North Country Trail Relay 2009 -- the team that almost wasn't

(copied from RunningAHEAD.com)

What a saga getting to race day...of the 6 of us who ran, only 3 of us had originally registered (Eryn, Heather, moi). Rick, Jen (Rick's fiancée), and Don were our saviors. Don joined the team in the final hour when just a couple of days prior to the race we lost our 6th runner.

We were a motley, mis-matched crew of speedy 20-somethings, pokey 30-something moms, and a 62 year old who could still kick a helluvalot of ass without meniscus in either knee. But for our first team effort we did amazingly well and didn't come in last (I believe there were still at least 2 teams with actual times slower than ours out of 53. With handicap we move up further in the ranking--helps to have 4 women and a senior dude on the team).

Our final adjusted time was ~12:40 (we had one runner start early when the previous runner was reported lost with 3 other runners on the leg. Since we weren't sure how far back they were we let the next runner go, then reported the time difference to the RD at the finish). We were elated, as we had mentally prepared ourselves to take closer to 14 hours...or more. Last year a team finished in 16 hours and this was the first trail race of this level of difficultly for most of us on the team and we've had some recent health, training, and marathon recovery issues to contend with.

But no one ended up seriously injured or slowed. On leg 4 I came upon a runner who was riding piggy-back on a teammate to a road to be transported to the nearest hospital. She had broken her ankle badly on only her first leg. We came to be very fond of the team that lost her for the rest of the race. They really rallied and absorbed her miles. Their wonderful guy on the team (Paul) was the gentleman who carried their injured runner for miles to help, then finished her leg (he was a machine...he got her to the road, then passed my ass. Poor Paul ended up doing 2 legs with our Rick...and having to face being brutally passed both times). We finished ahead of the their team, but not without some guilt. Next time we hope to beat them fair and square.

The various legs on the race site are described in terms of difficulty and quality of scenery. The descriptions were spot-on. My first 7.5 mile leg was described as "gut-buster" and "visually orgasmic," which were perfectly accurate. It was stunning...and stunningly difficult. One section of switchbacks up a hill about killed-me, though earlier sections on lumpy grass with a narrow rut down the middle were pretty brutal on my ankles. Somehow I managed to go the entire race without falling or even having a single "oh shit" moment, which astounds me. The first leg also had a couple of narrow ridge areas that kind of freaked me out....one wrong step in either direction and they probably wouldn't have found my body for weeks. The old Garmin definitely lost signal in spots on this leg--likely on the steep switchback area under dense tree cover. It recorded about a third of a mile less than this leg has been measured.

My second leg (#8, 2.5 miles) was pretty and easy. Not particularly memorable, but a nice change-of-pace from my hairy and scary first leg. Leg #11 (3.5) was also mine and I was originally not sure if I would do this leg or hand it off, but I recovered well from my second leg and did it. I didn't push myself as hard as I could have on this one, though. From the course description I was expecting a few big hills. In reality there was just one big climb that I ran/walked a little conservatively, as I was waiting for more. By this time I was starting to feel really shot and like a dumbass forgot to use my inhaler prior to the leg, so by the time I came upon the incline I was starting to get the tight coughing and inability to catch my breath, even with walking. Won't make that mistake again...

Today I am exhausted...not so much sore (thank you marathon training for the physical preparation!), but wiped-out. I think as much from not sleeping well in several nights as from the race itself. We're already planning to put together a team next year...hopefully finalizing the group MONTHS before the race, instead of days in advance. This time around we won't allow any lawyers who can't read on the team. I'm also going to make hill training a priority, even if it means driving an hour each way to find some hills to run on. The hills kicked my butt pretty badly.

After the race we enjoyed a BBQ and beer in the middle of the Manistee National Forest (the entire race was on MNF land). Once our stomachs were full we loaded back in the team vehicle (Ruby the Honda Pilot) to return to the hotel where most of us stayed...wow, what a stench! I don't think I have ever been so filthy and glad to hit the shower. Peeeuw!

We took quick showers to get the loose stuff off and then soaked in the hotel pool and hot tub...aaaahhh... We'd had plans to drink our mini keg of Bell's Oberon, but we each had about a glass (instead of medals this race has traditionally given out heavy pint glasses--woot!) and that was it...everyone was ready for bed (we'd all been up since at least 4am). Next time around we'll bring individual bottles, that way runners can have beer after they're finished with their legs. There's ample time at most exchange spots to have a beer...and we couldn't crack the mini-keg earlier due to open container laws.

It was a long day, but it went fast...and I can't wait for 2010 to do it again!

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