In the Blue Ridge Relay, over 150 teams run 208 miles from Mouth of Wilson, VA to Asheville, NC, over two days. There's no stopping at a hotel for the night; every team has an active runner at all times. Teams can have up to 12 members, running the course in 36 legs. On a 12-member team, each runner is responsible for 3 legs, ranging in length from 2.2 to 10.1 miles. There are competitions for top master’s team, top ultra team, top women’s team, and top team in the open division.
But the best race this year might just have been in the mixed division, which requires teams to have an equal number of males and females. Two teams, Stache and Dash, and JITFO, both from the Charlotte area, were loaded with talent. And when they’re not fierce rivals, they’re actually good friends and running buddies. There’s no rivalry like the one against the team down the road: This was Duke versus UNC, it was Michigan-Ohio State, it was Blue versus Gray. Plus, there was beer on the line: The losing team captain had to buy beer for the winners at the finish line.
Here’s the story, from Team Stache and Dash’s perspective (for the enemy...er...team JITFO’s perspective, see this post):
Friday, September 6
7:30 a.m. Team Stache and Dash converges and prepares the Stachemobiles for battle. Miles driven: 0. Miles run: 0.
7:30 a.m. Team Stache and Dash converges and prepares the Stachemobiles for battle. Miles driven: 0. Miles run: 0.
7:40. First conflict: What road to take north?
8:10. Rob (the team captain, on phone to Dave M): “We’re here at the Davidson Harris Teeter. Where are you?” Dave M: “You were supposed to pick me up at Summit Coffee, remember?” Rob: “You expect me to remember the things you tell me?”
8:30. Back on the road, with coffee! Miles driven: 30. Miles run: 0.
8:50. Rob: “Were we picking Laura up at the Statesville Bi-Lo or the Food Lion?” Everyone: “Didn’t she tell you?” Rob: “You expect me to remember the things you tell me?”
10:15. Van 1: Brian (to Dave P): “What legs are you running?” Dave P: “Well, I asked Rob for something easy and flat with no downhills. I think he completely discarded my request because what I got was a lot of miles and a lot of uphills.”
11:10. Somehow we make it to the starting line, in Grayson Highlands State Park, Virginia.
11:20. We all need to sign a release form. Rob: “Does anyone have a pen?” It turns out we have exactly one pen per van. Crisis averted. Miles driven: 132. Miles run: 0.
11:30 Leah models the Stache & Dash uniform and may be starting a new fashion trend in artificial facial hair.
11:40. Time to decorate the Stachemobiles!
11:50. Team photo! In this age of internet photo sharing, we still take the picture using six different cameras.
From left: John Fillette, Stan Austin, Adrienne Anetrini, Rob Ducsay, Mo Hoffmann, Dave Przybyla, Leah Lashley, Brian Trotter, Johanna Remes, Wen Norvell, Laura Walls, Dave Munger
11:55. We size up our rivals, team JITFO, the only other mixed team starting this late. The later you start, the faster your team. JITFO has an impressive crew of runners, including three 3-hour
11:56. Rob realizes that he didn’t give the snap bracelet to Laura yet.. He races back to the vans to find it. Mad search in both vans. “Where in the Hell is that dang thing” He nearly has his 3rd heart attack in a little over 30 hours. He finally finds it exactly where he left it, on the front passenger seat In Van 1.
12:00. They’re off!
12:00:05 We watch Allen from JITFO trying to chase down their runner #1, Jamie, to hand her their snap bracelet. “Phew!” Rob feels a bit better now, he is not the only one losing his head.
12:20 p.m. The JITFO trash-talking begins in the parking lot at Exchange Zone 1
12:24 p.m.: Mile 4. Laura finishes Leg 1 in 24:50
1:00 p.m.: Van 2 lunches at an Italian restaurant in West Jefferson. Never before have 6 people consumed so much bread and water.
1:16 p.m.: Mile 12. Brian finishes Leg 2 in 51:26
1:51 p.m.: Mile 17. Wen finishes Leg 3 in 35:41
2:41 p.m.: Mile 24. Dave P finishes Leg 4 in 50:01
2:58 p.m.: Stan runs through the mountain town of West Jefferson
3:14 p.m.: Mile 29. Stan finishes Leg 5 in 32:30. Stache and Dash has a 4-minute lead on JITFO, but now Adrienne has to face off against one of their toughest women, Boriana.
3:53 p.m.: Boriana finishes Leg 6 ahead of Adrienne. Nervous waiting commences.
