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Reach the Beach Relay Race Recap

Posted Sep 20 2010 10:00am
Back in June, EC and I took a risk – we were so desperate to run the Green Mountain Relay in VT that we decided to join up with a team of complete strangers . Because what could possibly go wrong when spending 2 days trapped in a van with a team of 12 runners we had never met? …right?

Fortunately, the experience ended up being so amazing that I put out a similar plea to teams running the Reach the Beach Relay in New Hampshire. EC and I quickly found another team that was in need of a couple extra runners. We immediately signed up, putting our luck to the test once again.

Reach the Beach start At the start of RTB 2010

I figured that since I dragged my sister into the last race, I was in need of a new “victim” for this one – another person to indoctrinate into the wonderful world of adventure relays. The problem is that most of the time when I mention how fun it is to run 15+ miles over incredibly hilly terrain with almost no sleep, showers, or rest, people look at me like I’m crazy. They don’t quite understand where the “fun” part comes in.

That all changed that fateful day I met Becky for the first time. When I mentioned I was running RTB and our team needed another runner, I never really expected she’d say yes. Little did I know, she was just crazy adventurous enough to take on the challenge. And did my new “victim” enjoy the experience? I’ll let this picture speak for itself.

Becky transition RTB (You can also read her recap of her very first adventure relay here .)

Hands down favorite picture of the entire weekend! It perfectly sums up the emotion of running an adventure relay (and the awesome person Becky is!). Despite all the soreness and exhaustion, there is no better feeling than coming up to a transition point and seeing your team waiting for you and cheering you on. It’s this joy and sense of team bonding that make the relay so wonderful. And keeps me signing up, year after year.

A Journey of 209 miles Begins with a Single Step My second running of RTB started off with a very early morning. Waking up at 4:40 am on Friday, I felt groggy, sick…and jittery with excitement. I was super nervous going into this race since I had been sick all week with a chest cold, and actually hadn’t run one step since my 20 miler last Sunday . I wasn’t sure how my legs would feel and my lungs would hold up over nearly 22 hilly miles.

Our team arrived at Cannon Mountain in the rain, fog, and mud. Almost exactly the same weather as the start last year (I’m starting to think this is just typical Sept weather in NH).

RTB Start_Canon Mtn

Fortunately, after going through all the safety checks, the rain started to let up a little bit. The air was cool and crisp – the perfect day for running.

Before you can start any relay, however, you have to complete a very important task – decorating the team van. A well decorated van is critical to relay success.

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Our team was actually starting off under very stressful conditions. One of our lovely teammates had stood us up at the very last minute without so much as a phone call or an email letting us know he wasn’t actually planning on coming. Which meant that the runners in Van 2 would have to take on extra legs at the last minute. Unwritten rule #15 of adventure relay racing states that if you choose to bail on your team without being decent enough to even send them a note, you will be hated by 11 runners for all of eternity….or at least subject to the brunt of all jokes for the entire weekend.

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To make matters worse, we had a very late start time. Relay officials stagger the team starts based on your projected pace. The slower teams start early in the morning while the elite teams don’t start until around 4 in the afternoon. This supposedly takes into account the extra time some teams need to finish before the course closes at 8pm on Saturday night. Why we had a start time of 1:20pm, none of us will ever know. There must have been a mistake in the calculations, because even with our best guesses, we knew we would be under the gun to finish the relay in time. So not only would we have to make it through our legs, but we’d have to fly.

Fortunately, as our team name suggests, we all pretty much were born to run. ;) Despite the fact that we in Van 1 felt like we were getting passed by just about every other team on our first two legs, we all managed to run really well.

I was Runner Number 2, which meant I ran Legs 1, 14, and 26.

Our first set of legs as a team went really well. We ran in the afternoon, in perfect weather, with the sun just starting to peak out from behind the clouds. The excitement of the race helped push us all along, and we ended up making it to the first transition point much quicker than expected. For the first time, we had a glimmer of hope that we’d actually make it before the course closed down.

My first leg was the longest I’ve had to run in a relay: 8.96 miles. And the second half was all uphill. An intimating start to the weekend, to say the least.

