It’s been over a week since Team Twisted Blister finished the Ragnar Relay. Finally, I’ve gotten a chance to sit down and write about it. Overall, the experience was pretty cool. I’d definitely do it again (though not in the near future). The team was a fantastic group of people with whom to spend two days couped up in a van – even if I didn’t really know any of them when the whole thing started.
The team was composed of 12 runners and 3 drivers spread over 2 vans. Van #1 consisted of Sara, Jake, Daphne, Sarah, Nicole and Britt with their loyal support crew of Tim and Eric. Van #2 consisted of Brian (me), Bryan (not me), Duffy, Scott, Meredith and Mike along with our loyal driver, Kelly. As I was not privy to many of the goings on of van #1, my report focuses primarily on van #2. Fortunately, Sarah has already composed a great write up of the race with many details of van #1.
After packing van #1 Thursday night, we all arrived at Scott and Meredith’s house around 8am to finish packing van#2 and head over to the starting line in Tarpon Springs. We arrived at the start around 9:15, with just enough time to spare before our 10:00 am start. Meredith retrieve our race packet while Sarah busied herself decorating van #2 (she had already done a bang up job on van#1 the night before). We had time for a couple of team pictures:
Since we were going to finish on the Atlantic Ocean, we thought it only appropriate to get a team photo in front of the Gulf of Mexico:
As we’re finishing the last photo, the race director gets on the mic and calls for the starting runners. Sara makes her way to the starting line and Meredith realizes that she’s forgotten to give her the slap bracelet that we’ll be handing from runner to runner throughout the race. Meredith races (in flip-flops) back to the van. Fortunately, team introductions take a bit of time and she makes it back with plenty of time to spare. The bracelet is handed off to Sara, the horn sounds and 30 or so runners rather anti-climatically run from the starting line and out the front of the park.
As a member of van#2, I’ve got nearly 6 hours to kill before my first run, but we’re all pretty excited this thing has finally started so we pack up the van and hit the course. We pass Sara on the course, and honk like crazy. We find a parking lot ahead of her and stop to cheer her on. At first it seems like we could just do this every half mile or so but we realize that we’ve got a long race ahead of us, so we head for a Dunken Donuts.
After some breakfast, we set out to find some ice and a watch for Bryan. He’s left his Garmin charging in Chicago. We find ice at a gas station, get lost for a while, then locate a Dick’s Sporting Goods near exchange #6, the first major exchange point (where I’ll start my first leg). We also decide lunch is a good idea, so we stop at a Buffalo Wild Wings right across the street from exchange #4 before heading the Dick’s. I have some water and some naked chicken tenders with the mildest sauce they’ve got. Not having to run for about 8 hours, Mike enjoys a beer while Meredith and Bryan rekindle their sibling rivalry on the Big Game Hunter Machine.
We head out of the restaurant and spot van #1 across the street, so we hurry across (making sure to do so at the light, thus avoiding a 15 minute penalty for jaywalking). Soon, we see Sarah in the distance and we cheer loudly as she hands the bracelet off to Nicole. We chat with van #1 for a while, then load back into our van and head to Dick’s. Bryan finds a watch, Scott loses his sunglasses, Kelly grabs some pillows at Bed, Bath & Beyond and Duffy picks up a bright pink snuggy. So far, this has been the easiest race ever!
We make our way to exchange #6 and figure we’ve got about an hour to kill. It’s at a Winn Dixie. I change into my running shorts, shirt and shoes, then jog around the parking lot a bit. There are a lot of other teams here, but the mood is fairly relaxed. Having loosened things up a bit, I head to the bathroom in the Winn Dixie for the pre-race potty break. It beats the port-a-potty, but not by much.
When I return to the parking lot, we run into Sarah’s boyfriend’s team. They’re an “ultra” team meaning they have only 6 runners – in theory. Unfortunately, one of their runners is stuck in Europe and they’ve got to make due with 5. They’re in good spirits so far and they make their exchange before us, despite having started a full hour after us.
After warming up some more, I make my way to the actual exchange point. I’m pumped. The warm-up has gone well. My knee feels good and I’ve been waiting more than 5 hours since the start for my chance to contribute to this effort.
I can see Britt approaching in the distance and I’m dancing around in the exchange “gate”. Team members from both vans are yelling encouragement to Britt and pumping me up to go. She hands the bracelet off to me and I take off running. A few runners have passed in the minutes that I’ve been waiting for Britt and I’m hoping to catch and pass them. I keep telling myself it’s a long race and I need to go slow, but there’s some serious adrenaline flowing through me. I run the first mile in 6:50. I’m surprised that I still can’t see any of the other runners in front of me, and I begin to realize that I’m unlikely to catch them.
