Posts Tagged by Reach the Beach relay

2011 NH Reach the Beach Relay Recap

It’s totally acceptable to post a race recap 2 weeks after a race, right? I promise this will not become a trend.

Two weeks ago today, I was on my way up to Cannon Mountain for the start of the 13th Reach the Beach relay in New Hampshire. Well, technically we were still on a desperate quest for a replacement vehicle, but you get my drift…

After all the frustration and anxiety leading up to this race, getting up to Cannon felt so good. And once we arrived, all that anxiety quickly melted away. It didn’t matter that we had spent our morning fighting Boston traffic to get a new van, or that we were almost late arriving to the start, or even that there were 6 of us crammed into a minivan for the weekend – the relay was about to start, and it was going to be awesome no matter what.

Especially because the {ontherun} team was reunited for a race for the first time in months.

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At about 11:50 am on Friday morning, our wave finally started. Team Buttermore was headed to the beach!

RTB 2011 start

On Fresh Legs

Kimmy was runner #1 and had an 8 mile leg right out of the gate. After the course changes the officials had to make, her leg was by far the longest in our first round. But that didn’t phase her one bit. She got us out to a strong start and didn’t stop smiling the entire way.

While Kimmy ran, our motley crew of 6 decorated on the fly.

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Our van got more decorated as the relay went on.

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This year, in order to avoid a section of road washed out by Hurricane Irene, race organizers basically designed a course that went out for a couple of legs and then turned around and doubled back. This meant that Van 1 runners finished up at a different spot than Van 2 started. In order to keep track of our time, the 6th runner in the rotation needed to wear a chip on his ankle, which would record how long it had taken us to run the first 6 legs. Then Van 2 would start at the normal transition point at a pre-assigned time based on our predicted pace. So we never actually made a hand off between our first sets of legs, and we never got to see the other half of our team until the start of our 2nd . It was crazy and a little bit annoying, but given the circumstances, I’m not quite sure there was anything else that could have been done.

Last year, I ran Leg #2, which was (and still is) the longest relay leg I’ve ever run. Originally, I had planned to run this leg again, and would cover a total of 22 miles over the course of the relay. But the changes to the 2011 course meant that my original run had to be cut in half. I swapped places with EC (to get the higher mileage) and then the two of us pretty much just shared what used to be one leg.  He started us off, and I finished it.

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EC’s first leg was pretty short. In just a little over 3 miles, he’d be handing off to me. So I got dressed in my watermelon finest (green Team Sparkle skirt and all) and got ready to crush that first leg.

Sadly the only picture I have of the race outfit is this tiny one that Kimmy posted on Twitter (Becky might have more, but she’s not sharing…):

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So you’ll pretty much just have to use your imagination. For reference, please see this post.

Anyway…I lucked out and ended up getting the uphill half of the leg. But don’t let the map fool you. The hill was long and noticable, but it actually wasn’t as bad as it looks. This was by far my easiest leg of the three.

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When EC handed me the slap bracelet, all I could think about was how excited I was to run. There had been so many emotions leading up to this race, and all of those were bottled up, ready to power me through the miles. Plus, entering New Hampshire had been like entering a completely different world. We had left the hot, humid days of summer behind, and instead were faced with glorious cool, crisp fall days. It was a runner’s heaven.

The first mile of my leg included a little downhill and I took off. I chicked skirted two people right at the start, and used that motivation to just keep going. I couldn’t believe how great my legs felt. I knew I was pushing the pace, but I never felt like I was running so fast I wouldn’t be able to finish. So when I looked down at my watch and saw that I was running sub-7:00s, I was actually in shock. And then I made up a new goal on the fly – to keep my splits under 7:00 minutes/mile for as long as I possibly could. The hill started climbing up, but I just picked up my knees and kept moving.

Somewhere between Mile 2 and Mile 3, I got a bit of a shock – people were standing on the other side of the road, waving runners into a transition. I kept looking down at my watch in a panic – I couldn’t be at the end yet! Did they shorten my leg without me knowing? If I had known, I would’ve tried to run way faster than I was going. But after a few panicked glances at the volunteers, they waved at me to keep going. I looked ahead, confused. It was only then that I realized a line of runners coming in the opposite direction. It was the transition for Runner #6.

