Highs and lows

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I’ve started to write posts for this blog five different times. So, this post is going to be, shall we say… meandering. A random sampling of things that have been happening, interspersed with cute dog pictures. Part of this is as I mentioned earlier, because this summer has been a bit tumultuous and some of it is because my life is just not that interesting. ;-P

My work life has been particularly dramatic. My boss just gave his notice so that’s definitely shaken everything up. But prior to that, I came very close to getting a new job (or at least thought I did), only to have the process end in a very abrupt and bewildering way. Luckily, I have AWESOME friends:

PersonalCandyWallAnd, of course, these bozos:

CouchDogWallyFaceLoveDogsI’ve been really lazy with my training lately, for no good reason really. I’ve had spurts of busyness, but mostly, I just haven’t felt like getting up early and hauling my ass up a mountain in the hot weather. Finally, I bit the bullet and joined a really awesome group for a field trip to Pacific Coast trail.

PCTrunThe view was a little obscured, but it was still beautiful:

PCT-viewPlus, there was this interesting little sight:

PCT-I90I am super out of shape, but it was fun to get out there. It even inspired me to drag the boy and Mr. Austin out for a Cougar Mountain outing the following weekend:

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It was toasty out, even in the shade. Here’s poor little frog dog recovering in the parking lot post-run:

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The boy has been working on a big home improvement project – refinishing our 15-year old bookcases. Here’s a little before and after sneak peak:

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He’s been cranking through them, so I’ll share a shot of the final product soon. I can’t wait! Otherwise, there isn’t much to write about. We started getting our veggie box, so it’s been fun to have beautiful veggies to play with. Like these technocolor beets!

BeetsHopefully, I’ll have some new fun adventures to write about soon…

Happy trails

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A few months ago, my friend Jenn sent me a link to an awesome sounding women’s trail-running and yoga retreat up in the Methow Valley. I informed her that it was even better than she’d realized because it is led by the super-awesome Alison Naney, who had coached my training group for Deception Pass. Alison is one of those rare people that is not only a certified bad-ass ultra-runner, (yes, they give certificates for that now!) but somehow manages to be super supportive without it feeling condescending. She’s the perfect person to lead a retreat full of women you’ve never met before in the middle of the mountains.

Unfortunately, the retreat was the weekend before the Sunflower Marathon relay that we’d already signed up for and we just couldn’t make the logistics work for Jenn to attend. (I’ve already told her she needs to put that the top of her “to-do list” for next year. Seriously, Jenn, get on this. For reals.) So, I’d be on my own, but after my years of tri camp attendance, I wasn’t that nervous about it.

I ended up driving up to camp with a brave Colorado woman Colorado named Lucinda, who was trusting that she would find a ride back to the airport after camp, as I’d be staying at Jenn’s cabin for the week between the retreat and Sunflower. (She did.) We hit it off immediately and the drive went by quickly as we chatted about life, the universe and everything.

The retreat was held at Sun Mountain Lodge, which is gorgeous. We got checked in. This hovel was where I’d have to spend my weekend:

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I mean, look at this crappy view. #slummingit

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We then met up for a little shake-out run/hike. The scenery was stunning and set the backdrop for what was looking to be an amazing weekend. (Get excited for LOTS of pictures… )

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Then we got cleaned up and met with the whole group for some wine, appetizers and introductions. As I’d anticipated, this was going to be a fantastic group of ladies and I was excited to get to know them better. The next morning, we were up early for an ab session, followed by breakfast and then out for a run. I tried to hang with the front of the pack, which was a mistake that I paid for later on in the run, but I couldn’t help myself. it was so fun to run with these ladies:

7H3A2880Photo credit: Hannah Dewy

Alison gave us technique pointers:

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And had us practice our downhills:

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Sometimes, we weren’t so organized, but we had fun!

Retreat_DayTwoGroupWe were very fortunate to have the talented Hannah Dewey photographing us. Watching her run the trails with her big DSLR camera was impressive:

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And, again, incredible scenery:

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Then it was back to the lodge for lunch, followed by a strength training talk/session, yoga and then another nice little recovery hike around the lodge. A group of us ventured into Twisp for a fun group dinner.

