Monday, September 14, 2009

2009 Blue Ridge Relay Race Report

208 Miles from Grayson Highland State Park Virginia to Asheville North Carolina
Team "Do Not Resuscitate"
Total Time: 31 hours 50 minutes (official time not available yet)

This report is out of the perspective of runner #9.

Getting to the Starting Line

The team met up on Thursday (9-10) at 4PM in Greenville SC. It's 12 people and two vehicles that needed to get there, get packed and organized... And yes, it's as much fun as it sounds! :-) We also got our official team t-shirts that just look AWESOME... Kudos to Alex for the design and Kerrie for getting the job done! Thanks so much! By 5PM we were on the road with the Clemson game kick-off time breathing down our necks to make it to Boone (NC) on time... Not that I would care about that, as already stated in a previous post... But if you are in the team, you hang with the team! :-) The three hours up to Boone, gave us some time for good old bonding. A couple of us, just knew one or two of the other team mates when we signed up for this adventure. It was time to get to know each other a little better in the prospect of spending the next two days together in very restricted space! We didn't make it to Boone in time for the kick-off, but the beer was tasty anyways and we also got a first glimpse at all the yummy snack stuff, that Kerrie brought along... I am still thinking about these brownies and really consider to get a Sam's membership again!

Clemson lost, but I didn't know about that until the next morning, because I actually tried to get some sleep. The alarm was set for 4.10AM in order to grab the last shower for the next 35+ hours. I slept miserable... It felt like I didn't get any sleep at all... Not unusual for me. My pre-race jitters were fully geared up and I wasn't even scheduled for my first leg until the early afternoon! From the hotel we had another 1.5 hours to drive to Highland Park in Virginia to the starting line for our seeded start at 7.40AM. My stomach was feeling squirrly (Thanks again Kerrie for this word, it describes everything I never knew how to express!) and the narrow roads and switchbacks sure didn't help. We arrived at the race site with plenty time to spare.... Picked up our race packages (great long sleeve race shirts!), had some breakfast, waited for dawn and took THIS picture of 12 people ready to rock'n'roll!

Van #1 is rolling and van #2 is taking a break!

In this relay, there is an active and inactive van for teams of 12. Van #1 is home to runner #1 through #6 (Joel, Dave, Chris, Jeff, Christina and Alex) and van #2 is the crib for runner #7 through #12 (Mike, Todd, Me, Kerrie, Brian and Terry [BF]). Joel started the race out with Leg #1, a 4 mile downhill within the state park. He was clearly sandbagging ;-), before the gun went off... Talking about hoping to make it around 32 minutes, just to blast the first leg out of the way in under 29 minutes! Great job, Joel! But I completely jump ahead in the story right now. We send Joel off for his first leg, then van #1 had to get rolling quickly, because they have to drive ahead to the next exchange zone and Dave had to prepare to take over the baton/wrist strap thing whenever Joel made it in. Our van is on a break until it's time to take over at leg #7 and we planned on six hours of free time. On our way down, we passed Joel twice (we stopped to take some pictures of the great scenery) and saw van #1 sitting in the exchange zone 2 before we headed out of the park and to the first transition zone (area where the baton gets exchange between vans). From then on, we got spotty reports from van #1 how they are doing and where they are at. The NC mountains is really a place with a lot of crappy cell phone reception... That always makes me wonder, how we were ever able to survive without cell phones at all! Anyways, I was worried about being bored out of my mind during our down times, but I have to say, that those six hours just flew by. You talk to your team mates, you talk to other teams and before you know it, van #1 is pulling into the transition area and everyone waits on Alex to make an appearance, while catching up on how everyone is feeling and how their first run was.

Van #2 is taking over the baton for the first time!

