Blue Ridge Relay IV, And Other Stuff

There have been moments in my life where I narrowly escaped death.  Like the time my car slipped off the jack and narrowly missed crushing my skull.  Like the time I fell face first from a nine-foot wall as I tried to sneak out of a girls’ dorm (just to clarify, that did not occur recently).  Like the time a texting driver nearly ran me over as I trotted down David Taylor drive.  I am quite glad to have survived all these moments, but I am especially glad after weeks like this past week.  It was an amazing week to be alive.  Please bear with me as I elaborate – this is going to be a long post.

Tuesday – Rain Run

Nathan and I exchanged a few emails and agreed to meet to run for the first time in months.  I was looking for a longish run as I’d been sick over the weekend and missed my long run, so the plan was to run all the way to the end of the trail and back to the Colvard trailhead before meeting Nathan.

The first five miles were pretty uneventful, except for the moment when a red hawk swooped down in front of me, apparently dive-bombing some poor, unsuspecting rodent.  Otherwise, it was just my typical 9+ minute slog in the heat and humidity.  Until I looked up and saw ominous storm clouds gathering.  Then the wind kicked up and started blowing pretty foliage around.  Suddenly, I heard a roar in the distance, coming towards me like some giant monster gaining momentum.  First, trees in the distance started swaying as the storm, ever coming my way, got closer and closer, like that shot in the movie where the unseen giant monster brushes aside trees as it approaches.  Then I saw it – a wave of water blowing my way – and heard it as the roar of falling rain closed in.  I watched the line of the storm come at me until it hit me square in the face – a torrential downpour that made me laugh at the surreal, refreshing moment.

I was instantly drenched and I completely expected to run solo for the remainder of my run, assuming that Nathan would have encountered the storm on the drive over and opted to hold off running until the rain passed.  But when I turned the corner, I saw a solitary figure running my way with nearly flawless, supremely efficient, form.

When he got close enough, I yelled, “Man, you are one dedicated runner!”  He replied, “I couldn’t leave you out here alone in this.”  And we proceeded to catch up on all things running, shouting to be heard over the rain,  as my pace dropped from nine-pluses to sub-eights.  We ran for some 3 miles before heading our separate ways, at which point my pace soared back into the nines and I slogged my way back to work.

Wednesday – Foo Fighters

Somehow Kevin miraculously scored Foo Fighter tickets and after several of his ‘more significant’ friends were unable to attend, after much begging and pleading on my end, he reluctantly agreed to take me.  Score!  The Foo Fighters in the Fillmore (a small venue that only holds some two thousand people)?!  Are you kidding me?!?

I met Kevin at his place and he drove us over.  I was shocked at the length of the line of people waiting to pick up their tickets and get in, but luckily it moved quickly and we were inside within fifteen or twenty minutes of arriving.  I headed directly to the beer line where a familiar looking guy was buying a beer.  He turned around when I realized it was Matt Jaskot.

The three of us were hanging out and talking when a fourth runner, Aaron Linz, showed up.  So the winner of the 2012 OrthoCarolina 10K, the winner of the 2010 Salem Lake 30K, the winner of the 2011 Concord Bunny Run 5K, and the winner of the 1985 University of North Carolina Indoor Intramurals 800 meters, all were present at an event at the same time.  And yes, Kevin totally ruined that joke by winning a race with a lame name like Bunny Run – it sounds like he raced Thumper and Bugs and various other silly little fluffy characters.

But allow me to sum up the rest of the night in three words – best concert ever.  And watching it with runners allowed me to make very esoteric jokes, like when I said, “Man, Ryan Hall is really kicking ass on the drums!”  I’m thinking most of my non-running friends would not have understood that one, but Kevin and Aaron seemed to get a kick out of it.

Ryan Hall and Taylor Hawkins. Same guy.

Thursday – Running With Laura

Thursday, I took Laura to Davidson to run.  It was the first time that we’ve gotten to run together on what I consider my home course.  We had a pleasant little jaunt through the peaceful trails where I had the opportunity to introduce her to the goats (although not the guardian dog – he was nowhere to be seen).  I thoroughly enjoyed showing Laura where I spend so much of my time.  I only ran for a little over 3 miles as the Blue Ridge Relay loomed large – I’d be running my first leg in about eighteen hours.

