So where does one start after being on a team that ran 211.3 miles over the course of 31 hours and 47 minutes? Yes - that was our finishing time, right at a 9:02 minute/mile pace. First thoughts on the race...
That was fun! Surrounded by so many good people, some serious and not so serious runners, but all out doing what we (mostly) enjoy. I was Completely impressed with our team (Alex, Kerrie, Joel, Christina, Todd, Kathrin, Chris, Jeff, Mike, Dave and Terry). They were a great group to hang out with, had fun during it all, and worked hard on the toughest of runs. Driving the course while our runners were out there and seeing what we were going to have to contend with, then coming thru and beating our projected time is just amazing. Before the race - looking at the elevation charts and how each leg was rated - we knew we were in for some mountainous terrain, but the legs were SO MUCH HARDER than they appeared to be. If you are familiar with our Paris Mountain, that is just a blip compared to what we covered.
ok - Getting to the start.
Met up at Chris', packed the vans (SUV's; our suburban was great, roomy and carried everything!), picked up our last 2 runners and headed up to Boone, NC to our hotel. We moved around some people from the van they would be riding in during the race so we could bond with other members, and that worked out well. We all shared running histories (5k's to 39 marathons!?), personal stories (digit-master), and just basically got to know each other. The drive went by very quickly, even with the slow twisty roads we were taking. Arrived around 9pm and proceeded to watch some college football (Clemson vs GT; 5 of us were Clemson grads) and the Steeler - Tennessee game. Heartbreak for Clemson, and OT for Pittsburgh and it was after 12 midnight when many of us went to sleep. The carbo-loading (beer) helped get past the nerves of the upcoming event. 4:30am wake up call was too early! Van #2 held runners 7-12 (Mike, Todd, Kathrin, Kerrie, Guz, and Terry, in that order) and we had decided to go to the start and support our teammates. Not the smartest thing to do as sleep would be our dear friend that we couldn't get enough of for the next 30+ hours. But we made the 90 minute drive up to Grayson Highland State Park, VA, got our bibs and shirts (Very nice long sleeve!) and milled about waiting for Runner #1 (Joel) to start at 7:40am. Sun was slowly coming up, the fog was all around us, overheard someone say a mountain lion was seen in the park...we were all excited.
7:40am, we lined up against the other teams in this wave start, including Fred Flinstone. 6-10 teams started off in waves from 6:30am - 1pm starting times, based on their projected pace.
Haven't even gotten to the start, but I'll continue soon!
So Joel took off running and our van had 5+ hours to get to the first Transition Zone. As I said, sleep would have been most beneficial down there road, but we had none of that! Stopped in the park at an overlook, took some photos and waited for Joel to come by on his 4 mile run. Looked good as he ran into the fog. The fog would come back in the night and wreak havoc...but I am getting ahead. No sign of the mountain lion either (and never did see one).
So we didn't have an address for where we needed to be (Bald Mountain Baptist Church anyone??), and we didn't really want to follow the first 6 legs to get there, so we rambled around and finally followed a very nice guy in a tow truck who led us in the general direction. Found it and beat the race officials there. We were Very early! Needed some food - so off we went again. Filled up the gas tank, got some snacks, and one of us even had an omelet, which wasn't the best choice it turned out! Headed back for lack of anything better to do. Settled in, threw a frisbee around and met some other teams (Cupcakes, Fleet Feet Females, Make it a Case) from all over (Many Clemson alumni, Alabama, GA, SC, NC, Ohio...). Team Thwack was kind enough to give us there paint pens to decorate our van with nifty slogans such as "Guz says Go", Attack the Hills", and Go Tigers". The sun was out and it got quite warm. Sunscreen was essential. Probably would have been a good idea to stay off our feet a little bit, but again, that didn't happen. That thought didn't occur until it was 4am, we hadn't slept, and we were feeling the effects of our 2nd leg). So Van #1 eventually arrived, we heard a little about the first legs (went out too fast) and Mike got ready.
Van #2 - 1st legs.