It was afternoon already and the sun was burning down, when Mike started leg #7 and with that, the race for van #2 had officially started too. So we didn't linger around long, hugged van #1 good-bye and got going to get to next exchange zone in time. We were on the course now and saw the beautiful scenery and also had a first glimpse on how hilly it was. Leg #7 was rated "moderate" and when we saw the hills on this piece of road, we really wondered what would wait for all of us in the "hard" and "very hard" sections of the course. We saw several people run/walking the hills. Mike made it into the next exchange zone with a great time (didn't walk once) and handed the strap over to Todd. While Todd was out there, we once again were surprised by the difficulty of the course. His leg was tons and tons of switchbacks and whenever you turned a corner there was still hills left to climb. Once again, we took LOTS of pictures out of the van having our eyes wide open for the beauty of the area. The next exchange area was a tight fit, so we had to get the van parked first. By that time, I was super hyper and nervous, because I was the next one up. I was waiting around for maybe 10 minutes until Todd came in handing me the baton and so finally the race also started for me. Leg #9 was a 5.2 mile piece mostly flat with one bad hill at the very end. I had a girl with a light blue shirt in front of me and she was my rabbit, but I just didn't have it in me to close the gap, just the opposite, she got further and further away from me. I got all kinds of paranoid about my knee and every slight feeling out of the ordinary made me worry, but that was all for nothing, because the knee held up great throughout the run, just my legs felt like they didn't have any juice in them. When I hit the last piece of the leg with the hill, it felt like running against a wall and I walked maybe 30 yards on this hill... That was my first time ever walking during a race, but it wouldn't be my last time until the relay was over, but more about that at a later point. I did a 9:59 mins per mile average on my first leg and have to say, I am a little disappointed about that, but on the other hand I am glad that I was able to do this without pain in a beautiful landscape and even had a dog as a running buddy for a mile or so! :-) In the exchange zone, I already saw Kerrie and she was ready to burn her leg up! She had 8.2 hard miles ahead of her. Around 3 miles of that climbing on gravel roads. When we passed her she was looking strong. We also waited around at a descent to check in with her and she told us that she was feeling good. So we took off again and waited for her in the next exchange zone, while Brian got ready for his run. He would be our first runner on the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) and we had to take a different route with the support vehicle, so we were not able see him on the course. From what he told us after he was done, that the BRP was busy, but fortunately not crowded. While Brian plugged his way along the BRP, we took advantage of using the alternative route to get a couple minutes of cell phone reception and also to pick up ice at a gas station to finally get our Gatorade cooler going. Now it was time for Terry and therefore the last leg for van #2 in the first rotation. He also had a piece of Parkway in his route, so we wouldn't see him until Blowing Rock NC in the second transition area, where we reunited with our peeps from van #1. Terry said later, that he started getting hungry around mile 2 of his 9 mile leg, but was able to get through it and really enjoyed the beautiful vistas on top of the mountain before he descended again. While Terry was still on the road, we learned what van #1 did with their downtime and that they got a nice nap in and were ready to roll once more. Joel was already dressed and prepped before van #2 even got there, ready to grab the baton whenever Terry would show up. And it all happened like clockwork... Terry in, Joel back on the road for leg #13, van #1 hitting the road again and van #2 heading to the closed burger joint to grab some dinner! :-) Life is good!!

Van #2 is taking a break or Lost in the NC mountains

While we had a nice sit down burger and wrap dinner and tons of delicious fries, we discussed, if we should stick around this transition area to try to rest some or if we should move to the next transition area to get a cat nap in. Fortunately, we decided to go ahead as we expected that van #1 will only need 4 to 5 hours to complete their runs. We followed the course and actually saw Dave running out there. In full night gear with headlamp, reflective vest and flashing lights as it was already getting dark quick. Sometime after that I snoozed off and when I woke up again, it was pitch black outside and the van was still moving. We didn't find the next transition area. The problem was, that there were directions in the handbook issued by the race director, but the exchange zones didn't have an address along with it, so we had trouble choosing the right spots in the GPS, but also had trouble finding it based on the directions. But Kerrie stayed calm on the wheel and Mike and Brian tried to figure out the directions and stuff. When we finally arrived at the transition area and just settled down for some sleep, we got a call from van #1 that Christina is on the road and that they expect for Alex to arrive at the transition area around 11.15PM... That was just 1.5 hours away and nobody other than Terry and I had gotten any sleep so far. Time flies when you are trying to get some rest in and soon enough, van #1 pulled into the transition area, Alex came running out of the dark handed the wrist strap over to Mike and van #2 was on again for the second rotation.

