(This is part 2 of this recap.. you can read part 1 here)
As October and race day got closer I worried a bit about team members dropping off. I had seen it happen so many times, a team mate gets injured or life gets in the way. I was a bit afraid as some of the people I cobbled together for our team I did not know personally. But as things moved on, luck prevailed and everything worked out. We split our selves into two vans, each with six people. The person I met at the half marathon and her friends took van one, running the first six legs of the race and me and my band of guys would take van 2, starting the second set of legs, seven to twelve. From there we would rotate our runners in numerical order til we reached the third and final legs for each runner. Once we figured out our van assignments we examined the legs each runner would have to run and assigned out positions based on skill. All the legs looked tough, but being the slowest runner in my van I knew I would have to try to take one of the shorter sets of legs so that our time would not hurt too much when my slower running came into play. In the end I took the twelfth spot, the anchor, the last man on course for our team and the runner who will get to lead our team into the finish chute.
Friday Morning: Race Start (First set of legs)
On Friday morning our first van showed up in downtown Chattanooga and at eight in the morning our first runner was off. As I was with van 2, we had a later start than van one and would not have to meet up with them til around one. We all met at a Cracker Barrel and we started the process of getting to know everyone. The only person I knew was my cohort from Ragnar Atlanta and I knew we would be spending allot of time together. Fortunately our group dynamic worked out great and never became an issue.
After our small van was loaded up we headed to the meeting point where van 1’s sixth runner would pass off to the seventh runner and our van would take over the crawl towards Nashville as our runners rotated. Being the twelfth runner meant I had allot of time to wait before I finally got my go on the course.
Eventually the eleventh runner took to the course and we moved to where I would get to start my adventure. It was around five at night when I started my first leg, a eight mile jaunt down a mountain that our runners had earlier climbed. Because it was after five at night I had my headlamp and required safety gear on. As the eleventh runner came into transition I was given the slap bracelet and it was my turn to run. It was a beautiful run down the mountain as the sun began to set. I enjoyed the view and slowly let my legs warm up. Being stuck in a van for most of the day left them a bit tight to start with, but I had seven miles to go before I passed off the running to runner one, relieving van two for a bit.
Most of the run down the Monteagle mountain, out of Sewanee, was uneventful. I just focused on the sunset and the occasional stone work laid down during the last great depression. Some of it had its year of completion and appeared to serve as early road and mountain separation. At the half way point of the run the road leveled off a bit. By this point I had begun to feel my legs loosen and I was just easily pushing myself down the course towards the transition point. Eventually fields surrounded by mountains gave way to the signs of a town. At this point another runner, a pretty female, pulled up next to me and we began to chat for a while. Before I knew it we had passed the mile to go sign (all legs have a one mile to go sign demarcating the final mile). At this point we were minutes from the transition and I tried to urge her to push to the transition with me, instead she told me to go on and so I rampped up the speed and passed off to our next runner.
Since our van was now off course and we would not have to run again for a few hours we found an Italian restaurant. I ordered chicken Alfredo and I was not dissapointed with the serving size or the taste. One of the hardest parts of relay racing for me, in my limited experience, is keeping fueled. I ran an eight miler to start and only had a four for the second run, but by the time I would hit the third run, hunger will be a major issue. I knew my body and how it responded to running multiple times in a day. So I worked to snack on crackers and other food when I had a chance, I would not feel full till after the race Saturday night.
After our meal we parked in the transition area where we would take back over from runner six, van 1. The temperature had dropped considerably by this point. The transition was at a church, which was closed for the night. All over the lawn people were sprawled out in sleeping bags. I tried to sleep, but I just could not calm down. Similar to Ragnar Trail Atlanta, sleep would prove elusive. I instead hooked up my camp stove and boiled some water for coffee. Then I wondered around and chatted with others who likewise were having a hard time sleeping. At some point Friday gave way to Saturday and as the early hours ticked down we were back on course again and our runners were pushing forward now in the pitch black of night, towards Nashville.
