After the best quesadillas ever, we (van 2) eventually made our way to exchange zone 18-19, where we would resume running just after midnight. Perhaps I am a fool, but I always bring my sleeping bag and pillow to relays, because if you can catch a catnap, its pure gold. I have to sleep outside the van, because 6’3″ of blue shoed awesomeness just can’t be contained in a 15 passenger van alone. The key to relay sleep is trying to find that sweet spot that is a) far away enough from the noise of the exchange zone but b) close enough to be found by your teammates and most importantly c) not somewhere you might get run over by a 5 ton white van. I got b) right, and probably c), but most certainly not a). This transition zone was about as quiet as mardi gras. All of the teams started catching up with one another, so there were a hell of a lot of white vans crammed into a pretty small place. And then there was Joe Loudtalker. Joe was over 20 feet away and talking to someone right next to him, but apparently he wanted to bless the entire half mile radius with the sound of his voice. The McDonald relay exchange zone principle states that the volume of voice is inversely proportional to the importance of the topic being discussed. I got to hear all about Joe’s leg, his bathroom habits, the hot girl in the other van, etc. Eventually the combined cacaphony of Joe’s blather, endless portapotty door slams and van engines formed a wall of white noise that actually put me to sleep for about 20 minutes. A van with its brights still on then decided to nearly make my torso a parking space, so that kind of woke me up.
By this time, the red ninjas had showed up and I was surprised they hadnt passed us by then. It turns out Kenzie, one of the fastest women in Columbia (in running… guys, cmon) decided to take a scenic tour of Blowing Rock for an extra 2 miles before actually starting her leg, so that spotted us an extra 13 minutes or so I guess. We were all waiting around but none of us knew exactly when Heather would arrive at the zone. All of a sudden Dean hears something and takes off like Usain Bolt. He runs down to the zone and gets there just as Heather is blasting her way to the finish, and takes off himself. We’re all taken by surprise and as we’re leaving the van gets stuck again. Sons of bitches, this cant be happening again. These white vans must have the off road capability of my kids’ tricycle. We finally recruit about 10 people, most ninjas but some others as well, and get the van out of the mud. I do a nice tweak of my back in the process. Once we are finally moving, we realize Dean’s leg was just over 4 miles, so we have to book it to get to the next zone. We drop off the Code as we park, and sure enough we get him there in just the nick of time.
Code’s leg is a 7.5 “very hard” leg (leg 20), so we have a while to wait once we get to the next zone. And we wait, and wait, and wait. Where the hell is the Code? We are just short of sending out a search party when the Code shows up in a ball of fury. Apparently he took a wrong turn literally 50 meters from the zone, and ran almost a mile down a hill into leg 21. One of his potential roadkill then informed him he was now running the next leg, so he had to turn around and climb a big hill all the way back. He was slightly perturbed about this occurrence. No time for bitching and moaning, Code, because we had to hop in the van and hurry , since Pete’s leg was a downhill 2.4 miler. Pete crushed it in 6:30 pace. Winston then took on a 5.6 miler which had an ungodly 8 percent grade at the end. There were walking wounded all up and down this thing, but I think Winston avoided the walksies. The next leg was my “most unfortunate romp in the middle of the night” leg from last year, which Karen had the joy of taking on. I luckily got to relive the driveway incident and barking spider pottery from the comfort of the van this year. And it was dark, pitch black, cant see-your-hand-in-front- of- your- face dark. Or, as one of the runners we passed put it “I CANT SEE SH&T OUT HERE”!!” We had a bit of time to wait at the next exchange for my next leg, which turned out to be the one exchange zone without a portapotty. For the love of God, why??? Let’s just say there were unspeakable horrors behind that convenience store.
I had a 3.2 miler almost straight down the mountain (leg 24) that Karen had just climbed. As luck would have it, red ninja and fellow Columbia age grouper, and much faster runner, Steven Johnson , was waiting at the zone ready to go as well. Oh God, I’m going to be the Red Ninja’s roadkill. Luckily Karen showed up first and I hauled ass from the get go. Perhaps not my usual 5k speed, given the abuse of the 9.5 miles of mountain climbing earlier, but close to it. I hit mile 1 in 6:36, given the first quarter is actually uphill. Blasted negative splits in the freefall to follow 6:16, 6:11 I think. The whole time I was fearing Steven’s footsteps. I was trying to break 20 minutes, but came up a little short at 20:15, and handed off to Beth. I was safe – 2 roadkill down and no one passed me. Steven came through a few minutes later having run some ridiculous low 18 time – I was just lucky to have a 5 minute head start.
We then headed for the last transition zone at a church at the start of leg 31. Unlike mardi gras zone, this one was thankfully more sedate. The fact it was 4:30 am probably helped. I found a concrete walkway to someone’s house behind the van and slept like the dead. Screw Sealy posturepedic, nothing sleeps like cold hard concrete when you’re beyond tired. The couple hours of sleep felt amazing. The church had a pancake breakfast when I woke up, and my God, sausage and hotcakes never tasted so good. It was beyond awesome. We even met up with CANT SEE SH&T girl.
