This weekend was amazing. That really is the only way to describe it.
Our Van 1 consisted of some of my new best friends. My abs hurt as much as my quads from laughing so hard. I could go on and on about the non-running parts, but I digress…
(So straight to the recap)
It was a rocky start. We were all planning to meet at my apartment at 430pm. Bruce picked Dan up in downtown, and they headed to get the 12-passenger van (aka our new vacation home- kitchen, bedroom, party room, etc). Dan texted at 421pm “we’re still in line. haven’t gotten the van. will be late.”
Soon after, Will showed up. Will is the runner with the most mileage (all long/hard legs), and is accustomed to running ultras at a decent pace. But, I don’t really know Will too well. And it was definitely awkward, him being the first to show. “Welcome to my home. Thank you for being on time. You will not be rewarded because everyone else will be late” 😉
Will also told me he brought a duffel bag full of food, a gas ‘hot plate’ for oatmeal or mac & cheese, and a ruck sack full of various items (including 4 headlamps, in case someone forgot one. Note- he is the Pack Rat). He also said he had a bigger stick than mine, so we agreed to bring his. We were all happy that he brought all his stuff; especially given the amount of food Bruce managed to put away.
I got a call from Sarah, asking where we were.
Sarah: “I don’t see you”
me: “Oh, I’ll come outside”
Sarah: “Oh, I meant the van. Where’s the van?”
me: “On its way”
Sarah: “Oh… ?”
As Sarah and I conversed in the parking lot, my cat decided Will was his new owner and acted like a whore and Dan and Bruce showed up with the van. Chris was still not there.
We started packing our vacation home down, and decided there was no need to organize or prioritize because we had so much space. We headed over to Target when I realized I didn’t have my phone. We headed back, I ran upstairs for my phone. And couldn’t find it. But I left my brush and water bottle, so grabbed those. Then, asked that someone call my phone. We called a couple times… It was under all the bags. Thanks boys. Note to Sarah and myself- We will have to be in charge of packing and organizing from now on 🙂
We got on the road, and the van felt like a boat, swaying side to side in the wind.
We arrived at the hotel in Columbia around 10-1030pm.
Front Desk Person: “How many people are staying with you?”
me: “just one more”
F.D.P.: “Phew. Good, we only have a room with one bed for you.”
(no questioning of if I wanted to share a bed with said person)
me: “Okay, our other room is going to need more than one bed” (Thinking that’s where all the boys are staying)
F.D.P.: “Oh, okay. Well, when they get here, I’ll see what I can do. We’ve had issues with several of the rooms”
me: (gesturing to Dan, who was standing next to me the whole time) “They’re here.”
Then, going outside to break the news to Sarah that we will soon be snuggle-mates.
********Flash to relay race********
Relay terms to be familiar with:
Kills: You end up passing quite a few people, as the start is staggered. Every person you pass is a “kill”… This can be especially motivating for a longer night leg.
Legs: The 200-mile course is split into 36 separate courses, or legs, that range from 1.7 miles to 10 miles long. Usually, a full team means you run 3 legs, and about 13-20 miles.
Exchanges: This is where you hand-off the baton (a slap bracelet) to the next team member. Major Exchange is the Army Major in charge of all the Van Captains, and he hangs out at exchanges… what? is that not accurate? Okay, fine. It’s where all the vans meet up, and usually there is food.
We had a 7:00am start time, meaning we were supposed to be at the start line by 615am. Dan was our first runner, and was particularly grumpy (he tends to be that way in the morning; though he’s usually better after a run or after coffee). The race started on a tiny race track (maybe 0.25 mile around) in Columbia, then headed out about 5 miles. Since it was 7:00am, he didn’t have to wear the night gear (reflective vest, headlamp, and blinking light on front and back); but he was supposed to wear NEON colors. He was wearing a grey shirt and black shorts. So Sarah and I made Dan wear a vest- I mean, the race director (enforcer of rules) would be kicking off the race)
We watched the Way Far Runners (running frenemies) head out at 6:30am; then we started getting ready for the race to begin. We listened to the race director go through all the rules, while Dan bitched and moaned and declared “I’m never doing this sh** again!” (We laughed and said “ok.” He was our vet, having 5 other relays under his belt)
At 7:03am, they finally began the countdown, and we sent Dan off. He maintained the lead around the track- which was pretty impressive against some of the other runners, who we learned how fast they were by driving by them 🙂
We hopped in the van, and headed to the next exchange. A boat landing, which was very pretty that early in the morning. It was hot, and crazy humid already- at 7am. I started getting nervous about my 8-hilly-miles at mid-day.
