You know those lucky kids who win some contest or something and get to meet professional athletes – like baseball players or football players – and in the dressing room the athletes give the kids jerseys that are 12 sizes too big and then they bring the kids onto the field and let them throw a pitch or catch a touchdown pass? You’ve seen this on TSN or on the news – the kids wear these big proud grins the size of their whole head and everyone feels great for them because for a moment, they too are part of the team. Well, that’s exactly how I felt at the Cabot Trail Relay – except my singlet actually fit.
Somehow the universe conspired to give me a gift: I got to be a part of the team that not only won the Cabot Trail Relay but also destroyed the previous course record by 38 minutes. It was an absolutely amazing and inspiring experience. And I stayed up to watch and cheer every leg of the race except for the first – from 8:30am on Saturday until noon on Sunday. I watched 15 amazing performances and got to participate in one race myself. Sure, mine was the shortest leg and one of the easier ones (although that mile-long climb at the beginning was hell enough for me!), but I did my job – I ran a solid pace despite some painful ankle tendinitis and was 4.5 minutes faster than the guy who ran the leg for the team last year – that’s a decent contribution to the goal of beating the team’s previous result. I didn’t win my leg – in fact, I gave up two minutes to a dude from the Maine-iacs (our closest rivals), but I was 5 minutes ahead of the third-place guy. I did fine. And I get to keep my jersey!
There are too many stories to tell – and not all of them are appropriate to tell, at least the ones involving nudity and the police – but I can say that it was without doubt the best running experience I’ve ever had. And I got to run at sunset and enjoy the fading light streaming over the highland hills. And I got to witness gutsy performances up and down mountains and share in the excitement of watching the team pull away from all competitors and following the numbers as we pulled further and further ahead of the record. And the thing about the record is that it was set by a team that had corporate sponsorship: they had a Winnebago, they had a massage therapist, they had 4 former Olympians for pete’s sake! And we were just a bunch of guys with a couple of beer-filled vans and the crazy idea of being the fastest team yet. Okay, I’m over-dramatizing here because we had a bunch of studs – former CIS champions, etc. – and the team that set the record was a bit older than us – but it was all very magical anyway!
I’m grateful for the experience – and the best part was meeting so many great guys – solid individuals, for sure – and sharing in a kind of close team camaraderie that is so rare in running. We laughed and we drank and we ran hard and had a hell of a man-cation! In the future, I might tell a few specific stories from the weekend, but for now these general impressions will have to serve. So much happened that it will take awhile for me to process it all and gain a kind of narrative perspective.
Until then, I work on overcoming my tendinitis and take another shot this weekend at a sub-17 5k. My chances are slim after all that sleep deprivation and boozing – and all the missed training runs – but I’m going to go gut it out on Saturday anyway – what the hell. After all, the whole point of putting those huge jerseys on kids is to inspire them to do their best, even if they’ll never be pros. But for a weekend, I got to be a pro!