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Oh, the Turkey Trot. The tradition of runners across this great Nation lining up bright and early Thanksgiving morning to burn off a few hundred calories before they sit down to gluttonously consume a few thousand. I truly feel that the running community is a family; even if we’ve never met before, we are related by our running tights and GPS watches rather than physical DNA. And this tradition of spending time with my running family, before spending time with my more traditional family, is one I’ve come to adore. Besides, who doesn’t want to give thanks to a sport we love by pushing our bodies into the anaerobic zone in the freezing cold before stuffing them full of cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes? I personally can’t think of a better idea.
Truth be told, I haven’t run a Thanksgiving day race since the 2010 Grand Strand Turkey Trot , when I still lived in Myrtle Beach. The past few years have been a bit of a terrifying life-roller coaster ride, but I’m so happy to be finding my way back into a regular running routine while I continue to fight through the rest of the mess. The GSTT of 2010 still stands as my official/unofficial 5K PR of 21:07 (unofficial because my Garmin didn’t read 3.1, and also official/unofficial because I ran a 19:xx in a CrossFit WOD, but that technically doesn’t count. And probably unofficial because there should be a cutoff of how long a PR stands…two years seems like it might be the limit. Have I mentioned runners are a strange bunch?)
So, Brattleboro Vermont has a very elusive running club (I say this because it took me an entire year to find them) called the Red Clover Rovers, that host a turkey trot with a twist. Though you are asked to pre-register for this race, there is no entry fee, other than to bring some sort of Thanksgiving day food: canned goods, baked goods, even wine. You are asked to put the food on a giant table before the race. Now, one would assume that these items would be donated to a food pantry or shelter, but that assumption would be only half right. You see, in addition to no registration fee, there are also no prizes given at the end of this race. Instead, those who finish first get first dibs of an item off of the food table. Do you see where this is going? In turkey terms: first place gets the juicy drumstick while last place gets the giblets. (Gross analogy, especially coming from a vegetarian, I apologize). Whatever is left over at the end of the race does indeed go to the food pantry.
Geoff has been pretty sick this past week, so he decided not to race, but came along to cheer me on. Winter in Vermont has indeed arrived, and temperatures hovered around 25 degrees with a 15+ mph wind (the Weather Channel determined that it “felt like 13”. ) It was painfully cold. In fact, when we went to turn onto the long driveway that leads to the Brattleboro Country Club, a volunteer stopped us to alert us that the road was covered in black ice; we should drive with caution and walk to the start line on the grass.
I checked in, got my bib (#124), dropped off my Thanksgiving food (cupcakes!!) and sat in the car for a few minutes with Geoff to stay warm. The race was to start at 9:15, so at 9:00, I headed down towards the starting line. I wish I had brought the camera with me, but I left it with Geoff, and had every intention of running hard, not leaving any time to stop and take pictures on the course.
I did a few warm up jogs (maybe a quarter mile each) and attempted to find every patch of sunshine I could to not freeze my butt off. The kids one mile race started, and we all cheered for the little ones as they headed off on their mile. Our race was delayed by at least five minutes due to people still picking up their bibs, so we all huddled on the side of the road. An older gentleman came up to me and complimented me on my great running tights. I thanked him, and said the same to him…as he was wearing the exact same tights. He told me he knew they were women’s tights, but the men’s version only came in black, and he liked these better. I told him he wore them well, and wished him luck on his race. Man I love this sport. Anyway, I was incredibly thankful when we were told to line up, simply to be surrounded by body heat for at least a few seconds. A few quick words from the director, then the timing guy (gun timed, no chips) and we were off.
In typical Heather fashion, I took off way to freaking fast. In typical free-for-all race fashion, there were a handful of kids that barely cleared my waist right at the front of the start line. I tried to navigate my way around them, and in doing so got caught up in the front of the pack. Less than a quarter mile in, I felt my lungs starting to scream at me. I looked down at my GPS and it told me my pace was 5:39/mile. As soon as I looked down at my watch, I felt my foot slip on the first patch of black ice. Expletives abound in my mind. At about that exact moment it felt like a donkey kicked me in the chest and my legs were running through sludge. Every breath I took in burned; this was indeed the coldest I have raced in by far. To add insult to injury, at that moment we ran by a huge field of horses right next to the road, and all I could smell was manure. Oh Vermont, you and your mountains, cold weather, and livestock continue to mock me.