This was the first time I had realized that we were literally running out and then back, and I wasn’t exactly happy about it. The entire puprose of a relay is to move your runners from Point A to Point B. It’s cool to think that even when you aren’t out there running, someone on your team is moving that slap bracelet down to the finish. I won’t pretend that this realization didn’t affect me at all, or didn’t make me feel just a little bit discouraged. But in the end, it was what it was, and all I needed to do was just keep running.

So I did. The hill climbed up, but I kept pushing the pace. And with the exception of a steep section between miles 3.5 and 4 that just about broke my spirits, I was so hapy to sprint into the transition point seeing that I had met my goal!

Final Stats: 5.6 miles in 37:38 (6:43/mile)

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I handed off to Becky, who ran our last leg out before Steve and Sean turned us around and headed back the way we came.

Steve (who, it turned out, is not only a fast runner but also an awesome relay race photographer) took off like he was running the 400 meter dash and managed to maintain a just over 6:00 minute pace for his entire leg.

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And Sean, who was running his first race ever (I think Becky’s craziness must have rubbed off on him just a little), stepped on the competition on his way to the win.

RTB_sean_shirtPhoto courtesy of Steve

At about 3:30 in the afternoon, Van 1 was done.

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On Upset Stomachs

It was time to make our way down to Conway for some nourishment. Unfortunately, for reasons unkown to us, Van 2 wasn’t going to be starting until 5:30 pm. So even though we had all run fast legs to make up time, the rest of our team would still have a long wait before they could run. And we were left with an unheard of amount of rest time.

So we drove (for a very long time). And we ate pizza.

Van 1_flatbreadpizzaWhy I continue to think that pizza is a good relay meal is beyond me. This wasn’t feeling so great in my stomach at 12:30 in the morning

Drank nuun

LB_nuun_lemon limeSpreading the Nuun and After-NUUN Delight lovePhoto courtesy of Steve

And got excited to run again.

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My second leg was just under 5 miles and was rated moderate. The elevation profile looked like a roller coaster.

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By the time EC handed off to me, my stomach was a mess once again. Next time, I need someone to remind me that while pizza may seem like a really great idea after Leg #1, I’m going to be cursing that decision during Leg #2.

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But if relays have taught me anything, it’s how to keep running even when your stomach is revolting. So when I got that slap bracelet, I tried to quiet my stomach and just run.

This leg ran along Rt 25 for pretty much the entire way. Despite that fact that it was on a main stretch of road, the run itself was pretty lonely. I started near one other runner and then was quickly on my own for the miles. And the rollers seemed to start right up. For every downhill that I enjoyed, there was an uphill soon after to slow me down. I knew in my head that the leg was moving gradually downhill toward the finish, but it certainly didn’t feel that way. My pace was all over the place as I tried to hang on during the uphill sections and take off down the other side. But surprisngly, somehow I was still running strong. Every time my watch clicked another mile below 7:00 minutes, my determination to keep it that way grew even stronger.

A couple miles into the leg, I heard fast footsteps behind me. Suddenly – some guy was effortlessly gliding up the hill next to me, blowing by me in what seemed like the blink of an eye. And one by one, a trail of speedy runners started trickling by. The corporate teams had caught us. Each time one of them came up to pass me, I’d try to hold on behind them for as long as I could. But ultimately they all left me in their dust.

If you pass 10 people on a leg but get passed by 7 (different) runners, can you still count the 10 kills? Or are you left with only 3?

By Mile 4, my speedy first leg and the rolling hills of the second started catching up to me. I knew I had less than a mile left to run, but that one mile felt so long. I crested the top of yet another hill and looked down, only to see a string of red blinking lights stretching out before me. Even though it seemed like all I had done during the leg was get passed, I was actually catching teams. Seeing those red lights was all the motivation I needed. I took off in pursuit of the runners, picking them off one by one right up until the finish line.

Final stats: 4.93 miles in 33:44 (6:51/mile)

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On One Hour of Sleep

By the time the rest of our van finished their legs, I was more than ready for some sleep. We made our way to the transition point in search of some much needed rest. Because it was freezing outside and I didn’t have a sleeping bag, I stretched out in the front seat of the van, hoping to catch a few hours of sleep.

Turns out when you’re sharing a sleeping space with Becky and Sean, sleep might be in short supply.

