There is a unique race here called the Seneca7. Seneca Lake is a large-ish lake about an hour from where we live. More specifically, its perimeter is roughly 77.7 miles long. While there is more information on the Seneca7 website, the gist is that you and six friends (acquaintances, strangers, etc) complete a relay style run around the lake. The distance is broken into 21 legs, each runner gets three legs. The cumulative distance each runner runs is somewhere between 9.5-13 miles. While one person is running, the rest of the team piles into a van (hopefully) and drives to the next exchange point. Repeat until you finish. The race organizers are big advocates for sustainability and making it as “green” of an event as possible. Pretty cool. This means that they came up with the wonderful concept of bike teams. Basically, when you aren’t running you are biking. So those 66ish miles you aren’t running, rather than driving, you hop on a bike and peddle to the next exchange. Back in September, after several rounds of drinks, someone declared that while it was fun, we should amp up the challenge of it and be a bike team. We decided it was a grand idea and that we would train like crazy over the winter and be in super good shape. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Seneca7 was Sunday and while none of trained as well as we should have (snow on the ground until 3 weeks ago hindered some of our training) and we weren’t really prepared, we completed/survived it and did a good deal better than we had anticipated! While getting the play by play of the whole 11 hour 32 minute 57 second trip around the lake may be a bit tedious, here is a quick run down of some of the highs, lows, and did that just happens of the day.
To start, we had bib number 15, team Bad Wolf, consisting of (in runner order) me, Tom, Bryan, Jason, Alex, Jonathon, and Brenna. Based on our anticipated pace our wave started at 7am. Which meant our day started at 5:30am. 7am the horn sounded and I took off. After the first few blocks and unexpected hill scramble (what the???) things leveled off and I found my stride. A few minutes later I was passed by two people roped together. Holding hands. I was a bit confused until they got a few paces ahead of me. The woman had a sign attached to the back of her shirt saying “Blind Runner”. I am so impressed by this woman who, regardless of her disability, competed in this challenging event on fairly major roads with sometimes questionable footing. The support of the man she was running with was truly touching. I don’t know how their team ended up doing but she was an inspiration when things got rough.
About halfway through my first leg I saw a bike team on the side of the road fixing a flat. My bike team. Some panic set in, will Tom be at the exchange? How long will it take to fix? Tom was waiting for me and said during the hand off, I don’t know where they are/what happened. I found Tom’s bike and after some failed communication events I took off to the next hand-off in case we needed to leap frog legs until the team caught up. Turns out Bryan’s back tire had blown and after some additional issues replacing the tube, the local bike store (and bike support!) came out to help. Soon the rest of the team caught up and we tried to find our rhythm. All ideas of biking between exchange points as a unified team quickly disappeared as we would bike in groups of twos and threes depending on who had just run/needed to recover and who the next runners would be.
One advantage of being a bike team is being able to bike along the course the runners run. That means less time spent on busy roads and more scenery. While we were enjoying said scenery on leg 4, my chain decided to pop off while shifting gears. Easy enough to fix however when it happens while you are going up a hill, you end up having to push your bike to the top. As we were peddling our way on leg 5, a guy on a horse turned on to the road ahead of us. So here we are, on our bikes, cars going by us, horse in front of us needing to be passed. Finding a break in the cars and hoping the horse wouldn’t spook, we pulled out to pass and were back on our way. Brenna and I kept peddling at the next exchange point to get to Brenna’s first leg. Right before we got there, a herd of deer bounded across the road. They moved effortlessly, like they were floating on air, just briefly touching the ground to keep propelling them forward.
After Brenna’s hand-off, we kept moving to the next exchange for my second leg. One of the provisions of the race is that if you get to the exchange between legs 7 and 8 before 11, you would be held until 11. We were pretty much rockstars for our first legs and I got held for 7 minutes. Go us. 11 am and I take off on my second leg, a very steep downhill. 10-ish steps in and I feel a sharp pain in my good knee. Every couple of steps it felt like it was going to buckle. Turns out the downhill was so steep because it was a ravine going down to the water, with a lovely waterfall. And unfortunately, what goes down goes back up. A very very steep up. All runners ground to a walk until the pitch became more reasonable. Once side road met back up with the main road, I could see the exchange point looking deceptively close. After my hand-off (and making sure my knee still worked) we started back up again. At some point in here we hit the giddy/silly part of an endurance activity. Part of our ride to the half way point was an intense downhill going into Watkins Glen. Watkins Glen is a small town by a race track. The track does mostly NASCAR now but it used to be home to one of the best road courses. It was NASCAR opening weekend and the one road in town was VERY busy. We had an interesting time playing frogger with traffic until we got to the exchange point. Something awesome about the half way point is that there was a special bike team refueling station. Complete with local organic juices. The bike shop was working the station and the same guy that fixed Bryan’s tire did a quick tune up to keep chain from derailing.
Something fun about this race is the characters you meet. On one of the other bike teams there was a guy riding the unicycle. It seemed like a very unusual mode of transportation. I asked him how he ended up riding the unicycle in the race, considering you would need to have another guy to ride it while your running. He started “Not many people ride endurance unicycle…”
We resumed our trip around the lake by slowly climbing back up out of Watkins Glen. We kept moving from exchange point to exchange point. Roughly 10 miles down the road, traffic started getting backed up. So something about Seneca lake, the climate is good for grape growing. And there are a bunch of wineries around the perimeter. Which means wine tours. The traffic back up was due to a tour bus that misjudged a winery driveway and was firmly wedged between the driveway and the road, completely blocking traffic. Another benefit of the bikes, not having to wait for traffic to clear!
Before I knew it, it was time for my third run. I anxiously put on my knee brace (never run in it before, eek!) and waited for Brenna. Quarter mile into my run, there was a sharp pain in my right knee. Turns out my gait was screwy due to the knee brace and other knee hurting. I kept moving with my lop-sided shuffle run until I figured out a new stride that was a bit more comfortable. With a little under a mile left I was in rough shape. Then I heard a dog howling and it was like the bad wolf was cheering me on. I may have been past giddy to to the delusional phase of endurance at this point…
We kept progressing through the rest of the legs, each of us with our own unique challenges. While Bryan was biking leg 18, he saw someone putting their boat in for the year. And they were having a bit of an issue with that. The boat was slowly sinking. There was a person in a canoe attempting to hold the front of he boat up. It was a losing battle. Finally the last exchange happened and as a team we biked to the end while Brenna ran there. We joined up as a team and crossed the finish line together! While we didn’t place or have a super impressive time, we finished! And survived! AND did it 45 minutes faster than we thought we would! All around a rewarding but fatiguing experience.