Friday, September 14, 2012

RunnerDude's Relay Rejuvenation

Some may think a 208-mile relay through the Virginia and NC mountains with 12 not-so-familiar individuals packed into two passenger vans for 36 hours would be anything but rejuvenating. But that's exactly what the Blue Ridge Relay was for me last weekend.

A Dude, a Mountain, and the Road
My profession is personal trainer and running coach. I have about 70 running clients and about 30 personal training clients. I'm currently a one-man-show. So, I'm a very busy guy. Sometimes it's hard to catch my breath. My day begins with my first client at 6AM and ends usually with running group wrapping up around 8:00PM and often includes 2-3 runs with various groups as well as seeing personal training clients all throughout the day.  Don't get me wrong. I love it!! Working with my various clients (ages 11 to 72) is the most rewarding thing I've ever experienced. But, I'm also human and need rejuvenating from time to time just like everyone else. The Blue Ridge Relay provided the boost I needed.

Back at the very end of July a running acquaintance, Nathan Daughtrey, who runs with a local running group called the Woo Hoo Crew contacted me to see if any of my runners might be interested in filling in three spots on his Blue Ridge Relay team. Three members had to back out for various reasons and Nathan and the Crew wanted to try to keep the team at 12 members. Most of my runners were in the heat of half or full marathon running so I didn't want to temp them into an endurance event like this during their training, so I volunteered. I figured it was a great way to check "Endurance Relay" off my bucket list.

Afterward, I though, "OMG! What did I just do!" But, a commitment is a commitment, so I tried to wrap my brain around the upcoming event. Because of my schedule, I wasn't able a attend any of the Woo Hoo Crew relay team meetings. Nathan did a great job of keeping me apprised of what was going on, but I couldn't help but feel a little like an outsider missing all the fun.

Pre-Relay Dinner with the Woo Hoo Crew in Jefferson, NC
Soon, Nathan contacted me with my three legs for the race--Leg 1 = 7.5 miles (rated Hard); Leg 2 = 10 miles (up Grandfather Mountain; rated Very Hard); Leg 3 = 4.5 (rated Moderate). Total mileage = 22 miles. My first thought was, "Okay, new boy hazing going here". LOL! But, after looking at all the legs, everyone had pretty challenging runs. Some may have been shorter in distance, but had crazy inclines like 11%+.

Shortly before the race, I discovered that my last Leg increased from 4.5 miles to just shy of 7 miles and the difficulty rating changed from Moderate to Hard. Road construction and safety issues caused a route change increasing the mileage. So, now my mileage was closer to 24.5 miles. "I've got this," I told myself. In the back of my head, I kept thinking, "You're gonna die!" But I'm RunnerDude, right?

The Woo Hoo Crew Plus a Dude
Travel Day finally arrived on September 6th. I met the rest of the crew and we packed the Vans for the trip to the NC/Virginia state line. The two other runners recruited to fill out the team were also in my van which was cool. I figured I wasn't the only new kid on the block. I could tell as soon as the van doors closed, that I was in for quite an experience. As the banter began and jokes started flying, I was a little overwhelmed trying to absorb it all, remember everyone's names, think about the upcoming runs, trying to t remember if I packed socks and Fabreeze, and on and on.

The Rainbow was so big, I couldn't get all of it in the frame!
A few hours later we stopped for gas and hopping out of the van we saw the most beautiful full rainbow. It was an awesome sight. I've never seen one so complete. Somehow it settled my nerves and I knew all would be well. It was a good omen.

That night, was full of tossing and turning. I just couldn't get to sleep. My brain wouldn't shut off. I do multiple runs in a day, but not quite at the distance I was to do this weekend. The group was all about having fun and just completing the relay, not about killing themselves doing it. So, the pressure was self-induced. I may have gotten in about 2 hours of sleep when the alarm rang around 4:30AM to get up and get ready for the trek to Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia, the start of the relay.