The next morning, we started with a talk on nutrition, followed by breakfast and then a longer trail run. As usual, we had a terrible time:

7H3A2868Photo credit: Hannah Dewey

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And did I mention the scenery?

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We even saw some wildlife. There are actually around five deer in this picture, even though you can only see 1 and a quarter:

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We came back and had lunch, followed by a foam roller session on the lawn:

7H3A3498Photo credit: Hannah Dewey

It was so nice out that we opted to have yoga out there as well:

7H3A3546Photo credit: Hannah Dewey

7H3A3558Photo credit: Hannah Dewey

I’d been toying about going into Winthrop, but opted instead to go for a walk with Lucinda, Emily and Hannah. Hannah was nice enough to get a picture of us. Emily decided to adjust for hanging with the two tall girls:

Retreat_AfternoonHikeGroupI also took a nice picture of Sun Mountain Lodge from our hike, just to give you an idea of how it’s situated:

Retreat_SunMountainLodgeWe opted to have dinner out on the patio and were joined by a number of other ladies, as well as Hannah and her hubby (who is a smoke jumper!). It was such a lovely evening. I didn’t want the weekend to end.

Our final morning, we started with an early morning yin yoga session, which was great. And then breakfast, followed by a hike (or run, for those so inclined) up Patterson Mountain:

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There was this little cement structure at the top, that we of course had to pose with:

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Or in front of (this is me with Michele, we were differentiated by “one L” or “two L”):

Retreat_MandMThis chalk graffiti seemed particularly apropos:

Retreat_ChalkGraffittiHannah got some cool pictures of us on the top:

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Then it was back to the lodge for a quick shower, followed by lunch/good-byes. It was such a fantastic experience and I feel so lucky to have been a part of it. But my luck was really just beginning, as I headed over to Jenn & Bryan’s cabin for a whole week in the Methow.

After so much socializing, it was weird to be on my own. Luckily, I had Austin to keep me company, once I picked him up from his boarding place. The cabin was chilly, so I wrangled a fire from Betsy the cantankerous wood stove (which might be the most impressive accomplishment of the weekend):

Retreat_WoodStoveAnd then a little later, I took Austin out for a little walk in the sunflowers:

Retreat_SunflowerAustinIt was all fun and games until I saw a bear and Austin was off-leash and not coming back as promptly as I might have liked. Thankfully, it all worked out and this week didn’t start off on a tragic note.

Race Report: Catalina Marathon

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I’d be lying if I said that I thought this race would be easy. I mean, look at the elevation profile FFS:

CatalinaMary-RaceElevationThe course basically goes from one side of the island to the other:

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This means you have to get on a boat that leaves at five am. (It also means that your poor husband has to get up at zero:dark:thirty and figure out how to drive a golf cart, so that he can drive his wife to the boat dock. He’s a saint.) As you might expect, a pre-race boat full of runners is very quiet:

CatalinaMary-EarlyMorningBoatLike any runner worth her salt, I’d been watching the weather forecast for the last month of so. It had been pretty consistently 71 degrees, but about a week ago it shot up to 81. Then yesterday we heard that they were expecting temps in the 90’s. The day moved from crazy to ridiculous. Temps on the boat were still cool, but when we docked at 6:30 it was already in the 60’s – as warm as the mild days we’d been enjoying in Seattle.

The race organizers were kind enough to let folks leave early if we were so inclined, so I took them up on it and hit the road. First, I hit the restroom (like with lights and flushing toilets! Height of luxury!!!) and took a picture of the sunrise over the harbor. After I ran it through Instagram it looked more like something you’d paint on a van, but still pretty:

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We kicked off the race with a nice long hill. This would become the theme of my day. Looking through my photos, it was pretty funny to see pictures of hills:

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Followed by pictures of pretty views:

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This dichotomy really defines this race. It is brutally difficult, but also breathtakingly beautiful. I tried really hard to let go of my expectations for the day and just let it unfold.

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The worst part is that while you’d be climbing this hill…

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you’d look to your left and see this:

CatalinaMary09In case you can’t tell, those tiny specks are runners going up a giant hilly switchback.

