After we handed off to Van 2, we had several hours to kill, which ended up being fortunate since the place we went to in Boone for lunch took like an hour and a half to eat. The rest of my van apparently isn’t keen on hipster brewpubs like myself, so my choice was not a popular one. Especially when they left Julie waiting for a pizza 15 minutes after the rest of us were served. Damn you, Lost Province Brewery. At least Geary got to see his daughter who had just started at App State.
We were still able to make it to the start of Leg 12 in plenty of time for our second set of legs. Kim came rolling in all of a sudden, blasting out what looked like a sub 6 pace kick at the end of her 8.4 miles. Geary took off on a leg mostly on the parkway, so we had to skip ahead to the next exchange zone (Vans aren’t allowed on the parkway except for the last leg). The next exchange zone is one of the big van turnover sites, at least for regular teams with 12 members. It was cool to see almost all of the faster teams at one site. Lots of totally ripped beasts milling about making me feel particularly Sasquatchy. Speaking of beasts, local elite Shawanna White was running with JITMO, a mixed team out of Charlotte. She apparently ran a few miles off track on her first leg so she was none too happy about that. Her team was still in the race for the mixed lead though.
Geary tore up his leg and handed off to Dan for what is my favorite part of the relay, which is now Leg 13. It was Leg 12 when I had my fabled pale chested reflective vest mansierre run of 2011. Hurts like seven hells getting up a huge mountain, but the views on the parkway at sunset are amazing. The sun set during his 9.3 “very hard” leg, setting me up for my second run, a 6.2 miler labeled as hard. Start was in Blowing Rock, which is cool since we go there every fall to see the colors, and I had actually run part of my leg last time we were there. What was not cool was the no-portapotty, only small public bathroom exchange zone which had ridiculous lines. I ended up going super early to make sure I had a toilet opportunity. When Dan came rolling in, I started up what looked like a mile and a half climb, and I was all jacked up because I saw a lot of potential roadkill leaving the zone just before me. I last about 60 seconds before I realize my premature pee didn’t do the trick. I debate for awhile and finally succumb to pulling a power piss on the side of the road, desperately afraid that some car would come by and flash by naughty bits to all of Blowing Rock. Luckily for everyone involved, that didn’t happen. I took off on the long climb and managed to pick off my first roadkills of the relay, 3 or 4 ten minute pacers. After cresting the main hill I took off like a champ aiming for this dude carrying a flashlight that I thought I’d easily overtake. Turns out he was bringing it, too, especially on the downhills. I ended up blasting out a few sub 7 miles and breaking my pact not to stray too far from my marathon pace. But my pride wouldnt let flashlight guy get away without getting blue shoed. Finally, almost 6 miles in, I empty the tank to pass him. I should note this was completely unnecessary and meant absolutely nothing, but apparently my competitiveness knows no bounds, or logic. I come flying into the exchange with the Code around 9 pm and I’m starving. Luckily my exchange zone is the Grandfather Mountain store, and they are serving burgers with homemade baked beans. Sweet baby Jesus those beans were good. And probably setting up a GI detonation later, but so worth it.
Darrell’s next leg sucked with a capital S. Ten and a half miles, in the dark, straight up Grandfather Mountain, with just about no flat or downhill. Code kept calling it Grandpa mountain, so I guess he had already bonded with his friend. I think old gramps was about to make him his bitch, unfortunately. Code looked pretty strong early on, though he did admit to catching a brief case of the walksies near the top. None of us cared – we were just so glad it wasn’t us. Julie then had one of the few easy legs, a 5k right down the mountain. It probably would have been easier if she wasn’t totally attacked by a dog, though. Apparently an FBI agent kick to its head made it realize Julie does not play.
With the handoff to Jay, we were off for a several hours, projected until 3 am. This was prime sleep time, so we made our way to Geary’s next exchange zone to hopefully catch some Z’s. Of course when we got there, it was a freaking mardi gras atmosphere of vans at an Ingles grocery store. Geary managed to squeeze our van around the back and it was dead quiet there. The others slept in the van while I pulled out my sleeping bag and made love to the sweet green grass in the field nearby. It was pretty chilly but my 30 degree sleeping bag gave me a cocoon of warmth. I was briefly awakened by a rustling in the woods which I prayed wasn’t a snake or Julie’s Cujo coming back for vengeance. I was so tired that the next thing I know Geary is waking me up. Must have been close to 2 hours later, which is like an eternity of sleep for a relay. Unfortunately our Van 2 teammates were crushing it on their legs, and we were ahead of schedule for our 3rd set.
