Leg #1 was an easy run for all involved. We may have complained about changes in distance and the hills, but little did we know that even downhill runs after zero recovery would seem much worse. haha
After all six runners in Van #1 were finished, we hopped in the SUV, did some cheering for our teammates in the other vehicle while they ran, and then our hunger got the best of us. We pulled up to what I believe was the town of Amherst and parked nearby the Farmer's Market. We didn't hit up the market, but we found a nice local Italian restaurant called Pasta E Basta.
We opened the door and what do we see? Stairs. Ugh! "We can do this everyone!" So we trudged up the stairs, asked for a table for six, and were shown to the upstairs dining area (yes, more stairs). We sat down and looked at the menu while we all debated what we should eat. Tomato based sauces seemed to be out for the acid content, so it was cream sauces. We didn't want to eat too much either because we had to run again in what we thought was 2-3 hours. After the debate, most of us went with a sub while a couple went with pasta/vegetables. I got a prosciutto sub and a Caesar salad, but only ate half the sub.
After lunch, we went back to the car and drove to our next vehicle switch transition. There were a number of vans all awaiting their runners. We double checked our cut off time and found we didn't have to start up again until 1.5 hours later than we expected. BONUS!! Sleepy time!
We had spent 12 hours in the SUV at this point, so we were all getting tired and cramped. I took the opportunity of extra time to get the only stretched out of the entire trip. I spent some time foam rolling my quads and stretching my calves, took a bit of a rest, and then with an hour to go before send-off, I got up and walked/jogged around to wake myself back up.
The rules for the NERelay state that all runners who expect to be on the road between the hours of 7 PM and 6 AM must wear 1 reflective vest, 1 flashlight or headlamp, and 2 blinking lights (one in front, one in back). Since we weren't sending off our vehicle's first runner until nearly 6 PM, that meant that I would be the first runner to wear the night gear. So while Runner #1 got ready, I tried it all on.
I found quickly that attaching the blinking lights to the vest was not going to work; they'd bounce everywhere and annoy the shit out of me. So I attached them to the strap for the head band. I was going to ask one of the transition officials if that was okay, but I figured I could get away with it if I didn't draw attention.
5:48 PM - Runner #1 is off and running. It's only 2.7 miles, so we quickly head off to the next transition.
It was starting to feel cooler. I'm not sure if it was my lack of sleep, fatigue, or simply the weather, but I debated wearing my sleeveless jersey while I waited to run but decided not to. While I waited at the transition line, I chatted with another runner. He had on full CEP Compression socks while I had put on my CEP Calf Sleeves. We both weren't compression believers until after trying our first pair. They really are amazing. He wished me luck as his runner came in and said he'd see me soon when I zoom past him down the road; I guess I looked speedy with my short shorts and no shirt.
A minute later, our runner came around the corner and handed me the "baton." I was off. Another 8.1 miles.
I ran down the road, around the school, took a right onto the road, and headed straight for the next 7 miles. The shoulder was pretty small, so all the runners relied on the oncoming traffic to be generous and kind (it was obvious at this point in the race that no one in New England other than the race officials and runners knew what the heck so many runners were doing on the road).
At the start of this leg, I tried to hold back a bit. I knew my first leg was faster than I wanted it to be, so this time I wanted to start slower and not drop off towards the end. I felt great for the first half mile. Then the fatigue set in and I knew it was going to be a struggle. I passed the CEP socks guy about a 1.0-1.5 miles in and wished him luck. I was holding a comfortable pace and doing well.
As I mentioned before, as Runner #2, I got to cross two of five state borders. Leave it to Team Comrades in Legs to be waiting for me at the border for my requested photo-op!!
I crested the next hill and saw another runner off ahead of me, maybe half a mile down. "Awesome" I thought. "That gives me something to work towards and keep myself occupied with." I checked my watch and figured out I was about 1 minute back. I'd give myself 20-25 minutes to catch up to her (don't want to push it). It only took me 15. Hmmm... am I still going too fast? Eh, it feels comfortable.
I hit a small incline after passing the second runner and saw a long straight road; torture! I hate straight roads. I focused on the scenery and tried not to look ahead, but I could start feeling the fatigue setting in even more now. "How far had I gone? Was I 5 or 6 miles in yet? How far in was the third hill supposed to be? I knew the "bear right" was 0.4 miles from the finish, but I wasn't sure how far that right turn was from me.
I hit the end of the straight away and saw a bend to the left. Maybe the bear right is just around this bend. Nope. "Damn, where is it?"
