Blue Ridge Relay II, 2010

One example of the beautiful scenery found along the Blue Ridge Relay (photo courtesy of Ben Hovis)

As I sit down to write this, I’m rather sore and tight.  And yet content.  As tough as this was to do, my second go at the Blue Ridge Relay lived up to expectations.  I didn’t think it could be done but I may have had even more fun this year than last.

I entered this year’s race with a little trepidation.  My marathon is less than a month away and it probably took me that long, or longer, to recover from the Blue Ridge Relay last year.  So I was a bit concerned.  I emailed Christian Brose, this year’s captain of our squad, and said that I wouldn’t be running all out this year since I feared that if I did so, I wouldn’t be able to sufficiently recover in time for the Towpath marathon, the place where I’ll make my final 3:20 attempt at qualifying for Boston (after Towpath, I’ll be trying to qualify at 3:30 as I’ll be 45 by the next Boston marathon).

Riding up to Boone with my van-mates, I was infinitely more relaxed than I was last year.  With last year’s Blue Ridge Relay being my first, I had no idea what to expect.  This year, I was a BRR sophomore and therefore much less concerned.  Everybody in the van had run the race before as opposed to last year when none of us (with the exception of Todd, our van captain/driver who didn’t compete that year due to a back injury) had run the race before.  Last year we were a van full of nervous, maybe even a little scared, runners.  This year we were a van full of savvy, excited, veterans.

Friday morning, as we approached the starting line in Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia, I was anxious to get started.  We arrived over an hour early which afforded me the chance to mingle with many of the gathered runners.  I ran into several of my Charlotte running buddies, including Chris Lamperski, running for team Bear in Mind, and my 5K archrival Dexter Pepperman, running for Team Mizuno.

By the time my first leg, #4, rolled around, I was pacing around in nervous anticipation.  Dexter’s Team Mizuno and our Providence Harriers were neck-and-neck at this point.  Dexter introduced me to his Mizuno teammate Steve Saal and told me that Steve was right in my wheelhouse, typically running mid-to-high 5K times.  We all chatted for a bit until Christian crested the hill and I ran over to the exchange zone to meet him.  He raced up, handed me the ‘baton’ (actually a little malleable plastic strip that instantly conforms to your wrist and becomes a bracelet) and I took off.  I would say that I was even more amped up than usual which translated into me going out too fast, but then again, I always go out too fast.  My good ol’ buddy Garmin convinced me to throttle back.  Perusing the course maps on the ride up, I knew there would be some climbing to do very soon.

I slowed down a little and began soaking up the beautiful countryside – you’d be hard pressed to find a race with a more scenic course.  I reminded myself that I wasn’t going to race – the plan was to give an honest not-too-hard-tempo-like effort.  I relaxed and settled into roughly my goal mararthon pace, around 7:35/mile or so.  I ran my first 2 miles in 7:03 and 7:09 respectively, a little faster than I had intended, but the first stretch was flat to downhill so no big deal.  As I rounded a long curve, I had an expansive view of the last half mile or so I’d just run and I didn’t see anyone behind me.  I had a nice little cushion.

I cruised relatively comfortably for the next 2 miles, until the ascent began.  Things got a little tricky as I came upon a construction site with a giant paving truck and rolling/leveling vehicle (no idea what you call these vehicles but you always see them in movies and cartoons – they’re the ones that always run over and flatten out unlucky characters).  One of the construction guys motioned for me to stop but I just ignored him as I trotted onto the left shoulder – after all, this was a race and I was guessing that my competitors ahead hadn’t stopped.  My shoes squeaked as they struck the brand-steaming-new blacktop.  It was a weird, surreal sensation.  I finally cleared the construction zone and continued climbing.

I spotted a few runners ahead and I started reeling them in.  One guy from team Runner’s Dozen was virtually crawling up the hill.  He walked along in a pair of Vibram 5 Fingers.  I asked him how the shoes were holding up and he said, ‘Great!’  I imagined that his feet had to have been burning on the new pavement earlier.  Our conversation was very short-lived as I accelerated past.  I felt great, even with the upper-70/low-80 temperatures.  I was just pumped to be in the race.  I had to keep reminding myself to throttle back so as not to kill my marathon hopes.