Van #2 is running through night and fog

The bad thing about running a 208 mile relay is that you will run portions of it in the night. The good thing is, that the NC mountains are not a highly trafficked area at night. On top of that, the race organization made sure, that all the runners looked like slot machines (flashing and reflecting) which should make it easier for semi-cautious drivers to spot us early enough. Mike was once again flying through is leg and handed the baton over to Todd once again. Todd's leg was a "hard" rated 7.5 mile piece of road with a lot of switchbacks and neverending climbs, in the woods, in the middle of the night. He was such a trooper and I sure didn't wait long for him to arrive at the next exchange zone to send me on my second leg. Leg #21 was rated "short and sweet" and it was just that. This was one of the most enjoyable runs I ever did in my life. I had an 8:49 mins per mile average for the 2.5 miles and that is super fast for me... Having a course that was mostly downhill sure didn't harm! On top of that, I just felt good... Knee good, stomach didn't give me any trouble, I was running through a community, so even though it was nighttime, I wasn't creeped out at all. The only thing that still bugs me, that this older guy was passing me at the beginning of the leg and I got very close on passing him back, but the leg ran out before I was able to do so. Soon enough, Kerrie was on the road with a moderate 6 miler. We saw her out there and where glad, that she had other runners in front and behind her to keep her a little company. The leg had a climb at the very end and it was the only exchange station that didn't have a sign 1/4 mile before the zone... When Kerrie came back to the van, she said she was about to walk the last piece of hill and then she saw the exchange zone... The thing was, she was blasting through this leg and we actually didn't expect her yet and just Brian's intuition or plain luck made him go to the road early enough that Kerrie could give him the baton. Nice team work right there! :-) By then the fog came in and with the headlamp on, you basically have a tunnel vision. Nice portion of this leg according to Brian, was the gravel road he was on. After Brian, Terry was back in the game to finish our rotation. He was out there for a 3.2 mile easy rated piece and he just plain smoked it in under 21 minutes even though he had to stop twice to make sure, he is still on track. Vision went from bad to worse and having yellow real estate signs competing with the yellow BRR signs sure didn't help. Actually, the van got lost for a little bit and by the time we finally arrived in transition area number three, we had to rally up van #1 to get Joel ready for his last leg... That was the closest transition that I witnessed from our team during the race. Other teams weren't that organized... We saw several runners, especially on the night legs, yelling for their team mates to take over.

Final break and cat napping for van #2

This time we didn't have as much trouble to find the final transition area. Not that I was any help with that, as I was once again snoozing in the back while Kerrie did the driving and Mike kept her company... As I said, I was asleep, so I don't know what everyone else did. When we arrived at the final station, some peeps out of the bus grabbed the pancake breakfast whereas some stayed in the van for some more sleep. The breakfast gang soon returned for a cat nap too. We found out later, that the church was open and that we could have actually laid down there instead of trying to sleep in the van. The night was over quick and we spend the rest of our waiting time with chatting to other teams. Kerrie and Brian even met a couple of Greenville running people and our Clemson tiger paw on the van sure pulled it's share of other Clemson students and/or alumni. Around 9AM (total guesstimation) van #1 pulled into the transition area. Except Alex, who was still on the road, they all were done with the race, while we were about to go on to our final rotation. We heard that Christina was cramping through a hard rated 7 miler, but was a trooper and fought through it. I had a quick chat with Jeff and heard that he had fun and Chris our captain had some major blister action going on... It's all battle wounds! :-) In general, we just tried to catch up once more. There was also a little puppy that was following the race for the last 10 miles and just enjoyed the bustle and getting petted by everyone. I sure hope the pup made it make home alright.

