The Palmetto 200 is a 200 mile relay from Columbia to Charleston (James Island county park) that is now in its 4th year, and also marks my fourth year doing the event.
My first year doing this I had no idea what I was getting into. My longest run was all of 13 miles, and I am definitely someone who needs their sleep, but the idea of traveling to Charleston by foot was too cool to turn down.
Of course, it is not actually one person doing this. Typical conversation I have every year:
Me: I’m doing a 200 mile relay this weekend.
Person: Oh my God, youre running 200 miles?
Old response: long winded description of relays,legs,vans, etc, etc.
New response: Yes. Yes I am.
If you are one of the above people, the relay is 200 miles split up among 12 people. The 200 miles are chopped up into 36 parts, called “legs”, with each person running 3 of the legs. The mileage varies 1.4-9.7, but most are in the 5-7 mile range.
My connection with the P200 goes back to my pre-blue shoes days of posting on the “sub 22 5k ” message boards on Runners World looking for training advice. As it turns out, one of the regulars was a “MrSig” , who I eventually found out was also in Columbia. Mr Sig turned out to be Brian Clyburn, “El Capitan” of our team, who basically recruited me for the first relay as an unknown.
I did the 2010 P200 like a complete idiot. My longest run was 13 miles at the time, and I had almost 23 scheduled, supposedly as one of our faster runners. I went blasting out of the gate on my first leg (leg 3) and died a thousand deaths on that first 8.8 miler in the broiling sun. By my third leg at 5 am (leg 27) I was walking and hallucinating, swearing (quite literally) up and down I’d never do this again.
That was 4 relays ago.
Running the Palmetto has now become an annual tradition, overseen by Brian and his spreadsheet. Most captains will haphazardly get their team together and hope everything turns out on race day. Not the Capitan. We get several pages of color coded excel sheets with our legs, distance, expected pace and arrival departure in each exchange zone. The thing is a work of art. Our blue ridge relay sheet had some quotient of difficulty due to the hills factored in, and this one had projected dew point and temperature. Michelangelo had the Sistine Chapel, Clyburn has his spreadsheet.
We also have at least two team runs and a team lunch…and about 20 emails counting us down toward our race day. We are one well oiled machine by the time we toe the starting line.
The team has evolved over the years, but myself, Brian, David McNiece and Joel have been constants. For this we have earned the five stars on our team shirts ( 4 palmettos, 1 blue ridge). This year Brian’s wife Jen rejoined the team, Joel’s wife Amanda came back, Darrell “Code” Brown was in for #3, Brandon was back for his second relay, and David’s brother Andy was also in for his second. Newbies included Winston, who had been on mine and Code’s ninja team in the blue ridge, Conner – a friend of Brandon’s, and Julie – an FBI agent who works with Winston. We had lost our ringer Kori from the last couple of years but had some strong replacements that would probably put us close to last years record pace.
We got to the the start line at 11:15 for our scheduled departure at noon. They stagger the start times based on projected speed, beginning at 6 am for the slowest teams and 1:30 for the fastest. One of the 1:30 teams included Dan Hartley’s Columbia Marathon team, who were cool enough to come see us off at the Columbia speedway. Jennifer Hill, Jeff Curran, Israel Bilbao, Geary McAlister, Rob Yerger, Rick Gibbons were on hand soon after we showed up. This was nice because technically we “stole” their vans. Apparently Triangle rent a car “reservations” are more like “suggestions”. We reserved the vans probably 6 months ago, but the guys at Triangle made it sound like we were very fortunate to get 2 of their precious 15 passenger vans. Luckily Brian and Joel got there at the crack of dawn and got the last 2, with them telling the guys to hold the other van for the slackers (i.e. Myself and the Code) who were coming at 9:30. When we got there Dan was about to blow a gasket (rightfully so) because his reserved vans were not available. He got 2 large SUVs instead. Which sucks. Really bad. You want every bit of possible room on these relays. Believe me. I would have been charged with assault on a Triangle employee, so Dan handled himself a lot better than me.