“At least nobody is going to catch me at this pace,” I think to myself.
2 minutes later, I hear breathing behind me. Soon, I see a shadow creeping up.
“No way!” I think, holding on to my relatively fast pace across a wooden boardwalk. I’m nearly 2 miles into the leg and the route turns back onto the shoulder of a major road. The guy behind me takes the opportunity to accelerate and pass me. I don’t let him go easily. I tuck in behind him and match his pace for about a quarter mile before realizing we’re doing about 6:20/mile. I back off and reluctantly let him go, satisfied that perhaps I’ve at least hurt him a little.
I end up staring at his back for the rest of the leg, watching him slowly get further and further away. We make a left turn and find ourselves in a headwind. My knee feels good and I maintain a nice pace for the rest of the leg. My “planned pace” is 8 minutes per mile and I know I’m pulling back significant time on that. I pass the “one mile to go” sign feeling winded, but still fairly strong. Soon, I see the guy in front of me run right through the exchange ahead (He’s clearly on an “ultra” team). I can see the colors of Team Twisted Blister standing around the “gate” and Bryan waiting there for the bracelet. I pick up my pace, stride into the gate and hand off the bracelet. My first leg (6.5 miles) is finished in 47:29!
Scott has brought along a solar shower, so I strip down and become the first person to test it out. It’s not at all warm, but the water cools me down nicely. I finish off with some baby wipes and then get dressed, shielding myself from the team with the van door, and realizing hours later that I’d mooned the road behind me. I also realize that I’ve somehow forgotten my deodorant. Fortunately, there’s a CVS store across the street and I’m able to quickly run in.
It’s rush hour and we’re trying to make our way to exchange #8 before Bryan finishes his leg. We’re stuck in gridlock and we contemplate taking one of the bikes from the roof and letting Duffy ride ahead for the hand off. Eventually, we notice that the road goes from two lanes to one lane ahead and once Kelly makes the merge, it’s smooth sailing. We pass Bryan, honk like crazy and hit the exchange point.
Bryan passes off to Duffy, takes a quick shower and we’re back in the van. We soon pass Duffy, perform the requisite honking and yelling out the window, then find exchange #9. It’s getting pretty dark and we’re making our way into more rural areas. We find the exchange, pull in and hang out.
I’ve been feeling a little weird since my run, but figure maybe I’m just hungry so I pop a PB&J. I’ve manged to stretch and I’ve had my knee wrapped in ice in the back of the van on the drive from the last exchange. While we’re waiting for Duffy to arrive, one of the “ultra” runners arrives in the exchange saying that he’s already been there and that the signs have pointed him on a 2 mile loop back to the same exchange. There’s some discussion and some consultation with the map. Scott takes some time to look at the map to make sure he won’t make the same mistake.
Scott’s leg is 8 miles and it will be the first time he runs 8 miles – ever. We wish him luck as Duffy arrives at the exchange and he’s off. Duffy cleans up behind the safety of her snuggy and we hit the road again. We wind through a neighborhood and make a left onto a major road, looking for Scott. He’s tough to spot now that it’s dark, but we spot him and then we spot the hills. Sure it’s Florida, but these are some serious hills. They’re fairly steep and they’re long. We feel bad for the van having to climb them. We feel worse for Scott on his first 8 mile run.
We find a place to stop and offer him some water. I’m still in the back of the van, but I hear him yell,
“When did Florida become Mt Everest?”
We pull out, see another huge (by Florida standards) hill and quickly decide to get the beach cruiser off the van and offer him an escort. We stop in a strip mall parking lot and Mike gets to work getting the bike. I get a call from Alice who’s in a hotel with her own teammates for the Florida State cross country championships.
“Where are you?” she askes. I look around.
“Ummmm, I don’t know,” I reply. Then I spot the Dade City Chevrolet. “Hey, I’m in Dade City! I’m probably only about 3 miles up the road from you.”
“Well, there’s free ice cream in the hotel lobby from 8-10,” she tells me. I acknowledge that sounds good, and petition the team to stop should we pass the Holiday Inn Express.
Mike jumps on the bike and quickly catches Scott, scaring the crap out of him. We jump back into the van and soon make a right turn onto a dark and desolate 2 lane highway. Eventually, we reach exchange #10 which is nothing more than a few port-a-potties along a dirt road off the highway.
