2011 Palmetto 200 - Recap (TrySports Believe Achieve 200)

One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it sometimes when one gets up at the tender solemn dawn-time and goes out and stands alone and throws one's head far back and looks up and up and watches the pale sky slowly changing and flushing and marvelous unknown things happening until the East almost makes one cry out and one's heart stands still at the strange unchanging majesty of the rising of the sun--which has been happening every morning for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. One knows it then for a moment or so. And one knows it sometimes when one stands by oneself in a wood at sunset and the mysterious deep gold stillness slanting through and under the branches seems to be saying slowly again and again something one cannot quite hear, however much one tries. Then sometimes the immense quiet of the dark blue at night with millions of stars waiting and watching makes one sure; and sometimes a sound of far-off music makes it true; and sometimes a look in some one's eyes. 
- Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Secret Garden

I thought of this passage as I ran my second leg of the Palmetto 200.  I was running down a country road in the middle of the night, thinking how fortunate I was to be part of this incredible experience and this awesome adventure.

This was my second year running the Palmetto 200 (a relay race in South Carolina from Columbia to Folly Beach - about 206 total miles).  This year I was part of the TrySports Believe Achieve 200 team which was made up of TrySports staff and Ambassadors (and a few people I found at the last minute)… 

One of the runners from our team (Tim) wrote a great recap of the race and has generously allowed me to share it on my blog.

Just a little background first.  TrySports formed our team a few months ago and we had two meetings and a lot of emails to coordinate the team logistics.  This was very different from my team last year which trained together for months before the race. 

A few weeks before the race one of our runners was injured and we needed an alternate.  My first two alternates ended up not being available so I started to think of people who would be interested.  That’s when I got Tim on the team (see his recap).

Not long after this we lost another runner to an injury!  I ended up calling the husband of one of my coworkers and asking him (Benjamin) to be on the team.  I was stoked that he could do it!  I knew he was a great runner and would love the adventure of this race.
I was feeling pretty good about our race and getting all the supplies in order when another one of our runners had to drop out (the day before the race)!  She had strep and was running a crazy fever.  She had actually told us earlier in the week that she was sick, but she was hoping to feel better by the end of the week.  I was running out of people that I knew…  Luckily, I got a call back from one of my friends (aka D for this blog) who decided to join us at the last minute.  His quote was, “you had me at headlamp and running in the dark”…  Love these people!

So now we were a full team and all we had to do was meet at TrySports in the morning and get to Columbia (of course I was the last one to get there).

Our team consisted of me, Ec, Glenn, Michael, Tim, D (van 1) Angela, Matt, David, Justin, Jason, Benjamin (van 2).

As for my recap; the team was awesome and the race was incredible.  I really had a blast and have a ton of memories to from all 27 hours and 49 minutes of our race.  The best memory though was seeing my wife and son at my last leg of the race (hearing my wife cheer for me and seeing my son holding up a big sign he had made for me).

I leave you now with a beautifully written recap by Tim (yes it’s a little long, but it was a two day race)…

by Tim Brennan on Monday, April 11, 2011
Recruitment and training
I had heard of the Palmetto 200 from reports on last year’s inaugural event. As a guy who runs – I don’t quite call myself a runner – the idea of a relay over 24+ hours and 200 miles was quite foreign. Sure I’ve done 5Ks, 10Ks and even did a marathon years ago as part of my “Uh oh I’m 40” mid life crisis, the concept of crossing the state on foot was way too out there.

So when I signed up for what I thought was a crazy race – the Rugged Maniac 5k – I thought that was going to be the craziest thing I did with running all year. And why not think that? Running through mud, over walls, under barbed wire, and a dozen other obstacles is pretty crazy, right? Well, that day I ran into Noah Moore. He had coached my son’s flag football team and we had seen each other at various runs. We exchanged pleasantries, he gave me tips on the course he just ran, and we parted ways. I finished the mud run satisfied with my time and placement and looking forward to doing another crazy run like that. Next up was to be the Bridge Run the following weekend.

Early in the week following the Rugged Maniac, I get an email from Noah telling me about the Palmetto 200 and asking if I might consider filling in for a runner who dropped out. It sounded like fun. He seemed confident I could do it (based on what?). And when I asked my wife if we had anything planned that weekend, she said no. Ok, I was in. Actually when I look back at the emails from that exchange I wrote to Noah, “I think I might be in.” While that is not exactly a sterling announcement, Noah ran with it and sent an email to the rest of the team that he had another runner.

Noah’s email announcement to the team that he found a replacement, suggested that I was a better runner than I know myself to be. This worried me a little. If I had to be that good to be considered a replacement for his team, then, “ruh roh Raggy”. Next I find out this is for the TrySports team; which is one of the premier running stores in the region.  Great. I have to live up to standards set by people who do running for a living. Well, 10 days until the race and I can’t back out now.

This “team” is hard for me to understand. Running is a very individual thing. One reason I run is because I can do it any time of the day and don’t have to rely on facilities to be open, team members to show up, or opponents to arrive. So the concept of what it meant to be on a running team was simply foreign to me. I don’t know what to expect and don’t take much time to imagine it. I’ll figure it out when I’m there, I guess.

