Sunday, September 16, 2018

I LOVE LAMP (and relays): Reach The Beach 2018

This has been a weird summer for me, runningwise. I've been really busy, spent the most amazing 2 weeks on vacation with that whole "getting married" thing sandwiched in the middle of it, and have been doing quite a lot of weekend warrior hiking and traveling, all of which has been absolutely AMAZING but has definitely bumped running down quite a bit in the priorities list. On top of that, we've had a brutally hot and humid summer which has made running pretty much miserable for the most part. It hasn't exactly been highly motivating, and while I've been running ~30-35 miles a week (in combination with quite a bit of hiking), truly structured training has been nonexistent. I've felt this type of ennui around running before, and I know there's always one cure for what ails me: try something new, fun, and ridiculous to light the spark and get me excited about competing again.

The first of these was finally jumping back into a triathlon, which I've been meaning to do for YEARS since I bought a road bike in 2014. I never got around to writing a race report for that race and will probably have to do so sometime, because it kind of changed my athletic plans for the next few years. I LOVED it! I also did pretty well at it despite being a novice, and I'm honestly really excited about the idea of learning a whole new sport. I've always wanted to do an Ironman tri, but thought that I'd wait until I was older and my best running days were behind me - I think that plan may have changed. But more on that later, because this post is about the more recent new, ridiculous and fun thing that I did that at the very least rekindled my love of running in general: my first overnight relay!

I had vaguely heard of Ragnar relays and Reach the Beach, a 200 mile race from Bretton Woods to Hampton Beach NH, but had never thought about doing it myself. First of all, as many running friends as I have I'm not sure I could come up with 11 other people who would want to live out of a van for 2 days and run at all hours of the night. Secondly, I myself wasn't sure I wanted to live out of a van for 2 days and run at all hours of the night! Fate intervened when my coworker Elise was talking about doing it last year while we were up in NH for Mount Washington, and I casually/not so casually decided in the moment that I was interested in participating. I indicated that if anyone from her previous team couldn't run this year that I'd totally be up for subbing in, and sure enough, they ended up needing a sub. I was in, without really knowing ANYTHING about the race (including, initially, the date haha) or 10 out of the other 11 people on the team.

Elise had told me that this was an amazing and fun loving group, and when we arrived at our car drop off point on Thursday morning I was not disappointed - I immediately felt like part of the team! Soon a couple more team members arrived with our vans/homes for the weekend, and we drove up to our "base camp" at the home of a former BMC PT (the team originally started in the PT department there and this woman has always been a team supporter) which was absolutely AMAZING. Her home and the scenery were incredible and made a perfect setting for swimming, beers on a water trampoline, a pontoon boat trip, and some team bonding. It was a really fun group ranging from 9 time Ironman triathletes to more casual runners, all of whom were awesome and hilarious. I got iced for the first time in several years (proud? to say I can still take them like a champ) and after a couple of beers with the group I felt like I'd known the team for a whole lot longer than 12 hours. We headed to bed relatively early (well, some of us anyway) since sleep was going to be at a premium for the next 2 days!

After a solid breakfast of egg scramble and tater tots, and another icing (thankfully not me this time), we headed out on the hour drive to Bretton Woods, Once we arrived there was way more to do than your typical race check in: check safety gear, do a safety briefing, get bibs, and most importantly decorate the vans with ridiculous Anchorman quotes - we were the Channel 4 News Team, so had to represent! Soon enough it was approaching our start time of 9:45, and we headed to the start to cheer our first runner off! By this point it had pretty much been cemented that our team activity would be flossing (the dance fad, not the dental care activity), and so we yelled and cowbelled and flossed as runner 1 headed off up the mountain. The race had begun! Since the first leg was only 1.5 miles, the whole team headed to that transition to cheer. Soon enough our runner came flying down the downhill, and runner 2 was off!


Quality van decor

First runner is off!

