NEW HAMPSHIRE -- For the sixth year in a row I've had the good fortune to race with an unbelievable group of friends and athletes in the most epic of relay races in the US. The Reach The Beach Relay has for Karen and I become "our" event. The one race we do together each year. And at 200 miles and 24 hours it's easily longer than all the other races I do the entire year combined! I coordinate aR's entry and each year the team changes slightly. This year we added three new members, Bob Swarthout, Piper Davis, and Judson Cake. Bob and Piper had been alternates on the 2010 team and were the first to be called when Jay Curry and Mike Chagnon gave up their spots this year. Judson, on the other hand, found out he was racing the day before the event when Doc Sprague hurt his back and had to withdraw from the event at the 11th hour. Luckily for us Judson is in decent shape. Joining Bob, Piper, and Judson were my wife Karen, Ann Rasmussen, Nick Lavoie, Matt Rousseau, Kevin Burt, Austin Stonebraker, Rich Lavers, and Scott Dodier. With Doc originally slotted in my van (#2) I decided that placing Judson in our van would cause the least last minute disruption. With Judson being a better runner than myself it then made sense to assign him the top spot in our van thereby moving me from the #8 runner position. In a little bit of musical chairs I took Ann's spot (#9) and she took Doc's original position (#7). Piper, Karen, and Nick would run 10, 11, & 12. The entire crew met at the Northwood Mobil Friday morning and headed up to Cannon Mountain for the start. Our 2:40 pm start time would be the latest we had ever had at the event. We watched Austin get our race started and then headed down to Attitash to the first Vehicle Transition Area (VTA) to await our pre-determined 7:30 pm start time. Hurricane Irene had caused incredible devastation along the eastern coast of the US with parts of VT and NH especially hard hit. Turns out Irene had washed out a bridge on RT302 that the RTB passed through resulting in a last minute course and event plan. Arriving at Attitash at 4:00 pm resulted in a significant amount of just waiting around. But I did get the chance to meet our newest teammate Chris Lalmond who happen to be standing next to our van when we pulled in. We chatted briefly before his team was off to continue their race. I also ran into snowshoe racing competitor Christopher Smith of Dungeon Rock Racing. When Ann finally got away it was dark and starting to get cold. Not accounting for our later starting time I had only packed one change of warmer running clothes (ie. long-sleeve top). My first leg would be a 6.36 miler starting from HAM Arena and finishing at Madison Elementary School. As Judson approached it was around 9:00 pm with temps in the 40's. Fortunately the wind had died down leaving behind a bright moonlight night with a sky full of stars. It's always a challenge to figure out how to pace at this event. Racing three times in less than 24 hour while driving 180+ miles without sleeping can wreak havoc with the body. Perhaps inspired by Judson's presence I took the baton from him and pushed hard out of the TA into the darkness. I felt a little tight for the first 10 minutes but then settled into a groove. I had told Piper to expect me in around 40 minutes. I handed him the baton at 40:43 good enough for 6:25's for my opening leg. Our van finished running our first legs around midnight and then headed to Laconia for our overnight break. We got about two hours of rest before Van #1 had us in cue and we were grabbing some Starbucks VIA and banana chocolate chip muffins my mother-in-law Judy had made. My second leg (#21) would be an 8.5 miler with 554 feet of elevation gain. Nearly all of it in a 1.5 mile stretch just before the half way point. I again gave Piper a rough one hour estimate of my arrival time so he could be prepared. The first 2.5 miles of my leg were downhill but the uneven pavement of RT 107 made the footing a little unpredictable and I was a cautious not to turn an ankle. Studying the course profile beforehand I knew than just before the 3 mile mark the course began a three mile ascent to the high point of the leg before descending 2.5 miles to the TA. Running at night gives me a misleading sense of pace...I always feel like I'm running faster than I really am. After slogging through the climb and beginning to descend a fairly steep slope I felt a sharp pain in my hip with every footstrike. Fortunately I was able to run through it and I handed Piper the baton at 1:01:56. I was a little disappointed and slightly surprised with the 7:17's effort. I knew it was a conservatively paced leg but I felt like I might have held back a little too much. But the great thing about RTB is that there's still a ton of racing to do and absolutely no time to second guess. We met Van #1 at Bear Brook State Park VTA around 8:00 am. They we all in great spirits and were holding up very, very well. As soon as Nick handed off to Austin we loaded in the van and drove to the Longbranch Restaurant in Raymond for our traditional Saturday morning breakfast. Once again our nemesis the Grumpy Old Men, led by aR teammate Jeremiah Fitzgibbon, beat us to breakfast and were just being served as we sat down next to them. After we ate we drove to Sanborn Regional High School VTA to rest before our final set of legs. When the text came in from Van #1 that they were approaching it was becoming evident that we had a legitamate chance of finishing in under 24 hours. And as we had progressed later in the event it was also clear that we had raced up toward the front as the VTA's were much less crowded. My final leg was a 4.15 miler from the TUCK Learning Center in Exeter, NH to Timberland Headquarters. Warming up my legs felt suprisingly good. I broke out the racing flats and dug deep into my bag of expectations. I wanted to go sub 26:00 on the mostly flat run through downtown Exeter and finish my portion of the event as an assest rather than a liability to my team. The first mile I probably ran sub 6 as the excitement of the downtown crowd and the steady stream of runners up ahead pulled me forward. But my legs felt heavy in the middle two miles and I couldn't seem to find a pace that felt fast enough not to be too slow. With a mile to go I recognized where I was and began push a little harder. I passed off to Piper at 25:19 (6:06's). For the last leg of the race and without having raced on ashphault all year I was very happy with the result. The last three legs of the race flew by as they always do and before we knew it we were standing on Hampton Beach with Van #1 waiting for Nick to arrive so we could finish together. Crossing the finish line around 2:50 pm we celebrated another fantastic aR team performance. The official results had us in 19th place overall in a time of 22:17:48. We averaged 6:58's for 200 miles and finished 8th in the MENS-OPEN division out of 119 teams. I would have never imagined in 2006 when we finished 164th in 30:17:26 that five years later we'd crack the Top 20 without intentionally fielding a Top 20 team. This race has always been about two things for us; 1.) having fun and 2.) reaching the beach. I am incredibly proud of my teammates who once again demonstrated what RACING acidotic is all about.
Video clip of Ann leaving Attitash VTA
Post-script: Turns out we weren't the only aR athletes who "reached the beach" this weekend. Thanks to Chris Lalmond, Scott Graham, Dan Dion, Jason Massa, Matt Benelli, Jeremiah Fitzgibbon, and Andy Corrow who all RACEd acidotic for their respective teams.
NEXT UP: Pinnacle Challenge VII