We left from Simpsonville on Friday at 7AM (approximately 30 minutes behind schedule) after a delicious breakfast of eggs, bacon, pancakes and coffee fixed for our team by Mimi & Papa (thanks y'all). In car one was Mike, Zach and myself. Car two was Brian (driving), Ben, Brock and Mel. We arrived at the start line and checked in while Zach, our number one spot runner stretched. At 9AM he was off with the whistle!
Instead of all of the gory details of who drove who to what exchange point I'll give what legs everyone ran in just a bit. My first leg was 6.02 miles - mostly down a dirt road. We'd been instructed at the start line that a tree was down on the course, so the support vehicles would have to find another route. Mike and Zach were not interested in finding another route. When I was just hitting mile 4 I turned around to see good ol' Edmund chugging along behind me. The boys had tried to pull the tree out of the way and when it wouldn't move they decided to drive around it. By the time I finished (before 11AM) it was already hotter than any day we'd trained on. These hot temps were definitely going to be an extra challenge that the monkey tribe did not need.
Mel started the 3rd leg a little before 11AM picking up where I was leaving off. This leg was 9.26 miles long, hot and Mel felt like crap. We didn't realize at this point how sick Mel was, but during the course of this leg we knew it wasn't good. We finished out the first six legs without a hitch.
We started the 2nd set of six legs (7-12) moving along ahead of pace until leg 10 (Brock's 2nd leg). Come to find out, we'd printed last year's maps that were incorrect for this years race course. We'd dropped Brock off thinking we had plenty of time to drive 2 legs ahead to set up camp at Santee State Park so we'd have somewhere to sleep for a bit. Much to our disappointment we realized we were off course (in the cars) and turned back. By the time we got back to Brock he'd been at the exchange zone for over 5 minutes unable to get in touch with any of us. (Note to self: next year, the driver's phone number will be Sharpied to our forearms.) Mike quickly threw on his running gear & hit the pavement. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise that he picked up this 6.8 mile leg. At the time it just threw the monkey tribe for a loop because we were having to rework legs to even out the numbers. I drove Edmund on to Santee State Park with Brock, Mel and Zach in the car. Brian drove Ben to the next exchange zone so he could stretch and in turn, pick up Mike. Ben stepped up to the plate and crushed this 8 mile leg in the scorching sun to meet us at Santee State Park.
From here we knew that Mel wasn't in any shape to keep running. It broke our hearts to send her home, but she was absolutely miserable just riding in the car. Symptoms of shakiness, lethargy and lack of appetite turned into nausea, chills and finally a gracious spewing of pink Gatorade. So, Mike made the call to Papa and he jumped in the car (for a 4 hour ride) to come scoop up Melbug. At this point, the remaining 5 of the monkey tribe divvied up her remaining 4 legs. Kudos team, for good attitudes and for stepping up the plate.
When Zach left Santee State Park, the night running had "officially" begun. It wasn't actually dark yet, but per race rules every runner now had to wear a reflective vest, 2 blinking lights and a head lamp. We were also not allowed to use music from 7PM-7AM. He crushed his 4.2 miles and passed the slap bracelet off to me. I ran the sun down on this 5.6 mile leg and for the first time since the race began felt good while running. My pace was right on track, my breathing was controlled and my legs weren't tired. Don't ask how this happened on my third leg, because I can't tell you. I will say, once the sun went down and the temps dropped slightly it felt nice. I will also say, at this point a lot of you were at home praying for us and I won't discount that one bit.
I handed off to Brock for an 8.8 miler in the pitch black and here's where things got dicey (again). This was somewhere between 8 & 9PM. We'd told Brock that we'd be about 2 miles down the road with water, however there was no good pull off so we kept driving until we found a spot where other cars / vans were pulled off. This just happened to be about 5 miles from where he started (instead of the promised 2). We sat at the pull off for a bit, watched a few runners literally whiz by (here's where the full teams started bringing in runners who hadn't been running all day) and finally heard from another team that our runner was hurt and walking. Shocked, Mike jumped in the truck and back tracked in the dark until he saw Brock's headlamp slowly bobbing up and down. Brock expressed with visible frustration that something was wrong with his knee, and that he'd been unable to run for more than 30 seconds at a time. He limped in to the pull off where our other vehicle was waiting, and the boys got right to work (like a pit crew). With Brock on the tailgate, Mike massaged his knees with Bengay while Brian crammed Ibuprofen down his throat. After a few stretches and a swat on the butt, they sent him back out to complete his remaining 3 miles, whatever the cost. Little improved and Brock was forced to walk these miles in the lonely dark while the rest of the team pushed on to the next exchange to regroup and rest. When Brock arrived to hand off to Ben the monkey tribe was sleeping however we could (in the grass, across back seats, hunched over drooling in laps, etc.). We did manage to have a spot in the back of the Expedition waiting for Brock to crawl into (he later dubbed it "the crib"), hoping some good "R & R" would be good for his knees.
As Ben left out for his 5.6 miles, Mike delivered Zach to the start of his next leg and met Papa for Mel's extract. Finishing his leg with little fanfare, as it was the middle of the night and the rest of the monkey tribe was still one exchange back trying to sleep, Ben passed off to Zach for a quick 2.43 miler. Making even the fresh-legged 12 man team runners look slow, Zach squashed this leg so quickly that Mike barely had time to strap on his vest, strobes and head lamp for his 3rd leg and longest leg (9.67 miles through the pitch black, still forest). During this leg, and for each subsequent leg until dawn, we started continuous road support in the form of leap frogging the runner every 2(ish) miles offering encouragement, Gatorade and a bit of company. The purpose of this was two-fold: to ensure the safety of the runner and to help break up a long lonely run. From here, the slap bracelet when right back to Zach (who was starting to feel slightly abused) for short sprint of 3.75 miles.
