(L-R)Ann, Austin, Doc, Nick, Karen, Kevin, me,
Rich,Matt, Scott, Jay, and Mike.
Hampton Beach, NEW HAMPSHIRE -- Another Reach The Beach Relay is in the book. For Karen, Kevin, Nick, and myself it would be our 5th consecutive RTB and our ticket into the 1000 mile club. As far as I can remember (and admittedly that's not very far) my RTB consecutive appearance streak is the longest of my 20+ year competitive 'career'. There's a strange allure to this event. It's as physcially difficult as it is wildy entertaining. The shear spectacle of 400+ teams and 3000+ runners covering 200+ miles in 24+ hours is just amazing. And sharing all of that with a great group of teammates and friends makes this a race that's easy to fall in love with. For the first time since we've raced the event, we made it to Cannon Mountain on Friday with essentially the same group of 12 that we started with back in April. Unlike a number of other teams we knew, no last minute alternates were needed. Much like in years past we had a couple of 'newbies' joining us and the event for the first time including Mike, Jay, and Scott. Also 'new' to our team this year (but not new to the event) were Ann, Rich, and Doc. Austin, Matt, Nick, Kevin, and Karen were all back from the 2009 team that reached the beach in 28:40:38 and good enough for 193rd place. With half the team new this year we had very few expectations other than 1.) get to Hampton, and 2.) have a great time doing it. For the second consecutive year I'd have runner position #8. As the team and SUV captain it's important for me to take the most difficult position in our group. The 2010 version of the race for me would be mostly the same with legs 8 & 20 the same, but leg 32 would be dramatically altered from a 2.2 miler last year to a 6.69 miler this year. Knowing the physcial toll this event can take, I was quite uncertain how I'd perform on day #2. When we received our start time a week before the race it became apparent that this may collectively be the most talented group we've ever assembled. Our 1:40 start time was the latest we'd had. The later start time pushed everything back for us and actually resulted in two of my three runs being under the cover of darkness. Van #1 arrived at the VTA in Attitash around 5:30ish. Jay was the first out for us and had a moderate 7.23 mile cruiser to Echo Lake State Park where I was waiting. He arrived almost to the minute that he predicted and set me out for my first leg of the race around 6:30 pm with headlamp lit and blinkies a blinking. My 6.61 miler was once again on West Side Drive outside of North Conway, NH. The route is rolling without any major climbs and in fact profiled to be a net downhiller. Last year, motivated by 'running' into PR's Chris Benson I ran a 42:06 (6:22's). Knowing that I still had close to 16 miles to race after this leg was finished I attemtped to moderate my pace and save some energy. The race plan for Leg #8 was simple, run at a "3" on a 5 point scale for the first 30 minutes and then pick up the pace for the final 10+ minutes entering Conway. By the time I reached the intersection of RT16/113 in Conway I knew I had ripped off a fast one. With only a few hundred meters to go I was well under 40 minutes. Picking off a few additional runners here on this stretch added to my confidence and I cruised to the transition area and handed the baton to Rich. When I stopped my watch I was amazed...41:09. I had easily run 6:13's. In fact, my previous PR at the 10k distance was the 40:13 (6:22's) I had run at Saunders back in 2007. That confidence quickly turned to trepidation knowing what lay ahead in the early morning hours of Day #2...my nemesis, Leg #20. The rest of the group including Nick, Karen, and Ann ran their tails off and we arrived VTA #2, aka the Kenneth Brett School, shortly after 11:00 pm. We piled in the SUV and headed directly to NH Technical College (VTA #3) to get our 'overnight' rest. By the time we all laid down it was midnight. Once again a beuatiful star filled sky greeted us in Laconia. I had asked Van #1 Captain Kevin to give us a heads up text when he sent his next to last runner out to give us at least an hour to get ready. That text came at 2:00 pm...they were approximately 90 minutes away. I quickly rolled and packed my sleeping bag, deflated my sleeping pad, and quietly roused the rest of the group. Jay would have a moderate 4.33 miler before meeting me at Belmont High School. Van #1 arrived at the VTA in advance of their runner (Doc Sprague) and they looked in good shape and spirits. When Doc handed the baton to Jay we headed back to our vehicle to drive ahead to the next TA. My second run (Leg #20) is not only the longest leg of the race but it's rated the most difficult (taking into consideration the distance and the elevation profile). In fact, the route mostly climbs for the first 5.5 miles (+642 feet). The saving grace, if there is any on this type of course, is that you can't see the top of the climbs in the dark...but