Wednesday, May 15, 2013

New England Relay in Review

My brilliant ideas never quite turn out as planned.  Such was the case in 2010 when my friend and I found out about the New England Relay (NER) and decided that surely between the two of us we could find 10 more people who would think that running around New England for two days would be excellent fun.

Seven or so months later, we had managed to rally 9.  Close?  Game on anyway.  Fortunately we also rallied one awesome dad and one awesome mom to be dedicated drivers so the nine runners only had to run and sleep.

NER's inaugural race was the one we participated in, in June 2011.  To complicate an event already going through first-time growing pains, a tornado beat up western Massachusetts a few weeks before the race, which included parts of the route.  The organizers had to get a little creative to redo it.  So there were two sections of the race where two runners from each team were on the road at the same time.  Abnormal for a relay race, but it worked to keep us on track and get the mileage in, so no big deal!

We started out barely in Rhode Island at a lovely state park.  Check-in went smoothly, we had a few spare minutes to decorate our vans, we all cheered and hollered, and off went our first runner, straight across the state line into Connecticut!  Van 1 took over after that (like I said, we only had nine people, so our vans were criss-crossing all over the place, and people were switching vans .... our first relay experience was NOT normal at all) and we had so much fun leap-frogging our runners to offer them water and lots of verbal support that both vans basically stayed on the course for the entire race.  Even when one van didn't have people on the road, they would be stopping in random places to cheer for the runners of the other van.  I think only two people on the team had done a long-distance relay before, so the rest of us were trying to enjoy every minute!

Halfway through Van 1's second section, my brother's knees (which were not in good shape following his super-speedy first marathon not too long before) gave out, and suddenly we were down to 8 runners.  Almost an ultra team!!  As a result, almost every person on the team ended up running more than 20 miles over the course of the race, and at least three of us ran more than 30!

The course skipped out of Rhode Island after that first mile, cut across a corner of Connecticut, and then went north through western Massachusetts to Brattleboro, Vermont, where we then swung east and crossed New Hampshire and sneaked into the corner of Maine for the finish at Kittery State Park.  It was well-marked the entire way, with decent support at the van exchanges.  It was quite hilly, which was a challenge, but unavoidable when you're crossing western Massachusetts and Vermont and New Hampshire.  The majority of the course avoided major roads and mostly avoided towns too, so there was plenty of lovely scenery to enjoy.  Of course, it rained almost the entire time.  (And by time, I mean 30+ hours, which is how long it took us to finish the 220-mile course.)  The legitimate downpours were rather annoying, but the general misting and cloudiness was nice because it took the edge off the usual misery of June heat.

By the time we reached Kittery, we were all beyond exhausted.  We were not prepared for the mileage or the terrain on the course, and it definitely took a toll.  But for whatever bizarre reason, it was still a blast!!!  You might imagine the experience would be enough to put me off distance relays forever, but not in the least!  I have not run NER since the inaugural, so I can't speak to whether they've worked out some of their kinks, but 2011 was a pretty good first draft, so I'm confident it's become better and better with each subsequent iteration!

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