So Mike hustles off down the road with a slap of the wrist bracelet (some handed it off more smoothly than others!), we say our goodbyes, and we wouldn't see them for another 5 hours. Mike's leg - #7, was a 5.4 mile medium run with rolling hills. I ended up being the timekeeper of the van and had a printout of projected start/finish times. He cranked out the run in 40 minutes, and looked strong coming in to the transition zone where Todd awaited. Note - Mike had been having ankle issues, and we should have had ice in the van, but didn't quite remember that at this point. We got used to having camera's ready on the runner's entrance to the changeover, at the exchange, and when the next runner took off. Have to capture every moment! So Todd's leg - 5.9 "Moderate +" miles. It's already fuzzy - was this the leg that drove so much harder than the rating? However it was - Todd cranked it out in 50 minutes. Some very nice views of the New River too. We had driven ahead and although parking was tight, were prepared for him coming into the Community of Todd. Seriously! What are the chances? I took this...timed it just right!
Kathrin was our Runner #8 and she had an easy 5.2 mile run. Pretty flat and along the New River - beautiful scenery. The Mountains were looming ahead. After her 53 minute run, Kerrie
was ready to go. She had 8.2 hard miles with some good climbs, but she's a strong runner and looked fresh as we passed her halfway thru. Her uphill finish led her to me, Runner (and Leg) #11. I had 6.3 hard miles. Being runner #11, and with the rules giving special instructions regarding the Blue Ridge Parkway, I had to wear my reflective vest. The support van could also not follow me on this leg, so it was just me, a few more runners, and some weekend traffic enjoying the views. We had already seen quite a few of the same people during these exchanges, frequently starting off on legs around the same time. Two of these started off before me, but I passed them on the way up the first hill. Oh yeah - this hill seemed to go on and on. And get steeper. I did stop for a photograph (may take forever to get it developed), and must admit I did walk a little. Very disappointing. But - I started cruising before the top and pushed pretty hard. Passed another there and eventually caught and passed 2 others before we exited the Parkway, made some sharp turns (Heard later that some people took a wrong turn and went a mile further than they were supposed to), and headed to the Uphill finish of the leg. My leg time was ~52 minutes (kind of forget to start my watch immediately with the whole get the wristband thing). Terry was our last runner, #12, and had a hard 9.1 miles. Make that a Very Hard 9.1 miles. There was a ~4 mile climb in the middle. He was also running some on the Blue Ridge Parkway, so we could not shadow him at all, but he made excellent time, as he would the whole event. The 2nd Transition Zone was our next stop, close to where we began the day 12 hours earlier at this point. That will be in the next post!
(I'll eventually compile these in order in one LONG post!)
So the 2nd Transition Zone was at the Tanger Outlets in Blowing Rock. We pulled in and parked near our Van #1 who I think had been there for hours. Many got some rest on the grasssy area and they got some food to tide them over. We still seemed to be going along ok, but food was high on our list. Joel was raring to go for his next leg, had his night wear on (Legs that were running from 7:30pm-7:30am had to wear a reflective vest, a flashing light on both the front and back, and carry a flashlight or headlamp) and was waiting for Terry 30 minutes before his expected finish. I found a little burger place in the outlets (Pat's almost world famous cheeseburger grille) and Me Mike and Todd sat down to eat (Sorry Terry - we didn't wait). Natalie took care of us. She was fairly busy as no one had warned her ~200 vans would be swarming on their parking lot! Kerrie, Kathrin and Terry soon joined in and we chowed down! French Fries were particularly good! Now came the big decision - stay here, curl up on the grassy area and get some well needed sleep or go ahead to the next Transition Zone (Note - I always get Transition Zones and Exchange Zones confused!), sleep there, and wait for our next round of runs. I was inclined to stay there - besides being tired, the grass looked nice and we didn't quite know what the next place would have for us. The drive there (Plumtree Presbyterian Church) was interesting to say the least. Can't tell you how far in miles, but it was a Wonderful thing we didn't choose to do the drive After sleeping. So we drove thru Blowing Rock - a Very cozy town, lots of people out and definitely somewhere I would like to visit again. Mike had found a Plumtree Pres. Church on our Garmin and off we went. We passed many runners and we were all glad we weren't out there. Sun was setting, they were on a major road, going uphill, and there was Lots of traffic barrelling down towards them. We finally realized you couldn't wear enough safety equipment to slow the traffic down. Turns