Our team captain read this quote aloud from his Facebook newsfeed to the rest of the van. It was sometime on Friday afternoon, and we were somewhere in New Hampshire. We were on day one of a two-day relay race through the majestic mountains and hills that appear to make up the entire state of New Hampshire. It was the 15th anniversary of the Reach the Beach Relay.
To catch you up a bit, here are some of the details. Picture 468 teams of 6 to 12 runners running 205.18 miles from Cannon Mt to Hampton Beach. The fastest groups finish in under 24 hours, the slowest in 36 hours. The course is divided up into 36 legs, so with 12 runners, each person runs 3 times. The total distance covered in 3 legs can range anywhere from 13 to 20 miles (give or take). The legs vary in length too, with some being just over 2 miles to others being around 9 miles at a stretch. Each team gets a race shirt, an envelope of race bibs and safety pins, and, of course, a baton, or in this case a slap bracelet that gets passed from runner to runner at the Transition Areas (TA's). With 12 runners, the race organizers suggest that teams have 2 vans and 2 drivers. Runners 1 through 6 pile into van 1, and Runners 7 through 12, jump into van 2. The vans only meet at Van Transition Area's (VTA's) when the runners from one van finish up their legs and the runners from the other van start theirs. Of course there are many other general logistics, which are highlighted and explained well in this blog.
I keep thinking back to the opening quote when I think about this past weekend (even though the quote does have agreement issues; the writing instructor in me can't help but cringe a bit when I read it). Our fondest nighttime memories often don't involve much sleep. In all, I dozed in and out of sleep from about 1 a.m. until 6 a.m., which, comparatively, is quite a bit. When I wasn't sleeping, my weekend went something like this.
Day 1: Friday, September 13
Our team, Chafing the Dream (yes, the idea for my website's tagline came from them...thanks to whoever came up with it!), got to Cannon Mountain in Franconia shortly after 10 a.m. on Friday, September 13. We were scheduled to start at 11:40 a.m., and while the team captain and a couple other team members attended orientation and obtained our race materials, the rest of us took in the beauty that is Cannon Mountain. Also, we watched a dense fog settle over the start area and a steady stream of sprinkles slowly increase into an all-out downpour. The rain subsided just long enough for us to get a team photo taken and hunch under a canopy. Our first runner, John, wasn't so lucky. He got to stand under the start chute and be exposed to a nice chilly shower as we waited for the countdown to 11:40.
I was runner number 3, so the overcast sky was spitting down sprinkles by the time it was my turn to run. My first leg was just shy of 4 miles, and I quickly learned something I had suspected all along—New Hampshire is hilly. Really really hilly. I must say though, none of my legs had the worst of the hills, but wow, there are a lot of hills, everywhere. About 2 miles into that first run, I ran by the Mount Washington Resort, which looks like a palace. Seriously, I thought I had been transported to England, or Disney World. Shortly after that spectacular view, a girl passed me (RTB runners call getting passed kills) and warned me about a "killer" hill at the end of our leg. I didn't care so much that she passed me, but that she did it and was obviously struggling. She kept grasping her side, a clear signal of a side stitch.
While I wouldn't describe the hill as killer, it was a steady incline and had me breathing heavy at the top. There was a sign directing me to the right and onto a path and through some trees. I wasn't expecting to have to do any trail running, at least not after running up a hill. The path guided me downhill rather abruptly, where I encountered a small brook, which had become significantly wider with the loads of rain from earlier. I had no choice but to plow right through it, soaking my shoes, socks, and feet, and making my running shoes unwearable for the rest of the relay. After a few spurts up some small, grassy hills, I saw the transition area, and Runner 4 waiting for me.
Perhaps the highlight of Friday was when our van was done running for the moment. We would have a break while Van 2 ran their legs. We decided to go to the next VTA and find somewhere to stuff our faces near there. I say stuff our faces, because the word eating doesn't seem to quite describe how hungry we were. Anyway, we asked a volunteer where we might find something to eat.
"What kind of food you looking for," he asked.
"Hot," responded Runner 2.