Friday – The Blue Ridge Relay IV

This would be my fourth consecutive Blue Ridge Relay, and my first on a team other than the Providence Harriers – those guys put together an ultra team this year and I wanted no part of that.  Running up and down mountains for 15-20 miles is hard enough, I can’t imagine running another 15 to 20!

So this year I joined Stache and Dash, a team comprised mostly of friends and fellow Charlotte Running Club members, with a sprinkling of some folks I hadn’t met yet. I spent the 2 weeks prior to the race growing facial hair to adequately meet the team theme:

Does the moustache accentuate the Reckless Running singlet, or does the Reckless Running singlet accentuate the moustache?

Friday morning, I drove over to the apartment of Emily Barret and Adrienne Anitrini to help load the vans and head up to the mountains.  We loaded up, I met Josh Brewer and Siobahn Havlik, vanmates, slapped a borrowed, giant moustache magnet onto the front of our van and we were off.

On our way up, we got stuck behind some bizarre truck hauling a wide-load payload that looked like big equipment for an industrial-sized Walter White lab.  It was traveling at 20MPH max, and would come to a complete stop every mile or so, backing up traffic forever.  I started getting a little panicky since I would be running the first leg at 11:30, in less than 2 hours, and we were about an hour and a half away under ideal conditions.  Luckily, the truck pulled over, we passed it and resumed a more normal rate of speed.

Walt and Jesse stare into a giant piece of equipment delivered by a truck that nearly derailed my fourth Blue Ridge Relay.

Luckily, we arrived with enough time to pin my bib onto my shorts and to run a little warm-up with Josh.  I was breathing pretty heavily during this tiny jog which made me a little nervous.  But seeing many teams – DURT (Davidson Ultra Running Team) with Chas Willimon, Dave Munger, Bobby Aswell, and Stan Austin; Fast and Pretty with Jinnie Austin, Michelle Hazelton, Delana Mae Custer, Carolyn May, driven by Jason Martin; Charlotte Running Club with Ben Hovis, Billy Shue, Mike Beigay, etc.  – helped relax me enough that I talked smack to my friends on other teams, especially Carolyn who was also running the same leg.  “Carolyn.  It.  Is.  ON!”

We had our team photo taken.  Then someone announced the various teams about to start, and before I knew it, somebody called out, “2 minutes!”  Rob had wisely suggested that I start in the back to maximize my odds of acquiring roadkill, so I did, and moments later, I was racing down the mountain.

The Blue Ridge Relay begins in Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia and the first leg descends pretty sharply for 4 miles.  My goal was to run a steady, controlled pace – I was thinking low to mid 7-minute per mile pace.  I had 3 very good reasons to spare my quads – 2 more legs in the next 24 hours or so and a marathon in less than 3 weeks.  Be cool, Allen.  Be like Fonzie.

Best laid plans.  Everyone else in this leg, and I do mean everyone, took off, leaving me in last place.  I’d never come in last place and I really didn’t feel like starting now, but everybody was running low-to-mid 6-minute pace.  Damn it.  I sped up enough to pass 1 guy – you are road kill! – and locked into about 6:30 pace which didn’t feel that fast seeing as how we were screaming down the side of a mountain.

I settled in behind Clint Bollinger (formally referred to as “candle wax guy” – ask me) of the Ultra Kicking Asphault squad and thought, “He’s got 5 more legs to run and he’s running 6:30 pace?”  I could hear footsteps behind me for the first mile or so but they eventually faded.  Thank God because my quads were already feeling the effects of the descent.  Clint and everyone else continued to put more and more distance between them and me.  I was a little frustrated about it, but I didn’t dare run a second faster for fear of the toll it would take on my legs.  I sneaked a peek back and the last placed guy was well back.  I wondered what he was thinking.

I was happy to see the exchange zone sign and then Josh, waiting to take the baton.  I handed off to him and Leg 1 was in the books, albeit with already semi-fried quads.  Oh well, nothing to do but cool down and get ready for the next one.  I jogged a little, grabbed a ham and cheese wrap out of the cooler (by this point, it was lunch time and I was starving) and jumped back in the van.  We drove past Josh in this, his first ever leg of the Blue Ridge Relay, and cheered him on.  He was blazing and I knew Stache and Dash had scored a couple of coups by convincing him and Jay Barringer to join our squad.  In the words of the third JB on the team, Jason Blackwood, Josh and Jason are “two legit studs”.