CatalinaMary10-labelsBut for every one of these…

CatalinaMary12You’d get this…

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As I ran/walked along, the analogy popped in my head that the Catalina Marathon was basically a very pretty, but very mean girl. Which kicked off a volley of “Mean Girls” quotes. The mind is quite a fascinating machine…

But as the temperatures rose, it got harder and harder to keep spirits up. As I reached the halfway point, it became readily apparent that it was going to be a very long day. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t think about quitting. But the combo of having pulled the plug on the last standalone marathon and the only potential ride that I had was the paramedics, made it really hard to quit. So, I trudged along, running where I could and trying to stay on top of my eating and drinking.

Early on in the race, I’d seen this sign. Regrettably, I didn’t see any foxes. But I was hoping to see bison.

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Then, almost exactly at the 20 mile marker, I saw this guy. I thought I might be hallucinating, but a couple of other runners ahead of me were taking his picture as well.

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To add insult to injury, I couldn’t get a cell signal to text T and let him know that I was going to be at least an hour and a half later than projected. (Or two hours, as it turned out… ) It wasn’t until I reached this point:

CatalinaMary18-labelsThe combination of being able to see our condo complex and the fact that around this hill was the cell tower for the island made me check my phone.

CatalinaMary17And sure enough, I was able to get a text through. There was a beautiful view of Avalon from up there. The phrase “so close, but yet so far” has never been more true…

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I’m a far better descender than I am a climber, so I’d been sort of counting on being able to bomb down some hills at the end of this race. But in the cruel way of 22 miles of punishment, my body had other plans – every time I’d descend, my abs would cramp like someone was stabbing me. So the descents were a little more run/walk/whimper than I wanted. Not to mention that walking down steepish downhills really hurts your quads and swollen feet. This was definitely the lowest point.

As we got closer to town, I just decided to run as much as I could and get this stupid, godforsaken race over with. Surprisingly, I was able to pass some people with my crampy, old-lady shuffle. The course goes right through the botanic garden (a fact I would only discover the next day when we visited it, as I was in a total pain haze.) Bros on golf carts rode by and I cursed them in my head.

Thankfully, I wasn’t killed by any of the rental golf carts and I navigated my way into town. Then, with one mile left, I saw T, Erik and Nerissa. They cheered mightily and ran with me down the homestretch. The race photographer got this shot that captured the moment nicely.

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(I pretty much have to purchase and make some sort of t-shirt, coffee mug or poster out of it, don’t you think?)

Nerissa got a much better shot of my finish. (I’m giving the race announcer the thumbs up because he pronounced my last name correctly. Score!)

CatalinaMary-FinishLineT also got the best post-race picture of me:

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I can’t believe how difficult this race was. I would say it’s the hardest race I’ve ever done. I am extremely proud of myself for finishing and have already caught myself thinking about what I’d do differently to train for future attempts. (What can I say, it’s a sickness!)

Afterward, there was: dunking my poor feet in the ocean, a long and heavenly bath, eating and drinking all of the things and a really wonderful dinner out. I am so grateful to T, Erik and Nerissa for cheering me on. I also have to give Nerissa a shout-out for doing her first 10k today on an impressively hilly double-loop course. Apparently, the madness is contagious! 😉

Return to the Hot Chocolate 15k

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It’s been two years since I’ve done this race. (That pesky Hawaii trip interfered last year… ) I wanted to get a little “race practice” in before Catalina and this race landed perfectly on the schedule. In order to keep my training on track, I opted to do a 2-hour trail run yesterday. Unfortunately, I was meeting a group of folks, so I couldn’t bring Mr. Austin. He was not impressed:

0215_PoorAustinGiven my Saturday exploits, I wasn’t sure what to expect from today. My goals were to get a final test of some of my planned race attire and get some good, steady, hilly mileage.

I’d forgotten what a cluster it is to get to races at the Seattle Center, especially when the course is on one of the major roads to get there. Poor T had to drop me off half a mile away and then wrangle traffic to find someplace to hang out for a couple of hours. (He’s a good boy.) Bonus, I got a bit of a warm-up before the race and happened upon the totally empty and pristine row of porta-potties by the finisher area.

They’ve improved their process and I was in the fifth corral. They sent groups off at three minute intervals, so it didn’t take long to be able to see the start line.

