Sunday, September 14, 2008

Reach the Beach

The Red Eye Runners successfully completed our 4th Reach the Beach Relay covering over 200 miles in the beautiful state of New Hampshire. This was the 10th Anniversary of Reach the Beach, and the race staff deserve a lot of credit. I am always amazed at the logistics involved with safely moving 350 teams from the start in New Hampshire's White Mountains to the coast at Hampton Beach. The conventional RTB team has 12 members to cover 36 relay legs with each leg covering 2.5 to 9.5 miles in length. Most teams have 2 large 12 passenger vans to transport team members with Van 1 covering legs 1-6, 13-18, and 25-30. Van 2 covers the other 18 legs. The teams are responsible for meeting all safety requirements - headlamps, safety vests, etc. as well as crew support (food, fluids, etc.). It truly is a team effort.

Our team is led by Captain Bill Gaghan who puts countless hours into preparing the team for the race. He's thought of everything from excel spreadsheets with our predicted times to inspirational soundtracks for our vans. The van assignments are critical for our team as each van has developed it's own personality: The F'em van is as you might imagine is comprised of a bunch of professional, married guys that have the weekend away to play. They can be a bit crude and badger the heck out of eachother along the way, but they are really great friends just blowing off some steam. The Serenity Van is made up of the other folks - generally folks that are not associated with the core group of runners. Since they don't know eachother as well, they are generally very polite and enjoy eachothers company for the weekend. I, somehow, have ended up in the Serenity Van. It's fine with me because I get to chat with folks that I don't know or don't see very often.

Our team is not fast in terms of being able to win, but it doesn't really matter. We do it for fun and to see how we can do both individually and as a group. Even if we don't win, it's always fun to see how we place in our group and to try to break our personal records. This year, we were 131 out of about 350 teams overall and we were 5th out of 6 teams on the Male Masters. It's not really fair as we have 4 lovely ladies on our team (you need 6 women for a mixed team), but we don't really run it for competitive reasons. At least I don't anyway...

I think we run for the memories and friendship. The true commraderie that I see is unmatched. It was great fun to have Dawn and The Goat on the team this year. The team welcomed them with open arms. I enjoy running this race because it allows me to stay connected with some good friends...people that I don't get to see on a regular basis. If it wasn't for this race, I fear that I would lose contact with most of them.

The routine has become "old hat" at this point. We meet near work to load the vans, drive halfway to Paul and Flo's place on the lake, and stop for dinner. We arrive near midnight and scramble for a place to sleep. I usually sleep on the porch to enjoy the cool September air. Bill gives his pre-race speech and introduces all the team members, and we talk about the game plan for the next 48 hours.

The next morning we pack up and head for the start. This year, I heard Stan and Pete swimming when I awoke at 6:30AM. I was impressed. Pete said the water was great, so I had to jump in. Yee haa!

The start of the race is always a big party. You see teams clad in all kinds of costumes - the Cavemen/women, the Tutu girls, the Dyno-mite team, the A-team (fashioned after the old TV show with Mr. T), etc. After check-in, we decorate our van with markers, lights, etc. Some teams get very creative. It's so much fun!

Dawn started us off this year. Teams start in groups of 15 every 30 minutes. The start time is based on your expected finish time. Our start was 11AM which put us in the middle of the pack. We were happy to be in the thick of things as last year we were bringing up the rear.

Dawn ran a great leg finishing within 30 seconds of her predicted time and the Goat ran a spectacular leg 2 putting us ahead of our predicted finish time by about 20 minutes. I ran a slower than predicted leg 3 as I had a terrible headwind the whole way. Besides, it was 3.8 miles and I'm no sprinter. Anyway, I won't go through all 36 legs...but suffice it to say we ran according to plan and never missed a hand-off. We had a great time, and I was pleased with my 3 legs. I was able to run a faster pace on my last 2 legs even though they were double the mileage and more hilly - go figure! I guess it takes me awhile to warm up.

At the end, Paul ran us across the finish line and Bill gave us our finisher medals and shirts on the beach as we do every year. Mission accomplished one more time.

Were we uncomfortable at times? yes, did we get on eachother's nerves at times? sure, was there a lot of waiting? of course... Would I trade it for anything else? No Way!

I slept in the van, I slept on the ground...I ate, I swam, I ran, I talked and laughed with new and old friends. Friends...we are all very different and some didn't know eachother at all prior to the race, but one thing brought us all together: running. Running was our common denominator. In fact, it was THE common denominator for everyone in the race. It enabled us to make instantaneous friendships with anyone we cared to chat with during the race. Running is a means to connect despite being a very individual sport. Even the folks that do not run rally around those of us that do. Why is that? I think the effort of running evokes a respect and admiration from others...a respect based on wanting to enjoy life, adventure, and maintain a level of fitness. I always try to encourage the other runners that I pass or that pass me. I think it bonds us momentarily and may give us a needed lift. I made sure to do it with everyone I encountered this year.

Reach the Beach 2008 was a great success. We interview each team member on video after they finish their leg, and Flo and Paul make a DVD for later viewing. After my last leg this year, I was so happy. I looked in the camera and said something to the effect of "Red Eye Runners forever...RTB every year until we die..."

Wouldn't that be something?!!

Happy trails!

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