The door to our room flew open and Runner 6 entered. "Get Up."
There was a sense of urgency there that did not go unnoticed. I bolted out of the air mattress I was so appreciative of just moments before. "Do I have time to get changed?" I asked him.
"Make it quick." He didn't offer any additional information at the time, but he didn't need to - my 6th sense informed me that our entire van had slept a little bit longer than we should have.
As the six of us piled back into our van at 3:30am - closely followed by the second van full of the members of the other team we had been buddying up with - we learned the truth. Our two runner 12s were already at the transition point. It would be a half hour before we could reach them, delaying their rest and our overall relay time by 45 minutes. Unfortunately, the members of our van had all fallen asleep at our friend's house at various times throughout the evening, without really communicating to each other when "Go" time would be and who would be responsible for rousing us at the right moment. We learned our "buddy" van HAD a plan in place, but their plan was flawed - they simply did the math wrong when figuring out the pace of the second half of their relay team.
We arrived at the transition point looking sheepish, expecting to be eaten alive by our abandoned teammates; but there was no wrath, only a playful comment about "Rip Van Winkle" and a quick hand-off of the baton so that they could go get some much needed sleep. It appeared we were already forgiven.
Our teams were able to keep the buddy system in place since we BOTH had screwed up royally, which was good news as this section of the race took two of our female runners into the C&O canal in the early (creepy) morning hours. The error also worked in my husband's favor - not only did he get to see the sunset during his run the evening prior, he also was out on the trail during sunrise for his final run.
I don't think I have ever seen him look more proud than he did after checking off the last box.
I ran my final leg - the last stretch of the C&O canal - with the other team's runner 5 again. At 8.2 miles with an incredibly steep 1.5 mile climb at the very end, it was enough to make the most positive and upbeat person scream obscenities in between long, labored breaths.
To which I did. Fortunately my buddy stuck right alongside me, slowing down to recover when I needed to, and picking it right back up with me when we were ready. Running has always been a very personal thing for me, and I've always hesitated at running "with" someone. But for the two legs I ran with my companion from the other team, I could not have been more grateful. Our average pace had slowed considerably to 10:43, compared to 9:14 the night before - I guess it's to be expected when you combine running with exhaustion.
Our runner 6's completed their legs without incident, and with the final hand-off of the baton, we celebrated by having our first real meal in 30+ hours (if you count the coffee and fruit we had for breakfast the day prior as a real meal). We headed over to a local restaurant (after taking advantage of showers at a local high school) and I ordered a spinach salad with chicken and a warm bacon dressing. Bliss. After lunch, we drove the rest of the way to the Relay finish line and awaited our last runner so that we could all cross together.
My husband was very excited to have his first medal to add to our medal wall. ( wp.me/p1N36Q-4T
I had otherwise kept myself going during this time on gluten free foods - bananas, gluten free granola bars, and dried fruit. You would think it would be easy not to binge eat while running a race like this, but long stretches in the far back seat of a six passenger van (read: no adult supervision) left me with nothing to do except eat mindlessly. I would have taken some solace in the fact that I had at least managed to stay away from wheat during the entire race - but the post-race finish line party provided ample amounts of barbecued chicken sandwiches and - my ultimate weakness - soft, chewy cookies.
The race was over, but it looked like I was going to have to wait another day to begin a new wheat free/binge free streak. Perhaps it just means that the race signifies another chapter ended in my life, and a new one - bringing a bigger, better me - is beginning.