out - when Garmin told us we were there - there was nothing to be found as we were in Minneapolis. We backtracked, turned around, re-backtracked because we hadn't gone far enough and Finally arrived after just using the maps on the Garmin. There's no way we would have made it in time if we had slept first. Whew! So now it was time to rest and have a turkey sandwich if desired thanks to the locals. Everyone stayed in the van except for me who ventured outside with 2 fleeces and tried to get comfy under a playground/picnic canopy. An hour later I was still awake, but the rest must have helped some. Mike was then getting ready for his Leg #194.3 mile easy run. I headed up the road to wait for Alex to warn Mike to get ready. In the darkness, you couldn't tell who Anyone was - even as they passed you - the headlamps hid their face. One guy came in to the exchange zone yelling "Run For Your Life!". That was quite hilarious at 11:30pm. So the exchange was made and we knew we'd have to hustle as Mike is one of the fastest of our group. Not much talk between our vans sadly. We got to the next zone (Green Vally Fire Dept) and Todd prepped for Leg 20 - 7.5 miles Hard. Mike finished in 32 minutes and his first words were "I need ice". Uh oh. His ankle was sore for that whole run and he knew he should have iced it afte his first run. The possibility of him Not running his last leg would have had severe consequences - we had been concerned with Kathrin's knee - expecially for her last leg, but she held up great. If Mike couldn't run - Todd would have had the Mountain Goat Hard climb after this long, hard leg, Kathrin would have had 9.4 hard miles, we knew Kerrie would be fine, and my run would have been easier, as Terry's would have, but Joel (Runner #1) would have had to at least start the last leg - 6.8 miles Very Hard! Neither him nor Runner 2 Dave felt inclined to run anymore. So we iced mike's ankle and went ahead to the next zone. Todd's route was Tough. There was one Long 2 mile climb toward the end, but he did great in 1 hr 7 minutes. Kathrin was up next with a 2.4 mile downhill run thru the town of Spruce Pine, ending at an Ingles. We didn't have much time there and she flew in 22 minutes later! (Note - all times are approximate as I just used my regular watch to check the times when I remembered. I kept track of everyones starting/finishing times so we could be ready for the next runner coming in). Sorry - no photos from me at night. Kerrie took off and Kathrin was so excited with her time! She also felt good, so we were all quite relieved and happy, now only if Mike was ok. Kerrie had a moderate 6 miler, then I'd be up. We got to the Penland School and did our own thing. I had originally projected Kerrie to be in after 55 minutes, but knew she was a faster runne than that, so I slowly made my way to the start much earlier than planned. It's a good thing, because I wasn;t there but a few minutes when she came in on her uphill finish. She handed me a flashlight that I immediately put down and got the wristband and off I went - headlamp going. I had a Moderate 5.2 mile run, quite a bit of it on gravel with a few turns. There ws someone a few minutes ahead of me that I felt I would catch at some point. I'd see him a turn or two ahead of me, at least his back flashing light. Then the fog came in. Hard. I could not see. The headlamp made it feel like I was looking thru binoculars. I would have rather been able to see where my feet were landing on the gravel, but I had to concentrate hard just to stay on the road. You couldn't see which way the road would turn - it was not pleasant and about to get worse. I was following the left edge of the road, guy ahead of me nowhere in sight and I seemed to take a very gentle left, then start downhill. I stopped, looked back up and could nothing, wondering if I went the right way. A minute later I realized it was a driveway as I was in a cul de sac with a couple of parked pickup trucks and I Knew I had gone the wrong way. Worst thing was that it had been all downhill. So I turned and sprinted back up the hill and upon reaching the road again, another runner came into view. He was faster than I was so I at least had someone to follow for a little bit. That helped tremendously. My van passed and that helped for a few seconds - wish I had told them to slow down! There was one steep incline that I walked up for a minute. Again - disappointed. I eventually made it off the gravel, the fog got better, and I started catching up to the first guy I was following. The last 2.25 miles were all uphill, but I kept moving, caught the guy (Christian, from the NC coast) and we ran the remaining 2 miles or so together. Finished Uphill again, feeling stronger as I went. Passed off to Terry after a 50:17 run. It was ~3:30am. Slowest pace of the event for me - and that was the "easiest" of the legs. Go figure. Terry had a short, easy 3.2 mile run, so we got moving again. It's odd - right now I have no recollection of the next Exchange Zone. Terry finished in no time and Joel was off again in his last run.
Last Transition Zone!
