Monday, June 18, 2018

Seneca7 Snowflakes

When Team Dawn to Dusk crossed the finish line in Geneva at the 2017 Seneca7, it was decided on the spot that we'd make every effort to loop the lake again the following year. Circling an entire Finger Lake in a team van, while one of us is running, and while 300+ other teams are doing the same, has a very unique appeal. The area around the lake is transformed into a whole other world, complete with uniformed weekend warriors, sub-elite road runners, cyclists, hashers, and Ford Windstars adored with team monikers like "7 Fiesty Trash Bags." When registration for the 2018 race opened on Halloween, we were one of the lucky few able to register online before the server crashed and the race filled up in minutes. We were headed back to Geneva.

The Seneca7 is a seven-person road relay that's advertised as 77.7 miles around Seneca Lake, starting and ending on the lake's north shore in Geneva. Each team member runs three legs of various lengths, while the non-running members travel from one checkpoint to the next in a single vehicle. The 330 teams are classified into divisions — Men's, Women's, Mixed, and Cycling. Teams enter their
predicted average paces prior to the wave and are assigned different starting times based on their predictions, with the slower teams starting earlier.

Compared to a traditional solo running race, a seven-person relay has way more variables and moving parts. One of our teammates from last year opted not to return, so we recruited Sarah, who is a Ragnar veteran and therefor knew what she was getting into. As race day drew closer, things got more challenging. Ruth decided not to run, after being sidelined by injury and unable to train. Her boyfriend Teddy took her spot, while Ruth volunteered her services as full-time Caravan driver, viz. DD for a van full of sober pedestrians. A week before the team rosters had to be finalized, Juan got hurt on a training run and had to withdraw. We were lucky that my FLRTC coworker Amelia was able to fill in at the eleventh hour, as she did as a pacer when I ran Eastern States last year. The rest of the team was rounded out with Nate, Norah, Hayley, and me — all returnees from 2017 — putting us once again in the Mixed division.

We knew we wouldn't have a shot at any of the prizes for the faster squads, but we did make the finals in a Finger Lakes Times readers poll for best team name. We won 15 percent of popular vote to finish third, which still wasn't good enough to take home a case of wine. Still, it was cool to see our name on the silver screen at the race expo. *

Even though our predicted pace had us finishing over an hour faster than last year's prediction, we were still placed in the 6:00 a.m. starting wave, meaning we had to leave Ithaca in the van at 4:30. The day was unusually cold and windy for late April, and throughout the day, snow dustings alternating with freezing rain ensured it was the worst weather the Seneca7 has seen in its eight-year history.

As Runner #3, I took a shuttle bus to the second exchange point, called Kashong-ish. Sarah started things off with Leg 1, followed by Hayley for Leg 2. At six months post-op for a total knee revision surgery, Hayley was walking her three legs. When the shuttle arrived at the checkpoint, I had over an hour to kill before Hayley's ETA. Rather than stand around and gripe about the cold, I jogged down the road and came upon the Kashong Conservation Area, where I ran quick trail loop before running a series of strides back up to the exchange point. In the light freezing rain, it was probably about 25°F after windchill. The warm-up was literally warm-up.

When Hayley arrive and slapped me with the snap bracelet, I took off and struggled on my first of the three legs. I had trouble getting a good turnover rate and just wasn't feeling too good. I'd been struggling to get any good quality runs in since the week before Skunk Cabbage, almost four weeks prior. I hoped to run each Seneca7 leg at around 10k effort, and was disappointed with the 7:00 average pace on Leg 3.

The team started to wake up as the morning wore on. Teddy ran a good opening leg in the fourth position, followed by Amelia, then Nate, then Norah. Then it was back to Runner #1, Sarah.

What really impressed me was the bike teams that were forced to grind it out in some horrible cycling conditions. Each of these athletes, after finishing their running segments, then had to hop on a bike and ride through the rain for hours until it was time to run again. Some of the wineries welcomed racers inside as they waited, but the refuges were few and far between.

Maybe it was the yerba mate or the fact that I'd loosened up on my fist leg, but Leg 10 went a lot better. This was a huge downhill along NY-14, from Lakewood Vineyards into Watkins Glen. Per Strava, the course drops 400 feet over the middle two miles of the 4.6-mile leg. I took the downhill as fast as I dared, likely setting a 1-mile PR in the process, then snaked through Watkins Glen's winding residential streets before ending in Clute Park and passing the bracelet to Teddy. Having done most of his training runs on an inclined treadmill, Teddy crushed the big uphill out of Watkins, running every step of the way.

Things went pretty smoothly for the team on the course's second half, as we made our way north up the lake's east side. As a team we averaged a 9:10 pace and finished in 11:52, slightly slower than last year. I ran some decent quality mileage on the final weekend before the North Face ECSNY.

The day belonged to the Ithaca-based women's Red Newt Racing team, who eked out the overall win by just over a minute, and set a women's course record in some really lousy running conditions. (Full results.)

This race is a huge production and I can't even imagine all the logistics and behind the scenes work that goes into it. Jeff and Jackie Augustine and their massive volunteer crew kept things running smoothly and I appreciate everyone who pitched in their time and effort at the Seneca7. Thank you!

Norah running her first leg.
Me handing off to Teddy at the halfway point. 
Post-race team photo in which we're all cold and kind of miserable.

* A note on origin of our team name "Five Reasonably Intelligent People": Hayley and I were playing team trivia at The Haunt every week with most of our Seneca7 teammates. At a party, Nate and I were hashing out ideas for a team name for trivia, when he said something like "well, we are five reasonably intelligent people." I suggested it as our trivia name, but Hayley overheard it thinking we were talking about Seneca7 team names. We committed right then to go with it, and there was much discussion over which two team members are the dumbest of the seven.

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