Getting Ready for the Big 10-Mile Leg
My first leg was was the second run of the relay. So after group pictures and sending off Amanda with the first run of the relay, we hopped in the van and headed to the runner exchange zone where Amanda would finish her first leg and I'd begin mine. This first run for me had several turns and that had me a bit nervous. I'm a bit dyslexic with directions. But cue sheet in hand, Amanda popped the BRR slap band on my wrist and off I went.

As soon as my feet hit the pavement my nerves began to settle. The view was amazing! This route took me out of the park, across the state line and into some of the most beautiful mountain countryside I've ever seen. Most of the legs were along back roads, traveled mainly by locals. I got to run down curvy gravel roads through hollers with old farm houses tucked in the trees here and there. The roads winded up and down some rather steep hills but the view was a great distraction. I finished my first leg well under the goal time I had set for myself. A big confidence booster.

My view for 10 miles up Grandfather Mountain.
Leg #2 was the big one that had me a bit worried--10 miles up Grandfather Mountain at night. But just like the first run, once my feet hit the pavement, the nerves settled. The cue sheet showed a percent incline increase with each mile. I was expecting to become fatigued with each increase and just peter out by mile 10. But an awesome surprise resulted instead. I definitely felt the increase with each mile, but then my body acclimated and I would speed up. Almost felt like a downhill, but I was still climbing. That happened with each mile. It was an awesome and unexpected outcome.

Blue Ridge Relay Course
Nathan had asked the group to keep track of the number of runners we passed "RoadKill." If a runner passed us, we had to deduct it from the RoadKill total. On the Grandfather Mountain leg, I hooked up with about 5 other runners. We kept passing each other. Positive. Negative. Positive. Negative. My RoadKill count was a wash, that is until mile 9. This was the steepest incline of the run. I was at the back of our little pack. Quit a ways back. I noticed they were walking up an incline. I took a deep breath and trotted past them. My brain was telling me, "They're walking for a reason. You need to walk too, so you'll have energy left at the end." But my gut was saying, "GO FOR IT!" All five did in fact did pass me again, but then I looked ahead a few minutes later and saw that they were walking again. Yea! I dug deep into my inner Dudeness and somehow passed all 5 runners on the incline and kept it going till the exchange zone. I felt great! I was at my projected pace and had 5 road kills to boot. Happiness doesn't explain it.

Something happened after that run. A rejuvenation of the mind, soul, and body happened. My job has me running the miles of others. These miles I wouldn't exchange for anything. But along the way I'd lost track of my own abilities. The 10-mile mountain run reminded me that I still have a lot of "me miles" left in me. It felt great to be competitive, even if it was just with myself and 5 unknown runners (and one pesky bat) in the pitch black on a mountainside.

Moral to the story. When you feel like your mojo is no more, challenge yourself. Do something out of the ordinary. Push the limits. Think outside of the box.
Trust. Believe. Conquer!

A huge thanks to all the members of the Woo Hoo Crew Blue Ridge Relay team who motivated, inspired, and put up with me last weekend. You guys are awesome!


Dave said...

Love this!!! And I loved your relay updates on Facebook!!! They were entertaining and inspiring and made me terribly miss being part of a relay team. I ran the Red Rock Relay here in Utah last year. (same week end as you Blue Ridge Relay) From Bryce Canyon into Zion Canyon. The beauty of the running route is unimaginable!!! We couldn't get a team of 12 together this year so your relay updates were greatly enjoyed by me. I LOVE relay runs!!! I love how strangers turn into instant friends with a common goal they want to reach. Cheering each other on throughout their legs to get the runner to the next hand off. Maybe its just me but unlike other sports I have seen, runners are so encouraging of each other. Every race I have run I will hear fellow runners as they pass, shout out a "good job" or "hang in there" to other runners. Even on dailey runs, runners give a quick nod or wave as they pass. We are just happy bunch!!! So glad you had a blast!!! :)

RunnerDude said...

Thanks, Dave! I agree, unlike a lot of sports, running is one of the most inclusive and encouraging. I even rooted on the RoadKill as I passed them.

Susan D. said...

Loved reading your story & hearing more about this relay! Thanks for sharing and I'm sure I'll see you & your group on the greenway soon!