Standing around at the start of the race I tried to keep my thoughts focused on how to handle the run. Normally I keep myself in good enough shape that around half marathon distance is never a problem. Unfortunatly my training as of late had not been up to normal. Starting off with a 15 mile run would probably be pushing my limits a bit. Not so much that I thought I might not finish but I didn't know how sore it would leave me for my other two legs. I still had an 8.1 mile leg with a very large hill and a 4.4 mile leg that I would need to deal with. Of course I didn't want anyone else worrying about it so I kept my concerns about the distance to myself for the most part. On the bright side the weather was perfect. Slightly cool and overcast. Nothing like the hot sunny day I had been anticipating.
As 9 a.m. approached I went to the start line and joined the others that shared our start time. Soon after the race officials counted down and I took off with corn cob in hand, Danielle's personal baton which I tossed as soon as I started running. I was immediately out in front and the sounds of the other runners began to fade behind me. Some of the markers guiding me through the route were a little confusing at a distance but they were fairly easy to follow. After a few miles I was moving along at a strong yet comfortable pace, around 7 min/mile, and I was feeling that with the weather as great as it was that 15 miles was doable.
Then when all seemed to be going so well, it happened. Over 3 miles into the race I came across a large very busy intersection with no signs or directions of any kind. I decided that I was either supposed to wait for my chance to cross the intersection or follow the sidewalk turning right. There were no runners in front of me so I couldn't use them as a guide. As I approached I decided that they wouldn't make me wait for a busy intersection like this without giving me some kind of marking saying I needed to cross so I followed the sidewalk. Feeling extremely unsure about my decision I kept watch over my shoulder to see what the next runner would do. Unfortunately by this time he had fallen way behind me so this took some time. Finally he reached the intersection and turned to follow me. This gave me some relief, however I thought he might just be assuming that I knew the way. After about half a mile I came to another busy intersection with no signs. All I could think was that this was all wrong and I turned around and started running back toward the first intersection. As I intercepted the next runner we exchanged some confused gestures and we stopped to evaluate the course. He quickly convinced me to continue the way I had been going, saying that even if it was wrong we could make a turn up ahead that would bring us back to the course. He sounded like he knew what he was talking about so I agreed and went back out ahead of him. Examining the course map afterwards shows that this could have worked if we were lucky. As it turned out lady luck was pointing and laughing at us as we just went even further off course. At this point I once again ran back to Steve and saw that all the others behind us must have turned back a while ago. The two of us ran on exchanging many a four letter word about the lack of a sign in a key location. Our off course running led us through many busy roads including a short run on I-90 before we happened upon a gas station where we stopped and borrowed a phone from the girl working there. Steve called his van and found the intersection nearest the exchange. So we asked for directions to that intersection and were told it was a few miles away. The entire time I was off course I was angry about not having one more sign, upset about ruining the race in the very first leg, worried about being able to handle the extra miles in an already long double leg. Before making the call Steve and I had talked of the possibility that someone would have to pick us up and bring us to the exchange. Would we get disqualified for that? What a horrible way to start a race. Once we did know where we needed to go it was a little comforting. On the last couple miles back to the exchange the fear and worry was taken over by the rage of me screwing up the race right at the beginning. When I finally got to the first exchange I was so pissed with myself that I ignored the water and tore straight through the exchange and on to the next leg.
The second leg was pretty straight and easy to follow. They had easy to follow signs for the couple turns that did exist. My self hatred lasted for several miles in which time I must have been running well under a 7 min pace. With what must have been a little over a mile left to go I started to lose steam, slowing to just slightly faster than the runners around me. As the second exchange came into sight I looked at my watch and was amazed to see that I'd easily still make it in less than two hours. My legs were falling apart with my knees and calves feeling especially sore so I didn't even try to pick it up at the end. I noticed something that seemed a little odd. I didn't see any runners near the exchange. Actually I didn't see anyone from my van at all! Sure enough I got to the exchange and had no one to hand off to. The volunteer at the exchange called out my race number several times. I called out our team name but there was no response. After a couple minutes I left the exchange to make room for other runners starting to come through. A few of the other vans took notice of my holding the wristband while standing around and informed me that the directions for the vans to get to that exchange were bad. Steve from leg 1 showed up to wait for his teammate and we made a few jokes about the whole situation. After five minutes or so I borrowed the volunteers phone and started calling my phone in the van to see if they were still lost. Nobody answered which made me think maybe they were out of the van at the next exchange. I asked the volunteer if she could contact the next exchange somehow to check. Unfortunately the only number she had was for the race director who seemed to have a bad connection the first time she tried. I mentioned that I was thirsty, after all I didn't take any water for the entire run, and she gave me a couple bottles. After around 10 or 15 min I decided there was no since in me worrying about it since I couldn't really do anything so I sat around and relaxed. I didn't really talk to many people but they must have all noticed me sitting around with the wrist band baton. For most of the rest of the race I got to have conversations about getting left and people noteing that my van finally found me almost every time I walked by anyone. Which they did eventually find me. About 40 min after I arrived at the exchange my van pulls up with Laurie jumping out before it's even stopped. I handed off and she sprinted down the road toward a PR. I then found out that they had been at the next exchange waiting for me and it just took a little while to realize it. I'd have to say it was the most interesting start of a race I've ever had.
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