The bridge run goes well. I set an adult PR, which is easy because this is my second 10K since I was around 17.  But my daughter got second in her age group with no training.  So proud.  I see Noah after the race and he pumps me up for the Palmetto 200. We make plans to meet for lunch the following week to go over what I need.

As little as there was recruitment, there was less training. I did decide to not have a beer until the run. But felt I needed a long run to stretch myself out after the Bridge.  At this point, I am able to look up my projected legs and it seems I am scheduled to do about 13 miles. I wonder if this is the shortest requirement and if so, did they give this to me because they know my limitations? Fine by me.

I looked online to the Palmetto 200 web site and reviewed their recommended training. To see that they highly suggest doing two runs a day to prepare for this, I started to get worried. Then to see the suggested list of things to bring included a sleeping bag, and Noah’s comment that “the fun part is trying to run the second day when you’re dead tired,” and I realized that this was not thought through well at all and I may be doing something very stupid. Usually my stupid choices are momentary – driving too fast on an icy hill, drinking too much on a Friday night, etc – but this was a stupid choice that was to last 30 or so hours. Really, do we get dumber as we get older?

I threw my hands up and figured I’m in it for the whole boat. Maybe when I meet Noah for lunch, he can ease my worries. So when Thursday’s lunch comes around, I am filled with questions. Somehow I think by getting the answers to these questions, I will feel much better about all of this. Instead, when I arrive, he tells me we lost another runner. We need a replacement now. And if no replacement, then we all have to switch legs. Less than 24 hours from the start? No way will we get a replacement. So we start going over what our new legs will be if we have to bump everyone up a leg. My miles go from 13 to 19. Or maybe it is 22. Let’s check again.

A couple of phone calls come into Noah as we go over the miles. One replacement can’t get out of a job on Friday. Another has to work late Friday night. No good. We start to consider logistics for van stops. Another call comes in. You can do it? Ok. We’ll send you the info. You’re going to have a blast! This is great. Meet at TrySports by 6 am. Glad to have you on the team. Noah gets off the phone and I email the team list to say stop the search, we have a 12th member. Noah talks up the new runner (D) as a young guy who has done a ton of races and great times. So he will take the routes of the runner he is replacing and I will stick with my current routes. I offer to switch, but am happy when the decision is to stick with the original plan.

We break from lunch so I can pick up my kids and I am happy to have been there at the moment when the team is made whole again, but as I get in the car to drive away, I realize I did not get any of my questions asked. Heck, I have no idea where we might bed down or what the meal plans are.

I’m not going to get any answers or train any more before the event, so I just pack up, suck it up, and hope for a good night rest.

Meeting The Team

The next morning I get up before the early alarm. I’m nervous, and worried. Not just for myself, but my wife has come down with a nasty cold that has all the markings of strep. She also reminded me that she had planned to take the kids to the air show Saturday morning and a birthday party Saturday afternoon. I had forgotten these events and felt horrible missing out on them while she was sick, so I could run a crazy race. Was I being selfish? Do I fail the team by helping my wife or take my wife at her word “We’ll be fine. Go do your run.” In the husband operations manual, it clearly stated that when a wife acts like that, you are going to be in a lot of trouble very soon if you do what her words tell you.

Bracing for the future trouble, I give her a kiss and leave into the early morning.

When I arrive at TrySports, the people already there give me looks that shout, “Hey vagrant, the video game store won’t open for hours”. Which is fitting. There they are moving gear in, around, and on top of a big SUV that is decked out in a TrySports paint job. They seem to operate in military precision and each is wearing a very official looking TrySports uniform. I am wearing an old rumpled sweatshirt and feel the bags under my eyes weighing me down more than my poorly stuffed backpack. Yeah, one of these things does not belong.

I announce I am actually part of the team. Noah got me to replace someone. One guy introduces himself as another Noah recruit. The three people loading the van take a moment from their frantic loading to gear up to the roof of their SUV (at this time, they remind me of ants furiously loading food up the ant hill) to say, “Oh you must be in Van 2 – over there.” I turn my attention to the little red Minivan in the middle of the parking lot.  Ah yes, this is a lot more my speed. No uniforms. No flurry of activity. Just an unassuming van and other members not in uniform.

Noah, the recruitment king who is responsible for no less than ¼ of our team membership, arrives last. Five of us pile in the van and are off to pick up the sixth member. So far it is Noah, myself, EC, Glenn and (D). EC is a computer teacher at Laurel Hill and the only woman in our van. D is the final last minute recruit and is taking a sick day, so he announces he cannot be in any group photos or he might get busted by his boss. Glenn is the tallest of the group and the van owner and driver. The trunk is as full as can be and I wonder how much more we can fit in when we get the last guy.

During the quick ride to Summerville, the sun is rising and we find ourselves not very good at setting up GPS units or using maps. But we find Michael’s house anyway. On the back of a pickup in his drive is a whole load of supplies. Water, Gatorade-like drinks, and sandwiches. Ah, so that is how we’re going to eat. I won’t have to rely solely on my Cliff bars in my little cooler.

