June to remember

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The halfway point of 2015 came and went a week ago already, and what better reason than that to look back at a June for the memory banks.

Every year there’s at least one month that that weekends seem to be packed with more action than any of the others. During our days in Lexington it always seemed April and October were the busiest, with Keeneland‘s spring and fall meetings, the start of road racing season and mornings and afternoons spent coaching on the soccer pitch. April and October remain fairly busy still, with annual trips back to Kentucky to visit friends and family, but the summer months are what keep us most occupied here in upstate New York.

Earlier this year it was obvious that June would be a busy month.

The first weekend was the Belmont Stakes, which went to a new level this year as it always does when there’s a Triple Crown on the line. Five days away from home wasn’t too bad, especially considering getting to be front row for American Pharoah’s Triple Crown sweep. Winning the Joe Hirsch Memorial Writing Award made things even better.

The second and third weekends provided a welcome respite from racing – the first a spectacular outdoor concert by The Avett Brothers and John Prine at Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown. One road in, one road out and it couldn’t have gone smoother. We showed up a couple hours before the show, enjoyed some Nirvana IPA and Hopstate NY and eats from a variety of food trucks and settled in with 5,000 new friends for a great show that ended with fireworks. We stayed the night in Sharon Springs – think the Fabulous Beekman Boys, of book, reality show and Beekman 1802 fame – in a suite at a great B&B called The Nash.

We were closer to home the third weekend in June, so close we rode our bikes and toted lawn chairs and blankets to see Train, Matt Nathonson and The Fray at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

Word out of these parts is SPAC was recently honored as the best outdoor concert venue in America, at least according to a poll by USA Today. It’s a great setting for sure, suitable for the large crowd that was on hand for this and other big shows every summer, but lagged well behind in this writer’s opinion to what we took in the previous weekend in Cooperstown.

Plenty of folks were talking about the poll – and there was signage around the venue pointing out the honor – but the general consensus seemed surprised that Red Rocks wasn’t the top pick. Never been, but hope to some day.

We hit the road again the last weekend in June for the two-day Ragnar Trail Relay New England-MA in Northfield, Mass. Ragnar races are normally similar to the Bourbon Chase – 12 people divided into 2 vans, running all night, barely sleeping, messing up all your normal routines, or essentially having a blast – but this event took a different twist.

The explanation of the event said it would be an “adventure that combines classic East Coast trail running with camping, billions of stars and unforgettable stories.” Even better it said that despite the challenges of the trails on Northfield Mountain, “this is like summer camp for adults.”

It might have been camp but it was certainly no walk in the park.

Our team of eight – we started the day with only seven after an 11th-hour dropout (poor form) but thankfully picked up a speedy youngster looking to join a team – set up shop in mid-afternoon and soaked in the scene for a couple hours before our start time at 4 p.m. Yours truly was leading off and even though I’d scoped out the course maps and elevation charts for the 3.5-mile green loop that was my first leg, I really had no idea what kind of challenge the trails would offer.

A favorite saying on our Bourbon Chase teams before we start on that 30-plus-hour adventure is “it’s about to get real.”

It might have been uttered in Massachusetts, too, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that it was indeed real.

Four minutes and 16 seconds to be exact. That’s how long I ran, straight uphill, before I took a look at my watch.

From there the mind wandered to, “why am I completely red-lined?,” “holy sh–, I’m not prepared for this,” and “how will I ever do my other two legs, which are 6.5 and 4.8 miles?”

Eventually the hill gave way to rolling terrain, my heart rate returned to a more manageable level and it was slightly more bearable and enjoyable if you can believe it. At the transition zone I made a point to tell my wife Elizabeth to treat the first mile or so like a fast hike, just get up the hill and then start really running. My six other teammates – Dave, Megan, Eamon, Brooke, Angie and Justin – got the same advice.

So we continued into early evening, ran, camped, ate, chatted, tried to sleep and ran some more into the middle of the night, then sunrise, late morning and finally early afternoon. Our eight runners traversed a total of 118.4 miles in 22 hours, 15 minutes and 6 seconds. Our pace was 11:16 per mile and according to the preliminary results we finished 19th of about 170 teams in the open mixed division. Not too shabby.

It was a great end to a spectacular month. The beer never tasted better, the shower never seemed so cleansing and the bed never felt so soft.

That was June, or at least the weekends in June.

Now it’s time for July.

T-minus 17 days until the meet opens here in Saratoga.

Forty days of from July 24 to September 7.

Thirty-four issues of The Saratoga Special.

Bring it on.