Cannon Mountain, location of the start line at Reach the Beach New Hampshire:
Driving in, I had a very visceral reaction. To wit: “Oh fuck, it’s real.”
Just about 52 weeks ago, I ran an 8K race near my home. I ran those five miles at a slightly more than 14-1/2 minute per mile pace. I placed 621 out of 627 finishers.
Last weekend at Reach the Beach, I ran three runs totaling 16.87 miles over 33 hours. I ran them, according to my GPS, in three hours, 13 minutes, and three seconds at a less than 11-1/2 minute per mile average pace.
To many (most?) runners, I am still veeeery slow. I still don’t look like a runner. I am definitely still a beginner. I am still waaaaay in progress on my Project Stimey Betterment of Jean mission. But you know what? I can run 17 miles in two days. My longest run increased to 11.15 miles—which I ran in August at a faster pace than I ran that 8k race, by the way. I’ve run nearly 400 miles thus far this year. I have cut three minutes off of my running pace in the past 52 weeks.
Progress, meet Stimey.
I am extremely proud of myself.
All right. Excellent. *brushes hands together* Let’s move on to the race report.
As I told you in my last post, Reach the Beach is a 200(ish)-mile race broken into 36 legs. Standard teams rotate their runners sequentially through each leg. We were a freestyle team, which means that our captains were able to assign legs at will. We had two vans that took turns running and supporting the runners. That means Van One ran/supported on legs 1-6, 13-18, and 25-30. Van Two ran/supported legs 7-12, 19-24, and 31-36. I was in Van Two and ran legs 8, 24, and 35.
If you’re having a hard time picturing it, you can look at photos and videos on the race Facebook page or read this post about the logistics of it all. Or you can stick around here as I tell you how it was for me and also a little bit how it was for my team. I feel a little egocentric writing solely about my perspective as this was most definitely a team effort and undoubtedly every other member of the team had a vastly different experience, but I don’t know how else to be able to do it. Maybe as you’re reading, you could add “which was possible only because of my amazing team” after every sentence.
I flew into Connecticut on Thursday, the day before the race, where I met up with my team co-captain Marc and my Van Two compatriots Lyda, Bob, Marisa, and Mike. Mike was there as our driver and as a pinch hit runner. Remember that. It is important later.
After that, we headed off to meet Van One—none of whom I’d ever met before—at a restaurant, where everyone talked about how many marathons and half marathons they’d run and I sat quietly and hydrated.
I didn’t actually get to interact very much with Van One, which is a shame because they seem like very cool people. I also didn’t ask their permission to post their names or photos, so just imagine six very nice, fit people who killed their legs of the course. They were all really fast runners and they had to run a LOT of tough hills. Also, I didn’t see them very often. You should internalize, however, that Van One kicked ass.
Reach the Beach staggers their start times over the course of the first day (Friday) so that all 480 teams don’t set off in their 1000 vans at the same time. We were a slower (the slowest?) team, so we had the first start time at 7:20 am.
This is definitely in the top…one of most gorgeous start lines that I’ve experienced.
Teammates Lyda and Bob in our unobtrusive team shirts.
It started raining right as our first runner set off, which was a bummer for him, but not that much of a problem for Van Two, as the weather forecast claimed that it would clear up by the time we started running in the early afternoon. Our general assholishness and joy over this would come back to haunt us later that afternoon when we all had to run in pouring rain.
Karma is real, people.
This snap bracelet was the baton that we passed from wrist to wrist for more than 200 miles. I bet it has a lot of sweat residue on it now.
Anywho, Van One set off running and Van Two? Well, we headed off to breakfast. Over eggs, homefries, pancakes, and coffee, Bob looked up and said, “So far I don’t see what’s so hard about this race.”
He was totally right.
We drove the race route on our way to the first Vehicle Transition Area (VTA), which was really exciting. Passing all the runners was totally inspiring. Passing our runner was way cool. She was in third place at the time.
Spoiler alert: We didn’t stay in third place.
We arrived at the VTA early, which gave us plenty of time to circle and fret, circle and fret. Which we did. Also, it started to rain, goddammit.
Team MLC, Van Two at the first VTA: Bob, Lyda, Mike, Marisa, Stimey, Marc. We’re awesome.