3:57 p.m.: Mile 34. Adrienne finishes Leg 6 in 42:32; 4 minutes behind!
4:26 p.m.: Dave M sees one holy mother of a hill ahead of him: 290 feet of climbing, all straight up.
4:28 p.m.: Dave M succumbs to gravity and walks for 30 seconds.
4:34 p.m.: Mile 39. Dave M finishes Leg 7 in 37:10
4:57 p.m. T-mobile-using Stache-and-dashers begin to mutter incoherently as they haven’t had a signal for over 4 hours. Verizon appears once again to be the mobile carrier champ in the mountainous backways of North Carolina.
5:02 p.m.: Mile 44. Rob finishes Leg 8 in 28:25. JITFO is gradually building a bigger and bigger lead.
5:20 p.m.: Van 1 heads to dinner in Boone. Brian orders the Sweet Potato Enchilada. It comes out and looks like a gut-buster of a meal. About 3/4 the way through it, Wendy says "I feel I must stop you from eating the rest of that. Aren't you getting ready to run 10-miles up Grandfather?" Brian thinks about it for a few minutes and concludes she was right, but says "Bad decisions make for the best stories" and continues to eat more, nearly finishing the whole thing off.
5:42 p.m.: Mile 49. Leah finishes Leg 9 in 39:59 and hands off to Johanna
6:46 p.m.: Mile 57. Johanna finishes Leg 10 in 3:49. JITFO now leads by nearly 20 minutes
7:25 p.m.: Mile 64. Mo finishes Leg 11 in 39:15! An unbelievable sub-40 on a 6.3-mile heavy 10K, loaded with hills. We’ve definitely made up some ground here.
7:30 p.m.: Stache and Dash pow-wow at Exchange Zone 11
8:27 p.m.: Mile 73. John finishes Leg 12 in 1:02:13. JITFO is still ahead by 15 minutes. Van 2 heads to dinner in Blowing Rock to lick their wounds.
9:18 p.m.: Mile 79. Laura finishes Leg 13 in 51:05
10:01 p.m.: Mile 85. Brian begins to regret not following Wendy's wise advice about the enchiladas.
10:37 p.m.: Mile 89. Brian finishes the brutally long Leg 14 in 1:18:40; nearly all uphill to Grandfather Mountain. How’s that stomach feeling now, Brian?
10:49 p.m.: Mile 92. Wen finishes Leg 15 in 12:20; a crushingly fast and short downhill leg.
11:12 p.m.: Mile 95. Dave P finishes Leg 16 in 22:19. Van 2 has collected 12 road kills in the past four legs and is gaining on JITFO.
11:47 p.m.: Mile 100. Stan finishes Leg 17 in 35:10. Four more road kills!
11:58 p.m.: Adrienne is running up a monster hill that seems to go on forever. As she powers up it, her teammates in the van pass and note that the guys who were ahead of her would soon be roadkill. Brian yells out the window to the two guys: "cute girl coming up behind you". One of the guys snaps his head around so fast it looks like his head might come flying off. The entire van bursts into laughter.
12:33 a.m., Saturday morning: Mile 106. Adrienne finishes Leg 18 in 42:15 after passing 3 guys
12:45 a.m. Dave M feels the pressure to run fast on an “easy” leg but his feet and lungs don’t cooperate.
1:02 a.m.: Mile 110. Dave M finishes Leg 19 in 29:50, having passed just one runner and losing time to JITFO.
1:02 a.m. Rob takes over from Dave and looks ahead and can not believe his eyes. All that he sees is a long line of blinkies in front of him saying “catch me, catch me”
1:20 a.m.: Van 2 drives ahead and sees Rob demolishing runners right and left. He’s passed six already with more lined up ahead of him. Rob Runs up to the van as it is passing and screams out “I feel like a kid in a candy store”
1:56 a.m.: Mile 117. Rob finishes Leg 20 in 53:15, with an amazing 18 road kills!
2:00 a.m. Van 1 parks at Mile 134 and settles down for a much-needed nap, setting alarms for 3:45 a.m. They text Van 2 asking them to send a text when they are 20 minutes away.
2:07 a.m. Leah has the bracelet and is running into Spruce Pine. She chicks 3 guys on a short leg!
2:12 a.m.: Mile 120. Leah finishes Leg 21 in 16:37
2:30 a.m.: Johanna is doing her best running up a narrow, winding road towards the Penland School, but JITFO keeps gaining ground.
