Monday, June 20, 2016

Summit Solstice 12-hour Relay Recap

Summit Coffee, a basecamp of the local Davidson running community, organized a 12-hour team or solo relay race for their solstice themed race this year.  Judging by the success of the event, I'm sure this relay will be the first of many annual Summit Solstice 12-hour Relays.  The format was slightly more complex than most timed ultras or relays.  Rather than accumulating the most distance, each team--8 person, 4-person, or solo runner--tried to rack up the most points based on running loops of three different routes, all starting and ending at the Summit Outpost location on Davidson College's fraternity court.  There were 3-mile and 5-mile routes--respectively worth 1 point and 2 points--on the Davidson College cross country courses, and there was a 9.3 mile route worth 5 points that ran along the infamous Grey Road, looped through Abersham Neighborhood Park, and returned via Grey Road.  Additionally, after 5pm, each team was allowed to have two runners out on the courses at a time running for points (not counting pacers).  The 9.3 mile route had the highest point/mile ratio, but it also contained many of the most challenging hills in the area.  Add summer heat to the equation and you get a lot of hard running for a long day. 
The Main Street Milers:
Back row from left: Tracey, Bobby, me, Matt, and Jeremy.
Front row from left: Julie, Sam, and Ashley.

There were several DARTers forming or joining teams for the relay.  A couple of early morning running partners and I covertly recruited some of our weekly training partners to put together as competitive an 8-person team as we could.  Enter the Main Street Milers.  In running order, I was the leadoff, followed by Ashley N., Tracey D., Julie A., Bobby L., Sam M. (my one-time nemesis), Matt C., and Jeremy A.  Our main competition going into the race came in the form of The Coffee Bean Bombers (a fellow DART group), and The Charlotte Running Company.  Both had some strong runners and I figured that each shared a common strategy with us: bank as many 9.3 mile runs as possible before 5:30, when the courses became limited to the 3-mile and 5-mile options.
The start of the relay.  I'm up front in the Reckless Running singlet.

Since I was the leadoff runner, I was the only one to start at the same time as a packed field of competition (until 5 o'clock when the extra runner rule came into play).  Other teams were putting some fast runners first, trying to grab a few extra minutes of lead on the next team.  Off the bat, I knew that Scott K. (CRC) and Mike R. (CBB) would be direct competition on this leg as far as 8-person teams went.  John A., who ran the first half of Boston with me, was leading off for Summit Coffee's 4-man team, and there were a couple other speedsters whom I did not know.  At the start, nearly all of the teams predictably turned toward the 9.3 mile route.  The first hill, which we in MSM call Rick Flair hill, was less than a quarter mile into the race, which made it difficult to settle into an appropriate race effort.  John, Scott, and I stuck together as a front pack, but a lone runner named Jareth shot out ahead of us.  Jareth was certainly fit, but he looked very tall and broad shouldered to be running such a quick pace.  After two quick miles averaging under 6:40 pace, John backed off saying "Too rich for my blood."  I couldn't blame him; he was on a 4-man team and had done comparatively little running since Boston.  Scott was a faster runner than me, but he was not as familiar with the local roads and hills as I was, so we stayed together for most of the run.  I let him know when each of the seven notable hills were coming up and what to expect out of each of them.
As the miles went by, I maintained an average race pace of 6:40.  My official goal was to finish the leg in 64 minutes, but my semi-secret goal was to be the first overall runner to return from the 9.3 mile leg.  Jareth's considerable lead stopped opening once he got to the second big hill, and I had a feeling Scott and I would reel him in eventually.  We low-geared it up that hill and turned into Abersham for a nice, sustained downhill to get the legs turning again.  I tried to save my breath on the descent because another hill called the MotherF***er was shortly after it.  The MFer was not a long hill, but it was steep and did not leave much recovery before Mishcrest, the next hill.  Scott hammered up the MFer and led me by a few strides, but when he made the right turn to bring Mishcrest into view, he simply blurted "Oh my god..." 
After Mishcrest and the rest of the Abersham loop, we were well over halfway done, and there were only two hills left, but Big Mama and Last Grey were the two biggest hills on the course.  Scott pulled ahead of me coming out of Abersham and opened up a fairly strong cushion between us.  We both overtook Jareth (who we then learned was on a 4-person team) on Big Mama hill, and he faded back after that.  I kept Scott in view, but he had a good 20-30 seconds on me as we climbed up Last Grey and headed back into town.  As we ran through campus toward the exchange zone, Scott slowed a bit to try and find the right path onto the court.  I shouted ahead where to turn, but I kicked into high gear to close the distance too.  By the time we made it to the exchange, I had closed to about 3 seconds behind him.  We both ran the roughly 9.3 mile route in about 61 minutes.  I tagged Ashley and she was off.  Scott had tagged Todd J., and Mike tagged Derek M. a few minutes later.  Both Todd and Derek were fast runners, so it was clear that CRC and CBB were front-loading their legs.  We would have to keep the pressure on all day.
Scott coming in to be the first long leg finisher with me hot on his heels.  We both ran about 61 minutes.

