Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Reach the Beach Relay Review

Monday morning I received an email from our good friend Dana from Martha's Vineyard. He asked if I would be interested in being a last minute substitute for their Reach the Beach Relay team, that weekend.  Without hesitation, I cried, "Yes!" in my head.  Of course, I had to discuss it with Pete first.  Even though he was secretly hoping to be the substitute since he had run that relay with another team twice in the past (Sorry, Pete, they wanted a female...or just me), he was very gung-ho about my participation.  There were a couple of issues, of course.  First, I am winding down my marathon training. Racing two weeks out is not the smartest idea. Would they mind if I was to run 9:00 miles? No problem. And B (as in Van B), I'm going to be away from the kids for four days marathon weekend.  This would be at least three more days away.  No problem, Pete and the kids would drive up. Okay then, done deal!

Thursday afternoon I took the JetBlue shuttle from JFK to Logan where I met N, one of my 11 teammates.  He is a totally chill dude who used to live on the Vineyard before he and his family moved down south. I liked him immediately.  Soon Van B picked us up and I met J, L, and my friend, Dana. We made our way very slowly to New Hampshire. Boston traffic is no joke, but it gave me an opportunity to get to know the others as well as prepare me for my upcoming van odyssey. I snacked on an apple and a couple of Nature's Valley granola bars, but still began to feel foggy and loopy from my hypoglycemia. By the time we arrived at our rented ski lodge in Bretton Woods, I was almost slurring my words. Luckily, a feast awaited. Van 1 (Yes, Van 1 and Van B. There is no Van A or Van 2.) had arrived hours earlier and its occupants had already started cooking.  I downed some cheese and crackers before we all sat down for delicious pasta pomodoro with meatballs and/or pasta with oil and basil, grilled chicken, and a huge salad.

The view from the ski lodge.

The rest of the team were warm and welcoming, just as I had hoped. It would have sucked if they were assholes or thought I was one. Everyone had run Reach the Beach together for many years in the past, but it had been ten years since their last. I had one relay experience, Hood to Coast, so I was familiar with how it worked.

Here are the players:
     Van 1:
          G - The captain who recently had major surgery and wanted to get the old gang together now that he had recovered.
          D - The super nice ultra-marathoner
          ML - Adorable, tiny mother runner whose marathon times range from the 3:20s to 3:30. She is famous for her consistent pace.  She runs 5ks at the same pace as her marathons. I actually met and ran with her the last time we were up on the Vineyard.
          J - A former Division 1 cross country runner.  'Nuff said.
          K - Very sweet, uber fit ice hockey runner. Low 3:00 marathoner.
          P1 - Nice, very fast, and second newest member of the team (I think he ran 4 out of the 10 races with them).
          Chubby - Van 1 mascot, an illuminating gnome who sits on the van roof staring into the night, always watching out for those below him or scheming their demise.  It's hard to say which.

     Van B:
           N - Whom you've already met
           Dana - "
           L - Don't let the "Grandpa status" fool ya, he is in fantastic shape. A gentle giant.
           PB - Another "Grandpa" I wouldn't want to be competing against. He does Spartans with his 24-year old son...and his son has to keep up with him.
           B - The only other female in Van B and what a female she is! She is beautiful and vulgar and hilarious and sweet and freakishly fast, like elite fast.
           Me - Suddenly wondering what I'm doing with this talented team of titans.
          Woody - Van B mascot extraordinaire, the smarter of the two gnomes.

Woody & Van B

After dinner I went to the designated bedroom that I shared with J. G said he would be up at 5, but our start time wasn't until 11:30 so I figured I could do some crossword puzzles that had been ignored over some months due to child rearing. J went right to sleep, but not before my gassy stomach announced I was holding in a fart or two. Nice. I went to sleep a little before midnight.

G and apparently everyone else was up butt early. I tried to stay in bed as late as possible, but breakfast and its creators were summoning me downstairs. We ate, made sandwiches, packed the vans, and were off.

We got to the start early to do a little shopping and attend the mandatory team meeting.The rules were simple: don't relieve yourself publicly or you're disqualified; make your bibs visible or you're disqualified; make sure you are wearing headlamps and flashing lights front and back at nighttime or you're disqualified.

It was time to start. D was Runner #1. He had a beast of an ascent, basically up an almost vertical ski slope that he immediately had to descend. G was next and then J. Once J went, we all got in our respective vans and were headed to the beach which would be almost 200 miles and 28 hours later.

The Start.