Stache (me) And (old guy in the middle) Dash (Josh). This is a split second after handing Josh the baton.

A random pic of some of my teammates and me at a later exchange zone:

Part of the Stache and Dash crew including, from left to right, yours truly, Lauren, Julie, Emily, Adrienne, Siobahn, John (aka Johnny Rocket), and Rob.

I could write ad nauseum about this year’s Blue Ridge Relay (much like I have in previous years), but I will spare you most of the minutiae and instead will share some random highlights:

  • We spent much of the race battling it out with DURT and Fast and Pretty, which made for much fun as I bantered back and forth with various members of each team.  I can’t remember a time in a relay where my team was so close with 2 teams that I knew well for so long.  We were within minutes of Fast and Pretty for the duration of the race (they ended up beating us by a few minutes).
  • I encountered friend Thomas Eggars – who had a 3-man ultra team, The Three Stooges, with Matt and one other guy- at one exchange zone.  Upon noticing my stache he commented merely, “Beautiful”.  I saw him noticeably limping at one exchange zone, then cranking up a hill, passing a guy, moments later.  Thomas is a beast.  Matt had fashioned a makeshift ice bath on the back of their van – a garbage can full of ice that the members of The Three Stooges would step in after their legs.  Look for this idea to take off at future relays.
  • There were tears shed, miraculously none of them mine.  These were not the first tears I’ve seen shed during the Blue Ridge Relay, and I’m guessing they won’t be the last.
  • I encountered the Providence Harriers along the course and I stopped to chat with Kurt, my former teammate, when he told me, “Hey, I found your Charlotte Running Club singlet in one of the team vans last year.  I brought it.”  So the Mystery of the Missing Singlet has finally been solved.  And the Hardy Boys said, “Damn, we were so close” while Nancy Drew said, “I told you, you morons.”
  • While eating a baked potato after 2 a.m. on Saturday morning, I met 2 members of the team Sad Panda.  These 2 guys, Andy and Joe, kept Emily and me rolling in laughter.  I’m not sure if they are really that funny or if sleep deprivation and fatigue just made everything they said seem that funny.  But to quickly summarize the conversation, Joe was forced to remove his van decorations for being too offensive.  I told Joe, “Man, that takes some effort to come up with something too offensive for this race.  I once saw a nude blow-up doll, male, complete with full erection, strapped to the front of a van.  And that was not considered too offensive.”   Well it turns out that “Sad Panda” is a term referencing some sick, deviant, sexual practice (I find it hard to believe that it’s “a real thing”, but Joe swore to me that it is), and his van’s decorations had pictures that depicted the event, along with the URL to where the act is defined, “urban dictionary, definition #3“.  I recommended to Joe, “If you want to keep the team name, you should probably stick to images of actual pandas.”  Also, Joe should really look into comedy as a career.

Joe, put this picture on your van next year and lose the rest, including the URL to the urban dictionary definition. Even I was offended, and that my friend is very hard to do.

To summarize, the race was a blast as usual.  The running part was brutal, as usual.  Siobahn and Josh were great to meet, pleasant, nice, and accommodating – we had some great conversations and everyone in our van got along well.  Josh and I had nice chats during warm-up runs – I enjoyed the camaraderie, a big part of what makes the Blue Ridge Relay such a great race.

Stache and Dash had a strong showing, and made some noise in the mixed team competition.  We anxiously await the official results to see just exactly how much noise.  As of Saturday, we were thinking we may have gotten second place.

That’s me in the back, looking like a dork, staring at the drawing of the ‘stache. (Let me predict Bill’s response, “Yeah. ‘Looking like.’ “)

I had 2 primary goals going into this race – 1) Have fun and 2) Don’t screw up my marathon.  Goal one was easily met.  Goal 2 remains to be seen, but I will say I’m a little concerned as my quads are so fried today that I can barely walk.  I had planned on trying to average my goal marathon pace, 7:50 per mile,  but ended up at about 7:25 – I hope those extra 25 seconds don’t come back to haunt me.  But it was such a fun experience that even if my actions in this one event caused me to miss Boston this year, it may still have been worth it.  Boston will always be there next year.

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