When I first heard about the American Odyssey Relay when twelve of my friends formed a team two years ago - a 200 mile trek from Gettysburg to Washington, DC completed over the course of 30 or so hours - I thought "gee, I really need to find more sane people to hang out with."
When I heard they were doing it again last year - and had enough interest to form a second team - I thought "well, maybe I could do that."
And when they approached me - and my husband - back in January to help them round out a third team, I thought "We're in." (despite my non-running husband's objections.)
And so began four months of focused training, our determined accountability to our teammates forcing the two of us to enter the gym almost daily for another grueling treadmill run, or tackling 10k races in the bitter cold, or building up some leg strength with Sunday morning Bodyworks or flexibility with Yoga. As my pace improved steadily, generally staying under 9:00/mile, I figured I was solid to average the same pace for my team come Thursday morning's start. After all, I had to account for hills, tired legs, and sporadic and interrupted sleep in a less-than-comfortable mini-van.
But the training I had done in NO WAY prepared me for the challenge that AOR presented. I may need to break this down into two posts, because there's a lot I want to remember about this life adventure. So here's the digest version if you aren't interested so much in the running aspect of my Wheat Free Lifestyle:
1. Nope. Running 200 miles over 30 hours does NOT stop you from binging.
2. Hill and hell sound similar for a reason.
3. You know a friend is true when you forget to show up for your last leg of the race and they forgive you.
Anyway, the runners from New Jersey met Thursday night to vanpool out to Gettysburg, with one last minute addition - one of our runners had to drop out late Wednesday night, creating a last minute scramble. So another runner put a call out to her running club and found a guy crazy enough to join us on a whim.
And here I had just put in four months of training.
We arrived at about 9:30pm - just enough time to mix and mingle with other team members we didn't know very well, meet those we'd be sharing a van with (and getting to know a little TOO well), and get a good solid night's sleep in our hotel. The first two happened easily - but either nerves or just being in an unfamiliar bed didn't work in my favor.
Still, we were up, dressed, and fueled with coffee and fruit to meet our teams at the starting line. All of our teams were given a 7:45 start, as they stagger the start times based on how fast you think your team is going to run the course. Our first runner mentioned this was her first relay and shared she had slightly objected to running first, so she was a little bit anxious about it. I don't think it helped when one of the other runners shouted "Anybody know where we're supposed to go?" A few chuckled nervously, but were reassured when the race director reminded them that the course is marked and they'd just have to keep an eye out for the directional signs.
Someone had the genius idea that each of our teams should have matching t-shirts in neon colors (our team is in yellow, another in orange, and another in pink) so that we could easily pick each other out.
And then they were off! The remaining 5 members of my van packed it up, hopped in, and head off on the course, prepared to support our runner with bottled water, gatorade, and cheers of encouragement. She had asked that we follow her along the race route instead of the driving route just to check on her initially, while our other teams shared they would be ok for their 5.8 mile run and could wait on support. We drove about a mile and didn't see any runners, and thought "wow, these guys are flying!" When we went yet another mile and saw no runners, we checked our own race map to determine if we were lost. Nope, we were good. A third mile down, and we finally came upon some runners - only we didn't recognize them from our start. Our driver rolled down the window and asked "Hey, when did you guys start?"
Our hearts dropped. If these were the 7:15 runners, it meant our runners were off course. And it was the FREAKIN' FIRST LEG.
We immediately got on the AOR twitter-verse to ask help from other drivers to start looking for the group. We trekked back to the starting line taking a few different roads. We could not find them anywhere. I immediately pulled out my leg maps and pored over them, desperate not to have the same ill fate befall me.
We eventually got back on the running route, and felt elated when we saw bright yellow and bright orange running together. We pulled up next to them, waters in hand.
The damage? 2.2 miles off course, changing a 5.8 mile course into a full 8. Apparently, the first sign indicating to run straight across the road was poorly placed, and the group all followed the first guy out the gate - who turned right.
Well... the adventure had begun.