Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Skillet Cookies

The only way to run a marathon is to do so with four friends. Not in a training group so you can encourage one another through the arduous miles. Literally. Like splitting up the race into five pieces.

Jon and I recently ran in the St. Jude Memphis Marathon Relay, the first time this particular event was held. Due to our involvement in a weekly running group, we heard that a relay was to be added to the wildly popular full marathon, half-marathon, and 5K distances. I instantly wanted in. Jon and I had tried unsuccessfully to sign up for the half-marathon for the past two years, as the race filled up before we could register (mere days prior in 2011). The relay seemed like the perfect alternative to run in a race whose starting line is a short walk from our apartment. Plus, it seemed like a heck of a lot more fun than running 26.2 or even 13.1 miles.

Since 2012 was the inaugural relay, it took a bit longer for logistics to be worked out for the race, delaying the registration period. But we were ready. (It didn't hurt that one of the teammates we recruited works for St. Jude on the fundraising side and had insider information about when sign-ups would officially begin.) We were able to convince some friends to run with us, and once they were on board, the most important decision became our team name.

Due to our mutual love of a dessert served at a near-by restaurant, we decided to call ourselves the Skillet Cookies (the skillet cookie is exactly what it sounds like: a chocolate chip cookie baked in a cast iron skillet topped with vanilla ice cream). Since we signed up in the summer for a race run at the beginning of December, once this crucial decision was made, our preparations relaxed a bit until the fall.

It just so happened that our St. Jude fundraiser teammate also knows the owner of the skillet cookie establishment and was able to convince the owner to sponsor our team. Thus, we had shirts made with our nicknames, as well as the name of the restaurant, of course, on the back. Oh, and a picture of a skillet and some cookies.

But choosing those nicknames was not as easy as determining a team name. After some intense e-mailing, each member of our team--including our "team mom"/#1 cheerleader--was christened with a new name. You can't pick our your own nickname, you know. Most nicknames ended up being portmanteaus (two or more blended words) related to our own names, personal interests, college affiliations, favorite foods, ethnicities, etc.

Owleyesonu, Recovering Eataholic, Kornhustler, Hoppsenjoggin, and Flantastic (not pictured: Naganseemi--no pun intended)

As we neared race day, the flurry of e-mails picked up once again as we established our relay order. Rather than split the 26.2 mile distance evenly amongst five runners, the race director divided the legs into different distances. In order, the distances were as follows: 5K (3.1 miles), 10K (6.2 miles), 6K (3.8 miles), and two halves of a half-marathon (6.55 miles a piece).

I was chosen to lead off with the 5K distance due to my present "condition." This was fine by me as I didn't want the pregnant lady slowing the team down either. Jon ran the 4th leg for a 6.55 mile distance. Even though my pace has slowed a bit lately, I still felt confident in my ability to run 3.1 miles without a lot of additional training, although Jon definitely tried to push himself a bit harder in the weeks leading up to race day.

On the morning of the race, we gathered with our team prior to going to our respective relay exchange areas. The weather was warm and the mood was light. We hung out and chatted for a bit until it was time for me to head to the starting line. In a race the size of St. Jude, start times are staggered based on each individual's pace. Race experience has taught me that runners are an optimistic bunch, so it's always a good idea to begin with a group that is a bit faster than you expect to run. I chose the approrpriate group, as my overall pace was spot-on with the specified time, although if I were to start the relay again, I would choose a faster group since I didn't actually start the race until about ten minutes after the elite runners took off.

Prior to the race, the consensus attitude on our team was that we were all just running for fun. However, when I was in the crush of other runners at the starting line, my competitiveness kicked in. It was definitely "go time." Everyone else on our team echoed a similar sentiment once we reunited. And it paid off.

I was lucky enough to have the "fun" part of the course, mostly taking me through downtown and throngs of cheering fans. I was feeling good; it was nice to push myself (within reason, of course) again. I did feel kind of like a jerk, however, when I neared the end of my 3.1 mile distance because I had the luxury of stopping. Most of the people around me had 10-23.1 more miles to go and probably resented the runner who was trying desperately to pass them. I didn't feel too guilty, though, and definitely ran the final stretch with my elbows out.

I passed our belt and team number (the marathon relay equivalent of a baton) to Runner #2 who went on to run her 6.2 miles in an excellent time. In fact, everyone on our team ran really well. Thanks to technology, we were able to keep up with our team's progress via the Internet. After I finished my portion of the race, I had a lot of waiting to do. I hung out with the various members of our team who had either finished or were yet to run and got to cheer along with our "team mom" (the wife of Runner #3).

The four of us who were finished were able to cheer on our anchor--a last-minute substitute--as he crossed the finish line. We were bummed that our original anchor wasn't able to run with us; he "deployed" to New Jersey for Hurricane Sandy. However, his replacement did a fine job, and we are so grateful for his willingness to run with us. In fact, his effort (along with everyone else's, of course) earned us a 3rd place finish! Not too shabby for a group of people fond of cookie desserts who were just running for fun.

Marathon relays: the only way to conquer 26.2 miles.

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