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I’m not sure how long we all stayed up talking, or how early we woke up again, but I’m pretty sure it all amounted to about an hour of sleep. Which, turns out, is actually pretty good for your creativity. In the early morning hours, Becky, Sean, and I came up with a bunch of stellar ideas for team names and taglines for next year’s team. And I’m sure they will all sound just as good when we aren’t sleep-deprived and stir-crazy.

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That morning had dawned crisp and cool – another perfect day to run. But since my hardest leg was yet to come, I spent the entire morning trying not to think about what lie ahead.

Around 9 or so that morning, Sam came sprinting around the corner, and Van 1 was off for one final time.

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Right from the start, it was clear that everyone was struggling a little bit. Kimmy looked strong, but was feeling sick.

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And EC had horrible knee problems that forced him to slow down to a walk – and freaked me out so badly that I was ready to pull him off the course.

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Meanwhile, the sun was getting warmer and I was getting increasingly more nervous. How were my legs going to hold up for 8.5 more hard miles?

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My last leg was not only my longest, but it was also (by far) my hardest with a steep mile long climb at the very end. But EC ran this leg last year – and if he could do it, I could too. At least that’s what I kept telling myself.

EC’s run also finished at the top of a long hill. As I waited at the top, I sucked down a Gu (the first time I’ve used one on a relay), hoping my stomach would be able to keep it down and the sugar would propel me over 8 miles of rolling hills.

IMG_1877.jpgPhoto courtesy of Steve

Finally, I saw EC in the distance, running strong up the hill despite the obvious shooting pain in his knee. We made our final hand off (clearly I was proud of him for hanging in there) and off I went for my final relay leg of 2011.

RTB_LB EC_handoff hugPhoto courtesy of Steve

I’d like to tell you that I was filled with excitement and gratefulness to be running on that beautiful New Hampshire morning. That the thought of this not only being my last leg of Reach the Beach, but my last leg of the 2011 relay season kept me positive and made me enjoy every last minute. But unfortunately that was not the case. I was tired, and right from the start the leg seemed even hillier than I had expected.

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But even though I was tired, I started out strong once again. I kept telling myself to pull back on the pace but I couldn’t. I realize this probably doesn’t make much sense, but the signals my logical brain was sending to my illogical legs were just not getting through. Despite my brain’s protests, my heavy legs had a mind of their own. The first 3 miles were not only surprisingly consistent, but they were also under 7:00 minutes. Instead of trying to argue, I just tried to turn my brain off and let my legs do their thing.

Between miles 3 and 4, however, I hit a big hill that finally forced my legs to slow down. I had given it my best effort, but I just couldn’t hold a sub-7 minute mile anymore. Instead I tried to push as hard as I could, and hang as close to a 7:00 minute pace as my legs could move.

Around mile 4, I saw my team for a much needed water break. I think this face pretty accurately captures how I was feeling at the moment, despite all their awesome cheering.

RTB_LB Leg27_2Why I thought it was super important to fix my hair at this moment, I do not know.

By this point, my stomach had started cramping so badly that all I wanted to do was curl up into a ball until the pain went away. I’ve dealt with nausea on many relays in the past, but these stabbing pains were an entirely new ballgame. I sucked down a little bit of water and asked my team if they could please stop again for me in a couple of miles.

Fortunately, seeing my team, getting a little water, and knowing that I’d see them again in just 2 more miles gave me a bit of a mental boost. At this point, runners were stretched out in a steady line in front of me. So instead of focusing on the miles I still had to run, I focused solely on reeling in the runner directly in front of me. Once I had caught up to him or her I’d look ahead to my next target. When you have 8.5 miles to run, slowly picking off the runners in front of you is a great way to stay motivated. I’m sure the people behind me were doing the same.

By the time I saw the team again around mile 6, the cramp had subsided a bit and my spirits had lifted. I took down a little more water, and prepared myself for the hill ahead. I told myself that all I had to do was make it to that hill. And then whatever happened, happened.

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When I came around the corner at Mile 7 and saw that hill, I knew I was in for it. It seemed to stretch endlessly up in front of me, curving around corners into infinity. I ducked my head down, picked my knees up and dug deep. My only thoughts were to a.) not walk and b.) not let anyone who I had passed before pass me on the hill, especially the guy who sarcastically told me “good luck on that hill at mile 7″ when I passed him, in a way that implied I was running stupid and would get what’s coming to me soon.

