Sunday, December 6, 2009

Mill Cities Relay: A Great Finish to the Year

Photo by Mike Wade of Me, Ken Snow, and Mike Merra  with the brick we won for our efforts.

Today was the 26th annual Mill Cities Relay run from Nashua to Lawrence, Ma. I was running my first relay as a senior runner. The race also included another personal first. No, not the black knee-high compression socks I wore as I used to wear similar looking tube socks in the 1970's (and at 50 who cares what you look like!). Today I had my first ever photo finish sprint to the finish line.

The Mill Cities Relay is a five leg 28.3 mile relay along the Merrimack River. Over 200 teams and 1000 runners took part this year. I was running on the Snowmen team for the Gate City Striders. The first leg had team captain, Ken Snow, starting us off with his 5.65 mile journey. The next leg saw replacement runner, John Dalton racing 4.75 miles before handing off to Peter Davenport. Peter was so quick I never saw him the entire day. His leg was 2.5 miles and he handed off to Mike Merra for the long 9.5 mile leg.

Mike Merra cruising on the long leg. Photo by Justin Platt.

 Mike stepped it up as Jerry Fitzgibbon was unable to race this leg due to the fact that he is in Japan. That left me with the final 4.75 mile leg.

Justin Platt got a photo of my socks! My daughters are horrified!

I don't know my time or pacing on my leg. I did pass more than 10 runners durinig the leg, but many of them were veterans or fast females on mixed teams. I was thrilled with the fact that no one had passed me until I hit almost one mile to go. I heard fast footsteps and a runner went charging by. I decided that since he looked my age or a bit older that at least I should put up a bit of a fight. I gained back the 10 yards he had on me and tried to stay with him. I kept expecting to be broken and fall back and did get dropped a couple of times, but I renewed my enthusiasm and caught back up. I was pretty pleased to be putting up some fight, because I am not a fast finisher in races and this guy looked very strong and smooth.

With about 1/2 mile to go we had to take a left turn and he got 15 yards on me by running up the sidewalk. I closed that one down and tried twice to go by him with no luck. This was getting fun, but I know these duels always finish with me watching the heels of the other guy sprinting ahead. I was also thinking that I did not want to be the guy that lost by a few seconds to another team that might cost the Gate City Striders some points or even the championship. I also didn' t want to let my teammates down by losing a close finish. I recalled watching the Nike Team Cross Country National High School Champtionships online yesterday and said to myself that maybe I could pull off a finish like that! So at the last corner before the finish line I decided to give it one last go. I think this is about 200 yards or so to the finish. Not only did I gain a few steps, I realized I was catching another runner about 20 yards ahead. Things went too quickly from there. I think the other guy started catching back up with about 50 yards to go. I tried to dig deep and not give up and was quickly gaining on the guy ahead who was getting closer and closer. With about 30 yards to go I was caught and we were running side by side and inches from each other. I tried to keep my legs smooth but I was being pushed over to the snow covering on the side of the road. I was worried about slipping or losing my footing and then with 20 yards to go I got an elbow to my chest. That set my momentem back and I had to scramble from there. We were still attached side by side and I surged and surged and hit the line. I felt my chest was ahead by maybe an inch or two and thought I had it, but I slowed after the line and the other guy got ahead of me in the chute.

We congratulated each other for the fun finish, for it really was fun! He said he thought it was a tie and I said that I was fine with that because I really enjoyed the thrill of the whole thing. I got his name, but forgot it and I am not sure it is the name listed in the results. And the results show that we had the same exact time and we just missed catching up to the other guy as he finished just one second ahead of us. Ten minutes after the finish I asked the timer, Mike Amarello who had finished first and he said I had and the results show this. In the hundreds and hundreds of races I have run this was my first photo finish and the best and closest ever dual I had ever been a part of. I was thrilled with the finish and in a year when I did not have one satisfying or memorable race (other than a snowshoe race win-with only 15 competitors) this one was a great one that I should remember fondly.

To the spectators it may have looked like two weary old-timers lumbering together towards the finish, but to me it felt like this:

And isn't that why we run, to experience such really thrilling moments!

My club the Gate City Striders won the competition for the second year in a row. My team finished third overall in the 50-60 age catagory.

Here is a video of the Nike Cross Nationals High School National Meet. The race is great, but check out the finish starting at about 14:30. The top three runners finished within 6/10 of a second from each other.


Mike Merra said...

Jim, Great write up on Sunday's race. It was a lot of fun and it was nice being on a team that defeated my wife's team as I rarely get bragging rights in my house. I was relieved knowing you would be the anchor and would make up for my many mis-steps (and pit stops). Great pictures! One confirms how truly bow-legged I am!

Jim Hansen said...

Hey Mike,
Forget the bow-legged stuff. I'll trade you my knock-knees!Anyhow I just got the new Running Times and there is Cathy with a whole article and picture (and you made it too-riding on her coattails). What a great article. Congratulate Cathy for me. I always thought she had been running her whole life. I gotta see that movie, so I can improve like you two!

Scotty "PHAT" Graham said...


I was standing at the finish line when you came elbowing your way in. It was really fun to watch.

Jim Hansen said...

Thanks Scotty-hopefully it wasn't too awkward looking!
I'll be seeing you in some snowshoe races soon I hope!