Reach the Beach 2009 – Ultra Team: Rectum? Damn near killed ‘em! (Jason Patch, Andrew Daly, Tim Roache, Ken Goedecke, Bob Wiles, Colin Ingram)
There aren’t many prizes at this crazy event, so you mostly run for fun and bragging rights. We had a lot of fun, so it is time to brag a little bit. We finished 11th overall, 2nd in the Ultra division. What does that mean? Most teams run the 208 miles from Cannon Mountain to Hampton Beach with 12 runners. We did it with just 6. Instead of running 12-18 miles each, we all did 28-38 miles. Instead of 4-6 hours between runs, we had 2-3 hours. Instead of 2 vans and a couple of nice naps, we did it with one Ford Expedition and NO SLEEP. We got smoked in the Ultra division by Jenkintown Running Co. out of Jenkintown PA (about 8 miles from where my dad lives), a group of young guys who kicked some serious ass. We started at the same time they did and after one time through the batting order they had a 12 minute lead on us and we never saw them again.
In case anyone doesn’t know how RTB works, you pile your team into a van (or vans) and go from station to station, dropping off a new runner and picking up the last one, doing a relay race along the course. We started at 2 PM (it is staggered starting times based on expected pace) and ran about 8 legs before dusk. After that, a good chunk of the race takes place through the middle of the night along dark roads through NH that don’t have street lights. You wear some reflective gear to stay visible and a headlamp to see the road in front of you, but it is pretty dark and got a bit chilly with some wind in the night.
I was 5th in our batting order, so I had legs 5, 11, 17, 23, 29, and 35.
My first leg was 5.5 miles from Crawford Notch State Park down Rt. 302. Mostly downhill, it was a fairly fast and easy leg. My goal was to run at the upper end of aerobic pace, but not to get into threshold pace. It felt pretty comfortable and I was surprised to come into the transition area in 31:14, about 5:41 pace for the leg. I wasn’t breathing heavy and felt like it was about the right pace, given the net drop of 340 feet for the leg, all at a pretty consistent mild slope. It didn’t feel like it was “downhill” but it was obviously flat and there were no climbs at all to speak of.
My second leg was 7.54 miles from Rt. 113 in Madison down to White Lake State Park just off Rt. 16. This was my first leg in the dark, and it was fun. The first mile was quick and a little downhill and then I had a 350 foot climb in a mile and a half before a little drop and another 100 foot climb in a half mile. From there the rest of the leg was mostly flat and downhill. There was a bit of wind kicking up during this leg so I was actually a bit chilly for a while. This leg had a net drop of 47 feet, with 601 feet of climb, and 648 feet of drop. Total for this leg was 43:54, or 5:50 pace. I finished this leg feeling really awesome and excited.
Leg three for me was 7.39 miles from Meredith down Rt. 106 into Laconia in the pitch black of night. This was probably my hardest leg on paper. It was basically just two long hills. The graph of this leg looked like a big lowercase “m” with a little steep climb again at the very end. The first climb was 400 feet over 2 miles and the second climb was another 250 feet over 1.5 miles. Both were followed by downhills, which sound nice but I actually think they take a bigger toll on your legs over the course of the race and I don’t find myself able to scream down them and make up the time I give up climbing them. The last sharp climb into the transition area for this leg was a painful 100 feet in less than half a mile. This leg had a total net climb of 185 feet, with 731 feet of climbing and 546 feet of drop. Total time for this leg was 46:28, or 6:19 pace. This is about the time when the race started to feel like real work, although I had much more fun on the next leg, with sunrise approaching.
My fourth leg was the last run in the dark for our team. It was 6.24 miles from Pittsfield down Rt. 28 to Epsom. This was a fairly easy leg in terms of terrain, with a few mild rollers but overall mostly fast flat and gently downhill. Net drop of 187 feet on this leg, with 240 feet up and 427 feet down. Despite the building soreness in my legs, this was a good run. With sunrise approaching the whole van was starting to get beyond being tired and our bodies would soon feel like “daytime” again. I don’t really remember much about this leg, except that I felt like I had a good groove going and I passed a bunch of runners. I actually kicked at the end of this leg for about 600-800 meters because there was one runner up ahead that I wanted to pass before handing off to our next runner. I probably paid for it later but it seemed like a good idea at the time. Total for this leg was 36:56, good for 5:55 pace.
My fifth leg was 4.08 miles and by this time I think we were all just trying to get the race over with! The sun was up and a friend of ours had met us as the transition area with coffee and donut holes which was awesome! I didn’t have any because I was about to run but there were plenty left when I finished and I popped about 10 into my mouth in a minute and a half. This leg wasn’t that long but it sucked. I had a nice 100+ foot climb in the first mile that really took the life out of me and reminded me that I was just about running out of gas. When the team drove by me on their way to the next transition area I gave them thumbs down sign to let them know I was hurting a bit. Luckily after this nice hill the rest of the leg was a gradual decline with a couple little bumps, but the leg actually had a net drop of 4 feet. I never would have guessed it. My first thought when I finished this leg was, “Shit, I still have to run another 3.4 miles.” I was actually dreading the measly little 3.4 miles pretty bad at this point. I was sore just about everywhere, tired on a level which only compares to the first couple months of fatherhood, and eating just about anything that I could get my hands on. Total time for this leg was 24:52, which was 6:05 pace. I was happy with that because I know the first mile took me 7 minutes to get up the hill so the rest of the leg was under 6:00 pace which I didn’t think I still had in me.
My 6th and final leg was 3.41 miles from North Hampton Elementary School to Winnacunnet High school. By now the whole team was just trying to finish strong because we knew we were flirting with the 23 hour barrier, which was even faster than we thought possible when we started. We originally thought that breaking 24 hours would be great, and as the later stages of the race unfolded we realized that 24 hours was a lock, and we were getting close to 23 hours if we could all somehow find enough energy to actually finish our last legs at a faster pace than we had started with! There isn’t much to say about this final 3.41 miles except that it hurt a decent amount. Mostly in the legs. It was very different from a 5K or 10K pain. This was much more like the end of a marathon where your mind says “Go faster” but your legs say “Umm..NO”. I was pretty pleased with the effort on this last leg, and handed off for the final time to Colin in 19:56, good for 5:51 pace.
Colin brought it home with a big finish. When I handed off to him we had assumed we would finish in 23 hours and 1 or 2 minutes. Colin cranked off the last 4 miles in style. I’m not sure what his exact split was, but I think it had to be well under 6 minute pace, as we officially finished in 22:59:11!
We all worked about as hard as we could for almost a full day. Nobody slept, nobody complained, and nobody quit. It was probably the craziest and most fun running experience I’ve ever had. The race is an amazing spectacle of logistics and volunteerism. From what I could see everything went smooth as a whistle and the people helping out along the way were fantastic. This is a race you almost have to see and experience to believe.
My totals for the race are 34.16 miles, 3:32:20, average pace of 5:57 per mile. I didn’t really go into this with a goal. I had been thinking that 6:30 was a more likely pace but once I got going this is just the pace that seemed to feel like a decent effort but something I could stay at throughout the race with a few hours of recovery between runs. I was talking with the other guys and while the legs are sore now, I think in a few weeks and months this will prove to be valuable training. We all got in 30+ miles of high end aerobic conditioning in less than 24 hours.