Meredith is pacing next to the port-a-potties at exchange #10. She kind of sort of needs to go, but she doesn’t want to be stuck in the port-a-potty when Scott arrives for the hand off. Both Mike and Scott are wearing headlamps and flashing red lights. We don’t see any in the distance. Duffy encourages Meredith to jog around to loosen things up. She does. She hits the port-a-potty and she’s out before we see Scott’s bouncing headlamp in the distance. I stand calmly by the road as though this is a spectacle I witness daily.
Meanwhile, we’ve outfitted our driver, Kelly in a reflective vest and headlamp. Scott arrives, hands off the bracelet to Meredith and Mike hands off the bike to Kelly. They disappear into the distance, but the leg is only 3 miles so we all jump back into the van and head off to exchange #11. We expect Scott to be exhausted, but he’s exhilarated. He’s experienced the runner’s high for the first time of his life. For the next 24 hours, we’ll hear about how he conquered leg #10 – uphill the whole way – many, many times.
Exchange #11 is even more desolate than exchange #10. There’s not even a dirt road here. It’s just a couple volunteers sitting in chairs alongside the highway. The shoulder is thin and large trucks are zipping by at high speed. It’s pretty scary. The volunteers are a little frazzled. They’ve had problems finding the exchange and things are a little disorganized. Mike is ready to go and Duffy dons the vest as his bike escort.
Meredith soon arrives and the hand off occurs. Kelly hands the bike off to Duffy and she catches Mike for a little husband and wife bonding over 8.8 miles of dark highway.
Back at the van, Scott and Meredith are trying to shower, but they’re getting eaten alive by the infamous Florida “noseeums”. They give up and jump in the van. We pull ahead, honking at Mike and Duffy, then turn onto another highway. It’s so dark, we can hardly see a thing except for the occasional headlights of a large truck bearing down on us. We stop shortly after turning and wait for Mike and Duffy as Meredith and Scott change clothes.
We see a few runners pass and then Mike and Duffy appear around the corner. We cheer and honk, then hop back into the van for the next major exchange.
Exchange #12 is a rustic state park. We find van #1, explain that we’ve been using the bike in the dark and they fill us in on what they’ve been up to since handing the race off to us. It turns out that exchange #6 was only a few miles from Nicole’s house, so they’ve had some pizza and comfortable digs during their down time. We’re all pretty exhausted and very jealous.
The grassy area at the park is very dark and it’s quite buggy, so Bryan, Kelly and I make an executive decision to head over to exchange #18 during a potty break. We head over to the “gate” just in time to see Mike arrive. Duffy rings the bell on the bike as Mike hands off to Sara. Van #2 is officially off duty.
After stopping at a gas station for some ice and snacks, we arrive at exchange #18 – a giant grass field adjacent to the Mascotte, FL city hall. The scene is like Woodstock. There are vans almost as far as the eye can see. There is music playing. There is a small booth selling spaghetti to runners. We pull into the field and look for a place to stop. We drive as far from the actual exchange “gate” as possible, nearly running over a couple of people sleeping on blankets in the middle of the field. We find a spot, but it’s crowded. Mike and I scout out a new spot on foot. We find a small gap between two vans and a tent and Mike thinks he can squeeze our van through. He manages to do so, but I can tell the people in the tent are nervous. Once through the gap, we’ve got a lot of space on the far end of the grass lot. We park the van and I set up the tent.
Bryan, Kelly and I share the tent while everyone else sleeps in the van. Scott sets an alarm for 1:00 AM. I settle into the tent, but sleep is nearly impossible. A van door slams almost every five seconds. Every so often, headlights shine into the tent as vans are coming and going. A dumbass loudly jokes about four feet from the tent.
“I wuz tellin jokes in the van,” he claims,” They wuz saying it was funny and I wuz like. If you think it’s funny now, it’s gunna be real funny at 3 in the mornin! Woo-hoo-hoo-hoo-ooooooo!”. It’s 11 PM and it’s definitely not funny. It’s the lowest point of the whole experience for me. I’m exhausted. I’ve been queasy since finishing my leg at 4:30. I’m mentally down. I want to go home to my own bed (as uncomfortable as it is) and the last thing I want to do is get up at 1:00 AM and run 7 miles.