Somehow we arrange and rearrange the bags, coolers, pillows, sleeping bags and whatnot again, and are off. I position myself in the back corner of the van. My usual spot for getting a sense of where I fit in a group. We realize our timing is off as we try to get through Ashley Phosphate road in the morning rush hour. It’s apparent when we get to the highway that we have lost a lot of time and are going to barely make it to the start if we have no more delays. Nobody else seems stressed by this, so I don’t.

Actually the opposite of stressed. This group falls into an easy rhythm of conversation. There are jokes about vans in other races, questions about “What do you do” and “Do you have any kids”, then laughter and general banter. Some people are more chatty than others. Everyone reveals various levels of fitness – from the Ironman Glenn to the Beerman me. It’s clear that this is going to be a nice group to spend a lot of time with. Nobody seems to be putting any pressure on the race or each other. Someone mentions that the woman in the other van is three months pregnant. We all marvel at this, pause to think about that, and continue on with our banter. I had brought a book and two magazines. D had also brought a book. Clearly these were going to be wasted space in our bags because the conversations and events were not going to stop.

For me, I’ve fallen into some great luck. Glenn is running the music and clearly he and I share taste. One of my first FaceBook status updates is something like “Hold Steady, Social D and Gaslight Anthem…. I’m liking the van soundtrack”.  Turns out that Glen, was also a bassist and is around the same age. We keep throwing band names at each other – and very few bands are ones the other does not know. So we plan to get some of the better recommendations to each other. I put up some more FaceBook status updates, text my family and receive the best video text ever – my kids telling me “Go Daddy Go.” What a great moment.

By the time we arrive, we are all good friends and have established a couple of inside jokes. Great start. I never thought how bad it could be if the van was loaded with people I did not like. Gladly, that was not going to be the case.

The Start
We get to the Historic Carolina Speedway a little before 9 – our start time. Already a dozen vans are in the lot. Healthy young people are tossing footballs and getting gear together. We meet our other van and get our equipment bag.

I learn at this time that the lead runners are given a bracelet. It is bright yellow-green and is one of those snappy bracelets my daughter likes to get. If you don’t know these, it is a one inch wide by about eight long rigid band that when any pressure is put on the middle it snaps out if its rigid state and curls up. So the idea is one runner takes off his or her bracelet and then snaps it onto the wrist of the next runner at each exchange. That’s when it occurs to me how silly this must all look. Because people have trained for months, sacrificing personal, work and family time, risking injury, and guaranteeing poor sleep and eating habits, all for the grand purpose of transporting a small kids toy 206 miles without it ever stopping. This has no tradition in history such as carrying an Olympic torch, carrying a message of military victory to a Queen or bringing a message along the Pony Express. This is just a kid’s toy headed to the beach.

We have time for a photo near the start and then the race begins. About nine teams start at 9am with a lap around the old speedway and then off to the road. The people in the other van intimidate me. Their uniforms, cool looking van, and general swagger suggest I’d better be darn fast to help them satisfy their goals. I try to stuff this insecurity into a hole for a while.

We gather back by the van while Derrick and I fill out our waivers. Then we try on our very cool Palmetto 200 shirts. Everyone in our group is opting for the size medium. I put mine on and immediately have the need to suck in my gut. Quietly I sneak back to the start line and trade up for a large.

Out come the van paint markers and the Ricky Bobby quotes. “If you ain’t first, you’re last”, “Magic Man”, “Shake & Bake”, “Run or Work?”, and “Noah’s Ark” quickly adorn the windows. After that is decorated, I think of Eastbound and Down, because that’s exactly what we’re headed for. But I’m too late and another van already has that painted on their side. We have to stay original. I think it is Glen who starts the mantras “Yes, I will sign your baby,” and barks out “I wanna go fast” to complete the Ricky Bobby greatest hits. We get on the road.

First stop is for gas and ice. EC has it in her head to get racing flags somewhere, but no luck at the station.

Noah guides us to a local breakfast place. It’s out of the way, but very cool. Serve yourself coffee, art on the walls, and a good crunchy menu with a southern flavor. In other words, while there was a good selection of vegetarian food, you know it was made on the same griddle that has been frying up various pork products in lard. Based on the pottery on display, we compliment the waitress on her nice jugs. She rolls with it. We should have known we were not the first group of idiots to think that was funny. Great breakfast is enjoyed by all while the banter and jokes keep rolling.

It’s going to be a couple of hours until our van starts our first leg, but we decide to head to the location right away.

First Leg
When we get to the town of St. Matthews, we get a little lost. Soon we find our way to the end of Leg 7 check in and are told we have to go back. The signs seem a little off, but we manage to get to the right exchange zone and park among ten or so other vans.

