image (1)What is the Blue Ridge Relay? Essentially, it is the stupidest, most insane and illogically epicly fun adventure that I’ve ever experienced. Whenever I tell someone about this race, I realize my audience is looking back at me with a glazed look on their face that is full of confusion and a little bit of pity. There is a team of 4-12 runners. Let me go on the record and state that any team of less than 12 is stupid, insane and just beyond my comprehension. What do you people eat for breakfast? Cookies with sprinkles of screws and cocaine? We have 12 runners, or I don’t do it! Your team must run from Grayson Highlands State Park in VA all the way down to Asheville, NC, roughly 208 miles. The course takes you along the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. These mountains take our breath away, but it ain’t cause they’re pretty. Your 12 person team is divided into 2 vans and the vans leap frog one another the entire course. There is always an active van (in constant motion picking up runners that have just finished their leg and dropping off the next runner in line, with a few stops to let someone throw up or pee along the way) and an inactive van (we’re waiting….). Runners must stay in their “batting order” the entire race. Each runner has 3 legs to run ranging anywhere from 2.2 miles downhill to 10 miles up Grandfather Mountain (no really, I’m serious). Once you start, you don’t stop until you reach the finish. Sleep is highly uncommon and even if you do manage to get some shut eye, it’s not of any quality whatsoever. Sounds fun right?

Thursday afternoon we all met at Sharon’s house to load up the vans. We had our standard large white 15 passenger rental van and then there was the Party Bus (aka The Jolly Rancher) which was oh so generously temporarily donated to us from Mills & Thomas Furniture in Swansboro, NC via super awesome teammate Pete! We also had another surprise sponsorship from Plimsoll Gear and they supplied our team with some pretty sweet shirts and they even followed us and gave us a shout out in their blog! We felt so super awesome and cool and then we looked around and got a good laugh at ourselves. Our runners range in age from mid 20’s to 60. We have some freakin’ speedy runners, but mostly we are just a bunch of average Joe’s  and trust me, we are A-Okay with that description. We just think it’s awesome that people are willing to support us despite our lack of elite status or any chance of winning or even finishing in the top 50 of this thing. All of the runners in the big white boring rental van briefly gave the runners that got to ride in the Jolly Rancher the stink eye and we hopped on the road!

After a nice snuggle with some suspiciously curly hairs on our blankets at a super classy hotel in West Jefferson Thursday night, we were up and eating breakfast at 6am. We strapped some blow up innertubes that looked like donuts (with sprinkles) to the front of each van and revved those bad boys up. We drove an hour or so to the start line, oh wait, that’s not the start line, where the hell are we? So, it’s safe to say we failed our navigation test before we even started the race and arrived at the start line 8 minutes past our scheduled race start time. Ooops. So we ate the 30 minute penalty and got bumped to the 9:30am starting corral. Skinny Jeff was up first and as our fastest flippin runner, he was super close at beating his van down to the next exchange. The Jolly Rancher was movin’!!!! This is where the excitement of the race comes to a screeching halt for van 2 (yep, that’s me) as we just have to drive to the next transition zone (where we meet van 1 for the handoff and go from inactive to active). Essentially it means we sit and wait for a good 6-7 hours for van 1’s runners to reach us. We finally receive the text that runner 6 is on and should reach us in about 45 minutes. Runner 6 is Megan. She’s like a Polly Pocket doll on steroids with a side of crack. This tiny little thing is quick and cute and can kick your ass. We knew she would reach us faster than her estimated pace and couldn’t wait to see her precious little self roll around the turn. She didn’t disappoint and even did a shimmie for us when she saw us. It might not have been for us though, I actually think it was for my husband who just before his leg took off his pants and shirt to reveal a skin tight unitard that he was going to rock for his first 5.6 mile leg. Party surprise!  We were off. Alleih-freakin-luiah! On to the next leg, I knew Troy was coming in when I heard a volunteer yell, “we have a sexy unitard approaching!” and Amanda was off, 4.6 easy, then Laurie for 5.3 easy. Let’s talk about leg descriptions for a moment. “Mountain Goat Hard” is your toughtest, then Very Hard, Hard, Moderate and Easy. I will tell you, easy is NOT easy, it basically means it just sucks the least. I think it should start with “Least Sucky”, “Sucks to be you”, “Sucky”, “Super Sucky”, “Are you Sucking Kidding Me?!” and so on and so forth. Laurie rolled in and it was finally my turn. I am an anxious person by nature. I was losing my brain waiting my turn!!! Then I started. I had 8.4 “Are you Sucking Kidding Me?” miles ahead of me and they were no joke. About 1 mile into my run I was less than excited that it was my turn. Mile 2 I hit my 6% grade that I had to climb for 2 miles and really started questioning why I loved running. Mile 6.5 I hit another climb, but this one was only 5% grade and I only had to hold the climb for 1.5 miles. Super. I didn’t die, which was surprising to me. I handed off to Mike who had 6.1 Super Sucky miles. Rocked it. Then Liz had 9 miles of Super Crapptastic on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We need to give Liz some mad props because this lady had a baby 6 months ago and she KILLED this run! She also had a breast pump in the back seat with a cooler! This Mom means business!!! We tortured her by making her listen to “My Milkshake Brings all the Boys to the Yard”. Repeatedly.  Van 2 handed off and drove an hour to our next transition were we busted a snooze for about 20 minutes of painful sleep crammed in a van.

