I was contacted by Bart Rein a Baltimore Road Runner Club member about 2 weeks before the American Odyssey Relay (AOR) to see if I would be interested in filling in for an injured runner. I have been keeping up my miles after the HAT 50k so I figured there would be no problem running in the AOR. After convincing my wife Cindy and making sure the vacation time was available I called Bart to let him know I was in.
Never having done a multi-day event I wasn't sure what to pack, so I brought everything. I had running gear for cold, rain, heat, and night time. I used it all. We also packed a ton of food, sleeping bags, and pillows.
Each team has 12 runners split into two vans that run three legs each. I didn't really know anyone I was running with. I had met Darryn and Bart before, but I wouldn't say I know them. I would know everyone in my van pretty well before the end of the 36 hour race.
The first van held the first 6 runners and they started the race at 11 a.m. leaving from Gettysburg, PA. So the second van with me in it headed off to the first waiting place. The conversation was polite and pretty courteous in the van. That all changed when we drove past an open field and saw two cows getting it on, after that we realized that we could loosen up a bit and the conversations got more "real." The cows turned out to be educational too, Donna, one of two female runners in our van, had never known how cows reproduced. Darryn had first hand knowledge from working his family farm in New Zealand and gave her the scoop on animal husbandry facts. The conversations flowed pretty easily and we all got to know each other well.
The wait for the first 6 runners to finish their legs felt like it took forever as we waited in a gravel parking lot in the middle of the woods. I ran into some of the other teams there and saw some familiar faces. Both Juda my partner for the TransRockies and Katie were waiting there for their first teams to finish too. It was after 4 p.m. when the sixth runner on our team made it to the meeting place, then we were off.
It was exciting, we dropped one runner off and drove to the next leg and repeated. This is where time started to fly. I was the 10th runner for our team, when it was my turn I was raring to go. My first leg was a shorter one, 3.5 miles. I was happy enough with my pace in the 8s, but not feeling great. My throat was really sore after the run. I thought it was from the dusty gravel road and overwhelming smell of manure. I didn't know it was a cold flaring up. Our van finished our leg and I was surprisingly tired. After all, I had only run 3.5 miles.
We went to the next waiting spot at a High School in PA. They had the gymnasium open as a quiet place to sleep. I grabbed my sleeping bag and laid on the hardwood floor. I was exhausted. Darryn woke me up to tell me he was sleeping a few yards away and to find him before we left. Two hours flew by and it was time to get back in the van and start the next leg. When I went to get Darryn he was sleeping on a soft mat the school had put out for us to sleep on, I felt like an idiot.
Now we were off again after two hours rest, it was about 2 a.m. same routine as before with one change. Since it was dark out and the signage that the race director provided to guide you on your run was less than helpful, we were going to drive up and wait for our runner at every turn. This made the time go by even faster. We even found a runner about five miles off course. When we asked if she knew where she was, she asked back "Do you know where I am supposed to be?" We picked her up and dropped her off at the next leg of the race. When she got in the van Josh said "OK everybody take off your running gear and get out your knives." The poor girl got a little spooked, understandably. It wasn't long before I was at my next leg an eight mile stretch.
I hopped out of the van and Josh was there finished with his leg before I was even had a chance to get my barrings. Off I went into the night. It was 3:30 a.m. I started down a country road and my insides started moving around funny. This could be bad, I started to panic a little, I did not want to take a detour so I could go to the bathroom. I tried something that has probably gotten a lot of runners in trouble. That's right I was going to take the shart gamble. I turned out to be lucky this time and let out some air pressure, still not feeling right I pulled over and took a pee break. Now back on the road with all that taken care of I was still feeling really fatigued. It was official I had a cold. These miles were tough. In the dark I made extra sure that I landed on even ground as the road rolled up and down. I can't say I was having fun on this run and was really disappointed when I finished the leg at a 10 minute pace. I was back in the van.
I was really feeling like crap right about now. The sun started to rise when we made it to the end of our second legs. When the van parked I stripped my gear and took my first ever whole body baby wipe bath. It actually helped and I felt a little better. Boy scouts were making pancakes at the waiting area. I had two flapjacks and a couple sausages. Darryn was setting up his tent in the parking lot so I got my sleeping bag out and slept in the tent for an hour and a half. It felt like as soon as you closed your eyes they were popping them back open with somebody telling you that you had to go. Back in the van again.
It was time to start our third leg. I was feeling better with the help of coffee and ibuprofen so, I was actually looking forward to my next run with cautious enthusiasm. Bart came in running strong, and the teammates in the first van celebrated that their work was done. Again, the next legs went by quickly and everybody on my team seemed to be having a good last run.
My last run was a little bit short of 7 miles and relatively flat. Josh came running in looking a little tired but strong, he handed off the bracelet to me and I started down the C&O Canal trail. Shortly after starting I knew it was going to be a long run. I wanted to stop. Every time I took a breath in I felt like coughing. My legs felt fresh, I just couldn't get my head and chest into it. I ran this leg in the mid 9s. I was glad to be finished when I made it to the end of the leg but, I was disappointed with my overall performance in my first relay.
We headed into DC to wait for Donna to finish her run so we could all cross the finish line together. This was fun because both vans, all 12 of us ran the last 100 yards together. Medals and beer was waiting.
In trying to get my head around the event to figure out if I liked it, I had to split in two. First it was a lot of fun getting to know 5 strangers in a van over two days. We were blessed with a good group of personalities and we had a lot of laughs. The camaraderie is what this event is about so on that side of things it was a really good time. On the other hand it is hard to separate my performance from the overall event. It wasn't my best running. I cut myself a little slack for being sick but it doesn't make me feel much better.
Would I do another multi-stage relay event like this. Yeah I will. I guess that says something.
Special thanks from Oxford to:
Sleeves, Spider, Supertramp, Momma Bear and Tailgater
Believe in the Run.