The Reach the Beach relay is a 200 Mile (36 leg) race across the state of Massachusetts. Each team is comprised of up to 12 people who run constantly until you ‘reach the beach’ 200 miles later. You don’t sleep, you just run, eat, and use the bathroom.
This race is particularly monumental to me because last year on the day I was supposed to leave for it, I received a call telling me my father was dying and that I needed to get to him immediately to say goodbye. Instead of racing, I was a part of the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life.
They say time heals all, and while that may be true I have learned (in this last year) that our time is limited, so you must embrace every moment of every day. I could think of nothing more fitting then to do what I love most right now, to run all night.
Our super start team, Team Honey Badger, left Thursday afternoon in a 2 van caraVAN (see what I did there? Clever right?) towards New Haven. Team Roll Call Go! Alamar, Maura, Elyssa, Neal, Allen, Abbe, Robin, Patricio, and me!
After spending a few hours in rush hour we finally parked in New Haven, aka Neal’s turf. He went to grad school here and has a pulse on the scene. What scene are we talking about exactly… Pizza! “I’m going to take you to the best pizza restaurant ever.” To which I replied in my snotty New York voice, “Um, I rarely eat pizza outside of NYC.”
If there were a pizza scale, lets say it was 1 to 10 (10 being supreme-o) Pizza Moderna was an 11. We had a fried clam pizza along with the Italian bomb and the veggie bomb. I think I had like 3 huge slices! We had a few pitchers of beer which Maura entertained us with stories of her doing hard time. I’ve known Maura for awhile so having a convict on my team didn’t really bother me.
Back on the road we arrived at the start (Fitchburg, MA… home of the corn dog) by 11PM.
Abbe, Elyssa, Robin and I got up early and went to the local grocer to get supplies. “Hmmmmm.” you ask. “What does on need on a 200 mile race across a U.S. State?” We picked up bananas, apples, water, Gatorade, Peanut M&Ms, granola bars, peanut butter, bread, grapes, sliced turkey, ice, almonds, and some Coca Cola. These are all things we split between the 2 vans to aid our team once the race began.
After we checked in and took a few team photos it was time for Allen to set it off. Our start time was at noon. SIDENOTE: They started the teams based on speed in order for everyone to end up at the beach at roughly the same time. If you started at 9AM you were a slower paced team then someone starting at 2PM.
It was a beautiful day, but it was getting hot.
Allen and 10 others started the 12 Noon wave by charging up a serious uphill.
Van 1 (Abbe, Robin, Patricio and myself) ran to the van and started toward the first transition point. Allen came blasting through and Abbe lay in wait. As he hit her with the slap bracelet baton she took off. It would go something like this for 36 legs.
My first leg started at 3PM and I was so excited to finally be running. We had made a ‘Kill Chart’ so keep track of people we passed during each leg and so I was secretly eyeing up my targets before Patricio arrived to tag me in. He hit me with the baton and off I went. We had no intention (as a team) of trying to place, we were just out for the love of the game, so Kills were everything.
By Mile 1 I had 3 kills under my belt but I was hurting bad. I was holding a 6:15 pace but needed to slow it up so I dropped my speed. I turned onto a dirt road and thought, “This, is awesome!” Basically, I imagined myself in the Duke’s of Hazzard blasting down the road, but with Newtons instead of a Dodge Charger.
Other vans with funny names were driving by constantly cheering us on. This would happen the whole entire race and I thought it was so cool!
Van 1 was waiting at Mile 3 to dish me some water which I needed bad. I had passed another 3 people (innocent older mom-like runners) and was ready to be done running.
7.2 Miles @ 6:30 pace = Kills 8
After Leg 1 our van decided to go in search of real food, like burritos. We ended up in Worchester (secretly pronounced Wooster and NOT home of Worcestershire sauce to our dismay) at Tortilla Sam’s. Tortilla Sam was selling burritos for like a buck fifty! A smart person running a 200 mile relay who was at the beginning of the race, might have questioned these outrageous prices and worried about food poisoning or even sudden death, but not Team Honey Badger. I had a veggie burrito and got a rice and black bean to go. All of us also had coffee.
We picked up Van 2 at their last transition and Allen began his second run. It was now after 6:30PM and so the rule was to have a reflective vest, 2 blinky lights and a head lamp on. We looked like crazed miner-crossing guards being chased by non-existent zombie school children.
By the time it was my turn to run again it was 3 hours later. This was the norm for everyone. It was also 9:15 PM and pitch black. I had my reflective gear on (Thanks Claire!) and was actually kind of scared to run in the dark with all this crap on me. Little did I know this run would be one of my most memorable and fun runs to date.
I started off on the shoulder of a highway cooking down a hill against traffic. Not so cool right? Then, I (and I say I because in a race like this there aren’t any other runners around) turn onto a back country road. It was very dark.
I was flanked by thick forest, my head lamp creating a sort of ‘bubble’ of light around me as I ran into nothingness. All I could hear was my footfall, my heavy breath and the crickets emanating from the left and right. It was cold now so every time I exhaled a sort of steamy fog passed into my light bubble for a second.
I felt an intense fear, as if I were going to be attacked from any side by an unseen foe. Then, I laughed a bit and thought, “Wow. If my Dad could see me now. He would think this was possibly the coolest thing ever.” And it was.
