This was my first relay, and before we get into the nitty gritty, I will preface my lengthy recap with the following notes and advice for anyone thinking of running a relay:
1. This is an entirely different breed of race—relays take careful thought and planning, and a tremendous amount of teamwork.
2. Get rid of any fear of public bathrooms. The bathroom is your friend, especially the sinks.
3. You will listen to your body for nutrition. After all, you’re entering survival mode zone.
4. You will sleep for a maximum of one hour and a minimum of 20 minutes. Or you will not sleep at all.
If any of that interests you, read on, and sign up for a relay race near you.
As I stated in a previous post, I didn’t know what to expect of relay weekend—I signed up many moons ago, I had a busy spring with traveling and training, and honestly didn’t know what to make of the consistency of a relay.
I departed work on Thursday afternoon with feelings of anxiety and tension. My running had depleted over the weeks after the marathon, and I didn’t know how well I would perform. Also, I wasn’t just racing for myself—I was racing for a TEAM—I knew I would be doing the best I could do no matter what the circumstance. And I didn’t want to let anyone down.
We drove up through New Haven, and stopped at a glorious pizza joint, where we filled up on carbs (beer is carbs, you know), before making our way outside the start at Wachusett. Our pre-race hotel was baller, complete with tube water slide and goggle-wearing parrot mascot. I expressed my concerns to our team captain, Elyssa, and she assured me that this was about fun and camaraderie. I took that into consideration, and had
the worst a terrible night’s sleep.
Elyssa, Robin, His Lordship, and I promptly awoke at 6:30 with a task of grocery shopping for our nine-person team. We drove to Hannaford’s, bought our essentials consisting of water, Gatorade, bread, peanut butter, trail mix, potato chips (clutch after legs), almonds, fruit, and crackers, and spent a grand total of $151.00. THAT’S ALL, FOLKS. This made the four of us immediately sullen and downtrodden, for we will never experience this glory in Manhattan.
We stopped at a Dunkin’ Donuts for “real breakfast” (bagels and coffee), and returned to the rest of our team to eat and assemble our vans to get to the start at the Wachusett Ski Resort. The parking lot was filled with vans decorated with team names and silly sundries, and everyone was in great spirits.
My stomach continued erupting throughout the morning, and I remained nervous as we sat through orientation. I had no idea what I was doing, or what to expect. I just knew I was running 20(ish) miles over the course of 24 hours.
Team Honey Badger assembled at the starting line to watch our first member, Allen, go straight up a mountain for his first of four legs. Van 1 (Allen, His Lordship, Patricio, Robin, and I) was to meet him at the end of his leg where he would hand off the RTB baton (really, it was a slap bracelet) to myself, and thus continue the journey of completing 36 legs.
Waiting in my first Transition, I wondered if I was going to vomit. Where was I? On top of a black diamond slope? Massachusetts? I just knew we were “north of Boston.” Other teams were waiting as well, and were incredibly kind and relaxed. It was almost as if I was attending some kind of music festival for the weekend, but instead of getting wasted and listening to several bands, I was running.
I saw Allen coming around the bend, stuck my hand out, and grabbed the slap bracelet. That sealed the deal—my first leg of the relay had started. Also, I’d like to take this time to give major kudos to RTB for making the course easy to follow. I followed arrows over hills, and told myself not to look at my watch, for sometimes, that’s my downfall. Van 2 (Neal, Maura, Elyssa, and Alamar) cheered as they passed me, and I waved in a painful motion, as I didn’t want to make the same mistake that I did in Kentucky with talking to people while maintaining a race pace.
A runner from another team passed me and said, “Nice pace, good luck,” and blasted forward. I furrowed my eyebrows. What pace was I doing? And how the hell were his legs moving so quickly? That’s when my Garmin ticked off at 7:01.
I immediately freaked out. Although this was my shortest leg (essentially a 5K), I didn’t want to run balls out and make my legs trashed for the remaining three. I was then greeted by a hill—a hill that blew Harlem Hill out of the water—and felt my feet shuffling. I so wanted to pull over and vomit. What a fabulous way to start a relay. Instead of tossing my bagel/coffee, I slowed down, and controlled my breathing to maintain a decent pace for a first leg. It was quite hot out, and realized that this was the first “summer” run that I had done for the year. I saw Robin in the distance, and smiled. ‘So cool,’ I thought. Yes, we are competing with ourselves, but we are also in this together. Time to make it happen.
