I’ve written enough (and you’ve read enough) of these relay recaps from me, but Bourbon Chase was so special – for many reasons – that I wanted to do it justice with an above-par post. And for that I needed to recruit some outside talent.
Two weeks before the relay I asked my younger sister and good friend Dan to fill in for two runners who had to drop with last-minute schedule conflicts. Mel is a trainer at a gym and hasn’t been running as much as she’s been punching heavy bags and throwing tires around, but I promised her the shortest mileage and that we’d have no expectations other than her finishing and having fun (knowing her general fitness would be enough to get her through.) Dan had been in a running funk and wasn’t super into the idea of running more in 24 hours than he has in the last month total, but I swore the vans have magical runner pixie dust and healing properties and he’d do better than he thought. They’re both multi half marathoners and former college softball/baseballers, so I knew the team atmosphere would pump them up like it does for me.
Dan, Mel and I before the Amish Country Half last November (their firsts)
We had a late start on Friday (4:30pm) and being Van 2 we had a full day of dicking around before finally getting the chance to run. It was tough trying to contain the energy but we busied ourselves decorating the vans, playing getting-to-know-you games, and giving general relay rundowns to the four rookies in our van (Mel, Dan, Kaitlin, and Kevin.)
We rolled into exchange 6 at Maker’s Mark with a few hours until Van 1’s ETA, and took full advantage of the tours, tastings, and shopping set up. Not your typical race, for sure.
Reunited with some of Van 1 at exchange 6 – Kaitlin, me, Batch, Dan, Elizabeth, Mel
At 9 oclock, right on time, Corey came flying into the exchange to tag in Van Two. Our first runner, Kevin, took off like a jack rabbit and we yelled “see ya later!”s to our Van One teammates as we sprinted off to get our wheels on the road. I was giddy with pent-up energy and excitement, and tried to find a balance of “helpful vet” and “overbearing older sister” as Mel prepared for her first run.
First Legs – As Told by Mel
“I went into this relay with full intentions of giving it everything I had, even though I didn’t really know what that was. I DID know there were plenty of things that could go wrong (getting lost, kidnapped, wetting myself), so on our way to the exchange I just tried to erase my mind and focus on running the best that I could and enjoying it.
I was asked by my van a few times what pace I was expecting to run so they could have the next runner ready on time. I thought about it for a minute and realized I had no idea. I haven’t ran much in the last two months and when I did I didn’t have a watch on to pace myself. I didn’t want to overshoot my time and show up before they were ready but I also didn’t want them waiting around for me wondering if I got lost. I responded with a “uhhhh… 8:30?” Luckily my sister knew better and told the van to be ready earlier than that. (Good call OUAL)
I do not look thrilled, but under the displeased hatred displayed on my face, there is an energetic, competitive runner waiting to claw out. I was filled with fear and excitement. Fear that I would let down myself and/or my team, but excitement for the challenge. My game face was on. I turned on Spotify and began rapping to Eminem to jack me up a little more. (“Without Me,” in case you were wondering) Also to show my sister I was having fun and didn’t really hate her for convincing me to do this.
Once I saw Kevin FLYING towards the exchange, I pulled out my lady balls, and got ready to run as fast as I could with the full acceptance that I might throw up somewhere between mile 2 and 4. (High five I didn’t)
And then I took off. I had no idea how fast I was really running but I didn’t care, I was just going as fast as I could for as long as I could and trying not to get lost, hit by a car, or poop myself (my main concerns). My lungs rapidly started burning so I knew I was either more out of shape than I thought or I was running a good pace. The starry black sky made it very peaceful as I started rapping Eminem again.
I didn’t wear a watch because I wanted to run solely on feel and not worry about the numbers. (Garmin has also been buried uncharged under heaping piles of clothes for months and I didn’t want to deal with that.) It was blissful. I was the only person on our team running and that was enough to fuel my entire run. If I stopped, the team stopped. I wanted to run as hard as I could knowing that there was a teammate at the next exchange waiting anxiously to do the same. So I ran my heart out. It got uncomfortable, but I didn’t slow down. I chased any blinking light [other runners’ tail lights] my eyes caught on to and the moment I passed my first “road kill” I knew it was game on. I gave the runner a high five and continued down the road trying to catch up to the next person. Before I knew it I saw the “1 Mile To Go” sign and a shot of adrenaline instantly rushed through me and I picked up the pace. My lungs were on fire but with every step I knew I was that much closer to handing off to my teammate, so I kept going strong. I leaped over curbs, dodged some townies, made a few sharp turns, and was finally in eyesight of the exchange. I could hear my van yelling for me and I took off even faster. I passed the tie dyed band to the next runner and he took off like a rocket. BAM! And after a few calf cramps on the walk to the car, I was hooked on the relay.”
