Two years ago I was frantically figuring out how I would participate in the Blue Ridge Relay, a picturesque 208-mile relay stretching from Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia to downtown Asheville, North Carolina.
In the three years I’ve been running with Team GOFAR, 11 of my fellow runners opted for early retirement, and only a few offered up repeat performances. In fact, only 4 runners from the first year’s team have returned each year.
With that said, the BRR2013 Team GOFAR was comprised of a great group of athletes ranging in ages from 2 to 12 (in dog years). And, in the end we rocked the relay in 31 hours 16 minutes and 45 seconds.
The Running Experience
155 teams started and all but 2 finished the BRR2013. Each team had between 6 and 12 people running ranging from 2 to 10 miles. Cake walk, right? Yeah, no. To get a sense of what you have to run, head to your nearest dreadmill and crank up the incline until it cannot possibly go any higher. Then, find a hydraulic car jack and lift the mill off the ground about two feet. Now, tie wooden blocks on your shoes like Short Round did in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, get on the treadmill, and try to run. That’s what it’s kind of, sort of like to run in the BRR. Almost.
If you’re more of a math person, nerd on these numbers. About 67% of the race is rated as Hard or Very Hard, 6% of the race comes from Mountain Goat climbs, and only a third of the race is considered Easy or Moderate. What that boils down to is each person on a 12-person team has (on average) 1 Easy-Moderate run and 2 Hard-Very Hard runs. And if they eat a potato in Bakersville they’ll have uncontrollable runs <– zero kidding.
Two weeks prior to the relay we met as a team to divvy up the legs. When Captain Bill opened the legs for the taking the table reacted faster than piranhas on a bloated carcass. One by one the legs were snatched up. When the frenzy was over, and the bloody cloud cleared, only two legs remained. One for me, and one for Rich. Nom nom. To determine which one of us would be running Legs 1, 13, and 25, and which one would be running Legs 8, 20, and 32, Rich suggested we flip a coin. I obliged, flipped a nickel, he called Heads, and Heads it was. He took Leg 1 et. al, and by process of elimination Captain Bill put me down for Leg 8 & Co.
Leg 8 (4.6 miles, +227′/-443′, Easy, 77°, 7:35 pace)
Clear sunny skies with paved roads provided ideal conditions to slip off my shoes and run barefoot. As I waited for our #7 runner to come in, I gobbled down some GU Chomps, hit the head for a couple doubles, then filled my water bottle. About the time I screwed on the lid I heard, “Is that Will? Yep, that’s Will! Chris, Will. Chris! CHRIS!” Let’s pause a moment for a visual.
Picture a deer perking up after hearing a branch break. Now picture a not-so-graceful Hobbit-footed deer lumbering down a steep dew-covered grassy hill. Eventually I successfully bumbled my way to the EZ, took the slap bracelet from Will, and went on down the road.
The route had two turns (making it next to impossible to veer off course and get bitten by a dog), and most of it was downhill (with the exception of a moderate uphill hence the use of the word “most,” pay attention people). The roadway was pretty kind to my feet. Occasionally the blacktop turned coarse and porous and I was forced to take to the shoulder. About 35 minutes after I started I slapped Laura’s wrist with the bracelet and rejoined my team. First leg complete.
Leg 20 (7.3 miles, +1,097′/-1,019′, Very hard, 62°, 8:48 pace)
We met up with Van 1 at EZ12 and learned that OMD was nursing a leg/hip injury. He was going to give his second leg a try, but wasn’t confident that he’d be able to finish out the race. Based on the relay rules, if OMD dropped out of the race then everyone on the team would get bumped up a leg, and the first runner would be forced to run an additional leg. Knowing this, and knowing that my potential alternative leg was going to be straight up a mountain, I opted to abandon my plan of pushing the ups and downs on Leg 20.
Fast forward to the start of Leg 20 at Green Valley fire station off 19E. I spelled relief in the firehouse John, sloshed down some water, ate a few Chomps, and then I was ready to go. OK, not really. I had to pee twice more. But then I was totally ready to go. For real this time.
Making my way to the road I saw Captain Bill approaching me with the news that Will had been spotted. At the same time, Van 1 rolled by screaming, “GOFAR!” As they passed by the lady taking bib numbers starts talking to me. Then one of the firefighters started hollering something in a thick southern accent. Good gravy people! One at a time! Finally most of the voices in my head stopped talking long enough for me to focus on the handoff from Will. With bracelet firmly slapped and wrapped I was off and running.