After a laugh, the volunteer named off a few restaurants nearby. I lit up at the mention of a BBQ place, which, in retrospect, I don't know why the thought of a BBQ joint in the middle of New Hampshire sounded so appealing. I had lived in Memphis for a bit, and surely wasn't going to get that kind of BBQ in New England. The place was named Yankee Smokehouse, which seemed fitting. I was further put at ease when the host told us to go to the back and sit at any of the bigger tables. Clearly, this was a laid back kind of place (usually the best). Our server was the perfect mix of friendly, funny, and snarky, which only added to the experience. Plus, the food was great. I had a smoked pork sandwich, that had a great smokey flavor and came with warm, homemade BBQ sauce. Afterwards, we shoved ourselves back into our van and headed back to the VTA to wait to start our second round of running.
Our second legs were our nighttime legs. RTB-NH is only my second relay race, but last time around, my night run was the best one. It's a little scary at first, like snorkeling for the first time where everything is a bit overwhelming to start. But as you sink into the experience, it's soothing, just you and the road. I'm a cold weather runner as it is, so running at night, at the cusp of fall sounds ideal. The stars, the views, the cool night air—I knew it was going to be great. And it was, except for that moment. less than a mile in, when I stepped on something. I don't know what it was, but I know what it was not. It was not a pile of leaves, or a pile of soggy pine cones, or a cow pie. It was less forgiving than any of those would have been. It was not a mouse, a rat, or a squirrel. It was bigger. And it kind of rolled a bit, like a deflated football. Like how a possum or a raccoon would if you stepped on it?
Day 2: Saturday, September 14
After a minimally interrupted night's sleep, I woke up in the second row of our stuffy van, desperately having to go to the bathroom. I vaguely remembered having to go when we arrived at the VTA sometime around 4 a.m. Jerry, who had been driving last night and had passed out in the driver's seat was already awake. I asked him what time it was and learned it was 6:15. I searched among the stiff sweat-stained clothes, Gatorade bottles, and shoes that covered the van floor for my sneaks. They still felt a bit soggy from my run last night, but I pulled them on and exited the van in search of a port-a-pottie.
In many ways, RTB is like run camp, and nothing says it better than the VTA where everyone falls asleep. Our van was parked in a row of several other identical vans, the only distinguishing marks being how they were decorated. I wove through three aisles of vans an came across a make-shift camp ground dotted with tents and runners sleeping in sleeping bags on tarps, on picnic tables, in a playground and on its equipment. Perhaps wood chips insulate better than grass? It seemed like people were sleeping wherever they fell. There was a small line for the port-a-potties and an ever-growing line for breakfast. There was also a cluster of runners around the transition area where Runner 12 tagged in Runner 1.
But what about showers, you may be wondering? While it can sound so beautiful to be running through New Hampshire, running, inevitably, makes one quite sweaty and, well, smelly. The smell, you just learn to deal with. After all, it's not you; it's everyone. As far as showers, there was one VTA somewhere along the way that had showers. I think they were charging $5 a shower, which isn't bad. My thought on it is, that I don't want to shower until I'm done running. It's enough for me to change my clothes between runs. In these kinds of races, you really have to stretch the meaning of clean. Someone in our van brought baby wipes, and I gotta say, the baby wipe "shower" I took after my final run was amazing. If my hair wasn't crusty and salty from all the miles logged, I would have felt like I had taken a shower.
The little game of cat and mouse that the two vans play becomes most noticeable toward the end of the race. Van 1 finishes running hours ahead of Van 2, but the team as a whole doesn't finish until Runner 12 crosses the finish line. So, what to do until then? Our van drove to Hampton Beach and pondered how long it would take Van 2 to get to us. Hours, we decided, so why not treat ourselves to a pre-finish celebration? Boloco provides burrito bowls to all runners, and Narragansett shows up with who knows how many kegs of beer. So yeah, we drank some beers and stuffed our faces once again while we waited for Van 2 and Runner 12.
On some level, racing is about giving your best performance. For me, the race is the pay-off, the reward for months of training, and my chance to beat my own best time. One of my teammates, Diane, summed up our team's effort well. She had just finished her final leg, one that was particularly hilly (weird, right?) and when I asked her how it went, she said, "I think I left things that weren't even mine on the course."
Well done team Chafing the Dream. Can't wait until next year.