Anyone who has read this blog with any regularity knows I love the relay. Ten Palmetto 200’s, Three Blue Ridge Relays, one Ragnar trail relay and one Ville to Ville. I apparently live for reflective vests, lack of sleep and stinky vans. But Ville to Ville knows how to do a relay even better. Let’s get rid of the middle-of-the-night misery, eliminate the dark and lonely runs, and total utter exhaustion. Oh, and let’s make it less than half the standard distance, make it one day, and add a craft beer theme. This thing was tailor made for aging white males working out their mid-life crisis with endurance sports and IPAs. Like this guy.
Ville to Ville number one was a resounding success. Selling out in days before it was even fully formed, this event went off without a hitch in 2018. My team, the Carebeers, had a knock-down, drag-out clash with our other forty-something nemeses, the Redneck Posse, in a battle for the ages. Although we about died in a mid spring heat wave, we managed to take the Male Masters victory. Many post race celebratory beverages were consumed , and with 364 days until V2V 2019 , we were already signed up for a second go-around.
Flash forward 11 months later, and we met to plan out our strategy at Craft and Draft. Basically this involved about 5 minutes of discussion and an hour’s worth of drinking, but it basically came down to me trading legs with Randy. To satisfy my insatiable need to be number 1, I was starting off this time with the opening leg and finishing first with a short 5kish leg 7. In exchange, Randy “SILENT H” Hrechko would get leg 5 and the Delirious 10k up a mountain in leg 11. No doubt who got the better end of that deal. Our original lineup was back again, which basically was our two beast workhorses, captain Drew Williams and Mike Nance, along with the other 4 supporting actors – me, Matt “THE STACHE” McGrievy, Rob “THE YERG” Yerger and Silent H. Tracy/JEDI photography got the photo gig at V2V after her pro bono work there last year , and scored us a team discount for 2019. Sweet. Craft and Draft was awesome enough to sponsor our team shirts – thanks guys!
Although the relay itself was only 75 miles and all on one day, we drove up to Asheville on Friday for what is definitely one of the best packet pickups in road racing. You show up at Highland Brewery in Asheville, which is like a playground for craft beer fans. Free brewery tours, a complimentary first beer, live music, awesome swag and even…ARTISANAL HUMMUS. A virtual paradise for hipster gen Xers. We hit the tour and sampled some Highland Brews , before heading towards our air BNB in Black Mountain. We ran into quite a few Columbia area runners, including Sheila Bolin, Kelly Ghent, Makenzie Wilt and their FiA team, as well as beer mile director Bobby Scott and Sabrina Gandy.
We had dinner at the Trailhead, the mecca of Harbison Trail Runners for Mount Mitchell weekend. Enough brews were consumed that Nance, Yerg and I felt obligated to show the others the site of the most hallowed of HTR traditions, the dead legged Lake Tomahawk relay. Except for Drew and H, we each completed a lap in a warmup for the next day’s event. Nance somehow managed to keep his shirt on this time. Our gracious hosts from last year were out of town, but we still stayed at their place in Black Mountain. Accommodations were comfortable save for a thoroughly confused rooster nearby who apparently thought the sun was coming up from midnight to 5 am . Doh. Thankfully I slept like the dead and avoided registering under the influence for Table Rock 50k like last year. I would say this was good judgement, except I had already signed up perfectly damn sober this year. I am an idiot.
Waking up for the relay this year, I was seriously worried about the status of my right knee. Having ravaged my body with 38 miles of Mount Mitchell and another 31 at the Palmetto 200 ultra, my running had gone to the toilet over the past month and there were lots of awkwardly moving parts to my gimp stride at the moment. The knee was going to have to suck it up though, because nothing is worse than bailing on a relay and dumping on your teammates. Randy gave me some KT tape to help the knee, though I’m pretty sure a piece of magnetic tape wasn’t going to reverse several months of abuse.