After tossing and turning for 4.5 hours, 1:00 AM rolls around and we get moving again. Mike takes care of the tent as I get changed into my running clothes. I opt for a long sleeve shirt since it’s about 60 degrees. Soon, van #1 rolls into the exchange point and they tell us about their strategy with the bike. Other than a few legs where one of their drivers has manned the bike, they’ve been having the previous leg’s runner ride the bike behind the next runner. Collectively, we decide to adopt this strategy.
I hit the port-a-potty, but don’t have much time to spend, so I just pee and the queasiness sticks with me.
I’m standing in the gate of exchange #18. For the first time, I’ve donned a reflective safety vest, headlamp and blinking red light. Mike stands with me, donned in the same gear and ready to take over bike duties. Although I’m in a long sleeved shirt, he points out that I might want a jacket for the bike portion following my leg. Scott joins me and asks if I want them to stop with water. I decline, but ask him to have my running jacket ready at exchange #19. I tell him how to find it in my bag, then focus on the road behind.
A slight fog rises from the road. The music, the vans, the spaghetti booth and the random cheers of various teams all begins to meld into some surreal dream. I start to wonder whether I really am dreaming. Soon, Britt’s bobbing red light appears in the distance. There’s cheering, but I’m mellow this time. I remember very little of her approach. I don’t remember the exchange at all. I find myself running through the small town streets of Mascotte. I briefly think that I don’t know how to pronounce the name of this town.
I make a right turn and cross the street, running on a sidewalk with traffic now. In less than a quarter mile, my knee pain has flared up with a vengeance. I curse it. I’m less than a mile into my second leg and my knee hurts like hell. In a normal race, I’d abandon, but that’s not an option now. Aside from Mike, I’m the strongest runner on the team. I’ve got the longest total distance and each successive leg is longer than the next. I’ve got to figure something out.
“I’m right behind you, Brian.”
It’s Mike. I’m about a half mile in and he’s caught me on the bike. He points out a couple dancing red lights in the distance.
“There are your carrots,” he says. The dancing red lights represent runners ahead. I acknowledge that it’s nice to have a goal, but I’m in pain.
The headlamp doesn’t help much. I have to look almost straight down to get any light on the pavement. Fortunately, there are streetlamps and Mike flips on the headlight of the bike when it gets too dark. We eventually see a sign that instructs us to make a left turn. I mistakenly assume I’m just crossing the street and running against traffic. Mike follows suit. Fortunately, I spot another sign a block away and correct myself, running the next block and then making a right turn to run against traffic.
We pass a bar.
“Hey, let’s just stop for a drink,” I remark.
“Looks like we’re a little late,” Mike says. Indeed, it’s about 2:05 AM. Just past closing time. Mike remarks that this is probably the worst time to be on the road. It’s not very reassuring, but getting hit by a car right now might just put me out of my misery.
Shortly afterward, about 3 miles into the leg, I figure out a way to compensate. I’m not generating any power from my left leg. My left knee isn’t really bending much. It’s kind of flailing out to the side while my right leg generates all the power.
“My left leg is basically just a crutch right now,” I remark.
“That’s not good,” Mike replies.
It ain’t pretty, but I’m no longer in pain and I start to focus in on the dancing red light far in the distance. The middle of the leg features a “mountain”. It’s an incline of about 75 feet over the course of a half mile. We’re pretty far away from the town now, but the odd street lamp reveals the incline in the distance. I can see the red light dancing up, and it’s getting closer. The incline is hurting the runner in front of me.
I hit the incline and focus on shortening my stride and maintaining my rhythm – if you can call it a rhythm. I’m not just chasing a red light anymore, though. The rare street lamps are now revealing a runner. I’m getting close. The runner ahead crests the hill and I lose sight, but it’s not long before I also crest the hill.
I’m worried that the downhill will be tough on my knee, but I focus on a quick turnover and close in on the runner ahead. As we hit another, shorter incline, I kick myself into gear and pass the other runner rather quickly. I hear Mike conversing briefly with the runner and his bike escort before he rejoins me. Soon, I see the blinking red light of the “one mile to go” sign. Before long, I can see the exchange halfway up another incline. I push hard up the hill and hand off the bracelet to Bryan amid cheers from my teammates.
I can’t believe I’ve run this leg so well, considering how bad I felt at the beginning. I’m dazed. There isn’t much light at the exchange. Mike gets off the Bike as I try to catch my breath. One teammate puts my jacket on me as another explains she’s placing water and a Gatorade recovery drink in the backpack. Someone removes the light reflective vest from my body and Mike places the backpack on my chest. Someone puts the heavier orange safety vest over the backpack and hands the bike to me. I step on, but I’m on a hill and my legs are sore. It’s like I’ve never ridden a bike before.