After a rundown of the rules by RD’s Kirk and Brian, we were off with 3 other teams. Joel was runner 1 and literally the second after the start gun it starts freaking pouring rain. Total downpour. Joel, being an expereinced runner (ex collegiate) held back on the first part of this leg, which is a lap around the old Columbia motor speedway in Cayce. Although I didnt see it, he apparently then crushed the others over the next 6 miles. David had the second leg, the only one which is mostly dirt road. He told me he wasnt at his best but still did well. He got passed by some total ringer dude in a singlet, but held his own after that. Andy had leg #3 , which completely wrecked me in 2010. 9 miles out in the broiling sun – it was now close to 80 degrees and humid to boot. Everybody got scared seeing Andy, a 17 min 5ker, suffering out there. Jennifer and Brian had strong runs down Charleston highway and took us ahead of pace. Then came the dreaded leg 6 . Leg 6 has an ungodly mountain which produces more cases of walksies than I’ve ever seen. And its long (8 miles) with no shade. Code takes off on leg 6 like its a wintertime 5k, 6:20 ish and no water. Surprisingly he motored up the mountain like a champ. However, the finish was probably 3-4 miles down the road and I think he barely made it. Apparently he caught the walksies shortly after the hill, and by the time he finsihed he was complete toast. I as half worried I might need to take him to an ER, but apprently this rare compound called dihydrogen monoxide was able to revive him. Go figure. Amanda then blazed through her 1.7 mile leg in St Matthws (the shortest in the relay). Winston has been training like a beast of late with the times to prove it (39:09 I think at the bridge run 10k) . He blasted through a 6 miler in the blazing heat like it was nothing, 6:30ish pace I believe. Julie then took the handoff for leg 9. She is one of the very rare runners who is not a slave to a Garmin, so she had no idea what her pace was. She took off in total beast mode, and damned if she didnt rock a 4 miler at 7:15 pace. Conner and Brandon took the next two legs out of Cameron, SC, leaving me to run #12 in the tiny town of Elloree.
My first leg was an 8 miler , my longest of the relay, going from Elloree to Santee State park. The leg didnt look too bad on paper, elevation wise. By the time I took the handoff from Brandon, it was just after 7 pm, and still freaking hot. I had initially opted for the reflective vest on white hairy chest ensemble, but my fashion police on the van (julie and the Code) gave the “chest thong” a definite thumbs down. One need only to see my leg 12 pic at blue ridge to see what an awful sight that is. Fearing arrest in Elloree, I went with the white tech shirt instead. When I got the relay bracelet, I took off like a complete moron. About a mile in, I seemed to be laboring too much for the 7 minute pace I was trying to hit. Garmin spits back a 6:18. NICE JOB HERO. And that was just the beginning. The next 5 miles were a complete death march. Got overheated and had to slow down big time. Whats worse were about 3 miles on a dirt road in the epicenter of nowhere. I was all alone and was wishing for the sweet release of death about 4 miles in, cursing myself over and over. These dirt hills kept coming out of nowhere and sucking my life away. One part was so muddy I had to stop and walk around it for about 20 meters lest I lose my blue racers in the sludge. I finally caught up with Curtis from the Darlington Marathon team who looked like he was hurting just as a bad. I finally hit the entrance to Santee State Park and was so glad to be done…except apparently the entrance road is over 2 miles. Nice. After thinking the end was around the next turn for 15 minutes, I finally saw Joel at the exchange zone. I was a total wreck after I passed off the bracelet. Basically a nice mix of pukish and pass outish. I think I scared a couple of locals docking their boat at the lake afterward. Its imagine its not often to see a half naked delirious albino saquatch taking an ice bath in Lake Moultrie.
