Tuesday, September 21, 2010

RTB Retrospective

In 2007, the first year the RRFC made an appearance at Reach the Beach, we finished in 29 hours and 23 minutes. We have knocked about an hour off our finish time every year since. This year was our fastest yet! Despite a rule change that had us competing as 12 men (teams must now have at least 6 women to count as mixed), we placed 14th out of 118 in our category and 50th out of 430 overall: quite a respectable showing from a club who claims not to be about the time! We finished in 26 hours, 28 minutes, and 17 seconds, a blazing 7:35 per mile average pace.

The challenge with being so incredibly fast is that it leaves little time to update our blog en route! At the leisurely 2007 pace of 8:33, we had ample time between legs not only to write to our adoring fans, but also to eat, change into less disgusting clothes, start families, save for retirement, etc. This year each runner barely had time to lower his or her heart rate in between running stints, which explains the lack of extensive blogging.

So, a retrospective look at the experience:

We woke up to a misty, rather overcast Friday. Rodrigo started the morning all Zen while in the background Joe reacted to some bad study news with the same grace and composure you'd expect to see aboard a crashing passenger jet.

After breakfast and a short team meeting, we decorated. This year the Fan Club vans sported orange and green Christmas lights (for the Orange and Green Lines, respectively), laminated signs, and lots of window marker. We also brought along small magnets that we used to tag other vans:

Our luxuriously late 2pm start time allowed us to go through registration on Friday morning instead of late Thursday night. We got through the safety check and then sat through the orientation. It was here that we first started to get suspicious that a mistake had been made. The woman who runs the orientation kept referring to the crowd in this session as "you fast teams" and "the competitive ones" and the like. We were looking over our shoulders to see who she could possibly be talking about. But yes, it was us: We are now projected fast enough to run with the big dogs. And in fact, we did notice a difference from our usual crowd. The later-starting teams seemed a little bit more intense, a little more competitive than we typically encounter.

(Orientation: Alex is confident, Agata happy, Weldon bored, Rodrigo manic)

At 2:00, we were off!Liz was the first out for a 7.97 mile leg, followed by Weldon with 8.96 miles and Tom with 3.88. Weldon and Tom actually went backward in time, that's how fast they run. Alex enjoyed a breezy 2.9 miles (his heavy lifting comes later). Tammy followed with a very fast 5.5, and finally Damian with 8.6 miles. At this point the Orange Line had gotten us about half an hour ahead of our projected time.

It was somewhere in here that we saw the moose.

The Green Line took over at around 6:30 pm. Decked out in glowing vest and headlamp, Christian led us off with his 7.23 miles.

Joe finished 6.6 miles in approximately 6.6 minutes, followed by Rodrigo doing the same. Agata, poor, poor Agata, then faced the leg that made us all weep, even those of us who were only driving the thing. 5.11 miles of a road with the elevation profile of the Grand Tetons. It was dark, it was cold, she was amazing.

Erica took over with 4.8 miles run in 7:55s, which is pretty fast for her! And Chris brought our shift to a close with nearly 4 miles run fast and with a fever. He didn't complain but later owned that he couldn't technically swallow at the time because his throat was so painfully sore. We finished at around 10:45 pm, about 45 minutes ahead of schedule. All of us deeply regretted having overeaten at dinner.

At this point, the Green Line drove ahead to a hotel we had reserved down the road while the Orange Line took over for their second shift. We were asleep so I don't have much information about how this went for them, other than that they continued to gain time, much to our annoyance. (The slower they go, the more sleep we get).

The Green Line was back on at 3:50am. Believe it or not, this is an amazing time to run. The camaraderie of being one of 430 runners stretched out across a state in the middle of the night is something everyone should experience at least once. The world shrinks to the small circle of light cast by your headlamp. There are long mesmerizing stretches of no runners, no cars, no nothing but the stars.* Then, out of the darkness, you'll see the bobbing light of a runner ahead which is sometimes your only reassurance that you didn't make a wrong turn 3 miles back. An unlucky runner will sometimes see a fellow racer's light apparently floating ahead 300 feet in the air, a sickening indication that she has one hell of a hill in front of her.

*And occasionally, 4 bears.

Dawn broke during Rodrigo's second leg, whereas curses broke during Joe's. The Green Line interrupted the Orange Line's sleep about one hour earlier than anticipated--we were JUST THAT FAST. (Tammy, when we phoned to tell them to get themselves moving: "WHAT do you want?? We are TRYING to SLEEP!!")

From here on out, it was a blur. The last part of this race is always a little hairy. The legs are shorter, the traffic is bad, and for some reason, people seem to run even faster--probably just to get this hell over with. So it has happened that the van fails to make it to the next transition area before the runner does. That didn't happen this year but it's still a big crazy hurry at the end. I'll leave it to others to blog the details here.

In the end we REACHED THE BEACH at around 4:30, over an hour earlier than even our optimistic predictions! There was some time for a quick dip in the icy sea, some dinner and celebration before the Boston and Cornell people had to take off (they were looking at a drive all the way back to Ithaca that night!)

Thanks gang for another amazing race!! There's nothing like this, and it takes all twelve to make it happen.

Now... who's on board for the new Reach the Beach in May??

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