Once at the Van exchange zone, we had several hours to kill before our van started again with my run estimated at about 830 or so. In our first relay at the Palmetto 200 in 2010, we didnt eat well, fearing code browns and other GI disasters during the later legs. This led to me being half delirious and seeing spots during my last 7.5 mile leg there . We know now that the key was making sure you eat adequately, actually more than adequately to replace the thousands of calories burned. Hit up a Taco Bell/KFC and a McDonalds for the van. Felt good to get some food, as finding any restaurant out in the rural mountains was difficult. We had to basically follow the course exactly to make it to the next van exchange, where we passed our other van and runner in progress. It took forever with all the winding mountain roads. We soon realized that the hills we saw in the early going paled in comparison to the monsters we were now going to face. We got to our van exchange with about 3-4 hours to spare. Key relay task is to try to find some sleep if you can – just a half hour so will help. I walked out into a mountain field with my sleeping bag and was at least able to rest for a little bit, if not completely doze. The sun and hearing yells from the teams ahead of us entering the exchange zone didnt help.
We got the call from Brian in Van 2 that they were ahead of schedule, and now projecting as early as 6:45. I quickly got some GU, a few ibuprofen for the destroyed quads and got ready to run. Had to do the reflective vest for all the evening legs, as well as a headlamp, so I’m sure I looked super cool. My second leg (leg 12 overall) was my longest at 7.9 miles and listed as “VERY HARD“. Let me just say that the relay organizers do not joke around. The topographic map they attach to the leg description showed exactly what I was in for. I was to go down into a valley, get on the blue ridge parkway, then go straight up a mountain and then another slightly higher mountain, then into a valley to the Tanger Outlet in Blowing Rock, NC. This time it was me and one other guy. Rick handed off to me and I got to get out the hammer to my quads again on the descent, which felt wonderful. I was all alone after the first quarter mile, couldnt hear the other guy anymore behind me. After cruising to a 715 on mile 1, I approached a nice size (by Columbia standards) hill, and thought this wasnt going to be so bad. Got a little winded but was able to maintain my pace. Then I turned the corner and let out the first of many obscenities for the rest of the race. That hill was the flat part of the topo map, this ahead of me was just unimaginable. You know youve got a hard climb ahead when there’s a truck lane and you can hear the cars moaning in some low gear next to you. And this was just the beginning – once i was all proud of myself for maintaining a good pace on Mt. Ridiculous, I realized it was just the first part of 2 miles of price-is-right mountain climber (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-nvL5D5I0c8&feature=related) misery. Pace dropped to 832, then 853. I was pretty much toast by the top, but the reward was unbelievable views of the mountains, riding the top of the blue ridge. My GU also finally kicked in at this point, and I was able to pick it up a bit, back into the low 8’s. Still climbing hills, but these were only twice as worse as anything in Columbia rather than 10 times. Finally crested the second mountain with 2 miles to go. Went plunging into the valley again at breakneck speed , 657 split. Kept on thinking the other guy was behind me but it was just my ridiculous outfit with the blinky lights and vest. Veered off the blue ridge parkway into blowing rock but was surprised the tanger outlet wasnt right there. Started going up another hill. Some old guy and his wife slowed down to a crawl and shouted “You must be the front runner!” Then I saw another relay van who honked at me and made some gesture, which I interpreted as “turn around”. Instantly I was seized with fear that I had “pulled a Dan” and ended up going the wrong way. I kept going though because I was almost sure I hadnt. I still didnt see the outlet, and finally decided I would give it to the top of the next hill before turning back around. I almost sprinted up the hill with a horrible sense I had just botched the whole leg. I then saw the most glorious of sights, a small yellow BRR sign in the distance which meant a) I hadnt ruined the leg and b) I was finished. Blue shoed it to the sign and turned into the tanger outlet, which was perfectly positioned on the other side of the hill so I couldnt see it. Finished in 1:02, 750 average pace.
Dan’s next leg was through Blowing Rock, which is a cool little resort town. Lots of turns and brutal hills, but Dan appeared hell bent on crushing it to make up for his leg 1 hillbilly home visit. This time the van veered off course twice, and we almost ran over Mr Beard, who was now running with Dan since we were a man down. I was betting on Mr Beard to roadkill (relay term for passing another runner) us, but Dan was bringing the Thunder and held him off. Freight Train then had the unenviable task of a 10 miler up Grandfather Mtn, the relay’s longest leg. This was a ridiculous climb, made worse by the fact some of the elite teams were catching us and flying by in sub 6 pace. Jon was a trooper and rocked it in sub 9 pace I believe. I would have been walking half of it by then. Garris and David then were lucky to draw two fairly easy 2.3 and 3.4 milers, which they rocked out at near 5k pace. After the 2nd van exchange we traveled the course again to the start of Leg 23, which was the site of my 3rd leg. I was half asleep at this time, but we saw some horrific legs which didnt appear navigable by humans, much less those that were trying to run. We reached the van exchange site around 1 am and I immediately grabbed my sleeping bag and pillow and tried to hide on the other side of the school that was there. Crashed out on the grass. I tried to sleep but really didnt get much rest. I got bitten by an ant and there were so many vans parked there that inevitably someone had a case of loud talkeritis or decided it was OK to scream if their runner was coming in at 215 am. I did finally manage to conk out for a while when someone nudged me and I looked up and saw David and Dan standing above me. Apparently Van 2 had been so caught up in blazing through their part of the course that they were late in texting us and were about to arrive in less than 20 minutes. I jumped out of the bag in the 45 degree cold, pounded some gatorade and GU, fumbled to put on the whole vest/headlamp apparatus, downed a few advil, waited an excruciatingly long line to use the one bathroom, jogged up to the start and got there just as Rick was coming up the hill to the site.
