Farewell Tour (whatever JH!) #BRR2011 #BlueRidgeRelay

29 hours 48 minutes and 15 seconds after sending Jason M. off down the Grayson Highlands mountaintop start we finished up in Asheville 100% intact with the fanfare that John deserved in his “last Blue Ridge Relay ever!”  If you believe that you will have no problem sending me $1,000,000 so I can help educate the needy in a 3rd world country.  This time was good enough for 64th out of 120 teams, an 8:36 overall pace and 11th out of 18 Ultra (6 or less) teams.

I always put off writing this post every year because there is an odd post-race blues period where you realize it is over and it is likely a year before you get to run an event this cool again.  It is also hard to sit down and write because I find it difficult to organize my thoughts into meaningful compartments – even more so than on a normal day.  Here it goes.

Pre-Race Picture

First, a word about our sponsor:  KT Tape.  This company responded to one of my tweets (which I truly believe is the sign of a company dedicated to their customers) and within days offered to sponsor us with shirts and tape for the race.  Most of us were veteran’s of KT Tape usage largely due to the small ailments that come with age.  The shirts were super cool and looked great at the start, the finish and in between stages where we weren’t too lazy just to be ok sitting around in our old sweaty running clothes from the last leg.  We used both the standard KT Tape which was offered in Purple, Lime Green and Black and was more of a Fabric-based tape.  This stuff worked great as usual.  You put it on and you always tend to wonder: “What’s this going to do for me – I can hardly feel it on me.” Then you stand up and you get it – the skin pulls away a bit from the muscle and it feels like blood flow in that area is enhanced.  We did use the synthetic version of the tape but we all agreed we missed having the pre-cut strips down the center of the tape strip in the event you wanted to apply in different ways.  Without scissors, this made using it for the variety of applications we used it for more difficult.  Oddly, when ripping off a strip from the roll with this tape it tended to not rip cleanly leaving some of the strings hanging.  We also learned that if you don’t apply the tape on clean and alcohol-rubbed body parts the chances of it sticking for a leg of the race were slim.  Baby wipes were not the same as a shower and alcohol application.  We knew this going in and they folks that applied their tape prior to starting any running had tape on 29 hours later.  Those that didn’t often didn’t have tape on at the end of their leg.  Again, we knew this but thought some baby wipes and extra hard rubbing (friction) to get it to stick would overcome.  Great sponsor, company and concept.  BUY THEIR PRODUCTS!

Pictures: There’s a “Bermuda Triangle” occurrence in effect at this race.  In my 6 years at this race I am pretty sure I don’t have a single documented photo from our team between legs 20 and 28.  These legs take place from roughly 10pm and 4am.  A camera is the last thing that we think of I suppose.  In actuality, it is pretty amazing that we don’t have a complete breakdown in van driving at this point.  Simply getting to the next exchange zone is commendable, but I’d love to have more pictures of the amazingness of this race at night.  If you are interested a link to our pictures is at the bottom of this post.

Van Ripeness:  Every time I pick up the van for this event I wonder how they get a relatively used van (31k miles) to smell so new and be so clean?  Every time I turn it in I wonder how will they ever get this god awful dirty shoes, mildewy clothes, burp, fart, sweat, gatorade smell out of this van?  This mystery becomes more amazing to me each year of the event.  The odd part is that it isn’t until the day after the race that I realize how truly bad the smell was.

Nemesis:  For me, Leg 20 from the Green Valley Fire Department to the Mount Carmel Baptist Church.  Sounds innocuous, right?  Wrong. My Garmin shows nearly 1200 feet of climbing just under 4 miles of this 6.7 mile leg.  That’s steep.  I ran it in 69 minutes.  That’s short bus slow.  Let me be clear:  that’s walking nearly the entire set of hills except when a van was passing me – then, and only then, my pride wouldn’t let me walk.  I don’t know what it is about this leg but each year when I reach it I am woefully unprepared.  It is my shortest turnaround from the prior leg (just over 2 hours) but 10 minute miles still do not add up…it makes getting closer to a 7 minute pace for this race a tall order much less the barely sub-8 minute miles I achieved.

