Race Report: Bourbon Chasers*

* Bourbon is totally gross, by the way. Also, distilleries smell bad. I think maybe the bourbon part of this race was lost on me.

It is (finally, jeez) time for me to tell you about the Bourbon Chase, the relay I ran earlier this month with 11 other people. If you aren’t into reading the whole race report, I can tell you that we finished all 200 of our miles in 32 hours, 36 minutes, and 43 seconds.

This is a link to a short video of us crossing the finish line. LIKE BOSSES. (You have to sit through a quick ad first.)

And here is a photo of Team MLC after we finished:

Photo of the 12 members of my team posing for a photo after we crossed the finish line. We're all wearing neon green shirts and medals.

This is a really good group of people. I felt really proud to stand with them.

That was the short version. The long version lies ahead.

It’s hard to recap a race like this because the team is divided into two vans that don’t spend a lot of time together, so I will leave out at least half of the story. Not to mention that all twelve members of the team undoubtedly have their own stories that are nothing like mine. But I have my story, so that’s what you’re a-gonna hear.

The story starts after I arrived in Kentucky with several of my teammates and we headed to the grocery store to buy food for the vans, including soda and peanut M&Ms. You know, because we’re all about fueling properly.

Because I’m an athlete with total body awareness, the first thing I did was hurt myself getting out of the van. Aaaand someone caught it on camera.

Me getting out of a big white van. I have very clearly just banged my head on the door during my egress.

How I don’t have at least one broken bone at all times I will never understand.

The relay started in Louisville, where they had a night-before party. Said party took place under a bridge.

Photo of Chester wearing a small race bib and posed in front of a concrete banner reading "Louisville," which is under a bridge.

This was early in the evening. Chester is an early partier. More people showed up later.

I had a whole bit I was going to write about hors d’oeuvres and how it’s rare to be served them under a bridge and stuff, but then it turned out that it was too hard to figure out the pluralization and spelling of hors d’oeuvres, but “appetizers” didn’t sound as funny, so you’ll just have to make do with this photo of Chester eating a cocktail meatball and make your own joke in your head.

Photo of Chester next to a meatball on a stick. The meatball is as big as his head.

You can also make jokes about meatpops if you’d like.

The race started bright and early the next morning at the Jim Beam distillery.

Photo of a big building that says "Jim Beam" on the front and a small inflatable race start line to the left.

Picture me, who has been relatively calm up to this moment, breaking out into a flop sweat.

I was in Van One this year (as opposed to last year’s Van Two experience), so my half of the team was on deck as soon as our first runner stepped over the start line at 8:30. I was runner four in our rotation, so I had a bunch of time to stress out before my run. My friend Heather (Disney Heather) was Runner One, so she had substantially less time.

I was really proud of my whole team, but I was especially proud of Heather and my friend Emily, who was also in Van One. Both of them are relatively new runners (like they’ve been running for less than a year) so taking on something like the Bourbon Chase was really brave of them. The greatest thing about it is that both of them killed all three of their legs. I couldn’t be happier for them.

Still, at 8:30 in the morning, all of that was in the future and we were nervous and excited and peering anxiously at the cloudy sky and happily posing for dorky photos.

Me standing next to a statue of Jim Beam. The statue includes a cup in which Chester is sitting.

Chester hadn’t had enough of a party the night before, so he carried on with Jim Beam.

No amount of pacing and wondering if you could just make a break for it and skip out on the race entirely will stop time though, so eventually 8:30 rolled around and Heather headed out for our team.

Photo of runners heading out at the start line. Heather is in a neon green/yellow shirt in front.

Heather (in front in the yellow) earned a four-step head start for answering a trivia question correctly. Way to shave that second off our 32-hour finish time, Heather!

Happily, once the race starts, the nerves go away and the motion of being a support crew and a runner takes over. We didn’t have a designated driver this year (we missed you, Mike!), so several of us took turns driving the van.

Facebook post featuring a photo of me behind the steering wheel of the van. The post says, "This is the scariest part of the race for me—driving the team van. #didn'twreckit"

From Stimeyland’s Facebook page. And, no, I didn’t wreck it, but I wasn’t exactly invited back behind the wheel after my first turn. I wasn’t very good at driving it. I was better as a navigator. And I’m not even all that great as a navigator.