We got a text at around 12:30am saying Megan was on her way. Our second runs looked very different from our first, mainly because these runs are done throughout the night or more accurately, the morning. It is pitch black out, there was NO moon and you are running in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE! It’s SKEERY! That’s why the backs of our shirts read, “Run Faster. I think I hear banjos”. Our van took over running at about 1am. No sleep, oh well, time to roll. Troy was up first and for him, the run wasn’t too difficult. He knocked it out quickly and without complaint. Then poor Amanda was up. She had 7.5 miles of pure crap to run. It was steep climb followed by steep decent, rinse, wash, repeat. I mean it was just insane. We drove beside her for a long time to make her less scared. For females, the night legs are very intimidating. Not to say it isn’t for males, but for a girl to run in the pitch black by herself in unfamiliar territory… I’m all over this double standard and I’m okay with it! It sucks more for girls! Vans started lining up behind us so we had to move ahead. The plan was to pull off safely and wait. There were no good pull offs for at least a mile which left our girl in the dark, literally. By the time she reached us, she was in tears and afraid. Troy didn’t waste one second and threw his reflective gear and lights back on. He jumped right out and kept her laughing and safe the rest of her run. It was a true testimony to our bonds as runners and a team. We are always there when you need us. They came rolling in laughing and at this point all the vans are gone except ours. It was then that we realized we were the final team on the course. No one is behind us, which is even creepier and crazy intimidating and lonely all wrapped up like a Moe’s burrito. Laurie was up and her leg was actually lit because we had just entered a small town. She had a short distance so told us to go ahead. Laurie is an amazing runner. She is steady and consistent and ALWAYS shows up both in performance and in spirit. While on route, she twisted her ankle pretty darn good. No complaints. She just finished and grabbed a bag of ice. She gave me a little grin and a pat and I was off for my night leg. I had 5.6 miles with 2 steep climbs about a mile long each. It was intimidating because I knew I was last and lets be honest folks, I am batt crazy scared to death of the dark. I got run off the road by a pick up within the first half mile so I was a little shaken. Our van stayed within a mile of me and kept pulling forward and waiting until I passed. All I know was, I was getting there as fast as I could, climb or no climb. I managed to keep my pace in the 8’s and got er done! Mike was up next for 5 and some change and then Liz had a downhill 3 and some change.  It was time to call it a night, well okay a morning. We handed off to van 1 at around 5:45am. We drove to our next transition about an hour and a half away and arrived at a very generous church that let us bust a snooze in the pews. For realsies! Most of us got about 2 hours sleep and then were up and eating breakfast. The church also hosted a pancake breakfast! We waited, and waited and waited some more. It was getting hotter and hotter as we sat. We got the text that they were coming in and we should be on the pavement (or gravel) at around 11:30am.

