It was around midnight when we turned the race over to Van 2 at exchange 18 (still with a lead against our projected finishing times on the worksheet). We were all thoroughly exhausted and so we went immediately to Brandymeyer’s Lodge to catch a shower and a couple hours of sleep. I made MT drive, and then harassed him the entire route from the passenger seat. Watch out for that deer! Should you be driving this fast? Turn here! Even though we use Brandymeyer’s as our Saturday night crash pad every year, I always miss the sign and we end up having to turn around and drive through Weston, VT again in order to find the motel. Once we were in our rooms (girls’ room and boys’ room) JT opted to shower, but I was afraid that a wet head would chill me to the bone—it was very damp and the temperatures had dropped—so instead I tumbled into bed a sweaty mess and proceeded to rest fitfully for the next 2 and a half hours. We awoke in the middle of the night, hastily dressed, pulled all of our Garmins and mobiles out of their chargers, and hit the road to Exchange 24.
Since I was the first runner out of the van, I gobbled a piece of whole wheat bread during the drive to the exchange and fought off pre-race jitters. Why I was feeling nervous I have no idea, but this final leg was stressing me out. It has always been the toughest for me, whether I battle an upset stomach or a spiked heart rate. I had just 2.2 miles to run, the first mile being a yucky little uphill, and the rest being a sloping downhill I could really pound. It was still pretty dark so I was all decked out in my vest, headlamp and blinky light again. Throughout the entire race, whenever we pulled into an exchange, or I started out to race my leg, I would have déjà vu. The familiarity of all the stops along the way was cheering and comforting. I remembered that this final leg was short but nearly impossible to run evenly because of the hill, and I also remembered the delicious solitude of it. The vans take a different route to the exchange, so I would be all alone on that road for 2 miles, until I popped off the dirt road and into town.
Here came JK, tearing in, trying to catch and pass the runner ahead of him (there was one team we were neck-and neck with the entire race; ultimately they beat us by just 5 minutes). At 4:18 AM, I grabbed the rubber bracelet and tore off, determined to catch my skirted nemesis (once again with an escort) who had left the exchange just moments before. And in fact, I passed her within minutes of taking off. As I did so, I asked her to confirm that my blinky light was on and flashing (it was). Good, that way she can watch it get smaller and smaller as I run out of sight. Before I knew it, I was all alone in the darkness, just me and my panting, and I loved it. The air was cool, and I was running as hard as I could—it was my final leg so I had nothing to hold back. I’d been running for about 10 minutes when I heard a cock crow off to the left of me. I regretted it was dark because I was sure that the landscape was picturesque (I ran over a little footbridge, and a burbling creek again; there had to have been barns & gorgeous mountain homes around as well), but the rooster’s crow woke the whole natural neighborhood, and I was instantly serenaded and cheered along by the song of what seemed like a hundred birds. It made me smile, and lifted me up even though I was already feeling pretty grand. I kept giving it my all, and my last mile was a 7:34 which is very fast for me. I had to give myself a small pep talk to keep the effort going for the last bit. I was happy to see my teammates and the exchange and to hear them cheer me in. As soon as I was done I walked in circles, catching my breath. I wasn’t even terribly sweaty, so I hopped quickly into the van and off we drove to collect AC, who also had a short last leg. 2.1 miles ran in 17:29, for an average pace of 8:19. Splits: 9:10, 7:34, 0:44 (7:28 pace).
It was sometime during my van’s final rotation through the course that my mood started to wobble. While I was happy for a rest from racing, and looking forward to an excellent brunch, I was having too much fun and just didn’t want the relay to end. I decided to stay in the moment as best I could. My teammates continued to run strong and proud, even though JT had to slog through a complete downpour. We began urging our teammates to run faster because we were all starved! I may have even told one of my teammates to “pass the fat guy” who was trundling along shirtless (surely that is grounds for a DQ, right? Running shirtless with love handles?) a little bit ahead of him. Whatever it takes to keep people motivated. I washed my hair using bottled water and hotel shampoo bent over behind the van at one of the exchanges and felt like a semi-new woman (my body was still pretty stinky, despite heavy usage of the baby wipes). Matt finished his final leg literally at a dump—that was the site of the van exchange—so he could now add Vermont to his list of places he’d completed a Dump Run. Before we knew it, we were done with our bit of running for the race, and tried not to rub it in too badly to Van 2 as we sped off for brunch.
We ate brunch here. A moment of silence, please, for one of the best breakfasts any of us have ever eaten.
Ultimately, Slow White and the Eleven Dwarves finished in 25:15:30, running a collective, average pace of 7:40 minutes per mile. I only ran one complete mile beneath that average, with my average pace for the relay this year coming in at 8:14. Even though I was one of the slower runners on the team this year, I still ran faster than I did the past two times, and beat all my times from last year (I was Runner #1 in 2009 too) by a nice margin. We finished 6th overall, which is a massive improvement over years past, where we were definite middle-of-the-packers. In even better news, we actually PLACED in our division, coming in second in the Mixed category! Quite an achievement considering we didn’t even know this was a possibility when we started. In retrospect is a good thing, because if I had it in my head throughout the race that we were competing for a ranking, it would have added pressure (at least for me) and dampened my fun. The team had seven vets (4 from 2008, 3 from 2009) and 5 rookies, and I am hoping the team has even more vets next year. A lot can change and happen in a year, but I really hope everyone comes back to race again in 2011.
This year was a much better captaining experience for me. I had a long list of alternates at the ready to avoid that last-minute scrambling for teammates that was so anxiety-inducing. I had some capable helping hands backing me up which eliminated the rest of the pre-race stress of last year. And a few lessons learned last year helped improve “back-end” operations as well as the “in-van” experience. It was great to hear feedback from the team this year about how they liked the stuff we did to try and build team camaraderie, as well as things they would suggest we do differently next year. Unlike last year, this time I took actual written notes so that we can implement the changes for 2011.
After the finish line barbecue offered to all finishers, we hustled back into the van and headed home. I was frustrated by the rush to leave, since I wanted to hang out with Van 2 a little, and also I simply didn’t want the weekend to end. Throughout the trip, I caught myself sighing out loud, I am so happy! And I was. I didn’t want to leave the safe bubble of our van, which so effectively blocked out the pressures of the office and the dull grind of daily life. I would have gladly skimmed along the surface of those Vermont roads, and the surface of reality, for a few hours longer with my trusted companions. If it weren’t for the allure of a long hot shower and a big plate of vegetables waiting for me at home, I don’t know if I could have gotten back into that van at all. In my toast to the team on Friday night, I told them that the Green Mountain Relay means a lot to me—and I wasn’t just saying that. The 2008 GMR was a pivotal moment for me, and revisting the event year after year is both a celebration of my first relay and a terrific new memory for the bank. I’m so thankful that such a great relay exists—small, scenic, socially and environmentally aware—and that each year terrific runners say to me, “Yes, I’ll do this crazy 200-mile race with you!”