I started my first leg at about 11 o’clock that morning. This leg was only 5.2 miles long, but it had the distinction of being ranked as the hardest leg of all 36 of the legs. This was mitigated by my having less hard legs later. That leg may have been tough, but I absolutely did not have the hardest trio of legs. Not by a long shot.


Still, that leg kinda sucked. It was ranked so high in difficulty because of all the hills, including a super steep, half-mile long hill at the very end. I think the next two photos say a lot more about this leg than any of my words could.

Photo of me heading off on my run with a big smile on my face. Emily, who has just passed the wrist baton to me looks happy to be done.

Emily has just passed me the baton and I am off on an adventure! Look how happy I am to be running!

5.2 miles later…

I am walking as the next runner takes the baton and heads off on her leg. I look like I could drop dead AT ANY SECOND.

There were more flattering photos taken of me and Marisa at this transition, but this one best captures how I could probably DROP DEAD AT ANY SECOND.

Also, I just noticed that it looks like Marisa and I are shoe twins. That’s exciting!

One of the really fun parts of running these relay races—and I am being completely sarcastic here—is figuring out when, where, and how to change clothes while sharing a van with five other people. I chose to change my clothes in the van at the next transition point when we were waiting for Marisa to run in. Everyone else was out of the van, so naturally I had all kinds of privacy.

Except. This is what they were doing while I was changing.

Photo taken from the inside of the van of one of the team members writing in window marker on the window.

I know! I’ll wait until the whole team is decorating the windows of the van surrounding me before I take my clothes off!

Someday I’ll get the hang of being with other humans.

I feel like Van One’s first legs went really quickly and smoothly. And after watching the weather reports of looming storms that threatened all day, we were super relieved to get through our first runs without rain. Being in Van One instead of Van Two was kind of awesome. We showed up at our vehicle transition area to meet up with Van Two, who had been eating and pacing and touring distilleries for hours by this time.

We were happy to put all of that to an end though by passing them the baton and watching them run off into the afternoon.

Of course, the first thing we did was eat, making sure to post a photo of us sitting and stuffing our faces to pay back Van Two who had done something similar that morning when we were running and they were eating. Also, one of the people at the table ate an entire pizza. It was IMPRESSIVE.

From there, we drove to the place where we were due to meet up with Van Two later that night and we spent several hours futzing about until Runner Twelve showed up, wet from light rain and wearing a headlamp to combat the darkness, passing the metaphorical torch back to Van One.

Screenshot of a Facebook status. The photo is Chester shoved into a van cup holder with cords and keys draped over him. The caption says, "Chester is being treated poorly."

Some of said futzing around.

Our next legs would all be run in the dark. Last year during our relay, I was the only runner who didn’t run in the dark. My place in the running roster, the pace of the runners who preceded me, and the rotation of the Earth at that time of year in New Hampshire had created a situation where I ran seven miles just after sunrise. It was delightful.

Not so this year.

Another Facebook screenshot: In the photo, it is nearly dark. I am making a sour face. The caption reads, "ABout to head out to Run Two: 5.5. miles along Knob Lick Road. Yes. Knob Lick Road. I'd rather be sleeping."

I texted Alex the name of the road and he texted back “Knob. Lick. Road. Penis.” Upon completion of my leg when I saw his text, I showed everyone in the van and couldn’t stop laughing. In retrospect, maybe it was less funny and/or appropriate than I thought it was.

It had been raining on and off for much of the afternoon, but once it got dark, it rained like a motherfucker. No other way to put it. It stopped raining for a few minutes when I was handed the baton and set off onto the Knob Lick.

The weather though, it did not hold.

I was excited about the novelty of the night run—as well as a little nervous—but I could have done without the uber-novelty of a night run that felt suspiciously like I was running through a shower.

Soon enough, I was slogging through pouring rain. It was very dark on my leg so my entire range of vision consisted of the small area that was lit up by my headlamp. The headlamp did an excellent job, however, of illuminating the diagonal streaks of rain that were driving across my vision.