Transition 3 was right by where we'd parked, so we all decided to stick around until our 3rd runner was off, and then the vans would head their separate ways. During the relay, one van is "on" while another is off. I was the 2nd runner in Van 2, which meant we had some time to chill before our van needed to be on. As is apparently team custom, we played "Shots" by LMFAO and munched on some delicious cold tater tots, and practiced our flossing while waiting for runner #2. Yes, it was definitely refreshing to be doing something where the #1 goal was fun. Once the handoff to our 3rd runner was complete, we high fived van 1 and wished them good luck, and headed off to find some food. We ended up going to Bagels Plus in Conway, which was AMAZING. I can't believe I've never been there before but ended up having the most amazing bagel sandwich of my life along with some iced coffee and a Gatorade. I saved the second half of the sandwich because I wasn't sure how much more time I had before my leg - one of the most challenging things about this relay for me was figuring out when/what/how much to eat at any given time! We then headed back to Attitash to await runner #6.

The day was really starting to heat up and there wasn't a cloud in the sky, so we all tried to find some shade and stay hydrated while waiting. Leg 6 was the longest leg of the day at almost 11 miles, which must have been pretty brutal in the beating sun, but our 6th runner is also 100% pure animal and totally crushed it. We cheered him in to the exchange point and sent runner #7 off, then briefly exchanged high fives with van 1 before heading out to support our runner! Because of the length of the race and just overall logistics, there obviously can't really be water stops on the course itself, but on almost all of the legs the vans can stop along the road to give water or whatever to their runner, and more importantly to cheer. This was one of my absolute favorite things about the relay - I LOVE CHEERING, and to get to spend so much time doing it over a period of a couple of days was amazing. We also came equipped with thunder sticks, night glow sticks, tamborines, clappers, cowbells, a giant inflatable name it, it was there. I definitely picked the right team because I don't think anyone else I saw had quite the insane spirit that we did. After making a couple of cheer stops, we headed to the next exchange point where I would start my first leg!  This was the only point where I actually got nervous the entire time, maybe because it feels like it's been 1000 years since I did a road race. I also felt like I really wanted to actually run the pace I had said I would (7:30s, which seemed reasonable) but had no idea if I would be able to do it, especially with the hot weather. I knew that as soon as I got running the nerves would resolve, and soon enough our 7th runner came motoring up the path, the slap bracelet was exchanged, and it was go time!

At one point we were also offering these delightful cold tater tots to runners out the

J-Money heading into transition 6!

Thunder Sticks for life

Accurate summary of the weekend

My first leg was 7.3 miles, billed as "moderate" by the race, and I knew it would likely be my flattest of the day. That was about all the research I had done haha. Since I knew that I was likely to be running alone quite a bit I had decided to listen to music for this race, and I went blasting out of the starting area with 4Ever by the Veronicas blasting in my headphones and a brilliant smile on my face. All of a sudden I was in heaven. There's a thing in the relays called "kills" - how many people you pass in a leg - that some teams keep track of on their vans which we all agreed is way too hardcore. I'd be lying, though, if I said that keeping track of my own personal kills within legs was an EXCELLENT way to keep motivated and pushing when things were hard. It's hard to figure out pacing when you are racing, but you also know that you have to race twice more within the next 18 hours - going completely all out would be idiotic, but I also wanted to be putting in a good amount of effort, so I'd say what I came up with was something like tempo effort. I definitely went out a little fast on this leg just out of pure adrenaline and excitement, but dialed it back a bit after I came through mile 3 in sub-7, which I just know I'm not fit for over that distance at this point in time. At mile 2 I saw my van for the first time which was amazing, although I think I was too far in the racing zone at that point and didn't even remember to run-floss! Haha. I was still feeling really good when I saw my van again at around mile 4 as I had dialed back the pace a little bit. I could tell that the heat was going to start to be a problem pretty soon but just kept trying to focus on the teams up ahead and see if I could reel them in. Unfortunately, the last 2.5 miles of the route had zero shade and seemed to be run directly into the blazing sun, and with no more water available I tanked pretty hard. It was 80 degrees, sunny, no breeze, and just really quite miserable. At some point we turned and ran for a little bit into Conway, and all I could think of was that it felt like the end of the awful Cape Ann 25K, where you're just sort of stumbling down the sidewalk in the blazing sun hoping that someone eventually will put you out of your misery. At one point I had to stop to let a school bus pull out of a driveway and I didn't even care. I was still managing to pass people, since lots of people were walking at that point, but it was rough going. Finally, we turned onto the Kancamagus and I knew I only had about a quarter mile to go. I was able to summon a little bit of a rally over the last little section and managed to pass one more woman before pulling into the transition point, where I expected Elise would be waiting. But where was she? Turns out, to get to this transition the vans had to go like 20 miles out of the way - since they waited for me at 4, there was no way they could have gotten to the handoff on time! Thankfully a volunteer gave me some water, and I really wasn't even mad because I was happy to be done running. After maybe 5 minutes Elise came sprinting over and she was off!

