Literally Every 5th Grader

I don’t know exactly when the bulletin board went up, but it was probably in January or February. I didn’t have a chance to go in to Jack’s school very often, so I wasn’t aware of it at all until a friend of mine—the mom of one of Jack’s classmates—posted about it on Facebook in March.

See, this was a bulletin board about the “Superstars” of Jack’s school—the class of 2014.

Photo of a bulletin board covered in yellow paper with a border of paper flowers. Letters spelling out "Our Superstars" and "Class of 2014" are stapled to the board along with photos of the school's fifth graders. I've blurred out the photos for privacy reasons.

I took this photo last Friday, months after it was originally put up.

Jack is part of the class of 2014, so I imagine he was excited to be called a superstar. Except…well, except for the fact that this bulletin board—which was posted within 30 feet of his classroom, insuring that he saw it every single day—included photos of all the fifth graders except for the three fifth graders in Jack’s Asperger’s classroom.

Evidently if you are in an autism classroom, you aren’t a superstar at Sligo Creek Elementary School.

My friend, who is the hero of this story, wrote on Facebook about how she saw this bulletin board often, as she visited the class regularly.

“Each visit is the same: I approach the poster with a mixture of dread and anger at what I know I will see, yet again. And then I turn around, go to the office, and politely inform the secretary that the poster that my daughter and her classmates walk past every day *still* does not include them, and maybe this whole thing started out as just an oversight but it’s been weeks now and could someone *please* add our children’s pictures to the poster so they don’t have to be reminded every single day, as they walk to their special education classroom, that their school’s administration has overlooked them and their achievements?”

She did this for weeks. She would see that the poster didn’t include our kids and she would tell the secretary and she would be ignored. When she finally told the secretary that she was going to fix the poster herself by adding a photo of our kids, she was told that she couldn’t do that because it would be defacing school property.

As you might imagine, that didn’t go over well with my friend. She made it clear in no uncertain terms that if the kids from the autism program weren’t added to the poster by the administration, she would do it herself, and if someone had a problem with that, well, that problem would become public fast.

It was early March when my friend’s daughter reported that the principal had come to the classroom to take photos of the three fifth grade students in Jack’s class.

Except…

Except again.

The photos still didn’t go up. It was mid-March when those three fifth grade students attended a birthday party together. My friend put our kids together and took a photo. On March 18th [date corrected from earlier version], she took that photo and four thumbtacks to the school and she DEFACED THAT BULLETIN BOARD.

Photo of Jack and his two 5th-grade classmatess. I've put bright colored circles over their faces, with smiley faces drawn on them because they're not my kids and I don't want to post their photos here.

Their real faces are even cuter.

*standing ovation*

This was nine weeks after she first mentioned this to the secretary. NINE WEEKS.

At some point the school went ahead and posted individual photos of each of the three fifth graders in the autism classroom, but it wasn’t done until my friend had spoken up multiple times over the course of weeks and then posted her own photo.

Photo of Jack stapled to the yellow bulletin board next to a white paper star.

I think this photo adds a lot to the superstar collage.

As far as I know, my friend and her daughter haven’t gotten an apology from the principal. I know that Jack and I sure haven’t.

I really like Jack’s program. He has done really well there. He has gone from being miserable about school and himself to being happy and full of self esteem. He has a safe place to be when school gets too overwhelming, but he spends much of his day in inclusion classes. His teachers are wonderful. His paras have been good to him. His IEP team is delightful. The other kids in his class are phenomenal. I’m very happy that he is in this program. He is very happy that he is in this program.

But damn.

I wish that my school district was able to serve my kid in his home school in an inclusion classroom. But they couldn’t. They couldn’t or wouldn’t give him the support he needed, so we found another option, one that seemed to work. The thing is, segregation of students has limitations. Even though my kid has been well served in his program, he is obviously seen as less than in the eyes of the administration. These kids do not seem to be the principal’s priority.

If you read here, I’m sure you know why it matters that all kids are included in all parts of school life. It seems so obvious to me, yet it is clearly not obvious to the people who kept moving “post photos from the Asperger’s class” to the bottom of their to-do list.

Every child has an intrinsic worth. Every child has a right to belong. Every child has a right to be treated with respect. Every child has a right to be included, not just by peers and teachers, but by the people who lead the school and set the tone for everyone in the building.

I was furious when I heard about this bulletin board from my friend. I am still furious as I write this. It breaks my heart that people who work with students with disabilities day in and day out still forget that they matter and that they have thoughts and feelings and desires and complex inner lives.

