This past weekend was the 15th annual Reach the Beach Relay in New Hampshire. A 200+ mile relay from Cannon Mountain to Hampton Beach and one of my most favorite weekends of the year. From the perspective of a non-runner it might sounds a little strange – 12 people spending over 24 hours together with little sleep committing to 15-20 miles of running (sometimes in the middle of the night) and most of the time spent in a van. But ask most anyone that’s ever participated in RTB and they will agree that’s it’s an incredible weekend. My friend Chrissy does a great job of explaining the relay in her Boston.com blog, Run Along.
This was my 6th NH Reach the Beach and all but my very first have been with the same team, Chasing Tail. We often have a rookie or two join us for the first time but the majority of the team is made up of returning runners we have acquired over the years. Many of us only see each other a few times a year at a race or group run outside of the relay but we’ve become great friends.
Just coming off of the Hood to Coast Relay last month and with two marathons getting closer on the calendar, I requested an easier set of legs. As runner #11 I would be running less than 15 miles total. I set a goal of averaging 8:30 minute miles on each of them to make sure I got three good runs in over the weekend since I was not doing a long run. We are now three weeks out from the Smuttynose Marathon and I would normally be running my 21 mile training run so that’s been pushed back to 2 weeks out and I thought the faster paced shorter runs would be a good alternative.
All twelve of us met in North Andover Thursday afternoon to pack up the two vans and head to New Hampshire. We always stop along the way at the Olive Garden for a carb loading team dinner and it’s one of my favorite parts of the trip. It’s an opportunity to get to know any new team members and reconnect with some of the returning runners I may not have seen since last year. There’s always a ton of laughing over dinner and it’s a perfect kick off to our weekend together.
When we arrive at the start at Cannon Mountain there are several logistical items on the agenda before we can get started including the mandatory safety check, the orientation meeting, registration and our team photo plus everyone needing to use the bathroom and checking out the merchandise tent. Unfortunately it was pouring rain when we got there so we passed on the team photo (there would be plenty of photos throughout the race) and the merch tent was a swamp so I didn’t spend much time there (which is nuts because I LOVE a merch tent). We huddled inside until 5 minutes before our start and then all 12 of us headed in to the rain to send our first runner, Karen, off. Karen was new to our team and this was her first Reach the Beach so it was hard to see her standing in the rain waiting to run while she was already soaked. When they finally took off we all cheered as loud as we could as she began our race.
Van #1 took off to follow Karen and run the rest of their legs while those of us in Van #2 had some time to get a bite to eat and relax a while. It’s always a challenge to predict the timing of when you’ll be running and when you will have a break so I used a spreadsheet that RTB provided to help us get a better idea of the timing. With some feedback from my teammates and a lot of guessing I put together the spreadsheet. If nothing else it was fun for a while to see how close we were to the predictions. Based on the calculations we were anticipating van 2’s first runner to start around 5:30. We arrived at the first Van Transition Area (VTA) at Attitash Mountain with plenty of time and since it stopped raining we decided to decorate our van and string up our colored lights. At just around her expected arrival runner #6, Jen, came through to hand off to Duncan (#7), our first runner of Van 2. It also gave us a quick few minutes to catch up with the other van. We were all really happy to see that Karen was in good spirits and recovered from her soggy first run.
Duncan was running a little over 7 miles but we wanted to stop a couple of times along the way to give him some water and cheer him on so we took off right after him. Brian was next to run and then Dennis who both had around 6.5 miles. Everyone was excited to get their first run out of the way but it was getting dark and late so it was time to get out all of our night gear. Stacey followed Dennis and this was her longest and most difficult run of all three legs. Usually its nice to get the most challenging out of the way first but adding the challenge of the night run in makes it more intimidating. Stacey was doing great and I was eager for my run to get started. Its hard to see the runner who is finishing at night so we thought we saw Stacey a couple of times but the first turned out to be a tall African American man and the second was a girl who truly looked like Stacey. When she passed the RTB bracelet to another girl I actually got mad and yelled ‘hey, that’s for me’. I remain convinced that it was absolutely Stacey right up until the moment that it wasn’t.
Finally the real Stacey came over hill and it was time for me to run my first leg. I always get very excited about the first leg of a relay and since none of my runs were very long or difficult I used the adrenaline to kick off my run strong. I was able to stay focused on my pace and looked forward to my teammates meeting me about halfway thought with some water. It was a pretty busy road we were running on but I felt safe in my reflector vest and lights. I was able to stay pretty far to the side of the road and never felt nervous about the traffic. The run was over quickly and I was happy with my time. Leg 1: 4.8 miles ; 8:28 pace.
Kristina took the last of our first legs and then we were done with our first set. We met Van 1 at the VTA to see Kristina in and send Karen off and then enjoy some food. This VTA is at the Kenneth Brett School in Tamworth, MA. They have hosted this VTA for years and use it as a fundraiser for their 8th grade class. Runners are welcomed to the school by students and the cafeteria is filled with pasta dishes and baked goods that are available for a donation. The students walk around talking to the runners, picking up plates and cleaning the tables for us. The school also offers several quiet rooms where the runners can lie down for a nap if they would like. We talked to some of the students about this project and learned that they fundraise all year for a trip to Washington DC that they will take in the spring. Everyone was impressed with the work ethic and manners of all the kids. I’m sure the trip will be even more rewarding for them since they worked so hard to get there. The parents and faculty of the school should be very proud of them.