We got into our groove as Lyda set off on her leg and we figured out how to be a support vehicle. All too soon, however, we had supported her and arrived at the next transition area (TA), where I was due to run my 6.61 miles of Leg 8.
Although not as nervous as I’d been in the days leading up to the race, I still had a fair amount of pre-run anxiety. I was hopeful that it would dissipate as I started running—and it did.
My GPS watch doesn’t tell me my current pace (just average pace), but after I’d been running for a half hour or so, I did some math in my head and figured out that I was running faster than my expected pace of 12 minute miles, which was a huge relief as the possibility of running a 13-minute mile is what had been giving me nightmares for weeks.
My team stopped to give me some water at mile four. It is hard to run and drink water at the same time, so I spilled it all over myself, but it totally didn’t matter because I was entirely soaked by the rain. Did I mention that? It poured during my whole run. At least there was no chance of overheating.
Mile Four: It’s too bad I was so fucking miserable while I was running, isn’t it?
The rest of the run went really well too. Instead of letting my mind wander, which is something I do on training runs, which tends to result in my slowing down without meaning to, I made sure to keep my speed up and to hit every downhill slope hard. (Gravity, bitches!)
Running into the transition area was one of the greatest things ever.
“You took six minutes off your time!” Marc shouted. Then I never stopped smiling ever.
Bob took off on his run and we returned to the van, where I claimed the back seat so I could change out of my wet clothes. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to navigate a soaking wet sports bra and assorted other clothing while trying to not flash the entire world from the back of a van, but it was harder than it looked.
The rest of the team was, you know, doing stuff in the rest of the van—reading handbooks, studying elevation maps, eating M&Ms and whatnot, whilst I was fighting an epic battle with my clothes.
“Getting dressed is harder than running,” I proclaimed, which, I believe, is evidence of the endorphins coursing through my system after my successful run.
I was so high that I have little recollection of Bob’s run, which was next. I do, however, remember Marisa’s run after his because it was kind of a bummer of a run, by which I mean it was way hillier than expected and still pouring rain. We passed her at some point and then every turn we took, it just got worse and worse and worse and more and more and more uphill except for that steep downhill on gravel, culminating in a steep uphill finish on soaking wet grass.
I stood at the top of that grassy hill for a good amount of time watching runners come into the TA. There were a lot of very fit but very sad people who staggered up that hill, most of them looking completely dazed. Marc, who had assigned all of our van’s legs, looked a little bit like he wanted to throw up, but I’m not sure if it is because he’d given Marisa the uphill route (that, to add insult to injury, he got to partially retrace in the opposite, downhill direction) or because he had two back-to-back legs coming up to finish our first section of the race, for a total of nearly nine miles.
I met him at the TA with some water. Most of our team didn’t make it to cheer him in because he ran so damn fast that he got there way faster than expected, while they were still examining the scenery. I gave him some water, gaped at his 7:10 min/mi pace, and sent him on his way for his second leg.
Related: Do you see the beauty that we got to run through?
He was substantially less chipper at the next TA where he arrived after leg cramps with a hearty, “That sucked!” but still a 7:50ish pace for his second leg. Then he wandered around mumbling for a while. I don’t think you get leg cramps if you run anything slower than 11 minutes a mile. Yay, me!
Fortunately, we didn’t have anywhere to be because Van One was up for the next six legs. It was nearing dinner time so we decided to find pizza in the town where we would be taking over in the middle of the night. This meant that we got to preview the race course before Van One ran it. We decided to not let them know how terrible and hilly their night runs would be. It seemed cruel to tell them. Sometimes ignorance is bliss—although there was nothing blissful about the legs they had to run. In the dark. With, in at least one case, a defective headlamp. In the pitch black. Did I mention that it was dark?
We stopped for gas and my teammates asked the teenage kids (i.e. hoodlums) hanging outside where to get the best pizza in town. Then we passed probably 60 or 70 pizza places as we drove in circles to find said pizza place because teenagers told us it was “the bomb.”