DSCN0933 Staying warm before the start

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Despite feeling sick before the start, once I got moving my legs felt really good. The climbs were gradual enough that they actually didn’t seem all that bad, and my lungs cleared up just enough to let me breathe easy the whole way through.

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My stats:

  • Total time: 1:05:37
  • Average pace: 7:20/mile
  • A few hours of down time, one bean burrito and a cup of coffee later, it was time to start the second set of legs! My second leg started off at 11:20 on Friday night – the perfect time to go for a run! ;) The mileage was a bit shorter, but the elevation I had to climb was higher, with the biggest hills being near the end. I thought about going out conservatively to save up energy for that final section, but once I got that snap bracelet in my hand, my brain turned off and I just let my legs carry me however fast they wanted to go. As I cruised along during the night, I started to gain more confidence (despite the fact that all the sponsored teams continued to glide effortlessly by me up those hills). I was reminded again how much I love these night runs. It’s just you, your footsteps, and the road. The air is cool and peaceful, and without any sort of visual cues to tell you otherwise, you feel like you’re flying.

    My stats:

  • Mileage (according to my Garmin): 7.82 miles
  • Total time: 57:51:38
  • Average pace: 7:24/mile
  • By this time, I was more than ready for some sleep. I had been awake for over 24 hours and my body was beyond exhausted. Once we pulled into the next van transition area, I spread out in the back of the van and immediately fell asleep. It was the best sleep I’ve had in any of the relays I’ve run, and I slept like a rock for 2 wonderful, solid hours.

    I woke up with the sun, stiff, sore, wheezing…yet strangely refreshed. With my legs and lungs tight, I knew this final leg would be tough. It was going to take a lot of mental strength to get through, but I knew I was up for a challenge. After another cup of coffee (thank goodness for caffeine!), my head was clear and the excitement built up once again. I was almost done!

    My final leg was my shortest – only 5.12 miles separated me from my own personal finish line. I was looking forward to the fact that it was technically easier than my previous two legs (moderate instead of hard). Unfortunately, this run all but destroyed me. I don’t know if it was my tired legs or the run was poorly classified, but this leg was by far my hardest. I had two extremely steep hills that seemed to go on forever – one that led all the way up to the finish line. Each time I’d go over a crest and see another section of hill rising up in front of me, I just kept repeating to myself how lucky I was to be out running along a beautiful road in NH. How this was supposed to be fun. And how I could do anything for just a few more minutes.

    RTB me and ev Getting water and a pep talk from EC

    Coming in to the finish of that run felt amazing. I couldn’t have been more happy to check off that final leg!

    RTB_final leg complete

    My stats:

  • Total distance (according to Garmin): 5.14 miles
  • Total time: 39:44:21
  • Average pace: 7:44/mile
  • Overall stats:

  • Total distance: 21.9 miles
  • Total time: 2 hours and 43 min
  • Average pace: 7:27/mile
  • I enjoyed my second running of RTB so much more than my first. Despite having a chest cold, ironically I felt less sick all weekend than I did last year. Here are some things that made this experience so great:

  • Better fueling. I was much more intentional about eating enough before and after my legs, especially since I knew I would be eating up a lot of miles over the course of the relay. This was helped by the fact that I ran at pretty decent times. I was able to eat semi-regular meals to keep me fueled. I actually relied more on these and less on Clif bars, energy gels/shots, etc. Having real, solid food in me definitely helped energize me for runs – and kept my stomach/intestines from rebelling.
  • Prettier runs. This time, I was really struck by how pretty the scenery was. Myself and the other members of Van 1 had some really beautiful runs through the mountains and along the water. Having awesome views to look at really helped push me through the challenging miles.
  • Only sleeping after the second leg. During a 24-hour relay race, sleep time is at a premium. In the past, I’ve tried to grab a few minutes of sleep whenever I got the chance. But I’ve always ended up sleeping restlessly, too nervous about waking up in time to actually rest. And by the time I do get up to run, I’m left feeling groggy and sick. This time, Becky and I made the executive decision to commit to caffeine after our first run, and not to sleeping. We each drank a cup of coffee and passed the time chatting in the van, while our teammates slept soundly outside. This was the best decision I made all weekend. I was energized enough for my second run, and by the time I finished, exhausted enough to fall right to sleep. It also meant that my tired legs didn’t stiffen up until the last leg of the race.
  • A supportive, positive team. As I mentioned above, my team of misfits didn’t know each other at the start, and we were also faced with quite the challenge. But everyone came together to support each other during their runs, and stayed positive even when things got tough. I was so proud of how hard everyone pushed and how well we did overall.
  • But with any event of this magnitude, there are always things that come up that are not so great. Overall, I thought this race was very well organized (the course was clearly marked and the staff was very helpful), but there were a couple of big things that I think are worth griping about.