I’m scheduled to go first in our group and am getting nervous. Noah has called my first leg a sprint and I try to exorcise this description form my mind. I know going out too fast today can hurt me tomorrow. It is also heating up quickly and there is no shade to be found other than a little spot near a fence. But that shadow pulls away in about 30 minutes. I think it was here that we break out the sandwiches. Maybe it was later? Not sure about when, but I am sure that the turkey I had was about the best I’ve enjoyed. I can’t believe Michael took the time to make these.
The back of the van is opened and each member starts getting ready. Clearly, some are more experienced than others. Powders are poured into bottles and mixed with water, gels are applied to blisters, discussions evolve over best stretching methods, and the mandatory reflective vest comes out. Most of this is over my head, but I try to fit in. Derrick seems as novice as I in these areas. I try some of the Heed(?) electrolyte drink and in my nervousness I finish the bottle. I have another 20oz bottle of water. I stretch. I put on the vest which feels restrictive – or is it my nerves? I check in with the exchange judges. I stretch again. I put on the iPod, text my wife, put away the iPhone and stretch again. Van 1 arrives, which signals their last runner is approaching. I look at the big downhill ahead and think of the big uphill that follows. I see runner 6 approaching. He slaps on the band and I am off.

Instead of feeling relief at finally running, the butterflies just push me on. Also, I sense I drank too much at breakfast and just before the leg. I can’t get the iPod to turn on. It’s hot. There is a hill ahead. I’m running too fast. But I’m downhill. Is this OK? I’m not sure. I hit the uphill and still can’t get the iPod to work.

Police in the middle of the road are arresting some young black guy with dreads. No car around so that must have been taken already. I want to get the iPod working and might need to pause to do so, but don’t want to stop. I know my van is coming up somewhere behind me. Can’t let them see me stop or slow. Have to look good for the team. The van passes and my team yells out encouraging words just as I am nearing the top of the hill.

When I check my watch I see I am really going too fast. Nearing my first mile, I’m under a 7:00 pace. My Bridge Run was a 7:38 pace and our team plan was for 8:45. I don’t want to hurt myself for later, but think maybe I can survive this and recover well for later.

When I see the turn ahead I feel the fatigue from going off too early. I try to keep a solid pace and see the second mile lap pace slow to 7:18. Better. When I finish and transfer the all important wrist band to Noah, I check my watch at an overall 7:08 pace for my first leg and am thrilled to be done. The water tastes good. But my insides are a mess.

Maybe the combination of nerves and liquid, or the heat, or sitting in a folded position in a van then running, or a combination of all – but my bladder and kidneys were in pain. Not the “I have to pee” pain, but something new. Maybe they were screaming at me that they were overworked. I could not get relief at that station, so when we went on, every bump in the road sent flashes of pain from my kidneys to my eyes.

At this point, we realized our strategy to help our team in this heat was to drive ahead and litter. That is, drop full water bottles out the van at specified locations and hope our runner found them. Noah’s leg was long, hilly, and sunny so we called out that we were dropping the water bottle at a mail box, did so and went on ahead to the exchange zone.

At the exchange zone we got out and EC, the next runner, started getting ready. We had tied my reflective vest to the top of the van to dry off but I think she brought her own. I hit the port o let and tried to relieve my pains. Slowly they worked themselves out, which was good, because I was getting seriously afraid there was something big wrong with me. These were not pains I had experienced before. So much that I could not update wife with texts on the results of my first leg.

While waiting for Noah, we heard reports from another group that one of their earlier runners had twisted and ankle and was questionable to finish. Never happy about another athlete getting injured, we did get a little competitive fire at this news.

Noah arrived, EC went off, and we got ready to leapfrog to the next exchange. As it turned out, Noah never found that water bottle.

ECs leg went without a hitch and then D got his first leg – his longest. Add to that it was on long, bare, country roads and in direct sunlight we did not envy him.

D comes along and we head to the exchange zone. When we arrive we check in with the judge. Just a nice lady sitting by the side of the road with a clipboard who occasionally called out to her son back at the church to stop messing with the race signs. 
D comes in a half mile behind a Citadel runner and Michael is off. D is beat and I worry that maybe I should have taken his legs? I’m scheduled to do the least miles, not by my choice, but how I fell into this replacement. But man D looks drained. The fact he was at Madra Rua drinking Guinness the night before says he and I might be on the same training path.

I run across the street to pick some cotton for my daughter.

We head to the next exchange zone and see Michael along the way. With the most efficient stride of any runner I’d seen on the course so far, he is already catching the Citadel runner before his halfway mark. Soon after seeing him, we spy a mutt running in a neat little bouncy pace across the road, carrying a takeout box in his mouth as if he was the delivery boy for the local restaurant. It would have made a terrific photo, but we don’t take the time to stop.

At the exchange zone, Michael is clearly well ahead of the Citadel team, which is a spot we never give up the rest of the race. He reveals one problem with the race: at one point he had to double back because he saw a yellow sign in the side of the road and had to wonder if he missed a turn. That may have lost him some time. A few seconds in a thirty hour race is not much, but something to consider.