Took this quick at the very end of my leg on the Kancamagus!

Van 2, Leg 2 (leg 8 overall): 7.3 miles, 53:33, 7:22 pace, 23 kills, killed by 0

We weren't allowed to support Elise on her leg, so we just headed over to the next transition point (obviously cowbelling insanely out the windows as we passed her). She had a rough hill on her leg but ran SUPER strong and was in transition before we knew it! The next few hours were a blur of transition points, cheering on our runners, and snacking on random food including the other half of my bagel sandwich, goldfish crackers, and gummi worms. Our last transition before the major one was at a beautiful lake, so Elise and I took the opportunity to wade in and dunk our heads...RTB shower, complete! Haha. We then had a quick drive to the next major transition point, where we reunited with van 1 who was ready to roll for their night legs. Once their runner 1 was off, we headed into the middle school where the 8th grade class had the most adorable setup. They had decorated their gym in western style, complete with live music and comfy chairs, and had TONS of food available by donation. We immediately decided to skip finding a restaurant to eat dinner and made a donation to the 8th grade class trip (have fun in Montreal, kids!) in exchange for a ton of food. They had chili on offer, which looked awesome, but I was concerned about the impact that would have on my stomach so I settled on pasta/meat sauce casserole, a banana, and peanut butter cracker sandwiches - that last one I had no idea how much I wanted until I was eating it...tasted soo good. By now it was pretty well dark and we wanted to attempt to sleep before starting our super late night legs, so we drove to the next major transition point/designated sleeping area to try to get a couple of hours of sleep. I dozed off for maybe 20 minutes in the car on the way, and then we set up camp in a field at yet another school. I have to take a minute to comment on how absolutely insane the organization of this race is. We're talking 36 transition areas, all with vans consistently coming in/out and parking, and it was seamless. The volunteers were absolutely INCREDIBLE, and every last one of them was fun, smiling, and helpful whether it was 11 am or 4 am. I also only had to wait in line for a porta potty once the entire weekend, and that was maybe 5 minutes...really pretty amazing. Anyway, around 9:45 we settled in to attempt to get some sleep. Time sort of became irrelevant on this relay - 8 pm felt like midnight, and so on. I had a "self inflating" mattress pad with me, but I'm an idiot and was trying to use it for the very first time, so the inflating feature didn't really work too least it was a barrier between the damp grass and me? I also don't own a sleeping bag and only had a fleece blanket, but somehow despite the hard ground and the cool air, I managed to snag at least a couple of hours of sleep in the field - some of my teammates weren't as lucky! It was interesting because I fell asleep for maybe an hour, then woke up because I was lying oddly on my shoulder, and everything was completely silent. When I woke up again around 12:15, you could tell that it was time for a bunch of teams to go - lots more movement. We were expecting our other van's runner to roll in around 1 am, and they showed up right on schedule. It was time for one of the most crazy and fun parts of Reach the Beach....night legs!

News Team handoff to runner 6!

The amazing middle school setup

Nighttime transition zone! Surreal

We were leapfrogging with this team who had a van from a "senior wellness resort" all weekend and I just couldn't get over it

Our first runner had a SUPER tough first leg ahead of him, so we wanted to give him plenty of support and got out there hard with our glowsticks. Fun fact: flossing with glow sticks is amazing, 60% of the time it works every time.  Our exchange was a "wildcard" exchange, which meant there was basically a 2 mile stretch where we could exchange at any point. Since he was feeling pretty good and I had one of the higher overall mileages of the weekend, we decided to go right in the middle and exchange about 1 mile into the exchange zone. This was lucky for me but not so lucky for him, since he had to climb some massive hills to get up to us. I, on the other had, had a leg with a whole lotta downhill, and despite feeling sleep deprived I was AMPED for some night moves.

