Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Blue Ridge Relay Race Report (Full)

This is my perspective being a runner in Van #2 for Team DNR (Do Not Resuscitate). We have two vans that leapfrog each other every 6 legs. 12 runners total doing 36 legs. Started in Grayson Highlands State Park, VA and ended in Asheville, NC 207.1 miles and 30+ hours later.
Part 1: Pre-Race

Joel, Jeff, Chris and Kerrie (laying down the law)

Misc shot of NC

Van 2 met up at 4pm Thursday and headed up to our hotel in Blowing Rock, NC. Pretty uneventful ride. Caught up on each other's lives and races, commented on the construction that slowed us last year, had our Subway dinner and arrived around 8:30? (Oh, we did drive a bit of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the reverse direction of which I and Kelly would be running). Got our rooms straightened out and just hung out.

The Todd, Kathrin, Alex & Kelly

 Stayed up too late for no real reason, but we slept in - skipping the start line and the beginning of Van 1's legs. Todd saw Van 1 off at 6:30am and didn't really sleep after that. We ate, mingled with other teams, and got antsy enough to leave at 9:30am for the 10 minute drive to our starting location. Didn't do much there. Kept track of van 1's progress and watched the cloudy sky eventually turn into sunshine.

Part 2: Our 1st legs

The 1st Exchange Zone
Dave finishing his 1st leg

Dave was our first runner (Runner 7 on Leg 7) getting the hand off from Joel at 12:42pm. (On these handoffs - they can be tricky. Many occasions to lose valuable seconds if you are actually racing. We dropped them, over-ran them, some teams weren't ready for the handoff and had to wait for their next runner).
We still use our handy-dandy spreadsheet that shows each leg, elev change, predicted and actual start/finish times, and some general notes on each leg. His leg was 5.4 moderate miles, with some decent climbing (594' down/367' up). He made excellent time as usual (being one of our fastest/strongest runners).


Kerrie got the handoff and set off for her 4.6mi easy run. 361' down/148' up.
Runner 8 on Leg 8. We noticed on the drive to the next exchange zone that the course was slightly different. We ended up at the same little store in Todd, but arrived from a different road. It was already getting warm out (can't possibly call it hot after surviving the Palmetto 200 this year). Will have to remember in future years that the New River the run goes along has an access point by the store (across the field). Kerrie came in not feeling the best (She'd been having injury issues for a while now) and we soon realized we'd have to adjust our plans on the fly.

Our ever-positive captain (Chris)

Chris left on his scenic 5.2 mile easy run. 85' down/226' up. The climbs seem bad even when driving them. We parked at Green Valley Community Park (very nice, real bathrooms, covered shelter with picnic tables) and waited for Chris. He came in at 3:15pm quite warm (mid-to-upper 80's I'd say), but feeling good.

Leg 10 (for runner 10) was next - the longest and hardest ("Very Hard" according to the race directors' guide) so far at 8.2 miles, 417' down/551' up. This was Todd's leg that started out by the river and eventually crossed a highway and ended just short of the Blue Ridge Parkway. We typically give  the runner some time to get down the road, so if they need anything as we pass, we can help them out. It's also a good idea to have water bottles available for other runners needing assistance. We learned alot from the Palmetto 200! Todd did just fine, no surprise there.

Todd looking strong
Just before Kelly's run on the Parkway

Leg 11, runner 11 = Kelly. She ran the BRR last year for another team as runner 8 and we needed a replacement for Mike. She fit in perfectly. Todd sent her off on her way, onto the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) for a very scenic hard 6.3miles. 407' down/551' up. Finally I was seeing the alternate driving section for this leg I ran in 2009. She cruised as we knew she would and I got the handoff after her final uphill.