Glenn takes the baton and is off. Noah has been tracking our start times for each leg and announces that we are about 30 minutes ahead of schedule. Both EC and Noah text the other van to be ready for an early swap. Along the way, we stop for photo ops near Flea Bite Creek and a beautiful lake with nearly dead trees standing in neat rows throughout the water. Glenn is looking strong as he passes.

We made our way to the campground, which we had rented for the night. Van 1 was already back there loading up the tent they used. I got my sleeping back from their gear – because it had been packed that way during the first morning flurry back at TrySports. They took off and we parked at the camp site. A few members took showers while I searched for restaurants using my iPhone.

With half the team cleaned up, we went into town to get more gas, ice, water and find a restaurant. I receive another video text from the kids wishing me a good night. The rest of the van hears this and it elicits a group “awwww”. I miss the family. At this point, I’m still only texting Rachel. I know she is pretty sick. Her texts let me know that the doctor thinks it is not strep, but she has been knocked out all day, in on Amoxicillin, and can barely function. I wish I could help her and it pains me to be away.

The Clark’s Family Restaurant was too old and nice for us, so we kept driving until we got to a Pizza hut. This was not the best spot. The service was terribly slow. The breadsticks were so greasy that Michael ended up sitting out most of the meal in the restroom and Noah escaped to the van when the smell got to him. Glenn was the only one who got pasta and the rest of us had personal pizzas. Just not good all around.

Leg 2
The next exchange zone was another church. Churches, schools, and boat landings seemed the best locations for these exchanges. Because this is a van transition area for 12 person teams, there are more vans than usual. But this time, there were also tents set up in a darkened grassy area. People were also resting in sleeping bags speckling the grass. I’m quite tired, so as soon as we get the tarp laid out, I get in the bag and try to sleep. Glenn reclines in the van with his feet hanging out the windows and Noah lays out on the second row of seats, his legs dangling out the door. The other three take positions on the tarp near me.

Clearly the three on the tarp with me are simply not as tired. Their conversation continues with questions about other races. I want desperately to join in, but my gut tells me I need sleep. Unable to find a polite way to ask them to stop their friendly conversation, I pick up my sleeping bag and walk away. Foolish to think I could do so without them noticing, they call out apologies, but I hope I did not offend. Pretty sure I did, but too tired to explain. I find a nice little hill, lay down, and except for the sound of the port o let doors shutting, the space is quiet. I must have fallen asleep quickly, because before I knew it I hear Noah calling my name. He could not find me, but had gotten the call that the Van 1 was ahead of schedule again and the last runner was ten minutes out. My original target time was 12:30, but it looked like I’d be going out shortly after 11:00. At this time, I realize I had bedded down next to the church cemetery. Omen? Nah.

Quickly I pack my bag and try to get some food and water into me before the run. While putting on the light up vest, hat, head light, back light and glow sticks, Michael, EC and D try to apologize for keeping me up. I hope my explanation that I was not upset but that I had to prevent myself from joining in the conversation lets them know I really was not upset.

At night, it is hard to tell who the runner is coming along. Add to that the fact I did not know the people in the other van and I was quite lost. When I realize one runner is TrySports, I get my arm up too late and we miss the connection. The all-holy bracelet folds up in a circle and rolls on the ground. Either I grab it or Michael gets it too me, but I fumble with it. Michael calls out, “Just run, put it on later,” which snaps me into the moment and I take off.

While I was bummed to not have my iPod for this leg, I understand the rules. It is very dark, remote, and you have to realize this is the time of night on a Friday that you might get some people headed home from the bars.  Being more aware of the surroundings is prudent. I am determined to run this leg smarter than the last. Though I started too fast, I felt able to bring it back. My breathing and footfalls became regular and arrived at a pattern. After a time, I got used to the bouncing and swaying of the headlamp light on the road ahead. My thoughts drifted to using the headlamp light as a test of how even my stride was. Soon, I began to like having no headphones. I could control my breathing and arm notions better. Then I raised my water bottle to take a drink. As I tipped it up, the lower end of the bottle intercepted my headlamp beam and the reflection almost blinded me. I got a chance to laugh at myself.

Feeling quite good, I had more fun. I allowed the bushes and signs at the side of the road become bears, or gaunt old men with pitchforks, anything to play some fears, raise the adrenaline a bit and laugh at myself. Then I noticed my time. Too fast again. First mile in at 7:16. I pulled back a bit, but also noticed the lights of another runner seemed to be getting close. Balancing my desire to maintain a pace against my competitive nature, I pressed on at a bit slower pace and eventually overtook her. Then I saw another light in the distance. Too far? Hard to tell. My team van pulled past me and yelled out encouragement. Then somebody also added “You can pass her”. HER. A woman. Up ahead. They think I’m close enough. Am I? Should I go for it? Will that put me too fast again? Maybe the lights are getting closer. All right, why not? Just a bit more speed, regulate the breathing – in through the nose two three, out through the mouth two three. Yup, I’m getting closer. And there is a biker with her. Timing sucks because my pace puts me to pass the biker while traffic is coming both ways. How does this always happen? I press on and hope my body language encourages the biker to go off the shoulder a bit. He calls for his runner to warn that I am passing, but she has headphones on and does not seem to register him over the music and passing cars. Headphones? Violation! Or advantage me? I edge a little closer to her shoulder so I might surprise her as I pass. I sense a bit of a jolt as I come into her vision. She must have not noticed my headlight casting shadows ahead, because of the light from her biker and the cars. She tried to keep up for six strides and then falls back.

