If you know me, you already know I’m an absolute freak when it comes to road racing. The only thing that perhaps exceeds my road racing enthusiasm is the relay. But what if you could have a relay without the sleep deprivation, include mountain scenery, and have breweries at the start and finish and along the way. Uh, are you kidding me?
And so obviously I was born to do the Ville to Ville . Seventy three miles through the Blue Ridge from Asheville to Greenville. Beer themed with start at Highlands Brewery and finish in Greenville sponsored by Thomas Creek. Drew Williams asked if I was interested in forming a team for this and I think I broke land speed records for texting back. We signed up on the day registration opened, which was over a year in advance. Apparently the running/craft beer combo is quite popular because I think the thing sold out almost immediately. This is basically unheard of for an event that hasn’t even happened yet. Whoever dreamed this thing up is a genius.
So after much consternation about team names, we came up with CAREBEERS, which means pretty much nothing, other than a nod to the absurdly ubiquitous cartoon/toy of the 80’s in which we all grew up. Rob Yerger was on board and he was hopeful he could get local awesome beer bar Craft and Draft to sponsor our team shirts. Randy “Silent H” Hrechko, Matt McGrievy and Michael Nance rounded out our team, drawn together by a similar freakish addiction to racing and good beer. It just so happened we are all old so we also got to be in the masters division. Our egos also speculated that maybe we could be competitive enough to win this thing, though of course this was a complete wildcard. Being in the mountains, maybe one of the insanely fast Blure Ridge Relay teams would decied they like beer too and would crash our trophy hunt. We would see.
Over a year passed and luckily we were all relatively healthy and ready to toe the line in Asheville. Randy, Rob, Matt and Drew were able to take off early on Friday and enjoy the packet pickup party at Highland. Me and other working stiff Mike Nance had to catch a later ride. At least we got a chance to visit the Trailhead restaurant/bar in Black Mountain, stormed each year by the Harbison Trail Runners in their quest for Mount Mitchell. A friend of Matt’s from college hooked us up with a sweet air bnb deal, so we got to spend the evening drinking beer on the porch overlooking the forest instead of some sterile hotel. Very nice. Unfortunately I make poor decisions a few beers in, so I woke up the next morning I had registered for my first ultra at the Table Rock 50k in September. My registering under the influence is legendary. Please keep a computer away from me when I’ve been drinking.
The next morning everyone was good to go thanks to the combined effect of my iphone alarm and the amazing amount of roosters inhabiting the valley near Black Mountain. Given our aforementioned grandiosity, we had put down a 6:45 relay pace, which is probably a good reflection of our 10 k average ON FLAT GROUND. In case you missed it, Asheville is not on the coast. So, after fueling up on the breakfast of champions at McDonalds, we were set to go off in the last group at 8:40 am.
The relay setup was pretty simple – 6 guys running in order for the first six legs of the relay, with the same order for the second six. Twelve legs total, 2 per person. Total mileage per leg was about 3 to 10, and the total combined mileage varied widely depending on which legs you ran. There were also ultra teams, who obviously did a lot more with fewer people.
Randy, perhaps because he had to miss some of the team planning meetings, i.e. drinking beer at Flying Saucer, got stuck with Leg 1. Leg 1 is a 10k with an ungodly amount of climb, ranked number 2 overall in difficulty. They even call it “The Hiker” in the relay guide. And Randy hasn’t run a trail in forever. Plus, with a surprising 8 teams in the same start wave, this could be some brutal competition. Always stressful to go first because everyone knows where you stand against the field. I went first at the 2012 blue ridge relay and had some dude crank out 5 minute flat miles in front of me, leaving me several minutes behind. As expected with the brutal elevation and trail section, Randy was a few minutes off our spreadsheet, which we realized was going to be fairly worthless with all this elevation. Silent H came blasting into the exchange full of F bombs and the declaration that this was the hardest 10k ever. I don’t doubt it.
