Race Report: Couples Relay

The Couples Relay is a fun, small relay (duh) where one woman runs two miles and then hands off to her male partner, who runs two miles. I’ve been in charge of it for the last three years and this year Steve and I finally actually ran it. I’m pretty sure he was only convinced to run it after talking shit about trying to beat Pete and Ilyce, but then Ilyce got the flu and we still ended up running it.

It rained a lot this weekend and, since we’re in the middle of a drought, no one was totally prepared for it. If you don’t live in Northern California, then let me give you an idea of what it was like from Thursday to yesterday night. It was like this:

You’re going to get soaking wet. Why not run a race?

I was really stressed about this for some reason. Even though the race is about 100-150 people usually and was even fewer this year because of the rain, I was still totally anxious. Two miles just sounded infinitely worse than both one mile (which would be done by the time it started to hurt) and a 5K (which would be slower and not as painful). The women went first, so I started with a few high school girls and a bunch of fast women.

For a mile, it was no problem. I tucked in right behind the four high school kids and it didn’t feel easy but it didn’t feel hard either. Every time I started to fall back or it started to suck they’d slow down or I’d bridge back up or it’d pass. We ran straight through puddles and my Garmin said we hit the first mile in 5:58, so I was pretty much ready to call it then. There was no way I was going to do better than that.

Then, on the second lap — each lap was one mile-ish, another woman caught up to me and passed me and I all of a sudden remembered there were other people in the race behind me too. She went by me and passed a couple of the high school girls, who were slowing down. I followed, but slipped farther behind her. And, then, for two or three minutes, it sucked. A lot. The woman who went by me and the front high school girl were battling it out and pulling away. I was dying. It hurt so bad. Actually, I have no recollection of the pain; it’s interesting how those things are wiped from our memory. I remember that it did hurt, but not the hurt itself. I was in the middle of the longest two mile in history. And, then a (fast) 50-year-old woman caught me.

I told myself Steve was going to give me hella shit if I got beat by this many people before I handed off to him, so I forced myself to go with her. We were almost done by then, trying to pump my arms and plow through the increasingly heavier rain. The GPS said we hit the second mile in 6:07. And, then there were still seven more seconds before I reached the hand-off. WTF, race director, get it together.

Steve held our position and we finished in fourth, behind two high school teams and one adult team. And, then, everyone got awards, because we always have awesome prizes for the Couples Relay and then we spent another two hours picking everything up after the race. And, this is what our house looks like because all the wet clothes and shoes are drying everywhere and the rains have taken over:


But, still, totally worth it to run two almost six minute miles. I wasn’t even sure I was going to be able to do that. And, since I am the race director for the Couples Relay, I give the entire race an A+ for effort.

My high school boys, who I assistant coach, took second at cross-country sectionals yesterday. It’s the seventh year or so in a row that the team has qualified for the state meet — which is some sort of record. Everyone wants to know now what it is that the head coach is doing, what’s his secret. He sent out an email with this quote from ‘Once a Runner.’ The secret.

And too there were questions: What did he eat? Did he believe in isometrics? Isotonics? Ice and heat? How about aerobics, est, ESP, STP? What did he have to say about yoga, yogurt, Yogi Berra? What was his pulse rate, his blood pressure, his time for 100-yard dash? What was the secret, they wanted to know; in a thousand different ways they wanted to know The Secret. And not one of them was prepared, truly prepared to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy mental tricks as with that most unprofound and sometimes heart-rending process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the bottoms of his training shoes. The Trial of Miles, Miles of Trials. How could they be expected to understand that?

The Making of Champions

The pennant.
The pennant.

Yesterday, my high school boys won the conference championship race. It was very exciting and I yelled a bunch at them during the race, things like “you need to pass him” and “come up, close that gap” — all very original and brilliant coaching. (I also am hoping none of their parents get mad that there’s a picture of them on the internet here, since there are also pictures of them on the local newspaper’s website.)

The day before the race the newspaper wrote a preview of it. In it they said the boys’ title was locked up, guaranteed, no surprises, it was going to be won by a school that wasn’t us. Which was weird, because the rest of us thought it was up in the air between three teams. I’m pretty sure that article did nothing except motivate our boys to show everyone.

But, it made me think about how we respond to obstacles and expectations. Why do we decide sometimes to say ‘screw you, I’ll show you’ and sometimes ‘oh well, I guess I’m not that good?’ Why do some people fall apart under expectations and some people rise to them?

As soon as I figure this out, I’ll let you know.