It was dark after my leg and we left van 1 (Joel, Andy, David, Jen, Brian and Amanda) to go to work while van 2 ( myself, code, julie, winston, brandon, conner) got dinner at Lone Star Barbeque near Santee. Its a nationally known place profiled on the food network. So good. I highly recommend it.
We had some downtime before Code’s leg 18, so we went ahead to that exchange zone and finally started to see some more teams. With us starting so late, the first 12 legs were pretty desolate. I made the first use of a relay essential – the sleeping bag. I guess you can sleep in the van, though if youre 6’3″ its not exactly comfortable. Of course, finding the key elements of sleeping bag placement is difficult – you want low noise, no bugs/snakes, somewhere you can be found, and most importantly – somewhere where you will NOT be run over by a white 15 passenger van. I crashed out for a bit on the bag, but didnt really sleep as it was only 10 pm or so. The night sky is amazing in Cross, SC though.
Van 1 put in some good runs on their shift and had gotten us closer to spreadsheet pace by the time Code got the handoff for leg 18. I was a bit concerned about the Code, since this was 9 miles , and not too far removed from the brutal leg 6 and a full belly of barbeque. Not sure when he went off but I think it was close to midnight. Sure enough, the Code was hurting and cussing up a storm when he finally arrived. In reality I think it was like 7:30 pace but he made it seem like he was out for a stroll with his mom. After Jen took leg 19 we were finally back in regular rotation. My memory gets a little hazy at this point, mostly because I was driving and trying to avoid all the teams we were now catching up with. Just mobs of teams, some with people on bikes shadowing the female runners. Thats nice of them, but the last thing I want to do is a freaking brick workout in the middle of the relay. Sorry ladies.
We put together a nice string of legs in the middle of the night. It was MUCH cooler and the terrain gets a lot flatter as well as you get closer to the coast. Somewhere Conner said he made contact with one of the other Columbia teams – Girls Gone Run, which had Joyce Welch , Ellen Rodillo-Fowler and Dand Burgess. Joyce apparently completely chicked Conner. Sorry dude, she’s fast. I had leg 24 next, a very short 2.3 mile leg near Moncks Corner. It was now 3:30 in the morning, and had gotten damn cold. Julie had a short leg before mine, but I was freezing my ass off every time I got out of the van, so I waited to the last minute. I see Julie coming close when I get to the exchange when I realize WHERE IS MY BIB??. Answer: in the freaking van 100 meters away. So I haul ass to the van , grab the bib and fly back. Julie has just arrived and is frantically looking for an albino beast but cant find me. After a few tense seconds, I go flying by at mach 5, grab the bracelet and take off. I start off relatively easy, 6:40ish , ramp it up to 6:20 then blast it out the remaining .30 in sub 6 pace, desperately trying to make up at least some of that total fail from leg 1. Two guys doing 10 minute pace briefly feared for their lives until my freight train self passed by with my new 50 dollar beacon-esque headlamp. I was at a full out sprint when I handed off to the Capitan. Leg 24 was done in 15 minutes, so I then jumped in the van, jacked up on adrenaline and headed to our last van flip at zone 31 (Jennie Moore Elementary in Mt Pleasant).
We got there at about 4:30ish and its a total ghost town. We’ve apparently gone from behind everybody to completely in front. There are literally 4 vans in the parking lot and its dead silent. PERFECT! I grab my sleeping bag and pillow and hop on a picnic table, which is like the freaking tempur-pedic bed of relays. No bugs, no getting run over, and with hardly anyone else at the zone, completely free of loud talkers. I jumped that table like a sailor on shore leave and sleep like a champ for a good hour and a half. When I wake up its still completely quiet and getting light. I feel like I’m on drugs because I actually got some rest, which is like gold for these overnight relays. My only regret is looking over and seeing Travis Cowan in a hammock – now that is the way to go next time. He was shouldering some ultra distance for his team which included his wife Stephanie and “barefoot” John Richards.