I felt like I was crawling, but I never slowed to a walk. I focused on taking one step at a time to get to the top. And finally, it ended – with a nice long flat stretch to the finish.

RTB_LB Leg27_finishAlmost done! The smile has returned to my face.

It felt so good to be done!

Final Stats: 8.57 miles in 1:00:48 (7:06/mile)

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I might have been done, but half of our van still had legs to run. It was clear that everyone was tired. But Becky, Steve, and Sean all dominated their final legs.

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You may not be able to tell from this picture, but Steve was still flying. I think he ran his 3 legs faster than any other person I’ve ever had the pleasure of running a relay with.

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Sean even performed a little dance for us as we drove by. Someone has caught the relay fever…

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Finally it was time to hand off to Van 2 for the last time. We handed off the bracelet with cries of “see you at the beach!!” and we pointed our tired van toward the nearest restaurant for some grub.

The Finish

As the sun was starting to set, Team Buttermore started arriving at the finish area. Relay organizers had moved the finish line onto the beach this year, and besides the fact that it forced Runner #12 to sprint the final 3/4 of a mile through sand, it made for a beautiful finish.

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We took a few necessary photos…

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And then joined up with Van 2 for the final sprint to the end.

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28 hours later, Team Buttermore was done!

Final Team stats: 28:12:28 (8:49/mile)

And the final question – did we ever find Buttermore??

Maybe. Through our awesome powers of online stalking, we were surprised to discover that he was running the relay this year with another team. We also found out that he was running in the second van, but we weren’t sure what team he was with. However, throughout the relay we had a couple of interesting encounters with other teams that made us think they were running with him…or at least knew who he was. We weren’t exactly shy about telling people the meaning behind our name. But if he did find us, he didn’t want to say hello…leaving the true identity of Buttermore a mystery to this day.

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Reach the Beach MA Relay Recap

At this point, if you’re convinced that all I do is run, blog, and tweet about relays, you would be correct, I can’t really blame you. The obsession is at an all-time high. But although my dream job would include some sort of sponsorship which would allow me to travel the world competing in (and reviewing!) every 200-mile relay ever created, sadly no such offer has materialized. Which means that the relay craziness will have to die down….for a little while, at least.

But first – one last relay recap. For those of you who are looking for the “short and sweet” version, here are the Clif Notes:

RTB Relay Clif Notes

Basically, the weekend was nothing short of amazing. Team Puke & Rally covered the 201.04 (it’s good to be precise) mile RTB Relay course in 27 hours 44 minutes and 22 seconds, with only 9 runners (a standard team has 12). I ran 25.5 miles in 3:03:08 (which would’ve put me at a sub-3:10 marathon[!!], assuming I could’ve actually held that pace for a non-stop 26.2 miles…probably not a safe assumption) over the course of 4 legs with only 1 hour of sleep. I had two daylight runs and two nighttime runs along country roads, a state park, through dense fog, Evan’s hometown (!), my hometown, and towns I had never even heard of…and I managed to avoid highways with crazy drivers speeding toward me in the dark. My awesome van of 5 runners covered those miles with grit, determination, and lots of queasy stomachs. And I’m only slightly sorry to report that none of us actually earned our team its name. The relay organization was great, the volunteers were extremely helpful, and the route was well marked. In short, I loved this relay and can NOT wait to do it again next year!

And now, because you all know me and how wordy I am, I’ll take you back to the dark and stormy cloudy day where it all began…

RTB Starting Line

Reaching the Beach with Team Puke & Rally!

At 12:20 on Friday afternoon, Susan lined up on the starting line at Wachusett Mountain to lead our motley crew of 9 on our journey to the beach. Clouds hung overhead and reports of thunderstorms threatened, but Susan, Maura, Brian, Blake, Maria, Steph, Matt, Erin and I were ready to go! Because we only had 9 people, our plan of attack was a little different than how I’d ever run a relay before. Instead of having each van rotate through 6 legs before handing off, we would just run straight through both vans before starting the cycle again. This not only meant that every runner would be doing an extra leg over the course of the relay, but that we would also be shifting legs throughout the race. So although I was the 3rd runner in Van 1, I didn’t run the planned leg for the 3rd runner each time around. And we didn’t hang out at the normal Van Transition Areas (VTAs) between legs either. While I did miss some of the VTA downtime that allows you to meet up with other teams, I enjoyed how quickly the relay moved because we were running so often.

