2011 saw a record breaking Blue Ridge Relay and the closest race in its history. The previous overall course record was smashed by both the winners and the runners up and the previous Womens' and Masters' records were also consigned to the history books. I was a member of the Charlotte Running Club/Try Sports team that took part in the race and was one of the two teams that broke the previous course record. SPOILER ALERT!! For those who don't the outcome yet, I'll refrain from saying where we finished until you find out at the end of the recap!
For a brief overview, the Blue Ridge Relay sees teams of up to 12 runners running 36 legs along a 208 mile route through the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Charlotte Running Club was sending its strongest team ever up to the event in an attempt to bring the title back to the Queen City for the first time. At the same time, a team from Asheville had been created that would prove to be more than worthy adversaries. In the weeks leading up to the event, while the final running orders of both teams were being finalized after the usual inevitable late withdrawals and replacements, excitement was building as both camps expected a close fought, fast race. Little did they know about what was actually going to unfold....
To set the scene a little more I will introduce you to our team (in running order) and for some perspective include my estimation of what sort of 5k shape I personally feel each runner was in (I hope I don't offend anyone with this (!) but these are my best estimates and hope they add some perspective to the story)
Richard Harris- BRR debutant, recent Greek Fest 5k winner in 16:21
John Compton- 2nd year BRR. Ran same legs last year. CRC's strongest runner and possibly the strongest runner in the race. 15:00
Ben Hovis- 2nd year BRR. Team Captain. Returning from injuries and short of fitness but healthy and ready to compete in his favorite event. 16:20
Billy Shue- 2nd year BRR. 16:30
Mike Beigay- 2nd year BRR. 16:25
Greg Isaacs- BRR debutant. 16:40
Paul Mainwaring- 2nd year BRR. 16:10
Bob Marchinko- BRR debutant. One of two 'Masters' on team. 16:10
Chris Lamperski- BRR veteran. Returning from injury. 17:00
Aaron Linz- BRR debutant. Deep into Toronto Marathon training. 16:20
Josh Baker- BRR debutant. Only runner on team that regularly trains on the sort of hilly terrain the race would cover. 15:30
Rocky Falcone- BRR debutant. Oldest member of team but one of the fastest. 15:40
Left to right- Ben,John,Bob,Aaron,Mike,Richard,Billy,Me,Chris,Josh,Greg,Rocky
We were due to start racing at 1:30pm alongside the Asheville Running Collective. All the other teams in the race would already have started. We arranged to meet at the Dowd YMCA to get on the road in our vans by 8:30. The race taking place three hours away had already started....
Ben picked me up at 7 so we could go and pick up the vans in good time. The first thing I noticed was that each runner had been made a personalized goodie bag of edible treats to get us through the anticipated 20 hour race, thanks Carolyn, Megan, Meghan and Kelly! Jordan who had had to pull out at the last minute due to injury had provided a big supply of Nuun hydration tablets for the coolers of water we were taking. We certainly wouldn't be lacking for fuel and hydration!
One by one the team arrived at the Y and got into their vans. Most of us were meeting Josh for the first time. He looked skinny and fast and had a smile on his face, that will do! We would be picking Bob up en route. First little 'issue' of the race. One of the vans had the 'low tire pressure' gauge flashing and we found a screw lodged in one of the tires. Back to the rental company. No way we were taking the risk of having to change a tire during the race! No problem there was another van in the lot and we had plenty of time to get to the start. We picked up Bob at Walmart in Mooresville and purchased some pens to decorate the van with. Mike had put a folder in each van with the route for each leg printed off so everyone familiarized themselves with their legs and generally just chilled out getting ready for the task ahead.
We stopped for gas and then at a Subway for some sustenance. As we pulled off 77 and hit the country roads we were reminded about the hilly terrain we would soon be running over. We pulled into the start area about an hour before the race start. Amazingly, and in an ominous sign of things to come, Asheville's van pulled into the Park at exactly the same time, coming from completely the other direction. Both teams got out of their vans to sign in and pick up race numbers, etc. Two or three members of the two teams knew each other so both teams briefly mingled and exchanged pleasantries before finishing off van decoration, etc. The mood was relaxed and anticipatory of a good battle ahead. We wrote on one of our vans "This year we left the women at home" in reference to the fact that last year CRC had entered a mixed team (that had smashed the course mixed record and come third overall after a close battle with another Asheville team), in response Asheville wrote on theirs' "We'll tell your women you're on your way". The fiercely competitive but friendly and respectful mood was set.
I caught up with fellow Brit Stu Moran who, unfortunately for him and Asheville but fortunately for us, was no longer running due to injury but would be driving one of their vans and providing vital course information and support to his team. Stu had studied the two line ups and was expecting a nip and tuck battle to the end! I also spoke to Asheville's captain Frankie who I had ironically gone head to head with last year during the race and also Scott who I knew from a couple of runs in Charlotte and who would be running the same legs as me later in the day. A 2:39 marathoner and expert hill runner, I expected Scott to prove a tough competitor for me. Little did I know how right I was going to be!
All the talking was over, the action was about to begin.....