Gettysburg, PA to Washington, DC, Friday and Saturday May 1 and 2, 2015 — The annual American Odyssey Race is a 200-mile team relay from Gettysburg, PA to the Washington, DC waterfront.
Each team has 12 runners subdivided into two six runner sections. Each section runs for two six-hour periods with six-hour rest periods in between. Sleep is optional.
Around 200 teams, many from far away, laced up to be in the race to raise money in support of returning U.S. military veterans.
A huge number of military teams participated from places such as West Point, the Pentagon and even the Marine Corps Marathon.
So much for the newspaper-style lead. Here’s what really happened, but first a word from our sponsor.
I’ve been a client of the Fitness Together (FT), http://www.fitnesstogether.com, personal training franchise for more than 10 years. This year I joined one of the two teams FT sponsored.
We were an amalgamation of owners, trainers and clients – all with generally high fitness levels but of mixed running ability. The object was not to win, but to pit ourselves against a tough challenge and enjoy ourselves in the process.
In keeping with the FT motto: One client. One trainer. One goal, we worked together to do our personal best, not meet someone else’s expectations.
Now back to our story.
Our team (FT Bethesda) was split into two six-runner sections. Yours truly was runner number eight traveling in van number 2. Each section would run for approximately six hours, with each runner’s leg lasting about an hour on average. Given that timing, my first leg didn’t start until about eight hours into the race.
As luck had it my first leg chugged over South Mountain on a dirt road in Pennsylvania’s Michaux state forest. Much to my delight, this route intersected the Appalachian Trail (AT) at an unremarkable place I do not remember from last year’s thru hike, at least not through the river of sweat stinging my eyeballs and fogging my glasses.
I pressed on. The run was steep consisting of one-third up hill and two-thirds down. Knowing I had two more times to run after this one, I was worried about burning out my quads (thigh muscles which must lift your legs going up hill and serve as breaks going down with down hills inflicting the damage – just like hiking). The good news was there were no crowds to urge my ego on – to try and be stupid.
I was faster than my planned time, but not by much. So far, so good.
Teams decorate their vans in with interesting slogans.
Once we finished our shift, the B section of team 9 headed for dinner. Being a very experienced runner, I figured everyone would be looking for light foods and a quick sojourn to the Boonsboro High School were we could grab a few winks in the gym.
A quick trip to sleepy time was not to be. I got about 30 minutes sleep. Then, we were up and at it again.
In running order, I ran the second leg of the six assigned to our van. On this, my second run of three, the forlorn country road was darker than a well diggers backside. The leg was divided evenly between a steep opening downhill to a creek followed by a long climb out to the next baton exchange. My dinner, what I thought was a bland vegie panini, just didn’t want to agree. The five-mile leg was agonizing. Still, I met my time expectation and the team was on track.
We finished our second shift at 3 a.m. Then we drove an hour to the Poolsville, MD middle school were we could rest again. Except this time, the school was shuttered. No gym.
The day dawned with promise. None of us got much rest, let alone sleep. As we stretched, our muscles talked back intoxicated as they were with lactic acid. Did they know what they were saying, or were they fooling with us. Time would tell. The day would be warm. Our legs would be sore. We were already tired. Time to embrace the suck as the aphorism goes.
I awoke feeling like I’d been shot through my thighs during the night. The school had opened so we could shower and the booster club could make a few bucks selling coffee, donuts and muffins.
I must have looked comedic as I pranced toward the wake-up juice with truncated steps like an intoxicated ballet dancer in slow motion. Others around me were either yawning or grimacing as they faced their own personal realities. Their complaints all sounded alike. The showers barely flowed so I decided to pass.
In my days as an elite runner, this would have been proforma, but not anymore. I thought about how much I hurt in context of past glories. Age is cruel, but you accept new realities and soldier on. My resolve was to leave everything I could offer on the C&O Canal tow path where my final run awaited.
As a boss, coach and parent, I’ve always asked everyone to do their best. The challenge is that our best isn’t the same everyday. Sometimes we’re tired, sick, stressed, depressed, or distracted. But we should give whatever we can under those circumstances.
I may not have championship ability anymore, but I could still do the my best. Knowing dehydration and pain were my enemies, I cameled up on a few Gatorades and took 800 mg of ibuprofen for insurance purposes.
The C&O Canal tow path was flat and relatively dry after the previous day’s rain. Luckily its shady parts offered some respite from the sun as the day’s temp climbed toward 80F. I could even see up to 100 yards ahead in places. My personal mission: Let no one pass and overtake anyone I could see in front of me. That’s a tough one in the shape I’m in.
I pushed onward as hard as my anaerobic threshold and the somewhat dulled burn in my legs would allow.
When a cyclist passing from the opposite direction said I was close to where my run finished, I sighed. There were two runners ahead of me I hoped to catch, but had not seen. Just then they came into sight, about a hundred yards in front of me.
When a runner says you’re close, that means a couple of hundred yards to the finish. Think of my dilemma by imagining the algebra. If Jim is 100 yards behind John and Jane who are running at X speed, and Jim’s top speed is Y. How far would Jim have to run to catch them – especially after the cyclist said you were close to the baton exchange point? Could I run fast enough to beat them in the available distance. I decided to try.
Fortunately cyclists have a very different sense of distance than runners. My opponents were far behind when I slapped the baton into the next runners hand and ended my Odyssey race. I was done and beat my projected pace by more than a minute per mile. With that happy note, I decided that I want to do this again next year!