NYC Ekiden Team Tero-Giraffe

Team Tero-Giraffe tore it up over 16.2 miles of Central Park

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2-Person Team Tero-Giraffe

Last Sunday, despite feeling godawful on Saturday, I tore myself out of the warm cozy apartment and into the humid cold drizzly park to participate in my first ever (as an adult) relay race! The NYC Runs group organized an “Ekiden” which is a Japanese style relay race where the runners of each team wears a sash which is passed from runner to runner. How interesting! The first American ekiden took place in 1988 right outside the United Nations where we work. [Click here to see a video!] Since Fernando and I found out about this rather late and signed up last minute, we only had each other for the 4 leg race. Which meant we both had to run twice.

As dismal as the day was, bound by the fact that we had paid for this race and that we couldn’t do it alone, we both bucked up and did our 2 mile warm up to the Start Line. Although it was not as organized as NYRR as it seemed a bit messy and took a bit to get underway, I thought it was a great thing that despite not having a ton of money or volunteers, they were hosting this fantastic race anyway! The organizers made the final announcements and explanations (I mean, the concept is pretty simple!), I took off my sweatshirt and stepped into the starting corral with my colleague from work who happened to be running the first leg too on his own 4-person team! I adjusted Team Tero-Giraffe’s brown sash and the horn blew!

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Blackfoot and Ishigaki-san, colleagues and competitors!

Leg 1: The first leg was 3.4 miles, basically a 5K with an extra bit of torture, twice around the southern loop of Central Park. It started out super duper fast downhill. With all the race excitement and competitive atmosphere, everyone shot offway too fast except those elite club runners who’s version of too fast is not comprehended by most. Not being of the afformentioned elite, I also went too fast, later seeing on my Nike GPS watch that my first mile was the fastest which is a general no-no in my book! After saying goodbye to Ishigaki-san, I tried to focus on my own pace which can be daunting when so many people are passing you. However, not everyone passed me since I came in 41st out of 140 or so. I am sure Fernando was getting desperate waiting for me while other teams already started the 2nd leg! Sorry! I tried my best, coming in at 23:52!

DISTANCE: 3.4 miles, TIME: 23:52, PACE: 7’01”

Leg 2: Fernando’s first leg was his long one – 5.1 miles. He took off immediately (actually, I think he was already on the go when I reached him over the timing mats) when he grabbed my sash and just flew away. The hand-off area was so exciting, you just can’t help but dash off in fury! After catching my breath and finding the red plastic bag we were using for our sweatshirt-holder, which took me a long time because I might have been slightly delirious, I stretched a bit and sat down with Ishigaki-san and his teammates. It became freezing cold after my sweat started drying so I went and had a lukewarm cup of free coffee. I kept a keen eye on my watch to make sure I was back in the hand-off corral in time. Fernando always surprises me by coming in early!!! It was definitely a weird feeling to wait for him and have to run again…After corralling up again, I was soooo cold. Me and some runner club ladies were jumping around trying to ‘stay warmed up’ and commenting on how we hope our teammates come soon just so we could start running again and become warm. One girl, I’m pretty sure, was one of the Hellgate runners I desperately (and successfully) tried to pass during the last race in Central Park. But I didn’t mention it. Anyway, I spied Fernando down the hill and heard them call out 612 (they would radio the number of the bibs from the bottom of the hill to the start/finish line so that the appropriate team could ready themselves for the hectic hand-off, which was a really cool system), and stepped out into the lane. Fernando came charging up and I grabbed the sash screaming “GREAT JOB!” while I think he attempted to say “Go!” but was too out of breath. And off I went again!

DISTANCE: 5.1 miles, TIME: 40:24, PACE: 7’55”

Leg 3: This leg was a bit terrifying. I had to run almost a 10K (6.1 to be exact), one full loop around the park. I like 10Ks but never have I done one after already trying a more-than-5K race! I ended up behind a girl who looked like she was running strong. Her pace was good, just about what I thought I might be able to handle. I told myself that if I could keep her in front of me, then I’d be alright. Suddenly she started slowing down and then stopped (I think she stopped at least, I ended up passing her so I don’t really know) – looked like she needed to adjust something. I went ahead but before I knew it, I was pulling over to tie my shoe! Grrr. She went passed me again and gained a decent lead. I decided to fartlek my way back near her, which took quite some time since as I said, she really had a strong good pace. I was tired and my hands were still cold but I just kept my eye on her yellow tank top and did my best. I had hoped that maybe she’d slow on the hills – she did not. I thought maybe she’d take it easy down the hills – nope, she didn’t. By the time we got to the northwest corner’s big hill which I usually start on during my regular training, I finally got close to her! During the next few hills, I started feeling bad for her because although I didn’t have the strength to pass her, I was close enough that I was sure she heard me breathing heavily in her ear. I wanted to tell her I was sorry and suggest maybe she put in her other headphone but what can I do, it’s a race! I didn’t see too  many other people with sashes so we looked like a 2 person race. I wonder if the park walkers / strollers were wondering why these two really competitive girls were hoofing it around so fiercely. Finally the last mile came around which is all flat and downhill until the very end. I started gaining a better stride and when I hit that uphill to the pass off point, I started gunning it. She started sprinting too and we were neck in neck but I managed to pull ahead when I saw Fernando waving and people were shouting encouraging things. All I knew was after this, I wouldn’t have to run one more step so I let it all out!

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There we are, neck-in-neck!

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My finishing sprint, a mere 8 seconds before her

DISTANCE: 6.1 miles, TIME: 44:01, PACE: 7’20”

Leg 4: It was all up to Fernando now! He had the last 1.7 miles to finish!!! It was all very exciting (even though I am sure people won it before I got to the last hand-off), and Fernando flew off, this time telling me “Great job!” and me panting and not being able to talk. All I knew was that I needed to get my sweatshirt on and recover to see his great finish! I found the bag and also found the yellow tank top girl!!! I congratulated her and it turns out she was a member of our friend’s team! What a coincedence. She confimed that I had been breathing in her ear the whole way (sorry again!) and that she was not used to the hills, which fooled me because she was really a strong the whole way. I know I would not have ran at that pace without her, being as worn as I was from the first Leg. The crowd at the finish thickened so I moved up to try to spot Fernando coming up the hill. I can recognize him a mile away, he has such a great stride. I saw him, I saw Ishigaki-san ringing a bell at the bottom of the hill for support, and then I saw him power up the hill, smiling and all! I ran to meet him and he was exhausted, he did it! He made such a great effort and we were DONE!!!!

DISTANCE: 1.7 miles, TIME: 12:35, PACE: 7’24”

We met up with our friend’s team and exchanged stories, as Fernando had run part of the last bit with their 4th teammate, and I told him all about running with my new girl friend, who told us she was indeed pulling her pants up since they were sagging down (I hate when that happens!). We had so many stories but we had no chance to share till the end. My favorite story was how Fernando would pass one particular sassy guy, who would then pass him, repeat, etc. etc. but then when the guy totally stopped, Fernando actually yelled “COME ON! Let’s GO!” to him to encourage him! He’s so nice, even in a race he helps competitors!!!

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(from right) New girl runner friend! Blackfoot, Fernando, and Han

And thankfully, after bagels and hot chocolate (thank you NYC Runs!), Han gave us a ride home so we didn’t have to run 2 miles back in the cold. Arigato! Overall, this was one of the most FUN races I have ever participated in and will definetly do it again next year, maybe with 4 people on our team though!

DISTANCE: 16.2 miles, TIME: 2:00:54, PACE: 7’28”
OVERALL PLACE: 47th, DIVISION PLACE: 6th

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