RTB Susan start

Leg 1 – Riding that Relay High

Van 1 contained The Couple (Brian and Maura), the Marathoning Nurse, the Internet Runner otherwise known as Blake, and myself. After Susan dominated her mountainous leg, she handed off to a smiling Maura who came flying into T2 to hand off to me.

RTB Maura Leg 1

I was dressed in my relay finest and ready to run.

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Despite some stomach issues earlier in the morning, by the time I got that fancy snap bracelet, I was super excited to run. Plus, the fact that the first 2 miles of my leg were downhill and I was wearing my fancy new racing flats didn’t hurt. I got that snap bracelet in my hand and took off….and I mean that literally. I maybe got a little too excited about running this last minute relay in my new super light shoes. By the time the road started flattening out, my legs were starting to feel it. I never have been the best about staying conservative, so I just tried to soak up the moment and enjoy every ounce of that run. I was struck by how pretty and peaceful the course was. Here I was, running through my home state and not having any idea these beautiful country roads even existed. It was amazing.

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I finished that run feeling as high as a kite, and handed off to Bryan. He sped through his first leg (good thing because the bugs were out in full force) and passed off to Blake. And since it’s a well-known fact that short shorts make you run faster, Blake cruised through his first leg without problem.

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Bryan RTB Leg 1

Blake RTB Leg 1

Before we knew it, we were passing off to Van 2 and ready for a little rest. Since this transition would be our longest stretch of not running (I think we had a full 3 hours or so), the members of Van 1 decided it was time to get some food.

Leg 1 High: 2 miles of amazing downhill!

Leg 1 Low: Downhills eventually flatten out. And 6 miles feels really long when you bust through the first 2 at your 5K pace.

Final stats: 5.95 miles in 39:46 (6:41/mile)

Leg 2 – Fueled by Real Food

Our sketchy, unmarked white van rolled into a classy pizza joint that could’ve been found in rural NH, and we all loaded up on the only real food we’d be eating until after the race.

RTB VanYes, the van was not decorated. But at least we didn’t have to clean it at the end…

Susan and I split a pizza that the owner told us we only had to pay for if it was good (too bad it was), and we hit the road again. We spent the rest of our downtime stalking Biggest Loser contestants (Mark Kruger how did you do?!)…

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cheering for Van 2…

RTB Exchange 8Maria hands off to Erin – runner #9

and hanging out at a minimum security prison.

RTB cheering spotJust one of the many scenic views along the course…

As evening fell, Susan got ready to run again.

Susan RTB Leg 2

Since this was the quickest I had ever had to transition to my second leg during a relay, I was concerned by how my legs would feel. I wasn’t sure how fresh they’d be with only a few hours of rest. But as soon as I geared up, I knew I was ready.

RTB Exchange 11

I had none of that characteristic stiffness that usually starts to creep in during this point in the race. And to top off my excitement, it just so happened that out of all of the 36 relay legs, I was the one who just so happened to be running through Evan‘s hometown! We came up with a quick plan via Twitter, and I took off knowing I’d get to see a familiar face just a little while into my leg. As darkness fell, I kept my eyes open for the WannaBeChef. And while the image of a lone man sitting on a bench in the dark night might sound creepy under any other circumstance, the truth is I was so excited to see a familiar face! The extra cheers gave me a boost as I ran across Rte 9, past a sign for Ashland (where I waved to Lizzy!) and into Hopkinton State Park.

RTB Lauren Leg 2

Leg 2 High: This whole leg was the high – it was my favorite of the course! My legs were still feeling fresh (which isn’t always the case on Leg 2), I got to see Evan, and the run gave me redemption for my last Friday evening run just two weeks ago.

Leg 2 Low: Having it end after only one mile into Hopkinton State park. I loved this leg, and I loved how dark and peaceful the last mile through the park was. So naturally, I didn’t really want it to end.

