4th Annual Jingle Bell Run, Shelley Lake Greenway, Raleigh, NC

[Note: In some ways, the Jingle Bell Run epitomizes the Runnerpeeps community]

Jingle Bell Peeps!

‘Twas the morn before Christmas, and at Shelley Lake Dam
Fifty peeps gathered, and they’re not even fam.
The jingle bells hung from their sneakers with care
In the hopes that they wouldn’t get lost while they’re out there.
The children were woken and roused from their beds
Some brought their scooters ‘cause there’s no snow for sleds;
And Andrew in his Santa hat, and I in my socks
Knew in our hearts that Runnerpeeps rocks!
Steve had hung jingle bells from his rear
So he deafened his friends and all who were near.
Jeff, Joanna, Cheryl ran early, more miles to do
But they circled back ‘round to meet those who were new.
Meredith and Sandy, their first run with the Peeps
Sure hope that we didn’t give them the creeps.
The Jeffries all know it’s a family affair–
With Camdens, Hambricks, and Eddlemans there.
The Blackwells and Davises brought their whole crew
Wagons and strollers and bicycles too.
Danny soon shed his most awful sweater
And declared to Stephen, “well I feel a lot better.”
Diane, AnaRita, her son Travis too
Ran after Jon and away they all flew.
Paul, Nancy, Kerry, plus others we know
Had brought dogs along, and some wore a bow.
When what to our wondering eyes should appear
But the coach of the Peeps, and when he spoke, all could hear
“Now Stacy! Now Lisa! Andrea and Julie!
On Becky! On Karen! On Ken, Liz and Keri!
To McDonald’s you go! And make sure you don’t fall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”
To McDonald’s and back to the dam they all flew
And as they ran on, their Christmas cheer grew.
Now four years ago Candace started this run
It’s our very last day for Peeps holiday fun.
The 12 days of Christmas were finally done
And although they were tired, they sure had some fun
Steph and Andrew exclaimed, ere they drove out of sight
“Merry Christmas to all! And to all a good night!”

2nd Annual R/NHoSP-t-PRotMST

Veterans of last year’s Reindeer/No Hunting on Sunday Point-to-Point Run on the Mountains to Sea Trail (R/NHoSP-t-PRotMST) might remember the puzzle I sent afterward as a race report, asking readers to match the runners with their reindeer names. There were two flaws: 1) I underestimated the intense competition–people took notes and made charts, spending hours trying to figure it out, and 2) Three of the reindeer had to be guessed. [aka “not enough information to solve the problem.”]

This year’s puzzle is comparatively easy AND solvable for Peeps. You need to know the Peeps listed here just a bit (as well as read my emails, which eliminates many). First 100% correct answer (email me) wins a prize. Reindeer on the run and non-Peeps are ineligible for prizes.

The back story: This is the second time we’ve done this point-to-point run. It’s a bit complicated to organize, but incredibly fun. We leave cars at different endpoints on the NC Mountains-to-Sea Trail along Falls Lake and then shuttle to the Falls Lake Dam to start the run. Those doing the longest distance (~16 miles) run sections 5-10 (as illustrated here and below). MTS Falls Map

Before sunrise, Donner and Blitzen met at Taylor’s and drove up Six Forks Rd. to leave Blitzen’s sled and start the day’s shenanigans. Donner made sure that Blitzen had his fuel belt, because last time he forgot it and ate all her snacks. They were driving up Bayleaf Church Rd in the dark when a mysterious sedan with blacked-out windows started flashing headlights. It turned out to be Vixen, who had made the mistake of calling Thrasher, who suggested that 13+ miles for your first trail run was a tad ambitious.

Vixen had just decided to follow this wise advice from the coach when they arrived at the end of Bayleaf Church Rd to pick up Dancer, who assured Vixen she’d run an easy pace and he’d have no trouble whatsoever. [Vixen then decides to join the dark side.]

Donner hit Possum Track Rd to pick up Dasher and Prancer, who drove together. Dasher, a rockin’ triathlete, was also new to trail running and chose the more conservative 9 mi distance. They reached the end of Possum Track in what was now an overcrowded sled and crammed in Thrasher and Comet, who had carpooled from the Y. They arrived at Starbucks and found Rudolph, who had managed to find the correct Starbucks, as well as Audrey. Incoming…here’s a call from Cupid, who’s at the dam and wondering if it’s too late to get a shuttle from Raven’s Ridge Rd. She is told yes, it is too late, but to sit tight and the herd would be there soon.