Leg 1 Splits 7:01; 7:57; 8:22; ? (I forgot to turn my Garmin off until we were in the van. Oops.)
Robin was off. I walked around to take care of myself (don’t barf, keep breathing), and got in the van. Earlier in the day, the five of us decided that we needed to refuel soon after we finished our legs. I was going back and forth between Gatorade and water, and slowly consuming a banana. This refuel process became key in a speedy recovery.
We drove to the middle of Robin’s leg to meet her with water, acting as an aid station. While driving there, I watched the racers on the road. This was such a different kind of race. Runners were staggered, and everything became a game of passing.
Flashback: When we met for our RTB meeting (and also, drink fest), Neal said it would be fun to have a “kill” poster. I was all over it as I love arts and crafts—His Lordship and I made a poster resembling a tally sheet of how many people we passed. We never showed it to other teams (although, most teams did display their kills on the outside of their vans), and after every leg, we would update it.
Throughout everyone’s first leg, we got in a groove of acting as aid stations, refueling, and working together to help out whoever was running.
And what seemed like a blink of an eye, the first five of Team Honey Badger was closing up Leg 1, giving Van 2 their go time. His Lordship plowed through transition to meet Alamar, we passed off the Kill Board, and found ourselves at an early dinner hour. We drove into the town of Worcester (home of Worcestershire sauce), and stopped at a coffee house. And then a burrito joint.
Yes, that’s what we did. Why? We desperately needed caffeine and carbs. These two places happened to be situated next to each other, so we killed (ha) two birds with one stone. Also, the burritos were $1.95 a pop and substantial. For real. As I was running close to dinner time, I opted to save my burritos for later. And in another blink of an eye, it was time for us to meet Van 2 for Leg 2. Time flies in a relay.
It was now getting darker, and the hour grew near to dusk. Before we left on Thursday, Madame Walsh lent me her reflective vest and headlamp (many thanks, my dear). I have never run with either of these things, and both were comfortable and effective in my dusk leg. Although the sun hadn’t quite set, the rules clearly stated that all runners must wear reflective vests, headlamps, and a minimum of two flashing lights (go-go blinky lights) between the hours of 6:30 pm and 6:30 am. So I did all of those things.
I wanted to have a better Leg than my first, so I told myself to take it easy while finding my stride. I set off in the parking lot behind Transition (all of our transitions were either in a school or church parking lot), and saw a girl about 400 yards in front of me. I decided my game of cat and mouse would start now. I made my way past her, and continued on Cedar Hill Road, which was not too dissimilar from a one-laned highway. ‘I made my first kill,’ I thought. This is where I felt the competitiveness that my other teammates had felt earlier. We all kept saying we weren’t going to race it, but that all changed when you saw someone in front of you. I kept my splits going at a decent pace without going into overdrive, for I didn’t know how I would feel by Leg 3.
Leg 2 was really enjoyable. The sun was setting, the air was crisp, and I loved seeing all of the vans cheering on their respective runners. I saw the girls from the Off Balance team, one of which was dressed in a banana costume. I waved and smiled, and carried on. By the time I reached my team at the halfway point, I knew I didn’t need any water or Gatorade, and I was too focused on the hunt. I smiled, gave the ok sign, and was so excited that I was enjoying the race. I went through more back roads and quaint neighborhoods all the way to the next transition and passed the baton to Robin. This marked the halfway point for me. Two legs down, two to go.
Leg 2 splits: 7:46; 7:45; 7:54; 7:52; 8:07 (.5)
After our van finished up the leg, we were faced with late night hours, and a 2.5 hour gap until our third leg. This meant one thing: Coffee.
And, apparently, french fries. As we made our way to the transition where we would be meeting Van 2, I pulled into a Burger King to get coffee for us to sip on during our midnight legs.
“May I take your order?”
“Hi, thank you. May I have three large cof—”
“Psstt. I want some French fries.”