Final Stats: 5.98 miles in 42:42 (7:08/mile)

Leg 3 – Getting Delirious

But it still wasn’t time to sleep. Speedy Van 2 only had 16 miles to run before we’d be getting the baton again, which meant we had about 2 hours to hunt down some caffeine and get to the next transition area. My desperate cries for a Dunkin Donuts that was open past 11pm probably made me sound like a suffering addict, but hey – we all know that Dunkies coffee makes the relay go round. Fortunately, for the sake of all my teammates, we found a Mobil station with a Dunks inside…and I made a beeline for my favorite form of sustenance.

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I sucked down that tar-tasting coffee and wondered how I could possibly run 7 miles when I could literally fall asleep standing up. But when Susan came in still running negative splits after 3 legs, and Maura ended up dominating her 8 mile leg without any problem, I knew the bar was set high. So at 3:30 in the morning, I took off through the fog to conquer that third leg.

RTB Leg 3 Tweet

The fog was hanging low overhead and there was literally no one in sight. So I did the only thing that keeps me motivated during these night runs – I looked for the blinking red lights. I couldn’t see much through the fog, but finally other runners started to materialize. I focused on chasing them down, one by one.

Leg 3 Low: Starting off the run feeling physically exhausted having already done 12 miles, still having 13.5 to go, and knowing that sleep wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.

Leg 3 High: Loosening up a few minutes into the leg, and then literally running into a teammate from my college cross country team (hi Stephen Wall!). Getting to spend the last mile running through familiar Foxboro streets while chatting with him was awesome.

Final Stats: 6.93 miles in 50:49 (7:21/mile)

I apologize to Bryan and Blake because after this point, I stopped being able to think clearly. My body was shutting down fast and the only thought on my mind was getting a few moments of sleep. We still didn’t have much time between hand-offs, but it didn’t matter – sleep was coming for me whether I was ready or not.

Leg 4 – Staying Flexible

One hour of restless sleep never felt so good and I woke up to daylight and stiff legs. After snagging half a cup of weak coffee from the volunteers and figuring out what breakfast I could eat that wouldn’t immediately come back up, it was time to get dressed to run. Unfortunately, one of our Puke & Rallies woke up in a lot of pain. Maura had somehow hurt herself during her last leg, and wasn’t sure she had another one in her. But though we may not be experts on puking, rallying is what we do best! Bryan quickly jumped in to take Susan’s 8 mile leg so that she could run two shorter ones – bringing her up to 5 legs and over 27 miles for the relay!

Bryan Leg 4

Bryan Leg 4 FinishLooking pretty good for just finishing an 8 mile leg

Susan Leg 4Taking off for Leg #4

I’d like to tell you that I also rose to the occasion like a Rock Star. That I busted through that final leg faster and stronger than any leg I had before it. That I had never felt so good running 6.6 miles in my life.

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I’d like to tell you all that, but it would be a lie. The truth is, the run was the exact opposite. I tried to stay positive. I tried to laugh at the fact that my legs weren’t really moving like I wanted them to be. And I tried to convince myself that I was just out enjoying a nice run on a beautiful morning through quiet streets.  My mind is strong, but it’s not that strong. Every hill felt like a mountain, every mile felt like two, and every ounce of my being just wanted to stop running and never ever start again.

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But no matter how long they feel, runs don’t actually last forever. And finally… I was turning into the school to hand off to Blake. Never had I ever been so happy to see my short-short wearing, chia seed+Ensure cocktail drinking, Crustable-pounding friend.

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Leg 4 Low: Experiencing that “last 6 miles of a marathon feeling” and having a strong flash of regret that I had signed up to run Marine Corp this October (“why the heck would I ever want to experience this feeling again!?”)

Leg 4 High: Finishing!!

…and once I did, having that awful “I never want to run another step for as long as I live” feeling go away. In it’s place came renewed excitement for the Reach the Beach relay in September.

Final Stats: 6.62 in 49:51 (7:32/mile)

After we finished our legs, we dropped off Susan with Van 2 so that we could all get some much-needed food (sorry Susan!) and more importantly, wash our hands with actual water. Over 24 hours in, I was smelly, grimy, and covered with a layer of anti-bacterial gel so thick that I stuck to everything I touched. And as much as I enjoy that delicious flavor of hand sanitizer, running water never felt so good.

After a few more stops to cheer for our Van 2 friends, our van of 4 runners made it down to the beach to wait.

Blake & Maura finish

The sun was shining, and cruelly enough…this was the longest stretch of “rest” we’d have the entire relay.