The herd arrived at the dam at 7:30 and after posing for a photo, they began their run. Prancer took off up front with intrepid Dasher and curmudgeonly Rudolph, while Thrasher and Donner were the caboose. Cupid had other morning commitments, so she turned around early to head back to the dam with her adventurous little dog. Vixen declared after about 2 miles that he would never run trails again and asked whose sleigh they’d reach first. Comet reassured him that it gets better. Thrasher said he’d give him a lift at 6.5 miles and Vixen groaned. Vixen then took video on his phone while running on the trail, an incredibly bad idea, but managed not to bust his butt.

It was a beautiful morning to be out on the trail, as Donner pointed out to Vixen. The leaf-covered path goes up and down and winds along a serene Falls Lake. It rained a bit but was mostly warm and cloudy. Donner pointed out a holly forest and Christmas ferns along the way for a little holiday-themed botany lesson.

When they reached Raven’s Ridge Rd, what to their wondering eyes should appear but Christmas ornaments and a gift of cheer! Prancer and Dasher were way ahead and missed the reindeer game. Rudolph explained Spoof, which is played with rocks (handy!). After round 1 there was a face-off between Vixen and Thrasher. Thrasher won but shared the gift, which was some kind of combination breath freshener/candy/soap/energy bar/deodorant. The other reindeer were secretly relieved not to win.

Soon, the herd reached Possum Track Rd, where they said goodbye to Thrasher, Comet, and Vixen. As the sleigh disappeared, the reindeer could hear Vixen muttering “single-track” and “never again.” [He’ll be back.] Rudolph then cracked the whip with Dancer, while Donner and Blitzen brought up the caboose and talked non-stop.

Pretty soon they met Dasher and Prancer, who had not only finished their run but had also changed clothes and possibly gone out for breakfast and a movie. Dasher was sold on trail running despite a few ankle rolls in the last mile. Rudolph headed out with those two and the three remaining reindeer continued down the trail. To everyone’s surprise, Dancer’s car appeared quickly and they sadly bid her farewell. And Blitzen’s sled appeared 2 miles short of 16 because Donner had him park it in the wrong spot. They completed the shuttle back to the dam, and the last of the reindeer headed home after another great R/NHoSP-t-PRotMST.

Can you figure out which reindeer is which Peep?

Peeps: Andrew, Steph, Steve, Danny, Joanna, Missy, Jon, Carolyn, Ken Taylor, Ken Martin
Reindeer: Dasher, Thrasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, and Rudolph

The herd getting ready to start!

The herd getting ready to start! 2012 R/NHoSP-t-PRotMST. Now, don’t cheat and try to read the name tags. Play nice!

Delusions of youth at the 2012 Run at the Rock

I renamed this race Run at the Mud in 2009, the first year I did it. Andrew had gushed about this race: the hot soup at the finish, the beautiful waterfall, the fun trails. I couldn’t wait.

Well, it rained for a solid week beforehand and the only soup I saw was on the trails. Here are my memory snapshots: 1) Running in place on a hill, legs churning, feet slipping and going nowhere—guy grabs me and sets me off to the side to pass. 2) What waterfall? 3) Slogging up the hill to the finish, utterly filthy, wet and exhausted, only to hear my always-encouraging friend Steve shouting “NO SOUP STEPH!”

With that first experience it’s surprising I returned. I ran the 7 again in 2010 and then the 14 for the first time last year and loved it. Last year I had my first-ever 1st AG finish and my time was 2:01 and change, so when I signed up this year, two hours seemed like a great goal. But, I took some recovery time after Triple Lakes. Then I pretty much slacked off.

Suddenly the race was a week away. I re-adjusted my goal to try for even or negative splits (something I need to work on for the marathon distance) but after a promising set of 800s two weeks ago, I thought I’d see where I was at the end of lap 2 and set time goals from there.

I hosted the pre-race dinner again this year with two significant improvements: 1) I remembered to make the pasta, and 2) I did not melt anyone’s crock pot. I expect Martha herself to drop by any day now to induct me into the Hostess with the Mostest Hall of Fame.

Danny, Gordy, Steve, Jeff, Ken, Kerry, Shellie and I met earlier than needed to drink coffee and talk smack, then we piled into vehicles to caravan to Burlington. I was excited that this year’s t-shirts were gender-specific—same brand and cut as my Triple Lakes shirt in royal purple.

Our merry crew in our primo parking spot next to the course!

Our merry crew pre-race!

Had a chance to chat with Scott before the start of the race, and my former colleague Sandra, and say hi to a few others who I now recognize from local races. The local trail running community is a great and friendly one. However, I’m sure that the Peeps raised some eyebrows when we broke out in a chorus of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” in the corral, minutes before the start.

