This past weekend marked my first foray into overnight relay races as part of the Vincent Van Goats relay team. A group of friends and I decided to gather 24 of our closest running buddies, acquaintances, and friends of friends to venture forth on the Tuna Run 200 mile relay race, which starts in Raleigh and ends on the on the boardwalk of Atlantic Beach, NC. Preparation and planning lasted for months, and suddenly – in the blink of an eye, really – relay weekend was here! The 72-hour span from Thursday afternoon to Sunday afternoon simultaneously felt like no time at all, yet also an eternity. When one day bleeds into the next two with minimal distinction among them, everything becomes a bit blurry and delirious around the edges, resulting in a lifetime of memories (I hope) from a weekend adventure.
Logistics are the boring part, so I’ll skip straight to the race recap.
I woke up at 3:45am because we had a bit of a drive ahead of us to get to the start line by 5:30. So far, it felt like any other marathon. Waking up hours early then waiting, waiting, and waiting. We had 12 people per team, which averaged out to maybe 16 miles per person over the entire 200-mile course. I was supposed to run three legs for a total of 20.5 miles, but my first leg was cancelled due to flooding from a hurricane the week before. So not only did I wake up early to wait, wait, and wait at the starting line, but I also had the pleasure of waiting all day to run. My second leg started around 11:45pm. In the meantime, I donated to foster children in exchange for junior size frosty’s at Wendy’s, enjoyed delicious pizza at a local shop, ate tons and tons of junk food, attempted to sleep while having Facebook and text message conversations with someone in the same room , and drove up an exit ramp while trying to get to the next transition zone (sorry!). We all survived, though. Then I started my first run shortly before midnight.
The Orionids meteor shower was at its peak during the overnight portion of our relay. Unfortunately, I did not spot any meteors (focusing on the road and not taking wrong turns took precedence over stargazing while running), but we had a clear sky, no light pollution, and breathtaking views of the moon and stars. After the run, I was frozen through for the remainder of the night. Every time I got out of the car, I griped and whined about the temperature, but I still did it anyway. On the plus side, I did get the most magnificent veggie burger of my life at one point when I got out of the car. I managed to catch a collective 50 minutes of sleep between legs, and was wide awake and wired by the time we stopped at our second hotel for quick showers and 3 hours of sleep. So I cleaned the van and hung out in the lobby. My final relay leg involved running directly into a strong headwind on a barely-there shoulder of a highway. We did have one of the most spectacular views of the entire race, though. We crossed the bridge over the sound, and I stopped to take a picture of the scene. Having bundled up again in multiple layers at the end of my leg, I enjoyed the afternoon of in-and-out of the car a bit more than the early morning version. At the end of the last leg, we all crossed the finish line together as a team, hung out for excellent barbecue, then headed to the hotel to let the chaos settle a bit. Pictures, socializing, more junk food, then I finally went to bed around 9:30 on Saturday and slept so deeply I probably didn’t move until I woke up on Sunday morning.
Reflections on the Relay
What sticks with me most from the relay is an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Well, an overwhelming sense of delirium, giddiness, and un-reality after such an extended period of time without sleep. But on top of that, an overwhelming sense of gratitude. The weekend went as seamlessly as possible, which means there was a phenomenal effort on behalf of those organizing and planning all the logistics to make two teams a reality (shout out to the executive committee and captains that made this possible! I hardly had anything to do with this). I had the pleasure of sharing a van full of easy-going, light-hearted, supportive runners that encouraged each other as well as every other participant along the course. I witnessed the best aspects of the running community – the collective support, shared achievement, and irresistible spirit of doing your best while being cheered on by friends and strangers alike. What an experience!
Lessons for the Future
- Take your heaviest winter jacket. It is darn cold when you are soaked through with sweat and standing outside in the wind at 3am!
- The food provided at transition zones is the best food on the planet because it is provided with care, encouragement, and support for the runners. Indulge!
- BUT, don’t put down your headlamp to pick up a chicken nugget. The loss of your headlamp is not worth one chicken nugget.
- Savor the moment when you finally get to remove your running shoes at the end of the day at the end of the race. It will be the single best experience of taking off your shoes you will have in your life.
- Show up for others. We’re all gross, stinky, sweaty, and exhausted. Relays are all about the team, and everyone deserves your best, most flexible, most supportive attitude despite (or perhaps because of) all that.
- Take more pictures!