My second leg was 5.7 miles, described as moderate, and officially began at 2:22 am. And it. was. AMAZING!! I wasn't sure how I was going to feel physically or emotionally about running through the pitch black forest in the middle of the night but I absolutely loved it. It also probably didn't hurt that a large majority of this leg included running down massive downhills. There was definitely a moment that I was like "hey, you're gonna tear up your quads running down these downhills!" annnnd then I decided that I completely did not care, because I was having way too much fun. I had my phone with me and was just playing music off of it instead of having headphones, and I was pretty proud of my 100% night-themed playlist (except "See You Again" by Miley Cyrus, which will forever take me back to driving cross country when I moved to Boston and just being super loopy at 2 am). It was really foggy and we were running through woods, and I could just imagine all of the moose that were probably surrounding me...didn't see any though! Running through a glow stick tunnel made by my teammates was absolutely AMAZING and I definitely felt the strongest on this leg. For the first 4 miles or so there was pretty much always another runner in view, but I had a couple of miles at the end where I was pretty much solo, which was actually really cool - just flying through the night by myself. I was tired by the time we started approaching civilization again, but also was kind of sad that the night leg was about to be over! Soon enough I reached transition to the tune of "Because the Night" by Cascada, did a pretty rocking sword themed bracelet exchange with Elise, and the leg was done!

Lets goooooo!

Post night leg adrenaline high, circa 3:15 am

Van 2, Leg 8 (leg 20 overall): 5.7 miles, 40:34, 7:10 pace, 18 kills, killed by 1 (some wicked fast dude who came blowing by right at the beginning!) 

A combination of adrenaline, giddiness, and the Mountain Dew energy drink I chugged after my leg resulted in the next couple of hours being some of my favorite parts of the race. I was going wild with my glow sticks on the side of the road, jumping around, dancing, whisper cheering...I was amped. There's something magical about not only being awake while the rest of the world is asleep, but by sharing that experience with so many other like minded people. At one point I remember thinking to myself "we are adults, and this is how we are choosing to spend our weekend, running a lot, sleeping in fields,waving glow sticks on the side of the road, hundreds of us, and there is just nothing that could be better than that". At one point some of our teammates were asleep, and myself and one other teammate had pulled over to await our runner. I was hanging out the driver side window banging foam glow sticks on the car, while he said random Anchorman quotes at runners. At one points he told some guy "you look marvelous, sir!" to which the guy came out with a series of grunt noises, and we both just lost it laughing. It was just so much damn fun. Of course, at some point your body just says "nope", which is how I found myself passing out on top of a cooler for about 20 minutes in the front seat while waiting for our runner at one of the transitions, LOL. I also may or may not have gotten iced in an NH field at 6:55 in the morning...things were getting silly. Everyone on our team continued to look strong and happy on their legs - we had some people dealing with plantar fasciitis and other injuries, but everybody was toughing it out and getting through it, still managing to have a blast.

The final set of legs was the shortest in overall mileage for both vans, so we had a little less time after our final handoff back to Van 1 and decided to head in the general direction of the next and final major exchange. I fell asleep in the backseat for maybe 45 minutes here which I think was really the lifesaver and allowing me to feel like a human for the remainder of the race. I think it was maybe 8 am or so when we handed off back to van 1? I don't even know anymore haha. On our way to the transition we did find a lovely little breakfast place where I had another awesome bagel sandwich, this time of the breakfast variety, and my first pumpkin spice themed coffee of the year. At the final major transition point, we were actually able to go inside the school gym for "free dry sleep!", lol. I managed to catch another half hour or so of shut eye, continuing to prove that when I am tired, I can literally sleep ANYWHERE. Soon enough it was time to get ready to catch Van 1 for our final "on" leg - I was a little nervous at this point about the cooperation level of my stomach as well as my legs, which were about as unhappy as I expected them to be about the whole 2 am bombing downhill thing...ohhh well. :) I also had the longest leg of our van for our final section at 6.7 miles, which at this particular moment in time sounded like a loooong way. But Elise made me feel better by telling me that this was the leg where you got the best cheering, because both vans were able to support more than once. We cheered our runner on on his quick 2.4 mile leg out of transition, and then it was time for my final leg!

