First, let's introduce the characters:
Jeff - the alleged team captain. Faked a cardiac health event when the stress of being team captain became too much.
Nate - Our team ringer. Had a sudden death in the family that prevented him from running with us.
Kristin - Paid an airline extra money to delay her flight home the night before the race. This allowed her to sleep while the rest of us were running.
Tania - Last year's team captain, this year's replacement team captain, and the designated team whiner.
Greg - Our other returning runner - a strong, steady ultrarunner. Also, a Nervous Nellie in the front passenger seat of any vehicle.
Jack - Kristin's boyfriend. Agreed to be an alternate just because of Kristin. Pressed into duty at the last minute and then had to run with strangers while his sweetie was somewhere else. Had never run more than 10.5 miles in a day before.
Tamar - A last minute addition to the team. Tamar had paced 30 miles at the VT100. She's a steady runner who responded well to the pressure of the day. She wasn't our fastest runner, but she gave every leg all she had.
Damon - It's my blog and I can say whatever I want to about myself. Maybe I should disable comments so the rest of the team doesn't call me out.
Tania called me at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday morning to tell me about late team changes that had occurred on Friday night. We were down to 5 runners for a 6-person relay, we had lost our one truly fast runner and two solid runners, and they'd been replaced by two willing and able runners, who also happened to be slower than the people they'd replaced. But, we were glad for their willingness to help out near-strangers for an all-day event.
As I drove to our team meeting point, I went over the legs in my head. I decided that the three returning team members should each take 4 legs and the two new runners should stay at 3 legs each. I determined that leg 3 would be toughest and leg 1 would be second toughest. Leg 2 was longer than leg 1 overall, but with less difficulty. Even though I wasn't the captain, I decided our team order should be Tania, Greg, Damon, Jack, Tamar. Everybody seemed to agree as we drove to the race site.
Then, we had to meet with race management. At first, they thought we were joking as we ran through the litany of excuses that had created our new rag-tag team. When they realized we were serious, the RD sat down with me to do some math. It looked like we would be on the course for about 90 minutes after the time they wanted the last runners off the course. But, he was cool, and simply said we should skip a leg somewhere, be safe, have fun, and that we just wouldn't be eligible for prizes. That sounded great to me - we wouldn't get yanked off the course, we were welcome to compete, and the pressure was gone.
Since we were going to skip at least one leg, I suggested that Tania and I swap positions. Our first runner was guaranteed to run 4 legs and I knew Tania had been fighting some shin splints, so dropping her to a max of 3 made sense.
This left me with about 5 minutes to get ready for an 8:00 start. I just made it, mostly ignoring the last-minute instructions for our team and our leg. We'd done it before and I was trying to get ready to run.
This was a steep downhill on a trail, followed by a sharp turn, a steep uphill on trail, and then a finish on a dirt road. Because of lots of recent rain, they'd changed this leg from 2.5 miles to only 1.8 miles. I was shocked when I finished so soon, and I screwed up the bracelet handoff to Greg. The 18 legs were rated like ski runs - green circles, blue squares, single black diamonds and double black diamonds. This leg was the only green circle. Thirteen of the 18 legs were squares or single blacks.
Greg started out with a long downhill and fell in with another runner. With the staggered starts and the limited number of teams (80), there weren't many options to run with people. Greg ran his typical solid ultra-paced leg to the second transition. He's not fast, he's not slow, he's just steady. Greg and his John Deere hat just motor down the road relentlessly.
This was the first of 3 legs of 7 miles or more. It was mostly downhill and Tania ran sub-8s through Waterbury Center and Waterbury, to the elementary school for the next exchange. Ex-captain "Slacker Jeff" showed up here to wish us well, but resisted all of our attempts to make him run or drive for us. Tamar used a marker to write "Doing it 4 Jeff" on the back of our van. Jeff decided to embellish the comment with a picture of his heart. He needs to go to art school, because it looked like a pair of testicles. We drove the rest of the race with a rendering of Jeff's heart/testicles on the van. Tamar and Tania insisted there really isn't a difference for men anyway.
