I was lucky enough to be able to get away to Florida last weekend with a bunch of my running friends (Team MLC, represent!) to run a relay race. It was really good to be in a pretty place with a fun team activity and good people. I left town last Thursday, arriving in Jacksonville at 10 pm, just in time to be picked up by local heroes Lyda and Bob who took me to Lyda’s beach house where we promptly went to our respective beds. We’s old.
The next morning was for beach walking, my favorite part of which is watching the funny birds who run around in the surf.
I spent a lot of that first beach walk wondering if I should collect some shells for my kids because last time we were down there, Heather collected shells for her kids and I didn’t and I told my kids about that and Quinn OBJECTED strenuously that he had no shells but collecting shells involves a lot of bending over and looking at things and I wasn’t sure I was ready for that kind of commitment when instead I could just not mention shells to Quinn and all would be well, but I ended up deciding to collect shells and I then I totally enjoyed it and went home with a gallon-sized Ziploc full of them.
Team MLC members Marc and Heather arrived at the beach house just before lunch, which was great, and then we came back to the beach and collected more shells. Heather and Lyda walked in the water and got all wet.
I sat on the beach in the sun looking like I was dressed for an entirely different season than my friends in my jeans, but it was warm and nice and decidedly un-wet.
After that beach walk/sit, our final team member, Marisa, arrived and we drove off to the hotel where we would be spending the night prior to our race, which was about an hour away from Jacksonville in a place called Flagler County.
The race is the Oceans 50 Relay and I would highly recommend you run it. We had a six-person team and the race is made up of 12 legs, so each of us ran two. The whole thing took us eight and a half hours and no one had to sleep in the van or worry too much about stocking supplies for the race. The race was super well organized with really friendly volunteers and easy logistics. Plus! This race was set up so all but two of the exchanges had real, actual bathrooms with running water. Ten out of ten, highly recommended.
Team start times began at 5am and ran as late as 8 am, but because we’re us, our start time was at five (five. a. m.) but we were supposed to report to the start line an hour before start time so we could get our safety briefing (four. a.m.) which meant I needed to set my alarm for 3 am (and 3:15 am, then with the snooze, 3:24 am). (three. twenty. four. a. m.) Needless to say, I was in bed and asleep by 8:15.
I need to take a moment to mention that all day long I’d been finding little notes in my luggage. Alex, who has never done anything like it before, wrote me a series of encouraging little notes and put them in my shoes and in with my running clothes. I found my favorite one right before I went to bed for the night. He based it off of our team t-shirt, which I’d designed. See if you can guess which one Alex drew and which one I did:
Somehow our entire team assembled in the hotel lobby at 3:45 as instructed and we blearily made our way to the start line where we learned such important safety details as “follow the route signs facing you, not the ones facing away from you” and “if it is pitch black, wear your head lamp and reflective vest.”
Marc totally failed the safety briefing by the way. The guy explained how the exchange number was the same as the number of the leg preceding it and then immediately asked, “What exchange comes at the end of leg two?” and Marc yelled really loudly, “THREE!” Fortunately, we were not immediately disqualified.
Lyda was our starting runner, so we lit her up like a Christmas tree and situated her at the start line.
Then we waited around tapping our feet impatiently waiting for it to be 5 am.
Soon enough it was 5:00 and Lyda set off with the rest of the starters. There were 5 or 6 other teams that started at the same time that we did, but by the time we started leg 2, she was ahead of all but two of them.
We got a little lost looking for exchange #1, but we eventually found it before Lyda arrived and saw that leg two led off down an unlit trail that was Pitch. Fucking. Black. There could have been anything down there. It was intense. Fortunately that leg belonged to Marisa, who took off with a bounce in her step and, hopefully, a knowledge of basic self-defense maneuvers to protect herself from people and gators.
Leg three was Marc’s and was what everyone referred to as “The Swamp Leg.” While the rest of the race was on roads and paths and was more or less flat, this leg was on a trail with hills and roots and rocks and, according to the race packet, maybe even a boar. The race organizers time runners on this leg and give a special prize to the person who runs it fastest because it is so challenging. And! If your start time is 5 am, you get to run it IN THE DARK.