Leg 12, Runner 12. 7.9 very hard miles with 482' down/663' up. Back to the BRP, there were a number of runners behind me. I was not going to give it my all on this first leg knowing my last leg was going to be tough. Some may say it is playing it smart, but I felt kind of bad resigning myself to walking quite a bit of the hills so early. I'd do a walk/run thing with the lines in the pavement while 4 people passed me on this leg. I could tell I did not fuel enough as I took a Gu 25 minutes into my run. Not sure what it is, but I usually do not get side stitches. Here I do though (even last year). Can't explain it, but not even 3 miles running and there it was. I am thankful it went away. The views were wonderful, especially with the moon just over the mountains. 
Won't forget that sight for a while. I borrowed Dave's handheld bottle holder for a 2nd bottle of water and I was glad I did as the sun was up and warm. Calves were a little tight, but otherwise felt ok. I must have made decent time as the exit for the parkway came up quicker than I was expecting. I actually thought the mileage was short as my time was about 1:12. I passed two people in the last stretch coming into the Tanger Outlets. I just kept thinking about the burgers I had there last year. Yum! I overran Alex but got him the wrist band and Van 1 could now rest. It was 6:34pm and we had about 5-1/2 hours to rest and be ready for our 2nd legs. 1st stop - Food!

New River, near community of Todd
View over the Blue Ridge Parkway

Part 3: Rest #1

After a nice meal, some light stretching for me and a change of clothes, we got in the van and headed to the next Transition Zone. We didn't get lost this time and got there pretty quickly. Parked and tried to sleep, Dave and I headed outside for a grassy area where others had set up "camp". Grass was wet, but we managed with that minor inconvenience. Our other teammates got some rest in the van. Being outside had it's problems. Headlights of the vans coming in and going out would hit you in the face depending on which way you faced. It eventually got pretty cold out for some (I was fine with a fleece blanket over my jogging suit. Longer socks would have helped). The volunteers helping park the vans had walkie-talkies, so I heard all of their conversations as we were close to the entry. Van horns kept going off too. The worst part of being outside was the noise from other teams. So much for the rules of having Quiet Hours. Teams would cheer loudly every time a runner came in. I heard about this one girl who ran her fastest 5k pace ever and this was closer to a 10k distance for her. I was happy for her and could appreciate her excitement. However, I decided that our team was now virtually in first place as every other team there was "Disqualified" for noise violations. After an hour of lying there, we gave up.
(No photos during our night legs)

8/12's of our team! (Van #1 + Kerrie/Chris)

2010 Blue Ridge Relay Race Report - Part 2
12:07am Saturday morning and Van 2 was starting up again. Surprisingly, we seemed well rested. Dave started out for us again - Leg 19, Runner 7. He had an easy downhill 4.3 miler with no turns. 138' down/69' up. Nice little 30 minute run. Having no turns is a good thing, particularly at night.

So - here's where it got a little bit more interesting for us. Yes - we bent some rules, but it's not like we were breaking any course records or anything. Kerrie was worried about her remaining legs (7.5 very hard and 9.4 very hard), so we moved things around a bit. I moved into runner 8's slot on Leg 20, Kerrie took Chris' spot as runner 9 (Leg 21), and Chris got my spot (Leg 24 as runner 12). Got it?

Now it was my turn as Runner 8, Leg 20. 7.5 very hard miles, 476' down/673' up. Todd said it was a fun route with rolling hills and he was right. I really enjoyed it! It got the worst with going up from mile 4.75 to 6.25, but I walked when I needed to and made good time otherwise. 2 guys FLEW past me early on and were gone! There was one team car that kept passing me and stopping ahead to wait (their runner wasn't too far behind me; team name was Who's Your Momma, with kid's photos on their windows). They gave me encouragement every time they passed - it was appreciated! I was glad the road wasn't foggy like last year, but I tried to enjoy it all. Calves were a little tight still, but no major issues. I finished that leg in 1:09. So 15.4 miles (in 2:21 with a 6 hour break) and one more run left.

I passed off to Kerrie for an easy 2.4 miler (Runner 9, Leg 21, 338' down/ 23' up). We couldn't wait around so we headed off to Ingles in downtown Spruce Pine, NC for the next transition zone.

Kerrie still cruised even with not feeling her best and Todd headed out. We took the opportunity to clean up some in the store, brush teeth (so refreshing!), change clothes, and buy some food (pop tarts for me).