Speaking of hard, rob took leg 2, the HILLMAN. Although ostensibly named for Hillman brewing company, this 6 miler involved basically climbing a mountain and coming back over the other side. One part had 23 percent grade, which I can’t even fathom since the Quarry Crusher tops out at 10 percent. I didn’ t ask him about any walksies but I assure you I’d be doing my mall walker power stride that I brought out at the Hogpen races in January. This was rated the hardest leg in the whole relay, and the Yerg did not offer any argument on that. Matt picked up leg 3, the 5.61 miler sponsored by Blue Ghost brewery. Matt was feeling the pressure as technically the slowest on the team (still cranks out a 22 min 5k though) but he actually destroyed his projected time on this leg, so much so that I almost missed him coming in to the exchange zone. .He was doing so in style, decked out with a porn stache even Ron Jeremy would be proud of. He handed off to Nance, who took off like his life depended on it. I should say at this point that there were a few teams full of young guys that were clearly going to kick our ass. However, in the masters division it was looking like a showdown between us and the REDNECK POSSE, another group of our brethren of middle age. Though they were even grayer than us, they were killing it in the early going and had a few minute lead on us.
Next up was finally my turn. I am like the least anxious person on the planet but relays always make me a nervous wreck. I start catastrophizing about letting my team down, etc. I was a manic mess of stretching and portapotty destruction in the next exchange zone. I also decided to take one for the team and wear our official Carebeers shirt, which was supposed to be a sleeveless racing shirt but might of come out like an illfitting wife beater best suited for the trailer park. With my super white guns ablazing , I was only short a mullet from looking completely like Joe Dirt. But I was 1000 percent ready to go,and maybe put a dent in the posse’s lead. Uh, or not. Before I could even think about what was happening, Nance come flying around the corner having just passed the redneck posse’s runner. Holy crap – he made up a ridiculous amount of time. All of a sudden I realized I was running just a few meters ahead of the Posse and being put in the position of essentially racing their guy head to head. Any conservative plan in my 5 miler went completely out the window. I went off like a Banshee, hauling ass from the get-go, which, in hindsight, is not what you want to do with a big ass hill at the beginning. This leg was supposedly the easiest in the relay, but the long climb at the start was giving me the beatdown by the time I reached the top. First mile was like 6:27, though was probably at 6 flat effort given the incline. I flopped down the other side and had a sharp right turn maybe 1.2 miles in. I caught a glimpse of the posse still lurking just behind me. MUST KEEP GOING HARD. Another incline met me at the turn and I was quickly realizing that I was revving the engine way too hard too early, but I had already committed to this pace. Second mile was right around 6:27 again. We got dumped onto the Oklawaha paved trail at 2.2 miles in, where I hoped it would be nice and flat. And it was, basically. Only problem was I was hurting really bad for being only halfway done. The next 2 miles were on the flat trail and I kept telling myself just to keep going. Pace started bleeding upward due to the nice lactic acid bath my legs were swimming in. 6:30’s then 6:40’s. I was definitely scaring the kids on the trail, wondering who let the crazed redneck loose. I was nearing the finish when the route suddenly turned right and into a hill. Not a terribly steep incline, but at that point I was completely on fumes and just absolutely dying. Headless chicken mode was fully engaged as I flopped into Hendersonville, NC and the site of Southern Appalachian brewery. In my delirium I started running into a random parking lot before having to turn around and get back on the sidewalk. Finally I saw the exchange after yet one more climb. I crashed into the zone and handed off to Drew, just completely spent. Way to save some for round two, hero. 6:38 average pace, so not too shabby considering the hill. Most importantly, I suddenly realized my few second lead over the Posse had grown to a few minutes. On the bad side, I was completely and utterly obliterated, the heat of the day was growing, and I had a hilly 6.2 miler to go with limited rest. Fan-freaking-tastic.
I spent the time at the next zone chugging water and praying I would feel more recovered soon. Drew had a 5.65 miler which he absolutely crushed in low 6 minute pace and amped up our lead even more. Randy was all nervous about protecting the lead and feeling like we wanted to make up for his tough opening leg. He went out on a mission on “The Pickler” a 4.56 miler to start us off on the second cycle, ending in Tuxedo, NC. By this time we had started catching up to the earlier teams and roadkill was aplenty, in addition to the transition areas getting pretty crowded. To their credit, the relay did an awesome job keeping the traffic and parking moving despite a potential chaotic situation. We ran into Ilia Owens and her team in Tuxedo, with Jennifer Conrick as their ringer they recruited just a week earlier. Pretty fast last second replacement!