Second Legs – As Told by Dan
“My second leg of the relay was… how can I put this… effing crazy. I studied the map and elevation chart to prepare myself for a good run in hopes to contribute to the all star team of runners I’d somehow gotten invited to join.
Disclaimer this was actually round 3 not 2 but just fly with it, OK?
Kaitlin handed off the bracelet after running sub-6 minute miles and I took off for my second run. Even though SarahOUAL pleads with me every time I race to take it easy and finish strong, especially now since we still had another round of legs after this one, I opted for the Prefontaine style and go all out, which in my case… still isnt very fast.
The first two miles of the run were going according to my half crazy plan – I was running hard, getting my first kills of the relay, and was smiling the entire time. I was running in the heart of Kentucky through horse pastures, fields and farms My eleven teammates needed me to get it done. just as the sun was starting to rise. The sight was incredible. After a few rolling hills the van passed me with everyone pounding on the windows and cheering me on. As a cruel twist of fate (being overly dramatic) just as the van passed me the course took a ridiculous turn for the worse. Hill after hill after hill. As soon as I would get to the top of one, I would see a second and even bigger one awaiting me.
“Bullshit! This was NOT on the elevation chart!”
It was at that point that I realized the only thing that mattered was SarahOUAL was waiting for me at the exchange and I had to expend every ounce of energy left in my tired legs to get to her as fast as possible. My eleven teammates needed me to get it done. Suddenly the awful leg which the course map did not prepare me for no longer seemed so difficult. I stopped looking at my watch, stopped listening to music, turned my hat backwards and just ran. So I found someone in front of me, focused on catching them, and looked for the next runner and do the same. I looked at each hill as another opportunity to pass someone who was getting tired because I refused to let anyone down.
Relay handoff abstract by @melanieconklin
Before I knew it I was actually having fun. Enjoying the pain, enjoying the sweat and lets be honest, some chaffing. I’ve never had so much fun running in my entire life.”
Final Legs – As Told by Me (Sarah)
After running my first two legs harder and faster than I planned (5.1 and 4.3mi both at 7:35 avg), I was counting on adrenaline to get me through leg 36 – the final run of the relay, and my longest and hilliest. I geared up, warmed up, porta pottied, and was enjoying a final few moments with my vanmates while hiding from the misty rain and rapidly dropping temperatures before we spotted Dan cruising into the exchange way earlier than planned. Homeboy killed it and before I had any time to think otherwise I jumped into the chute, took the bracelet from him one last time, and took off on a near dead sprint towards the finish line, 6.2 miles away.
I can’t lie, the run was tough. I was exhausted and sore, and my lungs and legs are in a huge disagreement over where they think my current fitness level is. But the thought of my team waiting just before the finish line for me, probably beers in hand, kept pulling me through. In some twisted sense of fate the “lots of turns don’t get lost!” paranoia provided me a great distraction, and I focused on each turn as a mini check point rather than xx miles/minutes/seconds to go.
For the love of relays DON’T GET LOST
I reveled in each roadkill and beep of my Garmin, but at the same time begged time to slow down because the end of this miserable, tough, painful run meant the end of another relay.
Once I hit “1 Mile To Go” I clawed for every ounce of energy to get me up the last two big hills, and the sounds of the finish line grew louder and louder. Volunteers started appearing and two cops stopped traffic for me to go through an illegal red light. I peeked at my watch and realized I was going to come in right on schedule – my team ready and waiting.
Mel was the first one I saw as I headed through the shutdown Main St. I smiled and yelled between heaving breaths, praying my legs would keep lifting high enough to keep me from face planting in the chute. I kept moving forward, acquiring teammates as I went, and before I knew it all 12 of us were headed for the finish line. I slowed to allow everyone to come in together but Mason yelled at me to get the timing chip across the mat.
“Finish hard through the line!”
Mel: “Loved it. Thought I would die but I want to do it again. Why? The rush. The fact that I ran faster and harder than I thought I could. Our team was selflessly supportive and genuinely so excited to be in Kentucky running with each other as a team. Handing off the band to the next runner is more satisfying the crossing a finish line alone will ever be. I am in love with the relay.”
Dan: So stoked. Still can’t walk normal but can’t wait to do it again.
Sarah: I’m adding relay exchange ETA predictions to the “special skills” section of my resume. On the minute 19/21 exchanges.