Todd's run as #10 was 5.6 hard miles with 282' down and 535' up. Similar to my leg, rolling with the worst of it at the end, finishing at the Penland School. Parking was always a breeze with people directing us at almost every location. I was starting to wind down at this point. It takes about an hour for me to calm down after my run and the lack of sleep was starting to hit me. I thought about laying down in the back, but decided it was pointless and went out with Kelly and the others to wait for Todd. It is quite a bit different here (as we can attest from last year) than other transition zones as the runner coming in is on an uphill turn and the handoff is immediately on the runner's left, plus it is 3:48 in the morning, so you have about 10 seconds to realize your runner is coming in before you head out. We always tried to notice which runners left around the same time as our runner, or who was ahead of them as we drove by, but we weren't very good at that. Knowing what your runner is wearing in terms of what color/number/type of blinking lights, kind of reflective vest, etc always helps. Kelly was pretty easy as she had a green light on her wrist (I think that's right).

So we waited just a few minutes (always expect your runner sooner than you think) and here comes Todd with his blinky lights (no safety thong this year).

Kelly was now off on her 5.6 mile hard leg #22 as runner 11. I did this last year in the Heavy fog, seeing halos as I ran down a long downhill driveway before realizing I was off course. This year was much better with just a little fog, but still, for safety's sake and to make sure she went the right way, we kept close to her until she made the last major turn. 423' down/463' up for this leg. The gravel on this leg is tricky at times too.

Chris finished off our 2nd legs as runner 12, leg 24, 3.2 easy miles, 515' down and only 52' up, finishing in Bakersville. There were a handful of turns, and sure enough, similar to Terry last year, he missed one. Cost him at least 5 minutes, but he showed up in good spirits and Alex started his last leg.

2010 Blue Ridge Race Report - part 3 (final)
Van 1 was doing their last legs, we had just finished up our rearranged legs at 4:24am and we headed from the Bakersville Fire Dept to the next Exchange Zone, some 30 minutes away. We ended up following the first leg of van 1 exactly, passing Alex on the way (Dave didn't even slow down). Passed the next exchange zone, then soon turned off course to drive a more direct route. I'm riding shotgun passing along directions when I see a guy with flashing lights. Ummm, he shouldn't be here. We pull up to him and ask him what leg he is on, then reluctantly tell him he made a wrong turn a mile or so back (Should have been on 197 North, not South). We offered him a ride back, but he refused, saying it was his fault, and off he went. We were glad to have saved him an even longer return route. There's no telling how far he'd have gotten.
So we got to the church and got settled before we had to do it one last time each. It dawned on me as we got there and parking was very limited that this was a big difference than last year. We were only an hour or so behind last year, but the difference was huge in terms of the number of runners we were running near and how full the parking lots were as we were pretty late arriving at each one. We heard there were only 18 or so teams behind us...I know the 1st van would have to get up a little bit earlier, but starting early has it's advantages (safety being one of them).
Anyway, I headed to sleep inside the church this time with Chris following too, the others stayed in the van. We missed this whole scenario last time. Walking into the church (past the people eating pancakes), the floors and pews were littered with sleeping people. They were everywhere. I hope someone was wise enough to get a photo. I found a spot on the altar (I believe) and tried to get comfy on the carpet. It was 5:35am. I was tired enough to sleep, or so I thought. My legs were already a bit sore from the runs, mostly my outer thighs. It really is a shame that the door into/out of the church had a ridiculous squeak to it every time it opened. For 3 hours, I layed there, listening to the door squeak every few minutes, people getting up to go prep for their run, use the toilet, whatever. Every now and then, someone wouldn't notice the "Quiet - Runners Sleeping" sign and would have a Loud conversation right outside the door. Oh well. I somehow felt rested with no sleep.
We were expecting Dave to start his leg around 10:30am (30 minutes behind our rough estimate going into this relay). With 2 hours to kill, we chatted with some people and tried not to let on we changed runner's around - no point in advertising it during the race. Walked around, snacked, cleaned up the van.
Once he started, we said our goodbyes to Van 1 (we'd see them at the finish) and tried not to think about the fact that they were done.

Kelly, Kathrin, Kerrie and KTodd
before Dave's leg

Yes, the legs get harder as you get closer to Asheville. Out of the final 6 legs: 1 Moderate, 1 Hard, 2 very hard, and 2 Mtn Goat hard. Van 2 is up to the challenge!  
We expected Dave to do well on the climb up, switchback after switchback, and he did very well. (I took video of this section; I'll have to post sometime). 6.5 Mountain Goat-Hard miles. 10' down/1398' up. Ouch.
Now the leg-changing began: (Dave kept his original legs). Kerrie gave her leg to Kelly (who loved this leg last year) so she was Runner 8 again for Leg 32). Chris was back to Runner 9. Kerrie took over Todd's leg, becoming Runner 10 for Leg 34. Todd replaced Kelly for Leg 35/Runner 11, and I was still the finishing runner.

