I’ve been holding on to this post for way too long. It’s another guest appearance from my partner in all things Stride and Joy (the one who these days is actually doing all the running). Don’t worry, I haven’t hung up my sneakers altogether. I have a half-marathon coming up and a 5K or two (plus one in the bag that I’ll write about soon). In the meantime, enjoy …
Since the inception of Stride and Joy, we’ve run races all over New England. There’s been a jeans-based jaunt in R.I., a dizzying number of laps in CT, a truly Mad time in VT, AG awards for two in NH, an Old Port (or two) in Maine, and an abundance of miles at home in Massachusetts. So when the opportunity came to run across all six states in one weekend, it seemed like the easy thing to do. I mean we’d run there before, right? How hard could it be?
Um, really, really hard!
For you see, the New England Relay (or NER, because “New England Relay” is a lot to type over and over again) is a team event that covers 225 miles across six states in two days. This is something that is really only possible in the tiny states of New England. Run 225 miles in Texas and you are still in Texas.
This odyssey is the brainchild of a man named Brian Hamill. He came up with the idea several years back and diligently worked to create what can rightly be called a piece of running genius. It’s all back roads with some trails thrown in. At night, the run is along roads with little traffic but wide shoulders to ensure everyone’s safety.
The race starts in North West Rhode Island at the Casimir Pulaski State Park and quickly heads to Connecticut. I think there’s about 400 yards in Rhode Island, but that’s enough to count and get it quickly struck off the list. Connecticut is also quickly completed, with the runner of the second leg crossing the state line into Massachusetts during their first five-mile leg. From there it crosses Massachusetts from south to north and winds its way into Vermont.
The run is timed to go through Brattleboro, VT, early on Saturday night, when far saner people are enjoying a leisurely stroll on a warm summer’s night out on the town (am sure they would rather be running!). It’s then across the Connecticut River into New Hampshire. For a small state, there’s a lot of running (and a lot of hills) to be had. Finally, the race finishes at the water’s edge in Kittery, Maine, home to the world famous* (*may not actually be world famous, but they should be) Kittery Outlet Mall. There have got to be easier and less sweaty ways to get to this shopping nirvana.
A far better description of the course is available here: http://www.newenglandrelay.com/course.php?ID=10
Now very, very few people could run this mileage on their own over the course of the weekend, but a team of people definitely can. The relay can be done as either a 12- or six-person team, with each runner completing either three or six legs depending on the size of the team they are in. It was into latter category that the team I was running with fell into.
There are some folks who say that a six-person team is the way to go, as you spend more time running with less chance of cramping up due to extended periods of inactivity. I definitely agree with them, though seeing folks on Sunday morning who’d slept on a flat surface and were running with a spring in their step did make me a little envious. Hearing that they showered (a man can only take so many Wet Ones “baths”) made me a lot more envious, but knowing that I had almost double their miles under my belt … well, I will take the pride and sore muscles any day!
On first hearing about this event, I was very keen to get into a six-person team. I couldn’t create one on my own, as any conversation that started with “Wouldn’t running across six states to the World Famous Outlet Mall in Kittery be awesome…” was quickly met with either stunned silence or questions on how much I would pay for their pain and suffering. So, what to do???
I was fortunate enough to get a reply to an email inquiry that Charlotte Hamill was putting together an Ultra Team, as these six-person teams are known, and was looking for runners. Astute readers will note that Charlotte shares the same surname as Brian. Charlotte is indeed Brian’s wife, and she had run the NER several times both as part of a race team and while the course was being vetted to see if it would work.
The most amazing thing is that she was running this race just five months after giving birth to her first child. I was in good hands, but felt the pressure. Just when I thought I was going to become hardcore … no way I could complain about any race aches or pains with someone who could think about running all this way when most moms just want to get a night’s sleep. (Even further up the scale of hardcore was a guy running solo across New Hampshire who we met at a transition area early Sunday morning. There’s always someone doing more!).
As anyone who follows sports knows, the key to a team is that they all wear the same shirt. And what a shirt we ended up with. Charlotte has a video of some ibexes running up a dam wall (compared to some of the hills in New Hampshire, I think they had it easy) and so our team was named the Dam Ibexes. There were some great team names for this event, some even better than ours, but they didn’t have a picture of an Ibex on the back of their shirt with the phrase “Fast and Horny.” Note to self, I really need to stop wearing this to Starbucks after Saturday morning long runs. Am not sure anyone looking at my sweaty form thinks either of those things!
So with the all-important shirt organized, and van booked, it was time to head to the start line. I will not bore you with a blow-by-blow description of each leg, but will just say, it was both amazingly hard and fun. Getting dropped off for an eight-mile run up a very long hill in New Hampshire in the middle of the night was surreal. You ran because you didn’t want to let your teammates down, you ran to get everyone to the finish line, you ran because it was the only way home. I would do this again in a heartbeat and would definitely do it with the same people, and I think that’s the most important part of this whole event. I was so lucky to run with great people who made it fun.