If you doubt that, check out this essay that Jack brought home last week about 5th grade photo day. The 5th grade all wore their special “class of 2014″ shirts on the same day and sat for a photo of the whole grade. Jack remembered all by himself what day he was to wear the shirt and excitedly sat for the photo.

Photo of a small section of Jack's essay titled "2014 School Picture." The full text is below.

Jack wrote about the day. Full text is below.

“2014 School Picture: On June 3rd, I was so excited for the 5th grade picture. I couldn’t wait for it. All the 5th grade, LITERALLY ALL OF THEM, were in the picture. It was so awesome, I could not wait for it. I was in the 3rd row closest to the camera, very close to the flash, so it could get a good angle of me. I couldn’t be forgotten in Sligo Creek Elementary pictures with me in one, especially this one and the graduating class of 2014. [Classmate one] and [classmate two] were close to me, and they were good friends. Lots of people I knew were there, some were close to me and some weren’t. Everyone else seemed to be prepared, as I was thoroughly prepared. That was the best day of my life!”

Read that and tell me that it doesn’t matter if Jack’s photo wasn’t on the superstar board. Read that and tell me that putting my kid’s photo up was “defacing” the bulletin board. Read that and tell me that the principal was doing her best by my kid and those in his class. Read that and tell me that Jack doesn’t understand inclusion.

“I couldn’t be forgotten.”

“All the 5th grade, LITERALLY ALL OF THEM, were in the picture.”

“That was the best day of my life!”

In terms of injustice toward disabled people, this is probably not that big a deal. But to my kid and to the kids in his class, it is a huge deal. Remember that. Even the little things matter.

How Does This Keep Happening To Me?

OH MY GOD, YOU GUYS, THIS WOULD ONLY HAPPEN TO ME.

Please to see the Facebook status I posted yesterday:

Screenshot of a Facebook status. It reads, "HOLEEEE SHIT, YOU GUYS. So. We're giving our pool to our friends because our new backyard isn't fully fenced. BECAUSE IT'S ME, the box of pool parts we took to their house didn't just contain pool parts, but also FOUR BABY FUCKING RODENTS. To do: 1. Send Alex to return babies to our shed in hopes their mom finds them again. (They'll convey with the house!) 2. Check my car for said mother rodent in case she made the ride over here with us. 3. Get to knitting tiny hats." Below the words is a photo of two tiny baby rodents in a cardboard box, surrounded by chewed up paper and assorted pool parts.Yeah. So that happened.

I was so happy to be able to give our pool to our friends so that someone else can get joy out of it and also because hopefully they’ll invite my kids over to swim. So yesterday afternoon I dragged the pool and all of its many parts and supplies out of my backyard shed, stuffed it in my car, and trundled it over to my friends’ house, where Alex and I helped them set it up.

At some point it became clear that mice or rats or, you know, a fucking woodchuck had been living in one of the boxes because it had very efficiently turned one of the pool manuals into a little nest of shredded paper. That’s cool though, because animals live in the outside and it’s not like we found a live opossum in there sitting next to the pool filter. I assumed the rodents had moved on.

We set up the pool and I was fishing through the box to pull out the things my friends would need when I heard squeaking. “Ha,” I thought to myself, “that sounds like baby gerbils. I wonder… No, I’m sure it’s just crickets or something.”

Then I looked closer and I may or may not have cursed loudly and creatively in front of my friends’ kids.

I don’t even know what kind of rodent they are. I just know that we found four of them and transferred them to a box in an effort to return them to their mother. Because although I’m not a huge fan of wild rodents in and near my home, it seemed really mean to starve little blind babies to death. We figured that if we took them back to the shed that maybe their mom would be able to find them again. It was their best chance.

I know. I am a big fucking bleeding heart. I am well aware.

Then, because I do things like this to him all the time, I made Alex deliver the rodents to our house.

Photo of Alex walking away from the camera holding a cardboard box full of baby rodents. He looks highly annoyed.

He was totally delighted to get this assignment.

He returned a little while later with a six-pack of beer and news that he had made a cardboard bed and roof for the little guys under the shed.

Meanwhile, I was checking my car for rodents, just in case the mom had been in the box when I put it in the back seat only to abandon ship before I delivered it to my friends.

In my mind, all I can see is me driving along, singing along to some bad pop song or listening to some earnest NPR story about porches, only to look in my rearview mirror to find Rat Mom standing on the headrest directly behind my right ear. At that point my imagination pictures me screaming and veering off the road into a concrete wall.