Van #2 on the final stretch

Mike had the pleasure to do the "mountain goat" leg (the toughest leg of the whole race) for the team and he did a great job with it. We stopped on the side of the road halfway up the mountain to check in with him and he was looking strong, despite sleep deprivation and a sore ankle. On the top of the mountain he handed the strap over to Todd for a hard 9.4 miles. Descending on a gravel road for 4 miles and than and endless flat for the rest of the way. It's just like Mike said in the van: "when you hit the flat, it's like someone is taking your wheels off"... But Todd was plucking through that leg as well, despite the heat and the distance and handed me the baton with the words: "It's all yours!" My last leg was 5.2 miles rated "very hard"... I looked at the elevation profile and just told myself, this is just like Paris Mountain. It's about the same elevation gain over 3.1 miles instead of 2.2 miles... I should be able to handle this. So I started out slow, feeling good, plucking along all uphill... I knew that I should reach the top of the hill at 3.1 miles and then it's all downhill to the exchange area. The climbing felt good, I wasn't worried until I hit the REAL hill at mile 2.6. Still not overly concerned, I just decided to power walk (didn't I say it won't be the last time that I walked) up the hill and blast down on the other side. But the hill got steeper and steeper and after every switchback the mountain was still there... At mile 3.1 and 3.2 and 3.3... I didn't see any support vehicles anymore from the other teams and I started freaking out, if I was on track still, so I finally stopped an oncoming car and asked if I was still on the road for the race. He was a young dude and just laughed and said that I was still on course and just need to keep going. Finally at mile 3.5 I hit the top of the hill and just as steep as it was coming up, it was steep going down the other side. No way, I would be able to blast down this hill, not with my rudimentary downhill skills and the worries about my knees. I had an 11:25 mins per mile average for this leg and even though this is slow, I feel that I gave my all... Every picture that was taken for an hour after this leg has me with a pain-twisted face. Even Kerrie asked me if I was alright when I handed the baton over before she blasted out to complete her last leg. Her exchange zone was a nasty one, because the vans all where parked at the bottom of the hill, but the actual exchange point was several hundred yards up the hill and that after the last hard effort in the afternoon heat. Now Brian was on for his last piece of race. Once again, he ran on the BRP, but this time, we were allowed to take the same route. We stopped at an overlook and took a couple of pictures of a biker group and they in turn took a picture of us. I think they thought we were completely crazy running along this road. We asked them to enjoy their day and watch out for runners on the Parkway. Brian was done fast and so Terry, our last runner, on the last leg was on the road. We got back in the van, making time to get to the finish line in downtown Asheville NC meeting up with the rest of the team. We passed Terry and he looked like he meant business and we were about to witness it! :-) The original plan was, to jog over the finish line together as a team. When he got in sight, we saw that he was going fast. His eyes were locked in at the guy in front of him and he wanted to pass bad. We gestured to slow down, while the other guys team was closing in on their team mate. Terry was taken by surprise and almost crashed into the group, then sped up again and went over the finish line with the other group... Oh well... At the end we got THIS group picture and that is sure evidence enough.

Going back to Greenville SC

We were all tired and all pretty smelly by this point. Some of us are from out of town and planned to drive back home once we got back to Greenville. So we didn't stick around long after the finish, jumped into the cars and headed back home... On the way we started reflecting on this trip, as much as it is possible so early on.

This is the race report out of my perspective. I can't wait to read what kind of impressions my team mates and the other teams took home from this adventure.... And I will put the links for these accounts in my next posts as I receive them.


  1. great job on the race. You pretty well nailed it! I so enjoyed reading your blog. You and Terry are very special people. I am so happy to know you both and consider you good friends!

  2. Great race wrap up. Thanks for stopping by my blog - just wanted to let you know that I added a link to your post. I'm glad that my information was helpful - if you have any tips to share with future BRR runners, I'd love to read them in your blog!

  3. Great job on the race and your report! I will link to this from my blog as well.