I was runner four, so when Marc suddenly popped out of the swamp (in first place now!), I grabbed the baton and took off. I could tell there was a runner behind me, but I was determined to stay in front of him for as long as I could.
Team MLC is scrappy and we have some speedy runners on our team, but we tend to get passed by other teams who catch up to us and surge ahead. I am often the one who is passed. I wanted to keep this guy behind me for as long as possible on my four-mile leg.
I could feel him getting closer as I passed one mile. I decided to try to stay in front until I got to two miles. Eventually I realized that he had fallen back and I was secure in my first place spot. I kept my speed up though and came into my exchange almost four minutes faster than I had estimated.
I passed the baton to Heather, who took off only to be called back by the volunteer at the exchange who said she was going the wrong way. She knew she was going the right way, but got rattled enough that she came back. Fortunately another team who had run the race before was waiting for their runner and told her to keep going her original way. They were our angels.
Our van sped off to meet her at the end of her leg where two things amused me to no end.
Bob took up the baton at the rock and headed back the way Heather had come and we rode off to meet him. It turns out that the exchange that Heather had left from gets used as the start of two different legs, so that is why the volunteer got mixed up. Fortunately we had it all figured out by now so by the time Bob gave Lyda the baton and a kiss to start her on leg 7 of the race, we were all set.
I have to say, while I really enjoyed this race, the race guide had led me to believe that we were going to see all kinds of fun animals, like alligators and maybe peacocks and even otters, on the course. I saw one dead, smashed armadillo.
It was disappointing.
But not too disappointing, because Team MLC was on fire, continuing our streak of being awesome. Marisa took the baton from Lyda for the next leg, which included a really tall bridge in what was starting to become the hot sun. She persevered though, cruising into the next exchange to hand off to Marc.
I was running the next leg, a six and a quarter long route that had one turn and a reeeeeaaaaaally long stretch along a straight road. I was expecting Marc to come down the same long straightaway that I was going to head out on, so I was surprised when he burst out of a side trail, sending me down my road before I even knew what was happening.
I ran 0.8 miles, took a left turn and started down my long road at which point I was passed by some teenager from a team that was apparently made up of high school running champions. She giggled as she passed me and quickly left me in the dust. We never saw them again.
My exchange was on the sidewalk of the road I was running down and it came into view, like, FOREVER before I got there. I felt like I was running toward it for a million years without it getting closer. I stayed pretty close to my estimated time for this leg at 11:30 min/mi, which I still consider a pretty good pace for me.
I passed off to Heather, who set off on perhaps the hottest and least shady leg of the race. The real bummer though was when she took her one right turn and was confronted with another really tall bridge to run over. That must have been demoralizing to run up to. And over.
Once she arrived at her exchange, Bob was our only runner left. Happily it was really hot by this time and he was wearing a black shirt. Good planning, Bob. He headed off for his leg, which included running back up the bridge and down a set of stairs. We meandered off to the finish line which was at Flagler Beach.
Well, actually, the finish line was on a sidewalk across the street, but that wasn’t as pretty.
Before too long we saw Bob cruising down the sidewalk and we all fell in line behind him to cross the finish line together. We ended up coming in 32nd of 45 teams (not bad for us!), but we were the second team to cross the finish line (GREAT for us!).
The race organizers had food and beer (and real actual bathrooms—Best. Race. Ever.) for us at a restaurant at the finish line. We ate and then drove back to the beach house where we took turns in the single shower with the tiny hot water heater. Turns out we are just as good at showering quickly as we are at running, because everyone got hot water. Yay, us! We really are a team. :)
We left earlyish the next morning to fly back home, making this a whirlwind trip. It was really good for my soul though to be out in the fresh air doing something I love with people I love. I am really glad we were able to do it. Thanks, Captain Heather, for doing such an incredible job organizing us. Thanks, Bob and Lyda, for hosting us. And thanks, Marisa and Marc, for just being generally awesome.