Race Report: Green Mountain Relay (Part 1)

If you’d told me that spending approximately 55  hours straight with a bunch of strangers — with well over half of those hours crammed into a smelly van — would be the most fun I’d have in quite awhile, I would have told you to go away and stop lying to me.

But it’s all true. I’ve drunk the relay race Kool-Aid. The Green Mountain Relay was a complete and utter gas, and I credit our two team co-captains and my fabulous teammates for that (with a tip of the hat to the race organizers too). Good people all, and pretty damned good runners to boot.

I’m not bragging or anything, but we kicked ass on that course, even in terrible conditions. More on that in a bit. We placed 6th out of 46 teams. 2nd in our division (“mixed” — meaning guys and gals, all ages). We ran our little hearts out, finishing in 25:15:30 for 200 miles. That’s an average pace of 7:40 per mile.

Our adventure began at a car rental place on West 96th Street on Friday morning. Since our 12 would be divided up into two teams of six for most of the trip, we were jumbled up for the ride to Vermont, mixing members of Teams 1 and 2 so we could mingle. I did at least half the driving, since driving staves off carsickness and I figured I may as well contribute while I still had energy.

"Don't get out of the van. Never get out of the van."

Perhaps this is why we managed to miss an early exit, something we noticed only when we saw signs for Plattsburg (“Hey, isn’t that the last town before the Canadian border?”). Luckily (very luckily), there is a ferry to Vermont that goes across Lake Champlain, and it was running every 10 minutes. Crisis averted.

At an early rest area, we were approached by some people from another team. They didn’t seem that organized. We asked them what their team name was and they didn’t even know. Losers. It was easy to spot the other runners because everyone else in the place weighed about 400 lbs.

On the way we stopped somewhere, I don’t know where, for lunch at a pizza place. There we surreptitiously mocked the waitress (who was also the cook, and who may also have been the town whore). And learned a new expression for ordering pizza in Vermont. She cryptically referred to a “four cut” and an “eight cut.” We had no clue what she was saying until she brought out the order. Oh. Okay. Four slices. Eight slices. Then the theory emerged that she was actually crazy and the only person in the world who uses that expression. (I forgot to try it in our Italian restaurant that evening to see if it was a Vermonticism.)

Petrified frog in the parking lot of the La Quinta. It was crushed by someone or something by the time we left.

On the way up we talked about, surprise, running! It’s fun to spend time with people who are similarly obsessed and single minded. Eventually the conversation opened up to other topics, but not for several hours.

In no time we were at our destination, the La Quinta inn of St. Albans, VT. Two members short (they would arrive on a late evening train), we headed out to dinner at our second fine eating establishment. There I had some sort of odd local raspberry beer that I couldn’t decide if I liked or not. It tasted vaguely of shampoo.

Dinner was fun. I was sorry I had to say goodbye to half the table the next morning, at least until we saw them at the first van exchange. So, here’s how a relay works, briefly: On a 12 person team, you’ve got two vans. Each van runs six “legs” of the race, and then the next van takes over and they run their races. In the meantime, the non-running van attempts to rest and recuperate.

This cycle plays out three times. Every six races, the vans meet up at a transfer point and exchange the “baton” (a rubber wrist band that team members pass to one another from leg to leg) and the running stopwatch and sheet upon which everyone’s times are recorded.

Teams start at different times, according to projections made that are based on the members’ 10K times. So slower teams start very early in the morning (like at 4AM or something) and faster teams start later. The goal is to have everyone come in within several hours of each other so we can all have burgers and potatoes and sing Kumbaya together. We started at 10:30AM with a handful of other teams.

A transfer point. Nice, huh?

The transfer points are big, because all the vans meet up. With 46 teams, that’s a lot of vans. As the race progresses, people are more and more exhausted and between the crappy parking lots, filthy vans and runners strewn on the ground trying to sleep, it’s positively post-apocalyptic. As you can well imagine, this was quite the thrill for me. It was like being in a real, live zombie movie!

Tomorrow: dangerous heat, Ben & Jerry’s, acceptance of filth, Puke-a-palooza, the magic of racing in the dark.

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