While all this was going on, my friends continued to cook dinner for my family instead of kicking us out into the street and hurling pool salt at us.

They’re good people.

So that is the story of the day I gave my pool and a litter of wild rat babies to some close friends. As someone commented on that above Facebook status, you should remember to not take hand-me-downs from Stimeyland.

Epilogue: This evening, after torrential rain, Alex went back to check on the babies and to rebuild their little house. He was distressed because they looked as if they had been tossed around by the weather. He was able to find three of them and reports that they were still alive. I’m hopeful that this means their mom is nearby. The fact that Alex went by to check on the little guys says a lot about him. He tries to make us all think he’s disgruntled, but he has his very own bleeding heart.

Algernon’s Army: New Recruits

You guys. You guys. I have no words for you all. You are SOUL FILLING. My mail is such a happy part of my day nowadays. Would you like some examples as to why I love my mail so much? It’s because my mailbox overfloweth with love. And rodents. And other small furry things that are almost rodents.

photos of a stuffed squirrel, otter and round hamster

From my friends Katie, Sherry, and Michal. Thank you. So much.

That first little guy there? She’s a squirrel who came from my 7-year-old friend Katie, who made sure she was all decked out enough to join the rodent brigade. Even better than the squirrel was the note that came with her:

note in child's handwriting on orange paper: "From Katie to Jean. I am sorry that your mouse is gone. So I give you this present to make you happy."

“From Katie to Jean. I am sorry that your mouse is gone. So I give you this present to make you happy.” (And, yes, she did use a sad-girl emoticon instead of a period to end that middle sentence there.)

Is that not the nicest ever? I love that kid.

That otter in the middle comes from my old college chum. She sent this amazing note with it telling the story of the debate amongst strangers that took place in the store as to what animal exactly this was and whether it was, in fact, a rodent. Answers: otter and no.

Nonetheless, otters are one of my favorite animals and he is small and brown and fits in perfectly as a conscientious objector to Algernon’s Army.

Then there is Speedy at the end, who is really not very speedy because he is chubby and round and can’t actually move very fast. He’s like the rodent version of me. He is hilarious. Jack almost passed out laughing when he saw him.

Then there was the very wonderful card from my mother-in-law wherein she posited that Algernon had fallen in love and was off on new adventures elsewhere. Oh, and she wrote that inside a greeting card that had this on the front:

Cartoon drawing of Noah's Ark (with two Algernons pasted on it). There are two dinosaurs sitting on a nearby island saying, "Oh, crap! Was that TODAY?"

I think she is subtly referencing Algernon’s resiliency here.

Do you want to know what else came in the mail today? A photo book about Algernon from my beautiful friend Bec. The book includes the very first post about Algernon that I ever wrote and then photo highlights of his adventures from the past two years.

Cover of a book showing a photo of a small white mouse peeking out of a swimming pool and the word "Algernon."

It is amazing.

Algernon’s Army is so large that I had to dedicate a shelf to it. Because I don’t have a single unused shelf in my house, I had to buy and install a shelf just for my new little friends.

White shelf with all my stuffed rodents and my Algernon book on it.

I think you’ll agree that it was worth the effort.

The shelf is appropriately situated over one of the gerbil tanks.

Algernon's Army shelf over a gerbil tank.

I like how Jetpack and Jefferie are standing at attention here.

I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to look over my left shoulder and see my shelf-o-love-and-rodents. You guys are amazing.

I think that is probably all of my Algernon-related news. Thank you all for continuing to be so awesome. I love you guys.

Algernon’s Army

You guys have no idea what is going on around here.

I cannot even tell you how much love you have sent me. All of you…in so many ways. Every comment, every email, every tweet, every message, every photo…

But there is also this:

give Algernons

Meet Algernon’s Army: Minnie the Island Mouse, Baggins, Reginald, Demetrius, and Algernon Too.

Every single person who sent me a mouse (thank you so much, Kim, Mir, Thien-Kim, Ann (aka my sister), and the sender of the last guy who came without a note—updated to add: it was Joeymom! Thank you!) told me, “I know Algernon can’t be replaced, but maybe this guy can help.”

Seriously. How awesome? And this doesn’t even include all the others of you who emailed me to tell me that you wanted to send me a mouse—and those offers mean just as much as an in-the-flesh mouse.