RTB MA Finish Area

RTB Finish Tent

After soaking up the sun for a little while, we finally saw Susan come into view! She was running her 5th and final leg to reach the beach, and she was coming in strong.

Susan RTB Final Leg

200 miles and over 27 hours of running and it all came down to the final sprint.

RTB Susan photo finish

Team Puke & Rally jumped in behind and we all booked it to the finish line.

RTB Finish

We had Reached the Beach!!

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Final Stats

Total Time: 27:44:22

Average Pace: 8:16/mile

Place: 36/150 finishing teams; 13/57 in our division

I was so honored to run with every member of Team Puke & Rally. Thank you all for welcoming me in and for being such an amazing team! You all make me wish I lived in NYC so I could crash your group runs on a regular basis.

And I also owe a huge thank you to the organizers and awesome volunteers at Reach the Beach Relay. They put on an amazing event. For a first running, this was incredibly well organized. I was impressed by how well the course was marked, by the number of helpful volunteers, and by the fact that everything went off without a hitch. I’m so happy that I took part in the inaugural Massachusetts Reach the Beach Relay and I hope that this becomes a part of my yearly tradition.

Who’s with me for next year???

And as for that 5K…as much as I really wanted to do it, in the end I traded in running for beers cheers.

DSC_0083.JPGBecause every dehydrated, over-tired runner should re-fuel with beer at 10 in the morning.

Do I regret that I missed it? No. As much as I wished that I hadn’t spent money on an entry fee for a race I didn’t run, I would rather run a relay than a 5K any day. And that’s a fact.

Tory Row Spectating

 

Be Careful What You Wish For…

Yesterday morning, I woke up thinking about the MA Reach The Beach Relay that starts today and runs from Wachusett Mountain to Horseneck Beach. I had originally planned to run this race, but then the spring got really crazy and it just didn’t seem possible. So even though I knew it was probably for the best that I wasn’t participating, of course I’m going to feel a little bit of regret to not be running in a relay that comes so close to home. That morning, I sent out what I thought was a harmless Tweet…and thought that was that.

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To my surprise, Susan tweeted back almost immediately. Apparently her already small team was suddenly down another runner, and they were in desperate need of someone to fill in. Even though it meant that I would have to run my first relay ever without EC by my side, and would be without my {ontherun} teammate all weekend, clearly this was not an offer I could pass up.

Within an hour, all the arrangements had been made. I would be meeting up with Team Puke & Rally in the morning for our 12:20pm start. I spent the rest of the afternoon excitedly figuring out what I needed to pack.

….and then I actually looked at the legs. Because our team only has 9 runners, I would be running a total of 25 miles over the course of 4 legs. In other words, I’d be running more miles than I’ve ever run in a relay, with way less rest than I’ve ever gotten. All with a group of people I don’t know. Sounds fun, right??

I guess maybe I should’ve thought twice before I complained about not feeling like I pulled my own weight in the Cape Relay

But it’s too late for any second-thoughts now. In a few short hours, our team will be towing the line for the first ever MA RTB! And though I have to admit I’m a little nervous, I’m incredibly excited too. Here’s to another weekend of relay craziness!

Oh, and about that 5K on Sunday?? Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it


Reach the Beach Relay Race Recap

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.

My Legs

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.

DSCN0933Staying 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 evGetting 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

What I liked about RTB 2010

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.

What I Didn’t Like about RTB 2010

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!! :)

What Does Listening to Your Body Really Mean, Anyway?

I loved reading all of your comments about my Meat-Eater’s Guide to Vegetarians. It was one of those posts that was a lot of fun to write, and I’m glad so many of you could relate. Feel free to print it out and bring it to your next social gathering. It could end up saving you a lot of time. ;)

This past weekend, I was faced with a dilemma. On Sunday, I was scheduled to do my longest training run yet – the longest I will do over the course of marathon training – the dreaded 20-miler. But since Friday afternoon, I had felt a cold taking hold of my body. By Sunday morning, the situation had not improved. I woke up with my head pounding, nose dripping, and shards of glass scraping my throat every time I tried to swallow. Needless to say, running 20 miles was the last thing I felt like doing.

sick guy sneezing (Source)

The standard school of thought about training while sick is to use the neck/chest rule. Symptoms above the neck are typically okay to run through – headache, runny nose, etc. But anything below the neck (like a chest cold) could be made worse by running. You don’t want to mess around with things like bronchitis.