Zach passed off to me for my first long leg in the dark around 1AM. Again, I felt good during this leg. For almost 10 miles it was just me and the open road; I literally saw no other runners. My boys took great care of me. Ben was driving Edmund at this point, with Mike in the passenger seat (half asleep) and Zach asleep across the back. They drove 1.5 miles ahead of me and waited with Gatorade - in the dark I could see their tail lights and had a target to hit. It was neat to be alone with my thoughts with only the sounds of my feet on the pavement and the night stirrings in the woods around me (remember, no music at this point). Running by headlamp has a way of making you focus on the very small here and now (do I even need to point out the spiritual metaphor here?). At mile 7ish the boys passed me one more sip of Gatorade and scurried off with Zach who was still asleep in the back seat and happened to be the next runner. As I came into the exchange zone there was a fire blazing in a barrel beside a port-o-john with lots of people standing around. I returned the slap bracelet to Zach (who was now confident he was being abused).
Brock took up the trusty slap bracelet for a 3.7 mile walk, enabling the monkey tribe to assemble at the next exchange and nab 45 minutes of much needed sleep. The bracelet passed uneventfully from Brock to Ben (3.84 miles), from Ben to Mike (2.32 miles), from Mike to Zach (8.91 miles), from Zach to me (3.75 miles) who got to run the sun up. I passed off to Mike who was scooping up Melbug's 7.5 miler.
Mike passed off to Brock who had the next 7.5 miles. We reached a dilemma here because while Brock was willing to walk, we needed to keep pushing out the miles at a decent pace in order to finish while the course was still open. Brock walked 2 miles and passed off to Ben who finished out his leg adding 5.5 miles to Ben's total. Ben finished this leg on a very busy HWY 17, passing the slap bracelet off to me for a 4.72 (leg 29) miler that continued on HWY 17. I was able to push out 3.4 miles before having to pass the bracelet back to Ben to finish out the remaining 1.3 miles. At this point, the monkey tribe was just doing what it took to finish this damn race. We would not be beaten.
During the mad rush that was our last 6 legs, Brian was awesome driving the monkey tribe hither and tither. He scooped me up where Ben took over for me and drove to exchange 30 where we had Chick-Fil-A biscuits waiting for us. I'm not kidding, if there's anything I was running for at some points, it was that biscuit. And it was worth every step it took to get there. That was the best Chick-Fil-A biscuit I've ever eaten. And definitely the one I've worked the hardest for. Ben had handed off to Mike, so Mike cruised into this exchange after 4.1 miles ready for his biscuit too.
Ooops. Here's where the monkey tribe had to be flexible again. We should've been "the flexible monkeys" instead of the monkey tribe! Since we had last years map, we were expecting Zach to take over for a long 7.39 mile jaunt over the IOP Connector. However, 2.8 miles into this leg we skidded to a stop because there was an exchange. Whoops! I jumped out ready to take the bracelet and his Camelback (because from 11AM-6PM we were required to carry water) and took off. The boys had decided to let Zach continue on this leg since he was prepared to run 5 more miles and pulled over at the next road crossing for me to hand over the bracelet and Camelback. I was all too willing because I knew that the IOP Connector was an uncovered uphill bridge. We ended up tag teaming this leg, with me finishing the last 1.86 miles.
I passed off to Ben who scooped up this leg (no. 33) for Mel, carrying the bracelet from Sullivan's Island to Mt. Pleasant for a total of 4.3 miles. Brock was up next, again willing to walk; after knocking out a mile of his 3.1 mile leg, Zach grabbed the bracelet and ran it to the exchange at the foot of the Cooper River Bridge. Ben (also feeling sufficiently abused at this point), charged up the Cooper River Bridge and carried the bracelet into downtown Charleston. He was feeling pretty gassed (and rightfully so), so I ran the bracelet 2.15 miles down to the battery to let him catch his breath, then passed it back to him so he could finish out the 6.42 miles.
If you've been doing your math through this rambling saga, you'll know that this brings us to leg 36 and the final 6.66 miles of this race. Ben neared the end of the battery to the sounds of a cheering monkey tribe and finished his last leg. Mike jetted out of the exchange with the bracelet, headed for James Island. This last leg was sheer excitement and a blast to watch as Mike warded off Ben's many attempts to relieve him of the beloved blue bracelet "for just a mile or two." Two boys refusing to share the glory of crossing the finish line. When Mike finished, we snapped a few quick pictures, had a celebratory beer, sent Brian and Ben back to Greenville and hightailed it to the nearest Mexican joint for dinner before crashing into comatose sleep at 8:30PM.
In the midst of this race we all thought ourselves crazy and swore we'd never do such a thing again. Buuuutttt, after a good night sleep (or two) and lots of reminiscing, we're already talking about next year and plan on running a couple more relays before then. I saw a sign that says, "Relays build memories with sweaty friends." I will forever be grateful for the incredible (sweaty) memories from this weekend with Mel, Ben, Zach, Brian, Brock and Mikey.
VIVA LA MONKEY TRIBE