by Lisa Domeshek
In the early morning hours of Halloween 2019, I sit at my computer, stretching my fingers, preparing myself for the frenzy of the Seneca7 race registration. The race is known to sell out within minutes, so I have to move quickly if I don’t want to miss out. True to form, my friend Emily types faster and fortunately secures our spot. We’re excited and have no idea that we won’t embark on this adventure for two and half long years.
The Seneca7 is an annual relay race held in April that spans 77.7 miles in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Teams of seven runners complete three separate legs ranging between 2.5 and 6.2 miles on roads surrounding beautiful Seneca Lake. The format is similar to a road Ragnar Relay with the team riding in a van during off-legs. The exchange points are often at local wineries and breweries, which the region is known for. There is also an option to form a bike team where you cycle opposed to riding in a van during your non-running legs. This would be quite the challenge as you are self-supported in either case.
Fellow Pacers Donna and Blair introduced me to the race. They had been participating for a few years and Donna had already formed a team, so I rounded up six other running friends. (The list of teammates ended up changing so many times before we actually got to run the race!) We name our team “Pour Choices” and make cute matching hats. We meet several times to plan the logistics, including renting a house and a van, planning what we want to eat, and exploring which wineries we might want to visit after race day.
It’s now March 2020. Our grocery lists are ready to go, we requested time off work, and we spent a decent chunk of change. But you know what happens next – everything is canceled. Our excitement quickly fades to disappointment.
The race offers a virtual option, but we decide not to participate. We receive the option to forfeit our money, with a portion being donated to charity, with an automatic entry for the following year, avoiding the morning registration frenzy. 2021 comes and the race is once again held virtually, which still isn’t how we want to participate. However, we still have automatic entry for the following year.
2022 rolls around and it looks like we are finally going to get to do this! But for various reasons, three of our team members have to back out. This shouldn’t be too big of an issue though; we have a great local running community, and this race sounds awesome. Donna’s team is going through something similar and is also looking for teammates. At this point, the race requires participants to be fully vaccinated. Also, we need runners who can get away for a weekend, preferably a long one, as the race is on a Sunday and takes the full day, and ughhh Hyner is the same weekend. Donna and I are both scrambling and asking the same pool of runners. By the beginning of March, we finally have our team together.
We found a house again, but no cute matching hats this time. My energy for planning and replanning this trip is really starting to wane. Two weeks out, a team member gets injured, which was way worse for her than it was for us. We double-checked but Seneca 7 won’t let us start the race with six runners. Desperately, we try to secure one more runner and with a stroke of luck we find the perfect fit three days before we must submit our final roster. Game on!
Our final team includes Karla Reppert, Jackie Snyder, Kate Willis, Jenn Guigley, Emily Trudel, Blair Hogg, and myself. Maybe we could have come up with a much funnier team name, but it’s too late for that now.
We get ourselves up to Seneca Lake and it’s finally race day with a 6 a.m. start and I am runner #1 — Eeekkk! The teams start in waves, and we are in the first. The race starts at the top of the lake in Geneva and runs counterclockwise around the lake ending back in Geneva. My first leg is beautiful. The temperature is in the low 50s, and I get to watch the sun rise over the water while I run 3.8 miles over a few rolling hills. When I finish running, I hand off a slap bracelet to runner #2, Jackie, and get on a shuttle to rejoin my team at the second exchange. Legs 1 and 2 involve a shuttle to help alleviate traffic; after that, you are in the van.
Our entire team is running well and having a great time. Then it’s time for my second leg. Now I am fully awake and ready to go. My second leg is 3.3 miles, and I am running my heart out. The first mile is straight downhill, and I am passing the very few runners that are ahead of us. We are all running better than expected. I get to a turn and some lively spectators partying on their porch yell, “Wait for It!!!” and sure enough I round a sharp turn to a very steep uphill. Ughhh — I was not prepared for this, and I don’t want to become “roadkill.” (Teams are tallying their “roadkill”–the number of runners they pass–and it is recorded in the results.) So straight up I go for a mile, finishing this leg on the flat main road and now it is HOT! The temperature rose to the high 80s with no clouds and a “real feel” of 90. Two years ago, it had snowed right before the race.
Everyone proceeds to run their second leg just as well, and it’s time for my last leg. I was originally a little nervous about being stuck in a van for such a long time but the day has flown by. Something was always happening. My last leg is 3.7 miles and feels flat, but is slightly downhill. I am very thankful that I have not been on a bicycle between legs at this point, as it feels so brutally hot. I finish, and it’s finally time for a beer! Blair is our last runner and we all meet up to run the final part of his leg as a team to the finish. Little do we know, he has finally passed the guy in front of him, and he plans on really running it in, so we chase him down, unprepared, which is a little comical.
Overall, this race was very well organized and a lot of fun. I can see why it sells out so quickly every year. Pour Choices placed 109 out of the 211 teams, at 12:31:17. Not too bad considering that we just wanted an excuse to have fun, drink wine, and visit the Finger Lakes.