in the ocean (yup, it was cold!), drank a lot more beer and ate pizza. Then Chapman woke up the next morning with a wicked hangover which he had to tough out the entire way back to Halifax... Good times.



Great report, Dan!

This looks like a fun but crazy event. You guys sent a very solid squad so for a team to be stacked like the Maine-iacs is impressive.

Congrats on the fantastic results!


Anonymous said...

Reading the relay race comment sections on the blog, love your recap of the best weekend of the year. I have run in this 7 times now. You're welcome for the km markers on leg 17 this year. My friend and I did that the week before for our runner. Figured the other runners wouldn't mind!The advantage of living here.