0215_HC15k-startI lined up at the front of my corral, so was able to run right from the start. I wasn’t feeling 100%, but was able to keep a nice steady pace going up the hills and enjoy recovering by bombing the downhills. The weather was perfect and I had plenty of company:

0215_HC15k-midwayAfter the finish, I picked up my GIANT finisher’s medal and bowl of sugar. Then walked over to meet up with T and spare him having to drive closer to the circus. Seriously, look at this thing, it looks like Mr. T designed it:

0215_MrTmedalNow that taper has officially begun, I pity the fool who has to deal with me!

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Crossroads

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So far, 2015 is off to a strange start. Some parts good, some parts not so much, it’s hard to put into words. I feel like I’m at this crossroads where, I’m not happy with where I am, but also not sure how to fix it. I find myself torn between wanting to leave Seattle and wanting to fix it. T had a lengthy job interview process at a well-known outdoor retailer based here in the Pacific Northwest, and the longer it went on, the more it started to feel like I was standing on this crossroads – one path: he got the job and the roots to our life here grew deeper, the other path: the universe is telling us to go. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the job, so we’re back to square one. 😦

Sorry for the downer intro, let’s move into some more positive territory, shall we? I’ll start with a random tidbit, we took advantage of a Kasala sale and finished upgrading our dining room. It’s looking pretty high-class up in this joint!

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I’ve also kept up with my trail running. It’s good for my brain and I’ve met some really awesome ladies. I signed up for the Catalina Marathon in mid-March and have been spending most weekends out on the trails:

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Occasionally, I bring along this little troublemaker. His joyfulness is something to behold. It’s like taking a kid to Disneyland. Even if my legs feel like crap or I’m struggling, he makes it better.

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The highlight was a 20-miler on this beautiful trail:

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It has been three years since I tackled this distance and I’d forgotten how much it hurts. But I tried to keep my head in the game and not fall into the mental death-spiral that has haunted so many of my long runs. It helped a lot and I’m pretty proud of myself.

There has been some socializing. I spent the Super Bowl playing Mexican Dominos with these two lovely ladies:

0215_SB-Dominos(The boys were actually watching the game… Whatever!)

We also recently got together with these bad influences:

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So, of course, there was good food and cocktails:

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Sadly, I don’t see too much of M these days. Motherhood and life seem to have swallowed her whole. I try to be understanding, but the bottom line is, it sucks. It’s lonely and contributes to my desire to leave Seattle.

To keep things “interesting”, T’s back is all messed up, he’s got a slipped disk and has spent much of this month in a lot of pain. (I’m starting to believe that someone has put a voodoo curse on him or something.) Thankfully, now that it’s been diagnosed, he’s been getting better, but still has a ways to go. He does have the healing power of these two goofballs:

0215_WallyTongue0215_CouchBoys So, that’s the state of things right now. I’m trying to figure it out, we’ll see how it goes!

Lighting up the holidays

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Now that the big race is over, it suddenly feels like Christmas is coming way too soon. We had a LOT of work to do, so we got up on the early side and headed out. (Going to bed at 9:30 has it’s benefits!) After a nice breakfast at Portage Bay, we did some holiday shopping and crossed a few names off of the gift list.

Then it was home to clean and put up some holiday decorations. And prepare for an impromptu 5k sponsored by The Oatmeal – The Blerch Green Lake Fun Run. I’d picked up some battery powered Christmas lights and some fun Santa hats, so we were looking pretty festive:

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We didn’t really see anyone else when we walked over, but there were a ton of people at the meeting place:

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Given that this race was announced on Monday, it was pretty impressive how many people showed up. The mood at the start was fun, even though it was VERY chilly out:

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I tried to get a picture of the action, but this was the best I could do:

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Luckily, they posted a video (shot with a little helicopter drone) that is WAY better. (In fact, at 1:40 you can see yours truly veer off the path to take the above picture. I’m on the far right side of the frame. Look for the red light necklace and white lights around my hips.)

Oatmeal Greenlake Fun Run from Mel Gray on Vimeo.

It was such a fun event and put me fully in the Christmas spirit. Afterward, we went to a local Italian place for dinner. (I love Seattle where you can go to a decent restaurant in silly running clothes and no one looks twice.) Then it was a super brisk walk home because it was FREEZING!