I slowed WAY down at that point, and before the negative thoughts even started, reminded myself that a) this was a fun run, b) there were no prizes/placings to be run, and c) my body isn’t accustomed to running in this weather (I chickened out all last year. I’ll be the first to admit it.) Oh yeah, and there was ICE on the road. I told myself to relax, catch my breath, watch my step, and then get back to pushing. We didn’t have to race, but we (me and that voice) came here to push.
The course was rolling. No huge hills, but a few small noticeable ones for sure. It took me the entire first mile to warm up, and at the same time, it took the entire first mile for my toes and hands to go numb. I also had this awesome thing going on where snot was running down my face just like a 2 year old with a mega cold. It was gnarly. This must be one of those winter running things I need to get used to. Thank goodness for gloves.
Mile 1- 7:38
Just before the turnaround, someone had strung a cowbell (and not a “yay lets cheer for the cyclists” novelty cowbell, but an honest to goodness bell to hang from a cow’s neck) on a rope that dangling from a tree above the course. Most runners that passed below jumped up to hit the bell. I thought about it, but figured I should conserve my energy, and besides, with my luck I’d land on a patch of ice on my way back down. It was at this point I started counting the runners as they passed by in the opposite direction. As I reached the turnaround I determined I was female #10. I wasn’t racing (so I told myself) but…it’s always nice to know. Heh.
The turnaround slowed me down quite a bit. I’m not sure if it is the physical act of running really hard and immediately turning 180 degrees to head in the opposite direction, or the significant climb shortly after the turnaround. It was around here the girl that I was neck and neck with for the last half a mile passed me, and I also gained on a girl that was ahead of me. I pulled up right next to her, she looked at me, and like a panicked animal TOOK OFF. It made me laugh, I totally knew that feeling. I was proud of myself for letting her go. I knew I had over a mile left, and I was actually enjoying myself at this point in the race. No sense in blowing that up between now and mile 2.75, only to crash and let people pass me in the last home stretch (because I’m totally guilty of having done that before. Maybe more than once.)
Mile 2- 7:33
Let’s talk about how awesome a downhill finish is, shall we? The first half of mile three was, well, forgettable. I truly don’t remember anything about it, other than telling myself the usual “one more mile, you almost have this in the bag” speech. Once we hit the cones that marked the turnaround for the kids race (which was a mile long, thus, half a mile to the finish line left for us), I glanced at my watch. 6:xx pace. I gave myself the “STFU and HOLD THIS” speech, and off I went.
Mile 3- 7:02
And it hurt. And it wasn’t pretty. But I was done, and I pushed, so I was content. Finish time (watch time) 22:23. Not a PR, not even close, but I had a feeling today wasn’t going to be that day anyway.
As soon as I saw Geoff at the finish line I gave him a thumbs down and said “THAT SUCKED”. The race itself didn’t, but running it hurt. I hurt. Everything was numb, snotty, and full of lactic acid. So naturally, the love of my life began snapping photos of my misery. I love him.
After I caught my breath, I mumbled to Geoff something about how I’d love to stay and cheer for people, but I couldn’t feel my toes, nose, or left hand. At some point during the race, when my fingers were painfully numb, I took my fingers out of the fingers of the glove and balled my hands up in the main part of the glove to warm them up. It worked great until the last half mile when my left glove slid off, and I didn’t want to ruin my stride by fumbling with it, so I just ran with the glove in my hand to the finish line.
So we headed back to the car, and on the way I asked another runner to take our picture. Geoff wanted to know why I wanted him in the picture, because he didn’t run. Little does he know this whole “having someone you love at the finish line cheering for you” was a rare thing in my past, so it’s still a novelty. One I will never, ever, never take for granted. Hence the photos. (I’m a sap)
The emotional moment lasted a mere seconds before I rememberd I had to go and get my prize from the food table! As I stood over the table, I couldn’t believe some of the amazing items up for grabs. I asked the woman standing there to clarify how this works, and she replied with a smile “go ahead and take a prize!” Red wine? Don’t mind if I do.
Because I’m horribly competitive and a numbers geek, once I got home I did indeed go to the official results page and check out my standings. 51/213 overall (small race!) and 10th female. The first, second, and third females ran times of 18:54, 19:55, and 20:10 respectively, so clearly I have some work to do (and some cold weather to get used to).
To the Red Clover Rovers of Brattleboro: You put on a fantastic race. Seamless organization, beautiful course, and a wonderful family atmosphere. Thank you so much!