Geary and then Dan took off on their 3rd runs, a couple of moderately rated legs which were relatively easy compared to their others. Mine too was also not too bad – a 4.3 miler that was also rated “moderate”. Apparently it would be easy except for a half mile plus of brutal 7% climb at the end. As I was preparing for Leg 3, the abuse of the first two legs had officially caught up with me. Sore as hell, like someone had taken hammers to both sides of my legs. It was also like 45 degrees, so I stood freezing my ass off at the exchange zone even with my CRC hoodie on for warmth. Did I mention it was 3:45 am? Times like these make you wonder why anyone would voluntarily subject themselves to this “for fun”. I saw Dan come around the last turn and I desperately try and throw off the hoodie without taking off my headlamp and everything else at the same time. Zero points for style. Launching into Leg 3 feels like complete death. I’m trying to run fast but the legs are exercising their veto powers. First mile was in 7:58 on fairly flat terrain. But hey, everybody else is feeling the pain too, so roadkill is still plenty. A group of four F3 guys had all started off together a few minutes before me, so I was on a mission to track these guys down. We had already labeled our van the F4 team – the fourth one being whatever variation of the F bomb you should choose. This leg’s F was F$%& tired and cold. Thankfully the middle miles of this run were downhill. There was a loud train somewhere right next to the road, adding F$%^g deaf to the whole equation. It was so F%$%^ dark though I couldn’t see it. I finally spotted the F3 foursome just as the hill from hell began. I was actually somewhat warm by then and ramped up the pace to pass them, nearly blinded by the assortment of blinkies and headlamps. Just as the course leveled out , they throw in one more quad busting hill before the exchange zone and I hand off to Darrell.
Things got a little tenuous during Code’s leg since Julie was having serious doubts about her 9 miler. Between feeling generally pukey and operating on very little distance training, she was not sure if she could finish it. But with Code already running and the other three of us having a 4th leg to go, there wasn’t much of an option. At this point I didn’t care how much she walked. Julie was a trooper, however, and took off with a good faith effort. About 90 minutes later, with some pukesies and walksies ,she managed to power through, and she (and Darrell) were officially done. I apparently spent that hour and a half mostly in a coma. At some point I saw Dan W and Rob at my window, which I think was reality, but I can’t be entirely sure. Geary said I was making weird noises, probably cursing the blue ridge mountains in my sleep.
With the handoff to Van 2, we knew we then had a very long layover to the last three legs. The Legs 28-33 are just brutally long, with two labeled as MOUNTAIN GOAT HARD. It took 45 minutes in the van with Geary “done-with-this s$%” driving just to get to our next zone.
At this point we were all pretty much done. Our black, undecorated van was fairly appopriate for our team spirit at this time, and the fourth F was evoked many a time. We also had additional cursing due to Darrell. Code had group texted us all before the relay that he would be staying in Asheville the rest of the weekend after we finished. Unfortunately for him, his iPhone autocorrected Asheville into “asshole”, and a whole weekend in asshole seemed like a very long time to me. I made sure Code know that we were almost in asshole now, and that my last leg was a steep drop into asshole.
Sure enough we were at the Van exchange forever, and unfortunately none of us could really sleep since it was daytime again. Luckily I had procured a jimmy john’s sub near our ill-fated brewpub stop in Boone, and though it was half-soaked from melted ice, I’ve hardly had a better breakfast before or since. Dan got a good chance to relax in his new 12 dollar Deerfoam slippers, quite the score from the Boone Big Lots store.
Finally around noon, Kim finished her mountain goat leg in a flurry of all out sprint with awesome spandex jorts pants. Geary was off on my leg from 2011 where I collapsed at the finish. To his credit, he didn’t even seem tired at the end. Total machine. Dan had leg 35. This leg was only 4.2 miles and labeled as “hard”, but that is just ridiculous. It has alomst 2 miles of 10%+ grade, and since its going to be your last leg, I can’t think of any part more deserving of the mountain goat label. I have yet to hear of anyone not walking a little of that leg. Just brutal even to drive up.
So here I was for leg 36, the last hurrah, the glory leg into Ass..I mean Asheville. I had this one on 2012, and I was not prepared for it at all. I thought at the time we were on top of the mountain after all that leg 35 climb. Wrong answer. The final leg features another 1.5 miles of pretty much straight climb. Not as bad as 35, but brutal nonetheless. When I got the relay bracelet I charged up the hill, only to be a reduced to a relative crawl about a half mile in. My 8:40 split for mile 1 was about as hard as I could go. Fortunately, the next 4+ miles are gloriously downhill with a few flat stretches to recover the legs. I got jacked up on pure adrenaline and used my full Sasquatch powers to fly down the mountain as hard as I could. A bunch of 6:50 miles followed by a 6:30 as I plunged down a ten percent grade with a turn onto a bridge into the city, taking down some more roadkill. Seeing the whole Asheville skyline was such an adrenaline rush. Thankfully the traffic was light as I came across and I was able to go over the bridge without any problem. I hit a very busy intersection as the crossing timer was dwindling down and I sprinted across just in time. One more turn and BAM there was the finish line. I was going mach 5 at the time, so I think I took my team by surprise. No chance for a together finish. Thankfully, Geary had a cold IPA in hand for me the second I crossed the line, and Van 2 had gotten a ton of Mellow Mushroom pizzas. Impromptu tailgate party in the parking lot as we all had different plans for the weekend. Especially Darrell.
Overall a great result for the Rock Hill Striders – 16th overall in 26 hours and 19 minutes. Not too shabby in this crazy competitive relay. Top finishers Asheville Running Collective and Charlotte Running Club both went under the previous record in 19 hours and change, well under 6 minute pace. Insane. This race always kills me, but I’m sure I’ll be back again.