Even though it was already pretty warm when I ran the first leg, the summer day only got hotter.  Ashley made her goal time, but our next four runners struggled with the preordained times by which we had planned.  All of the teams were having similar difficulties.  After their first three runners, Charlotte Running Company moved to doing only 3-mile and 5-mile routes, so we were able to build a steady lead on them.  The Coffee Bean Bombers stuck with the long loop, just like us, so whatever leads we gained on them were tied up whenever their runners came in.
Sam finishing his first leg and passing off to Matt.  This was in the high heat of the day.

I had to leave for a few hours in the middle of the day to run errands and grab my gear for the gig my band was to play at the relay festival later that evening.  When I returned, Matt was out on his leg and Jeremy was preparing to be our last first-time-through runner.  Matt had been worried about the heat and his performance, but nevertheless, he came in under his projected goal time and tagged Jeremy at about 3:30.  At this time, the remaining seven of us had to strategize how the last few hours would play out.  Our lead over the Bombers was tenuous at best, and I figured it would come down to the final, short-mileage run of the day, so we needed to set up enough time on the clock to get in more 3-milers and 5-milers after 5:30 than they could.  This was the rough order of battle:
*Jeremy comes in, hopefully before 4:45 and tags me, and I start a long loop.
*Sam starts another long loop at 5 o'clock with the extra runner rule.
*I come in with as much cushion as possible to tag Matt, who then runs a 5-miler as quickly as he can.
*Sam comes in, hopefully before 6:20, and tags Bobby, who starts a 5-miler (or 3-miler if Sam comes in late).
*Matt comes in with at least 24 minutes left on the clock, and Julie goes out to fit in one more 3-miler before the clock runs out.
Donning the war paint before my second leg!

Our plan hinged greatly upon us meeting specific time goals to ensure our later runners' finishes--not an easy task considering the heat and the fatigue on everybody's legs.  So when Jeremey came in at 4:40, I set out at a purposeful pace and expected to endure 70+ minutes of pain.  After getting to the top of Rick Flair hill, however, I found myself settling into a respectable pace.  There was no way I was going to touch my 61 minutes from the morning, but I thought that 70 minutes (roughly a 7:30 pace) was doable.  That would leave plenty of cushion for Matt and Julie too.  The first half of this leg was much more solitary than the mass start of my earlier run, but I kept reminding myself of the team play to keep motivated.  I knew that another mass start was going to start 20 minutes after me, so I expected I would get an idea of how many points were on the road on my way back into town.  I low-geared the outbound Grey Road hills and the MFer and Mishcrest in Abersham, but I made up the pace on the flats and downhills.  About 6 miles into my run, I spotted the spread-out line of 5 o'clock starters on their outbound part of the Grey Road route.  At the head of the group was Mike from CBB.  Sam was about a minute back, and I affirmed to him that I was going to go sub-70.  No more than 5 minutes behind Sam was Derek, also from CBB, which meant that we were tied for first, and both our teams had 10 points currently on the road.  Hopefully, MSM's lead would give us time for that extra point or two...
I didn't dillydally up Big Mama hill or Last Grey hill, and as I ran back into town, I kept pushing the bar for my goal finish.  Sub-70 became sub-69, and then sub-68.  As I sprinted down Rick Flair hill and around to the finishing area of the exchange zone, I shouted Matt's name to make sure he was ready to bolt out on his 5-miler.  I finished my second 9.3 mile loop in 67 minutes, 41 seconds. 
Mike and Derek both ran pretty respectable times too, with Mike passing on to Young Nate, who easily would have time to run a 5-miler.  Sam came in before Derek and tagged Bobby, leaving him 42 minutes to run 5 miles.  Bobby could do it, but he would have to keep the engine revved the whole time.  By the time Derek came in to tag Lisa B. for the CBB, who only had time for one more complete run, it was assured that The Main Milers would at least tie, and probably win, assuming both Bobby and Julie finished their legs.  Julie had no pressure because Matt gave her over 30 minutes to run 3 miles, and Tracey was out on the course pacing her.  With 20 minutes left on the clock, I shook my legs out, and shuffled out onto the course to pace Bobby in.  On my way out, I saw Young Nate, Julie, and Lisa all coming in for their respective finishes.  That left the score tied at 53 points.  Bobby's leg would be the winning leg.  I intercepted him about a mile from his finish with almost 11 minutes left on the clock.   It was clear that he was hammering out this run and the fatigue was real.  He kept pounding and I kept him updated with the race clock.  He strode into the finish area to rousing applause with the winning two points.  It was close, but we pulled off the win! 
Bobby finishing the final leg for the win.  I'm pacing behind him, and Sam is cheering on the sidelines.

Both MSM and CBB racked up over 100 miles each, which in itself is impressive.  The inaugural Summit Solstice 12 Hour Relay was an awesome event with lots of fun and some great competition.  The Main Street Milers might have to get back together next year to defend the title.
After the race, I wanted nothing more than to dissolve into a hole filled with pizza and beer, but I had to get ready to play the headlining gig with my band in less than an hour...

Here is my Strava record for my first leg.
Here is my Strava record for my second leg.

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