    1.) Our start time. Either most teams were lying about how fast they run, or there was some mistake in calculation (…or maybe we should just blame Buttermore…). In the past, I’ve felt like my team is relatively competitive with the other teams we start with. But this time we were clearly the slowest of the group. Although my team did an awesome job of rising to the challenge, the pressure to finish in time took some of the fun out of the race. Sorry RTB officials, but next year, I’m giving myself some cushion when I put in my projected pace.

    2.) Transition Area #24 (VTA #4). Of all the transition areas in the race, I’ll admit I was most excited to make it to this one. New Balance had set up a bunch of tents in Bear Brook State park, and though they were being offered on a first-come-first-served basis, knowing there was a chance to find a tent that was already set up provided extra motivation to get through our night-time legs. Unfortunately, however, we never got that chance.

    By the time we got to this transition area, the parking was apparently so full that they couldn’t accommodate our van. Even though we saw people leaving as we were coming in, the volunteers at this transition directed us to another parking area, about a half a mile up the road. Now, I understand that there are a lot of teams running RTB and things are bound to fill up quickly. And while I was disappointed that we didn’t even have a chance to see if there was an available tent, that isn’t what made me the most upset. What was really awful was the fact that they made us park in an area with no porta-potties or any other accommodations. The organizers should understand that at this point in the race, you are mentally and physically exhausted. (Plus, you’ve got to use the porta-john at least once an hour!). Your legs are sore, and every second of sleep that you can get is so extremely important. Forcing us to park somewhere and then walk back down a dark road to get to a porta-john in the middle of the night was pretty awful. Not only that, but officials came over and woke up my teammates who were sleeping outside the van, telling them that we weren’t allowed to sleep there. Despite all their protests, they were forced to get up, trek down to the actual transition area, and set up camp once again. It may not seem like much, but to a person who has already been awake for over 24 hours and has run countless miles, breaking up their sleep and making them walk extra was torture.

    So, RTB – either find more room for the vans, or if you’re going to send people to a spill-over area, please at least provide a couple of porta-potties and let us sleep there!!

    3.) The post-race meal. Picture this: you are exhausted. You’ve been living in a van for 2 full days, have run 22 miles, and haven’t had a real meal since last night’s dinner. You finally arrive at the end of the race, weary, smelly, and starving. You walk up to the tent and present your ticket for a free meal, excited to get some real, warm food in your body. Instead, you are faced with the worst post-race meal you’ve ever seen. Greasy potato salad, a veggie salad made up of iceberg lettuce, a couple tomatoes, and dripping with Italian dressing, and more greasy (cold) grilled vegetables. Oh, and for all the meat-eaters — BBQ chicken and clam chowder. There was not one substantial vegetarian option available. Yes, I know…most of the time, us vegetarians only need a couple of vegetables to fill us right up . But in this case, I could’ve used just a little more food. Even little GMR offered veggie burgers after the race. How hard/expensive could it be to cook up a bunch of beans? Or provide pizza? Or even make a big pot of spaghetti? I know I wasn’t the only vegetarian runner there, and I really don’t think this was a great post-run meal even for non-vegetarians.

    Reaching the Beach 209 miles, 28 hours and 53 minutes after taking off in Franconia Notch, NH our team finally reached the beach. The journey was long and tough, but I was so proud of how our team came together. I had such a fun time (despite all my griping), and am already excited about RTB 2011!

    RTB finish_team picture

    Now, after all this time, only one question remains:

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    I guess we’ll never know…

    Final Team Stats:

  • Time: 28:53:50
  • Average Pace: 8:17 per mile
  • Overall place: 171 out of 430 teams
  • Category place: (mixed open) 45/148
  • Congratulations team!! :)

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