Chasing Pavement: Reach the Beach New Hampshire 2012
“Should I give up / or should I just keep chasing pavements / even if it leads nowhere?” -Adele
We went chasing pavement this past weekend, but in our case, it didn’t lead “nowhere”…it led to the beach! Hampton Beach, to be specific, the finish line for the Reach The Beach Relay (RTB), a 203-mile team relay race. We started our adventure at 7 AM Friday when half of our team picked us up in a stylin’ mini-van at our meeting point in southern New Hampshire. We cruised two hours north to Cannon Mountain where, after a brief orientation and safety meeting, our first runner set out on his 8+ mile leg a little after our scheduled 11 AM start. (They stagger the start times based on expected pace so all the teams have enough time to complete the race before the closing of the course Saturday evening.)
After our first runner disappeared down the mountain trail, the rest of us piled into two vans and hit the road. We were underway! In our team of 12 runners, M ran in the 8th spot in the rotation, while I was in the 12th. There were a total of 36 legs of the race, meaning every runner ran three times in a pre-determined order. Each leg varied in length, elevation, and terrain. M’s rotation (three runs totaling ~23 miles) was arguably one of the hardest in all categories, but it provided fantastic training for his upcoming marathon. My rotation was a moderate one (~15 miles across three runs) that also gave me the honor of crossing the finish line for our team.
And it was an honor. Our teammates—many of whom we met for the first time on Friday morning—were friendly, funny, focused, and rock-star runners. Although several of them had run together before, they welcomed us with warmth and an appropriate level of good-natured ribbing. Each one of them ran their hearts out, some clocking personal bests and some happy just to hand off the baton at the end of a grueling section. We ran through heat, darkness, rain, and sunshine as we weaved through more than 30 towns and interacted with hundreds of other teams, race staffers, and volunteers. We reached the beach around 3:30 PM Saturday, roughly 28 ½ hours after we started, and celebrated with burritos and beer.
RTB is not an ordinary race; it is an event. And it’s not the kind of event that you just wake up that morning and decide to run. For starters, you need at least five (and ideally, eleven) other people capable and willing to run on a team with you. Then there’s the training and the planning and the packing for a 36-hour adventure that is long on port-a-potties but short on sleep and showers. It’s also not the kind of event you just wake up and decide to put on. It takes months of planning and coordination to pull off an event of its size, rallying hundreds of volunteers to provide services at all hours of the day and night. And in its 14th year, the team behind RTB absolutely has it right. From my perspective as a rookie runner, event execution was flawless.
On a personal level, this event tested my endurance, my mental toughness, and my chops as a runner. I just started running two years ago, and in that time I’ve worked to drop more than four minutes off my average pace per mile (from roughly a 12:30 during my first 5K in 2010 to an 8:33 at a 5K last month). I’m not naturally speedy, but I’ve been working hard to improve. I ran two of my legs during RTB at a sub-9:00 pace, and the third was just over that. Others on our team logged impressive times in the 6:00-7:00 range, which I can only hope to attain, but I was psyched to hold my own and mix in with a crowd of runners I respected.
Because of the staggered start times and varying paces for each team, you never knew if the runners you were near on the course were going to finish ahead of or behind you in the final standings. It really didn’t matter. Everyone was doing their own thing, and everyone was generous with the weekend’s refrain: “Nice job, Runner.” I heard this as people passed me, and I said it as I passed them or cheered them on along the course. There were more than 400 teams on the course, and most of them were not in contention for any kind of place or prize; they were out there for the camaraderie, the experience and the personal challenge. They were out there to run, and they—we—were all runners.
Running is an individual sport, but events like RTB provide an opportunity to create community, even if it’s temporary. It’s a community that rallies around challenge and celebrates accomplishment with a pure joy unlike any I’ve ever experienced. There’s a magical feeling at the finish line, even as a spectator. Racing—especially in an organized endurance event—provides a forum for individuals to challenge themselves in a different way than normally available. I am grateful I had the opportunity to join a team (partially composed of folks from M’s alma mater) and stretch my own boundaries to see what I could do to help get our team to the beach.
After running alone on a dirt trail through a dark state park with only a headlamp to guide me and a teensy bit of terror to motivate me…
…after running in the only rain of the event as the sun was rising, producing a gorgeous double rainbow…
…and after chugging along barefoot in pace-sucking soft sand for the last 1/3 of a mile as my teammates waited patiently to join me across the finish line…
…well, after all that, I’m pretty sure I can tackle anything, including tomorrow’s planned 3-miler. Our next half-marathon is two weeks away, and there’s plenty of pavement to chase. -J