Van 2 eventually caught up to me ’round mile 2 at which point I stopped and greeted them Gangnam Style. As they drove off all I could think about was the hill at mile 5. Thankfully there was plenty of ups and downs to keep my mind occupied. Climb. Descent. Climb. Descent. To break up the monotony I turned off my headlamp. Holy Excrement! You wanna talk about blackity black black? Dark of night doesn’t even begin to describe the road I was on. So as not to get usurped by the mountainous black hole I returned the lamp to the ON position and continued on running up the mountain.
The top of the final climb came around 1AM which is about the time the fog had begun to settle (and by “settle” I mean I couldn’t see anything with a headlamp on and I could see even less when vans came up behind me blasting their high beams). There were times when I just hoped my feet would land on solid ground and that I wasn’t going to roll down a steep embankment. Eventually the fog dissipated. As it did the road began to slant in a downward direction. With the help of gravity I made it to the EZ. Second leg complete.
Leg 31 (6.5 miles, +1422′/-34′, MG Hard, 68°, 9:52 pace)
We met up with Van 1 at EZ 24 in Bakersville and it was confirmed, OMD was not running his third leg. That meant we had to take Will to EZ29 instead of EZ30 with the rest of Van 2. Around 5AM we dropped him off and 20 minutes later Van 2 hunkered down at the church at EZ 30. It took me all of 4 minutes to exit the van with my blanket, find an empty pew in the church, and fall asleep. An hour and a half later I was up making coffee and hitting the Porta-Johns for the cycle.
Van 1 showed up at 9AM to drop off Rich. Thirty minutes later I was off and running for the last time. I held back at 8:20 pace for the first half mile even though it was fairly flat. Why pray tell? Because the last 5 miles go up and back and forth and up some more. No more down, just up. Are you with me? Up! I had to go UP FOR 5 MILES!
Van 2 passed me at mile 2 and gave me some cowbell and a “You go girl!” Then, not much later Van 1 passed me just as two dudes were passing me on the switchback. Thankfully, John (who I tend to relentlessly push on our training runs and who likes to call me “The Punisher”) saw the whole thing and rubbed it in from the comfort of his air conditioned van. ಠ_ಠ
By mile 4 my legs were talking to a divorce lawyer. To keep the family together, I sought introspective counseling and came up with a plan. I decided I’d walk .05 miles every half mile. This allowed me to take in some agua, curse my teammates, and keep my legs married to my person. The plan worked. I still have my legs and they even gave me a little 9 pace burst with a half mile to go. Finally, after an hour and four minutes, my uphill battle was over. Third leg complete.
When all was said and done I ran a total of 18.4 miles (+2,746’/-1,496′) in 2:43:26 (8:52 pace).
Tidbits and Tips
What’s the word for those people who like pain and suffering? Oh yeah, masochists. Right, so if you’re a masochist who loves to run then the BRR is the perfect race for you. As for my fellow masochists I must say thanks. Thank you Bill, Rich, John, Clark, Beth, Bobbie, Will, other Will, Laura, Melanie, and Jim. Thanks for a great and smelly experience. I look forward to running with most of you again.
And for those of you who’d like to share in our love for the ridiculousness that is the BRR, here’s a little friendly advice:
- When leg selection comes down to a coin toss, call “Tails.”
- Sweaty Vibrams stink worse in a contained environment.
- MG33 is so easy a 10-year-old could run it.
- Chicking (getting passed by a female runner) sounds way better than Dicking (getting passed by a male runner).
- Vans require keys.
- Every leg ends on an uphill, even when ending on a downhill.
- Cheese pizza mid-race, good. Adding red pepper, WTF are you thinking?
- The color purple and by association, eggplant, fills me with with hatred and rage.
- You need funk music, mmm, mmm, mmm.
- Always lock the Porta-John, always.
- It will take you a few miles to determine you’re lost.
- Don’t tag a police car.
- The other van always has the easier legs.
- Some people do not deserve cowbell.
- “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.
The Blue Ridge Relay is a challenging race that requires hard work, a functioning set of bowels, and the ability to abandon logic for the pleasure of pain and suffering. If you have what it takes, and you know where you can find 5-11 like-minded individuals, then you’re well on your way to running the 2014 Blue Ridge Relay. See you there!