I could never have gone out and bought a new Algernon, but getting them from you guys? It feels good. It feels right. And, holy hell, it made my kids so ridiculously happy that I can’t even tell you how grateful I am for you. The munchkins are reluctant to refer to one of these critters as anything other than Algernon, so Algernon Too might have to be the mouse who heads out on adventures first. Trust me though, the rest of them are going to hang out in a place of honor on my desk, because they are not made of stuffing. They are made of love.

Look how cute they are! (And so clean! Damn, Algernon was grubbier than I thought he was.)

Oh, and there is another little guy who will be coming later. Sunday got me a mouse too, but he is currently being needed to cheer up her son Sam, who had a tough doctor visit today.

Algernon and (Sunday's) Sam

Sunday’s kiddo, getting support. Algernon and his army are good that way. Shared with permission.

I cannot even tell you how much I loved seeing this photo on Facebook this morning. ALGERNON HELPS PEOPLE, YOU GUYS. Or rather, Scout, as this mouse is named, because this mouse? Well this mouse is literary, y’all.

Oh, and just in case things were getting too uniform for you all, Quinn’s occupational therapist worked with Quinn in a session to make a new mousy friend for us, getting his opinion on choices of eyes (NO BUTTONS! NO BUTTONS!) and enlisting his sewing expertise.

Black, white & red giraffe-print homemade mouse

I love him so much. I will be calling him Giraffey. For obvious reasons.

But, you guys, it’s not even my new mousy friends that cheered me up. There was the story one of you told me about losing your own stuffed mouse and finding her under your mom’s porch ten years later. There are, as I think I mentioned, those of you who shared awesome stories of losing your own things, some of which I probably shouldn’t detail here. (You know who you are.) There is the friend who sent a gift card for caffeine, which was much appreciated. There is my sister-in-law, who was going to give me a winter hat for Christmas, but told me she’ll be moving up that gift hat to replace the one lost and to keep my head warm. There were all of your nice words—and trust me when I say that every one of those words mattered.

There is also the knowledge that Algernon will live on in memory, say whenever one wonderful person goes to her London grocery store past Algernon Road:

Algernon Road - London

Algernon had international influence, see.

None of this, however, can replace Algernon, which you all know, no matter how you responded to his loss. Many of you suggested that Algernon might have a wonderful second life with a new friend.

Some of you worked very hard (and successfully) to make me laugh, like one of my very best friends, whom I’ve known since college, who suggested that maybe Algernon’s new life would be a faster one, posed at scenes of his crimes with his new friend, the thief.

Maybe, she suggested, Algernon broke bad.

In fact, she claims that he’s already been involved in some jewelry store heists.

Algernon wearing gaudy jewelry

He gots some bling, baby. Whereabouts unknown.

You guys, I don’t think Algernon is coming back. He’s got a new adventure ahead of him. This whole episode has really sucked, but I learned something really important. I learned that I have a tremendous number of people who really, really care about me. I learned that love comes in many forms and that I got to experience many of them this past week.

I learned that my car thief may have my stuff, but his life is probably not very awesome. I would choose all of you over my stuff any day of the week. That thief brought a black cloud with him, but you all made up a silver lining so thick that it’s hard to even see the storm anymore. Thank you for that.

And thank you for my new mice. You made my kids so happy by sending them, which means so much to me. You made me so happy by sending them. I can’t wait to see what adventures my new mouse friends have.

Thank you for Algernon’s Army. Thank YOU for BEING Algernon’s army.

Sunny Days

Things are better, friends. I’m feeling a lot better. Part of my depression is/was chronic depression that I have dealt with for a long time. But I also have pretty severe PMDD and sometimes those two depressions work together and send me spiraling into a headspace where I isolate myself and don’t talk and sit in drippy black clouds for longer than I am used to.

I say this to let you know that those drippy clouds have been receding and I’ve been more reliable about taking my antidepressants and things have been getting better and this is a perfect segue into me telling you that last weekend was one of the best weekends I’ve had in a long time.

Everything came together in, like, a loveplosion of awesome. I have a list of things from last weekend that I want to write about and show you photos of, which, I believe, will be a vast improvement over, you know, nothing. Hopefully those words will actually materialize.

My weekend was full of friends from near and far, awesome kids, a moonbounce, candy corn, margaritas, cheering on Marine Corps Marathon runners, being with people who really get and love me, and sunny weather.

It’s just too bad there wasn’t more sleep. And there was no Segway ride. That would have made my weekend better. I’m just saying.

I’m a really lucky person. I’m so glad that the clouds are lifting so I can see that.

