Monday, July 24, 2017

Bonus race--just for fun! The Narragansett Beer Summer Running Festival--Half Marathon--July 16, 2017

Trick question: When is a half marathon race not a race? Answer: When you enter and run it as a final training run. Yup. That’s just what I did last weekend. First time for me using an actual organized half as a training run, but it was pretty cool. Here’s how it all came about…
About a month or so ago, I found an email in my inbox from Race Wire advertising the Narragansett Beer summer running festival. Because my races for this year are already booked, I normally wouldn’t have taken the time to look at the upcoming race, but for some reason (probably for future prospects), I decided to open the email and see what this race was all about. Due to the “Narragansett” moniker, I assumed the race took place in Rhode Island. I figured maybe sometime in the future (after I finish the 50 states), I might like to run some local-ish races. Rhode Island certainly isn’t out of that realm.
To my astonishment, when I looked at the race information, the race did not take place in Rhode Island, but rather in Easton, MA at Stonehill College. This just happens to be the place where I spent four years of undergraduate study. I never knew this race existed, let alone that it took place at my alma mater. Now, I realize this may not be very monumental news to most readers, but there is another very cool aspect to this that made the timing and location of this race so remarkable.
Time for a short back story…my freshman year at Stonehill, I was lucky to have Fatima Velez as my resident assistant in the freshman girls’ dorm, Boland Hall. Fatima is from Spain, and she was a senior that year, so after she graduated, she moved back to Spain. Fatima administers a summer camp in the States now, so she visits the U.S. each summer, and through our amazing circle of friends, we usually get together each year to see one another. Back in Spain, Fatima and her husband, Jose-Luis, are big runners. They compete in full marathons and ultra marathons while somehow also balancing the work/life balance of raising three children. They are basically amazing. 
For years at our summer friend gatherings, Fatima has said that she wants us to run together. She has even said that I need to go to Spain to run with her. Certainly an invitation I plan on accepting when the 50 states runs are done. So with all of this in mind, I forwarded the Narragansett race link to her with a message that expressed my disbelief at its location and hope that we could run it together, if not this year, then sometime in the future. In no time I heard back from Fatima with an enthusiastic, “YESSSSS! Let’s do it.” She had to check her schedule and rearrange some things, but within a few days, I received a definitive yes that both she and her husband would be running. That was that!
Inside Boland Hall with Fatima, 1990
Outside Boland Hall with Fatima, 1990. Ready for floor hockey.
It was a very busy weekend for me, too, with events both before and after the Sunday race, but I was committed to run with my good friend. It was something we had talked about for so long. We both agreed to take the run on the slower side, and I told her I just wanted to use it as a training run for Wyoming (next month) rather than trying to race it. Plus with the heat and humidity common for July in New England, race organizers were cautioning runners against going for a personal best. Fine with me. 
Sullivan Hall, the dorm I lived in for most of my time at Stonehill.
The race start time was set at 7:30 am, so with a two-hour ride ahead of me, I left my house at about 4:30 am. The drive up was pretty easy with no traffic, and I made it to campus about an hour before start time. That left plenty of time to eat my breakfast and get my number, etc. I parked up in the Pilgrim Heights area of campus, right near the dorm I used to live in for much of my time there, Sullivan Hall. It is really amazing coming back to campus 20+ years later. So much has changed! There are many more buildings on campus and even a football stadium and outdoor track now. It really is impressive.