It was a tough run. I started running steeply uphill before the end of the first mile and stayed running up through mile two. The weird thing is that when it is that dark, there is no way to tell where the hill ends or when there is a slight reprieve in the slope. It all just feels kind of hard and upsetting and all you can do is watch lights of cars or runners ahead of you to see if they look like they’re going uphill or whether they drop out of sight down a slope.

It was brutal. I spent a lot of time wondering if I’d ever been wetter while wearing clothes (highly unlikely); whether I’d run a mile, two miles, halfway yet (no, I hadn’t); why this run sucked so much (ugh, tiiiiiiiired). I didn’t run spectacularly fast on any of my runs, but I actually ran slower than I expected on this one. It just sucked all the life out of me. I was extremely happy to see the transition point.

It felt good to put on dry clothes and sit happily in the van eating those peanut M&Ms and Diet Coke while the next runner set off.

I barely remember the transition where we traded off to the next van. The thing that stands out from that transition was the extremely long walk back to our van during which I stepped in a deep puddle, getting my cushy sport slides wet. I had a sad.

I had a happy though upon hearing that we were headed to some unknown high school to sleep in a gymnasium. We pulled into the parking lot, I grabbed my sleeping bag, and I stumbled off into the gym. As I set my alarm and shoved it deep into my sleeping bag to muffle it, it occurred to me that if overslept, my teammates would never find me inside a sleeping bag in that huge, dark, silent room.

“Wake up at 4 am, wake up at 4 am, wake up at 4 am,” I told my brain repeatedly before I closed my eyes.

I woke up at 4 am, thank God, and I felt GREAT.

Facebook status screenshot: (no photo) "$5 for two hours sleep on that bare gymnasium floor is the best bargain I have ever come across."

Today if you asked me if I’d be willing to sleep for only two hours on a wood floor, I would laugh you out of the room. That night, it was the most luxurious thing I could ever have imagined.

That was short-lived, however, as we rushed off to meet Van Two at the Wild Turkey distillery. If you’re ever in Kentucky and looking for said Wild Turkey distillery, just follow the stink. Because that distillery is at the center of it. Dude. the distilling process smells horrible.

I had made peanut butter and jam sandwiches for our van and was busy digesting that and trying to drink Gatorade as I walked to the visitor center bathrooms with Heather, who was next up to run, and Marc. It was cold, it was smelly, my stomach was unsettled, it was still dark, and all of a sudden I had a life-changing experience.

Facebook status: Photo of a huge bonfire with caption "My trip to the bathroom got waylaid by something waaaaaay better."

Seriously. Life. Fucking. Changing.

Ten minutes by that fire and I was warm to my bones, I smelled only nice burning wood, and Wild Turkey was suddenly my favorite bourbon ever. We sent Heather on her way and headed onward.

The last twelve transition points are really fun because runners are really happy to be done. It’s super delightful.

Except when it’s not. There were a lot of really tough stretches for the people in my van on that last leg. Distances were long, there were lots of hills, and there were evidently some demon horses on the course. (Heather came around a corner in the dark only to have her headlamp illuminate the eyes of a big horse whose head was draped over a fence right next to the road. It was, apparently, both surprising and terrifying.)

I watched each of my teammates set off and finish and it was so exciting. It is amazing to see people who have worked so hard and struggled through injuries or pushed way past their comfort levels to complete something so difficult and wonderful. I was (and am) so proud of each of them—both those in my van and Van Two.

My third leg was motherfucking delightful. It was less than four miles long and even though there were a couple of uphill stretches, none of them were extreme and also, the leg ended with, like, two miles of gentle downhill. I felt like I was flying.

Except, that is, when the runner from the team that started eleven hours after we did blew past me like I was standing still. That’s when I felt like I was trudging along like a hedgehog on sleeping pills.

Before that happened though, I was chugging along up and down some small rolling hills, Michael Franti singing “I’m alive…” on the speaker I had on my waist and I felt so purely good and I remembered exactly why I run. For those moments. For that feeling. For that good.

I didn’t run particularly stellar times this year. Last year during the relay, one of my victories was running so much faster than I’d hoped to. This year it was about loving my team and recognizing how much stronger my body was than last year. It was about knowing that an extra three minutes on a leg or a slow slog up a particularly hard hill isn’t that big of a deal in a world where I am willing to spend 32 and a half hours in a van with people who cover 200 miles on foot.