"Ok, hold on Kurt. What's your time?" I checked my watch. If I was going to hit 7 minute miles again, I'd be done in about 56-58 minutes. I was only at 45. "I've got some time. But how much time? If the bear right is at 0.4 miles from the finish, I should hit that with 3.5-4 minutes to go, which means around 52-54 minutes in." I check my watch again - 50 minutes in.
Another bend comes up in the road. Again, it's not the turn I'm looking for. My legs are tired and I know it, but I kept it up. I knew I could hold out.
54 minutes in.
"Where the hell is this bend?!"
"Wait. Relax Kurt! Are you running the same pace as your first leg? No. You're running slower. Maybe you're closer to 8 minute miles. What would that be for time? 8.1 miles at 8 minutes per mile. 64 minutes with an extra 0.1. With 0.4 after the right turn, I would hit the turn around one hour flat. Damnit!!"
Another bend in the road. A car comes up behind me and I see them hit their brakes at the edge of the bend. I'm getting anxious! Then I see it, a yellow NER sign pointing to the road on the right. I check behind me for traffic and cross the road. Only 0.4 miles to go and I'm 56 minutes in.
Unfortunately, most of the last 0.4 miles are uphill, but I trudge up it and hit the transition at another one hour flat! (Technically, it was 1:00:28, but who's picky).
Time for Three Surprises!!
Our next runner tells me to take off the baton and right then I start noticing it. My fingers aren't as coordinated. I pull off the baton and hand it to her. She puts it on as I hand her the vest and headband with all the lights. As she's getting geared up I ask for some water and my teammates look at me. OMG, my speech is slurred!
At this point in the race I have thoughts going back to my half marathon last October where I became dizzy at mile 11 and collapsed at the finish line. I had been dehydrated and in need of fuel at that point. I was there yet again!!
At least I was able to walk this time, but my speech was slurred, I could feel my lips were acting funny, my fine motor skills were dulled, and I began being surprised at how well I had calculated all my possible finish times while out on the road.
While our next runner took off, my teammates informed me that they were pretty sure my leg was actually 8.5, not 8.1, miles. At the same time, another runner comes over and tells us that even his running GPS - which he wore on that leg - had told him the same, 8.5 miles. So wait, that means I pretty damn near kept the same exact pace as my first leg. Wow! I would have bet my entire savings on that having been slower.
I foam rolled my ITB because it had started bothering me part way into this leg (I ran probably 4 miles in the smack dab middle of the road to avoid the incredible slope at the edges). Then I chugged a couple bottles of water, hopped in the car and said "Let's Go!" My teammates reassured me that we could take more time if I needed it, but already knew that if I had already had trouble out on the road, that our next runner may very well be having issues too. So I urged them to check in with her and from here on to check in more often with every runner.
We stopped and cheered our other runners on, made sure everyone had water when they wanted it, and at least asked them about it at every stop we made. At this point in the day, I was beginning to fall asleep in between cheering stops. My body was crashing and everyone else was feeling quite the same.
We stopped at a gas station to use the bathroom and I got my final surprise - my legs were so tight that I could barely walk. And I mean, barely walk. My calves were on fire and each step felt like I was in danger of tearing something. I was not looking ahead to my next leg with much hope. I didn't want to tell the team that I couldn't do it just yet (maybe I'd get better in a few hours), but I doubted I could do more than walk at 20 min/mile right now.
After a few more legs of running, one of my teammates turned to me and said "Ok, get in the back of the car. We've got to fix your legs." Let me tell you right now that I owe my entire final leg and the fact that I can walk right now to one of my amazing teammates!! THANK YOU! It was a painful next twenty minutes, but she eased enough tension out of my legs with a massage and Biofreeze to let me walk well enough and after 20-30 minutes of walking around, even think running was a possibility.
Once our final runner was done (it being around 11:15pm now), we hit our vehicle transition, took a partial team photo...
... and were greeted by volunteers. These were not just any volunteers. They were volunteers making free Ramen!!!
Ramen, bottled water, and Coke. I know I'm not a carbonated or caffeine beverage person, but I knew I needed some sugar. I downed a Coke and two helpings of Ramen. Ramen has never tasted so good!!
After the Ramen, we headed straight for the next transition. All I remember is waking up when we arrived, we cracked the windows, and then everyone went to sleep in the most comfortable position they could find for having six people and bags in an SUV. It was the longest rest any of us had, about two hours.
To be continued...
NER Race Report Part III is HERE
Stay fit. Stay healthy. Stay safe.