Dan crushed that leg with a 7:03 pace (and came in shirtless with the reflective vest), and we sent Sarah off down the road for her 6.5 mile (hardest of her legs). She estimated she’d finish in 9:30 splits.
We had some time, so we looked up the closest Starbucks- about 20 mins away (and it would take her about an hour to finish). We headed to the Starbucks, which turned out to be a distribution factory. The next closest starbucks was in Charleston (195 miles away)- no, I am not kidding. Apparently, people in South Carolina are strictly against coffee. We rushed to the next exchange- a gas station, and Will got ready for his long/hard leg (9.26 miles with some decent hills). It was getting hotter and more and more humid, so Will opted for Dan’s tactic- reflective vest with a bare chest, and short shorts. Except Will’s vest cut in to reveal his nipples (sexy). Does this make my boobs look big? Will and I saw a group of people coming in strong, and I said “no, Sarah is probably not in that group- we’ve got like 3 to 5 minutes til she comes in” And we heard “Ca Caw!” and I sent Will out for a flawless exchange of the baton.
We grabbed coffee at the gas station, and told Will we would meet him “halfway” or close to it with water/Nuun. And since there was nothing else to do in that neck of the woods, we stopped a few times. Part of his 9 miles was on a dirt road that was difficult to drive through, and every runner said was hard to push through.
Will passed off to Bruce. Sarah and I snuck in PB sandwiches. Bruce headed out for his teeny 2.4 miler; then soon after Chris. And I was up next. We pulled over at the top of Chris’ major hill, and I thought mine is a little bigger, this will suck. Then headed on to our next exchange, where I prepared for a hard 8-miles.
Leg 6: 7.99 miles (Hardest Leg)
Honestly, it wasn’t too bad; compared to other courses that are actually hilly (like the Blue Ridge relay, or say Big Sur Marathon, which include 1000+ gain of elevation). By comparison, this hill was teeny. But still, it loomed. And made me wonder if I took the wrong turn into the mountains…
I took off a little too strong, but knew I could maintain 8:30s for a regular 8-mile run, in race mode. And I remembered the first couple miles were rolling, slightly downhill, so faster was okay. About a mile in, someone from the Mustache team ran past “Sorry, but I mustache you” (must dash you). I thought it was cute. And his grey mustache told me that big hill would hurt him more than it would hurt me. So, I’d catch up; just keep him in your sights, Chandi.
I ran my little heart out. And was feeling exhausted. And hot. I could feel the heat of the pavement within a mile or two. It was 79 degrees out, with little shade. Though it was cloudy at times, with a warm breeze for the first couple miles. The humidity was about 75%. And pollen-filled. At about 4 miles, I felt a good downhill bit, and braced myself for the coming hill. Honestly, the hill reminded me of my college running days (in the mountains). It loomed in front of me. And I think it actually cast a shadow. A lot of vans were stationed at the bottom. I envisioned one of my vanmates gearing up to run it with me. I just thought don’t drop below a 10:00 pace. You can do this.
My mantra for that hill was Dig in, Breathe deep, Dig in, Breathe deep. And it helped. I knew I couldn’t surge the hill, because I had another 3+ miles to go after it. And then two more legs. I kept running though. That is key. Dan was stationed at the top, with Nuun, and water to refill my fuel pack. I just took my water bottles out and said “here babe” between breaths. He said he was surprised I kept running. Apparently all the runners before me had stopped to walk over to their van for support and water. Not this chick. I saw the Mustache man slow down too much on that hill. And after 4 miles behind him, I was hungry for a kill.