Post-Race What-ifs:  I don’t have a lot of remorse for my performance or for the performance of our team.  I would like to run the race from front-to-back without walking during one leg.  I think that’s worth between 5-10 minutes of total time of our race for me alone.  I would like to be more strategic with my eating.  Literally just after finishing my 6th and final leg of the race I read an article in Men’s Health about needing few calories than one would think to complete this race.  Sometimes timing is everything.  This article discussed that a diet lower in solid food and not exceeding your normal daily calorie intake on a high output day is enough for peak performance.  This could be an area of improvement for next year.  Sleep in the first 12 hours of the race is a mandatory improvement for next year.  Being awake for 22 hours straight with the exception of a cat nap around noon was unacceptable and impacted my performance in the early night stages.  Otherwise, I’d bring less food, more salty foods, and drink less Gatorade early into the event.

Pet Peeve Time:  Aside from the normal race chatter which annoys the snot out of me about running events (you know what I mean: “what pace do you plan to run?” or “how you feeling?” or “are you ready for this?” or “tell me about those shoes”) the only minor peeve I can come up with regarding this event is the growing trend for teams to log “Kills” or “Road Kills” on the side of their van with van markers.  These are referring to the numbers of runners they have passed since starting the race.  I don’t care for this.  I think it is poor sportsmanship and is outwardly looking to take something away from others who are achieving great goals too.  Unless you are prepared to take my name off your list when I pass you later (which most teams don’t do) and ask me on the way by whether I’m running in the same category (most teams writing this on their vans are speedy, but also full sized teams which means they get nice breaks between runs, hydration and fuel are not a concern and running 18-24 miles over the course of the event is a good bit different than running every 3 hours or so until you’ve completed the event) then you seem to be rubbing it in my face that you are running faster than me.  In the history of any running race, only one person gets the honor of standing in front of the field and if they choose to, could say they were the best and fastest.   The difference in this is, that one person rarely says anything arrogant or that would take away from the accomplishment of others.  Running is not about the elite, while they are amazing, they aren’t as inspiring as the everyday running person who puts in their best to get a PR or place in their age group.  A little sportsmanship goes a long ways.  Having little sportsmanship doesn’t.

I have vacated my soap box.  I have not vacated my spot on this great team – here’s hoping to no one else does either (ahem John!).  If for nothing else, for the great quotes that come from being stuck in a van for 35 hours with good people (“I don’t know what’s more annoying, Sutton’s endless burps or the fact that Whitney continues to be shocked by it.” -Anonymous 3rd Runner).  Until next year, enjoy the pictures.  I’ll log a follow-up post to capture my food log for this race.

Finished!

Click here for a slideshow of our 2011 BRR race.

Thanks again KT Tape – you were very kind and supportive with your sponsorship of us!

Less than 14 hours and counting…

Only 14 more hours and we’ll be off and running!  Team KT Tape, or is it Team 4tunate (to have 2 more runners), er, is it Team Snuggie?  Team names are overrated.  What matters is we are as ready as we are going to be to roll along the countryside for 29-30 hours in a van while one poor schlep hoofs it on foot from checkpoint to checkpoint.

As in the last 5 years, we know that excitement will be very high at 3:30 in the morning when we depart, remain high until about 4:10 when everyone except driver and co-pilot conk out on their respective bench seats, then excitement will only be high for driver and co-pilot until the rest rise around sunrise and we start to remember how real the hills in the mountains really are.  From there excitement turns to fear, then back to excitement when we remember the first leg is all downhill anyways.  About leg 8 we will ask in a fun-loving way, “why are we doing this again?”.  About leg 18 we will ask in a less-fun-loving way, “Why are we doing this again?” except the answer will blame an individual.  About leg 28 we will ask 2 questions: 1) “When is the sun coming up” or maybe “is it dark for this long each night?” and 2) “why are we doing this again?” except blame will be fully agreed upon and that person will no longer receive the kind of support the other 5 people do.  Finally at leg 36 in Asheville, everyone except for that poor last runner will be loving life again and talking about the first meal (little does the team know that I strategically position myself to drive so I can strategically position our first stop at a Bojangles!).  The finish occurs, elation ensues and wraps up about 8 minutes later and then the team without comment will walk back to the van and all head for Charlotte.  Little will be said except for the standard agreement that we will not discuss the prospect of returning for 30 days when sanity sets back in without bias.

All of this is true and yet we ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS EVENT!!!  Lots to do.  To the start…

If you are running in the race – you’ll know who we are by the team wearing these shirts.

Sponsorship! #blueridgerelay

That’s right – sponsored!  And by one of our team’s favorite running products.  KT Tape.  When John runs he nearly coats himself in this stuff.  The only way it would get more use by him is if they offered a paint-on application.  Bottom line is this company is a big supporter of great athletic events, offer a fantastic product and best I can tell, has some great people working for the company.

This tape works – it alleviates aches/pains experienced during exercise and although I’m no expert, it seems to help performance and post-race recovery.  I use it mostly for achilles tendonitis on both my left and right leg (an application that is mostly around the heel of the foot with a longer piece running up the bottom of the leg from the heel) and for calf strain on my right leg (2 pieces vertically and horizontally across the leg).  During my longer runs I think about how funny it would be to put a stripe of it across my forehead…that may be humor reserved for higher mileage outings as it admittedly doesn’t seem as funny while typing.

Typically I go black on black for the colors but do like the idea of taping up with god’s colors (Orange and Blue).  The site has some great videos on how best to apply .  Once applied, I’ve worn it in the shower, for all 6 legs of the Blue Ridge Relay, and I have seen people wear it while swimming.  Give this stuff a try.  I’m not just saying this because they are kind enough to support our team in this year’s event either.  It just plain works.

Next post:  Food/energy management (why do I procrastinate on this topic?).

Team Names are Overrated. Food/Nutrition/Energy Isn’t.

Team Low Hanging Fruit.  Team 4tunate.  Team 4tunate (to have 2 more runners.  Actual names of our Blue Ridge Relay team in the past years.  Low Hanging Fruit was a nod to mid-90s corporate speak.  Still funny even today.  Even funnier when I hear it being referenced in a sentence these days at work.  I have made a promise to myself to just walk out and come back the next day if I ever hear it in a sentence at work with “40,000 foot level”.

Team 4tunate was a nod to our back-to-back years of running the race with a 4-person team.  We also had strong thoughts about getting more altruistic with our running.  In fact, I still spend a great deal of time thinking about how to make this a reality.  But seriously, do we have so few friends that running it not once, but TWICE, made sense?  I remember a Starbuck’s post-run coffee with the other 3 team members where we rationalized how being in a van for 30+ hours warranted a significant effort.  The kind of effort you’d remember.  I remember sleeping downstairs afterwards because I couldn’t make it upstairs.  I remember taking the bus to work because I couldn’t drive a stick for a few days afterwards…

Team 4tunate (to have 2 more runners) was a nod to the return of sensibility.  I remember how easy the race seemed the first year we ran with 6 again.  That memory has long since faded.  6, in my humble opinion, is still the perfect team size.  One van, everyone except the driver gets to sprawl on a bench.  All good.

Now this year…I think officially we are registered as Team Snuggie.  This seemed like a great idea back in February/March.  The start line pictures of all of us in Snuggies at the time made it seem even funnier.  The practicality of the Snuggie throughout the night stages also seemed too good to pass up.  I’d even be interested in the night picture with all of us in it with the reflective vests on…but I’m not sure the name will stick.  That is, unless we fail to come up with something better.  Any ideas?

Next post?  Food, Nutrition, Energy, Hydration and my plan to have a plan for these great concepts this year…

You Can Set Your Watch By It

It’s August and that means running focus for at least 6 runners I know and likely 120 teams worth of Blue Ridge Relay-entered runners shifts to the 2-state run through the mountains in September.  We return in 2011 with the same exact team as 2010 running the same exact legs (a leg is a stage of the 36-stage relay race).  Creatures of habit?  Nah… We thought about switching it up but the BRR is definitely not a place where familiarity breeds contempt.  More like the opposite as there is something comforting about running some impossible hill in the back woods of a town you’ll likely never drive through in daylight much less run through in the dark outside of this race.  For those wanting to know about one of the fellow teams you will be competing against here is our data:

  • Years of Blue Ridge Relay (BRR) experience:  5 (this is our 6th consecutive run)
  • Average age of our team:  36.8 years of age
  • Average years of BRR experience:  3.7 years
  • # of Vegetarians on the team:  2 (up 1 from last year)
  • Are we sponsored?  Yes – Thanks KT TAPE for your support this year!!!
  • Will we be bringing our Mascot (“Dualie – the 6-wheeled van”)?  That’s the plan!
Our lineup (in leg order with links where available to their runner profiles from last year):
  1. Jason M – Charlotte (6th year of BRR)
  2. Jason S – Fort Mill (6th year of BRR)
  3. John H – Waxhaw (5th year of BRR)
  4. Cindy S – Fort Mill (2nd year of BRR this writer’s better half)
  5. Alex S – Fort Mill (3rd year of BRR)
  6. Whitney T – St. Louis, MO (6th year of BRR)
So, what’s so special about this race and why do we like it so?  Read this.
What do I need to know about the legs and how do they break down for our 6 runners you ask?  Read this.
Tell me more about each leg please – check out our cue sheets.
Are there rules to this race?  What about unwritten rules?  Glad you asked.  Read this.  
In an ideal world I keep regular posts coming in advance of the race.  More to come here.

2010 Blue Ridge Relay – Post-race Wrap-up (#1?)

Before

After

This entry has been delayed long enough.  It is time to capture the annual post-race wrap-up.  I found myself delaying this post because I think I really don’t want it to be officially over (until next year).  What a fun event we had.  Like hiking, running the Blue Ridge Relay on an ultra team (6 or less runners) is a great opportunity to find what you are made of. A test. An accomplishment. Never did I think we would not finish this race – not even close. But you do have those moments while running where you have to pep talk your way through the pain, high heart rate, impossibly steep hill (truly mountains), stomach problems, fatigue or whatever else might be causing more discomfort than you would feel on a normal 10 mile run.  There is little normal about this event.  36 legs. 208 total miles. Our team of 6 runners ran between 30 and 43 miles per runner averaging 5-7 miles per leg.  The challenge is rarely in the leg distances but in the ability to keep up a regimen in between each leg. Run. Stretch. Hydrate (replenish). Eat. Change Clothes. Rest (ideally sleep). Change Clothes. Hydrate. Repeat.  Somewhere in there you may volunteer or be volunteered to drive the van from exchange zone to exchange zone, go fetch another runner from the exchange zone and escort them back to the van or socialize with other teams.  Each run past the first leg for each runner starts out the same.  Slowly and with some stiffness or soreness.  Slowly your stride returns, your body finds the flow and your mind gets the luxury of wandering in any direction you choose.  Thoughts like “what will I eat when I finish?”, “is that van coming up behind me and will it be our team van?”, “other than the obvious, what cures the ‘sloshing belly’?”, “is that barking dog on a leash?”, “is that a building in the fog or just thicker fog in the shape of a building”?, “did I really just step over beaver roadkill?” are not uncommon.  Honestly, how unlucky are you if you are a beaver and get hit/killed by a car?  Never did I question my reason for being out there running my 20th, 30th or 40th mile but oddly never did I have a great reason for running this event either.  Maybe it is camaraderie?  I would love to know whether others have deep-rooted reasons for running this relay and what they are.

Well, no shock I have digressed a touch.  Let’s talk stats, data and improvement ideas for Team 4tunate:

  • This was our 5th time running the Blue Ridge Relay:
    • 2006: 6-person mixed team: 30 hours 58 minutes (team name was originally “Low Hanging Fruit”)
    • 2007: 4-man team: 32 hours 8 minutes
    • 2008: 4-man team: 32 hours 38 minutes (by the way, the definition of ‘dumb’ in the dictionary is repeating a 208 mile relay with a 4-man team).
    • 2009: 6-person mixed team: 32 hours 01 minute
    • 2010: 6-person mixed team: 30 hours 12 minutes (our best to date!)
  • We have spent these hours in a “Dualie” van for 3 of the 5 races.  Yes, this has become our mascot.
  • Having a great sponsor like Mountain Khakis who equipped us with race leisure wear was too cool!  They make some super quality stuff!
  • Cold Chef Boyardee is the most popular post-run food of choice.  We brought 7 bananas and returned home with 2.  We brought like 80 Chef Boyardees and returned home with 2.
  • Women like to run in clean outfits for every leg run.  Not so much for the men.
  • It takes 2 hours and 25 minutes to reach Grayson Highlands from Uptown Charlotte (I write this so we can officially reference it next year).
  • 3 year old van markers are too old to use.
  • Zero air fresheners were used in our van.  That is too little.
  • Bojangles Mac-n-Cheese tastes better after the end of a long sleep-deprived run.
  • Every year at least 4 blinky lights will be found in the van prior to returning it.
  • Gas for the Dualie costs roughly $110 for the trip.
  • No matter how many bagels are purchased it is always too many.  Same goes for Bananas and Bars.
  • A loaded potato in the middle of the night after running 4 legs is a little bit of heaven.  Next year get 2 of them.
  • 0 race number belts is 1 too few – pinning numbers to clean shirts is a drag.
  • Some runners (think rookie) have requested mace for the night-time legs for the imagined serial killers.
  • 1 Snuggie was 5 Snuggies to few in our van.  Team Snuggies instead of shirts next year?
  • A car AC/DC adapter should be a race requirement.
  • Whitney wears a women’s MEDIUM, not small.  Her tallness made the team shirt look like a belly shirt.
  • Speaking of belly shirts, our van ruled that this attire is not appropriate for any of the men on our team (as a minimum standard).

I am sure there are many other relevant stats and learnings and will be adding to this list as I remember them.

As we emerge from the race we enter an official team “quiet period”.  This means noone can officially opt-in or opt-out of next year’s event.  I know where I sit (IN!) but your brain is not qualified to make a rationale, balanced choice in the days immediately following the race.

I also want to spend some time memorializing my fellow Team 4tunate runners:

  1. JMart – this guy is sneaky fast and crazy sweaty.  I secretly think he’s trying to de-throne John for sweatiest runner I have ever known.  One thing is for sure, he’s never seen a spot not worthy of a bathroom.  He also pulled some monster driving shifts this year in the wee hours of the night.  He is to be heralded.
  2. Jasut – this guy likely talks a bit too much.  He definitely does so too often without thinking.  His ship was loose for most of the trip and rarely could he get into or exit the van without having to ask someone to pass something to him.  If an article has been abandoned somewhere in the van it is his.  He remains married even when doubters thought inviting his wife to join the team might change this fact.  There’s nothing sneaky about this Jason – you can hear him from miles away.
  3. Johnny – John is an efficient speaker. Direct. His running is steady from start to finish and so is his running prep.  The only member of the team to mimic his race legs down to the mile in training. He sleeps with a sheet over his face. Occasionally he will snore.  In violation of our “quiet period” team policy, he proclaims this is his last BRR – we’ll see about that.
  4. Cindy – Rookie. Steady. Strong. Shockingly undisturbed by most of what the newness of this race threw at her.  She changed clothes while her husband held a towel around her (what does she do on a team without me?). She is no longer friends with leg 22.  She wore clean running clothes for each leg.  She needs to embrace the rejuvenating power of baby powder – mocking it will get you nowhere.  She introduced the “Snuggie” to the team.  Jaw-dropping.
  5. Alex – machine-like in his running.  Go fast.  Repeat.   His demeanor is unwaveringly positive and his running is quick.  Alex brings a calm coolness to the team.  He’s never seen a river he won’t wander into.  He’s also a consummate professional competitor.  You need him on that wall.
  6. Whitney – lean, mean running machine! Flow. Funny.  No one likes a good “Repent” sign more.  She runs a tight ship and asks little of anyone.  When she does ask for something people go out of their way to make sure she gets it.  She travels from St. Louis each year for this event – Mississippi Representin’!  Driving the Dualie may not be her thing (in my dreams I heard “stop, stop, stop, now go forward” repeated by JMart several times).

There will be more thoughts to come…until then enjoy this slideshow of pictures and these results!

IT IS ON!!!

With 5.5 hours until we wake, load into the Dualie (it’s officially baaaaccck!) and drive north to VA for a 7:30am start time I am excited to say it is on!  Take the image of me walking down Woodlawn from the Light Rail station in a full suit in 85 degree weather about 4:30pm ET as I approach the Dualie store (Adventure Vans on South Blvd in Charlotte) to bed with you.  Oh yeah, I had my laptop in hand but left the sticker reading “dork” back at the office.

I think the team is ready.  I only wish I would have practiced going to bed at 9:30 at night a bit more.  3am will come very early tomorrow.  Last point before putting down some food items we are bringing – we didn’t get to runner profiles for Runner #5 (“The Animal” Alex) and Runner #6 (“Push it” Whitney).  Will try to get these out there post race as they have good things to say…

Food we are bringing:

  • Peanut Butter/Banana/Honey sandwiches.
  • Processed pasta foods (raviolis, butter noodles, mac-n-cheese)
  • Bananas
  • Tx Pete Hot Sauce
  • Beans, Beans Good for your Heart!
  • Gum – mostly for that horrible Saturday morning van breath
  • Juice
  • G2 – when did Gatorade change its name.
  • Chocolate Milk – poor mans recovery drink.
  • Peanut M&Ms
  • Some water.
  • Peanut Butter
  • Peanuts
  • Starbucks powdered coffee mix (really??)
  • GU Gels

I love this race – looking forward to seeing some of the old faces from the race.  Wishing we had some clever van tactic that we could use with/against/as a game with the other teams (did I mention we do have the Dualie again?) and ready for some 40+ miles of running while we are out there!  Most of all I am looking forward to running out of the exchange zones in the dark of the night following some blinky that by that time and nearing mile 30 is typically shrinking into the dark ahead of me.

By the by – if you haven’t read Born to Run you truly need to do so – inspiring, fun and sick all at the same time.  Good night – until the start!