Me, and the street, nothing else. It was the purest form of running I had ever experienced. I couldn’t tell how fast I was going because I couldn’t see things passing me by. I could hear my breathing and footfall and ran to that as if it were music.
A few miles in I saw some blinky lights, meaning, targets were up ahead. I sped up and passed one or two runners. Then, a few more. As I came into transition like a bat out of hell I had been running a 6:14 pace and not even known it.
6 Miles @ 6:14 pace = Kills 12
Our van was now half way done our part in the relay. We went on a quest for coffee. I was in the way back having a semi-heart attack and cleaning my body with baby wipes. The cool thing about running in the dark? No sunscreen!
As Abbe pulled us up to the drive-thru Burger King, she order coffee then Patricio goes, “1 Large Fry.” I sat there for a second thinking, “Damn it Patricio.” “Make that 2 Large Fries!”
I housed them and loved every minute of it.
We parked at the transition area where we were to meet Van 2, 2 hours from then. We all tried to relax and maybe sleep but it seemed impossible. 2 hours is not a lot of time to try and get some z’s either. The temperature was now nearing 45 degrees.
Leg three approached and it was nearing 1AM. Allen geared up and waited for Neal at the transition. Even though it was late, it was still the same giant runner party at transition!
As Allen finished his 3rd leg he blasted past 3 people to make his kills for that leg 14, a team record! He was on a mission.
It was getting really hard to get aid to our runner due to the darkness. We had a hard time finding out which runner was ours and they, in turn, had a hard time figuring out what van we were!
Abbe, Robin and finally Patricio finished up as I waited in the cold to start my 3rd leg. It was now 3:15AM!
I tried setting it off as I did the run before, but I was starting to feel fatigued from running and lack of sleep. I did however manage to pass an Ultra Team runner girl (an Ultra Team was a team of 6 people who were most likely fast) that had passed Abbe. Abbe had been talking about it so I figured I would avenge her being a ‘kill.’
This run was almost as cool as the other night run accept I was exhausted. It also took place on major roads with cars, so the whole spooky aspect wasn’t really there.
4.2 Miles @ 6:20 pace = Kills 10
As our 3rd leg came to a close all of us were really wiped out. We were delirious. Immediately we drove to our last transition start to try and sleep before Van 2 made their way to us.
We did actually manage to get somewhere between 20-60 minutes worth of sleep. It helped me tremendously. As I woke to the sun at 6AM I felt not great, but good. I walked over to some local moms selling coffee and BSed with them for awhile. The volunteers and helpers in this race were so wonderful!
The rest of the gang woke up and were a bit groggy. Allen got ready for his 4th and final leg and went to meet Neal.
It was kind of refreshing to be out of the darkness and into the light. I feel like we had made it.
The only unfortunate thing about the light is that it gets hot fast.
During Robin’s last run Allen and I were waiting to give her water we we started chatting with a few other teams. They actually thought we were an Ultra Team! We told them no way and they insisted, saying that they started at 9AM as opposed to our 12 Noon and so we had made up 3 hours. I’m not going to try and be modest here, because this is a team race, but we felt pretty bad ass. A few other teams after said the same thing and thats when we started doing some quick math. “Did we have a shot at placing?” We had been running for fun this whole time, not knowing if we stood a chance at a decent finish time.
As I started my last run I was far from excited. It was 75 degrees and sunny and I was very tired. Mainly, my legs felt trashed.
My leg was a straight shot down a highway, so exciting. I wanted to quit and walk so very badly but I just kept going. I took it mile by mile. Abbe saved me when at mile 3 she busted out some Coca Cola for me. I chugged a few ounces and kept going, the heat bearing down on me.
Finally, I rounded a corner and came into transition, finishing my end of the race.
6.5 Miles @ 6:35 pace = Kills 2
Exhausted and hungry, our van decided we needed a proper breakfast. We hit Old Country Buffet. As far as NY Times food rating go, it would have been sub par, but I’ll tell you what… that food was fantastic! Bacon, sausage, eggs, pancakes, fruit, coffee and for dessert a Raspberry Lemonade Icee!
We headed to the finish after that so we could rendezvous with the gang.
We chatted with Jess for a bit, who was on the New Balance Team before heading to the beach to run in with Neal. As he round the corner we all gathered around him and ran into the finish chute, all nine of us triumphant! I have never crossed the finish as a team before and it was quite cool.
Next? What a silly question… the beer tent! We all threw back 1 or 2 delicious cold ones before heading to the beach for a group picture.
200 Miles = 26:09 Hours. 20th overall and 5th in our division!
That night we went out for an early dinner. The last time I stayed up all night was 15 years ago so I was basically a mess. Half of us went to sleep at 8PM. We slept a full 10 hours and I felt so refreshed in the morning.
Total Kills = 133
Thanks to Captain E for setting up this race and thanks to my amazing teammates! All 8 of you are truly Beyond Defeat.
To those of you who think this race might be easy… it is far from it.
After traveling back I headed down to DC to be with my 6 brothers and my bonus mom (step-mom.) The following day, on the one year anniversary of my father’s death, we drank Johnny Walker Black scotch around his grave site telling happy stories about him and what he meant to each of us.
The people we surround ourselves with are a direct reflection of who we are and what we represent. I am honored to have these friends and family in my life. Keep running.