Once there we finished decorating the tree and relaxed. It was very festive and enjoyable. A great end to a fabulous weekend.

Deception Pass 25k

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The big day has finally arrived: race day! After a scintillating day of work, we drove up north and checked into our hotel. It was Austin’s first time in a motel. He made himself comfortable, as is his custom:

DP-AustinHotelKing-sized bed means everyone has plenty of space, especially yours truly!

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I don’t know if it was all of the great group training runs or if ignorance is bliss, but I was feeling strangely at ease going into this race. I set up my gear and settled in for a good nights sleep:

DP-PreRaceSetupThe next morning, I was up just before my alarm. (Thanks Austin!) I have my pre-run routine down pretty well at this point, so it was a pretty calm morning, (except for the wrong turn out of the hotel. Gah!) But despite that little hiccup, we made it there with plenty of time to check in and all that jazz.

The boy even took a pre-race picture of me, all raring to go:

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Trail races take low tech to a whole other level. After checking in, I followed a crowd of people out to the parking lot. Where we milled around until someone yelled instructions over a bullhorn and we queued up in a different part of the parking lot. 😉

DP-StartLineAfter some hilarious pre-race instructions, (the gist of which was “don’t fall off of a cliff”) we were off. It was very crowded at the start. The woman in front of me was clearly very frustrated by this, but I just took it easy and didn’t waste any energy.

DP-RaceStartEventually it spread out a bit:

DP-scenery1(It helped that people like me would stop to take photos… )

Eventually, the trail got much more technical. I couldn’t help snapping pics of the scenery as we went along. Some of them weren’t in focus, but still pretty. It was hard to believe we’d be crossing that bridge (twice).

DP-scenery2Given that this was the course map, I was really worried about getting lost:

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But they did a really good job of marking the trail. Which can’t have been easy:

DP-trail1As we went along, it seemed like the views just got better and better:

DP-scenery4DP-trail3DP-scenery8I mean, seriously! Look at this!

DP-trail4While I was taking the picture above, a nice racer behind me offered to take my photo:

DP-midrunAs the race wore on, I won’t lie – I was tired! The trails were very technical and there was quite a lot of climbing. Some of it was very similar to trails we’d run in training, so I was grateful for that experience. But there were things hurting that hadn’t hurt before, so there were definitely tough points. Signs like this definitely didn’t help:

DP-signNot to mention there were sections of trail that involved climbing over downed trees. This is definitely not a sport for the faint of heart.

DP-trail5The wheels were starting to come off a little bit. I wanted to just lie down next to the trail and take a little nap, but I pressed on. Unfortunately for me, the toughest part of the course is second half:

DP-ElevationProfileIt has these steep, relentless climbs that not even the beautiful views could overcome. (I was too dizzy from being out of breath to enjoy much of anything.) I wheezed my way up them and cursed the course makers and geography in general. The “good” thing about trail running is there really isn’t any option to quit. So, I put my head down and got it done. All time goals had gone out the window by this point, so it was just about finishing the thing.

I’d been trading places with the lady who’d taken my picture at the mid-way point and as we closed on the final mile, she and I were very close together. Her significant other was cheering her in and was kind enough to add me to the mix. He assured us that there was one last hill and then we just had to run a little bit more to the finish line. (That turned out to be a strange run through the parking lot, but there weren’t any more hills!) He’d raced also, so he didn’t want to run up that hill again, so he shouted encouragement and off we went. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to cross a finish line. That race was TOUGH.

The boy was there cheering, as were a number of ladies from my training group. I pretty much crossed the finish line and went right to the pizza line. (That’s right, someone was making wood-fired pizza at the finish. Trail running rocks!) T had to take over my spot because I needed to sit. He loaded me up with a bunch of snacks and the world’s most delicious Coca Cola. I cheered and snacked until he brought me pizza. It was perfection.

Then I changed out of my sweaty clothes and we hit the road for home. I’d had these grandiose notions of going out for a delicious dinner, but, when all was said and done, I had no energy for anything other than a hot bath and ordering a pizza which I ate on the couch. As always, T was an amazing support crew. He wrangled the dogs for the many hours that I raced and then drove home and took excellent care of me. He’s the best.