We drove up the Thursday afternoon before and were fortunate enough to be able to stay Elizabeth and Tripp's charming renovated farm house in Galax, VA. Early Friday morning, we rose and drove the 45 minutes to the start at Grayson Highlands State Park. It was completely dark and quite chilly, but we were excited. We took photos as best we could in the dark while wearing our kilts, team shirts, and headlamps. Our team was Road Kilt, a play off the term for when a runner is passed by another runner during a race. Since we expected to be "road killed" plenty during the race, it was an appropriate name. The race covered 208 miles from the Grayson Highlands to Asheville, NC. As you may guess, it was a hilly and scenic course.
Our start time was 6:30 AM, the earliest available, since we figured to be one of the slowest teams. The fastest teams would start at 1:00 in the afternoon and the amazing thing is, they would later pass us in the early hours of Saturday morning. The race started and our runner #1, Dominic, was off running down the mountain with his safety lights flashing.
Runners 1-6 (Jim, Jade, Sheri, Christy, Marc, and Dominic) were in Van 1 and runners 7-12 (me, Tripp, Elizabeth, Bob, Tina, and Shannen) were in Van 2. I was runner 11, second to last in the lineup and had a long wait until I would start my first leg. Van 1 went to the first exchange zone to wait for runner 1 to arrive and the slap bracelet to be handed off to runner 2 to start the second leg while Van 2 headed off for breakfast. When we came out to the parking lot after eating, we found we had been "muffined" by another team, Runner's Dozen. They had drawn their symbol - a muffin - on one of our back windows. We painted a circle around the muffin with a line through it and vowed to have a stencil and extra paint next year to tag other teams. We were relay virgins and it was obvious since we didn't know enough to bring supplies to tag other vans.
|Van 2 relaxing while we waited to start our legs 7-12|
|Shannen handing off to me at the start of leg 11|
|Handing off to Elizabeth after leg 11|
|The view during dinner at Canyons in Blowing Rock|
My next leg was #23 and it began at nearly 2:00 AM. The temps were in the 40s and it being early September I wasn't used to the chill yet, so I wore a long sleeve shirt and capris. When I saw Shannen running strong up the hill to the exchange, I handed my Umstead hoodie with my gloves in it to Bob, got the bracelet, and took off down the road. This leg started with a run on a country road with an open valley below the dark outline of the mountains to my left. I frequently looked up while running this section to take in the perfectly clear sky and bright stars. The course then turned onto a dirt road which wound deep into the dark woods and felt quite isolated and a bit creepy. I was glad I had my small flashlight with me as my headlamp just wasn't doing a sufficient job of lighting the ruts and changes in footing of the dirt road on its own. This section was also a long downhill and I flew down it in the dark with my arms raised for balance to catch me if I tripped, my breath steaming in the cold air in front of me, and my handy flashlight shining on the path before me. Several vans passed me on my right and most all of them rolled down their windows to encourage me, including my own Van 2. I got road killed again as a few runners, all male, passed me on an uphill section. They were moving swiftly, but at least one told me "good job" as he flew by. The last 3 miles of this leg was a winding climb. My team told me later that as they drove it they were talking about how hard a leg it was. Luckily, I didn't think it was all that bad, thanks in part to the fact it was so dark and also because the climb was gradual and winding. That is one good thing about running at night, the hills don't seem near as bad as they do in the daylight. I was glad when I reached the exchange zone as I was spent and completely out of breath. I had been following a lone female runner for the last couple of miles and I almost road killed her as we approached the exchange, but I didn't have it in me. I managed to complete the 5.6 miles at a 9:23 pace. As I caught my breath, Bob broke the news to me that he didn't have my hoodie and that it was left behind at the last stop. Apparently, I had handed it to a complete stranger at the exchange, not to him. For the rest of the relay, I tried to locate my hoodie, but to no avail. I hope whomever has it is enjoying it as much as I did.
After Elizabeth finished the 24th leg, we drove to the next exchange where we planned to sleep for a bit. On the way there, a deer ran in front of the van. Tripp was driving and suddenly screeched to a halt while the deer stared back from the middle of the road and just a few feet away. This was despite a long day, no sleep, and windy mountain roads - definitely some skill full driving on his part. I'm pretty sure I would have hit the deer if I had been driving. We arrived at the exchange which was at a church and a few of us caught a few hours of sleep in our sleeping bags laid on a tarp on the wet ground while the others slept in the van. It was very cold, but I was exhausted and slept soundly under the stars. After a few hours, I woke up on my own and went to buy some pancakes, sausage, and coffee the church was selling. I think it was 5 bucks for the meal and it was delicious. While eating, I learned from other runners that every team but ours was sleeping in the warmth of the church while we were sleeping in the dewy grass just a few feet away! We were so tired when we arrived that we didn't realize this was an exchange zone where there was an indoor place to sleep. Oops.
|Starting leg 35|
When I arrived at the parkway and the top of the brutal climb, I was pleased to see my Garmin showed an average pace of 12:20 per mile, pretty good considering what I had just conquered. The course profile had made the remaining 2 miles look like it was all downhill, but there were devious uphills stuck in there and just when I thought I was home free, I found myself facing a bit more climbing before the truly flat and downhill stretch. Though the parkway was beautiful, it was exposed and warm and I was ready to be done with my part in the relay. Motivated and smelling the barn as I like to say, I kept up a good pace while looking ahead to spot the last exchange. I got road killed again by a fast chic within a mile of the exchange. When I arrived, I gladly handed off the bracelet to Elizabeth and walked some to cool down before hopping into the van to ride to the finish in downtown Asheville. Incidentally, I just barely escaped some swarming yellow jackets we had disturbed by the shoulder of the road where the van was parked. My final and third leg was completed at an average of 10:29 pace.
|Road Kilt at the finish in Asheville|