I got through the hill, and struggled to find my footing again. And Dan filled my Nuun too much, so it was fizzing all over my skin. Which, I didn’t mind too much; it was hot. And there were no longer clouds- just sun. My watch chimed for the 4th mile, and I was afraid to look- 9:40…
Not bad, considering that hill, I dropped to as slow as a 12:00 pace. Okay, Chandi, get your breathing back, and catch that guy. And then the wind picked up. It was like running up that hill all over again. The wind was blowing so hard, my vest was tearing off my body. My next mile was equally slow- 9:39. Crap! I’ve got to make up some time… I looked up ahead to see that Mustache man was a few hundred meters ahead of me. So, I dug in (mentally) and tried to catch him on a curve. And was successful, but also gave myself a splitting side cramp. I saw there were two people just ahead of him, a hundred meters or so away. I tasted my kill, stalked my prey for a mile or two, then felt my second wind. I was able to catch them and pass them. Three kills total. Not bad this early in the race. I made my final turn, holding onto the 8:40s again. And I saw my final hill. Are you f***ing kidding me? Another one?! It was tiny (+100 ft over 0.5 miles), but like a smack in the face, at the end of a hot, hilly 8-mile route.
I dug in, and mustered all the courage I could to surge the last hill. I managed to catch a guy who was all tattooed up. He was struggling. Walking a little up the last hill. We had our final surge together. Running into the exchange, I was looking for Andrea, and couldn’t see her. I held up the snap bracelet waving it as I ran in. Turns out she was standing behind my running buddy’s teammate (who was like 6’5). I screamed “watch out! My teammate is behind you!” as I almost tackled him to get to Andrea. 🙂
And Van 2 was off. We had time to get lunch and head to the next major exchange for a nap. While we were in Subway, it started POURING outside.
There was a road closure on the way to the next major exchange, and my navigation skills got us there earlier than most of the teams, so bathrooms were clean, and there was room to spread out a towel under a covered picnic table. We napped a little. We walked down to the lakeside dock. Then set up by a playground. As soon as Dan and I sat down, fire ants started attacking us. Damnit! We walked away with only a few bites each, thankfully. But all on our feet.
We started waking up, and hit the bathrooms- disgusting- after just a couple hours of runners. We got a little excited upon seeing the first team come in around 4:30pm, and started perking up for our own runner (Andrea again) at 5:10pm. We heard yells for Olga before 5pm, and hoped Andrea was killing the leg a little faster than we had projected. 5:10, and no Andrea, or anyone from Van 2. Around 5:15pm, we started to get nervous. Finally, Van 2 arrived, reporting she was just down the road, would be here any minute. All the while, I prep Dan, suggesting he needs to finish his 4.2 miles in 30 minutes or less (or a 7-minute pace). Even for him, that’s fast; but I thought it was a good goal. Finally, we saw Andrea. She looked exhausted, and didn’t even have it for an extra kick, but kept steady and strong to bring it in for Dan. Who took off his shirt upon noticing Andrea’s sweat and exhaustion. Then, took off like a bat out of hell. We quickly followed. And waited nervously at the next exchange, down the dirt road; tagging other vans with our “foot” (tarheel shaped). I am no artist, and we all joked that it looked like I was tagging vans with a penis, until I drew the toes on top. [Sorry, we had a van full of boys, and me and Sarah, and lacked sleep] But no one interrupted us, except R.U.I, who tagged us back at the next exchange.
Dan came in at about 29:30, for a 6:53 pace. Which motivated us to keep it up. Sarah started off a little too fast- 8:25, 8:30, 8:25; then had to slow dramatically when the heat and humidity suddenly hit her for the last two miles, but still came in on predicted pace. Will took off for his sunset leg, with no night-time gear. We stopped the van to give him a vest and blinkies. While we were stopped, the biggest spider I’ve ever seen came flying across the road. I’m pretty sure cars swerved to avoid hitting it- it was that big! I jumped on the van, and refused to go into the grass again (it went into the grass by us). When we decided to hit the road again, I went through the driver’s side, and tripped, hitting my knee square on the first row of seats. OUCH! (I have a bruise a couple days later, and it’s still tender)
Will handed off to Chris, for his night leg. Chris, aka the Swamp Thing, who is a tall guy; beasted it. Keeping a good pace, and even picking up some runners in the last mile (which was a straight shot, so we could see him coming down the road, his headlamp about a foot above the other runners). It looked like he was a swamp beast, eating the smaller runners for dinner.