I walk the bike to the top of the hill, jump on and finally get myself going. In an attempt to catch Bryan, I ride quickly through a series of turns. I had been worried about how my knee would perform on the bike, but it feels great. It beats the heck out of cramming into the van after running. I follow the signs through a neighborhood and eventually turn onto a paved trail. I can see Bryan’s blinking red light in the distance, but there’s something else on the trail.
It looks like maybe there’s a pole in the middle of the trail – perhaps one to prevent motor traffic from using the trail. I fumble with the bike’s headlight and eventually it flicks on. There’s no pole in the middle of the trail. It’s two teenagers making out. The guy flips me the bird.
The trail passes a gazebo near a lake. I wonder why they’re not making out in the gazebo. Why are they in the middle of the trail? It’s not like I was looking for a show. I didn’t want to run into the pole. Would they rather be exposed or run over?
Soon, I catch Bryan. I make sure he’s doing okay and then stop to open my recovery drink. I catch Bryan again and leisurely ride alongside, sipping my Gatorade. The trail runs along a lake. We’re close to Orlando now and the trail runs through some pretty ritzy neighborhoods. It’s a stark contrast to the streets of Mascotte I had run through.
The trail has lamps, but they’re all off. Despite the fact that the battery is running low, I have to run the bike’s headlamp for much of the route. We pass several runners, but a few very fast people pass us as well. At times, the trail runs into thick woods and the minimal lighting from the bike creates a Blair Witch Project feel.
I have no idea how long the leg is, and falsely encourage Bryan with “Hey, there’s the one mile to go sign” a few different times. These wind up being turn signs, but he’s unfazed as he’s actually studied the leg and knows I’m just a dumbass. We roll up and down hills. The “valleys” are surprisingly cool compared to the hilltops.
Eventually, we do pass the “one mile to go” sign and crest a hill. I can see the exchange in the distance so I coast downhill, happily announcing our arrival with the bike’s bell. I jump off the bike as Bryan arrives, handing off the bracelet to Duffy. We dress Bryan for the bike and he takes off in pursuit.
The team offers me some spaghetti from the previous exchange, but I decline. Now that the action is over, I’m queasy again. Duffy’s leg is only 4.2 miles and we’re quickly off to the next exchange. Duffy hands off to Scott and takes over the Bike. Bryan hops into the van and we head off to the next exchange – only 3.7 miles way.
The exchange is at a large church and we get Meredith ready for the longest leg of the relay – 9.1 miles. Bryan and I take the opportunity for a baby wipe shower as Meredith takes the bracelet from Scott and Duffy makes her way to the van. We clean up the van a little as Duffy cleans herself up and Mike naps on a bench in the van.
As we’re about to head to the next exchange, Mike gets a call.
“Meredith and Scott are lost,” he announces. We load up and Kelly drives off along the course at an urgent pace. What follows is a chaotic frenzy of Mike giving directions while on the phone with Scott and Bryan also giving direction from his i-phone. Noone knows where Scott and Meredith are. Eventually, the series of urgent instructions gets to Kelly.
“Will everyone stop yelling at me?” she exclaims.
“No one’s yelling,” Mike says calmly. “We’re just trying to find Meredith and Scott. Just pull over to the side of the road and let’s figure out where we are and where they are.”
As Duffy and I doze in the back of the van, Mike and Bryan eventually figure things out and Kelly drives us to a point on the trail where we figure we can establish contact with Scott and Meredith. We stop in a dark spot on the side of the rode and I finally get some sleep. Scott was thinking he and Meredith were about halfway through the leg. We dispense Bryan to give them the news that they are actually only 2.5 miles along – figuring it should come from family.
Bryan thinks Scott is a little delirious, but we figure that being boyfriend and girlfriend, Scott and Meredith need a few more miles to get over getting lost before we replace Scott. About 6.5 miles into the leg, we meet up again and Bryan takes over for a very relieved Scott. The van heads for exchange #23.
Mike’s leg is only 3.6 miles and he’ll cover it quickly. He’ll finish around sunrise and the bike will no longer be allowed on the course. We also know that Meredith will be in no mood to ride a bike after getting lost and running even longer than necessary on the longest leg of the relay. Unfortunately, at Mike’s pace, we likely won’t have enough time to get the bike back on the van and get to the exchange before he finishes. I volunteer to ride with Mike.