Reach the Beach 2013 Race Report: Victory in New Hampshire!

Cannon Mountain, location of the start line at Reach the Beach New Hampshire:

photo of Cannon Mountain

Driving in, I had a very visceral reaction. To wit: “Oh fuck, it’s real.”

Some background:

Just about 52 weeks ago, I ran an 8K race near my home. I ran those five miles at a slightly more than 14-1/2 minute per mile pace. I placed 621 out of 627 finishers.

Last weekend at Reach the Beach, I ran three runs totaling 16.87 miles over 33 hours. I ran them, according to my GPS, in three hours, 13 minutes, and three seconds at a less than 11-1/2 minute per mile average pace.

To many (most?) runners, I am still veeeery slow. I still don’t look like a runner. I am definitely still a beginner. I am still waaaaay in progress on my Project Stimey Betterment of Jean mission. But you know what? I can run 17 miles in two days. My longest run increased to 11.15 miles—which I ran in August at a faster pace than I ran that 8k race, by the way. I’ve run nearly 400 miles thus far this year. I have cut three minutes off of my running pace in the past 52 weeks.

Progress, meet Stimey.

I am extremely proud of myself.

All right. Excellent. *brushes hands together* Let’s move on to the race report.

As I told you in my last post, Reach the Beach is a 200(ish)-mile race broken into 36 legs. Standard teams rotate their runners sequentially through each leg. We were a freestyle team, which means that our captains were able to assign legs at will. We had two vans that took turns running and supporting the runners. That means Van One ran/supported on legs 1-6, 13-18, and 25-30. Van Two ran/supported legs 7-12, 19-24, and 31-36. I was in Van Two and ran legs 8, 24, and 35.

If you’re having a hard time picturing it, you can look at photos and videos on the race Facebook page or read this post about the logistics of it all. Or you can stick around here as I tell you how it was for me and also a little bit how it was for my team. I feel a little egocentric writing solely about my perspective as this was most definitely a team effort and undoubtedly every other member of the team had a vastly different experience, but I don’t know how else to be able to do it. Maybe as you’re reading, you could add “which was possible only because of my amazing team” after every sentence.

I flew into Connecticut on Thursday, the day before the race, where I met up with my team co-captain Marc and my Van Two compatriots Lyda, Bob, Marisa, and Mike. Mike was there as our driver and as a pinch hit runner. Remember that. It is important later.

After that, we headed off to meet Van One—none of whom I’d ever met before—at a restaurant, where everyone talked about how many marathons and half marathons they’d run and I sat quietly and hydrated.

I didn’t actually get to interact very much with Van One, which is a shame because they seem like very cool people. I also didn’t ask their permission to post their names or photos, so just imagine six very nice, fit people who killed their legs of the course. They were all really fast runners and they had to run a LOT of tough hills. Also, I didn’t see them very often. You should internalize, however, that Van One kicked ass.

Reach the Beach staggers their start times over the course of the first day (Friday) so that all 480 teams don’t set off in their 1000 vans at the same time. We were a slower (the slowest?) team, so we had the first start time at 7:20 am.

This is definitely in the top…one of most gorgeous start lines that I’ve experienced.

Start line set in misty mountains.

Teammates Lyda and Bob in our unobtrusive team shirts.

It started raining right as our first runner set off, which  was a bummer for him, but not that much of a problem for Van Two, as the weather forecast claimed that it would clear up by the time we started running in the early afternoon. Our general assholishness and joy over this would come back to haunt us later that afternoon when we all had to run in pouring rain.

Karma is real, people.

Teammate in blue shirt, with number 16701, holding bright yellow baton.

This snap bracelet was the baton that we passed from wrist to wrist for more than 200 miles. I bet it has a lot of sweat residue on it now.

Anywho, Van One set off running and Van Two? Well, we headed off to breakfast. Over eggs, homefries, pancakes, and coffee, Bob looked up and said, “So far I don’t see what’s so hard about this race.”

He was totally right.

We drove the race route on our way to the first Vehicle Transition Area (VTA), which was really exciting. Passing all the runners was totally inspiring. Passing our runner was way cool. She was in third place at the time.

Spoiler alert: We didn’t stay in third place.

We arrived at the VTA early, which gave us plenty of time to circle and fret, circle and fret. Which we did. Also, it started to rain, goddammit.

Us in front of our van

Team MLC, Van Two at the first VTA: Bob, Lyda, Mike, Marisa, Stimey, Marc. We’re awesome.