2:54 a.m.: Mile 125. Johanna finishes Leg 22 in 42:04. JITFO is getting farther and farther ahead.
3:10 a.m. Van 2 catches up to Mo, who has nearly taken a wrong turn. After making sure she’s properly oriented, the van heads down a dark, foggy road to Exchange Zone 23.
3:30 a.m. Exchange Zone 23. Team JITFO is concerned because their runner, Jenn, should have been here 10 minutes ago.
3:35 a.m.: Mile 131. Mo finishes Leg 23 in 40:41, ahead of JITFO! We hear from other teams that at least 3 women are lost on Leg 23.
3:37 a.m. Laura wakes Brian around 3:30 saying that Rob called, Van 2 was ahead of schedule and would be there in 10 minutes.
3:40 a.m.: The missing women have been found; they took a wrong turn and a van brings them back to the point where they left the course. We don’t know if Jenn is with them, but we need to head to the next exchange zone.
3:42 a.m. Panic sets in in Van 2 and as everyone starts scurrying like crazy trying to get their stuff together, get Laura ready to run, get the van ready to move, make last minute porta-jon stops and get ready for each runner’s rotation.
3:50 a.m. Laura is ready and waiting for John at the exchange zone.
3:55 a.m.: Mile 134. John finishes Leg 24 in 20:30. He has been nursing a cold and is still running amazingly fast, with 7 road kills. We hear from JITFO that Jenn finally arrived 10 minutes after John left. We’ve got a 10-minute lead with just over 70 miles to go. We just might win this thing!
4:28 a.m.: Mile 138. Laura finishes Leg 25 in 32:12 and hands off to Brian.
4:32 a.m.: Brian: “I knew that Laura would tear through her 4.2 mile leg quickly, so I had little time to prepare. When I started running my leg just a short time later, I still felt like a zombie. I was in a daze for at least the first mile of running. It was really dark and foggy and we were in a desolate part of the area where all you could see was blinking lights piercing through the fog and the pavement right in front of you. During that exact moment, you really start questioning your sanity as to why you ever thought this BRR thing would be a fun thing to do. All I wanted to do was stop running and go to sleep. It was misery. Now, looking back on it, it was an incredible experience I want to repeat every year. I am sure a year from now, in the dead of night when I am absolutely exhausted and knowing I have to run up a mountain, I will be questioning my sanity again.”
4:35 a.m. Van 2 is on an odyssey driving to Exchange Zone 30. While the van has maps and directions for a direct route, John has fallen asleep in the navigator’s chair, so Dave has to follow the much-less-direct route that the runners are taking.
4:57 a.m.: Mile 143. Brian finishes Leg 26 in 29:06
5:00 a.m. Dave M stops Van 2 at Exchange Zone 29 to use the bathroom. He’s also worried about nodding off in the driver’s seat, but the fresh air seems to revive him. Finally at about 5:30 they arrive at the exchange zone without crashing the van. Rob is thankful for that for the first time in 3 BRR’s he is not the one doing all the late night/early AM driving. And yes, Dave did find the side of the road a few times. But Leah and Rob tried to keep Dave’s mind active while the Co-Pilot (john) and Johanna peacefully slept. At the exchange zone, everyone crashes in their seats hoping to get a couple hours’ sleep before Van 1 arrives.
6:07 a.m.: Mile 152. Wen finishes Leg 27 in 1:09:47, with an amazing 12 road kills on a tough leg
7:04 a.m.: Mile 159. Dave P finishes the 7.5-mile Leg 28 in 49:14, with another 12 roadkills, while gaining 6 minutes on JITFO. Stache and Dash is now 11 minutes ahead!
7:56 a.m.: Mile 167. Stan finishes Leg 29 in 52:55. 17 minutes ahead! But Adrienne will have to face Boriana, who beat her by more than 10 minutes on Leg 1
8:31 a.m.: Mile 171. Adrienne finishes Leg 30 in 34:05 and hands off to Dave M!
8:44 a.m.: JITFO’s Boriana arrives at the Exchange Zone -- she’s only gained 3 and a half minutes on Stache and Dash, so the lead is 13:30!
8:55 a.m.: Dave is giving it all he’s got on the notorious 1,400-foot climb up the “Mountain Goat” leg, churning out road kill after road kill. But as the hill goes on, his pace slows.
9:05 a.m.: Mile 176. Dave is ready to start walking, but sees his van-mates stopped by the side of the road cheering and keeps plugging ahead.
