Randy BirnscheinEvington, Virginia, United States
The GAP Trail Relay… 150 miles from Cumberland, MD all the way to Pittsburgh, PA with a team of 5 people (next time we’ll add more since you can have up to 8 people). We had Gwen, Lissa, Brian, Bill and me (Randy)!
We got to the packet pickup/start line a couple of hours early on Friday. We picked up our stuff (bibs/car bibs/socks/lightweight hoodie/cases of Liquid Death, etc. etc.) and they even fed us! I had a buffalo chicken wrap (yes, it did come back to haunt me later) and a delicious cookie, which I was told by Lissa was a special, fancy cookie.
The race started at 3pm, but we had a 4pm start and had time to kill. We loaded all of the stuff into our 2 vans, and I brought some chalk markers to do a little decorating. We tracked our progress and had some fun messages.
Brian did the honor of getting us started. I took the 2nd leg. You’re allowed to split up the legs however you want to, so we had some variation and not just a simple rotation. We all did a pretty good share of the miles, with the lowest around 25 and the highest at around 32. Fun for everyone!
My first leg was one of the hardest. The race had a list that showed the legs in order of difficulty. It was nice to know what you were going to be up against. It really wasn’t too bad, a nice steady climb.
There were 24 legs in all. Some as short as 3 miles with the longest being 11.5. A runner would get moving and the rest of us would load up into the vans and get ahead to the exchange spot. There are a number of ways that could be done where one van may skip ahead or other arrangements could be made (the more teammates, the more possibilities), but we just stuck to that. Upside: We were truly a team and stuck together throughout. Downside: Not much time for a sustained sleep break (I slept about an hour TOTAL).
I loved the course so much! I did 5 legs and got a good amount of everything. I did some in the daytime, some in the darkest of dark, some in the middle of nothing, some in town. The night running is awesome out there. It’s so dark and all you have is for light is what the headlamp (or crotch lamp) provide. Ahead of that seems like a neverending amount of nothingness. It’s cool.
I do want to take a moment to say how great the volunteers were. Every exchange point had somebody needing to be out there in the cold darkness. Running is hard. Volunteering your time to freeze out there is even harder. Some of the exchange points had awesome snacks, actual food, free stuff, coffee, kick butt hot apple cider and even some chicken noodle soup. Shoutout to Ram Cat….the best of the best.
I was a little conservative in my guess on our paces and how the transitions would go, so we ended up WAY ahead of what I thought. My 3rd leg (the big one at 11.5 miles) was going to be at 6:15am, based on my bad estimate. That would have had me running at sunrise. I ended up running that one at 4:30am. Big difference. After no sleep and a total mileage of over 20, I started to question my life choices.
I did get a nice, long break (8 hours) before my next leg of 4.3. At this point, I was pretty tired and my body was stiff and muscles tight. When you get to that point, there’s only one thing you can do. CAFFEINATE!!! My caffeine of choice was ZipFizz. It’s a magical blend of all kinds of things I don’t understand, plus a load of caffeine and B-12. It did the job!
Another sidenote: If you ever decide you want to try the relay life, I suggest feeding yourself constantly. I think a big part of getting through all the miles with little sleep was to stay fueled up.
One perk of being Team Captain (besides a free pair of Brooks shoes), was that I saved the last leg for myself. It was exciting to get to finish such an amazing journey. The best part was that the whole team was waiting to meet me with about a quarter mile to go and we all got to cross the finish line together!
We were exhausted when it was all said and done. So many miles. So little sleep. Would we do it again? Absolutely.
After we were finished, it took us a while to get our acts together to get some food and beers. I was trying to clean up and change clothes, but even that was challenging. We ended up at a restaurant near the finish (the race gave us free beer passes and we got 50% off of appetizers, yum). We ate and drank like animals (at least I did).
Everybody else headed on back to Cumberland, but I stuck around and spent some time near Pittsburgh with an old navy buddy (we are old and were in the navy, not Old Navy). I hung in there as best I could, but ended up passed out on his couch waking up alone at 2:30am wondering where I was and what day it was.
I headed on back the next morning. What a great time to drive through West Virginia. Fall was EVERYWHERE!
This really was such a fantastic experience. We had so much fun and it was so well organized. With 150 miles to cover, 24 stops and running at night with little sleep, you’d think that there was a potential for problems. The race organizers and volunteers had it ALL figured out. I’m thankful for them and would gladly do this one again!