After several helpings of pasta and some killer banana bread we left for the next VTA where we would try to sleep for a few hours. A few people took their sleeping bags outside to lie down and I was able to get several hours of sleep lying across one of the van benches. I woke up to a text message that Van 1’s 6th runner would be leaving soon. I saw that Duncan was already up and getting ready for his run but I tried to stay awake to help support our runners. I fell in and out of sleep until I woke up to Dennis getting ready for his run and realized the sun was up. I forced myself awake and announced to the van that I was up and ready to contribute. Stacey was about to take off for her run and I had to begin preparing for my longest leg of the race. My 2nd run was only 6.24 miles but with just a few hours sleep in a van I was not looking forward to it. I knew the first mile would probably be the most difficult until my muscles warmed up but after that it would be fine. Looking back I remember very little about this run. Much of the run was downhill so I just let the momentum take me for a lot of way and put one foot in front of the other waiting to wake up. My teammates met me about half way to give me some water and then I finished up strong. Leg 2: 6.24 miles 8:35 pace.
We met Van 1 at Bear Brook State Park to wait for Kristina to come in. Most of them had slept a bit but they were still tired and ready to finish up the last of their legs. We caught sight of Kristina and sent Karen out for her final leg. Van 2 headed to our favorite diner to enjoy some breakfast. I wish I could share any information about this diner. I don’t know what it’s called or where it is but if I’m in Van 2 for NH Reach the Beach I know I’m guaranteed a great breakfast there. This year I ordered the French Toast with Dutch Apple bread and it was amazing.
It was time to go to our last VTA before finishing off our last legs. We arrived at Sanborn High School and had lots of time before we were going to run so we cleaned up the van and reorganized our bags so we were ready for our last changes. After 20 hours or so the van starts to get a little messy and bags are moved around for sleeping so this helps us clear out some space and feel a little more organized to tackle the last runs. It was a quick turnover once Van 1 met us there. Duncan was planning to run a bit faster on his leg which was less than 2.5 miles so we left for the next transition before he even started running. Next up was Brian with a longer and more challenging leg. We were able to stop and see him a couple of times but he worked hard to finish that one up. Dennis was up next – earlier on that day Dennis had a 8.5 mile run that was labeled as ‘hard’ and because of the roads we were not able to stop and support him. As soon as we dropped him off for his third leg we saw signs that we would not be able to stop again. Poor Dennis. Luckily this run was only a little over 4 so he was okay to make it though. Dennis’ leg ended at Timberland Corporate Office and the volunteers there were having so much fun directing traffic. They were all dressed up in costumes and acting silly while helping us park the van.
*Reach the Beach volunteers are the best of the best. They are knowledgeable, fun and obviously selfless if they are willing to help out at this crazy event all hours of the day and night. Most of them really have fun with their volunteer job and make it as easy as possible to follow instructions. Thank you so much volunteers!!
Stacey was next and while she decided that she was going to carry water so we didn’t have to stop, but we found a place to pull over to help her out anyway. Brian stood out on the side of the road and entertained runners as they went by. Some of them really enjoyed the show but others were clearly very tired and just wanted to finish up. When Stacey reached the end of her 4 mile run I took over to run my last leg. It was only 3.4 miles so I wanted to push and give this leg all I could. I got started and looked down to make sure my watch was running but the mileage counter hadn’t started yet. It’s so frustrating when you are trying to focus on your pace and electronics let you down. Oh well…I just focused on pushing myself and watched the pace on my watch go down. There was a tricky intersection at a 4 way stop and I thought I was going to have to stop and make sure I let a car or two go by but a driver saw me and drove parallel to me slowly so I could run by safely. What a nice guy!! I was heading down hill and picking up speed when I came to another intersection but there was a police officer there who stopped traffic for me to run through so I didn’t lose momentum. My first mile came up at a 9:14 pace (no way, definitely wrong), the second mile was an 8:36 (much better), the third was a 7:53 (now we’re talking) and my last third of a mile was 7:30 (that’s what I’m sayin!). This was the only leg I managed to close a sub 8 mile but I’ll take it.
I flew in to the TA and Kristina took over to run leg 36 bringing us to the beach. The traffic is usually very heavy there so we did not stop along the way to make it to Hampton Beach and park with enough time to meet her. We found van #1 already at the finish line shoot and didn’t have to wait long to see her heading in. All 12 of us ran together and crossed the finish line as a team. As a tradition, after receiving our medals Chasing Tail heads to the beach for some finish line photos. We usually put our feet in the water but it was way too cold.
It was very chilly at the beach and I had severe comfy pants envy (CPE) since Nancy and couple of the girls had sweet RTB sweatpants. Lucky me – there was a finish line merch tent and I grabbed a pair. I LOVE a merch tent…and my new sweatpants.
This was my 7th Reach the Beach Relay including the MA course last year. The course is beautiful, the running is great and the challenge is fun but what keeps me coming back year after year are my friends. Its takes a special chemistry to make it 30 hours and 205 miles on minimum sleep and random meals but with Chasing Tail, it’s just one big long road party!
Thank you to all the race management, organizers, participating towns, TA stops and of course, the volunteers. I can’t imagine the logistics and planning that goes into an event like this but I can promise that all the hard work paid off. Well done!
Chasing Tail finished the New Hampshire Reach the Beach Relay in 30:13:42 averaging 8:50 minute miles.