Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Reach the Beach: My Story

A week ago, my friend and I met in Hartford, CT to see AWOLNATION.  It was an epic evening and one that I thought would be difficult to top.  Ha!  Two days later, my dear friend, C.C. picked me up late in the evening to drive to Franconia, NH for the Reach the Beach Relay.  We were part of a 14 person team, including 12 runners and 2 van drivers, that would be running 200 miles in 24 hours starting at Cannon Mountain and ending in Hampton Beach.  I had agreed to be on this team the previous winter not really having a clue what I was getting myself into.  On Friday, the day the race began, I had a private 'holy crap' moment as we all prepared to head off on this slightly insane trek.  The night before, I had laid out all my clothes and gear for the next two days and placed it in a plastic bin to be stacked up in our van.  As I laid my shoes on top, I happened to glance quickly at both pairs and realized, much to my dismay, that I had forgotten my orthotics and was looking at the inside stitching of the shoes as neither pair had any insoles.  I haven't run without orthitics in my shoes in almost 20 years so you can imagine how I was feeling at this point.  I decided I could either freak out and cry or laugh and go to bed with my fingers crossed.  I did the latter.  I could hear Coach A.L. reprimanding me from afar for not being "race ready" as he consistently reminds our athletes to be before a meet.  It was a teaching moment for myself.  In the morning I drove to Walgreens and picked up a pair of Dr. Scholls to substitute for my orthotics.  They felt totally different and very uncomfortable and I had no choice but to roll with it.  We headed off to Cannon to meet up with our teammates to do an equipment check, take our team photo and, at 1:40 pm, start our race.  Game on.  Our van of six runners would be completing three legs of various distances and degrees of difficulty from the start straight through until the finish the next day.  Here's how it played out for me:

Leg 1:
5.5 miles.  3:30 pm.  Easy, downhill course. Despite the heat and the fact that my feet felt bizarre, my energy was high and my excitement pushed me through each mile.  The team stopped and cheered along the way and I felt strong as I cruised down toward the next hand-off.  In the back of my mind, I worried about how my feet would fare for the next 2 legs, but I tried to drown it out by singing out loud and encouraging other runners.  Oh, did I mention we weren't allowed to listen to music for this event?

Leg 2:
8.9 miles.  2:30 am.  Very difficult trek up and down multiple, large, hills.  At this point, I had gotten 30 minutes of sleep in a sleeping bag on the grass by our van at the last transition area.  I was not bright eyed and bushy tailed when my teammate passed me the bracelet.  But, off I went, wearing a neon vest, flashing lights on my back and a head lamp.  I expected this to be the most difficult leg to get through, particularly without music, but as I started to get into a groove, I had a sort of out of body experience where I was able to transcend my exhaustion and just take in the moment.  And it was truly incredible.  The stars were out in full force, it was dead quiet except for the crickets and all I could see were the other runners' lights dancing in front of me as the miles passed.  It was totally surreal and one of the most exhilarating runs I've had in my life.  Could I do it again?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

Leg 3:
4.4 miles.  11:30 am (I think) Moderately difficult with a couple of steady climbs.  My teammates and I had been able to grab three hours of sleep as well as a cup of coffee between our second and third legs, so I felt like a new person and was fired up to finish.  My feet felt bruised and swollen after running on new insoles, but I knew I only had this last bit to go, so I tried not to think about it.  It was hot again, and I was insanely tired, but I was ready to be done...we all were.  So, off I went using every ounce of energy I had to complete this short, but challenging run.  When I handed off the bracelet for the last time, I limped to the van and had a celebratory moment where I took of my shoes, which felt like torture devices at this point, and just sat there.  My teammate made sure to video tape this moment as my feet had become a steady topic of conversation over the past 24 hours.

That said, I was done.  The moment was bittersweet as I was both happy to be done and sad that it was over.

So, that's it in a very small nutshell.  It was an unbelievable journey including several hilarious and insane moments.  It was like nothing I've ever done before and one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had as a runner.  A couple lessons learned:
1. Don't go to a concert two nights before a 200 mile relay race (though I don't regret it for a second).
2. Double and triple check your gear the night before and then have a friend or family member do it with you again.
3. Always carry a toothbrush and deodorant with you when traveling with multiple people.
4. And, something I don't do enough, but will make every effort to do in the future; always be willing to try something new and to dive in head first when you do it.  Life is too short not to.

A HUGE shout out to all my teammates on the the NH State Park Bloggers Team.  Thank you all for being so freakin' awesome.

Listen to this:
NOTHING  - I wasn't aloud to listen for this race, so I'm suggesting a day off.  Just one.


  1. Hi,

    Sounds like leg 5, the same one I had. The night run was the best! I'm sorry about your feet. That's scary.

    Just letting you know that RTB rules don't prohibit music, they just prohibit headphones over your ears and earbuds in them. Many runners hang earbuds from a headband just behind their ears and it works great.

    I tried it and it's pretty good. Also, on the night run, no one knows what's in your ears. Listening to the Temper Trap while I ran in the dark was an unforgettable experience!

    Hope to see you next year!

    1. Yea, I tried the earbuds wrapped around my visor strap and my headlamp but my volume level was pretty lame. Next year I'll try some better headphones. Definitely hope we do it again. Congrats to you and your team!

  2. Aloud = out loud
    Allowed = given permission

    And to the previous commenter, darkness is not a good excuse to break the race rules.

    1. Right. Thanks for the grammar check. Exhaustion level was still high when I wrote this post.

  3. Congrats your team was fast! You must have felt like royalty having two dedicated van drivers on your team. I had leg 5 too and loved every minutes of it. I am pretty sure the final leg was 4.08mi (and the toughest). It was quite a challenge fighting sleep and leg cramps from being stuffed in a van all night.

    1. Congrats to you, too!! You had all 12 of you in one van???