* 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:
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.
The relay started in Louisville, where they had a night-before party. Said party took place under a bridge.
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.
The race started bright and early the next morning at the Jim Beam distillery.
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.
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.
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.
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.
5.2 miles later…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The finish line party featured bourbon and beer and lots of food and juuuuuust a little bit of rain and it was perfection.
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.
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!