Salisbury runners enjoy grueling 2-day, 208-mile Blue Ridge Relay
By Michele d’Hemecourt
For The Salisbury Post
The most rewarding and exhilarating moments of our lives are the times when we’re not certain we’re up to the challenge because we’ve never done anything like it. We don’t know our boundaries until we push past our comfort zones.
This was the experience of 24 local runners who ran the 208-mile Blue Ridge Relay on Sept. 5-6. The course started in Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia and ran through the mountains to the finish line in Asheville.
Salisbury runners included Allan Barnes, Chris Blumenthal, Jennifer Chandler, Michele d’Hemecourt, Tracey Glenn, Chris Mead, Dan Mikkelson, Lloyd Mowery, George Simons and Kenneth Todd.
There were more than 800 runners on 78 teams of 4 to 12 people each. We had two teams of 12 people ó Mountain Lions 1 and Mountain Lions 2 ó and we each completed three legs of the race, varying in length and difficulty. Each leg is graded from easy to moderate to hard to very hard and finally, mountain goat hard.
We finished in a little over 29 hours. Although we were all experienced runners, few of us had ever run three times in one day, in the mountains, on little to no sleep, and in the middle of the night.
Mikkelson summed up how most runners felt: “I have run faster races, and I have run longer races, but I have never experienced a race that challenged and rewarded me on so many levels.”
“As sore as I am, mentally and physically, I got so much more out of this race than the running itself,” said Craig Coghill of Kannapolis. “I had heard about the hard hills, lack of showers (that is, stinky clothes and people), lack of clean bathrooms, lack of sleep, running in the middle of the night, sleeping on the ground, being chased by dogs, etc.
“And while those things still existed, they are no longer the words I will use to describe my experience. I will talk about the camaraderie, the laughs, the relationships ó the new relationships and strengthening of existing relationships ó the beautiful stars, the Milky Way and serenity of my 1 a.m. run (which, by the way was my favorite leg).
“I will talk about how awesome my teammates were, how we all stood for each other’s success, cheered each other on, raised each others’ spirits, and especially the sportsmanship shown to ALL runners. Can you imagine getting 24 people together for all the aforementioned conditions and not one single instance of negativity or disdain? I have more confidence in my abilities to go harder, faster and longer.
“My legs are tired, but my heart and mind want to lace up my running shoes, pin on a bib and go!”
We have many stories to tell after spending two days in such odd conditions. It started when we arrived only a minute and a half before the starting gun. Four and a half hours later, our well-matched teams were still running neck-and-neck, forcing Barnes and Blumenthal to sprint to the finish ó of that leg… and then two more runners started.
Then, there’s the story of the praying mantis that “attacked” Barnes and Glenn.
Many of the men talked about how often they were passed by women on the course. Teammates would chide “you got gurled” if it was a younger woman, and “you got grandma’d” if it was a woman older than the runner. I was pleased to be one of those women doing the passing.
Blumenthal earned the name Chris Crinkle when he snored and ran in his sleep, kicking one teammate in the head and crinkling the tarp, keeping 11 of his team members from sleeping, even though we had only that hour or two between runs and shuttling runners. So, some went without sleep until they returned home on Saturday.
Mikkelson could have been delirious, running the hour before dawn, when he thought he saw Casper the friendly ghost and a “moonbow,” which he described as a rainbow, but with the moonlight.
“I was telling someone about the race and trying to get them to understand why we loved it so much,” Mead said. ” I talked about the pain of running in the mountains, the risk of being eaten or hit by a car and the sleep deprivation. Then I pointed out that the camaraderie with 23 of my friends makes all of that seem insignificant. How often are you involved in something that makes you laugh for almost 36 hours straight ó 35 hours if you exclude the hour I spent on the mountain goat leg, a 6.5 mile climb from 2,400 feet above sea level to 4,200 feet above sea level?
“It’s a special event and I think that it is something you have to experience to understand. I hope we have the same 24 again next year.”
The Mountain Lions 2 team finished 21st overall, at 29 hours 18 minutes. The Mountain Lions 1 team finished 34th, in 30 hours 2 minutes.
At the end of the race, Norman’s Maggots of Asheville led the field with a time of 21 hours, 53 minutes, breaking their own record by more than 45 minutes.
A special thanks goes out to our team captains, Jeff Schall of Mooresville and Rob England of Harrisburg and to Donnie Clement and Salisbury Motor Co., who donated the use of two vans.
Plans are underway for the 2009 Blue Ridge Relay.
For additional information about the Blue Ridge Relay, visit www.BlueRidge Relay.com or call 336-877-8888.
Michele d’Hemecourt is a land protection specialist for the LandTrust for Central North Carolina and an avid runner.