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home > community > viewpoint > mill cities…and the flu.

Mill Cities…and the Flu.
A great event (even if you’re sick)

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By Christopher J. Russell
Posted Sunday, 15 February, 2004

8:00 AM, Sunday Morning, in the chill wind of a New Hampshire morning, the ceremonial red brick was dropped and 103 teams lit out for Lawrence in the 20th anniversary Mill Cities Relay. There were 103 teams of 5 members each, or 515 local club runners. These folks chose, (mostly of their own free will), to wake up early and go race in the cold. That’s a testament to the vibrancy of the New England running community.

This is an invitation-only club relay. It has 28.3 miles spread over 5 legs from Nashua, NH to Lawrence, MA. Usually it is held in December as a celebratory close to the year’s racing season, but this year we got snowed out, and it was postponed until February 9th.

The invitees are, (loosely), the clubs in the Greater Merrimack Valley area. The course follows the Merrimack River. The theme of the race is the river and the many turn-of-the-century red brick mills in Nashua, Lowell and Lawrence lend their existence to harnessing its power.

You can tell by looking at this crowd that they are veterans. There were lots of team uniforms. The race attire was well worn and functional. No pretenders or posers in this crew. Lot’s of old friends, hand shaking, tall tales, boasting and warm embraces. It’s like a big family reunion. (A strange family where all the uncles and aunts are runners)

A quick note to Mother Nature…Enough already! It’s not funny anymore! Ok, you win; we’re all sick of winter, now give us some shorts weather!

The race weather was around 20 degrees with a strong wind. The good news was that it was a tail wind for most of the course. The bad news was when you turned into it. Ouch. Can you say, “Flash freeze”?

There was freezing rain the Friday before. The first two legs had ice, especially in exchange zones that added some excitement. At one point, a 24 ft panel truck decided to take a detour through the first exchange zone, which is in an industrial park. Picture the racers rounding the corner on a big patch of ice and running straight into the back of a big truck!

Leg two was all ice covered on the back roads, forcing runners to tread cautiously. Exchange zone two, the tunnel at the Voke School, was iced over too, making for a slippery kick into the finish.

I was signed up for leg-4, the long leg. I’m in training, so the prospect of 9.4 miles didn’t worry me…until I caught the intestinal flu and spent all day Saturday on the floor.

I’ve always wondered when I read those articles about an Olympic athlete who, after years of training, doesn’t show up for the big race because “they had the flu”. In my mind I picture a bad case of the sniffles and think “What a wimp”. Now I know better.

I figured it could go one of two ways. First, I reasoned, I might have a good day on Sunday. My logic being that I was a good 8-10 pounds lighter from the intense carbo-unloading on Saturday. On the other hand, I thought I might experience some energy problems in the high miles.

Turns out, I was right on both counts. If it had been a 2-mile race, I would have had a great day. If it had been a 5-mile race, I would have had a good day. If it had been a 10k, I would have been happy. Those last 3 miles were a death march.

Ah…well, live and learn. Those who had no excuses loved the easy down hill and the strong tail wind. These were definitely PR conditions in the last two legs with that strong following wind.

The strange running family reunion moved to the warm Knights of Columbus hall in Lawrence at the finish. There were awards, cold beer and warm food for all the uncles and aunts. This is one fun, well-organized event. If you haven’t run it yet, find a local club and get yourself and four friends invit



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