Soon I check my GPS and see I am at 3.5 miles but don’t recall my van passing me. Ahead there looks to be one car pulled to the side of the road. Is that the exchange? Doesn’t look like much especially after how busy the last one was. When I approach it, I call out to ask and it is confirmed that this is the exchange. But I don’t see my team. I shout out “Noah, Noah” and other people there do the same. No response. I jog ahead a bit. Still no team. The van pulls aside and someone asks if I’m OK, can I keep running or something. I should back this is the exchange zone and get confused looks back at me. Someone says I have another mile. I disagree. Something clicks and the van pulls ahead, Noah jumps out, he has to run back to check in with the volunteer, I see the last team I pass make their exchange and get ahead. Noah gets back to me and I slap on the wrist band, turn on his back light and he is off. Briefly I let anger get to me and tossed out a couple of curse words. It bugged me that I pushed myself to make that pass and gave it all up with a little mistake. As hot as my anger was, it was gone in an instant. Like the second F-bomb I grunted took it all away and I was thrilled with the experience of running at night. I might have to try this at home.

Checking my watch, I clocked that one at a 7:29 pace, even with the half minute or so I let the clock run after the exchange. Too fast again, but I figured I had about eight hours until my next run. Plenty of time to recover.

A bit of water and I get into the passenger seat to stretch my legs. Looking over at the odometer, I see where the mistake was. It showed 2.4 miles on the trip. It must have been set late and they thought I had another mile to go. Also, the exchange zone really did not look like anything other than a team van waiting for another runner.

Soon we pass Noah and he had already taken back the position we lost, passed a couple others and was on the way to taking over more. This was getting exciting. Then we see something unusual. At one point, we pull off the side of the road when we see another runner approach the van ahead of us. He hands off his baton to a team member who takes off. We believe teams are not supposed to do this except at exchange zones and we chatter about whether or how to report this. More urgent, however, is that this is a runner with fresh legs and we think Noah may have had the previous runner in his sites as a possible one to pass.

Further ahead we pull to the side again and think Noah must be coming up, but it is a guy in a red shirt and he is cruising. We have no idea where he came from, but he has to be pushing a pace below 7:00. This has to be frustrating Noah, who had been leaving Road Kill behind him. (Road Kill is what runners consider the other runners they pass on the road. One van in this race was using window paint to mark their road kill numbers the way WWII pilots marked kills on the side of their planes). We tried to yell to Noah that at least one guy ahead was fresh legs and the other was not worth worrying about, but his body language suggested he was hurting a little from not being able to catch them.

The next exchange zone was deeper into the woods and so far away from cities, the sky was filled with the most stars you could see on this course. It was a non lit boat landing across some railroad tracks and a few boat motors were heard meandering on the water. Fishermen getting a late night catch.

Noah comes in and passes off to D who launches into the dark – a little Christmas tree bouncing down the hill. Noah is beat and admits to trying to catch the runners ahead at the end, unaware that fresh legs had him beat. A quick check with the volunteers and we find out the other team is “Just For Fun” and such things are fine by the rules. Competitive teams like ours cannot do that.

I cannot recall anything unique about the legs with D or EC. The van pulls ahead of the runner, the runner passes the van, the van waits until the runner is nearly out of sight and drives ahead again until well in front of the runner. A good system that ensures our guy will not get lost. Michael’s run has the only other event I can recall, and that was him almost making foot traffic road kill out of a opossum. So a dog carrying a takeout box and a opossum crossing his trek – what is it about Michael’s runs?

Glenn finished up his short leg around 3am and we exchange with Van 1 again. I must have been out of it, because I cannot picture this right now. Certainly I fell asleep during the drive to Noah’s in laws because I only remember waking up to drag in my sleeping bag and pack. Reports the next day were that Noah was driving and had a hard time keeping awake while EC provided some time saving navigation.

 I found a spot on the floor between a desk and exercise bike and dropped my sleeping bag. Using my sweatshirt as a pillow, I am out quickly.

Leg 3
Noah wakes us early when he gets the message that Van 1 has gained even more time. We’re about two hours ahead of schedule. That is great for me because my long leg over the IOP connector might not be so hot. But then again, I can’t get my morning coffee, which is my ritual.

Most of the team showers, but I opt for just a shave. With the first leg, any clean I’d feel from a shower would be short lived. Putting on my third set of running clothes, the TrySports singlet reminds me that we are almost done.
We get quick bites and head to the final location. Luckily we pass the second to last runner from TrySports (Angela) on 17 and shout out our encouragements. I get a text from Rachel that they are at the Waffle House and then headed to the Air Show. I think of suggesting they come to my stop, but decide to not interrupt their plans. That works out better.