9:15 a.m.: Mile 177. Dave is 1 mile from the top. He thinks about walking, but sees another runner ahead and presses onward.
9:23 a.m.: Mile 178. Dave M finishes Leg 31 in 52:40, with 9 road kills and an average 8:03 pace up a hill that climbed more than 200 feet per mile.
9:28 a.m.: Van 2 wants to know how long their lead is, so they wait to see when JITFO’s Todd Mayes will arrive.
9:32 a.m.: With no sign of Todd, Van 2 takes off to make sure they catch Rob as he barrels downhill.
9:53 a.m.: Van 2 finally catches up to Rob as he runs down the gravel road at an astonishing pace, close to 6:00 per mile on a 9.5-mile leg.
10:05 a.m.: At exchange zone 32, Van 2 learns they still have an 11.5-minute lead; Dave only lost 2 minutes to Todd, who’s 17 years younger than him.
10:21 a.m.: Mile 187. Rob finishes Leg 32 in 57:57 with 6 Road Kills. An unbelievable 6:06 pace for 9.5 miles. He’s so exhausted he pukes at the side of the road. At age 47, he has lost just 30 seconds to JITFO’s Adam Mayes, an extremely talented 33-year-old runner.
10:31 a.m. JITFO’s lightning-fast runner Kathy Rink takes off from Exchange Zone 32 in pursuit of Stache & Dash’s Leah Lashley.
10:40 a.m. As Van 2 drives up the steep hill that makes Leg 33 “mountain goat hard”, Rob decides he’s going to pace Leah up the hill and hops out.
10:45 a.m. Leah sees Rob waiting to pace her and is completely uninterested in his help. She literally comes to a standstill and waits for Rob to leave on his own before starting back up the hill.
11:06 a.m.: Mile 193. Leah finishes Leg 33 in 44:31. She’s held off Kathy but definitely lost some time. Johanna takes the wristband and heads out on Leg 34.
11:10 a.m. Kathy arrives at the exchange zone and hands off to JITFO’s fastest runner, Joe Rao. JITFO is now 4 minutes behind. It almost seems unfair, a guy against a girl on this leg. The question seems not to be whether Joe will pass Johanna, but how long she can hold him off
11:33 a.m.: Mile 196. Johanna keeps Joe at bay until the final mile of the leg, but he finally passes her.
11:36 a.m.: Mile 197. Joe passes the bracelet to Jenn and she takes off up the steep 2-mile hill at the start of Leg 35.
11:37 a.m.: Mile 197. Johanna finishes Leg 34 and passes to Mo, who’s now 50 seconds behind. It’s nail-bitingly close.
11:40 a.m.: Van 2 passes Mo and Jenn; Jenn is still ahead.
11:45 a.m.: Mile 198. Van 1 passes Mo, who has taken the lead and is storming up the hill!
12:00 p.m.: At Exchange Zone 35, both JITFO and Stache and Dash wait impatiently for their runners to show up. Who will win this crucial leg, the second-to-last leg in the race?
12:08-ish p.m.: Mile 201. It’s Mo! Mo arrives first and hands off to John. We’re all so excited that no one remembers to stop the clock to see how quickly she completed the leg.
12:02 p.m. Four minutes after John took off, JITFO’s Jenn still hasn’t arrived. It’s starting to seem inevitable that Stache and Dash will win.
12:05 p.m. Finally Jenn runs into the exchange zone and hands of to JITFO’s Claire. Unless there’s a disaster up ahead, Stache and Dash appears to have this sealed up.
12:15 p.m. Van 2 passes John, who looks to be in excellent form as he charges toward the finish.
12:53 p.m. John charges around the final turn in the race!
12:54 p.m.: Mile 208. The whole team follows John through the finish line! Stache and Dash wins! John finishes Leg 36 in 46:28
12:58 p.m. Team Stache and Dash is the Blue Ridge Relay’s first-place Mixed Team. We didn’t just beat JITFO, we won the whole thing!
1:15 p.m. After JITFO finishes, we exchange congratulations on the awesomest Blue Ridge Relay experience any of us can remember, win or lose. JITFO gamely agrees to a two-team finish-line photo where we lord our success over them.
2:00 p.m.: Mellow Mushroom, Asheville. The team gleefully guzzles beers purchased by JITFO’s Allen Strickland, and raises its glasses to worthy competitors:
Though we’re all exhausted, we’re also enthusiastically talking about next year’s rematch!