Wow! It just gets better every year!
The Red Eye Runners have completed the 2009 Reach the Beach Relay, and I enjoyed this race more than any of the other 4 we have run together (and those were great as well).
From a personal fitness standpoint, I felt less prepared for this race than any race I have ever run. My mileage has dropped to less than 20 miles per week over the past few months, so I didn't expect much in terms of great times. I was, however, very excited to spend a weekend with great friends.
Reach the Beach is a relay race that travels a little over 200 miles (207 this year) from Cannon Mountain, New Hampshire to the Atlantic Ocean at Hampton Beach. Teams are generally made up of 12 people, but there are some 4 and 6 person ultra teams as well. The 12 person teams generally rent 2 large 10 passenger vans for the weekend. With 6 people in each van, we cover the 207 miles with Van 1 covering legs 1-6, 13-18, and 25-30 and Van 2 covering legs 7-12, 19-24, and 31-36. Each leg varies in length from approximately 2 miles to almost 10 miles. It's a big caravan-like party for 24+ hours with over 400 teams participating this year. You can imagine the logistics of pulling off a race like this one, and I am annually amazed at how well it all comes off.
The core crew, Captain Bill, Tim, Paul, and Ken, are all former colleagues of mine from work. They still get together for lunchtime runs, and both support and harass eachother on a daily basis. They are truly a band of brothers. Bill, Tim, and Paul's wives are part of the team: Tammy, Jane, and Flo are all members of my van (The Serenity Van) as well as Bill's two buddies from grad school, Pete and Stan (The Man). Van 1 (The F'em Van) includes Bill, Tim, Paul, and Ken as well as Tim's buddy, Rich, who runs with the group on weekends, and my good buddy, Goat (Kevin), who has been a substitute runner for the past 2 years...but I believe her has earned a permanent spot on the team now.
The race is held on a Friday-Saturday each year in mid-September, and it goes something like this...
We all meet on Thursday after work and load up the 2 vans for the drive north. We stop for a quick bite to each and then spend the night at Paul and Flo's cottage on the banks of Lake Winnipesaukee. Captain Bill provides runner introductions to get us all psyched up as we sign our waiver forms, and then gives a short pep talk. We laugh and tell stories and then head off to our respective corners to sleep. I usually sleep on the porch to enjoy the cool air and sound of the loons on the water.
I'm awoken by the sound of Pete and Stan going for their morning swim in the frigid lake (I went for a swim last year and it took me hours to get warm afterwards). We quickly re-load the vans and head off to a local stop for egg sandwiches and coffee on our way to the White Mountains. At Cannon Mountain, Captain Bill goes through the pre-race registration process as we all mill around checking out the race freebies and RTB clothing sales. There is an endless stream of super fit people doing silly things as we are all amped up for a great run. While we wait for the Captain, I usually find a couple running friends in the crowd and this year was no exception. I ran into Bruce and Mark from VT100 training, and wished them luck.
We take our pre-race photos are try to capture silly poses that will bring lasting memories. I am amazed that the women runners seem to outnumber the men this year. We head back to the van to apply the annual "Red Eye Runner" labels. Teams get crazy with decorating their vans and it's fun to see how creative people can be with a few markers and blow ups.
We head back to the starting line, and runner number 1 (Rich) shivers in the cold air as we wait for the countdown. Teams start in groups of 20 or so every 20 minutes, and we were off and running at 11:20AM on Friday. Go Rich!
After 5 years, you get into a routine. Van 2 quickly heads off to Vehicle Transition Area Number 1 and wait for Van 2 to complete their first 6 legs. We eat lunch, socialize, and try to keep the van organized. At some point, our first runner (me) starts to get ready for his leg.
My first leg this year was 7.25 miles which is about a normal run for me. Bill usually predicts our finish times for each leg, and it gives us something to shoot for in terms of results. We also try to track the number of "kills". A "kill" is when you pass another runner on your leg. In four years running, I have only been passed twice, and I did not want to add to that number this year.
With all 11 team members cheering me on, I started my first of 3 legs. Go Red Eye!
I decided to not wear a watch this year, since I lost my Garmin Forerunner and my normal running watch had a dead battery. I found it rather relaxing to not be worrying about my finish time. I ran based on feel, and after 30+ years of running, I know my pace pretty well. I know how hard a can push myself and still have something left for the next leg. The weather had been playing games with us all day, but decided to get nice for my leg. I ran the rolling 7.25 miles from Attitash ski area to Echo Lake Sate Park in North Conway trying to shed the work week with each step. I chatted briefly with a female runner as I passed her. She had a very good pace going and we surmised that we were about halfway through the leg. I passed about 5 runners on this seemingly endless stretch of road, and I kept waiting to see the turn for Echo Lake. I finally saw Cathedral Ledges (great granite crack climbing), and knew I was less than 2 miles away. With a moderate kick to the finish, I handed off to Stan and did my post-race interview with Flo. Flo records our comments after each leg, and a post-race video is provided each year. One leg complete!