Leg #12: 9.67 miles (Hard)
And I got all excited. Let’s go! Let’s go! Chris just picked those people up; I couldn’t let their runners catch me. I ran out at 8:30s for the first couple miles, then felt like I was all alone, so slowed down, as I was afraid I missed a sign. I saw no street lights, no race signs, no vans (usually you see vans driving past at this point in the relay), no blinking lights ahead for me to “kill”… I do not want to make 9.67 miles any longer than necessary… Finally, a 12-passenger van drove past, and cheered for me. I said “I thought I went the wrong way”. It was the race director. He decided to stay near me until other vans came up, he was within 0.5 miles of me the rest of the way (Thanks guys!)
Still, no runners until about 4-miles. I started calculated how many minutes I was knocking off our pace.
Okay, my predicted pace is 9:15/mile, so 8:35 is +:40, 8:43 is +:15 +:17, which is +:32, added to the :40; wait, where am I? No, I see a sign. So, where was I? +:40 +:32. Woo! I am already over a minute ahead of pace. Ah! What was that noise?! Oh gosh, did I swallow that bug? Ugh…. (spit) etc.
Finally, I heard footsteps behind me. She seemed like she was coming up fast, but I felt like I could go faster; especially to stay with someone. I wanted to make her work for it, so dropped to hold a steady 8:30 until she met my speed. After a couple miles, I decided to drop back, but keep her in my sights. I stalked my prey, never letting her get around a curve without me; staying 5-10 paces behind her. After seeing my van, I was rejuvenated, and picked up the pace to 8:30 again. I lost count of my sandbagged minutes, but was at about 3-minutes before picking up the pace. We had 3 miles left, and I was determined to finish strong; preferably ahead of her, but with her would be fine. The last two miles, we kept dropping the pace. I kept glancing down- last mile, I’ll kick, I thought. Finally, 8.7 miles. I told her, Last mile, and we kicked. She glanced at me, and said Are you sure? I don’t see the exchange? I knew it in my body, and trusted in my little garmin. No, we’re almost there. It’s just a curvy road; last 0.5 miles… C’mon girl! Get it! (we mercy killed a few walkers)… This might be a murder/suicide between you and me. Finally we could hear our teams, and saw the steeples. I almost cried. I was not going to let her beat me on the last 0.33 miles. I gave it all I had. We finished the last 0.67 miles at a 7:45 pace. The last bit, when I looked at the pace, it said 7:05.
I Ca-Cawed for Clara (in the dark it makes it easy to find your person). Except my entire team was there (or 7 of them) Hootie Hoo’ing back at me. No, WHO? …. Where? between gasps for air. I handed off, and we sent Van 2 on their way. 8:56 average pace. My 10K pace is about a 8:50, so I basically maintained 10K pace for 10 miles. Sh**********t!
They had sandwiches there, and all of my van (except Dan) was in there killing some sandwiches. I think we took out about 10 sandwiches, our van alone. I was uninterested in sandwiches though.
I snuck back to the van, where Dan was sleeping (on our suggestion, before his 3am 9miler), and finished off the remaining donuts, and got rid of the
box evidence 🙂
We all slept, overnight. A few hours. Until my alarm went off. I checked my phone- no updates. Great. The other van could be here, or they could be 20 minutes behind. I told Dan the update, so he could prepare for his 3am 9-miler. (Ugh)
We got him outside to warm up, and saw Andrea and Sheryl scuffling around looking for our van. Jarod’s leg before that was short (2.5 miles), so it would be close. Dan got out the street just as Jarod brought it in, right on cue. 3:01am. I woke everyone else up (Sarah was the only one awake, as everyone else just slept on the sidewalk), and we hit the road to cheer him on a few times, and hand him some Nuun, water, and support.
Dan handed off to Sarah, who was aiming for a speedy 9-minute pace for her last 3.75 miles. Will picked it up at 4:50am for his last leg- 7.47 miles. Bruce got up, and got prepared for his last run. Meaning he ate everything in sight, and downed some crackheads (chocolate-covered espresso beans). Chris, Sarah, and I refused to leave the van, so Dan went outside to be moral support while he got ready, grabbing his things. Bruce, then let a long loud fart. And Backseat Sarah woke up, laughing hysterically at the 15-to-20-second long fart. Bruce had not realized she was still in the van. It was really priceless. And Dan almost went back into the van to say You’re on your own, bro.