“…I’m sorry. May I have three large coffees and two large french fries?”
“Um… I’ll have to make a fresh pot of coffee….”
“Ok. Do that.”
The hour was now 11:00, and Van 1 was demanding coffee for the night. Kind sir, make that fresh pot of coffee. His Lordship and Patricio decided this would be a good time to carb load with nature’s potato sticks best served fried. The coffee was for the later morning hours, for we were all hopped up on adrenaline after our second leg. No time for rest—Van 2 had shorter legs, and we knew they would be done in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.
11:45 p.m. and it was starting to get colder. Allen and I were banking on it being in the mid 40’s during 12-1:00 am—still warm enough to wear shorts and compression sleeves. Now we didn’t know what to do. It was 39 degrees and falling, and we were on deck. Allen left at nearly the stroke of midnight. As we waited for him at his halfway point, I decided that I needed to change into something warmer for my leg. Capris, arm sleeves, and compression socks would do. I know it seems like overkill, but when the hour is creeping up on 1:00 am, you don’t really think about being overdressed. This is a non-lit course in the middle of the night in bum-fu*k, Massachusetts. Let’s play it smart, people.
After I grabbed the baton from Allen, I made my way into the misty back roads of my 8.2-mile leg. It was a surreal experience—nothing but you, nature, and darkness ahead. Essentially, I was offering myself up as a tasty midnight snack for a bear. Or mongoose. Are mongooses native to Massachusetts? Maybe?
I heard footsteps creeping up behind me. A speedy male runner came up next to me and said, “Lovely evening for a stroll, huh?” I laughed, and said, “This is crazy.” He wished me well and sped up ahead, and I decided I would treat him as a rabbit. I heard my Garmin beep, and turned on my light. My first mile clocked in at 8:22, I and felt as if I was running at a 7:45 pace. Running in the dark is weird.
For the first 3 miles, I kept a decent pace behind my rabbit, and managed to pass one other female runner. Three miles, three runners. And darkness. We were now on a busier two-lane back highway, and cars were coming every now and again, half of them being vans for runners. I was running on the sidewalk next to the highway in fear of getting hit by a drunk driver (come on now, it was 1:30 a.m. on prom evening), and was carefully watching my footing. It slowed me down a bit, but better to be safe than faceplant in someone’s front yard.
I started hearing footsteps again, and this time, a lot of them. A pack of 6 runners (including one female) started speeding by me at what looked to be a 6:15-6:30 pace. I realized that the Ultras who started at 2:00 p.m. were now catching up. I saw the Ultras speed by my rabbit, and once again, it was just us two.
The rest of Van 1 was waiting at the 4-mile marker with aid. I ran by them, and signaled that I was okay; I was on a mission and didn’t want to lose sight of who was in front of me. Around mile 6, we ran through a quaint shopping strip of a local town. This was well lit, and it was nice to see something other than darkness and a small chunk of road that was only visible by headlamp. I passed another female runner, and commented on her effort, as it’s not easy running in the middle of the night. Especially after already running once, if not twice already before. At the end of the street I was faced with a building featuring a large clock reading a time of 1:54 a.m. I laughed at myself and shook my head. What in God’s name were we doing? I guess this makes up for my lack of effort in sneaking out of the house when I was a teenager. You’re welcome, Mom and Dad.
Once again, there was darkness. And this time, it was on rolling hills. I saw the blinking light of my rabbit, and then lost it as I was on the uphill and he was on the downhill. I started to get nervous, for it was just me on this road, and no one else. I had a thought: what would Abbe Lew do if a person jumped out of the bushes and attacked? Speed up, of course. So I did (or at least attempted to, at that point). Oddly enough, I wasn’t tired. Out of it, for sure, but not physically exhausted. I was on a weird running high that I had not ever experienced. I saw lights in the distance and realized I was coming into Transition. As I passed the baton to Robin, I told her to be careful.
Leg 3 Splits: 8:23; 7:39; 7:54; 8:15; 7:50; 8:04; 8:06; 8:14
I jumped in the van with my teammates and Allen and I discussed our experiences with nighttime running. His Lordship commented on the “Back to the Future clock tower,” and I told them about the creepy car that stopped in front of me for several minutes when it was actually a cop car checking on my well-being. Also, I did overdress. The humidity was blazing, and Leg 3 ended up being my second sweatiest leg.