Onward we pushed! At the ice skating rink, we used zamboni "snow" to fill the cooler, and Tammy was off and running on her leg. Tammy had to wear a reflective vest and headlamp as it was starting to get dark. After Flo, Pete, and Jane completed their legs, we handed the baton back to Van 1 and headed back to the cottage to catch a couple hours sleep. We are lucky the race course goes near their cottage at that point in the race.
We woke before midnight and I got dressed for my expected 2AM start time. A phone call from Van 1 confirmed they were running about 20-30 minutes ahead of schedule, so I needed to be ready to run by 1:30AM. Stan and Pete kept me company at the start while the ladies tried to catch some sleep. I shivered in the wind waiting for the hand-off from Goat. Most runners were wearing long sleeve shirts and I questioned whether my skinny body would be OK in short sleeves. Nevertheless, the temp was mid-fourties, so I knew I would be OK after a mile or so.
The Goat looked tired as he handed off to me and I wondered if he was still happy he joined the team this year. Few words were exchanged as I ran off into the dark. Most people think it's crazy to run at 2AM, but it's the leg I usually enjoy the most. This year, my leg was only 4.4 miles, and I was truly disappointed by the short duration. I decided to run this leg hard since my first leg was a bit off pace (although I was quite pleased with 6:40ish pace) considering my fitness level. After a mile or less of uphill, I cruised a long downhill with a few bumps along the way. There weren't many runners to pass, but I did manage to catch a few. It's always fun to see a headlight in the distance. After a pretty easy leg, I was pleased to see that my time was within 20 seconds or so of my predicted time. Yeah! I felt good!
After changing into dry clothes, I slept in the van for part of Stan's and Tammy's legs. Sorry guys, I needed it! Note: Stan had the toughest individual leg for our van and possibly for the race (although Rich had a mother of a leg as well). After waking, I drove the van while Flo ran and Pete prepared for his leg. We usually stop halfway on every leg to provide water/gatorade, and moral support to our runners. Flo carries her own water, so we just cheer her on when shes runs. We rolled on into the dawn of day, and Jane was running in full sunlight for her second leg. We handed off to Van 1 in the early morning, and went off to find a Dunkin Donuts for obvious reasons. After the DD stop, we drove to the next transition zone, and I found a nice spot for my sleeping bag under a shade tree. The transition zones turn into tent cities in the early mornings as people do anything they can to get some sleep. I dozed on an off as van doors slammed in the background.
Around noontime, I prepared for my leg and then stood in the porta-potty line for and endless amount of time. My last leg was 6.7 miles, and I took some Ibuprofen (vitamin I as Dawn refers to it) to ease the pain in my aching legs. Van 1 arrived, so I knew the Goat was getting close. At this point, Van 1 has completed their race, and are happy and excited to cheer us on. The beach is not far now! I take the baton, and hear my teammates cheer in the background. With adrenaline pumping, I sprint off to catch the first few runners in front of me. I know I've run this leg in the past (year 1), but don't remember all the details...I know there is a hill at mile 3 and then a big downill to a turn at mile 4, then rolling terrain to the finish. I run hard as there are many people to catch and I have no reason to hold anything in reserve. There's plenty of beeps and cheers as vans go by and people cheer on the side of the road. Everytime someone yells "Looking good", I dig down deeper for more.
Van 1 passes me as I cruise up the big hill. When I hit the big downhill, I see my Serenity Van teammates going crazy...dancing and screaming with music blaring. I had made a special request for super cheers and these guys were exceeding all expectations! It was a special moment, and I soaked in every second of it. I love this team! How often do people over 40 get to act like teenagers again? I ran down the hill with my arms over my head and my head in the clouds!
I ran onward, passing runner after runner, and admiring the beautiful farm country around me. Beauty all around me as our inspirational leader, Rich, would say...
I was so happy as I handed the baton to Stan. My leg was complete, and life was perfect!
We rolled onward toward the beach. As each runner finished their last leg, the smiles grew. You could smell the salty air, and we filled our bellies with food and laughter. We cheered Jane as she ran the last leg toward the beach. We were stuck in traffic for some time, so my teammates made a run for it to meet Jane and the rest of the team as I parked the van. It's tradition to all run across the finish line together.
The race was over, and we shared our post race meal and told stories of our final legs. On the beach, Captain Bill provided us with our t-shirts and post-race medals. We put our feet in the water, and prepared for the ride home. It was time to re-join society again.
As I pondered the weekend, I thought about why I enjoyed this race so much. These are my conclusions...
These are my friends. They have no expectations of me other than for me to have a good time. There is no pressure to do anything other than complete my leg, and they would be there to pick me up if I couldn't fulfill my task. They are interested in hearing about my life as I am to hear about their past year. It's a time to catch up with others and to reflect on life. It's a barometer for our aging bodies as we try to maintain a level of fitness. As each year goes by, the runners seem to get younger, but our finishing times remain a constant.
It's another chance for me to brag about my grand daughter too! Maliyah is awake now and ready to have some fun with GRAMPY! She hit the caps lock just then, so it's time to finish this entry.
Bottom line: The Reach the Beach Relay and the Red Eye Runners are one of the best things in life, and I am so happy that this event and these friends are in my life every year!
Until 2010....Go Red Eye Runners!