Bruce had a nice leg. 7.47 miles at sunrise over the marshy wetlands of South Carolina. He was just coming over a bridge when the sun starting getting into the sky. We were all a little jealous. It was just me and Chris left, so we strategized how we were going to kill our respective 4.72 and 4.11 miles- I’m gonna try to just kill some sub-8s, but not go any slower than 8:30s (Chris). We went into the nice gas station to make a deposit because the bank was open, and ready for business. The bathrooms were still nice, but we planned to change that.
I stood by the road with Chris, pumping him up while the others got coffee, water, etc. Finally, Bruce came in, and Dan and I gave him a love tunnel, which made him smile, and sent Chris off into the morning light.
The sun was fully in the sky (and was about 70-degrees with a cool sea breeze), so I decided to wear my blue booty shorts, my Nike There’s no I in Team, but there is in Ice Cream tank, and neon green Brooks arm sleeves, with PROCompression baby blue socks. I looked fast.Will prepped me- as the last runner, this was our last chance to get a lead on the WFAR group. I said I wanted to finish in 35:00, thinking that was a little lofty, but do-able (4 miles at just above 5-K speed).Will- Well, any minutes you can pick up. I mean why pick up just 2 minutes? We need 3 minutes. No pressure. Thanks, Will. I’ll see what I can do. If I get a sub-8, I’ll be happy, but that’s over 1:00 faster than my real pace, so let’s just see. I’ll try to get 3. No promises.
I almost put on a game face (aka eyeliner, etc.), but decided I’d rather pee. I had about 3-5 minutes until Godzilla aka the Beast aka the Swamp Monster was coming. So I sprinted to the bathroom, and back. As I was running back, Dan yelled “He’s coming” As Godzilla took out some small children and a car to get to the exchange point. He was running fast (probably 7:00-7:30 pace), and he handed all the energy for me.
Leg #30: 4.11 miles (Easy)
I’d even say very easy (there were sidewalks part of the way that made me feel at home, running through a shopping center at 7:00am). I took off WAY too fast, matching Chris’ 7:00-7:30 pace. I told myself to breathe and slow down. I kept getting honks from random people on the highway, due to the blue booty shorts. Thanks, SC 🙂 I saw someone about 0.5 miles ahead. I will catch her. I need at least one more kill. As I got closer, I realized she was going much slower- 9:00, and catching her didn’t mean too much for my pace. But, I caught her around 1.5 miles in, and kept sprinting, breathing easily. Crushing my pace. 8:30, 8:19. And feeling the burn in my dead legs. Then I hit the shopping center and got a second wind, opening my pace up to 8-8:15, I got a little hung up trying to figure out how to cross a busy traffic circle without sidewalks, but maintained a strong pace, as my vanmates cheered me on as they drove by (I also noticed they were coming from the wrong way, aka, they got lost. haha).
There was no shoulder on the road, and it seemed like rush hour traffic. So I was going slowly to make sure people saw me, and squishing my stride up a bit. 8:30. Finally, the traffic broke, and I made one of the final turns. I let myself open up again, and pushed my speed. I saw another guy ahead of me… Maybe I can catch him, and glanced down. Oh, I have less than a mile left (and he is cruising at 8:30s). Okay, pretend like you can catch him… Last little bit. It’s supposed to hurt. That means you’re doing it right. Don’t leave anything left. They’re counting on you. I Ca Cawed, and searched the crowd of cheering people for Clara. I didn’t see her yet. I felt my watch buzz, and saw something in the 8s (8:19, in case you were wondering), and pushed it for a true sprint of a 0.11 miles, in 39 seconds. And the wheels came off. Just as I slapped the band on Clara. My muscles couldn’t stop moving, and I ran through the crowd without any quads/brakes to stop me. Everyone was cheering, and total strangers told me how awesome that was.
The WFAR group couldn’t believe it. I had narrowed their lead to a few minutes within my 4 mile run. Apparently when the first person on my team said “Hey, I think I hear her. That’s Chandi”, their team members said “no, couldn’t be” and similar. I felt victorious when I crossed into that exchange. I ran so strong, and was so happy. And proud. I felt like I showed Van 2 how to keep it up. How to push hard for the “win.”