"When You're Happy and You Know It..." What? What else are you supposed to do to kill time before the race starts?

What? What else are you supposed to do to kill time before the race starts?

The race started and I went out according to my plan—run hard down up the pavement and through the field to be well-situated when we duck into the woods. Right after you hit the single track and cross a bridge, there’s a hill where you have to slow down as you run single-file. That was crucial to my plan, because it gave me a chance to find my left lung, which I thought I’d lost in the pasture.

Me, Danny, Kerry and Jeff. All I can think when I see this is the poem: When I am an old woman I shall wear purple/With a red hat that doesn't go, and doesn't suit me. When will someone give me a pre-race fashion consult? Also: my first-time wearing of my LRTR arm thingies. I feel so hi-tech!

Me, Danny, unknown dude, Kerry and Jeff. All I can think when I see this is the poem: When I am an old woman I shall wear purple/With a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me. When will someone give me a pre-race fashion consult? At least Kerry is wearing her redneck fishin’ hat and shirt.

I like to project a fun-loving, laid-back running demeanor, but I do have a competitive streak (not to be confused with my tilting-at-windmills smack-talking for hopeless match-ups with much faster friends). It can be tough to dial back and let people pass on the first lap of a two-lap race. According to the results, 200 did the 7 miler while only 100 did the 14, so it was a good bet that many were just in for 7 miles. Or so I told myself.

The course isn’t too technical, with many runnable flat sections, including some pretty ones along the creek. The most treacherous parts involve steep, rocky descents obscured by fluffy, newly-fallen leaves. Although I know it’s foolish, I flew down some of these, because it is just that fun and yes, I have been lucky thus far. Plus, non-speedy runners like me count on gravity to save their energy/lungs for the hard hills. Gravity WORKS! Use it, friends!

Running conditions were perfect and my legs felt great. Several times I found myself gasping for breath, so I slowed down on the hills and then tried to pick it up on the flats and descents. My recent lack of hill training was evident. I also tried to make mental notes for lap 2 (some people have motivational mantras—mine are more like, “Pay attention! What mile is it again?”). I crossed the bouncy bridge to enter the mountain bike trail just past mile 5 and started an uphill slog. I knew this would be tough on lap 2, as well as the hill to the finish line.

I came up the hill and started lap 2—always a reality check as two-thirds of the runners finish amidst whoops and cheers, and spectators and 7 mile finishers steal furtive, pitying looks at those of us in for the next loop (I always imagine them making mental notes so they can provide a description to the authorities later). I also saw that I was just over an hour, and figured the two hour time goal was out of reach.

The second loop is actually my favorite…mostly alone and with fewer distractions. During the first loop your pace is largely dictated by other runners, but the second time around it’s up to you to set your pace and run your race. I let out a Wolfpack howl to Jeff and Danny, who were nearby, and tried to focus.

I lost my balance at the waterfall (which did not have much water falling) while on the right side of my friend Kerry on the angled boulder. I looked down and it was a BIG drop to the creek. I hoped the tread would hold on my shoes and kept moving. Whew.

Hit the last gravel hill and heard cheers from Steve, Shellie, and Ken, and crossed the finish line at 2:02 and some change. But, I had met my goal! I was honestly surprised, as I thought I’d been close to a 9 minute pace on lap 2.

IMG_4239

Lap 1, 1:01:37.

Lap 1, 1:01:37. Lap 2, 1:01:06. Right on the money!

After our crew was in safe and sound, we grabbed some hot soup (chicken noodle, yum) and headed back to the cars to change clothes. On the ground in front of the cars was an assortment of t-shirts, gloves and hats our group had tossed at the start of lap 2. THAT is what you call premium race parking.

Kerry, Steve and I had won awards, so most of our crew headed back, ate Chips Ahoy, and laid in the sun, waiting for the awards ceremony to start. The minutes went ticking by, people were dispersing, and we eventually decided to pick up our awards and head out.

I made it home and proudly showed Andrew my second-ever 1st AG award. He grinned, then said with barely restrained amusement, “Um, Steph…30-39?” I had mistakenly picked up the wrong plaque! At 41, I have been in the 40-49 age group for more than a year. I was mortified. I jumped onto the results as soon as they were posted, and contacted Shannon Johnstone in complete embarrassment about stealing her award. Fortunately, she was very nice about it and even thought it was hilarious.

She said not to bother mailing it, but how could I possibly keep this award knowing it isn’t mine? After all, my running buddies will assuredly bust my chops about it for the next year—I’ll have all the reminders I need without a plaque commemorating my foolish delusions of youth.

Nice, huh? It isn't mine.

Nice, huh? Well, it isn’t mine.