Sunday, August 5, 2018

Mighty Mosquito 99: The Return of Team Toucan

It's 3:00am on Sunday and Brooke and I are sneaking into my house to take showers, while trying not to wake up Pete. The first time I met Brooke, I asked her if she wanted to be on our Mighty Mosquito team (I am bad at small talk, what can I say?). Fast forward three Mighty Mosquito Relays later and she's showering at my house at 3:00am. So be careful what you say yes to, my friends. One minute you're like why is this person I just met asking me to run a 99 mile relay? And the next, you're a lifelong member of Team Toucan and the phrase Gold Bond Bonfire makes perfect sense to you. 

This year, the Blue Foundation took over Mighty Mosquito from TrailsRoc. The format was the same: 3 different 5ish mile loops in Mendon Ponds Park that total 99 miles, with a relay and a solo option (for the super-humans out there). The start/finish area was at Stewart Lodge and everyone had set up their tent in the fields around the lodge. Team Toucan this year was comprised of Captain Todd, Bob, Steven, Brooke, Stacey, me and our volunteers extraordinaire Alison, Cassie and Boden.

The relay start wasn't until noon, but I woke up early on Saturday, restless and a little stiff. I ran a few easy shakeout miles around my neighborhood around 6:00am, then ate breakfast, packed up my car and met the team at Mendon around 11:00am. We scored a sweet shady spot under a big tree and set up tents, chairs, Steven's kiddie pool full of ice, and a most excellent snack buffet. Team Toucan's order of runners was: Me, Brooke, Stacey, Steven, Bob, then Todd. I like going first in relays because that was always my position in track relays and it feels the most comfortable to me. I think you're supposed to put one of your fastest runners first, which I am not, but I did the best I could with the day I had (which is all any of us can do). I can only describe the loops from my own perspective of them, but Brooke, Stacey, Steven, Bob and Todd are all super strong runners and they crushed their miles like the badasses they are. 

I was the first runner and I headed out on the pink loop at 12:00pm under a bright, hot sun (89 degrees and super high humidity). The first loop was basically the Mendon 10K loop in reverse, so some long gradual uphills and some steepish downhills. I started off running the hills but my breathing was heavy due to the heat and humidity and I hit an early low point where I thought why do I do this, why do I run? That thought happens at least once in every race, but usually it's much later on. Then my brain was all, this is fun, you're doing this for fun, also let's not get heatstroke today! So I started walking the hills to keep my heart rate down. It's not like we were trying to win anything, but I still wanted to get my team off to a decent start. I'm usually better at uphills, but in the heat that wasn't happening. So I tried to go faster on flats and downhills to make up time. Racing down Kitty Litter hill was slightly terrifying but I turned off the fear part of my brain and just let my legs do their thing. I think this is the first race ever where I haven't been passed by any dudes on a downhill. Also, all my bones and blood stayed on the inside so that made me happy. One day I will actually learn how to run downhill well. I finished the first loop in an hour, then Brooke and Stacey crushed their pink loops. We were sitting around our tent camp eating and chatting when we got a text from Steven: "Did I get lost? Think I am on orange." Which was hilarious because it's so Steven (and we love Steven). Instead of going left up the hill and across the road following the pink flags, he had gone straight and done the orange (third) loop instead. When he finished, he told the race directors he had gone the wrong way and they were very chill about it. They said the first and third loops were similar distance and elevation so it was fine. Bob and Todd were super fast on their pink loops and then it was my turn again.

I headed out on the blue loop around 6:00pm in just a sports bra and toucan shorts. I don't typically run without a shirt, but Brooke and Stacey had taken off their shirts for their loops, plus a bunch of guys were running shirtless. It was far too hot and too much of a waste of time to care what I looked like. Thankfully, it was a little cooler and a lot flatter and I felt good so I pushed the pace a little. I had a side stitch for pretty much the entirety of this loop, and the whole rest of the day, which was super annoying, but my legs felt good so I didn't let it slow me down. I was cruising for the first 3.5 miles, then the course went off trail into a bushwacking section that was too long for my tastes. I slowed down during this part since I didn't want to fall and impale myself on any sticks. Finally I heard some volunteers cheering and they told me to watch out for the yellow shirt on the ground, which was covering up a sketchy fence. It was too late, as I had already tripped on the fence, but at least I didn't fall. After crossing the road, another volunteer told me to run across the bridge, then make a U-turn and run through the pond. "Does everyone have to do this or do I just look super sweaty?" I asked. She laughed and said everyone had to do it. I could have done without that part too, since my shoes were then wet for the rest of the night. But I was lucky to do this loop in the light. Some people had to do it in the dark and that would have been much harder. Poor Bob ended up running extra miles on this loop because there was no volunteer there when he ran over the bridge, so he and several other runners kept going straight instead of making the turn into the water. Lots of people ended up getting lost on the course throughout the day and night, but surprisingly I was not one of them. I have a terrible sense of direction. I never know where I am. But my knowledge of my weaknesses almost becomes a strength in races because I'm hyper-vigilant about following flags. Also, I'm not fast so I have more time to make sure I'm on the right path and to notice if I haven't seen a flag in a while. There were a few times I started to get anxious that maybe I was off course, but just then I would see a flag and be reassured I was on the right track. I think the course was well-marked, but it can be hard to follow even a well-marked course in the dark or when your brain is all foggy and tired from doing more running than sleeping.

Around midnight, I headed out on the orange loop. I was nervous about falling or getting lost in the dark, but once I got out there I was fine. Except for the side stitch that had been plaguing me all day and had now become like an entire abdomen stitch. Not cool, but what can you do except keep going? This loop seemed to go by faster than the others. Or maybe I was just dreaming about taking a shower afterward. A couple times up and down Cardiac Hill (which I actually don't mind because it's pretty much inevitable at this point - I've been climbing this hill since high school cross country), over to Devil's Bathtub and then back to Stewart Lodge. When Brooke finished her last loop, we went to my house to shower quick, then headed back to Mendon. I had made a little sleep cubby in my hatchback and managed to get about an hour and a half of sleep before the daylight and my aching knees woke me up (I am too tall to sleep in my tiny car apparently. My knees were not happy about being curled up in the fetal position and not having room to stretch out.) While Todd was running his last loop, we took down our tent camp and started packing up, then headed to the finish to cheer him in. And to see the first female solo finisher in the history of MM99! Amazing!

While the running is fun and Mendon trails are beautiful, the best part of this race is the hanging out in between loops. It's like a giant, sweaty slumber party. Unless you're with Steven and he gives you Gold Bond powder and calls it an 'army shower.' In which case it's a slightly less sweaty slumber party. I got in about 20 miles of running but I did a lot more hanging out, eating, laughing and peeing. Normally, I'm in bed by 9:00pm but partying it up with my tramily was well worth the lost sleep. I'm going to need another weekend to recover from my weekend, but I would totally do this race again in the future. Good friends, good trails, good times in toucan shorts. It is such a luxury to live this life. 

Lyric of the moment: "All the crazy shit I did tonight. Those will be the best memories. I just wanna let it go for the night. That would be the best therapy for me..." ~David Guetta "Memories"

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