Then it happened.  Somewhere after mile 5, in the midst of the 2+ mile climb, Steve blew past me.  I never even heard him coming.  Suddenly, I had an internal struggle.  ‘Do not race!  Do not race!  You have 2 more legs to go after this.  Over 10 more mountainous miles – let him go!  LET HIM GO!’  But those of you that know me well know that I’m a competitive guy.  Despite the little guy screaming in my head for me to let Steve go, I couldn’t.  F**k it.  Let’s rock.

I knew that I must have had at least a 2 minute head start on Steve since 2 miles or so into this I had looked back and he wasn’t there yet.  If he truly was a comparable runner to me, a mid-19 5K guy, he had to have pushed hard to catch me – he had to have expended more energy than I had.  I should be able to match his surge, and I did.  I hitched my wagon to Steve and went with him.  Once in the exchange zone, I passed him and handed the baton to Todd before Steve handed his baton to Dexter.  It really meant little in the big scheme of things – Dexter nearly instantly overtook Todd and Steve must have run his leg at least 2 minutes faster than I ran mine.  But it meant something to me – I handed off my baton first and that’s what counted to me at that instant.

Here’s the Garmin elevation chart for leg #4.  I’d say this is a pretty typical Blue Ridge Relay leg:

Steve passed me somewhere on the steep hill between miles 5 and 6.

So much for not racing.  Precedent had been set.  I raced pretty much every step of my remaining 2 legs.  And I loved virtually every second of it (kind of hard to say that I loved some of the brutal climbs, but it seems like I did, at least now that they’re over).

The Providence Harriers ran well.  Our time was within seconds of last year’s time, even though we swapped out 3 runners from last year’s 3rd place open team (as of press time, the official results have not been posted yet for this year).  At the Pack Square Park, the site of  the finish line (and a vastly superior place to finish as opposed to last year’s parking lot) we mingled and chatted with other teams as we all waited for our final runners to complete the last leg.  I talked with some of my CRC buddies – Billy Shue, Danielle Crockford, Paul Mainwaring, Chris Lamperski, and Ben Hovis, among others.  Bruce Wagoner anchored the Providence Harriers and relayed to us how he had encountered a mama bear with her 2 cubs.  He convinced a woman driving a van to run interference for him as he ran alongside and used her vehicle as a shield between him and the bears – just one of this year’s great stories and an example of what makes the Blue Ridge Relay such a unique and wonderful race.

Afterwards, we partook in the tradition of drinking a few beers and eating some pizza at the Mellow Mushroom as we recapped our race experience.  We toasted Christian who celebrated his 40th birthday during the race, and to Jonathan,  our youngest teammate who had recently gotten engaged to be married.  And although I was a little upset with new Harrier and triathlete Angie Pilkington for crushing my team record on leg 8, I politely forgave her, which was pretty easy to do after finding out that she was the fifth place female finisher in the 2009 Thunder Road marathon.  It’s much easier to accept your record being broken when it’s done by a legit athlete.

To sum things up, I completely abandoned my no-racing plan.  It may cost me – I’m limping around today and I might not fully recover in time to perform my best at the Towpath Marathon.  But I don’t care.  It was well worth it and I hope to do it all over again next year.

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5 Responses to “Blue Ridge Relay II, 2010”

  1. Lamperski Says:

    love it! “f**k it, let’s rock”. I did that myself on leg #4 and rolled out “balls to the wall” until we hit that mountain haha

  2. Kay Says:

    Nice to meet you in person yesterday.

    I think our last runner must have been running with yours coming into the finish (of course your team started later than ours!). When she had finished shaking, she relayed the same story about the bear and her cubs. Crazy that after running all that way and through the sticks, that the bear sighting was so close to town.

    • Allen Strickland Says:

      Hi Kay,

      Nice to meet you in person too! You’re the 3rd British runner I’ve met in Charlotte – I’d say you guys are a higher percentage of the running community than you are of the community as a whole. And you’re all fast! (Do you know Paul Mainwaring and/or Mark Cox?)

  3. Stack Says:

    I ran leg 8 (and 20 & 32) this year and was curious how fast Angie Pilkington ran 8… I wasn’t really into race mode on that leg yet but wanted to see how fast she did it.

    great recap!

    • Allen Strickland Says:

      Hey man,

      I saw you in the mountains and meant to speak but got sidetracked somehow. I made a mistake in my blog (a very common occurrence) – Angie actually ran legs 10, 22, and 34. Not sure of her times other than ‘fast’ – someone keeping track of our times told me that she beat my team record. She ran a 3:15 marathon at Thunder Road last year. I hope I can run within 5 minutes of that time at my next marathon!

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