We got into our groove as Lyda set off on her leg and we figured out how to be a support vehicle. All too soon, however, we had supported her and arrived at the next transition area (TA), where I was due to run my 6.61 miles of Leg 8.

Although not as nervous as I’d been in the days leading up to the race, I still had a fair amount of pre-run anxiety. I was hopeful that it would dissipate as I started running—and it did.

My GPS watch doesn’t tell me my current pace (just average pace), but after I’d been running for a half hour or so, I did some math in my head and figured out that I was running faster than my expected pace of 12 minute miles, which was a huge relief as the possibility of running a 13-minute mile is what had been giving me nightmares for weeks.

My team stopped to give me some water at mile four. It is hard to run and drink water at the same time, so I spilled it all over myself, but it totally didn’t matter because I was entirely soaked by the rain. Did I mention that? It poured during my whole run. At least there was no chance of overheating.

Stimey running and smiling

Mile Four: It’s too bad I was so fucking miserable while I was running, isn’t it?

The rest of the run went really well too. Instead of letting my mind wander, which is something I do on training runs, which tends to result in my slowing down without meaning to, I made sure to keep my speed up and to hit every downhill slope hard. (Gravity, bitches!)

Running into the transition area was one of the greatest things ever.

“You took six minutes off your time!” Marc shouted. Then I never stopped smiling ever.

Bob took off on his run and we returned to the van, where I claimed the back seat so I could change out of my wet clothes. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to navigate a soaking wet sports bra and assorted other clothing while trying to not flash the entire world from the back of a van, but it was harder than it looked.

The rest of the team was, you know, doing stuff in the rest of the van—reading handbooks, studying elevation maps, eating M&Ms and whatnot, whilst I was fighting an epic battle with my clothes.

“Getting dressed is harder than running,” I proclaimed, which, I believe, is evidence of the endorphins coursing through my system after my successful run.

I was so high that I have little recollection of Bob’s run, which was next. I do, however, remember Marisa’s run after his because it was kind of a bummer of a run, by which I mean it was way hillier than expected and still pouring rain. We passed her at some point and then every turn we took, it just got worse and worse and worse and more and more and more uphill except for that steep downhill on gravel, culminating in a steep uphill finish on soaking wet grass.

I stood at the top of that grassy hill for a good amount of time watching runners come into the TA. There were a lot of very fit but very sad people who staggered up that hill, most of them looking completely dazed. Marc, who had assigned all of our van’s legs, looked a little bit like he wanted to throw up, but I’m not sure if it is because he’d given Marisa the uphill route (that, to add insult to injury, he got to partially retrace in the opposite, downhill direction) or because he had two back-to-back legs coming up to finish our first section of the race, for a total of nearly nine miles.

I met him at the TA with some water. Most of our team didn’t make it to cheer him in because he ran so damn fast that he got there way faster than expected, while they were still examining the scenery. I gave him some water, gaped at his 7:10 min/mi pace, and sent him on his way for his second leg.

Marc and Stimey in the woods

Related: Do you see the beauty that we got to run through?

He was substantially less chipper at the next TA where he arrived after leg cramps with a hearty, “That sucked!” but still a 7:50ish pace for his second leg. Then he wandered around mumbling for a while. I don’t think you get leg cramps if you run anything slower than 11 minutes a mile. Yay, me!

Fortunately, we didn’t have anywhere to be because Van One was up for the next six legs. It was nearing dinner time so we decided to find pizza in the town where we would be taking over in the middle of the night. This meant that we got to preview the race course before Van One ran it. We decided to not let them know how terrible and hilly their night runs would be. It seemed cruel to tell them. Sometimes ignorance is bliss—although there was nothing blissful about the legs they had to run. In the dark. With, in at least one case, a defective headlamp. In the pitch black. Did I mention that it was dark?

We stopped for gas and my teammates asked the teenage kids (i.e. hoodlums) hanging outside where to get the best pizza in town. Then we passed probably 60 or 70 pizza places as we drove in circles to find said pizza place because teenagers told us it was “the bomb.”

I may or may not have been in the navigator’s chair with my Yelp app shouting about, “No! We are going to get the bomb pizza. I do not care that there are three pizza joints in that strip mall to our left. I DO NOT CARE!” Fortunately a majority of Van Two was similarly delirious and opinionated.

Algernon eating pizza.

It was pretty goddamn good pizza. Mayhap the bomb.

As I was taking the above photo with my actual slice of pizza, which I then proceeded to eat, Marc was all, “Last time I saw that mouse, he was sitting on a lily pad in the middle of a lake.” And I was all, “Yum. Giardia.”

