Thursday, October 8, 2009

Running Through New Hampshire By: Amy Duquette

Running Through New Hampshire By: Amy Duquette

The little state of New Hampshire is filled with rolling green hills and miles of beautiful countryside. General Stores still sell penny candy, ski resorts are plentiful, and the natives are welcoming. On Friday, September 18th, this picturesque New England state was invaded by hundreds of cargo vans filled with over four hundred teams of runners all set on completing the longest distance running relay race in the US: The 200 Mile Reach The Beach adventure relay.
Our team, No Sleep ‘til Brooklyn, packed up our vans with headlamps, reflective vests, homemade goodies, water, goo, ibuprofen, massage sticks, several changes of running clothes, sleeping bags and pillows along with plenty of adrenaline and headed into the fray. We left Brooklyn on Thursday evening as prepared as humanly possible. Corre Kombol organized our all-women team, which included seven PPTC’ers- Rebecca Rosenberg-Beran, Katie Muladore, Ami Hassler, Sarah Scott, Marianne Herbst, myself and four special non-PPTC’ers, Jesi Crosier from Seattle, Chris Varley from Albany and Katy May and Alex Laurits from New York. Our 12th runner, Megan Kinninger was unfortunately derailed with a softball injury the week prior. The rules stated we could not change our established line-up, leaving the first three runners covering four legs each instead of the originally planned three. The other eight runners would each have three legs to run. After all was said and done though, this last minute change in mileage did not appear to affect Ami, Chris or Rebecca in the slightest. Actually, they looked as strong on their last leg as they did on the first. The legs varied in distance from 1.9 to 9.3 miles. Some were flat and some with steep inclines. Some were run in pitch-black cold night and some in the hot sun. There were plenty of empty backcountry road and highways to be conquered. On the (very long) van ride up we looked over the binder that Corre put together. It included everything we needed to know about the adventure before us, including the staggered start times for all four hundred teams. The first team would head out at 7:30 am and the final team would not be sent out until around 4 pm. The times were based on each team’s overall projected pace per mile. We were the last all-female team to start, which meant we were seeded as the fastest team in that category. It added pressure, but also excitement and, honestly, it felt a bit unreal to me that we could actually ‘win’ this.

Ami, first in our line-up, crossed the start line at 1:40 pm on Friday into a chilly downpour of rain. Thirty five hand-offs later, after passing over two hundred miles of trees, lakes, homes, highway, and woods, we reached the beach in a time of 26:38:57. We were the first all-women’s team to finish! The ladies from one of our vans escorted Chris, our last runner, triumphantly to the finish line while Van Two was still looking for parking and missed the big finish. Each of us was awarded a coupon to pick out our choice of New Balance sneakers. Our pace per mile was 7:42 for all 207 miles. Each runner gave her full effort throughout the race, no matter how little sleep she had gotten. Most of us felt as if we had one awesome leg and one less-than awesome leg. But, considering the running talent that surrounded me on this team “less-than” is a relative term. Some of our runners had impressive negative splits, running their second and third faster than their first. All of our transitions were smooth and well planned out, which was crucial. Lots of time went into planning the logistics of handing-off between eleven runners in two separate vans over this great distance. There were many runners from other teams waiting to hand-off to a teammate who had not yet made it to that point. It turned out that I did not need to worry about the pressure of our seeding at all. The excitement itself provided enough intensity to fuel the running. It was an incredible experience and personally, the best run in my entire running career was the one I did for my first leg of this relay. Those 7.5 miles started for me after 9 pm and I felt like I was flying through the night for the hour; it almost seemed effortless. Yes, there was risk of taking a wrong turn at night and getting lost, even though the whole course was very well marked. Running in the pitch-black night with only a headlamp leading your way could lead to confusion, but it also added to the exhilaration.

Throughout the race there was a lot of running and a lot of waiting. In the twenty six and a half hours the team members not running tried to eat, nap, and freshen up, sans running water, all in the vans. It felt a bit like summer camp and bit like the twilight zone. At one point, our team was in a middle school at midnight somewhere in the middle of New Hampshire. The kids and parents stayed up through the night to give us pasta. At another point it was 3 am and we were in a college that left its doors (but not bathrooms) open. The dark halls were filled with hundreds and hundreds of runners lined up next to each other on the floor in sleeping bags. I think it was in North Conway, NH when Marianne bought a sandwich at a deli and the lady wrote “thank you!” on the bag and closed it with a sticker when I thought, “I should move here.”

After celebrating with the other teams, we all piled in the vans and made our way back to the Best Western in Seabrook, NH where we all crashed pretty hard. We all think it was a blast, a truly memorable experience, made all the more special by all of the physical work and preparation that all went to the good of the team. And there is already talk of returning next year to defend our title.

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