Our final stretch. It wasn’t pretty in any way, but we laughed and gave a lot of ass slaps and atta boys to keep each other moving. Troy had his hardest leg of the relay of 6.5 miles. It was rated Mountain Goat Hard. This translates to hoping and praying you will get hit with falling rock on the mountain to put you out of your misery. He destroyed his run with a gain of 1422ft in elevation. I cannot describe to you how ridiculous and impressive that is. Amanda was up and crushed it with a smile. She had 9.5 miles down Troy’s mountain. This sounds easy, but 9.5 miles isn’t easy in any way shape or form with no sleep and being that it is your 3rd run in 24 hours. Laurie taped her injured ankle and knew that she had a stupid difficult climb in the middle of her run. She said she wanted to conquer that mountain and would let us know if we needed to switch out runners for a pinch hitter when she got to the top to finish her leg. In true Laurie glory, she smiled and “whoo hoo’d” every time we saw her. She powered up that mountain and when we saw her she didn’t want a sub runner, she wanted to know how far ahead the girl in front of her was and powered on to catch her. She even closed the gap enough that when I was up, I could pass her team! Notice I didn’t say blow by her. It was more of a “hey, how’s it going. If you don’t mind I’m just going to kinda of scoot around you at a barley faster than you pace. Hang in there and try not to puke”. This leg wouldn’t have been that bad at say 6 in in the morning. At 3:30 in the afternoon with not one leaf of shade, it was less than fun.  It was hotter than a shirtless Channing Tatum in Magic Mike out there! It was sucking every ounce of determination I had right out of my soul. I thought of all of the things I would rather be doing. Childbirth was on my list of things I would rather do at that point. I have NEVER been that hot or tired in my life. So I hand to Mike to continue the run through the blazing hall of hell and after a minor drama fit that involved laying on the gournd in the shade and crying, we hoped in the van and were back in motion. We drove Mike’s leg with a lot of “Oh my God”, “ooooooooohhhhh”, “this sucks” and “do you think he will die” remarks. He specifically told us not to stop to cheer for him so we just waved as we passed and waited at the top. He said that the only thought half way through this leg was how much he hated me. At first I was offended and said, “Why me?” He looked right at me and said, “because you talked me into this”. That was fair enough explanation. I would take that hate with a side of guacamole. Liz was our ringer and had 6.9 miles to conquer and the pressure that the finish line would close at 6. We only had an hour and 20 minutes to get there. She knew the first mile was a climb and then it went downhill. We passed her about a mile in and she looked super pissed that she was still climbing. Milkmaid pushed on through and finished off our race with no problems. We ran her in at the finish and it was over. What a glorious, hellacious race it had been.

As a runner there are so many times I find myself humbled, inspired and motivated by other runners I encounter. This race is no exception. We reached a point on our final legs when we were all dead, nothing left in us mentally or physically. I was riding in the van just wondering how I would make it through this last leg. I couldn’t disappoint my team. I had to do it. I had to finish this. WE had to finish this. I looked out my window and noticed a runner ahead. I watched as he methodically put one foot in front of the other over and over and over again. He had the therapeutic heat strips taped to his lower back and was just plodding along. He felt just like we all did and yet his feet were moving and he was going forward. I wouldn’t say this man was athletic in any way, he wasn’t young, he wasn’t super good looking in any way, but he was absolutely glorious and beautiful in every way in my eyes. He was pushing himself beyond what seemed possible. He was going to get his team to the finish. He was not going to give up and when he was done, he would look back at what he had pushed through and swell with pride and emotion. It was then that I decided I needed to put my big girl panties on and get over it! I too would plod along looking tired and weak. It wasn’t a physical game at this point. It was mental that was going to power you through. I would move my team forward just a little bit further to get us to the finish because that’s what I promised to do. If he could do it, then I could put up the effort as well. It gets even more awesome when you tie in the other teams vans that go by you hollering and cheering and beating on the windows to encourage you. They don’t know you and they want you to succeed. They NEED you to succeed. Our van did the same for all of the other teams and it did just as much good for us as it did those we were cheering for. It is the spirit of running, the spirit of our community. I am so blessed to be a part of it and my wonderful team of friends. Jeff, Carolyn, Leslie, Sharon, Pete, Megan, Troy, Amanda, Laurie, Mike and Liz, thank you for motivating me and supporting me and putting up with my crazy antics and sarcasm. You all inspire me to be… well, to be. To push through the hard times, look forward to the good times and look back on all the great memories in between.

It isn’t about the win… it’s about the victory of the finish. I will steal the lyrics from CAKE and finish off with this… I find it describes a relay spirit in so many ways.

“The arena is empty except for one man, Still driving and striving as fast as he can

The sun has gone down and the moon has come up, And long ago somebody left with the cup, But he’s driving and striving and hugging the turns, And thinking of someone for whom he still burns.

He’s going the distance. He’s going for speed.

Because he’s racing and pacing and plotting the course, He’s fighting and biting and riding on his horse. He’s going the distance.”

Megan Hardee: 
“Blue Ridge Relay was awesome!! I had an great time and was on an awesome team! I can’t wait to do it again!”
 

 

Carolyn Brennan: 
“I loved the team aspect…my teammates were amazing support up grandfather mountain, i couldn’t have done it without them!”
 

 

Laurie Godwin:
“This was my 4th Blue Ridge relay year and what really amazes me was that how it really takes a team to do this and make it work!!”

Leslie Bunch
“Awesome group of runners and a great sponsor make for an amazing first relay experience. I am hooked!”

Sharon Lee: 
“Blue Ridge Relay-too much fun & too many stories to repeat!”

Amanda Lewis:
“I would like to thank Plimsoll Gear for their AWESOME support during the Blue Ridge Relay Race!!! We all really enjoyed wearing the t-shirts!!! The race was a true success and the Plimsoll Gear provided was truly appreciated!”