Being a runner, for me, isn’t about being the fastest or the first. It is about finding that feeling. I don’t always find it, but when I do, it is magic.

There are always hills and valleys though. The non-magical time of trying to comb a day and a half worth of knots out of my hair followed immediately after my magic run. It was ugly. It turns out that the braid was not the miraculous “keep hair neat” tool that I thought it would be. Still I emerged victorious. Eventually.

From there, all I had to do was cheer on our runners until we passed the baton to Van Two for the final time. And from there, all we had to do was go to lunch. Chester joined us in his own way.

Three photos of Chester. The first he is sitting next to a bucket of peanuts, the next he is holding a peanut sitting next to the bucket of peanuts, the last, he is sitting IN the peanuts.Last year, as a member of Van Two, we ran all the way to the end. This year, we drove to the finish line and napped in the van until it was time to shuffle over to meet the rest of our team. It was awesome.

Even more awesome was watching our last runner race down the road to where we all joined her in running and/or limp-running the last few meters. It was really cool to be able to cross the actual finish line with everybody.

Photo of Chester with a big medal around his neck. The medal shows two people dancing on a disco floor. The medal reads "Bourbon Chase Fever."

Did I mention that this year’s Bourbon Chase had a disco theme? Because if you don’t know that, this medal doesn’t make sense.

The finish line party featured bourbon and beer and lots of food and juuuuuust a little bit of rain and it was perfection.

Facebook status: Photo of Chester sitting behind a plate with a beef pulled beef sandwich, two cookies, eans, and coleslaw. He sits next to a beer. The caption says "Kentucky, motherfuckers."

We ate a lot of food and I couldn’t even finish my whole beer, like a loser.

And then I started to feel like I’d fall asleep if I sat down, so I was part of the group that championed a return to a hotel, but not before I texted this victorious photo to Alex.

Photo of me holding my medal, which is around my neck.

Tired, but proud and happy.

And that is 8.3% of Team MLC’s story of the Bourbon Chase 2014.

I’m so grateful to have been able to be on a team with these awesome people. Thanks for being so wonderful—all of you!

Two photos, one on top of the other. The top photo says "before" and shows all 12 of our team standing in front of our van smiling. It is before the race. The bottom one reads "...and after" and shows us wearing our medals after crossing the finish line.

Team MLC rocks!

9 thoughts on “Race Report: Bourbon Chasers*

  1. 1) I am SO SO SO proud of you. You are AWESOME.

    2) I know you are too modest to mention this, but HOLY SHIT you have lost a ton of weight. You look healthy and strong and amazing.

  2. Jean, Congratulations to you and your teammates!
    Love this: “Being a runner, for me, isn’t about being the fastest or the first. It is about finding that feeling. I don’t always find it, but when I do, it is magic.”
    The bonfire looks lovely!
    Definitely relate to your hair challenge. Years ago, my friend Laurie and I visited the John C Campbell Folk School, in far western NC. Laurie had a VW golf convertible, and [I learned] she drives kinda fast.
    I thought, This will be fun! I’ll just wear a headband! After the trip, I seriously considered an extreme haircut. Fortunately, I was able to remove the tangles … eventually. :)

  3. Oh, a word about John C Campbell Folk School, as they might not be very well known here in the mid-Atlantic states. [My friend Laurie learned about them from her mother-in-law.]
    The folk school is a charming & friendly place to visit if you’d like to learn a craft. It’s in far western NC.
    Also: If riding in a convertible, you should probably wear a baseball cap, and not rely on a headband or pony-tail to keep your hair tangle-free. Lesson learned. :)

  4. Wow,congratulations! I felt exhausted just from reading about all of that running! As for injuring yourself getting out of the van, I once injured myself that same way, except getting INTO a van… but on that person’s van, the foam strip thingy on top was gone, so my head hit sharp medal and cracked open like an egg, and I had to get STAPLES! Cars are dangerous.

  5. Aren’t you glad you now live in a hilly neighborhood so you were able to train the shit out of those hills for the hardest leg?

    That whole trip is insane! I can’t ever imagining doing the running part, nevermind the pouring rain part and the no sleeping part. I’m in awe. Great job!!

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