The start was at back at Highland Brewery and we had one of the fastest projected times, so we were in the last group to begin at 8:20 am. We drove up in our newest upgrade, a dedicated team van instead of the SUV train from last year. We had almost struck out at the rental agencies, which were gouging the vans for Masters weekend, but we were able to score a van from a friend of a friend for a cheaper rate. Ours did come with some extra “character” to include a less than detailed interior and some free old tangy BBQ sauce packets. Score.
After stewing in anxiety for awhile and having to put on a mandatory reflective vest , I was ready for leg 1. This was a little daunting, since the race director announced this was the “skinny, fast” group and I’m not sure I meet either of those descriptors. Redneck Posse was back again for showdown #2. Tracy verified they were out for CareBeer blood. Leg 1 was just 6.2 miles, though Randy had described it as the “hardest 10k ever” . The elevation profile seemed to support his claim, looking like a virtual mountain range, with Everest at about 2 miles. With the start, I take off way too fast and hang on to the back of the pack. Having no idea how fast these guys (and 2 girls) were, I tried to check myself as soon as we got out of the brewery area. A couple of young looking dudes and some ripped musclely guy were killing it from the get go. My attention was fixed on the Redneck Posse’s runner. He had gray hair but had the lanky body type of someone who was way faster in their youth. I remember he had an Atlanta track club shirt on from last year, and nobody slow ever ran for them. I hang back with a tall 40ish female in a minipack, with only the other woman behind us. There’s a significant incline off the bat but then a long downhill. I was fine on the incline but the downhill is definitely no bueno on the gimp knee. I gingerly tread down the mountain with masters girl blazing past me. First mile was 6:55 or so. I had suggested a conservative 6:45 pace for my legs, but I realized that was the beer talking, because ain’t nobody doing close to their 10k pace with this terrain. But hey, the next mile is mostly flat and comes back about the same pace. I’m getting warmed up and things are going ok and maybe I’ll pick up the pace and …WTF IS THIS??? Suddenly, we veer off the road and onto a trail through the woods. And it’s going up, with stairs. I jog up the first few switchbacks but me and masters girl quickly catch a case of the walksies. Am I really walking in a competitive relay?? I manage to walk/jog most of the way up an endless trail mountain and then hit a stretch of up and down technical singletrack. 3rd mile is like 9:50. Sweet Jesus in the morning, I suck. More endless trail. Me and the woman basically leapfrog the whole time, me passing on inclines and her passing when I try to go downhill. Finally at about mile 4 we get dumped out on the blue ridge parkway , followed by a left where we fly down a road and give up seemingly all the elevation gain. At the bottom, we get to go up again, forever. I pass my running partner again on the mountain climb just before we enter a neighborhood and plummet downward again. There’s a “one mile to go” sign near the bottom, but I know from last year the finish is at the bottom of a decline. Which means we have to really go up. And we do. Basically most of the last mile is some serious grade, but since I was jogging in the woods I’ve got something left in the tank. I push in all the cards and motor up the mountain as hard as I can, finally reaching the top with a sharp left. Another plunge down and I can see the finish. Here comes Redneck Posse’s guy for leg 2, so hopefully I’m not too far behind. I see another woman running up ahead, then I realize she is from the 8 am group. She gives me grief for blue shoeing her right before the finish, but I’m just trying to stop the bleeding from what feels like an awful leg. Total time was like 47 minutes. About 2.5 minutes behind the Posse.
Yerg took off on Leg 2 which apparently features a 23 percent grade at some point. Dayum. He runs faster than last year but apparently the Posse has seriously front loaded their team and we lose another 2.5 minutes. WTF? McGrievy is always worried about slowing down the team, but in his next leg he actually makes up 30 seconds on our rivals over 7 miles. Must be the porn stache and the mojo built from his 3rd place finish in the beer mile. Up next is Nance. Nance has also gone full stache, and in his words, “full douche”. Stache, reflective colored sunglasses, and bandanna. LOOKING FIERCE. He hauls ass out of the transition and we wait at Southern Appalachian Brewery in Henderson. We meet up with Sheila, Kelly, Makenzie and Jacki Edenfield as well as Tracy making the photog rounds through the course.
