The amazing race

race start, the pretty girl in front with the bib ran the first leg

I just had one of the most amazing weekends. I’m going to try to stay on track here (you’ll see, that’s a play on words, heh) but as I’ve stated before, I don’t edit these posts–mostly because it keeps me honest but I’d be withholding if I didn’t also admit it saves me time. If I get off track (there’s that play on words again), I’ll do my best to reel it back in (that’s not a play on words; that’s a metaphor). I tend to watch people, so I suspect I’m about to head into a “personality type” post rather than a “running is so inspirational” post. Also, I really dislike the word “inspirational,” so…no…I probably won’t end up there.

This past weekend, I drove one of two vans for a team competing in Reach the Beach, a relay race–I mentioned it briefly here–that started in Franconia, at Cannon Mountain, and ended at Hampton Beach. It was a little over 200 miles in a little over 24 hours.

The team for which I was driving–“Sunday River Twisted Sisters” with Black Bear Energy in parentheses–consisted of 12 runners (hence the two vans) running relay legs ranging anywhere between two miles and nine miles. I had trouble wrapping my head around this before I got involved so I’ll try to explain it here so you can understand.

Fri morning pre-race breakfast in NH

In a nutshell, one runner started the race at Cannon Mountain and one van (holding five more runners) would check in with that runner along the course before driving ahead to a transition area. At the transition area, the first runner passed the baton onto a second runner from the team and hopped into the van. This repeated until all six runners from the first van finished their legs, at which point a second van (the van I was driving) met the final runner at a transition area and the sixth runner of the first van passed the baton to the first runner of the second van. The second van of runners completed its first six legs. Then, the first van met the second van at a transition area, picked up the baton, and carried on. Each van of six runners completed three running courses, which translates to 36 individual relay legs per team.

The final push of the final leg, by the way, was on sand. Imagine getting into a van on a Friday morning and running and sleeping for the next 24 hours, all within reach of that van. How do you think you’ll feel? Kinda shitty, right? Now imagine getting out of that van Saturday afternoon and running a few miles to the finish line. You’re almost done. How do you feel now? Kinda psyched, right? Now imagine the course directs you into a sandy beach. That’s just cruel.

getting breakfast Sat morning while I napped in van

Our team seemed to average about an 8-minute mile. I could be wrong. And I suspect if any of the team members are reading this, they will correct me. You know how I know that?

Let’s go back to my “imagine” scenario. Now, I’d like you to imagine the type of person who might get involved in this type of race. Multiply that mental image by 12. This was a tough, focused, competitive, and driven group of ladies. I’m pretty sure at least one member of this team knows precisely what the team average mile is.

Aw nuts. I wanted to get through this post without using the word “inspirational,” but I’m already failing. This was an inspirational experience. These women inspired me. Most of the team had never done anything like this. Many of them were not “runners,” per se and had just started training within the past couple of years. And a bunch of these women are over 40. I mean, come on.

You ready for another? One of the women is five months pregnant. If I were five months pregnant, I wouldn’t get up from the couch to refill my bowl with ice cream (thank you Groom), never mind get into a van with five other stinky ass ladies and go running at all hours of the night.

check out the body on this one. jesus.

Speaking of stinky asses, the smell in the van was never all that bad. I suspect, along with being intensely driven and focused, these ladies were highly adept at privately freshening up all that had gone sour. But, even if it did get a little ripe, I’m okay with that. Bodies are bodies. I’m not like some weird hippy who thinks dirt is cleansing, but I’m not going to criticize someone who is 18 hours into a 30-hour car ride for pooting.

Let me get back to this van of women. First of all, I knew six of the runners personally, one I had met once while hammered on red wine at a work party, and the rest I had never even seen before. Within my van of runners, I knew two runners plus the one from the work party, and the rest were just strange faces. My role was solely to make sure my group of runners got where they were going on time. A daunting task, especially considering the level of adrenaline and estrogen cruising atop those four wheels. This was a group of leaders being led by…me. Son of a bitch.

As I mentioned to the women in my van, I grew up the youngest in a large family of alpha personalities. I’m comfortable recognizing the difference between reasonable expectations (“make sure I’m hydrated
“) and unreasonable demands (“bring me a glass of cool water with three ice cubes at mile marker 3.7”). If the situation warrants it, I’ll put up with an unreasonable demand because those demands tend to stem from anxiety, but when you have six people relying on you to take care of business, it felt a lot like juggling, except… instead of three uniform balls (heh-heh..balls), I had an axe, a flaming torch, one rubber ducky, a bowling pin, and two pairs of scissors.

Sat morning rest stop

My solution? Remove all my expectations (which makes me think of my favorite song by the Coming Grass but I can’t find a link to it, so I’ll just link their MySpace page). I can’t juggle scissors so I let them drop. And all was good. It doesn’t hurt that I found myself liking this team of women. I really like them.

It’s a physical and mental challenge to compete in this race. At the starts, there was a lot of gig head–that moment when someone grows introspective and slightly bitchy just prior to performing. I have plenty of friends who play live music and hold art openings and perform in theater, and I’ve managed my fair share of speakers at corporate seminars, so I recognize the signs. It’s totally normal to forget everyone else in the room when you’re so focused on your own needs. And, at the finish line, there was plenty of crying and hugging and smiling–we even witnessed a few people drop, like all the famous footage of people shitting themselves at marathon finish lines and such. Full disclosure, I suspect most of the crying came from me. I was so proud of these women, so (ugh) inspired.

the finish line

I should point out here: I’m a team player, but I’m not a team person, if that makes sense. I don’t smack talk other people and I don’t fight in battles just because your flags are orange and mine are green. This shouldn’t be confused with being competitive (I take pride in my work and I notice when others outperform me) and it’s quite different than my ability to hold grudges and dislike people who have done me wrong. I’m just not all “same jacket, rah rah siss boom bah, we are the champions” about things.

I was okay getting involved with this team because running is an individual sport, in my opinion. It’s human nature to want to pass people on the track, but for the most part, it seems, runners track their own progress and speed. Don’t get me wrong: There was plenty of team spirit and some smack talk, but for the most part, people were really supportive of other runners on other teams, cheering them on and offering water if someone seemed to be fading. But, we did have team jackets and shirts and all the material trappings of group think. I suppose it was necessary.

For me, I stopped running about four years ago–a pulled IT band and a twisted ankle were too much for me to bear because I’m a big wimp. But, last night, I had a dream I was running again with that raging slab pulling me forward while I listened to my breathing and a little more rage to keep me going. I didn’t have anyone around me in the dream, but I know who inspired me.

Woo hop, Twisted Sisters. This weekend, I was proud to wear a team jacket.

Hold the phone! I just heard Twisted Sisters came in 4th out of 18 all-women teams and came in 277th out of an overall 418 teams. Not even a bronze, ladies. What a bunch of slackasses. I take all this pride and “inspirational” nonsense back.

Sarah Devlin

About Sarah Devlin

Sarah Devlin has been writing about the recreational industry since the late ’90s but ironically can’t run, swim, or bike a mile.