My second leg was a quick 3.5 mile run at four in the morning. It was pitch black out and at this point I was running on the side of the road hugging numerous fields. As I ran other vans passed, honking and making noise, encouraging runners on. It did not always matter what team you were with, all the vans supported all the runners. At one point on this run I dimmed my head lamp and enjoyed the surrounding darkness. I lost myself in the music and found myself pushing my pace a bit. Unlike previous running races, I had vowed to work on my non-stop running and so I found myself running for the second time, without breaks. As I passed off to the next vans runner, I realized I had put down a really good time on this run and I was pleased that I could push my pace. As I hopped into the van and we moved to the last major exchange, I realized how tired I truly was. Our team had started at 8 AM Friday morning, while I was not with them, I was up at this time packing and getting under way. It was now just after five on Saturday morning. I was weary and tired, but I had one more final leg to go.
We pulled into transition 30, found a spot and tried to get some sleep before our van would take over. Van 1 would be finished by this point. I laid my seat back and got about an hour of sleep before I was wide awake and hungry. I walked around and chatted for a bit and eventually everyone else was up so we headed for Chick Fil A for some breakfast. After wolfing down a chicken biscuit, a coffee and some tots we mulled about for a bit, great full not to be in a car for a while. We realized we were ahead of our projected pace by over an hour and everyone was starting to mummer about pushing their next runs and really opening up our extended lead. I ordered a vanilla shake and it was gone before I realized I drank the entire thing. We headed back to the exchange and by eleven am we were back on course, getting closer to Nashville.
This final run for each of us was difficult. We were all tired and hungry and our muscles were sore. As each one of us took our turns we were all there to provide support, during and after the run. It was at this point I realized we had truly bonded and had really became friends. As we finished our second runs and now our third, we were relying on each other to get through the final push to Nashville. We were also tired and getting stupid at this point, laughing at the stupidest things. But we truly had formed into a single support unit, aiding and helping each other. I got a bit sad as we ticked down each runner and slowly I knew I would be bringing our adventure to an end. At the same time, I was ready for a bed, some food and to rest without thinking about course logistics. But that would have to wait, Nashville had to be ran through first.
At 3:30 I began the final leg of our adventure. At first I was running on the edge of the city, but eventually the course eased onto Music Row, the home of numerous record companies and allot of music recording history. I wanted to enjoy it, but I was tired and I had five miles to go to see those orange finish line. I settled in and pushed my weary muscles forward, rest would only come when I was done. I continued to run and sight see, going past an arena, the neon thorough fair of downtown and all the major touristy spots. The course was not closed so I waited at stop lights and had to navigate crowds of tourists. I could smell food and the city noise was disconcerting after the quiet country running.
At one point, about half way into my run a woman stopped me mid run. She told me she thought that I had sexy legs and gave me her phone number. I mumbled something, not sure what now as I was in a race and I had slept an hour for the past two days, but I am sure I was at least polite. I pushed on feeling the pull of the finish line and the end of the adventure. As I got to the point where there was only a quarter mile to go, my team mate from van one came to run with me to meet up with the rest of our team. She filled me in on everything, such as who was injured and then she we chatted. Raganr has a tradition where all team members cross the finish line together and as I neared the first orange over head indicating the finish chute, the rest of the team followed behind me. She nudged me and said lets go and we took off to the finish line.
From there we all celebrated and caught up. I was elated to bring my team across the line and to know we had all finished this together. Being the twelfth runner was a truly special feeling. I had pushed this run hard and if not for the stop lights and lewd women giving me phone numbers I would have had my best all time five mile time. But it did not matter, I wanted the free glass of beer promised and pizaa and I wanted to celebrate with my new Ragnar family. I hugged and chatted with my friends from Ragnar Trails Atlanta and just enjoyed basking in the excitement and energy everyone had from finishing this awesome race together. Eventually we walked around the Neon main street of Nashville and got ice cream before our team separated and began going on their way. A few of us from my van went to eat and further celebrate. This truly was and amazing and unique experience.
Til next time.