It could have been a disaster: 12 strangers, 2 vans, 200 miles to conquer, 28 hours of running, 2 hours of sleep, 36 sweaty batches of clothes, and about a thousand little carbo snacks. Although I admit to having my concerns, I actually had more faith in the essential coolness of runners than I had concerns. And this time, oh me of little faith in most other things, found my faith to be well-founded.
Because the Green Mountain Relay was awesome, and my teammates were stars. Grown-up stars, who always made a joke when they could have complained. Who always rallied when they could have slept, or phoned in their third leg. I realize this isn’t quite the usual start to a race report, but I am kind of in love with my teammates right now. You see: a relay is all about the team. This may seem obvious, but while I would have acknowledged the statement before the GMR, now I actually know it.
We convened on the Upper West Side at 9 AM on Friday to collect our humongous passenger vans and start the journey north. We’d pick up two runners from Boston in Bennington, spend the night in Burlington, and then head to the school grounds for our 9 AM start on Saturday. Even though I was set to ride during the race with Van 2, I volunteered to ride up with Van 1 as they needed someone from the second van at the registration. It meant I got a little less rest Friday night/Saturday morning, but I was glad to ride up with Van 1 as it gave me a whole day to bond with the other half of the team, who I would otherwise only see at the transfer points for runners 6 to 7 and 12 to 1. Also, I got to see the start of the race, which was fantastically mellow and goofy. We started with an ultra team (and we thought we were crazy), a team of hashers (our friendly rivals), and a team called Free Candy Van (hipster runners, now I’ve seen it all).
(As an aside, some of you will remember I was worried that my teammates would frown upon my Thursday night maragarita-drinking and quesadilla-eating. I wasn’t in the van 10 minutes before I realized they were hashers, and regularly ran to an end point specifically for an intoxicating beverage. Clearly, I was worried for nada, amigos.)
And, we were off. Van 1 leapfrogged the course, always staying ahead of our runner, pulling over to cheer him or her on, hand over water or Gatorade. We honked and cheered from the van as we passed other racers, which wasn’t too often, as the start had been staggered. I started to get seriously antsy, all nervous & keyed up, waiting for my turn to run. On later legs, I would be glad to be the first runner out of the van as I had none of that waiting that runners 10, 11 and 12 suffered through. I also was nervous because I hadn’t met my vanmates yet, but would be relying on them to bring me Gatorade in the middle of my first leg.
Once again, no reason to worry! I ran my first leg, graded Easy and basically a 6.1-mile flat with just one uphill at the end, in 53:30 (8:46 pace). Van 2 met me with Gatorade, and a few miles later I passed the Livestrong bracelet (our “baton”) off to M amidst lively cheers from the rest of us. And so we incrementally proceeded. I got to see every exchange of the day, which I enjoyed, and quickly came to appreciate how well all the personalities in our van blended together into a perfect balance that even a novelist couldn’t have dreamed up.
We had a great mix of runners, evenly split between men and women, with our times ranging between 10:04 pace and 7:02 pace. I was in awe, in fact, of the other runners. They ran the gamut from talented, gritty, strong, experienced, stubborn, graceful, and studiously nonchalant. Turns out, the team average pace was 8:32, and my average pace was 8:33! I can’t believe I pulled that pace out for 18.1 miles total. Honestly? I pushed myself as hard as I could for my teammates. It’s a cliche, but I sincerely didn’t want to let them down. I knew everyone else was running as best they could, too.
We had a friendly rivalry going with the NYC Hash House Harriers, since some of us knew them, and we were pretty evenly matched. It added a little bit of spice to the event, and our two teams switched leads numerous times over the 200 miles, and I think we pushed each other to run a little bit harder. I know the hasher who ran my legs definitely spurred me on, especially in Leg 19, when I ran 8:21′s. (Thank you TR.)
There were some very scenic moments, with verdant hills that swooped and swelled. We passed over several covered bridges, by a waterfall, countless charming barns, pastures dotted with sulking livestock, and New England-style houses straight out of an 18-month wall calendar. Here is a picture courtesy of JMK, one of the hashers.
I particularly liked running at night. Not only did I get to feel tough and intrepid, but I felt cocooned by the darkness, by my heavy breathing, as if there wasn’t much world outside the weak beam of my headlamp and rear-end blinky light. I wore my Nana’s reflective vest in her honor. Hasher TR passed me, but then I passed a runner from some other team, and that was the extent of my contact with another living thing during my 6.6-mile mostly-downhill run, which began at 1:20 AM on Sunday June 22nd and ended at 2:00. That kind of darkness — I can find in in the Poconos — but I’ll never get it in the city.
On we went, ticking through racer after racer. At some point we had dinner in Killington. Van 2 became smellier and smellier (M. dubbed the van Old Man Ass, as apparently it stunk from the second they got it from the rental agency). The Sweat Seat (where we all sat after our leg to cool down and change our clothes) got wetter and wetter. Our supplies of Wheat Thins, Clif Bars, apples, granola bars, Gatorade, water, and trail mix began to dwindle. I wondered if I was ever going to poo again; I ate more Aleve; I used my roller stick. Sometime around 5:30 AM we ended up at a motel where we crashed for a couple of hours. I showered, but couldn’t exactly achieve what you’d call sleep.
At 9:27 AM, it was time for my third and final leg. I ran a warm up lap across the parking lot and my heart rate shot up, my breathing went berserk, and I got lightheaded. Oh well–no time to freak out this time, as here came MZ. My legs felt like they were filled with pudding; my stomach like it was filled with sour vapors. And yet: at mile two, my teammates showed up with Gatorade, which perked me up. The serious downhill got my legs churning. All I did for 5 miles was look for the “One Mile to Go” sign, which should have showed up at 4.4M. I kept looking at my watch – 37 minutes; 40 minutes; 43 minutes – where was this sign? was I really running that slowly? Then: relief. I saw the exchange point in a dip in the road ahead, a motley assortment of vans, brightly-clad runners, and GMR volunteers in orange highway-worker vests. 5.4 miles, graded “Hard,” in 46:13 thankyouverymuch.
It had started to drizzle for the last mile of my run, which felt so refreshing. By the time M. was a mile in to her last leg, it was cats & dogs. She finished drenched. BO finished drenched. The thunder and lightening were so close & scary when N. was running that we drove along side her and finally pulled her into the van until the center of the storm had gone by. JD finished drenched. Runner 12, TW, got drenched, but by the time he came victoriously charging up the hill to the finish line, the rain had stopped. We were all there to trot over the line with him, hooting and hollering, stinking like Old Man Ass and rainstorm. Boy, was that a great moment. We’d come 200 miles together, we made it! Not quite as exhilarating as when I finish a marathon (I get the weepies, ok?), but a proud moment. We’d banded together, been kind, thoughful, patient and funny with each other. Heck, we laughed a lot. We’d brought out the best in each other. We respected each other. We beat the hashers. (Oops, was that my outside voice?)
It’s not like we’re all BFF’s now, I realize that. But I’ll always be happy to see them, and hope as many of us as possible reunite for GMR 2009. I’m in. Are you?