We had about an hour to spare during we went to town on a Chick Fil A in Mount Pleasant. When we got back Amanda with van 1 was en route, and she came blazing into the school to hand off to Julie. Julie , being a newbie to the team, had all the short legs, so she again crushed out another 5kish distance like a minute under spreadsheet pace. She’s definitely getting more work next time. Winston then had a 5 miler and blasted out some more sub 7 pace over the IOP connector. He unfortunately was supposed to do 6:40ish the whole time. The Capitan showed him some tough love! Brandon took leg 33 and laid down another 4.4 over the Ben Sawyer bridge like a boss. Code took the next leg, and he was toast by his own account. Still, he had only 3.1 miles, so I had to hurry down to Patriots Point to get Conner ready for leg 35. Turns out I missed the parking lot for the exchange zone, and decide to take the next turn to turn around…which ends up being the on-ramp to the freaking Ravenel (Cooper River) Bridge. The bridge is almost 2 miles long, so I’m flying across it, deathly afraid of the Code just sitting there waiting. I take the first exit and then pull an action movie style U-turn that Julie assures me would pass at FBI driving school. I fly back at breakneck speed, and make it to the exchange zone with less than 5 minutes to spare. Conner probably got like 30 seconds to stretch before Code comes around the corner. After the handoff, I took a shortcut to Mason Prep (near Montagu and Lockwood) and prepare for my final, and the team’s final, leg 36. Unfortunately Chick Fil A has decided to make its presence known, so me and the Mason Prep portapotty got to be very good friends. I am forever sorry to my fellow anchor leggers who followed after me. Finally Conner showed up after a run around the peninsula and I was left with my 6.66 mile, mark-of-the-beast anchor leg. I made plenty sure not to go out too fast, because the sun was blazing and it was already in the 70’s again. I knew we were too slow to break last years time, but I had a chance at getting us under 24 hours. Leg 36 is nuts – you have to cross like six heavily trafficked streets and cross 2 bridges. I had to stop quite a few times in the first few miles and wait for cars, trying to weigh a sub 24 versus my life. Luckily, they had quite a few cops out, and one time the guy brought like a hundred cars to a standstill to let me go by. All I could give him was a thumbs up, because I was starting to hurt. I was still pulling 7:15 pace with all the traffic, but the sun and heat were just killing me. This was the hottest weekend of the year so far, and I was definitely not used to it yet. I was so glad to finally get over the second bridge into James Island, but it seemed even more steamy once I got to the endless road to the finish at James Island County Park. Somehow I managed to get to the park, but I was dying. The park itself gave me a big adrenaline boost. I think I saw Girls Gone Run cheer at me on the way in, but it might have been a hallucination. It was killing me how long it was taking to get to the finish even though I was in the park. Finally I saw Julie and a couple of gold VOTR shirts in the distance and I threw down all that I had left – sucking wind and flopping around. I thought I was dead until I saw the clock and it was still in the 29’s (we were six hours off the clock, which meant 23’s for us). As my teammates started surrounding me for the run in, I misread the clock as 29: 59: 50 something and I went into some insane blue shoe kick that would rival my 5k finishes. I balsted across the finish at mach 5 , with the actual finish at 23:56:50 something. Under 24 hours!
The post race spread was awesome with food by sticky fingers and three kinds of beer. I made sure to get my 2 drafts, though I know better than the 2011 relay where I chugged 3 pints and was fighting the pukes for hours afterwards. The Capitan seemed pleased with the team’s performance, and I know I was – we lost a beast of a runner in Kori and still were only a couple of minutes off last years record. Code and I didnt exactly tear it up, but the others, especially Winston and Julie in our van, more than made up for it.
The best part came a day later. FIRST PLACE. We were the winners of the mixed team category and 4th overall, out of 70+ teams. Incredible! Looks like we’ll have an even tougher standard to beat next year. I’m already scared of that spreadsheet!