I was the first one out of the van and ran the first leg to start off our Run for Your Life team for the Colonial 200 Relay from Charlottesville to Williamsburg. Nine runners made up our team even though most teams had twelve, and the ultra teams had six–we were somewhere in between, running not the typical three legs, but four to five legs for a total of 20 or more miles in 36 hours in a van on the road along the river.
Suck it up, buttercup. Unlike the last time I ran this relay, there would be no hotel stop in the middle of the race for a few hours of needed sleep, there will be no hot dinners eaten while seated in a restaurant as the other van of runners runs. Nope. This relay was a make-yourself-comfortable-in-the-van kind of relay with runners you’ll get to know fairly well by the end of the race. This is my kind of weekend. Although Phil did say that he’s planning our next getaway.
For the first leg, I couldn’t feel my legs for a mile or two until I saw a roller coaster of a hill I needed to climb. I had legs then. They burned like the fog under the early morning sun. My sunglasses clouded over from the humidity, making seeing on the dirt hill difficult. I lost Morgan, one of the runners I started off with, and walked up part of the hill to catch my breath. I wimped out.
The second leg began around four in the afternoon. It was at least 90 degrees and in full sun most of the way. I debated on whether or not I should drink my water or dump most of it on my head. I drank the water and noticed a runner walking up ahead. She was close enough that I could catch her, so I decided to keep on running and pass her. No, I didn’t do the “pew, pew” and point my fingers like guns for my first kill ever in a relay (although I planned to do just that in my head), instead I said, “Looking strong! It sure is hot out, isn’t it?” Of course, stating the obvious. She waved and stayed behind me the rest of the way to the next exchange zone.
For my third leg, it was late, but not too late. I started running around 9:45pm, but with a fairly new moon. It was dark. So dark. Anything beyond the glow of my headlamp was pure blackness. During the day, I wished for trees to shade me from the sun, but now the trees only blocked out the starlight above. Police cars made the rounds to check on runners, blinding me with the blue lights that threatened to cause vertigo if I stared at them too long. I ran my longest and one of my fastest legs at night with dogs barking constantly in the distance. No eyes glowed on the side of the road. My van stopped and checked on me every two miles. Phil and Dylan were beyond awesome: they parked, gave me water or Gatorade, and then waited before driving past me. This way, they stopped twice, but checked on me four times during my seven miler at night. Just knowing they were out there helped so much.
After my third leg, I tried to sleep while Phil drove. Brittany and I were in the back with our feet elevated and our bodies covered with fleece blankets. The van swayed from side to side with the turns in the country roads and lulled us to sleep. We made it to the next exchange zone, but were so early, no volunteers were in sight. Phil turned off the door lights to the van, and we all tried to sleep for a few hours. My stomach and intestines had other ideas.
Since the third leg, every time I stood up, I thought my stomach was going to drop out and onto the ground. I needed some rest to reset everything, even if it’s only another thirty minutes. I ignored the pain in my gut and slept. When I woke up, I carefully rolled out of the van and walked quickly to the port-o-potties. I opened the door: the toilet seat was down. Gross. I’m not touching that. I opened the other door, and that seat was down too. “What is going on? Why are both of the seats down?”
Brittany replied, “They must be new and not used.”
Thank heaven! I have never been the first to use a port-o-potty! This is truly a gift, and a much needed one. I felt so much better after that, albeit shaky. I had to be ready to run in an hour for my fourth leg, and I didn’t want to eat anything in the van even though I was starving and refreshed after my three hour nap. At this point in the relay, everything we brought seemed like a bad idea. I ate another PB&J anyway. And some cookies. And some trail mix. And water, plenty of water.
For my fourth leg, roosters crowed, and I struggled to move my legs for the short trek. When I made it to the next church that was our exchange zone, I gladly used the spacious bathroom and took some of the free food–orange juice, an orange, and a fruit bar: all food that wasn’t in the van was automatically yummy.
The GI issues, light-headedness, and other discomfort slowly dissipated. I had one more leg to run–#35 of 36 for the team. I kept on eating and drinking plenty of water as John drove us all to the next stop. Phil was running his seven miler, and as John scouted for a place to pull the van over, we noticed two puppies jumping up and down around a runner. John stopped the van, and the puppies darted underneath it. Brittany and I got out to call the pups out from under our van.
Apparently, they followed that runner for over three miles and kept jumping on her. I offered the dogs water, and Brittany lured them into the van and off the busy road. Those puppies sat in her lap for the whole ride to the next exchange zone, licked her face, and howled for their mama. I phoned the race director, and we dropped the pups off with volunteers and where runners played with them and fed them frozen spaghetti. I hoped one of the runners or volunteers would take the puppies home, but if not, animal control was informed to keep them from certain death on the road.
By my fifth and final leg, my legs were tired. The whole team stopped to cheer me on and give me water. Thomas asked me if I was doing OK with the heat and humidity. I told him I was fine, just slow. He said, “There’s no such thing as a slow runner.” I kept that thought in my head as I followed the Capital Trail all the way to the Barrett’s Ferry Bridge to meet Jeff at the last exchange zone. Jeff ran the final leg of the relay, so we all drove to meet him at the finish line to run the last 100 meters of the race together as a team.
That’s exactly why I would do this race and others like it again and again. I met so many like-minded athletes who are smart and have that inner drive to charge up the hills–Catrina ran five legs, two of which were back to back 8 milers, John (one of two Ironmans on the team) had the second leg and the largest hill so he earned the title: “King of the Hill” (he ran all the way up and never gave in), Steve ran his legs on an injured knee and organized the whole team AND took tons of pictures of everyone, Dylan, the other Ironman on the team, thought nothing of the heat or the night and ran all of his legs equally fast, Jeff was by far the fastest on the team and never slowed down, Brittany ran each of her legs with high spirits and humor that motivated everyone, Phil kept an even pace, making each leg seem easy, and Thomas joined the team last-minute, a week after running the Blue Ridge Marathon, one of the toughest road races in America, brought his own vehicle and lots of extra supplies. Without all of these wonderful people who made me laugh and challenged me, this race wouldn’t be possible.
A big thank you to all of the volunteers who waited for the teams at exchange zones scattered along the 200 mile course, to all of the police officers who kept driving by the runners and keeping us safe, to the local residents who passed out water and came to cheer us on, and to the families who stayed home so we could all have a running weekend away. Thank you!