We’re in Apopka, Florida. Exchange #23 is on a small road. I grab the trusty baby wipes and head to the port-a-potties. I purge my intestines and instantly feel incredible relief. The queasiness is gone and I feel like a new man. I’m suddenly upbeat and starving. On the way back to the van, I run into Mike. He notes a similar experience.
We hang around the “gate” talking to the local volunteers. They inform us that we’re about to go through a pretty rough part of town. Mike appears to be full of energy. He’s doing striders up and down the road and appears antsy about the arrival of Meredith.
Meanwhile, van#1 is getting worried. They’re up and ready to go at exchange #24. I inform Tim that Meredith and Scott got lost, we’re about to exchange and Mike’s probably going to run the next leg at 7-7:15 min/mile pace.
Meredith arrives at the exchange and hands off to Mike. Mike takes off like a bat out of hell. Bryan hands off the bike to me and I jump on in hot pursuit. The spokes on the rear wheel are noisy. One of them had broken earlier in the evening during van #1′s legs and now it’s bouncing off of something making music.
I work hard to catch Mike almost a mile down the road. He hears me coming. Sure enough, we emerge from some trees into an industrialized area full of abandoned warehouses. We’re still on the trail, but we’re joined by several homeless people pushing their shopping carts and strollers full of various possessions.
The bike keeps getting noisier so I tell Mike I’m going to pull over and see what’s up. I find out that the spoke is bouncing off the chain, so I bend it around another spoke and hop back on. Pushing hard, I finally catch Mike again just as the bike makes a horrible noise and I find I know longer have the ability to pedal. I look back to find that the spoke has dislodged into the chain and derailed the chain.
I pull over, flip the bike and go to work on the chain. I’m envisioning the Tour de France where some guy jumps out of a car and fixes the bike in 5 seconds. That’s not the case here. I’m fumbling with the chain. I can’t get it to go back on. I’m standing on a trail in the middle of cracktown USA in my pajamas, fumbling with the chain on a beach cruiser bike.
After seven minutes, I’m realizing that Mike is a mile down the trail. Fortunately, the sun is rising and the light helps me to get the chain back on. I flip the bike and ride hard, following the signs to the next exchange. They lead me around a 360 degree spiral up to an overpass, then back down a 360 degree spiral on the other side. This pisses me off as I could have simply ridden across the street, but I spot the exchange and ride through.
“Where’s your runner?” the volunteer asks.
“He beat me,” I reply. He gives me a strange look and I quickly add, “I had mechanical problems”.
The members of van#1 cheer loudly as I pull into the exchange. Mike has beaten me by several minutes. He averages 6:18 min/mile for the leg and takes van #1 by surprise. Sara is not ready for the exchange when he arrives. Furthermore, our van is nowhere to be seen. Somehow, they’ve gotten lost in the 3.6 miles between the two exchanges. Tim works out directions to a Dunken Donuts about a quarter mile away. Van #1 drives to meet van #2 there. I turn the bike over to Mike and walk alongside him to the Dunken Donuts.
Van #1 grabs some breakfast and heads off to meet their runner at exchange #25. Mike gets busy putting the beach cruiser back on top of van#2 and retrieving his $5000 Cervelo road bike. He’s arranged a 50 mile ride with a local group. We bid him farewell and head to the nearest IHOP for some much deserved pancakes.
We arrive at exchange #30. In the full daylight, exchange #30 doesn’t have quite the same mystique of exchange #18, but there are many vans here. The day is turning out the be quite beautiful. There’s not a cloud in the sky. Exchange #30 is a recreation complex in Sanford, FL with soccer fields and baseball fields. The grass is short and there aren’t nearly as many bugs here as there were at the previous major exchanges. Meredith, Duffy, Kelly and Bryan spread out a blanket on a baseball field and nap in the sun while Scott and I sleep in the van. I get another hour of sleep.
Eventually, Mike returns from his ride and places his bike back on top of the van. He joins the ladies for a quick nap on the field as Kelly takes the opportunity to stretch her legs with a run before resuming her driving duties. I change into my running shorts one final time, pair them with a sleeveless running T and lace up my racing flats. I figure my legs already feel heavy so the lighter my shoes are, the better I’ll be.
I jog off for a little warm-up. It’s turning out to be pretty hot. On top of that, I’m pretty exhausted. I can’t even get a nice deep breath during my warm-up. When I get back to the van, I find out I’ve got at least 40 minutes before Britt arrives. I sit around for a while in the shade, then resume my warm-up with some more jogging. My breathing is still off and the next leg does not look promising.