So, according to the rule, one would think I was okay to run. But the fact that I wasn’t doing just any old run made the situation more complicated. Running 20 miles is an intimidating task even under the best of conditions. Your body takes a beating over the course of all those miles. I wasn’t sure how my already sick body would hold up. Would running for 3 hours turn my head cold into something worse?

Not only that, but this weekend I will be running the Reach The Beach Relay in NH. RTB (just like the GMR I did in June) is a 200-mile, 24(ish)-hour adventure race from Franconia Notch to Hampton Beach, NH. I am incredibly excited about it, but terrified of being sick. As it is, it’s going to be a really intense race. I’m running a total of 21 miles in 24 hours with minimal sleep. Being sick wouldn’t exactly make for a fun weekend.

reach the beach Logo

So with all that going through my head, what did I decide to do? After moping around and mulling it over for a couple of hours, I finally decided to heed the advice I so often give others (and the advice others were giving me via Twitter): Listen to my body. I was going to go out easy, do shorter loops close to the house and just see how I felt. A nice, simple plan, right?

Not exactly. I wasn’t really sure listening to my body even meant running in the first place! To be honest, the only thing I really felt like doing was curling up in a snuggie on my couch and watching trashy television all day long.

snuggie Disclaimer: Let it be known that I did not purchase this snuggie. It was a gift ;)

But my training schedule is already tight. And I knew skipping this run would only make things more difficult in the coming weeks. Plus, it’s pretty hard to separate out the nerves that come from facing a 20-miler from the reluctance to do it because I was feeling sick. Which meant I had to at least try.

By the time I got 10 miles into the run, I knew I was going to go for the full thing…even if it meant I had to crawl. I wasn’t feeling wonderful, but I wasn’t feeling completely awful either. To be honest, I’ve had worse runs. Much worse, actually. I figured that as long as I could continued to put one foot in front of the other (and not pass out), I’d be okay.

At this point, I had traded the old “listen to your body” mentality for another, more intense adage — “mind over matter.” I knew I wasn’t feeling great, but I also knew that if I had enough mental strength, I could make it through the run. That’s really a big part of what marathon training is all about, anyway — building up enough mental strength to make it through several grueling hours of running. And as a very wise runner said recently, 20 miles is supposed to be hard. It’s very likely that I could have felt just as bad during the run even if I hadn’t been sick. Should I have quit just because I was tired?

It was a question I battled with for 20 long miles. If I kept repeating “mind over matter” and telling myself I could push through it, was I ignoring the signs from my body? How can we tell when it’s more than just the average fatigue that’s slowing us down? Obviously there are times when you clearly need to rest – puking and collapsing during a training run come to mind as pretty clear signs that your body is trying to tell you something. But what about situations where it’s not that clear-cut? What about those times when you have to weigh the pain (and potential consequences) of pushing through the discomfort with the long-term benefits of endurance and mental strength it could bring?

I don’t have a good answer for that. I think it’s something we runners always grapple with, no matter how long we’ve been running for. And depending on our training schedule and goals, the answer could change every time.

In the end, I finished those 20 miles. And while I can’t say I enjoyed them, I was pretty proud to have made it. My time ended up being much better than I expected, and I proved to myself that I could finish a tough run, even in less-than ideal conditions. But was it worth it?

I’d like to say yes, but at this point, I’m still not so sure. That cold that started off in my head has now moved down into my chest. I’ve spent the last two days wheezing, coughing, and hoping this thing will run its course before Friday. Basically everything that I was afraid would happen as the result of my stubbornness perseverance, did. But in the end, training for this marathon is my ultimate goal. I want to make sure I do the best I can to be prepared for that 26.2 miles. Of course I don’t want the decisions that I make to negatively affect the relay, but it’s not my top priority.

So this week, the plan is to take it easy and get lots of rest. Hopefully I’ll feel as good as new by Friday. But honestly, no matter how awful I’m feeling, this relay is not something I’m missing out on!

puppy sick

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What do you think? Does listening to your body always mean ignoring putting your mind over matter? What would you have done in this situation? (i.e. do you think I’m crazy?? ;))