This weekend was dedicated to the most physically challenging event I have ever done. I participated in the Blue Ridge Relay which covers over 200 miles and running it as a team of 12 in about 33 hours straight.
Thursday afternoon I take off from work and meet up with my 5 other van mates for the weekend and one half of our entire team. We load up our 16-passenger van, our home for the weekend, and take off for Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Once we make it to my friend Molly’s family’s mountain house, we patiently wait for the other van to arrive with our 6 other teammates. Once they arrive, we get our vans decorated. There is a competition at the start line where they judge the best vans and this could be the one thing we win. Our team has adopted the nickname ‘the Penguins’ so that is the theme of the vans! After some decorating, we head into town to enjoy our last real meal for a while at Mellow Mushroom. And what good is a dinner with no desert? On our way back to the van we make a pit stop at Kilwins for some of the best ice cream and fudge around. Once we get back to the house we all head to bed. It’s going to be an early morning for van 1 and we won’t be getting much sleep from here on out!
Van 1 wakes up before the sun on Friday morning so they can make it to the start line in Grayson Highlands, Virginia before 8am. They get kind of a rough start by getting lost on their way to the start line and having some sick passengers who needed to stop to throw up as they raced up the windy roads to try to make it to the start line on time. They end up getting about a 10 minute late start but our team name is ‘We’re (Still) not that Good’ so a late start isn’t going to really affect us since we aren’t expecting to get close to winning. Some teams take this race very seriously but thankfully I have ended up on a team who is just in it for the experience and fun! Everyone in the van runs a leg of the relay and once they are on the 6th leg, we meet up with them and take over as the van running and we rotate through our 6 legs while the other van gets to rest. This rotation continues until we reach the end point in Asheville, NC. Each leg is a different length and difficulty but on average a team of 12 will run about 16 miles per person. The smallest size team you can have is 3 people but I heard a rumor that one year someone, clearly someone crazy, ran the entire relay on their own. We, van 2, get to sleep in a little bit and wait around until it is time to meet up with van 1 just outside of Boone, NC at the exchange zone around 1pm. Van 1’s last runner comes into the exchange zone to hand off the wristband to our vans first runner and now it’s our turn to start the rotation! Van 1 gets to head back to the house to shower and get a quick nap.
This is when reality sets in. I am the second runner to go in our van and I’m feeling very anxious. I start to get nervous about possibly getting lost or struggling on my run. See, my friend Molly asked me to do this relay about 3 weeks before hand so I haven’t had much time to prep. I enjoy working out but I am not an avid runner, and definitely not a long distance runner. The team had a few people drop out so Molly’s dad, also our captain, recruited her about a month prior to the relay and then the next week I was out at a bar with Molly when she asked me to join the team after having a few drinks.
So after only having a few weeks to train, and not having many hills in Charlotte, I was very nervous to start my run through the mountains. Thankfully my first leg is only 3.5 miles and even though it is excruciatingly hot, I survive! We rotate through the rest of the van and end up meeting up with van 2 around 6:30pm where our last runner hands off the wristband to their first runner and start the rotation again. We end our rotation very close to Blowing Rock so we head back to the house to get showers, more food from Mellow Mushroom, and about 2 hours of sleep before we have to meet back up with van 1 around 12:30am Saturday morning.
This leg of our run is the night run and it might sound fun but actually terrifying is the more appropriate word. My run starts around 1:30am and thankfully it is only 3.8 miles on relatively flat land so I can get through the run pretty quickly. We have to wear a reflective vest, headlight, and flashers since the majority of the areas we are running through aren’t very well lit. My part of the run starts off through a little town but after about half a mile, there are hardly any streetlights the rest of the way. Did I mention that I’m slightly afraid of the dark? There are 197 participating teams this year but you don’t end up seeing very many runners throughout the relay. I only end up seeing one runner on this leg which was slightly unsettling. An even more unsettling feeling occurs when I am about a mile into my run and a car drives up from behind me, opens their door and screams as they drive by. This makes me jump and I get nervous every time a car drives by me throughout the rest of my run. I am very excited to get to the exchange zone of this run and back in the van! Our team finally finishes up around 4am and we hand off the wristband to van 1 for the last time.
We drive ahead a ways and park at a church where the final van transfer area is. In a few hours they will serve a pancake breakfast but for now we try to get some sleep. I clear out an area in the back of the van to lay down, some people lay on the van seats, and some people sleep outside. This is really a sleep where you can situation because every minute counts! We get about an hour and a half of sleep and wake up to the sun rising and other teams waking up to go inside and enjoy the pancake breakfast. The food isn’t the best but at this point we have been living off things like fruit snacks, crackers and trail mix so we will take anything substantial we can get while we wait for van 1 to finish their final legs. Van 1 finishes up around 11:30am where they get to celebrate the end of their running and we begin our final runs. These runs are some of the hardest for most of us.
Molly’s dad starts our group off with a Mountain Goat run which is one of the hardest runs. His is about 6 miles and all uphill. He hands off the wristband to me where I take off for a 9.4 mile run with the first 4 miles being downhill on a gravel road. Remember my lack of training? Well this run is where that catches up with me. The gravel road has very sharp turns so I have to focus a lot on balance and trying not so sprain an ankle. The gravel finally ends about 4.5 miles in where my van passes by to check on me. I forgot to take my water with me when I took off for this run so they hand me some water and I tell them I am cramping up. All of the downhill has really taken a toll on my right calf and it is not happy with me at all. The van checks on me again about another mile down the road where they try to help me massage my tight muscles and put on some biofreeze. This helps a little and I struggle through the rest of my run. A very nice man catches up to me about a half mile from our exchange zone and tells me he is going to help motivate me to the finish line because there are not many people my age who are crazy enough to participate in this race and he is very glad to see me out here. He can also tell it’s my first time doing this. He tells me about a stream that is at the end of this leg and that everyone takes some time to enjoy that as kind of an ice bath after this long stretch. This is the motivation I need! I make it to the exchange zone to hand the wristband off to my next teammate and take no time to kick off my socks and shoes, and head for the water. I. AM. DONE! I am in heaven for a brief moment until we have to leave to go to the next exchange zone. At the next zone I struggle to towel off because my soreness has already set in. I use my baby wipes which has been our version of a shower, change clothes, and Molly’s dad hands me a beer as my reward for finally being done!
We continue through our rotation and Phil, one of my van mates, is our final runner. We meet up with van 1 in Asheville, NC at the finish line. Phil comes in around 5:30pm where we join him to all run together across the finish line. We did it! We are all exhausted, smelly and gross but we have completed the Blue Ridge Relay! Van 1 has had time to relax and grab food while they waited on us so they take off back to Charlotte to get some much needed and deserved rest. We (van 2) are desperate for a real meal so we wonder around downtown Asheville and enjoy dinner and some much deserved drinks at Lexington Avenue Brewery. We then head home back to Charlotte where most of us sleep the entire way. Once we arrive, we quickly unload the van and head to our homes. I don’t know if I’ve ever enjoyed a shower or my bed so much as I did this night.
Sunday morning we are all reminiscing in our group chat about the race and talking about how sore we are. I can barely move around my apartment but it’s Sunday in the Queen City and the Panthers have their first regular season home game and Molly and I are determined to tailgate! We meet up with our friend Jaclyn and utilize the Lime scooters to get around uptown so we don’t have to put our bodies through any more pain. The Panthers get their first regular season win and through all the pain, I survived and Molly and I are still friends.
Training starts now to prepare for next years race!