I make my way to the “gate” and I’m soon joined by the rest of the team after van #1 arrives. They’re all pretty jubilant. Britt is still on the course, but the rest of van #1 is finished. They’re just waiting to pick up Britt and head to the Hilton in Daytona Beach. The thought of a hotel room with it’s comfortable bed and warm shower is the only thing that’s motivating me to start this leg.
Soon, we see Britt in the distance and the van #1 team runs out to greet her, running the last quarter mile with her. Mike pats me on the shoulder.
“You feeling it?” he askes.
“No,” I reply. “I’m definitely not feeling it.”
Britt reaches the gate and hands the bracelet to me. I turn and head down the course. I’m not feeling very good, but there are a few runners in sight in front of me. The knee is still hurting, but I quickly shift to my compensation stride and it’s not a big deal. I’m suffering from the cardiovascular standpoint right now it’s not good. I’m a half mile into an 8.6 mile leg and I’m already spent.
I head down a sidewalk, then make a right turn. I cut through the grass, trying to cut as much distance off as possible. The runner in front of me walks for a moment, then stops and stretches. At least I’m not the only one feeling crumby. The heat is pretty bad, but nothing compared to what I ran through during the summer. I pass the guy who’s stretching, cross the street as the sidewalk ends and run against the traffic. I quickly catch and pass another runner before making a left turn onto the shoulder of a main road.
I take a quick glance over my shoulder and don’t see the guys I’ve passed. I hit the 2 mile mark in 15:20 and slow to walk. I figure that as long as I make 8 minute miles, I’m not losing any time for the team. So, I walk until my watch hits 16 minutes and start running again. I hit 3 miles in 23:20 and follow the same pattern, walking until I hit 24 minutes. I make a left turn directly into a headwind and stare at a bridge spanning the St. John’s river.
I’m nowhere near 4 miles and I already want to walk again. I tell myself I can walk if I make it to the top of the bridge. I do and I gratefully walk. This time, I walk for awhile. I’m off the 8 minute mile pace and I’m just looking to survive. I start jogging again and the van passes me shortly afterward. They honk and I salute them with a raised fist.
They stop a half mile ahead and Bryan stands behind the van. I make a drinking gesture and he crosses the road with some water. When I reach him, I walk, drink and pour some water into my hat and down my back. I thank him and start into a jog again.
Now, I’m on the run 0.4, walk 0.1 mile plan. I’m managing a decent pace while I’m running so I’m still passing runners. I pass two more. At this point, everyone is very encouraging. I get lot of cheers from the other teams’ vans as I pass them along the road. One woman from another team offers me water, but I already see Mike ahead on the road holding a water bottle. I thank the woman and tell her I’ve got some water ahead.
When I reach Mike, I walk again. I drink, pour more water in my hat. Mike points out the next runner ahead of me.
“It’s brutal,” I tell him.
“As tough as leg #10?” he asks with a smile. I chuckle and raise my voice, directing it back toward the van.
“It’s painful, but it’s nothing compared to leg #10! It’s hot, but at least it’s not uphill the whole way!”
At least I still have my sense of humor. I hand him the water and start back into a jog. Over the next two miles, I slowly pull the next runner in. When I hit the “one mile to go” sign, I’m almost on him, but it’s time to walk again. I walk and I’m astounded to find that I’m not losing any ground on the guy in front of me even though he’s still running. After 0.1 miles, I start running again and pass him. I offer as much encouragement as I can manage while I pass. I manage to accelerate to the exchange and very happily hand off the bracelet to Bryan.
Scott is there with the video camera.
“How do you feel,” he asks as part of my post leg interview.
“Like Shit!” I reply between gasps for breath.
“What are you going to do now?” I look straight into the camera.
“I’m going to lay around for five legs in the back of the van. Then, I’m going to go to Daytona and get really, really drunk.”
With that, the interview is concluded and I hit the solar shower back at the van.
Done with the solar shower and with little white bits of baby wipes caught in the stubble of my head and my beard, I hop back in the van. With the heat and general exhaustion, we’re stopping every 2 miles to cheer and dispense water to our runners on the road. I get out 4 miles into Bryan’s run and offer him a choice of Gatorade or water.
“If you squint a little, you can make out your one mile to go mark in the distance,” I tell him. He sees it and perks up. It turns out his new watch is not very accurate and he wasn’t expecting to see it for quite a while.
