I do not race. I hate racing. Competition is something that colors my easy, calm, consistent morning runs with pain and labor, and I usually regret pushing myself to the degree where I’m heaving and sweating profusely by the end of it.
I run because I absolutely love the feeling of consistent, throbbing adrenaline on a very mild level: easy, long runs along cool country roads with lovely shaded spots and the occasional deer sighting is my idea of a solid, pre-work, post-coffee wake-up to shake the dust out of my blood and get my muscles moving.
So naturally, when our local racing guru and expert trainer at Vermont Sport and Fitness asked me to join their team for the 100 on 100 relay from Stowe to Ludlow on Saturday, I was apprehensive. One of my coworkers said he broke his foot in the race.
But, after assuring the team that I definitely have NEVER raced before and am a slow runner, I agreed. They needed a runner no matter how slow, otherwise an additional 15 miles would be split up between the four of them.
The night before, I had three hours of sleep: I was nervous that I would let my team down, that I would end up not being strong enough to complete my leg of the race. I worried that they would see me as a burden, despite the fact that my teammates had only shown me overwhelming support.
On race day, 4 a.m. came early: two cups of coffee was barely enough to sustain my two-hour drive from Rutland to Stowe. In the parking lot of the Bierhall at the von Trapp Family Lodge, I laced up my neon orange-tinted Asics that I bought two days prior, and prayed they would be broken in enough not to completely destroy my feet.
Once the van of my teammates arrived, we scrawled our scrappy team seal on the rear windshield: “More Legs than a Bucket of Chicken.” I shoved my duffle filled with sustenance and changes of clothing into the already jammed trunk and was walked to the starting line by my team for the first run: 2.5 miles of forest and farm trail.
“This won’t be bad,” I thought. “I regularly run 6 miles, no sweat.”
It was bad.
The steep inclines made it hard to keep pace, but the narrowness of the trails also made it almost impossible to pass anyone. Starting into the race, I was at the front with the other runners pushing behind me, which made me faster — and weaker.
I tagged my team captain at the finish line, and she hopped off to her first leg, one nearly three times the length of mine, with a bright smile. I knew this race was going to hurt.
My second leg was 4.5 miles and three hours away, so the team clambered into the van and drove to the halfway point in our captain’s run to meet her. We asked if she needed water, Gatorade, or the van-favorite: Coca-Cola. Our captain swore by bread and butter pickles and Coca-Cola for bursts of energy and no-cramps.
Our captain mapped out every distance — we knew every incline and every turn, so we knew when a demonic hill was in our near future, though none of us really had any clear understanding of how agonizing the hill might actually be.
My teammate hauled up a hill that looked like a roller coaster: enormous downhill and an ensuing uphill that didn’t seem to end. Everyone in the car groaned for him: this was going to be hell, and he knew it.
He reached me, and struck out his fist to touch mine: his fight was over. I could shoulder that for him. He hauled his leg for us, and now it was my turn. And when I needed them, they stopped, waited, cheered me on.
But in my second leg, I stopped racing: I slowed and let others pass, and my heart resumed its traditional beat. I noticed how lovely the fields and mountains looked in the blinding sun. I closed my eyes, and I felt the wind dry the sweat at my scalp. I felt my hair move again.
It transformed: This was not our race. It was our run. Together.
My second leg started out okay. I slowed my pace and let others pass, without pushing myself to exhaustion — I would make it to the end, and I wouldn’t quit.
Other teams stopped sooner to wag cowbells and shout congratulations to runners while we climbed the winding hill of Leg 2, and I almost stopped to walk.
But I thought of my teammates and their first legs: mine was fewer than 3 miles, and they each ran far more than that. Suddenly, they became more than mere strangers to me.
I became dedicated to them.
My second leg was brutal, but I tagged the fist of our strongest runner, who relieved me and started on a 10-mile trek.
Ten whole miles. Our entire van moaned for her while downing energy drinks, water, energy gummies and in my case, half a jar of peanut butter.
This race taught me the absolute necessity of peanut butter. I now bow to it.
She ran like a champion across the line and tagged our teammate, who flew off like lightning into the void.
Our captain was haggard: She stood and walked, but the trek had worn her thin. It was a mountain of a run to complete.
My last leg was a 6.7 miles, and when it hit, the clouds were rolling in. I told my teammates to have my baseball cap on hand if the rain started mid-run. A teammate was there with her arm outstretched 3.8 miles in.
The last leg of the run was, unpredictably … the easiest: I kept my easy pace and passed seven people with a slow run, and made it up through Pittsfield to Killington in the driving, pouring rain. My baseball cap kept it off my face, and that was absolutely crucial.
When I reached the crest of the 100 hill, a police officer directing traffic shouted to me, “The lane is all yours.” I could see my captain waiting for me, white wind-breaker on, blinking reflector light on the back with her victorious arm firmly outstretched against the driving rain.
“There she is,” I thought.
And I tore into that rain: My last stretch had cars squealing by and rain puddles aplenty. My team was waiting for me.
They toweled the front seat for my return and gaped at me: “You okay?” they asked.
“Guys,” I said, “The rain is really, really refreshing.”
“Way to take it like a champ,” they echoed.
But I was serious. Rain on a run like that is a godsend: Bring a baseball cap and wait for the beautiful downfall.
By the end, we all stumbled out of the van half-alive. We waited for ur teammate in the parking lot of Jackson Gore to run in with him, and he hauled in, and all four of us jogged behind him to the finish line at 11 p.m., to a hall of good food and beer.
This group was comprised of Rutland City police, a Rutland Herald reporter and various athletes, and we all hugged each other at the end. A total of 100 miles and we all ran. My moral: Bring peanut butter, and know that ... you can do this.
I did this.
And I’m so glad I did this.
Kate Barcellos is a reporter at the Rutland Herald.