We are hoping Nance makes up some time on the Posse, when all of a sudden Mike comes rounding the turn blazing full douche with no POsse in sight? HOLY CRAP. I about lose my mind. Nance says he saw the Posse guy having a rough time on the side of the road, ends up putting several minutes on those guys. Randy blazes out of the brewery and is still ahead with the pass to Drew at Hillandale elementary. With one of our two best guys out on the course, I quickly try to loosen up at Tuxedo park for my second and final leg. My leg is a mere 3.5 miles, though it looks like almost the entire thing is uphill. Normally this would suck, but my right knee really doesn’t want any more downhill abuse.
Drew comes flying through the exchange and I’m off on my 5k from hell. First mile goes by super quick as its actually mostly downhill. Knee is cashed but there’s lots of people out on the course now. The clouds look threatening and I’m hoping to get this in before any potential downpours. After a 6:45 ish first mile, there’s a sudden left turn. Oh dear God. Here it is. Straight up the mountain. I try to maintain 5k pace but yeah, 8 percent grade is not exactly speed inducing. Mile 2 in about 7:30. DAMN IT. With 1.5 to go and no no more legs to go I try and blast it out. I’m pretty cashed at the mountain top with a 7:11 3rd mile and I’m desperately looking for the finish. The Redneck Posse van, a stacked Mercedes WITH A DRIVER, finally passes me so I know we are still far ahead. Suddenly the course drops out and I’m careening downhill. Knee hates it but I can see the exchange zone, right at the NC/SC state line. I hand off to Yerg and BOOM I’M DONE.
Yerg has an 8.8 miler ahead, mostly downhill but with a killer incline at the end. We fly down in the tangy BBQ van and halfway there the bottom drops out. Starts pouring. And thunder. Suddenly were getting twitter updates that they are closing exchange zones ahead. Sure enough, when we get to the leg 8-leg 9 zone, its a cluster of a few hundred people. Its all good for me, because I’ve shed my funk clothes and I’m in full recovery mode. They even had beer samples of a new England IPA. My favorite! Luckily the storm passed quickly and they start releasing the few dozen stalled teams every ten seconds. Fortunately we missed the delay perfectly and Yerg comes rolling in and passes off to McGrievy without having to stop. We find out that one of the Posse ran off course so we are probably sitting 20+ minutes ahead. All we have to do now is stay on course and hope the tangy BBQ mobile keep going. With McGrievy out on the course, I’ve taken over as driver and we start getting lost on our way to the next exchange. We follow another van then have to turn around. I’ve lost my cell signal and have a brief moment of panic before finally seeing the sea of vans up ahead. Mcgrievy crushes leg 9 as the sun and heat starts coming out big time. Matt executes the stache to stache exchange as Nance heads out on a 6.31 miler. This time I have the trip to the next exchange planned out and we end up at Beechwood farms, home of 2 dollar tamales and the best hot dogs ever. I haven’t eaten lunch so I order up a big ass chili dog and wolf it down in front of Silent H, karmic payback for what he did to me last year.
The heat is now really intense and close to 80 degrees, also just like last year. Nance crushes out his 10k despite the brutal conditions in like 42 minutes as Randy takes off on another 6.2 miler. The same leg I had from last year, where I got completely delirious and ran diagonally across a busy Travelers Rest intersection and tempted death. Good memories! We thankfully avoided the mud pit at Beechwood farms with our mystery machine and headed to Swamp Rabbit Brewery for the last exchange. Yerg bought us a round of beers and all was good as we waited for the H. After some tense minutes, we see a tall figure in the distance holding up the relay baton like the Olympic torch. Randy comes tearing into the exchange in full blue shoes-style delirium and just keeps walking like an extra from the Walking Dead. I feel your pain dude. We were able to revive the H with some water as we sped off towards the finish.
The finish area at V2V is pretty awesome. A taco truck , a pizza truck, live band and tons of beer from Quest brewery. No more artisanal hummus though. Despite the killer heat, Drew rocked the final 8.78 miles out in less than an hour, and the rest of us sore, dead-legged and slightly intoxicated teammates escorted him the last 20 meters home. CAREBEERS were masters champions once again!