Next thing we know, some crazed 6’5” beast comes rolling into the zone all hyped up on a adrenaline and f bombs, and we know that’s gotta be the Silent H. He went into beast mode on the Pickler and took down roadkill like a tractor trailer without any brakes. Handoff went to Rob, who had the “Tali-Ho”, the shortest but one of the hilliest legs at 3.53 miles. The elevation map looked like one big mountain climb. Yerg loves his climbs. Right before the zone was a crossover into South Carolina and a total freefall down the other side of the mountain. McGrievy was the benefactor of the decline, and his 6.2 miler to follow had 1100 feet of pure descent. I’m sure it was nice to not power up any hills, but this leg looked like a complete quad meat grinder. At the next exchange zone, Nance was gearing up for a beast of a leg, 9.84 miles of up and down. I was starting to get nervous since my legs still felt like death and I was much more inclined to seek out a nap then run a hard 10k. Oh, and it had started getting warm.
With Nance taking off and with us still having a sizable masters lead, I realized all I had to do was keep it together on my second leg. Even though there was obviously a net elevation loss over the course of the relay, somehow my 2nd leg was a net elevation gain and was rated the 3rd hardest. Awesome. I got to Beechwood Farms and I started getting really anxious. That warmth I was talking about had gone all the way to really freaking hot. Almost 80 degrees. No shade in sight. To boot, everybody and their mom was at this zone. Randy and Rob, who were done were already wolfing down hot dogs. The three portapotties had lines out the yin yang so I was prompted to use nature’s bathroom. Thankfully there were no code browns on the intestinal horizon. Of course, in what has now becoming a relay tradition, Char and John Richards were volunteering at this zone. They brought donuts for our team and my ceremonial blue shoes toilet paper roll. I am forever thankful!
Poor Mike had a finish to his leg out in the blazing sun across Beechwood Farms strawberry fields forever. I got the slap bracelet and set out on “The Rabbit”, a 6.2 miler named after the Swamp Rabbit Trail where the leg ended. Immediately I get hit with one hill after the other. It feels like there’s no respite between these monsters and I start getting scared of an epic bonk. Everything feels like hell thanks to my balls out 5 miler earlier. And OMG it is hot. 80 degrees on the nose according to the gauge at Traveler’s Rest high school. There is one girl ahead of me who is keeping good pace and I just try and hang with her about 50 meters back. Pace is going all to hell, like 7:20’s, but I know all I have to do is keep this up and hold off the walksies…and the medical tent. There is no shade to speak of on this leg, and I am just in a world of hurt. My only solace is that I’m running alongside a virtual parade of walkers. Everyone is dying a slow death out here, and I’m knocking off about 10-20 roadkill per mile just by not catching the walksies myself. But damned if I didn’t want to. Hills just keep coming. Plus fast girl is actually slowly pulling away from me. I start recognizing part of the GHS swamp rabbit half marathon course towards the end and I get excited, only to have to dial it back when I feel the faintsies and the med tentsies start again. Finally we hit the main drag of the surprisingly hipster Traveler’s Rest and I am begging for the finish. I wasn’t sure where Swamp Rabbit brewery (exchange zone) was and I am just trying to follow the crowd. Some guy says watch the cars , pointing to the right, which I took as go to the right. As I cross everybody is screaming to go straight, so somehow I run completely across the exact center of the intersection. Very thankful that delirious Sasquatches get right-of-way in TR. I blast into the exchange zone, hand off to Drew, and stumble immediately around back. My teammates, already beered up and enjoying the beautiful day (if you’re not running a hilly 10k) are worried I’m going to go puke, but all I am desperate for is to not have the sun blazing down on me. A few minutes later all is good again and I’m ready to drive to the finish to get my beer on.
The finish area is awesome. Beer, food, 80’s cover band. Tracy, Brie, Kelly and Mrs. Blue Shoes herself (Mary) are there already and wondering why we are so far off our scheduled arrival. Turns out there were mountains. Somehow, Tracy got hooked into being the unofficial race photog, in exchange for a couple of beers and t shirts. Worked for us since she may have been partial to the Carebeers since her husband had the anchor leg. It didn’t take long for Drew to bring us home, rocking out a 8.78 miler in sub 7 pace in the same brutal conditions as my 10k slog just before. We cruised into the finish with a time of 8 hours and 48 minutes. Good enough for first male masters and 5th overall! Awards were a bottle of Thomas Creek’s official Ville to Ville IPA, which is amazing, and a trophy growler with the race logo. Wash everything down with beers and the best taco truck ever, and a good time was had by all. Later, we ended up at Barley’s taproom across from the official relay Aloft hotel. We met up with the Redneck Posse, who ended up getting 2nd masters, and they seemed like really nice guys. Carebeers will be back in 2019! Special thanks to Craft and Draft for sponsoring!