The last 12 legs of the BRR are just brutal, plus everyone is always dead tired on their 3rd leg, so we had an extra long layover at the church. The Red ninjas had finally passed us, and we saw the handoff to Drew Soltau, who took off like a maniac on leg 31, arguably the hardest leg. Heather showed up about 10 am, and we were off again for our last legs.
Dean had specifically requested leg 31, 6.5 miles of “mountain goat” hard. And believe me it was. Just about 5 miles of pure hellish 5%+ climb. People were crawling up this thing. But not Mr. Schuster. He was on a mission. We stopped to support him along the way, but he was all business, just crushing some mid 7 pace on this most ungodly of legs. We got to the top of the mountain for the next exchange and there was drama. A girl in a purple top was ready to kill this other guy who she says jumped in the van and was carried up the last part of the leg. If thats true, thats pretty lame. Dean came through a few minutes later. Dude must have roadkilled half the relay on that leg. Code then took the bracelet and went careening down the same mountain Dean just ran up. A nasty, twisting 9.4 miles. It was raining slightly at the start, and very cool, but that quickly melted away into a sauna-like sunny late morning. Code tore it up though and handed off to Pete. Pete had to contend with another brutal mountain goat leg (33) with a 13 percent grade, the worst on the whole course. Looked like you might need climbing gear on that monster. Pete passed off to Winston at the Barnardsville baseball park, which brought on some serious PTSD. This is where Van 1 crashed out for hours in 2011, where my legs locked up like rigor mortis and all I wanted to do was crawl in the fetal position and nap. But that’s when I had to do 4 legs. This time I felt considerably fresher, but it was getting into the afternoon and I was worried about the heat. At the next exchange zone we ran into the Rock Hill Striders and Drew Walker, who was about to do his last leg. Apparently Howie and Geary were on his team as well, but in the other van. Winston rocked out his leg , I’m sure in much faster pace than my trail of tears in 2011, and handed off to Karen. Karen had the unenviable task of tackling a monster incline over 2 miles. Even Thunder Dan admitted to having walked stretches of this last year. Karen had to do some power walking on this one too, but i was just hoping she could make it through in one piece with the bum calf.
Finally we made it to the last exchange zone. I felt pretty tight and sore, but was fully jacked on a stew of coffee, espresso love GU and ibuprofen. I had the distinct misfortune of misreading my legs before the relay, thinking my last would be completely downhill. What I failed to realize was that it was downhill…after you completed over a mile of relentless 4%+ grade. Fan fricking tastic. I took the bracelet and the first half mile was just misery. Never ending hill and my legs screaming under the torture of all this abuse. I started to acclimate somewhat by the first mile, which I hit in like 8:04. Not blazing but I’ll take it. I thought I had a hallucination, but suddenly some dude cheers from the bushes at top volume. I never saw the guy but I about lost bladder control thinking it was some bear or something. Of course the van comes by just as I’m nearing the end of this incline from hell. You have to look good for the van , right? I remember the 2010 Palmetto 200 where I was about to die, but picked it up for the van, only to walk the second it got out of sight. This time, I saw Code looking at me disapprovingly, so much shame for the 7:30 or so pace I was doing at the time. Jeez. Pretty soon I really did get shamed. I heard some rapid footsteps behind me, thinking it might be bizarro handsome blue shoes again, but it was worse. Chicked. Big time. This girl must of weighed about 75 pounds, but she was definitely getting it, probably sub 6 pace. Nothing I could do. The downhill had started by then. I thought this would be relief, but after the freefall of a 5k I had earlier, my legs felt like they were getting the sledgehammer treatment. Pretty much torture. I was still hitting low 7 pace but I took one look around, and this grey haired guy from Rock Hill Striders was tracking me down like a dirty dog. Holy crap, am I really going to get chicked and grandmastered in the same leg?? Yep. Big Time. I did keep up with this guy for awhile, but the quads were turning to jello. On top of me getting roadkilled, Mother Nature decides to chick me as well. All of a sudden the cloud from hell comes rolling over the summit and the bottom drops out. Total downpour. The one thing nice about the storm was that it dropped the temp about 15 degrees almost instantly, almost chilly all of a sudden. I took down a few roadkill to at least end up on the positive side of that equation, and Asheville slowly came into view. I finally saw the overpass into the city and I started throwing down as hard as I could. Of course the road insnt closed , so I’m dodging people on the sidewalk and had to stop for a traffic light, but I was on a mission. Finally I hit the home stretch just as the clouds really started to let loose. I think 4 or 5 of my teammates made it out there in time and accompanied me to the finish. 6.5 miles in 50 minutes/ 7:24 pace for leg 36, 29 hours, 50 minutes total time for Team Black Ninjas.
The finish was anticlimactic last year, but even more so this time with all the rain. No medal or anything, just hand me the bracelet and your done. We couldnt take pictures in the monsoon, which kind of sucked because I had specifically rocked the Columbia Running Club shirt for a newsletter photo op. Oh well. We met up with Team Red Ninjas at Mellow Mushroom, who had already finished and had nicely taken over a whole corner of the restaurant with the Gamecocks game on (48-10 over East Carolina – sweet!) . They had an awesome relay – finished 2nd overall in the coed division, earning them a 120 dollar mellow mushroom gift certificate. Recovery craft brews and pizza ensued. Great end to an awesome weekend!