Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The 2016 Smoky Mountain Relay

Another Smoky Mountain Relay (SMR) in the books for the Blue Ridge Bootleggers.  It's the third time for many of the Bootleggers although we did bring on a few new faces to the crowd.  The original running of the SMR for the Blue Ridge Bootleggers was in 2014.  It was the brainchild of Master Tedd who recruited me and Jenny, along with Robin and Bo.  We had to go outside our regular group to bring in a grand bunch of misfits to form the First Blue Ridge Bootleggers Team.  There was a few changes in 2015 when several of the originals couldn't come back, but again, we found new blood and tackled the SMR again as a 12 person team in 2015.

For 2016, all but one of the originals came back to fill in the roster for the Ultra team.  Again, because of the Ultra team, we had to bring in some new faces for the 12 person team.  In the end, we assembled two teams worthy of the Bootlegger moniker and set out to conquer the SMR. 

Above is the entire Bootlegger Clan who did the SMR this year.  That's a lot of people, but it is actually two teams.  We returned with a 12 person team who kept the original Blue Ridge Bootlegger Team name but we also assembled a fine crew for a 6 person Bootleggers Ultra team.

That's the Ultra Clan right there.  Left to Right:  Me (aka HARLEY!), Alvin B, Diesel Daisy Mae, Big Jimmy, Billy Wade and Sissy.  Of course these are the Bootlegger names.  All of us were part of the inaugural Blue Ridge Bootlegger Clan, and it was Big Jimmy who put the call out to assemble.

Big Jimmy and Sissy weren't able to participate in the 2015 version, but we are super happy that they decided to come back in big style to do the Ultra team.

Planning for this event started last fall.  Not a lot was going into it at that point, making sure we had a commitment from the people was the biggest thing to get started back then.  Of course there was registration as well, but mostly until January rolled around, there wasn't much happening for planning.  The Ultra team was lucky - we had commitment from every member very early on.  The 12 person team however, went through several rosters before we were able to finalize a full team.  And a fine team it was too.

If you've never done a 200 mile running relay, here's how it works:
     The relay is a point to point run through very mountainous terrain.  It starts in the Pink Beds and finishes at the Nantahala Outdoor Center.  It is broken up into 36 legs of unequal distance.  The guideline is that each runner will run an equal number of legs (not necessarily an equal number of total miles). 
     A 12 person team breaks up into two Vans, 6 people each.  Van 1 will rotate through all of it's runners then hand off to Van 2 who will rotate through all of their runners.  Van 1 meanwhile, has traveled around to the exchange where they'll take over the duties again, before handing off again to Van 2.  One more rotation for each Van and you're done. Each runner will run 3 legs - one for each rotation of their van.  Total mileage per person over their 3 legs for a 12 person team can range from 14 to 21 miles depending on how the team captain makes the leg assignments.
     An Ultra Team of 6 runners uses only a single van and covers the same distance and terrain (and number of legs) as a 12 person team.  Of course this means that the team stays together for the entire event, and rotates through each person 6 times (6 legs each). 

Two years ago when Big Jimmy called the Clan to action, my engineering brain took over and of course I created a spreadsheet that would aid us in making leg assignments.  I programmed in estimated leg finish times and calculated a finishing time (based on pace input from each team member).  In 2014 I estimated a final finishing time of 35h18m.  Our actual 2014 finishing time was 35h25m - off by just 7 minutes.

In 2015 I used the same spreadsheet with some small enhancements and estimated a finishing time of 36h20m and our finish time was 36h19m.  Hard to believe!!  Even the Race crew was astonished by my estimate!  For 2016 I made some larger enhancements but I missed a critical leg distance (off by almost 3 miles in my spreadsheet) and my estimate (original estimate) was 33h15m - our finish time was 33h35m - off by 20 minutes.  Had I realized that error of the missed mileage, that would have added 20-25 minutes to the estimate....  I would have just about nailed it again.  For my little engineering brain, this is a very fun exercise.

To further complicate my estimations, there were two rounds of course modifications.  Two very hard legs were removed, although two very hard legs were also added with the modifications.  Enough about that, suffice to say that a big part of this event for me is the analysis and trying to estimate our finishing time.

The Bootleggers Ultra Clan was amazing this year.  To start, everyone was highly motivated from the initial contact last fall.  Although we didn't get together a lot for training runs, we did manage to get together for several.  The team is awesome when it comes to organizing for the event.  The 12 person team had a pair of Co-Captains and I had a big assist from Billy Wade and Big Jimmy.

