There are two very good reasons I have made the Green Mountain Relay a fixed point on my calendar each year.
- The chance to meet and get to know quality people who are also runners.
- The chance to run and laugh with runners who are also quality people.
It happens every year. We start out shy and awkward, polite and considerate of everyone’s personal space, since most of the runners hardly know each other. The questions stay in the realm of small talk, where do you live? what’s your job? what was your last race? But then, some time in the middle of the first set of legs, something switches and nearly every boundary falls (I can’t speak for Van 2, but in Van 1 we did keep our nudity contained to the seat farthest back in the van). Jokes get raunchier, questions get more profound, TMI becomes the standard, friendships are formed. We laugh so hard we snort (okay, I laugh so hard I snort), tears pop out of our eyes, even the most reserved among us let loose belly laughs. Group dynamics take effect and we all find our role within. I, of course, am the OCD den mother, reminding everyone to run on the left side of the road, wear their reflective vests, and tidy up the van.
On our way up, we missed the turn-off that would have veered us to the east of Lake Champlain, and instead continued up up up I-87 North. We didn’t quite cop on until the exit signs started to include the word SORTIE. Immediately stressed-out, I got the vans to the nearest gas station to ask directions. I was envisioning energy-sapping and time-sucking scenarios, like we’d have to go up into Canada and over the top of Lake Champlain to finally get to St Albans, VT where rooms at La Quinta awaited. I hustled into the minimart, spotted a cross-eyed young buck attendant and a swarthy local with a beer belly, and made a beeline. My opening gambit was, Please don’t laugh but we need to get across to Vermont and are hoping there is a bridge or something? Young Buck said, “Just take the boat.” This didn’t even register as it seemed preposterously easy so I repeated myself and said How can we get to Vermont? Swarthy Local replied with a grin, “Yeah you can take the ferry!” Visible relief must have washed over me because they both started chuckling. I got all the info and was jumping up and down with gratitude and excitement. A ferry! I said to Swarthy Local, I am so happy I may hug you. I put out my hand to thank him and asked him his name. Much to my further delight, his name was Jerry. I heard about the ferry from a man named Jerry! The ferry ride was a mellow interlude in a long drive, a chance to get some sunshine, and allowed us to avoid the twisty slow-going back roads of Vermont. We decided this is how we’ll drive to the race every year.
This year’s team was a lot faster than in the past, which meant we got to start at a leisurely 10:30 AM (the slower your team is, the earlier you start, since the race director’s goal is to have all the teams finish within the same 2-4 hour window). The downside to this is that we were running our legs in the blazing sun; it was very warm on Saturday and we all suffered because of it. Once again I was Runner 1 (my legs were rated the easiest out of all 12 runners), so I got to toe the starting line for the team. I worked up a sweat just standing there eyeing the competition, and certainly not because they were so fiercely intimidating. I tried not to get suckered into a fast start to my 4.5-mile first leg, but I think we all underestimated the heat’s effect. Right away I dropped two of the other women who were starting with me, but the older woman in some hippie do-rag took the lead early and I focused on maintaining the gap, with the plan to close it and then pass her somewhere between Mile 4 and the exchange. Despite a challenging hill in Mile 3, I managed to keep myself tethered to her, officially passing the old lady with just two-tenths of a mile to go to the exchange. I am happy with my splits and my time, given the heat and my current fitness level. Oh and I also got to run over a covered bridge, that was quite peaceful. It’s like a church under there. (Numbers given are from Little G.) 38:03 over 4.61 miles, for an average pace of 8:15. Splits: 7:54, 8:10, 8:54, 8:23, 4:40 (7:41 pace).