At the next exchange zone, we get a couple of team photos and revel in our good fortune to catch some sleep under a real roof. We needed it. I think we had been on the verge of getting too giddy the night before but now had some rest.

Even though this was to be my longest leg, I was excited to run before it got too hot. And though I liked running without music the night before, I was thrilled to be able to listen to XM radio show Celtic Crush. All my favorite Irish music every Saturday morning. As I was waiting for our team to come in, a song played on that always draws out my inner fire and beings a tear to my eye. Soon another team comes in and something happens. Instead of the new runner reversing course to where the previous runner came from, he continued on, which was the wrong direction. Everyone yelled for him to come back and he did. But lost time. I thought maybe that will help me catch him. I was getting excited. Then another team came in, followed by ours. I took the exchange and thought I had a chance for two more road kill. Each was only 200 yards ahead.

What I noticed first was the runner in a red shirt who was ahead of me was quickly gaining on the runner who ran a bit the wrong way. So I tried to pace with the red shirt runner. It did not take long to realize he was too strong and I’d better not keep that up. So I decided to match the wrong way runner’s pace. It kept me below 7:30 and I thought I could hold that. Then a couple of depressing songs came on the radio. Can’t trust Irish music to stay upbeat. The island is full of rain, drunks, and tales of lost battles. I love it, but it can tend to be depressing. So I switch to my iPod shuffle and consider giving my belt to the van when I see them later.

At this time, I am feeling the wall. I have an urge to stop. But here is where the team comes into play. I know they have yet to pass me in the van and I can’t let them see me walk. I press on. My first mile shows me at a 7:31 pace and I see the red shirted guy has really put the distance between the wrong way runner, who is also added steps between our position. I’m losing out on the goal to get any Road Kill and losing the desire to go another step. Our van passes and cheers me on. I try to look strong, but I can feel the heat rising.

At mile two I have slowed to a 7:46 pace and have yet to make the turn to the IOP connector. The music does not inspire me and I shut it off. I hope for the ocean breeze to revive me when I turn.

At the turn, I see the runners way ahead of me. Further than I remember on Rifle Range. Losing energy. No breeze yet and the connector looks a long way off. Then it hits me. The stop. The wall. Whatever. For no apparent reason, I stop running and start walking. I don’t dare look behind me to see if anyone is going to make me road kill. But I grant myself thirty seconds of walking before starting up again. I tried to lock into a slower pace, but find I am unable. Even with the walking, mile three ends up as a 7:55 pace.

How to keep going with the bridge hill ahead of me? I have given up on passing anyone and I refuse to look back and worry about getting passed. I just think about my team. Maybe if I can stay close enough, the next runners can catch other teams. My team van passes me on the connector again. They must have grabbed coffee somewhere. I wished I had coffee.

Mile 4 promises marsh breezes, then a hill and a great view of the Atlantic. Surely that will all help. But it is that part of the morning where the air can’t decide if it is still cool enough to drift out to the ocean or is it warm enough to sweep over the land? So it just stays still. The IOP connector in direct sunlight with no wind is not a great place to be. I find myself walking again. Then as I reach the bridge hill, I walk a third time. I fire up the iPod to find something to inspire, but nothing. Near the top of the bridge I hit the midpoint and then Mile 4, which registers 8:27 pace. Not terrible, but not good.

When I breach the top of the bridge and pass the American flag at the top, I glance at the ocean view ahead. It should be beautiful and inspiring. But as huge as that expanse it, all I see is a tiny speck far ahead. The speck fills my vision and my thoughts. That speck is a team member walking out on the sidewalk to see how I’m doing. I know they were hoping to cheer me on as I closed in on another runner. Instead, I could hear them saying “He must be hurting. There’s no way he’ll catch them. Is there anyone behind him?”

Mile 5 completes as I near the turn onto Palm and I’m at an 8:49 pace. Really bad because even though I had two walking stints, I had the downhill from the bridge.

Mile 6 has two more walking spots. One right after another. It does not make sense to me. Usually a short bit of walking and I can fire it back up but that time I fired it back up and stopped before I knew I was stopping. I know my legs are fine, my lungs are good. I am just fighting my will to run. I finish it with an 8:29 pace. Now I know I am hurting my team’s chances but I would hurt them more if I don’t keep going.

Each time I start up, I know I am going at a 10k pace. A slower pace would be better, but I have not trained like that in a long time. I make a note to train slower and longer soon.

Mile 7 is simply miserable. I am fighting myself. A 9:06 pace is frustrating. I know the last hill is coming up. I can’t let anyone see me slow or walk, because I want them inspired to do well. I pushed it all I could up that hill and felt the first breeze of the run. It was soon gone. Taking what I could from the downhill, I made it to the transition and could not be happier to be done. I took the calls of “good run” as well as I could, knowing how I had disappointed myself. I thought of my daughter pushing her Junior Olympics run until she got delirious or he Bridge Run when she vomited at the end; and beat myself up with ridicule that a nine year old girl has more guts than me.