I picked up my bib (ironically in front of Boland Hall where Fatima and I first met), and headed over to the t-shirt pick up. The woman handing out the t-shirts immediately pointed at me and said “WSHL!” Those are the call numbers for the campus radio station where I was a dj for four years and station manager for two. I cautiously said, “Yessss….,” not knowing how she knew me. Turns out, it was Erika, one of the station board members who came after me, but we had connected through the WSHL Alumni Board that I once participated in. It was good to see her and catch up. She and her husband were volunteering at the race and also displaying their company, Bibs2Bags, as a vendor. They make various bags out of racing bibs. Pretty sweet. Their booth looked great at the finish line vendor area, by the way. Here's a link to their website:
So after all that excitement, I started to head back to my car to eat breakfast, when I ran smack dab in to a woman I had met when I raced out in North Dakota. No kidding! I recognized her right away and stopped her and reminder her of our meeting out there. When we met in ND, we laughed that we were both from New England, and it turned out through our conversation that she had my father-in-law as her high school chemistry teacher. So funny! So we chatted a bit. She had completed her 50 states races and was now working on finishing 100 half marathons. Impressive! I told her I was still working away at my 50 and that this one was just a fun training run with a friend because we both went to college there. Then she told me she went to college at Stonehill, too! So crazy! We wished each other luck. I’m sure we will bump in to one another again in the future. 
Meeting Fatima outside Boland Hall pre-race. Old friends united!
I ate a  quick bowl of oatmeal back at the car and talked briefly with Fatima who was now on campus. We met a short time later in front of Boland Hall. It was so amazing to be standing there with her about to run a half marathon. So awesome! She and her husband and myself exchanged greetings and last minute race nerves. We set out to brave the growing porta-potty lines just prior to getting in to the race corral. 
The race start ended up being delayed a few minutes due to the long bathroom lines, but after a few selfies, we set out with a goal of trying to stay in front of the two hour pacing group. 
Starting line scene. 
Fatima and myself just before the start of the race.
For those Stonehill friends who may be reading, we lined up behind Boland/The Courts and the starting line brought us slightly up the side road that goes up to the admissions building and then u-turned just below Alumni Hall right down to the main road toward Duffy. We turned right to head out the route 138 exit, and sitting right there on my left was my sister-in-law, Jenn and her daughter Riley! What a surprise! I knew they were thinking of coming, but as any race spectators know, getting to the early start of a race just to watch isn’t easy. I ran over to them to give them hugs and thank them for being there, and we were off!
We exited the campus and ran across the street through the “Sheep Pasture” property across the street from the college. This part of the race was unpaved, utilizing a dirt and gravel road. The dirt road portion wasn’t super long, and brought us through some grassy and wooded parts before bringing us out on a main road heading in to Easton. We turned left on to this road and shortly thereafter a right that brought us into a neighborhood with gorgeous old houses. This road brought us through some lovely park areas in Easton and out to the “Long Pond." I vaguely remember this from my time at Stonehill, and I’m not sure why. Maybe my commute to my student teaching position brought me along this route? Old brain. Can’t remember. 
Fatima and I were having a blast running together, and we commented on how beautiful Easton is and how we never really explored any of the town while at Stonehill. We mostly just stayed on campus or took the school’s shuttle to Boston. We didn’t have cars then, so getting around the immediate area wasn’t something we did all that often. I remember in later years at school when I had a car or friends with cars, we would get out to places like Borderland State Park which was just beautiful.
As we made the turn around the pond, Jenn and Riley appeared again to cheer us on. They were the best! Not only did they come out to spectate, they moved along the route to cheer for us twice! 
We made the turn and headed further into another neighborhood development. Again, the houses were just lovely, and the road brought us by pretty landscapes, too. 
As we neared the half-way point, the first couple of front runners passed us by on their return trip (it was a mostly out and back race). The furthest reaches of the race, however, brought us into a neighborhood with a loop, and the loop brought us back on the road we traveled out on, but a little further along, so we didn’t see anymore of the front runners. We were hoping to see Jose-Luis and cheer him on, but it wasn’t meant to be. 
At this point in the race, we were keeping good time (still ahead of the 2 hour pacing group), but the heat and humidity was starting to get to me and my ankle started to really hurt. I could feel myself slowing down. Fatima was a wonderful coach, helping me get through this portion of the run. She talked to me about how she stays motivated in a race when she’s hurting, like visualizing her children’s faces or other things she absolutely loves. She was an amazing help! 