View on the way up the Mtn.

Kelly heading down the Mtn.

Kelly did have a blast running down the mountain. 2093' down/20' up over 9.4 very hard miles. At this point it is 12:41pm and we knew we only had another 3-4 hours left. We were all getting anxious. We joked with Todd about how difficult his leg was, but Chris' was just brutal.

Chris on his way.

5.2 miles, Mtn Goat Hard, 683' down, 883' up. Steepest climbs And descents of the relay. Up to 13% grades each way (and that is the mapmyrun average I assume over the 0.25mi section, so it must be worse than that). Chris was looking forward to the challenge. Madman. Looked good on the flatter section before the climb. We always see everyone struggle. This time we were flagged down for water by a runner, with their van in sight at the top of the hill. By the time Chris came in, we were almost worrying about him. Seems legs cramps hit near the top, and coming down is not any easier. He made it though - and ran more in 24 hrs than he ever had! Way to go captain!
Chris and Kelly had the shortest turnarounds between their 2nd and third legs, whereas I had the longest. (The time between my 1st two legs was very short - only 7+ hrs). This time I had over 13 hrs between runs.

Kerrie always strong despite a sore leg.

Kerrie continued to take it easy on her leg and ran the Moderate 4.2 miler. 246' down/262' up. Ran a good time, but for Kerrie, it was a little bit slower than her normal, healthy self.
That left 2 more legs.

Todd starting his climb.

Todd ran my Blue Ridge Parkway section from last year that we scared him over and over again about. It starts at the bottom of a hill and the 1st two miles are ALL uphill, to an 11% grade. Only rated Hard, but covers 285' down/951' up over the 4.2 miles. (There are still some discrepancies with some of the ratings, but at least the elevation charts and a few ratings have gotten a little more appropriate from 2009).
As nervous as we were making Todd, he handled it just fine and we waited for him just off the BRP (Craven Gap Exit) where I would take over for the final leg, mostly running on Town Mountain Rd.

Van 2 (Minus Todd) on Last BRP leg.

I was nervous I'd not have anything left for the 6.7 very hard miles. 1276' down/240' up. The "up" comes in the first mile, and the majority of the down comes from mile 4.5 to 6. I knew one guy was behind me soon after I started, and he caught me as I walked up some of the early uphills. My outer quads were sore before I even started; Not a good sign. That's a new one for me. Anyway. When the guy was getting close to me, I was running next to a guard rail on my left. Just down the embankment was a house. I heard some rustling. Saw nothing. Heard it continue. Kept looking over. The house gave way to a patio. I saw a bear looking up at me. Seriously? A bear?! I stopped and we looked at each other. The other runner came by and I pointed and said "That's a bear". I had never seen a bear in the "wild" before and I was excited. Was a decent size. Needless to say, I kept my eyes open the remaining 5 miles into downtown Asheville! So I continued plugging along, taking walking breaks as my legs dictated. The other runner got a decent bit ahead of me and I tried to keep him in sight. I eventually started feeling better and knew I was speeding up. The downhills helped of course. As I ran over I-240, with ~0.5mi left, I knew I could probably catch him. Running thru town I hit a traffic light perfectly. With 0.1mile left, I slowed dramatically and gave the other runner some time to enjoy the finish as I ran up to my teammates. My wife and daughter came this year to cheer me on. (Of course, an untimely diaper change again. Guess I ran too fast). Cooled off in the fountains with my little girl.

Race Report from teammate Kathrin in Van #1
Final Team stats: 33 hrs, 3 minutes, 9 seconds for 207.1miles. (9:32/mi avg).
My Final Stats: 22.1 miles (2234' down/1576' up). 7.9mi in ~1:12. 7.5mi in ~1:09. 6.7mi in ~55min.
Post race: Sore Sunday & Monday. Woke up Tuesday feeling just fine. Swapped my Tuesday speedwork with my Thursday tempo run and it all worked out. Didn't push too hard as I had a race the following weekend. RiverBound Half Marathon Race Report to follow! 

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