Jack took up running because Kristin runs. He's been running less than a year. His first leg was 4.85 miles, but all but the last mile was rolling and mostly uphill. By the time he finished, he hated us all and wanted to go home to find Kristin. But, there was no cell phone coverage, so he couldn't contact her. He was stuck with us: no way out.
I ran this one last year - about 5 miles, with some downhill to start and then level to slightly uphill. Tamar had advertised herself as a 12 minute miler and that's what she did - all day long and with a smile on her face. She handed off to me at the Waitsfield Elementary School.
A double-black diamond - almost all uphill for 5.8 miles. Slacker Jeff ran this one last year and we'd joked that morning that this leg may have been the genesis of his recent cardiac problems. I did think my heart might explode, but I felt strong. I passed three runners on the climb and ran 49:00. My fastest mile was 7:42 and my slowest was 9:23. I averaged 8:28 pace on a climb of 800 or so feet. I was happy but spent.
This one was a repeat leg for Greg. He'd run it last year and done well. It's downhill for quite a while and then gradually up the last couple miles. The John Deere hat must be some magical source of constant energy. We're thinking that they may be mandatory parts of a team uniform next year. Greg was smiling even as he pushed to his uphill finish. As he was finishing, there was thunder in the air.
I really want to run this leg sometime. Nate ran it last year and Tania ran it this year. But, because of the thunder, I was glad it wasn't me this time. This is the most beautiful leg of the run - 7 miles with a 2-mile climb and a 5-mile gradual descent. The storms held off. Tania averaged sub-8 pace over the 7 miles. Her shins were very sore by the time she finished this second downhill leg. She would smile sometimes and the next thing you know, she'd be whining about her legs. At this point, someone mentioned that whenever someone starts a joke, "Someone always takes it a step too far." Clearly, we were gelling as a team.
This was a short and fast leg, and Jack took off quickly, running well. We met him about halfway. But, halfway through the leg, it appeared that an animal jumped on his back and his paced suddenly slowed. He seemed to be hating life when he finished. The cell phone still wouldn't work. He couldn't contact Kristin to yell at her for getting him into this mess. He was shot and his next leg was a steep 4.5 ascent on the access road to Killington Ski area. Jack was not happy. We were informed that we were only 30 minutes behind our anticipated pace for the day, so we were fine for the moment. That was a lie. We'd used more than half of our allotted time of 14.5 hours to go half of the race. We still had 3 of the double-black diamond legs to go.
Tamar - Miss Cheerful - took off running this leg in some serious midday heat. The next few legs were more exposed to the sun, but Tamar never complained. Twelve minutes miles - forever. We stopped for some gas and food in Rochester, VT while Tamar was running. I mused that I could simply run home in a dozen miles from this point rather than enduring the remaining race torture.
This is the longest leg of the relay at 7.3 miles. I'd run it last year and it's exposed to the sun a lot. It's got a few rolling hills, but it's mostly flat. Just long. I made it my goal to "just" run 8s. After two miles, I was at 7:30 pace, but I had to back off. The team was nice enough to stop to offer me water 3 times. I finished in 7:53 pace, but it had been work. I had just missed catching up to a runner. We were now locked in a 3-way battle for last place on the course.
This was Greg's easiest leg of the day - about 5 miles, mostly flat, and he caught one runner. We weren't last. We did get into cell phone range, which suddenly had everyone on the team using their cell phone. I wanted to throw every phone into the local river, but instead, I went into the general store in Pittsfield for some beer to drink after my next stage. Jack and I had agreed that I'd run the 14th stage for him - the ascent up Killington resort and he'd take a later easier stage. He was already about to his lifetime daily mileage record. We were now in a rough stretch. Leg 11 had been rated a double-black diamond, and legs 13 and 14 were also double blacks.
When Tania took off on this tough uphill 10K, she knew it would be her last leg. We weren't going to be able to do all 18 legs, so she wouldn't have to run again. But, this leg would take her to 20 miles for the day and she was tired. She took off in next-to-last place in the race. The team in front of her had a very good runner who put a lot of time on her. Tania pushed as hard as she could, but the guy behind her managed to get past. We were in last place. We sucked. Near the end of Tania's leg, I asked the teammates of the runner who'd just started up Killington how far ahead he was. He had well over 2 minutes on me. And he was skinny. Dangit!