We made it past the Long Pond and as we got close to the center of Easton, the two hour pacing group passed us. We were hoping to stay in front of them, but at this point I was not in any shape to try to speed up. Slow and stead was good enough for me this day. 
One fun side note about this race…the water stations were largely manned by Stonehill students, so pretty much every time we grabbed water we thanked them and told them we were alumni. It was fun to connect with the young generation in this way. 
We made our way back through Easton and into the sheep pasture via a different trail. This trail brought us through the gardens that the school now has there. From what I have read, students help grow food there that is actually used on campus. Pretty neat. That was not done when we were there. We got through this section quickly, crossed the street and headed back on to campus for about a mile and a half stretch before the end of the race. 
This was actually a really cool part of the run, even though I was hurting and hobbling my way around. We came in through the route 138 entrance again and turned right, which brought us into the new football stadium and outdoor track the campus has. Wow! Sweet! Then we headed toward the sports complex, which has been added on to and looks gorgeous, and out along a new paved walking path to the old Sem. The Sem looks pretty much the same, and running out there reminded me of fun times with friends who lived in that dorm. We looped through the old “rugby field” which is now a finished looking multi-sport field. There were soccer nets there and football uprights. I think I saw a sign that it is used for club sports or something to that effect. 
That road brought us out to the main road that now comes in the front entrance to Stonehill where we passed by the new and very impressive science building. Wow! Again, very impressive, and Fatima and I were remarking that we barely even recognized the campus. Next, we ran up the quad, past the Martin Institute, the old Student Union (has a new name now, but I don’t remember it), the new library and then I’m not sure exactly where the route took us, but we saw a police officer (Rosie!) who used to be there when we went there. She still works there and remembered us (not sure if that’s a good thing…). Somewhere along this part, Jose-Luis found us and ran the end of the race with us. He told us that he was pretty sure he won 1st in his age group! So cool!
We passed through the Commonwealth Courts, ran the path and footbridges out near O’Hara, ran back through the middle of the quad and up the road on the right side of the “big house” as you are facing it. Up behind there was the finish line, and we crossed with our hands linked in victory at a time of 2:04, slow, but not too bad. It was a blast to run with a good friend in our old stomping ground. 
Triumphantly crossing the finish line together!
The finish line activities were really festive. There was a band playing and many vendors offering products and services. Jose-Luis seemed especially interested in Erika’s tent of the repurposed bib numbers. Shortly after finishing, as we were stretching out, our other good friends from school arrived. They missed our crossing of the finish line, but they came to spend time catching up. We hung out for a while at the finish line festival, enjoying the complimentary Narragansett beers (a generous 2 free per runner, so there was plenty for sharing) and getting caught up with each other. 
The finishers! Jose-Luis shows off his 1st place age group beer glass.
A beautiful day for a practice run, and a medal, too.
We continued our reunion with a walk through part of campus to the Notre Dame Du Lac dorm, where we had permission to use the showers after the race. The runners got cleaned up and the spectators got to hang out and chat. 
Same ladies in front of Boland Hall, July 16, 2017.
Afterward, we headed out for a well-deserved lunch. It is always such a wonderful time when this group of friends gets together. We missed Chrissy (who lives in Florida) and Heidi (who wasn’t feeling well) this time around, but it was absolutely food for the soul for those of us who were able to meet up. We got caught up on all the goings-on with our families and shared the latest pictures of our kids…they are all growing up too quickly! It was a fantastic day, and after lunch we said our goodbyes, until next time. What a wonderful, wonderful training run this was. I can’t thank Fatima and Jose-Luis enough for making time in their schedule for this event, and for Sue, Jenna and Nancy for making the trek to be there with us. It was the best! "Franks for the memories!"
Race bib, t-shirt and finishers medal.

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