I was Runner #8. My first leg wasn't until after 3 in the afternoon. It was 7.3 miles of a gradual downhill in the shade. I passed four people (They are called "kills" in relay speak. Our humane van called them "apples" that we would pick off - like an Olympic assassin would kill a turtle of a jogger.) and nobody passed me. I made the final turn for the last mile right into the afternoon sun. It was hot and uncomfortable, but I ran it out. My Map My Run went wonky at Mile 2, but I think I was averaging 8:00 miles.

N was Runner #12 and then we started all over again. We spent most of the time in the van talking about burping, farting, pooping, peeing, and our kids. If I had known how open everyone was, I wouldn't have held in my fart the night before so I could have been comfortable without my stomach grumbling all night. We took turns driving the van and I think I impressed them with my mad skills. My car at home is almost as big as these 15 passenger vans, after all.

I was dreading my next leg, Leg #20. As time passed, it became apparent that I wasn't going to go out until 3am. B was ahead of me, and she and I had "Wild Card" runs.  Hers was anywhere between 7-9 miles, depending on how she felt, and then mine would be either 4-6. Rather than hand off at a designated transition area, during a Wild Card run, you can hand off whenever you wanted. We both hadn't slept, but we were both antsy to get out there. She took off at 2am on a mostly steep uphill course. We drove past her and I was just in awe at how fast she was climbing that hill. We waited for her at Mile 7, but she wanted to keep going. We had to stop her at Mile 8, though because with all the van congestion, we wouldn't make it to the transition area at Mile 9 in time. I took off into the blackness a little after 3am. My leg was mostly downhill and I flew as fast as I could without really seeing the ground unless headlights were coming up from behind. I followed the lit runners ahead of me, sometimes getting dizzy from their bright flashers. I sped up past the people with the bright lights to avoid a possible migraine. The temperature was 49 degrees and there was also a cool mist in the air.  It felt amazing. My best run of the race.

I drove again after my run, but I was exhausted. I could only drive a couple of more legs before it would become unsafe. Dana took over and I laid down for a nap. Sleeping in a van is restless and almost impossible. When I awoke, I told Dana I could take over driving again.  He laughed at me and said that he had only driven 3 miles. Really? Ugh. I was awake and that would be my shuteye for the 24+ hours.

We had breakfast at a firehouse at one of the transition areas. I had a big pancake, coffee, and juice. I did my business for the first time since the race began which was a relief because I had been eating lots o' carbs that were just sitting in my belly all night. N had hurt himself on his second leg so we all, meaning everyone except for B, decided B would do his last run for him. She obliged because she's a rock star and a team player wrapped into one. Finally, my third leg #32 came around at 1pm the next day. I was functioning on fumes by this point and was so happy to get my run done, but my brain was almost completely asleep despite everything else feigning awake. My last leg was 6.7 miles (GPS said 7.1) with one 300 foot hill in the middle. Almost immediately after taking off I realized I had forgotten to put my bib on.  Luckily, my van drove past and saw me flailing. They stopped and quickly got my bib and pins and I was good to go....until Mother Nature decided to rear her ugly head again. As I winded down the hill, I hopped in the thick brush to go potty. Hello, poison ivy! It was everywhere, but I had to go and fast so I said screw it. I popped out of the bushes and thankfully wasn't seen by the potty police. Apparently, I wasn't done because I made another stealth detour around Mile 6. When I finally made the transition to Dana, B looked at me laughing. "Why are there sticks in your hair?" she asked. Oh, yeah. That.

3 legs, check!

B took off for Leg #36 and both vans made it to the beach. We met her, as well as Pete, kids, and K's family at the finish line. We picked up our tiny trays of meat and beans and headed to the beer tent. We were all thrilled it was over, but also proud of our accomplishment. The teammates were so gracious and said I fit right in with their team. I had a blast thanks to these awesome runners who couldn't have been kinder, funnier, and more welcoming. Long live Woody!

Beer tent


  1. You are like a delicate flower. If I had to describe you in one word it would undoubtably be demure. How's the poison ivy situation?

    That experience sounds like joy and hell in equal parts. It does sound like an amazing group of people and you clearly fit right in with them. How did the team do?

    Little A looks like she won the "Miss Reach the Beach" pageant :-)

    1. I knew you would enjoy the gory details. Relays truly are challenging because you're running off no sleep, but if you're with the right group of people, it can be amazing. We definitely should do one!

    2. Surprisingly, no poison ivy as of yet. Knock on Woody.

  2. Hi
    Just discovered your blog and love it. I'm south of Boston and was wondering how that relay was. Thanks for the story loved it.

    1. Thank you for stopping by! Please come again (Marathon report is coming up)! I definitely recommend these relays. If you're with a good group, it can be a blast. Exhausting, but a blast.