you can see the little blinkies waaaaaaaaay UP ahead. They almost look like aircraft lights. In 2009 I had a pretty good race on this course finishing in 1:06:15. When Jay and I transitioned I set out to simply race as consistently as I could but to keep in mind that I still had a 10k+ left later in the day. For what it's worth I have a tremendous amount of confidence in my ability to climb. I'm not necessarily fast, but I feel that I can maintain a consistent pace and being able to pass people the entire way really does help to make the minutes go by. Speaking of passing, it was on this leg last year that I suffered my only pass. This time around I was passed again...twice. Both times the 'elite' skinny leggers ran by me like I was Wolfeing it. Not to worry, my net 23 passes for the leg more than made up for it. As I approached the final slight uphill to the transition I peaked at my watch and was pleased to see that I would finished sub 67 minutes. I handed the baton to Rich at 1:06:39 (7:13's). Yes it was 34 seconds slower than in 2009, but I felt good that I stayed patient, climbed well, and still felt like I had saved something in the tank. When our group finally fininished our 2nd legs we headed to our favorite Saturday AM stop...the Long Branch Restaurant in Raymond, NH for breakfast. When we arrived we noticed that the same group of Grumpy Old Men led by aR teammate Jerry Fitzgibbon were still ahead of us! The grumpy old bastards had been kicking our asses since we started together at Cannon the previous day and were now to only enjoying a hot breakfast, but an hour lead on us. And wouldn't you know Jerry couldn't stop talking about it. After a delicious hot breakfast and a real bathroom stop we drove up the street to Rich's in-laws for a dip in their pool and a chance to re-pack and prepare for the final legs of the race. At this point the combination of sleep deprivation and the cumulative trauma of two road races in 10 hours starts to take it's toll. With Jay's final leg being a very short 2.43 and the traffic typically being a little heavier toward the end of the event, we made the decision to drop him and head to the next TA. This gave me around 45 minutes to attempt to hydrate, stretch, and rest before my final (and perhaps most challenging) effort of the race. By this time at RTB I never feel completely ready for what lay head. I'm typically a little dehyrated, a little sunburned, and a lot tired. Before Jay arrived I had decided that I would break this final 50+ minute run into two 25 minute efforts. I would go out conservatively in the first half and decide what I had left in my legs. At the 25 minute mark I would break the final 20+ minutes up into two 10 minute runs and pick up the pace in each successive interval finishing as strong as I could at the transition. The first three miles of my 6.69 miler was a net climb. Although the total elevation gain was only a little over 100 feet it felt like a 1000. Playing right into my race plan, the final 3.5 miles were a net downhill. Running a "2/3" on my intensity scale I was consistently passing runners for the first 20 minutes. This has an amazing ability to energize dead legs and lift sunken spirits. As I crested the high point of the course I was just shy of 21 minutes and knew that I was way ahead of my conservative 7:15 pace estimation. For the next 10 minutes I picked up the pace as I raced effortlessly downhill. By the 40 minute mark on my watch I knew from the surroundings that I was getting close to the transition and guessed that I had less than five minutes to go. Not wanting to leave anything left I leaned forward and raced as hard as I could. I handed the baton to Rich for the final time and stopped my watch at 45:02 (6:44's). Incredibly pleased to be able to run sub 7's for a 6.7 miler at RTB I was also glad my event was over. With the progress we had collectively made over the past 195 miles attention now turned to our team finish. As we hit the final three TA's it was obvious that we were at the front of the field. The crowds that we had battled at the TA's earlier in the race had all but dissappeared. Some quick calculations based on pace estimates revealed that we were very close to a sub 26 hour finish. When Karen transitioned with Ann we piled into the SUV and headed to Hampton Beach to join Van #1 and wait for her to finish. Unlike the incredible traffic jam we encountered in '09, we drove right into the beach parking without as much as a traffic light stop. Ann arrived right on que and our entire team crossed the finish line together. When the results were posted we were stunned...25:50:05 (7:24's), 36th/429, and 10th/117 in our class (Men Open)! That result was easily the best in the 5 years we've raced RTB. I can't say enough about the incredible efforts of the entire team...Captn Kevin, Mike, Scott, Austin, Doc, Matt, Jay, Rich, Nick, Karen and Ann. These athletes truely epitomized what it means to RACE acidotic.
Next Up: Pinnacle Challenge VI