Last year, my RaceRecap closed with the words “pushing my body to a new level of adventure and extreme has made for me the BlueRidge Relay the best time of my life (excluding my wedding, kids birth, and yadayadayada all those other important dates too).” So I decided to push that level of adventure and extreme to new heights (or really depths), and join a 6man team this year.
I have never been so repeatedly put into the HurtLocker in order to see who I really am.
After the race, our van driver, TD, made a fascinating comment. He said it was interesting to watch each one of us get to our breaking points and how we responded to the adversity: Giving up, belittling, cussing, self-hatred, anger, or quiet resolve.
Through that lens I was able to look back and see how I responded. This was not just a running race, but an opportunity to explore one’s mental, physical, emotional and spiritual response to challenges. For me, the breaking point caused me to turn turn inward with frustration and a guilt that I had “let my team down.” That mentality was capstones when I chucked any empty water bottle and cussed myself out for having to walk the final leg. It highlighted a recurring belief that somehow I should be able to accomplish more than I am capable of, drawing back images of being an undersized lineman always having to prove myself (but to get to there let’s start at the beginning).
It’s all down hill from here…metaphorically speaking.
Time: 25:35 Pace: 6:31
Having watched Purple Crayon blast through this route last year, I wanted this route. In fact, I was willing to take on the beatdown of Leg31 (see below) to experience this run. For me, this was the most beautiful leg of the race where I could enjoy all of God’s creation. The teams were closely clumped together so we could pull off of each other’s adrenaline and halfway the tree coverage opened up, and you could see the valley below socked in by cloud cover as the sun rose.
As I rounded the final corner, nearing my teammates, the transition zone, fellow F3 men, a young woman whom I thought I had dropped back at mile 2 sprinted past me in the final 400 yards to foreshadowing the humbling affair this race would turn into for me.
Too Good to be True
Time: 17:03 Pace: 6:55
After a great first run, I felt strange about this run: just 2.5 miles while my teammates had already put in 7miles+ already. At its completion I would be through 1/3rd of my legs but 1/5th of my milage, so I quietly snuck off to run this route thinking to myself, “I selected the ‘easy’ routes.” The quick 2.5 miles downhill were not much to talk about, but by this point, I had long abandoned my plan to use this route to ease into my sustained race pace. It also began to rain on this route, which suddenly changed my perfectly packed ziplock bag system as shoes and socks got wetter then expected. So the gear prepared for later runs was now being soaked; mentally I began running through contingency plans.
With the little 5% grade climb at the end, the rain, and the faster than desired pace, I realized that there is a difference between plans and reality. Things on this race, and life in general, were not going to remain in my control
Kills: 0, but saw Frogger the whole way.
Time: 1:22:12 Pace: 8:44
In all my preparation, I knew I had to race two run–the front half and the back half. The first two legs (above) were really warmups for this leg, and the next two legs of the race would really be recovery runs for the final mountain goat leg. Here is where I had to stick my plan. Go out miles 1 and 2 at goal pace. Steady out on 3 through 5 and bring it home 6 through 9.
At first things were going as planned. The route on the Blue Ridge Parkway was great, started to see other runners and at least be able to briefly chat as we climbed up the hill. By the final climb, however, I was gassed but was energized as a young man blew past me, it gave me a rabbit to chase over the top. What caught me off guard was the descent. What I thought would’ve been sweet relief, now had my quads pounding so much so that my knees felt swollen from the exertion. But it was when I turned off the parkway for the final 2 miles into Blowing Rock that I really began to doubt myself. The heat was creeping up, the traffic, and the construction cones along 321 made me wonder what I was doing out here.
I also knew I told my team to expect me in an 1:15…but as the minutes passed I knew that was not feasible. This began the self-gnawing attitude that I was not living up to my publicly announced expectation and I wondered how I was going to complete the second half.
At this point, I had missed lunch and was starving. So I listened to Canoli who told me that there was a nice little sandwich shop behind the parking lot and up a few stairs. By that he meant, up 53 steps (I tried to count) and a 1/4 mile back the way I had just lumbered to the gas-station deli in Blowing Rock. Good thing I have no hard feelings!
By quickly replenishing myself with a roost beef sandwich, however, began another misstep in this adventure. After we drove to the base of Grandfather mountain, I immediately jumped out of the van to puke that very sandwich up. Proper fueling has always been an issue for my races, as I tend to celebrate Marathon finishes with a spew and a sprawl. And this became concerning because now I knew my body would no longer stomach most of my preplanned race replenishments. Tired legs, torn up stomach, soggy gear, and not even halfway.
Each mile further down the road I had to rely less on my planning and more react to the immediate challenge that was before me.