From there, we went to the VTA where we hoped to get some sleep. Here is something you should know about me: I can find a way to sleep almost anywhere. Sometimes I can’t help sleeping in odd places. The other day when I was in the OT waiting room, it was less awesome that I fell asleep, but at Reach the Beach, my sleeping skillz came in super handy.

We parked our van near a bunch of people sacked out in the grass in sleeping bags and I pulled out my bag only to hear that everyone else was planning to get some sleep in the van. Seats were being reclined, benches were being called, and I couldn’t think of anything more terrible than trying to sleep in a van full of people. Putting a sleeping bag on the wet grass seemed luxurious by comparison.

I chose a spot under a tree, imagining that it would probably be drier there. Then I passed out and slept for the next two hours. After Marc woke me up (in what was apparently a nervewracking episode of trying to figure out which identical sleeping bag contained me—fortunately he chose wisely), I learned that the van denizens had averaged about 20 minutes of sleep.

I knew that all those naps I took over the summer were preparing me for something. I’m not LAZY. I was TRAINING.

Regardless, soon enough we were up and waiting for an exhausted Van One to come in and pass the baton to us. Lyda was up first at around midnight, which meant that we got to experiment with middle of the night support on her. Also, we were all kind of waiting to see if she was going to get eaten by a bear.

Another spoiler alert: She did not.

Running at night was a trip. Our driver/teammate extraordinaire, Mike, super stepped up on this rotation. He not only drove our enormous van nearly the entire course (33 hours!) while not running over any runners, but he also turned into our main support guy, jumping out of the van to supply water and encouragement as we ran by. Mike rocks. Like, really, really rocks.

The fact that Mike took over the major support role was probably for the best, as I tried to support Marc on his leg, resulting in my team thinking that I’d gotten lost in the night (I’d wandered over to the other side of the road) AND giving a generic, “Nice job!” to Marc when he ran by because I didn’t realize it was him in the dark.

I eventually figured out my mistake and caught up to him with his water.

I ran the last leg in this rotation, so I am the only member of Team MLC who didn’t actually run in the dark. I had been kind of looking forward to a night run, but I got the sunrise run, so I’m not going to complain. I also didn’t get any of the super hard runs that the rest of the team ran overnight, so I’m really not going to complain. Three of Van Two’s runners ran super hilly legs and one ran a double leg, which totaled nearly ten miles.

My 6.9 miles didn’t seem so bad after that.

Also, not to toot my own horn or anything, but after being passed by every runner on the course, I finally passed someone on this leg. I found out later that it was the oldest runner in the race—an 80-year-old man who was on his 9th year of the race. I want to be him when I grow up.

This leg was a little slower for me, but I still took a couple minutes off of my expected running time. Shortly before the end of my leg, there was a short (about a half mile) but steep uphill. I was a little surprised when I got to the top and there were no cheers for me, but there was no one around, so I guess I can’t feel too bad. There were cheers in my head though and I very nearly high fived myself for not slowing to a walk at all.

I live for downhills (again: gravity, bitch!) and the rest of the leg was downhill, so I took off, feeling great. I even had a passing van shout at me, “Way to finish strong, runner!” at which point I looked up to smile at them and nearly fell off the road. Happily I did not.

Van One was taking over at this point, so as I ran in to the cheers of the large crowd that was gathered at the VTA, I was looking for my replacement runner from the other van. I saw him and then tried to operate the snap bracelet while moving, promptly hurling it to the ground at his feet.

I am a fucking dunce.

Stimey passing the baton

I totally look like a pro here, don’t I?

Stimey passing runner picking up baton

I look like less of a pro here, running past my teammate who had to start his leg by fumbling on the ground. I particularly like background guy watching him do it.

We had time before starting our final rotation so we took the People Who Need Coffee (why doesn’t everyone just take their caffeine in an icy, portable, Diet Coke manner like I do?) to a Dunkin’ Donuts, which was awesome for me because there was an actual bathroom there where I could change my clothes instead of struggling in the back of the van.

From there, we headed to our next vehicle transition area, which was a happy place where you could buy a shower for $5 or sleep on a mat in a school gym for free. I opted for the latter, scoring another hour and a half of sleep.

Before sleep, however, I used the porta potty. Then I walked out of said porta potty, dropped off a curb, and fell straight to the ground. That’s right. I fell pretty much flat on my face by rolling out of a porta potty. I imagine that it was kind of spectacular to watch.