It was about 4:ooam and we had 5 hours until we were up again. I think I was pretty beat by this point and I rested on the drive to the next Transition Zone. It was interesting how our van's energy seemed as depleted as the 1st Van's, but ~6 hours later. After their 2nd runs, they were pretty beat when we had energy before our 2nd runs. Now we were in their shoes. We found the starting spot of our next run, parked among many vans at the church. Some of us decided to go ahead and get pancakes, while I had recently finished my run and was not particularly hungry yet. I slept for a good solid hour I think, then it was daylight and we were up for the duration. Talked to some other runners - a Clemson grad on an ultra team, 3 others from the Greenville Track Club who were last minute additions, Team "I Need a BRR-Ache" whom I always was at the exchange zones with, and others who were just friendly enough to say hello. I eventually got my pancakes - they were good and the $ went to a good cause too. Mike was scheduled for about a 10am start on the hardest leg of the event. 6.5 miles, rated "Mountain Goat Hard". It went up to the top of Hawksnest - and the name is appropriate. It went from 2900 ft to ~4200 feet in the last 5 miles! A little aside here - most every leg as I've said was not necessarily rated correctly and the elevation maps did not do them justice. This one however did - and it was as bad as it looked. There were no surprises here - but Mike was up to the task. His ankle was ok and he took off when Alex passed the wristband. First 1.25 miles were a very gentle uphill and Mike passed us his shirt when we passed. He overtook 3 or 4 people early on and set out on an even pace. We passed some goats on the way up the mountain and waited for Mike - just to make sure his ankle was holding up. He was in the same gear, doing fine and we went ahead to the top to wait. 56 minutes for that leg - amazing!! Little more ice and some Aleve and he was fine. Everyone who finished (especially those from the other van) always said how good it was to be finished. I got to hear that from everyone but Kerrie and Terry before I was done.
Todd was next on a very hard 9.4 mile run, going down the other side of the mountain before flattening out the last mile or two. That really makes it harder - especially when you are expecting it to be downhill the whole way. Plus - the flat section was dead straight, so you knew your momentum was gone. Todd finished it in 1:21 though. The sun was out and it was getting hot - the small creek there would have been nic to get in, but Kathrin was up next on her 5.2 Hard leg. So we're now at leg 33 of 36. We were ahead of schedule by about 15 minutes, so the cut off time was not going to be an issue. As we drove ahead on this leg - we went up a steep section where 4 people were walking...did not bode well for Kathrin and she let us know when she finished in an hour - "That hill was just Mean!" She was in good spirits otherwise - and of course, glad to be finished! Kerrie went for her 4.4 mile moderate run, so we had to hurry to the next exchange. Our exchange was on the lower end of an uphill, but Kerrie pushed it to complete her last leg in 40 minutes. I took the wristband and started uphill. After 40 yards or so - I knew then it was going to be tough - my legs had Nothing! I knew the first 2 miles of my 4.2 hard leg were all uphill...it was relentless. I ran/walked for much of it, but was running for a decent amount as I crested the top, then had a slight downhill as I got back on the Blue Ridge Parkway (Having two legs on there is the main reason I chose to be this runner). It was flat to a gentle downhill the rest of the way and I felt better as I went along, pushing harder to make up for the time spent walking. The photo is from the one overlook from the rest of the van as I ran. Finished the leg in 38:50, so not bad considering. Passed off to Terry and we moved on. Passed him flying down the road and saw all these other teams on their last leg also. The staggered starting times were designed for this...we passed the Solo runner. Yepp - one guy ran the whole thing, starting 6am Thursday morning, so we knew he'd finish. (I don't think he should be allowed as he didn't compete in the "Relay"! But still - what he did was incredible! Finish time was something around 57 hours). It was certainly a wonderful site coming down off the mountain into downtown Asheville. We met our other group who already had a nice big meal and waited for Terry. We didn't have to wait long as he powered home on the 6.8 hard downhill miles in 1:04! He almost ran right over the team finishing at the same time - we never even had a chance to run over the line with him - but he was motivated and ended up with the same finishing time as that team - no complaints there. We did get our group pictures, talked with our team members and others at the finish line - and we were gone, back to Greenville.
We obviously enjoyed it and it took all of 2 days to talk about doing a relay in 2010. Initial thoughts are the AOR one from Gettysburg to DC in April! Stay Tuned!
Kathrin's Relay Report: