Reach The Beach 2010
Going into June, I had secured too many runners for the 2010 Reach the Beach Warriors team. By July, I was short by five.
The Warriors took a mini trip to Utica, NY to partake in the Boilermaker (15k) on July 11. Kevin came into NYC and we met up with MK and John that Friday afternoon and started brainstorming some recruitment potentials. Dee was the first name to pop up on the list along with Ben. That gave us 7 runners. But we needed 9 to be comfortable and 10 was the magic number I was looking for. Lauren and Sara came into Manhattan that evening for drinks. Sara was one of the sudden drops. Ok sure, she had a good excuse. But that didn’t change the fact that everyone was sad she wasn’t going to make it this year. If you look back in this post, you’ll see she was injured last minute last year and couldn’t run then either. =(
Everyone left that weekend back to normal life with the mission to find our team 3 more runners. The main qualifier (besides having free time, $300, and being crazy enough to do this event) was chemistry. Who would make this trip more awesome than it already is? Who has a positive personality and could handle the stress of what we were about to undertake? What were we about to undertake?
Oh, yeah, in case you don’t already know… Reach The Beach is a 200+ mile relay race that takes a team of runners about 30 hours to accomplish straight through, taking turns running individual legs (36 in total). We start in Franconia, NH and end at Hampton Beach, NH. Great crazy fun.
After a few emails, we suckered, er… I mean recruited Syed, Kara, and Erin (aka Lady Southpaw) . I should note that Kara came all the way from Denver, CO. Syed handed me cash immediately excited to jump in, and Erin dragged her feet forever, not knowing what kind of wackos she’d end up spending the weekend with. Hopefully she now thinks we’re the best kind of wackos.
Erin may have been late to sign up, but she was early to my apartment Thursday morning. Together we fought Brooklyn traffic to get to the Dunkin Donuts on Atlantic and 4th ave to pick up Ben, and Syed. On the way I received a text.
SYED: Your breakfast is getting cold captain
ME: haha. did ben bring my shoes? (Ben offered to pick up my new shoes from JR for me.)
SYED: he forgot, we have to go to his place to get ur shoes. (Ok, so Syed has a reputation of not exactly telling the truth, and his legend would grow substantially on this trip. So I confirm).
SYED: yes! so we’ll be a lil late leaving bk. drive fast.
Ok so I still don’t believe him. So I call up Ben and ask him directly. “Yo dude. Did you really forget my shoes?”
“Yeah, actually I forgot them at the store but I left the keys at my apartment. So we have to go back to my place first.” Before he finishes his sentence I turn the van around.
“Hey I turned around. I’m just going to go get my old…”
“He turned around!! Ha ha ha!” I hear Ben yell to Syed. “Dude, I have your shoes, ha ha ha!”
So it’s going to be this kind of weekend, eh? Excellent.
After turning back around, picking up the two jokers, crossing a bridge and a tunnel, and showing my passport at the border, we entered NJ, rolled up to Sara’s house sans Sara =( and picked up Lauren. Seven hours later, we arrived in Franconia, NH. MK, aka Van Mama, left shortly after we did with John and Dee in tow. Her route took her through Boston where she picked up Kevin and Kara. We rendezvoused around 8:30 pm. It was the latest we had ever arrived at registration, but it all worked out still. Ben suffered through the 45 minute orientation and registration process with me and learned all the rules that he summarized quite succinctly to the team: “Don’t be a Jackass”.
A week earlier I switched our hotel booking because I found a last minute deal that turned out to be pretty damn sweet. We got 3 rooms. One with a King and a sofa bed, another with two doubles, and a third with a king, a sofa bed and two bunk beds. Yup, bunk beds. Generally the team doesn’t split into boys and girls rooms, but that night we did. It was hilarious how the guys just gravitated to that room. All we needed was a Nintendo and a bean bag chair or two.
Our original start time was 1:20 PM. It would have been by far the latest we ever started. Teams are slotted based on estimated speed. And in general, we’ve come in over estimate. Mark, one of the event coordinators helped us out and slotted us for an 11:20 AM start time. It was a great stress reliever. The next morning we all awoke early, prepared, ate a nice breakfast, decorated the vans, and were off to send our lead Warrior, Kara, through the start shoot.
When we left Lincoln, the town where we were staying 10 minutes away, it was sunny. Franconia, the race start location, was wet and foggy. The slope where the starting gate was position was a muddy mess. The organizers required the runners to use the reflective vests and blinky lights for safety. Though kind of annoying to run with, it was definitely wise. Visibility was low.
Because we switched our starting time, the announcer didn’t call out “The Warriors” during team introductions. That was too bad. We got over it, but I’ll know next time to ask him ahead of time if this ever happens again. I took a mental note of some of the teams we were starting with. A few we would leave in our dust, and others would leave us in theirs. Radie’s Road Soda team started a couple hours before. Would we catch up? Would Coach Skinny’s Crew catch us as they had in the past? And I was hoping to see the A-Team out there at some point, but they were starting 2 hours after us and would have to make up some ground.
Kara took off and our race had begun! We piled into our assigned vans and headed for the course. The relay works like a batting order. I assigned each of our runners a slot that they had to stick with for the length of the race. With 10 runners, we had 5 in each van and 6 runners were assigned 4 legs while the remaining 4 runners had 3 legs. Kara, being number 1, had legs 1, 11, 21, and 31. John, in slot 6, was the first runner in our van (Van 2) and was the only runner in Van 2 with 4 legs. He would be crossing the finish line for the entire team in leg 36.
I usually want 4 legs during this event. I enjoy the dazed feeling after the third and horrid anticipation of doing it one more time. Love it. But As the pieces of our team fell together, I found a unique slot for myself that would prove quite challenging. Slot 7: The Three Legged Monster. In combination, these three were the hardest based on hills and distance. And memories of John carving through Leg 17 last year got me excited. It was definitely going to be a challenge.
Erin commented that she felt like a spectator until our van began its cycle as did Syed. I think it’s a common feeling for new participants. I knew the drill- the game of patience and the anticipation of our turn. Syed was so anxious. “What am I going to do for 8 hours? Can I run with other runners during their legs?” He was runner 10, last in the order. We drove the course and picked our strategic spots to support our teammates and cheer on other runners. Things didn’t start feeling real for the newbies until John took the slap bracelet baton about 4 hours into the race.
Our first shift had started. We chased John in the van to cheer, then to get me to the next transition area. My turn was up. John hustled down the road toward me and handed off the slap bracelet baton. So what was my goal? Well, I wanted to be faster than last year. Last year’s first leg was longer but easier. In the end I came out with the same pace of 6:47 and I was more or less happy with that. The real game became the kills. And the warriors became very skilled at picking runners off. Ben and Kevin tallied decent counts during their first legs. John’s record of 16 from last year was the target in my mind. He had just ran his leg and I think he tried telling me his tally, but I didn’t quite understand what he said. By the end of my leg, I had killed off 18. It was the first thing out of my mouth after sending Erin off on her leg. John replied, “I just passed 18 too!” A new team record had been established. And there was plenty of time to improve.
Before I started my leg, Lauren made a peculiar comment. “Shouldn’t we have the safety gear? We’re going to need it for Erin’s leg.” I think my response was, “Oh shit.” I had completely forgotten about the night gear. Normally we would already have the gear in our van, but the weather forced Van 1 to use it for the first few legs. As I was running my leg, the drama of the night gear unfolded. Van 2 sent Van 1 to the wrong transition area to meet. Van 1 was hungry and needed rest before their next cycle. Van 2 needed to support me with water and get Erin to the correct transition in time. And there was a mess of traffic. Van 1 arrived with the gear just as I was handing of the slap bracelet to Erin. She took off. Our plan was to make the exchange, drive up ahead of her, and dress her while she was running, all before the 5:30 PM cutoff. Sure, no problem. Crisis averted. I’m happy to say that is as dramatic as it got. A bit stressful, but we pulled it off together. I am sorry though, that because of said traffic, we were not able to stop for Erin again. I remember last year while stuck in traffic, John, who was running that leg, kept passing us on foot. We barely got Lauren there on time for the hand off. This year we made it with maybe 10 minutes to spare.
We continued cycling through our legs. Lauren’s leg had some treacherous inclines, but she was familiar with it and was strong… even if she says she isn’t. Don’t believe her. I mean, seriously, last year when she joined the warriors for the first time, she didn’t even consider herself a runner. Silly, isn’t it?
Syed’s time finally came. He ran us from dusk into darkness and to Transition 10 where Van 1 was waiting to take their second shift. We settled in for some sub-par pasta, then drove to our next van transition area- number 15, where we would begin again somewhere around 11:41 PM. Most of the team got a nap in which is good. I studied the transition areas, maps, and my handy speadsheet to find us an appropriate place to “sleep” for the night. In the past it had always been at transition area 18, where the Girl Scouts would dish out spaghetti and meatballs, but it just wasn’t making sense this year for us and our 10 person team. That made me a bit sad. Transition Area 24 would be the spot- a camp ground.
But we had a full van shift before then. I wandered the parking lot of Transition 15 on my own, stretching, rolling my quads, and just watching teams roll in and out. Who are we catching up to? Who’s catching us? It was fun watching the organized chaos in front of me. Shortly after Van 1 arrived, Ben spotted Radie and the Road Soda team. I was glad to see them. We are all on this big journey toward the beach- like a quest, and sometimes our paths cross. It kind of felt meant to be- destiny. I saw Katie on the course last year. And in years prior it was Coach Michael. It makes the whole thing more intimate somehow.
Our van stirred slowly, one at a time. Syed and Erin came out to say hi to Road Soda. John prepared for his leg. It was nearly midnight and we were off on our second shift.
John’s leg 16 began with a long steady incline that seemed to just keep going. He kept a steady pace and Syed and I waited for him at the top with water in hand. “No thanks,” John said as he passed.
“You’re a Warrior,” I whispered. We were in a quiet zone and were not allowed to cheer or make loud noises for the sake of the locals. We stopped one more time for him and again he refused water. His pace had picked up substantially- he was slaying this leg. We took off to the transition area and I readied myself for Leg 17: The Hills of Death.
So what was my goal? To run hard. Really hard. And I did. There were two large inclines to tackle and two fairly steep declines. My pace never faltered and I pushed through some serious side stitches. My breaths where deep and quick- my diaphragm was working overtime. It was a beautiful run in the beautiful night air. The last .3 miles were mean- an 80ish foot climb to the end. But waiting for me was Erin’s smiling face. She took the slap bracelet from my hand and charged into her second shift. I stumbled, out of breath, toward my teammates, feeling quite triumphant. On that leg, I passed 28 souls.
We piled into the van and tracked down Erin who had substantially increased her skill in the kills. She was strong throughout and by the end took down 8 runners and almost posted a sub 8 minute pace. Amazing. We were at Transition 18, home of the Girl Scout spaghetti. I looked longingly toward the doorway that lead to the pots of pasta and meatballs, but moved away quickly. Erin was speeding up the hill and Lauren was in place to start her leg. Just as quickly as we came in, we were out. Lauren only had 4.3 miles ahead of her and we needed to keep up.
We did a drive by whisper cheer for Lauren and moved toward Transition 19, where Syed would start what may be the hardest leg of them all- a 9.2 mile slog with 900 total feet of elevation gain. After our runner swap, we all climbed into the van and began climbing those hills after him. After running a stop sign in front of a cop and having said action pointed out by said cop and then being let go without a ticket, I found a spot to park and we waited for our Warrior to pass in the darkness. There were tons of runners on the road. This must have been a big convergence time. All the fast teams are passing us and anyone slower are getting passed by us. Syed killed a great number of runners, but was also passed quite a few times. It was always about this time of night, I remember, that we would be passed by the elite teams. Two years ago I heard New Balance yelling outside our van around 2 am that they lost track of where Hello Kitty was. Syed conquered that leg with great strength and lived to tell the tale.
It was about 3 AM and we were once again off shift. After sending off Kara and Van 1, we mounted van 2 and took off toward Transition 24. The next time we’d see Van 1 would be in daylight. It probably took nearly an hour to get to our destination due to traffic and a wrong turn. I think most of us got a couple hours of sleep. And soon I received a text from Ben. “Kevin just started. It’s 7:44 am”. That meant they were here. I stirred the others weren’t awake yet. We would have to get moving to make it to the next transition area in time. Just that quickly, we were on again. Tired, maybe cranky… I love this event.
We passed Kevin en route to Transition 25. John got in position once again, this time to begin our third shift. In the past couple years, Transition 25 was in a Fair ground. Now it was in a field where they stored the fair rides. But the volunteer parking guy wearing a pirate hat remembered us. “Hey, The Warriors! I know you!” We knew him too. This even has some pretty great volunteers. People who come back every year to help us out. People who are up through the night with us. People that put up with our shit. Here’s a shout out to you all and a big thanks.
John’s leg was boring. Even more boring than it was last year when he ran it. My leg was quite beautiful I thought, but man, I wasn’t recovered from Leg 17 yet. My abs were spasming throughout the night and my calves kept cramping up- sometime while I was driving which wasn’t exactly safe. And my shin was starting to ache like it had just after the NPT hike. I really laid it all out there on 17. I was relying on my body to make a comeback and it didn’t seem that it would at that point. I was struggling. But around 4 miles into my leg I started feeling better and I found a good pace that I could live with.
After my hand off, Erin had 5.3 miles left to show off her great running form. Lauren had 4 miles left to tell us how unprepared she was before running awesomely. And Syed… Syed had one more chance at glory. “This is the perfect course for a PR! I’m going to try and PR,” he said of his last leg of 5 kilometers.
“You know you’re body is quite taxed. It’s going to be harder than you think,” I advised. But I know what he was thinking and feeling. I would do the same in his spot and had done the same in my prior years at RTB. I ran the hell out of that last leg. Why not, right? It’s the last leg. I’ve never PRed though. I was always more exhausted than I realized. In the end I gave him some pacing advice and he was off.
And… Syed didn’t come anywhere near his PR. “That was rough.” Yeah, I’m sure it was. Way to gut it out though. You’re a champion Syed. We found Kara all alone at Transition 25. Since her leg was only 2 miles long, Van 1 took off before Syed’s arrival in fear of getting stuck in traffic. But we were there so she still got a proper Warrior sendoff. Van 1 was onto their 4th shift. All of Van 3 was done, save John. We took the time to refuel and rest a bit before going on to support Van 1. I had a cheeseburger that I literally stuffed with a breakfast sandwich then stuffed in my mouth. And a root beer. Tasty.
We then took off after van one, trying to estimate who would be running when we caught up. We definitely missed Kara, who was probably done before we even ordered our food. But we were hoping to catch Ben on his leg. He had the last hard leg at 6.7 miles in length. But that would not be our fate. Stuck behind other RTB team vans, we didn’t make the time we had hoped. We passed transition 32 to start looking for MK and found her about a half mile into her run. After some water and quick high-5s she was off.
We moved on to the next transition area and happened to park next to the A-Team van. They had caught up with us. I went over and talked to them a bit. Impressively, they were averaging a sub 8 minute per mile pace as a team. It was nice to see them on the course after all.
MK came in and Dee headed out. Van 1 moved on to the next transition area and Van 2 went straight to Transition 35- our final switch off- where John would begin the last and final leg.
Van 1 arrived about a half hour after we did. Our adventure was coming to an end. Just these last 4.1 miles were left between us and our goal. I saw a lot of smiles on tired faces. Perfect. It had been a superb trip and I felt lucky to have landed such excellent teammates. Not just strong runners, but good people that I enjoyed sharing my time with.
Kevin destroyed that last leg, arriving with great speed, and John was on his way to the beach. Oh, and a lesson learned… Ask the last runner to not run so fast. Every year the vans get stuck in traffic and every year we arrive just in the nick of time to join the last runner across the finish line. This year only Van 2 made it; Van 1 missed it by seconds. John was just too fast. But in the end- the end of our 209 mile journey, we had all reached the beach together.