Monday, September 19, 2011

Up the Beach

Third time's the charm. Well, all the Reach the Beach relays have been a lot of fun, really. This past weekend, I headed up to Cannon Mountain in NH for my third consecutive RTB and it was great. Even though it was the last running I'll do for a while so I can take care of the sore Achilles tendon I've been dealing with for the last four months.

We all met in Salem, NH, on Friday morning at a Park-and-Ride lot. It took me a little longer to get there because I had to get the kids off to school at the normal time before I could leave. I was also a little fried because I was up until 2 a.m. finishing a work project that had to be turned in before I left; it wasn't ideal to spend the night before doing a 24-hour relay getting as little sleep as possible, but I was hoping to catch some Z's during the day before I ran. I was in Van 2 again, which meant I wouldn't be running until after dark.

It was another chilly start up on the mountain and our first runner Lisa headed out at around 12:27 p.m. The setup was a little different this year because Hurricane Irene had damaged Route 302 and forced the relay organizers to re-route the first six legs. So they would finish at a different spot and wouldn't hand off to us; instead, Van 2 was assigned our usual starting point at Attitash at 5:30. I was the fifth runner in our van, 11th overall, so I did a lot of waiting around.

Unlike last year, when I ran the most difficult set of legs, I had some easier runs this time around. Which was fine because of the aforementioned injuries and my lack of sleep coming into the event. I was able get maybe 45 minutes while we were driving to Attitash after grabbing some lunch.

After 9 p.m., I finally ran my first leg, a 4.8-mile stretch through Tamworth, in 36 (a 7:30 pace). It was a pretty lonely run. I only saw two other runners on the route, one who I passed and one who passed me. For fun this year, we were keeping track of "kills," or the number of runners we passed during our legs. I wasn't off to a good start in that department, but I was pretty happy with my time.

I grabbed a couple of slices of pizza for my 10:20 p.m. dinner and they hit the spot nicely. I got about another hour+ of fitful sleep as we drove from the handoff to our next transition area and waited for Van 1 to show up after finishing their second legs. Woke up a little after 1:30 a.m. and discovered that one of our Van 1 runners had posted on Facebook that they were almost done, so we hustled to get our first runner ready. It was chilly out at this point, in the high 30s, as we stood at the transition waiting. We were probably out there for half an hour before I got a text that their last runner had just started, so we went back inside the school to get warm again. The handoff happened around 3:20 a.m. and we were on the road again.

I did most of the overnight driving as we made our way through the Lakes Region. My second run took place just after the sun came up, around 7 a.m. Despite having little sleep, I roared through the 6.24-mile leg of gradual rolling hills and finished in 47 minutes (7:32 pace). In the kill department, I was passed by one guy in a dayglo orange shirt right at the start but I methodically kept chugging along, passing runner after runner. Dayglo was about a half-mile ahead of me and I figured I had no shot at him, but he started slowing down until I finally passed him around the 4-mile mark. I ended up with 21 kills on that run. Unfortunately, I couldn't bask in the glory because just about everyone in the van was asleep and I had to drive to the next stop.

After the next transition, we headed to the Manchester Airport Diner for some breakfast, our annual Van 2 tradition. My stomach was getting a little iffy, as it has the last two years. But instead of going with the uber-bland egg and toast, I got a Western omelette, hoping it would give me some fuel for my last run. Fortunately, my stomach settled down and didn't bother me again. We lounged around in Kingston as the weather warmed up and we waited for Van 1 to finish up for the day.

My third and final run was in Hampton, a slight 3.41 miles to Winnacunnet High School. I ran it hard, but it took about twice the effort as before because of sheer exhaustion. I passed six runners and was passed by five or six. I handed off to Mark for the final 4 miles to Hampton Beach. I ended up running it in 25:47 (7:33), but man, it was tough.

We headed down to the beach, but got stuck in horrendous traffic that was crawling along. Mark beat us to the beach and ended up running over the finish line with the Van 1 runners. It was disappointing that we couldn't cross with them, but what are you gonna do? We finally pulled into the parking lot at 5 and got some food and beer before meeting up with everyone.

We ended up running the race in 26:42:54, good for an 8:21 pace and putting us 196th out of 434 teams. It was four hours faster than last year, although the relay was about 192 miles instead of the usual 209 due to the alternate routes. Still, it was a great performance by everyone.

After we cleaned out the vans, I drove home, showered and promptly went to bed for nearly 12 hours. Next up for me is physical therapy on my Achilles and hopefully a return to running by the end of the year. And I'm signed up with another team to run the Massachusetts RTB next May. Because I'm a sucker for punishment.

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