After I finished my leg, I was seriously out of breath. I walked behind a truck plow to spit a bit (I always make a huge mess so best no one sees me slobber) and then drank some water and Gatorade in a shady spot. My teammates were already proving themselves to be super thoughtful — in addition to much tooting and cheering from the roadside, they met me at the finish line with beverages and had laid out my towel and knapsack for me on the sweat seat! I was touched! (The sweat seat is the way back seat in the van where the just-finished runner goes to clean up with baby wipes and change their clothes. By the end of the relay it’s quite damp and stinky.) Then it was time to cheer on the five other runners in our van, supply them with water along the course if they needed it (everyone pretty much did, if only to dump on their heads), and give them the props they deserve at the exchanges. I love this shit, the supporting and the marvelling at splits, the commiseration over the heat, the hills and the competition. I love how the team naturally comes together to protect our own, and to also turn our wicked sarcasm against the other teams. Oh, in Van 1 at least it quickly became clear that JT, AC and myself would lead the way with the snark and the disparagement. The guys didn’t seem to mind and would pile on too. We finished legs 1 through 6 four minutes ahead of projection–it always feels good to hand off the race to the next van with a relative lead.
We now had about four or so hours to burn before I was up again, so we went to the Ben & Jerry’s factory for some ice cream. It was an appalling display of overweight and out of shape tourists, but we didn’t let that ruin our appetites for sorbet and smoothies. Then we headed straight to the next exchange, where we amused ourselves wondering how a 3-story building got a dent in the third-floor wall and gaping at the runner who finished his leg and then barfed multiple times right in front of the pizza stand. I was feeling pretty poor from that run in the sun, and used the down time to recuperate. I napped in the shade, drank copious amounts of Gatorade and water, and ate a Nutella sandwich. I’d perked up like a watered plant by the time I was set to take the “baton” (a yellow Livestrong bracelet, ugh) from JK, our runner #12. Night had fallen, so I was decked out in my Nana’s reflective vest (which MT miraculously showed me how to make tighter–by tying knots in the waist straps), headlamp for my front, and blinky light for my rear. The night legs are my favorite by far. Even though the beautiful course is obscured (these back roads through Vermont are picturesque in the most authentic way) by the darkness, the night offers up its own gifts. Although the humidity can be a factor, the temperatures are significantly lower and the cool air on my skin is sheer pleasure. Quiet hours are in effect, so there isn’t the noise of van support, which allows me to spiral deeply into my thoughts. The silence of the road is interrupted only by my own heaving breaths, the gurgle of a creek, the hum of the night insects. Towards the last mile, the sun was sufficiently set that the fireflies appeared to escort me the rest of the way to the exchange. At the beginning I passed a skirted female, racing her night leg with a male escort (how gallant), but was otherwise left alone to enjoy the vast solitude. I began running at 8:31 PM, and completed my 3.89 miles in 31:06, for an average pace of 7:59 (it was a flat route). Splits: 8:19, 7:52, 7:55, 7:58 (7:50 pace).
Pretty much everyone felt good about their night legs. Van 1 passed more than half a dozen other runners on the road, which meant we were eating our way through the slower teams that had started before us–always an encouraging sign. I had excellent company in Van 1, including a minor celebrity, the host of the Dump Runners Club podcast and my friend Matt. Having him in the van was everything I’d hoped it would be: great fun combined with easy camaraderie and some strong race times. Matt gamely let me give him some of the hardest legs of the entire race as Runner #5 (I was Runner #1 and my legs were rated 1 for “Easy,” his were rated 12). He is a talented, speedy runner to begin with; also, Matt not only lives at altitude but he knows how to tackle hills, having successfully raced the Pikes Peak Ascent Half Marathon. Matt brought along his twin brother (MT), who chattered and joked nonstop, keeping us all laughing and alert (the level of humor hovering somewhere around 8th grade). He reminded me of the way my own little brother needles me to the brink of insanity, but then would end up making me laugh. Then, there were JT and AC, or the Snark Twins as I think I shall call them, separated at birth by only about 20 years. JT blogs at Races Like a Girl, and AC blogs at Runnin’ Around Uptown. These women’s feet are as swift as their minds are sharp, and I enjoyed their banter in the van and grit on the course.