3 o’ clock in the morning. Not a fun time to do anything that doesnt involve a bed, and certainly not a fun time to run. This leg was 5.6 miles and completely in the epicenter of nowhere. Snow Creek Rd in western NC for those interested. Kept hearing owls, maybe the occasional banjo hallucination. My Garmin was still on leg 2 so I had to start it again and couldnt get it to find a satelite for the first few minutes. Had a hard time fumbling with the watch as my leg quickly became gravel and down a mountain. Couldnt see a damn thing. Started cursing for picking a 5 dollar headlamp that illuminated wonderfully…the 5 feet in front of me. I was so thankful for the other vans to come along so I could see where I was going. I finally saw a BRR sign, made the turn, and flew down the gravel road for a quarter mile…right to the front step of some North Carolina hillbilly. Bad time for a karma payback for making fun of Dan. A van saw me and stopped to make sure I got back on track, but I was sprinting to avoid the possible shotgun blast I imagined. Finally got back on the course and soon the vans stopped and I was completely alone in the dark. I was half asleep and almost turned into the driveway for what I read as “Barking Spider” Pottery, to which I was sure I was hallucinating, because this is the exact term I use to refer to farts with the kids. I guess I was still awake: http://www.barkingspiderpottery.com/. Lets hope they make T shirts. Finally got out of the woods in the valley below and hit a stretch of desolate highway that was eerily lit up by an almost full moon. Very spooky. The last 2 miles of this most unpleasant romp in the middle of the night ever was pretty much straight up the mountain. Pace started fading again into the high 8’s but was trying to keep sub 9 as a goal on the hills. The last turn brought me to an excruciating half mile hill, but I was able to make out the faint lights of the next exchange zone. Sucked wind like it was my last breath on earth during the last bit but made it without walking.
Dan was lucky to draw a 5k distance for his 4am leg, and Jon and Garris also had their shortest legs at this time. Both continued to put us ahead of schedule. David was most unfortunate in drawing a hilly 9 miler at this time, but most fortunate that he was the first runner to “miss out” on the 4th leg. We caught up with the majority of the slower teams at this point and David recorded some serious roadkill. The sun was coming up at 630 as he finished and we again handed off to Van 2. The rest of us tried to ignore David and Garris at this point, because they were home free and could relax. We again traveled the course to the next and final van exchange, a baseball park south of Barnardsville. We got our first look at the “mountain goat hard” legs, which were exactly as advertised. Saw a lot of walkers on those. By the time we got to the baseball park, I was completely wrecked. The lack of sleep had really caught up to me and one side of my legs were destroyed from the downslopes, the other from the climbs. I tried to zonk out in the van for awhile but it wasnt really happening. Didnt help some super cool guy drove up blasting “Hey Ya” like he just discovered the song. For some reason we skipped the last available restaurant for miles in Barnardsville and we were all starving. David and Garris had some tuna and canned chicken which they graciously offered to the three four leggers in the van. Best canned chicken breakfast ever. Had a super long layover at this site as the other van had to tackle the most brutal part of the course. I could hardly walk , not from any injury, but just incredible stiffness and soreness. Tried to walk around as much as possible to keep loose but also tried to conserve energy at the same time.
My last leg was 4.4 miles, downhill and flat the first 2.4 miles, up a mountain the last 2. At this point it was all about survival. I had no idea if my legs would even let me run. Plus, the 45 degree chill had melted away into a blazing 80 degree sunny day. Rick showed up a little after 12 and seemed to be running strong despite completing the most brutal leg on the whole course. We were still way ahead of schedule. I took off on a mission to get this thing over with. The slight downhill helped a lot and some of the soreness gave way after a rough first quarter mile. Actually overtook a guy in the first mile in route to a 7:27 first mile. I started feeling better with the blood flowing, and continued to push the pace with another 7:27. Started hunting down another guy ahead, and was boosted by a crazy female team screaming at everybody on the course. I was also afraid their runner might chick me, so I continued to push it in mile 3 with a 733 even with some hills starting. Overtook the second guy but looked back and saw an older guy tracking me down hardcore. About the end of mile 3 the mountain started and I might has well have run smack into it. The legs apparently vetoed the decision the brain and heart had made. Pace slowed to a near crawl on the steep inclines. Older guy roadkilled me and left me for dead. I was pushing with 5k effort but getting about 9 min pace in return. With a quarter mile to go I saw the finish, and tried to kick, which translated to about 830 pace. 34:33, 750 pace average. Handed off to Dan and collapsed under a tree, just spent, total Hou Yin Chang style. Quickly had to jump back in the van and immediately felt sorry for Dan’s leg, which completed the mountain climb but 10 times worse in terms of incline. He finished surprisingly fast, though said he had to do hill intervals to get up the mountain. I would of had to walk the whole way. Finally passed off to Jon to do the 6.7 mile “glory leg”, a short incline then descent into Asheville for the finish. We arrived in the town square and met up with Van 2 and got to run with the Freight Train for the last 50 meters and across the finish. Jon was spent and cramping but was a machine bringing it home. We’ll see where we finished when they publish the results, but we were still an hour ahead of schedule.
Leg 1 (Overall leg 1): http://connect.garmin.com/activity/113368774
Leg 2 (Overall leg 12): http://connect.garmin.com/activity/113368766
Leg 3 (Overall leg 23): http://connect.garmin.com/activity/113368759
Leg 4 (Overall leg 34): http://connect.garmin.com/activity/113368753