We drive ahead to the exchange and Duffy readies herself to take over. Bryan soon makes his way in and Duffy is off. Again, we drive ahead 2 miles and stop to get Duffy some water. Another 2 miles up, we spot a BP station outside a small local racing track and stop. We can hear the roar of race car engines when we exit the van. Bryan has stripped off his shorts and stands in spandex and a T-shirt. I’m ready for some alcohol, but I don’t like beer, so I find the next best thing – a 24 ounce Smirnoff Ice. Sans pants, Bryan realizes he’s forgotten his ID and asks me to buy a couple of Heinekens for him. I’m grateful for the opportunity to pretend the Heinekens are for me and I’m buying the Smirnoff Ice for some chick, but the locals are already giving us a strange eye. We apparently make a good couple. It would never work, though. We have the same name.
Shortly after popping the top on the Smirnoff Ice, Duffy runs by and Mike attends to her needs. We drive on to the next exchange which is located in the parking lot of a biker bar! The bar sits on a dusty corner. Most of the patrons are inside, or across the street at the race track so the outdoor seating is mostly empty. Several chickens run loose around the parking lot.
Newly minted “runner for life”, Scott is restless. His leg is only 3 miles and he’s ready to bust it out in record time. He takes the bracelet from Duffy and tears down the road. We’ve been instructed to offer him water 1.5 miles in. With the sun now lower in the sky, it’s significantly cooler and I’m calling bunk on the water break during a 3 mile run. We stop. He refuses the water. We continue on to the next exchange.
I finish my Smirnoff Ice as Scott thunders into the exchange and hands the bracelet off to Meredith. He’s quite curious about his time, but unfortunately nobody has really kept track of it. After some figuring, we establish that he’s probably run sub 23 minutes. He’s happy with that and walks off behind the van with some post run nausea.
Back in the van, we approach civilization once more. I get a call from Richie who wants to know the details. I give him the lowdown while Meredith runs by concerned that she’s lost. Scott jumps out and reassures her that she’s on the right track. He runs with her for awhile.
About a half mile later, Scott and Meredith misinterpret a sign and actually do turn when they should go straight. Fortunately, we’re there to witness it and Mike corrects the mistake quickly. Bryan takes over escort duties from Scott and finishes the leg with Meredith.
At the next exchange, an exasperated Meredith hands the bracelet off to Scott, who takes off down the road. We’re to meet him 2 miles into the leg with some water. Scott is reassuring Meredith behind the van, but we’ve got to get going at the rate Mike is running. We hop into the van and continue down the road.
We catch Mike as he’s tearing up a bridge, passing people like they’re standing still. At the top of the bridge, we can see over the high rises to the Atlantic Ocean. We’re almost there. At the bottom of the bridge, we stop at an abandoned gas station. Mike is already flying down the bridge. He takes some quick water without breaking stride, makes a left turn and flies out of sight.
We drive another 2 miles down the road and Duffy offers Mike some more water. He takes the bottle, doesn’t break stride as he drinks and tosses the bottle to me. His show of force in this leg is contagious and I run alongside him for about 100 meters – just to prove I can more than anything else.
We meet him one last time 2 miles down the road. He’s still flying along, passing people almost as fast as we pass them in the van. We find a cowbell in the van (where was that during the rest of the relay), give him one last cheer and make our way to the finish.
We arrive near the finish with some confusion. We’re not sure where to park and it seems like the designated parking garage won’t accommodate our height with the bikes on top. Once again, Kelly is getting directions from 5 backseat drivers. Finally, she drops us off in front of the Hilton and we bolt through a small mall to the finishing area. We meet up with the van #1 runners, make our way to the walk along the beach and 30 seconds later see Mike tearing down the beach walk with great speed. We run out the meet him and he blows by us like a man on a mission. The group chaotically follows in the darkness and we finish more or less together with much fanfare from the announcer.
The finish is festive. There’s pizza and beer and stories to tell everyone in van#1. After some photos, we empty van#2. Mike and Duffy will be driving it back to Miami tonight, while the rest of us pile into van#1 to return to St. Petersburg in the morning. I shower and set up an air bed on the floor of the hotel room, then head downstairs for the party. It takes awhile to get everyone away from the beer, but we eventually make our way to the Winghouse where I can finally enjoy some real booze in the form of Jack Daniels and get some comfort food.
There’s about 15-20 minutes of celebration before people start to fade to exhaustion and head back to the hotel. I’m impressed with the team’s stamina on the run (32 hours, 6 minutes for 203 miles), but not so impressed with their party stamina. Tim, Sara and I close out the post race party at 10:15 PM. I’m sound asleep before well before 11.