I may or may not have been in the navigator’s chair with my Yelp app shouting about, “No! We are going to get the bomb pizza. I do not care that there are three pizza joints in that strip mall to our left. I DO NOT CARE!” Fortunately a majority of Van Two was similarly delirious and opinionated.
It was pretty goddamn good pizza. Mayhap the bomb.
As I was taking the above photo with my actual slice of pizza, which I then proceeded to eat, Marc was all, “Last time I saw that mouse, he was sitting on a lily pad in the middle of a lake.” And I was all, “Yum. Giardia.”
From there, we went to the VTA where we hoped to get some sleep. Here is something you should know about me: I can find a way to sleep almost anywhere. Sometimes I can’t help sleeping in odd places. The other day when I was in the OT waiting room, it was less awesome that I fell asleep, but at Reach the Beach, my sleeping skillz came in super handy.
We parked our van near a bunch of people sacked out in the grass in sleeping bags and I pulled out my bag only to hear that everyone else was planning to get some sleep in the van. Seats were being reclined, benches were being called, and I couldn’t think of anything more terrible than trying to sleep in a van full of people. Putting a sleeping bag on the wet grass seemed luxurious by comparison.
I chose a spot under a tree, imagining that it would probably be drier there. Then I passed out and slept for the next two hours. After Marc woke me up (in what was apparently a nervewracking episode of trying to figure out which identical sleeping bag contained me—fortunately he chose wisely), I learned that the van denizens had averaged about 20 minutes of sleep.
I knew that all those naps I took over the summer were preparing me for something. I’m not LAZY. I was TRAINING.
Regardless, soon enough we were up and waiting for an exhausted Van One to come in and pass the baton to us. Lyda was up first at around midnight, which meant that we got to experiment with middle of the night support on her. Also, we were all kind of waiting to see if she was going to get eaten by a bear.
Another spoiler alert: She did not.
Running at night was a trip. Our driver/teammate extraordinaire, Mike, super stepped up on this rotation. He not only drove our enormous van nearly the entire course (33 hours!) while not running over any runners, but he also turned into our main support guy, jumping out of the van to supply water and encouragement as we ran by. Mike rocks. Like, really, really rocks.
The fact that Mike took over the major support role was probably for the best, as I tried to support Marc on his leg, resulting in my team thinking that I’d gotten lost in the night (I’d wandered over to the other side of the road) AND giving a generic, “Nice job!” to Marc when he ran by because I didn’t realize it was him in the dark.
I eventually figured out my mistake and caught up to him with his water.
I ran the last leg in this rotation, so I am the only member of Team MLC who didn’t actually run in the dark. I had been kind of looking forward to a night run, but I got the sunrise run, so I’m not going to complain. I also didn’t get any of the super hard runs that the rest of the team ran overnight, so I’m really not going to complain. Three of Van Two’s runners ran super hilly legs and one ran a double leg, which totaled nearly ten miles.
My 6.9 miles didn’t seem so bad after that.
Also, not to toot my own horn or anything, but after being passed by every runner on the course, I finally passed someone on this leg. I found out later that it was the oldest runner in the race—an 80-year-old man who was on his 9th year of the race. I want to be him when I grow up.
This leg was a little slower for me, but I still took a couple minutes off of my expected running time. Shortly before the end of my leg, there was a short (about a half mile) but steep uphill. I was a little surprised when I got to the top and there were no cheers for me, but there was no one around, so I guess I can’t feel too bad. There were cheers in my head though and I very nearly high fived myself for not slowing to a walk at all.
I live for downhills (again: gravity, bitch!) and the rest of the leg was downhill, so I took off, feeling great. I even had a passing van shout at me, “Way to finish strong, runner!” at which point I looked up to smile at them and nearly fell off the road. Happily I did not.
Van One was taking over at this point, so as I ran in to the cheers of the large crowd that was gathered at the VTA, I was looking for my replacement runner from the other van. I saw him and then tried to operate the snap bracelet while moving, promptly hurling it to the ground at his feet.
I am a fucking dunce.
I totally look like a pro here, don’t I?
I look like less of a pro here, running past my teammate who had to start his leg by fumbling on the ground. I particularly like background guy watching him do it.