Our van finished their third leg, passed off our blinky lights to Van 2, and made our way to the transition where Leg 4 would begin. We pulled in around 4:00 am, and decided that if there was going to be any shut-eye, this was to be that time. And so we napped.
But not for long. I woke up somewhere shy of 25 minutes due to a
dream nightmare involving a missed text message from Alamar, leading Allen to miss Neal in Transition. I decided it best I stay awake, and good thing, for Alamar’s text message came through shortly thereafter.
Rise and shine, Van 1, our 4th and final leg is about to begin.
We bid Allen adieu in the crisp, cool morning temps, and set off to meet him at his halfway point. Throughout the journey, I was in charge of our music selection, and I queued up my Queen Pandora station in search of something that would pump us up. Then there was glory: Europe’s “The Final Countdown” started to play, and we all screamed with glee. It was now 6:39, meaning the Quiet Zones had come to a close. Patricio promptly stated, “I’m going to blast this as we drive by Allen.”
And we did. He smiled and laughed. Robin and I started quoting Arrested Development, and we found ourselves much more awake than just ten minutes prior. Allen, however, announced his exhaustion as he met His Lordship for aid.
As I started getting nervous about my upcoming performance, I thought about marathons, and how this would play out. This would be similar to mile 22 of a marathon, and although it was going to hurt, I needed to get it done.
Allen gave me a huge smile as he came into Transition. “Last leg, Abbe! Go!” This was it. Just 4.5 miles to go. Allen’s words resonated through my head for the first mile. I felt as if I were dragging tree trunks for legs. Everything in me hurt—my feet, my stomach, my quads. I even had a headache from wearing my contacts for too long. The feeling was similar to a nasty hangover. I needed to keep moving, and distracted myself from the pain by taking in the beautiful scenery. Leg 4 was, by far, my most beautiful. I ran over a single-laned bridge, through farmland with cows, and charming neighborhoods with dogs playing outside.
Around mile 4, a speedy woman came up next to me.
“How ya doin?”
“Me too. This sucks. Just gotta get it done.”
For the time being, it did suck. My feet were shuffling along up and down the hills, and I was desperately looking for a school or a church that resembled a transition area. I ran up one last hill and saw it, and tried to push myself a little bit harder. I came into the school drive and saw Robin making a beeline toward me for the hand-off.
And just like that, my legs for Reach the Beach were over.
Leg 4 splits: 8:28; 8:30; 9:05; 9:12; 9:15 (.5)
Completely exhausted, I laid down in the van. It was as if my my body knew I wasn’t going to have to run anymore legs, and everything shut down. Also, I decided to brush my hair for the first time since Friday morning, and it was a challenge. I just painted you a nice picture. You’re welcome.
After Van 1 was finished with our legs, we traveled to the Old Country Buffet for refueling, and traveled to the finish area to wait for our fellow teammates. Whilst en route, we saw Maura on her last leg, looking strong and making a kill. We rolled down the windows and cheered her on. Just a few moments earlier, Maura was giving us her concerns on her final leg. And here she was nailing it.
When we got to the beach, we sat and finally rested our eyelids in complete silence. I thought about what we had accomplished over the past 24 hours. Nine friends from Manhattan (and Texas) were working together, stride by stride, over 200 miles with one goal in mind. And that is an incredible and beautiful thing.
I got the tip from Captain E that Neal was on his final stretch, and Van 2 was on the move to the beach! After much anticipation, we corralled together, met Neal at the final 200-meter stretch, and ran through the finish line together. We high-fived and cheered, got our medals, and proceeded to the beer tent.
I then got severely intoxicated after consuming one beer. Thanks, sleep deprivation.
Team Honey Badger finished in 26:09, 20th overall, and 5th in our division. I could not be more proud to be a part of this team. We worked incredibly well together, cheered each other on, cooperated and used amazing communication. All necessary things to compete in a relay. Many thanks to Captain E and my fabulous teammates. What a stellar performance and a wonderful weekend.
As I stated earlier, this was my first relay. It is most definitely not my last.