I am ridiculous.

I actually sustained more of an injury in my, you know, fall out of the porta potty than I did in any other part of the race. I scraped up my whole left shin and tore open small wounds on a couple of toes and my ankle.

Repeat: I am ridiculous.

We only had six legs left to run and this was by far the easiest rotation, with each leg measuring only 4 or fewer miles—except Leg 32: my leg. This leg is 6.7 miles. I had this leg because my other legs, while good distances, were easier than everyone else’s legs. (Anyone have a synonym for “leg?”) I wasn’t assigned any of the long climbs or lengthy slogs, so I was prepared to put in my time with a long last leg. Marc also had a long last leg, but just because he was planning to run both legs 35 and 36.

Mike, being the wonderful guy he is (remind me to tell you about the incredible parking job he did with the van at the last VTA sometime), offered to take leg 35 from Marc. Marc suggested that he take my leg and I take 35, which Mike was totally up for.

I was conflicted.

Part of me wanted to do my three 7-mile runs. I had prepared for them, I had psyched myself up for them, I was ready for them. But a bigger part of me liked the idea of running 3.4 miles instead of 6.7. When I woke up from my nap and fighting my way out of the sleeping bag took longer than a minute, I decided to gratefully take Mike up on his offer.

It was an exceptionally good decision. I probably could have done the 6.7, but it wouldn’t have been pretty. Even the 3.4 wiped me out. Mike took leg 32 and killed it. He pinch hit at exactly the time we needed him to. I don’t think it would be out of line to call him a godsdamned hero.

It was really fun to celebrate with each of my teammates as they came into the TAs, having completed all of their legs. These are some incredibly tough people, all of whom rocked every single one of their legs. It was an honor to run with them.

My last leg felt slow, but it turns out that I was running it at the same average pace that I ran my first leg. I even passed two non-octogenarians.  It felt great to run into the transition area on that last leg.

Done!Marc ran the last leg because he is the dude who came up with the idea to run Reach the Beach in the first place and it seemed only fair that he get to be the guy to complete it. Unfortunately, he is a speedy runner and the rest of us had only his four miles to speed to the beach to get there before he did.

We had to park in the overflow lot, which was, oh, let’s say 16 miles from the finish line. Or a little less than a mile. One or the other.

We speedwalked down the boardwalk to the beach and then churned through the sand along the race route where we found our Van One teammates just in front of the finish line. Not two minutes later, Marc came running down the beach and all 12 of us ran across the finish line together. It was amazing.

I am so proud of all of us.

Team MLC Van Two at the finish line

We are awesome. All of us.

Ah, fuck it, I have to show Van One too.

Team MLC, with our captains in front.

Team MLC, with our captains in front.

Based on Race Stimey’s experience at Reach the Beach, Future Stimey is really going to enjoy whatever team-centered footrace I sign her up for next. We’re already contemplating other relays.

I feel really happy that not only did I complete my portion of this race and that my team finished the race as a group, but I made some new friends. I completely fell in love with my teammates last weekend. I would go on pretty much any adventure with them at any point in the future.

Thank you, Team MLC, for being the amazing, strong, funny, kind people that you are.

As for Idea-man Marc? I may have jokingly said some unkind things to him over the past several weeks as my panic reached epic proportions, but the thing I really want to say to him is, thank you. I would never have done this without you, Marc. Thank you.

When I was worried about my hip injury and afraid that taking time off to let it rest would let down our team, you didn’t let me quit. Thank you.

When I panicked in front of you in the days leading up to the race, you stayed calm and encouraging. Thank you.

When I surpassed my own expectations, you were the first to cheer me on. Thank you.

IMG_6583No, really. Thank you.

#racemadness

*INSERT WAR CRY HERE*

You guys are my favorite.

I am ready.

Thank you to each and every one of you for your pep talks and your love and for getting it. You helped me walk through the worst of my pre-race anxiety. Yes, I still have anxiety, but c’mon, I’m racing Reach the Beach. I think it is warranted.

I am ready now.

I am in my right headspace.

I am in this motherfucker.

Next time you see me, I’ll be reaching the beach.

My team is going to rock this relay.

Team_MLCI would like you to entertain me on my Thursday travel day by giving me your guesses as to what our team name stands for. I didn’t name the team, so you can’t make an assumption that it is Team Motherfucking Long-ass Course. Someone with some decorum named the team. That doesn’t mean you have to have decorum though. Give me your best guess.