And then I got Chick Fil A biscuits and coffee, and made conversation with Allie (on WFAR group), while our two vans congregated. My van said they saw the fear in their eyes as I came in. I was too high on life to notice any of that. And they might have been seeing what they wanted to see, but we knew it’d be a close call who would finish the course faster (It was clear we would not finish before them, as they had a 33-minute head start, and we were a strong 10 minutes behind with our slower paced van now running). But, WFAR had been running strong as well, so we decided at that point to just enjoy it. We wanted to finish and have fun together as a team. We headed on to one of Van 2’s checkpoints to hand off park tickets for the last stop, and cheered on Sheryl for her last leg. She had a beautiful view over the bridge, down to the water, which she took a picture of, and still killed it at a 9:01 average, with her fastest mile ever on that run. Woo! Woo!
Finally! We were in Charleston! And we decided to set up camp at the finish line/ post-race. Just as they cracked open the first keg. First team to the beer, #33 to cross the finish. Seems fitting for my team 🙂
We got word that Jarod was beginning the Cooper River portion- this was the leg that could hurt our time. It’s the last hard leg (If you’ve ever ran the 10K, it’s basically that, plus 0.25 at the end). Then, Jesus. They were making decent time. And soon Van #2 joined us in the post-race beer-drinking festivities, after our third or fourth beer. We watched as several teams came in. The clock kept ticking. I told them Jesus should be here 12:40-12:45 if he stays on pace. 12:10 came, WFAR made an obvious effort to announce Olga should be there any minute… 12:15 passed, no Olga. We were nervous. Anything that could slow Olga could slow Jesus as well. At least Jesus had Clara to pace him, and support him on her bike. 12:20, still no Olga. I wasn’t paying too much attention.
I was enjoying my beers in the shade, and realized around 12:30, we should head to the sunny, grassy area, and start looking for Jesus. I started seeing who else would want to go with me. And I just honestly thought I had missed Olga’s arrival. Oh well. I guess we won’t know when she came in, I thought, as our team made our way to the grass. Then, finally, Olga rounded the corner. And we cheered so loudly for them. Their outfits looked great, and they represented as a team, running Olga in.
Our team started getting ansy then. We got nervous at 12:40 came and went. Anyone who sneezed, every bird that flew by Is that them?! And finally! 12:42, Jesus and Clara entered the park, and we threw off the flip flops and ran over to greet them, and Jesus made a final kick, which none of us could keep up with. And we all ran it in, just under 29:45 for 198.4 miles (or 8:58 average). The Way Far Runners maintained a 9:02 pace, so yes, those extra minutes counted. And yes, those extra kicks at the end of our runs counted. We all got beers. Olga looked wiped. I really felt bad. She looked as exhausted as Andrea did after her first leg.
We hung out for a while; Dan decided he no longer wanted to be hanging out with a bunch of tipsy runners, as he was our driver. And we headed back to the hotel. Some of us to the pool, some of us to nap. Everyone to shower.
We later went to Noisy Oyster, and tried basically everything on the menu, including a “bite-and-pass” of all desserts available (8?). Van 2 couldn’t finish their plates, so Van 1 cleaned up again 😉 (Totally kidding there!) Dan and I headed out, and we were told the party just got better and better. We hadn’t napped, so by 10pm, we were OUT. And we woke the next day to sore muscles and empty stomachs.
Stumbling through the hotel lobby to find coffee, I see someone making zombie gestures out of the corner of my eye. There was Jesus. So funny and good-spirited. We, apparently, looked like zombies due to muscle fatigue and lack of coffee in hand 🙂
We looked for the closest restaurant- Hominy Grill? I say to Dan. Bruce’s fat middle-aged woman’s ears perk up Omigod! It’s settled! That’s where we’re going. (starts gesturing to people eating various continental breakfast options) Throw that shit out. We’re eating real food now! And, oh, my, god. It was amazing. The grilled vegetable omelette with goat cheese was the best omelette I’ve ever had. Easily. It was all delicious. We ate like we hadn’t seen food in days, despite destroying Noisy Oyster the night before. And Bruce piped up again, Dessert? And convinced the table to order a round of desserts (4 between the 6 of us- pecan pie, beer float (espresso porter with caramel ice cream), strawberry rhubarb, german chocolate cake). We then rolled our fat asses back to Raleigh.