Time: 34:53 Pace: 7:46
This was my favorite leg of the race. I quickly settled in next to another Ultra runner from .5 to .75 to pace myself. She seemed unflapped by that previous leg and not as obsessively worried about the mountain goat as I was. Here I was able to stretch my legs out, open my gait and look up at the beautiful stars. At 10pm at night, pleasant weather, and on flats–this route was perfect. The only negative was the redneck truck who honked, fake swerved and yelled at me. It is a run like this that brings you back each year.
I have no recollection of the event in question
Time: 35:26 Pace: 8:21
By 1am, my brain and legs were fried. I do not recall the start zone of this race or the end zone. All I remember is coming across a doublewide with 4 dogs barking at me. One of the dogs ran off their dirtway and onto the road. It chased me for about .1 miles at the beginning and you can see a blip in my pace (a 5:02min/mile) on my garmin and the heartrate monitor as I had flashbacks to the dog who bit my @ss in Uwharrie National forest a few years prior.
Leg 31: Nothing Left-Breaking Point
Time: 1:24:26 Pace: 12:59
I was pleasantly chatting with friends at the start of this leg. It was at this very church parking lot the year prior that I declared the BRR the greatest event as it combined my love of fitness, love of fellowship and love of faith all into one event. Seeking to relive that experience I was grateful for chatting it up with CR, Snoop, Flay, and others.
Then I looked over my shoulder and saw Postfontaine sprinting in. I have never cursed someone under my breath before, but seriously where in the heck did he come from so quickly…and why…oh why did I request this runner position now that the beautiful images of Leg1 had long been puked out of my system.
I regrettably took the blue bracelet and slapped it around my wrist and lumbered off.
The first mile and a half were perfectly flat, yet at .25 of the first mile I got a double stitch cramp on both sides of my abs; and I was already hunched over. I knew this did not bode well, my body was done. My initial goal had been not to walk this leg, but by that point I realized that was foolishness, so the goal became not to walk until the switchbacks.
However, that new goal changed as I turned to begin the mountain goat climb.
I quickly calculated that this would be like doing 24 trips up the Muthaship in Charlotte (a large circular parking deck) with no descent.
But I lumbered on, and as each van approached I picked up my gait in case it was our team van to “pretend” like I was destroying this beast.
Eventually, I figured I was nearing the halfway point, and cracked and looked at my new GPS watch. I had now permitted myself to walk once it said 3.5 miles…it said 2.66.
I walked anyway, and just as stopped to walk my van approached which caused me to I forgot any attempt at pretend like I was a stud and begged for water and gracefully responded to TD’s “how you doing?” with “I am going to get up this f#cking mountain.”
Once I had stopped I knew I would have to resort to a run-walk-walk-walk-walk-walk-trot-walk-walk-walk-walk-walk-walk-walk approach for the rest of the final leg. So I set up a plan to run .5 miles, and walk .25. And off I went. Then I looked at my watch again assuming I was nearing the .5 mile plan…I had gone .16.
Plans versus Reality. This is where I tossed my water bottle and broke.
But the cheerfulness of TD helped me chip away at this leg. And at mile 4 I was caught by Subway, I man I had trained with (well technically behind). His encouragement helped me gain perspective and journey on. Yet I eventually had to break stride from him because I began to puke yet again. (Side note: this moment is actually recorded in the above elevation chart as the only elevation loss of 3 feet where I bent over to hurl).
Moving into delirium, I knew I was deep into the HurtLocker, and may have thrown in the towel had I not seen my van stopping about every mile to keep an eye on me; they became my safety net.
From this point on, it was pure foolishness as I was so far gone, at one point I remember thinking I saw my van driver hiding in the trees, but then on the next switchback he was outside the van cheering me on and ready to dump water on my head.
Eventually, somehow, miraculously my watch buzzed mile 6. A half mile to go.
At this point, I dug deep and dreamt about my training run with the triplets and my wife. We live on a .25 mile hill at 7% grade. One great Sunday afternoon, I ran that hill 10 times with Thomas and Lindsay while James handed me water. This memory motivated me to run into the finish so I could crack a 13:00min pace and finish the pace at 12:59.
Killed: Too many to count
Distance: 31.16 Miles
Two days removed from this event my mind is still a flood with thoughts. I loved the commrodarie of the race, texting and tweeting and chatting with people along the way. I am amazed at the difference in a 6 man versus 9 man team as I covered nearly the same mileage but the difference in recovery time, sleep deprivation, fatigue and that dang mountain goat formed to entirely different experiences.
- Plans and Reality will never align
- You better surround yourself with good people to push through life
- You are your own worst enemy
- Never ever listen to Canoli’s sandwich recommendations