A Few Random Things That Weren’t Individually Worth Their Own Post

  • It turns out Tupac the Cat is a boy, not a girl. Obviously, this has changed everything and he is very confused.
  • I started training at KQED this morning for an on-call job. This is very exciting, fyi. But, I do not know how people workout and make it to offices by hours like 8 a.m. I especially don’t know how they do this if they went to a comedy show last night and Dana Carvey made a surprise appearance and it went super late. I got about six hours of sleep and didn’t do anything this morning except get up, shower, and get in the car.
  • At that comedy show, the woman taking tickets recognized me from hosting the local weekly news show, Seriously Now, on public access. I’m pretty much a celebrity.
  • My sister is visiting through Saturday. We’re trying to come up with super awesome exciting things to do tomorrow.
  • Yesterday, before Maggie got here, I did a track workout at the high school by my house — which, incidentally, is not the high school I coach at, it’s our rivals — and there was a PE class going on. Since it’s the last days of school, they were just goofing off and the teacher didn’t mind that I was running in the middle of their class. So, I talked to him a bit and then he started giving one of the kids a hard time, saying ‘When I was your age, I could run a 10-flat 100m. Can you do that?’ And the kid said, ‘Yeah, yeah, I could totally do that if I wanted to.’ Which, obviously, he couldn’t, because you know 10″ is quite fast for 100m. But, the teacher challenged him to do it then instead of just being all talk. So, we all watched the two kids, who were convinced they were super awesome, make it about 50m before completely losing steam. Ah well.

High School Track: Hot Shit

Yesterday, I spent all afternoon at our high school invitational track meet. (By my calculation, I walked about five miles back and forth across the track, ushering kids to their spots.) It’s a big relay meet, with almost 30 schools from around the Bay Area, and the kids run a sprint medley or a distance medley or a co-ed 4 x 800m or 4 x 200m. And, man, do they think they’re hot shit.

Fastest kid in their class, at their school, in their county, at the meet. I got conned into handing out the medals for the sprint medley (100m-100m-200m-400m) and all those kids were pretty sure they were the greatest thing since, I dunno, last year’s meet?

It made me think about when I ran track in high school. I had a love/hate relationship with track. I was fast and thought it was fun, but it lacked the team spirit and funky hi-jinks of cross-country.

Every year in high school the goal was to qualify for state. To qualify, you had to be top two at Sectionals or run a qualifying time at Sectionals — not at some other point in the season. I was an 400m and 800m runner and every year I just missed the qualifying time in the 800m. (It was 2:21.5. I still know that.) My freshman year the Sectional race was on one of those crazy Chicago days where you get shitty winter weather at the beginning of May. Terrible winds were slowing everyone down by a couple seconds a lap. I ran a 2:24 in that two-lap race. A great effort. ‘You’ll get it next year,’ everyone said. I didn’t.

The race I really remember, though, 12 years later, is the sprint medley we almost qualified in my sophomore year. I ran the 400m, after three other girls ran 100m, 100m, and 200m. We were good. We got invited to the indoor state meet based on our times in indoor track. (I lived in Chicago. We had indoor track. And, because it was Chicago, sometimes the indoor meets would be on hot February days and the outdoor meets would be held in hail in April.) When we hit the outdoor season, we won a lot. But, we ran consistently 1:53 or 1:54. Qualifying was 1:50.

The week before Sectionals, we ran a 1:53 at conference. We had to cut three seconds off, so I learned closed hand-offs in a day. I still remember Tory telling me, more or less, to just start running as fast as I could when she said ‘go’ and she’d get me the baton. If you’ve never run a relay, that’s crazy. The hand-off is nerve-wracking and takes lots and lots of practice. It’s when the most things can go wrong.

At Sectionals, it worked. We had flawless hand-offs, everyone ran the fastest they’d ever run. And, I got the baton in second place. I still remember rounding that first turn and thinking, “We’ve got it. We’ve got it. We’re going to state!” And, then, this girl who went on to run a 56″ 400m passed me. We were in third, but I could still qualify on time. I could!

We came around the last turn, less than 100m to go, and I could see the clock at the finish line. It was going to be so close. A girl came up on my inside and I could feel another behind me. We were flinging ourselves toward the finish, all hoping for the 1:50, and my legs turned to rubber. They simply couldn’t go any faster. It was the first (and, to a degree, the only) time my legs have ever completely given out like that. It wasn’t like I hit a wall or stopped being able to run, I just couldn’t make my legs turn over any faster. And, I wanted to. God, I wanted to.

I crossed the finish line in 1:51. I don’t know how I knew that. I couldn’t hear anyone in the stands or see anything else, but I knew we hadn’t made it as soon as I finished. It turned out I had run a 60:something, the fastest I’d ever run, but I only found that out later. Right then, I simply fell over on my hands and knees and started throwing up. I don’t think I got up for five minutes. I don’t think I knew you could throw up that much either.

Twelve years later, I still remember that particular combination of complete exhaustion and disappointment. I know I ran the 800m later that meet and didn’t qualify in that either, but I don’t remember anything about it.

I wonder what the kids from this weekend will remember, if they will keep running, if this will be the time they didn’t win or the time they did. I hope standing on that podium wasn’t the highlight of their lives. (And I’d like to note, for my personal satisfaction, that the winning girls team ran a 1:53.) There was a NPR story once about someone hitting their high point in high school, when they caught the softball to win the championship. It became the best thing they ever did. Nothing else could top it. That story’s become code in my family for peaking to soon, for never being able to top standing on some podium in high school. Don’t want to catch the softball, we say to each. Don’t catch the softball.