We had time before starting our final rotation so we took the People Who Need Coffee (why doesn’t everyone just take their caffeine in an icy, portable, Diet Coke manner like I do?) to a Dunkin’ Donuts, which was awesome for me because there was an actual bathroom there where I could change my clothes instead of struggling in the back of the van.
From there, we headed to our next vehicle transition area, which was a happy place where you could buy a shower for $5 or sleep on a mat in a school gym for free. I opted for the latter, scoring another hour and a half of sleep.
Before sleep, however, I used the porta potty. Then I walked out of said porta potty, dropped off a curb, and fell straight to the ground. That’s right. I fell pretty much flat on my face by rolling out of a porta potty. I imagine that it was kind of spectacular to watch.
I am ridiculous.
I actually sustained more of an injury in my, you know, fall out of the porta potty than I did in any other part of the race. I scraped up my whole left shin and tore open small wounds on a couple of toes and my ankle.
Repeat: I am ridiculous.
We only had six legs left to run and this was by far the easiest rotation, with each leg measuring only 4 or fewer miles—except Leg 32: my leg. This leg is 6.7 miles. I had this leg because my other legs, while good distances, were easier than everyone else’s legs. (Anyone have a synonym for “leg?”) I wasn’t assigned any of the long climbs or lengthy slogs, so I was prepared to put in my time with a long last leg. Marc also had a long last leg, but just because he was planning to run both legs 35 and 36.
Mike, being the wonderful guy he is (remind me to tell you about the incredible parking job he did with the van at the last VTA sometime), offered to take leg 35 from Marc. Marc suggested that he take my leg and I take 35, which Mike was totally up for.
I was conflicted.
Part of me wanted to do my three 7-mile runs. I had prepared for them, I had psyched myself up for them, I was ready for them. But a bigger part of me liked the idea of running 3.4 miles instead of 6.7. When I woke up from my nap and fighting my way out of the sleeping bag took longer than a minute, I decided to gratefully take Mike up on his offer.
It was an exceptionally good decision. I probably could have done the 6.7, but it wouldn’t have been pretty. Even the 3.4 wiped me out. Mike took leg 32 and killed it. He pinch hit at exactly the time we needed him to. I don’t think it would be out of line to call him a godsdamned hero.
It was really fun to celebrate with each of my teammates as they came into the TAs, having completed all of their legs. These are some incredibly tough people, all of whom rocked every single one of their legs. It was an honor to run with them.
My last leg felt slow, but it turns out that I was running it at the same average pace that I ran my first leg. I even passed two non-octogenarians. It felt great to run into the transition area on that last leg.
Marc ran the last leg because he is the dude who came up with the idea to run Reach the Beach in the first place and it seemed only fair that he get to be the guy to complete it. Unfortunately, he is a speedy runner and the rest of us had only his four miles to speed to the beach to get there before he did.
We had to park in the overflow lot, which was, oh, let’s say 16 miles from the finish line. Or a little less than a mile. One or the other.
We speedwalked down the boardwalk to the beach and then churned through the sand along the race route where we found our Van One teammates just in front of the finish line. Not two minutes later, Marc came running down the beach and all 12 of us ran across the finish line together. It was amazing.
I am so proud of all of us.
We are awesome. All of us.
Ah, fuck it, I have to show Van One too.
Team MLC, with our captains in front.
Based on Race Stimey’s experience at Reach the Beach, Future Stimey is really going to enjoy whatever team-centered footrace I sign her up for next. We’re already contemplating other relays.
I feel really happy that not only did I complete my portion of this race and that my team finished the race as a group, but I made some new friends. I completely fell in love with my teammates last weekend. I would go on pretty much any adventure with them at any point in the future.
Thank you, Team MLC, for being the amazing, strong, funny, kind people that you are.
As for Idea-man Marc? I may have jokingly said some unkind things to him over the past several weeks as my panic reached epic proportions, but the thing I really want to say to him is, thank you. I would never have done this without you, Marc. Thank you.
When I was worried about my hip injury and afraid that taking time off to let it rest would let down our team, you didn’t let me quit. Thank you.
When I panicked in front of you in the days leading up to the race, you stayed calm and encouraging. Thank you.
When I surpassed my own expectations, you were the first to cheer me on. Thank you.
No, really. Thank you.