Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Your 2008: Running With Strangers

(For the third straight year, I've asked a few of my readers and friends to write about their favorite things from this past year. The series continues here with a post by TK, who maintains what I imagine is the world's most excellent running blog, Pigtails Flying.)

Sometime this spring, I was seized with the oddball desire to run an endurance relay, a 200+ mile event run in consecutive segments by teams of varying sizes (usually six or twelve runners). The whim had such a grip on me that before I knew it I was signed up as part of the 12-member New York City Running Chicks and a Few Dudes team to run the Green Mountain Relay the last weekend in June. This meant I'd just conscripted myself to forced socialization with 11 sweaty strangers in close, smelly quarters, with no sleep and no regular meals for over 24 hours straight.

Much of running’s appeal, for me, is that it's done alone. It's a self-reliant and self-motivated sport, with no conversation or cooperation required during racing or training. However, while you run your three legs of a relay by yourself, the rest of the time you're in the van, talking and (hopefully) joking with your teammates.

My misgivings were multitudinous; my worries proliferous. Would I let my teammates down by being too slow, dull, bossy, effusive? Would they be perky Mouseketeers I'd want to bludgeon with my bottle of Gatorade?

I am unable to compare the GMR to other relays, like the famous Reach the Beach Relay, where teams decorate their van and run in costume. I prefer the boutique feel of the GMR--there were only 50 teams, so we began to recognize similarly-paced teams at the exchanges. Not only is this race thoughtfully organized and lovingly staged by hippies, but it travels through some beautiful rolling Vermont countryside and farmland.

It's true: ultimately each runner is responsible for his or her own legs, and must churn through them no matter the elevation gain or loss, distance, weather conditions, or time of day or night. I ran with a headlamp at 2 a.m., but so did other teammates. I was spared the rain, but others got drenched, and we pulled one runner back into the van until the eye of the thunder and lightning storm passed over.

We started out mostly strangers, randomly determined to run along strange roads, to get from Jeffersonville to Bennington. There's something to it, this “team” thing. Something important happens when everyone brings their best to the show, when they trot next to you in flip flops to be sure you get your Gatorade, or stand next to you in the rain in a plastic bag to hold an umbrella over you at an exchange point, or turn to pointedly assure you that your effort has been recognized, and appreciated.

3 Comments:

OpenID pigtailsflying said...

It's an honor to be a guest blooger here, JMW. thanks for the invite!

6:01 PM  
Blogger Mike Lindgren said...

Yes! Hippies! Vermont! Granola! Tie-dye! Bad, bad music! Actually it sounds like a great event. I was in Vermont once. You are the best.

3:26 PM  
Blogger runriverrun said...

Just because we're from Colorado, doesn't mean we're hippies! :-) Thanks for the two excellent posts on the GMR (this and your the post on your blog). Paul - the RD

12:51 AM  

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