Good God the 2012 Blue Ridge Relay is OVER! I mean, AWESOME!

BRR2012 Team GOFAR

BRR 2012 Team GOFAR

Last year I joined Team Lost Soles to run the 2011 Blue Ridge Relay; a 208-mile race that starts in Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia and ends in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

In the course of a year we lost six “soles” from the 2011 team (RIP), but we gained 6 new ones for the 2012 GOFAR team (RIP soon). If you subtract 6 from 12 you’ll see that half the team was willing to give the BRR the benefit of the doubt.

BRR 2012 Team GOFAR consisted of runners ranging in age (36 to more than 36) and experiences (marathon to triathalon to ultramarathon). We pushed through the heat, humidity, and occasional downpours. We braved each others’ body odor and never-ending supply of poop jokes.

We did it all in a mere 31 hours 32 minutes and 32 seconds.

The Running Experience

144 teams started and all but 3 finished the BRR 2012. Each team had between 4 and 12 people (I heard one dude ran by himself and started a day early; I’m pretty sure he didn’t make it) running a total of 36 legs ranging from 2 to 10 miles. Sure, to a half, full, or ultra marathoner these distances aren’t all that intimidating, but when you consider you’re running up a 13% incline or down an equally steep decline, any mileage isn’t what it seems.

2012 BRR Leg Breakdown

In total, 67% of the race was rated as Hard or Very Hard, 6% of the race came from Mountain Goat climbs, and only a third of the race was considered Easy or Moderate. What that boils down to is each person on a 12-person team had (on average) 1 Easy-Moderate run and 2 Hard-Very Hard runs. And if you ate a baked potato at EZ24 you had uncontrollable runs.

My Legs

About a month before the race the team got juiced up on coffee, passed around some complicated ranking system with spreadsheets, color graphs, anecdotes and waivers, and we “picked” our legs. By the end of our BRR Draft we each come away with roughly 15 miles of running. Me, I came away with a different van assignment than last year and Legs 12, 24 and 36 for a total of 17.8 miles. A few weeks later the BRR officials increased the length of my third leg (HEY OH!) due to road construction. As a result, I became the proud owner of 2 additional miles.

Leg 12 (9.5 miles, +663’/-482′, Very Hard, 77°, 8:20 pace) After sitting, standing, lying around for 8 hours I finally took the BRR slap bracelet from Jim S. and went on my merry way up the mountain. The first mile and a half was all “Sweet! This is gonna rock! Cake walk.” Then on a dime the route turned to “FTLOG! Can someone give me a ride? Hellllpppp!” Seriously, every time I thought I was cresting I was hit in the face with another climb. And another. And another.

About 5 miles in, I jumped on the Blue Ridge Parkway and began taking in the views. And by that I mean I passed a couple of overlooks, and ran by a dude walking his dog on the parkway. We looked at each other with the understanding, “I won’t tell anyone that I saw you if you don’t.”

By the end of the Parkway I had passed four people (the BRR term is “roadkill”). After passing the fourth I took the Blowing Rock 321/221 exit and began the slow climb to EZ12.

Holy h-e-double hockey sticks! Whoever thought it was a good idea to run on a highway in the middle of the afternoon WITH traffic has to be a former recipient of a Darwin Award. But then again, I agreed to run on it, so…whatever. Anyway, here I am, I just ran up a big mountain, made my way down a short slope, only to be rewarded with a half-mile climb to the finish. Not cool BRR.

On approach I heard a few people cheering for me (or yelling at me, not sure). Ten seconds later I handed off to Wes at Exchange Zone (EZ) 12 and wrung my clothes of all remnants of my first leg.

Leg 12 exchange

Handing off to Wes at EZ12

Leg 24 (3.2 miles, +52’/-515′, Easy, 66°, 5:54 pace) The 9-11 Memorial #Anywhere5K was Sat 9/8 and I was bound and determined to run it. Not for me, but to honor Mike Brennan, a fallen NYC Engine 54 firefighter. As we drove Leg 23 I kept telling myself I would be done and eating baked potatoes at the firehouse within 20 minutes. On arrival I got ready, took a leak or two, and made my way to the EZ. Without a care in the world I started warming up when all of a sudden I heard, “There he is!”

Man in reflective vest

Pre-Leg 24

Good God man! Slow it down for the rest of us. Old Lightning Legs Jim was a good 5 minutes early. So early, I hadn’t started my Forerunner’s search for satellites. I was going to have to run the leg old school. And by old school I mean without GPS. Just me, my legs, and a stopwatch. Jim handed me the slap bracelet, I started my watch, and then proceeded to make the 2% quarter-mile climb to the top of a long downhill run.

A quick -2% decline turned to -4%. Roadkill #1 came within the first mile. Roadkills 2-4 came in the next mile along with -5% and -6% declines. As I ran mile 2 my dogs barked, knees rattled, and I kept thinking, “Dear Turtle, Please stay in your shell.”

I saw a few folks up ahead just before I hit town, and when I made the left onto Baker Lane I passed one of ’em, Roadkill #5. The remaining small group of runners were about 100 yards ahead. Then 50, 25, until I finally passed all but one as I turned down Friendship Baptist Church road. CYA Roadkill #6 and #7.