My 3rd double-black of the day. I was beat. But, I wanted us out of last place. For the first 2.5 miles, I could see the other guy, but the gap seemed to stay constant. I turned down water from my team, focusing just on the run. Around the 2.5 mile mark, a truck almost hit me. The driver looked at me like I'd done something wrong. It made me furious; I had the right of way. I screamed one bad word at the top of my lungs at him. I wanted him to come back so I could kick his @ss. Clearly, I was hypoxic. Suddenly, I noticed that the guy in front was getting closer. I've been at this running game for 23 years and the only real strength I have is a killer instinct. If someone shows a weakness, I'll take advantage. I started pushing harder. When I got about 30-40 yards back, I slowed for a bit. I wanted to get my breathing under control, so that when I passed him, he wouldn't know I was working. It worked beautifully. I caught him at the 4-mile mark, hardly breathing hard. He told me his tank was empty. I said "Good job" and then I ditched him. We had a slight descent before a final climb and my Forerunner says I hit a sub-6 pace for a bit. I handed off to Tamar and managed to avoid throwing up. My pace had been 8:40 and I'd climbed over 800 feet.
This one is cruel. It's allegedly a huge downhill leg, but the first half has more ups than downs. Then, the downs are quad-bustingly steep. It was now dark. We stopped halfway through the leg to offer some water to Tamar. I drank a beer and it tasted really good. Tamar's cell phone was in range of something and it kept vibrating and then beeping. At first, it only bothered me. Then, it started to get on other peoples' nerves. I threatened to find it and throw it into the forest. Tania found it first and turned it off. Thankfully. A car went past us, up the hill. Then, it backed up. The driver asked "Did we need any help". I explained that we were in a race and just waiting for our runner. From behind me, Jack's voice deadpanned "We aren't winning." I'm sure it meant nothing to the driver but we were all in hysterics. We were clearly a team now.
Legs 16 and 17
To be off the course by 10:30, Greg and Jack had determined we would have to skip two legs. We had planned to skip the 10K leg 16, but Greg opted out of running leg 17 as well, so we would get to the finish before they ran out of food and beer. So, we drove both of these legs. The only excitement was Tania swerving a bit. Greg was in the passenger seat. Accusations started flying about Tania driving in the dirt, trying to kill us, yes you did, no I didn't, somebody always takes things a bit too far, etc. We joked that these two legs were our Nate-by-proxy legs, since we were finally moving fast for the first time all day.
We sort of snuck into the final handoff zone. I explained to the race marshalls what we were doing and they recorded our skipped legs,so we would not get an official finish. Jack took off. Suddenly, there were fireworks. We simply assumed they were for our team, in honor of us starting the last leg. Tamar was getting cell phone calls every minute from her son, reporting on the women's Olympic marathon. The reports were somewhat sketchy, but they kept coming. Jack repeatedly turned down offers of water as he powered to the finish. The long rest had done him good.
Just under 14 hours after we'd started, Jack crossed the finish line, with the rest of us trying to keep up. We'd done about 87 miles or so in under 14 hours. It was an official DNF, but a lot of fun. We had some food, a beer, and then we needed to head home. It was late and everyone was tired.
Greg was riding shotgun. He didn't approve of Tania's driving. Tania was tired. She turned the wheel over to Tamar. Tamar has apparently raced mini-vans in the past. Greg appealed for Tania to return to the driver's seat. It was too late; Tania was asleep. Jack was asleep. The trip was a blur - fog, taillights, wormhole effects as our speed increased, etc.
When I finally got home after 1:00 a.m., I couldn't fall asleep. I ended up napping a lot of the day on Sunday. I took a rest day on Sunday and slept in this morning, but I'm going to lift (legs) tonight. I pushed hard for 19.5 total miles and I'm happy with my pace and effort. I will return to running tomorrow.
We'll see which of our team members are willing to return next year. I threatened to send out a training manual. Others threatened to use it as toilet paper. We've decided to ban business trips the week before the race. All illnesses and deaths in the family are similarly banned. With new rules in place, Captain Tania may have a hard time filling out a roster next year. But, I'm stupid enough to sign up again.