My last leg was 6.7 miles and billed as "hard" by the race, I think partially due to it's length at the end of the race but also because it consisted of rolling hills for dayyyys. After thinking I would take it out easy at the start I must have gotten my adrenaline going, because I ran a 6:52 first mile for my second fastest mile of the weekend! The weather for this leg was interesting, as it wasn't super hot or sunny, but it was muggy, and I felt like I had surely made a mistake once the hills started rolling after the first mile. My legs were definitely like "umm you've raced 13 miles already this weekend and you haven't really slept and what are you doing?" but I just tried to keep myself at somewhere around tempo effort and hope for the best. By far the BEST part of this leg was the van support - when I came down a hill to see both of our vans lined up, people on the roofs, everyone flossing, screaming, and waving glow sticks around, I couldn't stop smiling. It was absolutely amazing and I couldn't help but speed up a little bit as I drank in the cheers. Then it was back to grinding down the road, including up a nasty hill around mile 3 that I knew was coming, but that didn't really make it any more pleasant. My splits in this section were all over the place - an 8:10 up the hill followed up immediately by a 6:57, and so on. I got to see the van again at like 4.5, and again it was just spectacular. My legs definitely felt like they were about to collapse from underneath me, but part of me just didn't want the experience to end! We had gotten into a hilarious habit of flossing while running whenever we saw the team, which became harder and harder as I got more tired and uncoordinated...I'm pretty sure I looked like I was just flailing my limbs around by the time I got to the end.  Finally with one last uphill over a bridge transition came into view, and I flossed my way to a flawless exchange with Elise. I was done running! All in all I ran 19.7 miles over the course of the relay - given my level of training and fitness I really hadn't been sure that it would be doable, but aside from feeling a bit tired, I felt awesome. I was overall really proud of how I ran throughout the weekend, coming in at well under my predicted 7:30 pace!

You can see from afar the insanity of the cheer squad

A foggy/sweaty view from post leg-3 (with my new favorite socks EVER!!)

Van 2, leg 32: 6.7 miles, 49:40, 7:25 pace, 15 kills, killed by 0

The last few legs were a little shorter, in the 3-4 mile range, so we only had a couple of opportunities to stop. Luckily, we had one excellent stopping point where I finally got my wish of getting to cheer from the top of the was exactly as amazing as I expected it would be. Everyone was fired up because we were so close to finishing, and being done running made it even easier to go all out on the cheering as one by one everyone finished their final legs. Finally, we made the handoff to our last runner, and it was time to head to the beach! By this time, we were on approximately our 18th playing of "Shots" in the van, everyone was sleep deprived and loopy but totally loving every minute of it. We reunited with van 1, as well as our official/unofficial team captain who didn't run this year, but was still a huge part of planning and executing the race (and holy shit, there is an OUTRAGEOUS amount of planning that goes into this race!). Soon enough we saw our final runner coming down the beach and all of us yelling and smiling ran together down the chute to finish under 30 hours by 1 minute!

Final runner coming in! 

Finish chute smiles!

The post race food and beer was amazing, and sadly it was soon time to drive our sleep deprived selves back to MA, clean out the vans, and go back to reality. I was so sad that the weekend was over! This race was no doubt one of the most ridiculous things I've ever done, but in so many ways it suited me perfectly - the low pressure, fun is more important than fast, cheering your face off atmosphere combined with some pretty solid and challenging miles in places I'd otherwise never run. I also never thought that I would be someone who could handle doing something like this with a bunch of strangers, but it turns out when you throw me into a group of very like minded, very fun people, I can fit right in. I'm not sure when I'll next have the opportunity to do this relay again, but I really hope it isn't too far in the future. It was a fun, crazy, absolutely magical 3 days that reminded me of all of the things I love about running, and I can't wait to have that experience again! In the meantime...I signed up for Boston again, and I have my sights set on an Ironman in know...there's no shortage of wild and crazy running fun in store...