Roadkill #8 was a little harder. I was within 50 yards of the Bakersville Fire Dept when I yelled out, “GO FAR” to alert Wes of my arrival. I put whatever I had left into the final sprint, passed #8, and finished in 18:54—A 5K PR. I rewarded myself with a Diet Coke and some homemade chocolate chip cookies (thanks Ms. King!)

Leg 36 (9.5 miles, +663’/-482′, Very Hard, 74°, 7:33 pace) The last leg of the course. By this time Van 1 had already showered, eaten lunch, and texted a lot of smack. Van 2, however, had run through a downpour and climbed up two mountain goats.

At EZ36, as I waited for Jim to arrive, I talked to the race volunteer who said we were the 79th team to check in. As he continued to talk I tuned him out when I saw big black death-filled clouds off in the distance. The dude saw what I saw and pulled out his phone to call up a weather map. Sure enough, the gods were about to unleash their wrath upon Asheville. Two minutes later, cold 8 ounce drops of rain began falling as if Pegasus was taking a huge leak on the course. I went from shirtless to shirted in 10 seconds and wet to covered thanks to Mary Beth’s willingness to hold an umbrella over my head. Thanks MB.

man running in vibrams

Headed for home

Eventually Jim arrived at the EZ. He smiled like a champ, handed me the slap braclet, and B-lined for the van. With the rain continuing to fall I began my 1.5 mile 4% climb up the mountain. My teammates passed me on the uphill climb (honking and hooting from the comfort of a dry van) which is also when I saw a gal who I intended on catching and passing.

Not long after I crested the mountain and began the downhill, I heard footsteps. Son of a biscuit! I was roadkill. 20 minutes later I heard more footsteps. FIDDLESTICKS! Roadkill again. Thirty minutes after that a van pulled up and shouted “I love Uranus!” Clearly they were enthusiastic about the planetary system. Unfortunately, I know nothing of the “Bull’s Eye Planet” so I pressed on and left their intergalactic cravings unsatisfied.

Somewhere around mile 4 my quads begged for a break. So for a mile or so I ran down a -10% decline like a ballerina. A big doofus-looking ballerina with toe-shoes and compression sleeves. All the while that gal was not but 50 yards in front of me just chuggin’ along. Darn you woman!

Eventually (or thankfully) I started the decline down Town Mountain Road and could see Asheville straight ahead, “HUZZAH!” …and a line of apocalyptic storms to the west, “FFFFFFFFF!” At the end of TMR I turned up College and proceeded to climb a half mile before turning on Spruce. “200 yards to the finish,” said the volunteer. I forced my legs to pick up the pace and then onto the finish line road where I saw my team, raised my hands, and the lot of us finished the race together.

Team GOFAR the day before

Team GOFAR 2012 is all smiles the day before the BRR

The Overall Experience and a Little Advice

I can say with an almost straight face (and without lying enough to break the ninth commandment) that the BRR is great. First, I must thank my wife for letting me run, again, and my sister for watching my dogs, again. Second, lastly, finally, and in grateful conclusion I owe a huge thanks to Bill, Will, Bobby, Wes, Jim K, Jim S, John, OMD, Linda, Mary Beth, and Colleen!

Church at EZ30

Sleep on a pew and eat pancakes for breakfast at EZ30

So, having thanked those that got me to Asheville by way of pain and suffering, I shall share a little friendly advice for those of you thinking of running the BRR:

  • Break out your best poop jokes.
  • Nothing on God’s good Earth smells as bad as high-mileage Vibrams.
  • If you run Legs 11, 23, and 35 you will receive the Oscar Pistorius Tough Legs award.
  • A hard third leg is not a bad thing.
  • Don’t leave your key in the hinge of a bathroom door.
  • Every leg ends on an uphill, even when ending on a downhill.
  • Chicken and dumplings with a side of dumplings is a beautiful thing.
  • The conclusion to, “I ate a baked potato with chili and cheese” is not a beautiful thing.
  • There is a good reason the picnic table next to the Porta-Johns is available.
  • Runners do not carry matches or lighters.
  • Purple is an ugly color filled with spite, rage, and hatred.
  • It is, in fact, possible to use a Porta-John 41 times in 24 hours.
  • Saying “Woosh” with a few hand movements is universally understood.
  • Stay on course.
  • If you see a runner in a ditch babbling incoherently because they went off course an extra 15 miles, just keep going.
  • The other van always has the easier legs.
  • If you get lost and a dog bites you, finish the race and wait 2 days before seeking medical attention.
  • “You go girl!” is an all-purpose, all-gender cheer.
  • “Looking good!” can also be used as an all-purpose cheer. Even if the recipient of said cheer is not looking very good.
  • You can’t un-experience the BRR

Last Words

The Blue Ridge Relay is a demanding race. If for whatever reason you spend enough time in a peyote-filled teepee that you actually believe the idea of running a 208-mile relay race through the mountains to be a good one you need to be prepared. And by prepared I mean deprive yourself of sleep for 30 hours, cover your face with sweaty clothes, and bang your head against a wall covered in nails laced with urushiol oil for at least four 3-hour sessions prior to the race simply because the running is the easy part.

Bring on BRR 2013.