I check my overall pace at 8:18 and try to put on a better face. The rest of our runners did not need to see how defeated I felt before they did their runs.

I got to the van, got some water, and already started to feel the recovery. But mostly thrilled that I was done. I texted Rachel, got updates on their day and we were off to the next exchange.

Noah ate up some other teams and I took time to finally send the family video of me from the Duffy fields. It felt good to be done and I was past beating myself up anymore. It was time to help out my team.

EC got the exchange and took off on a good pace without her iPod. She also felt better without it. The day was heating up considerably. We pulled out of the exchange zone behind a van that a “3.1” sticker on the back. We had to laugh. Like that is an accomplishment? C’mon, you run 206 miles with a team, then put a sticker on your car. Ha.

D took the next exchange at the foot of the Ravenal Bridge and after a short bit of confusion, got going in the right direction. At this point, a volunteer told us of one team had lost its runner for three and a half hours at night. Scary moments for everyone involved. After an additional marathon, he was found and the team kept on.

D seemed to be cruising at a great pace when we passed him near downtown. Michael took the exchange on the other side of the peninsula at Mason Prep and started out at what looked to be a very conservative pace. I thought there goes a very smart man.

We followed the course over the Ashley River Bridge. Then it took turns which led through traffic intersections. At the first one, we saw another runner almost get killed by a truck which may have run a red light. This was clearly bad planning. Other routes could have taken the course away from such intersections. If you think of it, you have runners with sleep deprivation, already sore from running, and in the heat of the day – they will not be at their most alert. So you are asking for trouble by having them cross such traffic in this mental and physical state.

Then at the next street, the light takes so long, the runners are forced with a big delay. We made a mental note to comment on that in any post race survey.

Several times throughout the race, we have seen other teams not have a runner ready at the exchange zone. This happened twice at the next zone, which was to lead to the last runner’s final leg.

Glenn took off. We knew he was going to eat up some runners on this leg, but it was also going to push him to the limit. Hottest temps of the entire race and it was open roads with no breeze all the way.

We waited for him at mile 3. Calls came in where some people were confused about the finish line. Wasn’t it supposed to be at the hotel? Right on the beach? No, a little park near a bus stop? We tried to call others and get clarity on the finish. All we were certain of was that Saturday traffic into Folly could be a mess and we’d better plan on getting there before Glenn.

Glenn did pass several teams, but a team of Marines was well ahead of him. As the Marine passed me, all burly arms and cowboy hat, he shouted out “Hoo rah. I can’t wait for this f***ing thing to be over. It’s killing me.” I shouted encouragement back, but thought, man if this is killing a Marine, how are we doing this? Glenn passed and announced this was tough going, to which we could only cheer. What else can you do?

As we drove to the next point we wanted to stop at to check on Glenn, Noah announced that since everyone left in the van had done their last run, he could now tell us all how happy he was not to have to run another step. Man, did we all agree. You just could not say that to anyone yet to run.

We waited by a Piggly Wiggly and the Marine passed by. We cheered for him. Glenn came up, tossed me his fuel belt with all four liquid bottles empty, and repeated that he was dying. I took the belt back to the van, Michael filled a couple of the bottles and we drove up alongside Glenn to offer it back to him. He declined.

We drove ahead and saw our Van 1 teammates at the finish line. Traffic was a mess, but we got in, found a parking spot, and piled out to join Van 1. We had time for photos and a little conversation before Glenn came over the bridge. On the downward side of the bridge, he looked strong. His stride was long. We all joined in behind him to cross the finish line as a group.

Wow, what a feeling. I got a little teary-eyed as I put on the finisher medal. We had done it. I really could not express the surprise or joy I felt. I just kept holding that medal tight, allowing the turbulence of emotions to swirl around inside.

Someone said we were the fifth team to cross the finish line and two others were two-man ultra teams. I guess our position did not matter that much to me. Getting to the after party was my goal. The first Guinness I got tasted so good. But then I set it on a table for a second and a server knocked it over. So, I was glad the beer was free. I got another cup and drank it down rather quickly.

The after party was a great spot to talk with other runners, bask in the glow of being done, and finally relax. Our team did well and had no injuries. Still, it was a bummer to not be at the beach. I imagined getting a little giddy and running into the ocean, taking pictures holding the medal while standing in the surf, etc. Instead, a lot of our team made efforts to get out quickly. I had been texting the family throughout and getting updates on their day at the Air Show. I decided I wanted to see them soon too. So when the offer came to leave, I took it. Glenn drove me and EC back to TrySports. While driving out, we saw people jogging for fun along the road and over the Ravenal. So we felt it was our duty to call out to them – making fun of anyone who was not tough enough to do what we just did. Ha. We were too cool. A little foolishness, but there’s a bit of truth in our joking. As Glenn put it, “After this, it’s hard to get excited about signing up for a little 5K.”

What a great event. What a great group of people to run with. I feel like I gained five close friends and about 206 miles of personal pride. If I do this again, I hope to take what I learned and do it better. But I doubt I can have more fun.

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