I know how these folks run, and while we are not going to set any records on this course, I knew we'd be able to run strong throughout.  Regarding records - the record that we're becoming known for is our ability to predict our finish time, not for our overall speed on the run.  The other thing I think we're becoming known for is our ability to just have a super good time.  And we're loud.  ;)

This year the event started on my wife's (Diesel Daisy Mae) birthday.  As I was assigning legs, I decided to give her a great birthday present.  It's leg # 5, a leg we have dubbed "Soul Crusher".  7.3 miles of rolling hills - and rather steep rolling hills I might add.  I thought to myself "what better way to say I love you and Happy Birthday than to give her Soul Crusher as a birthday gift".  You see what a generous and loving husband I am?  ;)

She killed it.  The 12 person team had a ringer on that leg who wore a shirt that said "Soul Crusher Crusha", while Diesel Daisy Mae didn't run it quite as fast as Bosefus I am very proud of her for her accomplishment on that leg.

One of the legs I was looking forward to was leg # 19.  In the past 2 years this leg went uphill for 5 miles for an elevation gain of about 3500'.  A very tough leg, and usually (for our clan) run in the middle of the night (Big Jimmy started at midnight in 2014, Alvin B started a few minutes past 11pm in 2015 and I started at Midnight this year).  I was looking forward to this challenge so I was disappointed when the leg was removed and replaced with something the Race crew called "Another tough mother".

I wasn't disappointed after I ran leg 19 this year.  While it didn't have 5 miles uphill, it did have something over 3 miles.  But then it turned onto double track which turned into fresh logging roads.  Unfortunately I was wearing my road shoes when I really should have been wearing my trail shoes.  Once off the fire road climb I was slipping and sliding all over the place!!  Thankfully it was all downhill.  At least I had momentum working for me.  It would have been horrible to have to climb with all of that mud!

Diesel Daisy Mae got the new big uphill leg.  Leg 23 had been changed from a relatively mild run on a fire road to a 5.8 mile uphill slog!  Again, she killed it.  I'm married to an incredibly strong woman!

Billy Wade had a challenging event.  While he did have 6 legs, he completed those 6 legs in 4 runs.  What I'm saying is he had two runs that were back to back legs.  The first back to back was approximately 9 miles and the second back to back was over 13 miles.  He rocked these legs out like a BOSS!  I knew he was hurting, but until we finished late Saturday afternoon, I had no idea that he had completed the entire event with a cracked rib!!  Amazing!  So glad to have him on the team!

Alvin B has an energy level that just can't be stopped.  He lays down in the back seat for 15 minutes and he's ready to be driving again.  He just doesn't' stop.  Probably good for him this year as he had several of his legs that were quite close together.  He also had higher mileage total as compared to some of us in the van.  He had one of the best trail legs on the course.  A section of the Mountains to Sea trail that parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Of course he killed it.  It finishes with a mile long climb to the transition - very tough!

Sissy took over from Alvin B after that climb up to the exchange.  She took off for a 10 mile downhill trail section that crossed a creek (or creeks) a good number of times.  When we met her at the exchange, she said (paraphrasing) "Awesome trails!  If I had a camera I would have been stopping every 2 minutes!".  And while she rocked that trail, unfortunately it came at the cost of an IT band issue that would plague her for her last 3 legs.  Amazing woman though, she continued to push a solid and consistent pace for her 4th leg, then Alvin B and Billy Wade were able to switch and give her a little less mileage and more importantly a bit less climbing and descending.  She rocked that same consistent pace for those final two legs as well.  

Big Jimmy got to run one of my favorite legs - late in the race and some solid trail running with an awesome swinging bridge crossing.  This year the route was modified and it started with a swinging bridge crossing, onto some trails that led to the same bridge used in 2014 and 2015.  His reaction at the finish of this leg was pure joy.  Not because he was finished running, but because he was in pure heaven while running that leg.

I had the pleasure of bringing the Bootleggers Ultra team home.  We were doing ok on time, and I knew I'd have plenty of time to finish before the 6pm cutoff (perhaps an incorrect perception), but I was really feeling some pressure as I waited to run my final leg of the event.  I know that the pressure came from inside myself - Of course I didn't want to let the team down.

I was anxious and nervous when Daisy Mae handed me the wrist strap and I took off up the hill.  The leg was a bit easier than I anticipated for the first 2 or 2.5 miles.  Once it passed the gate and onto the gravel road it got really tough.  Not only was it very steep, but it was hot and the sun was blasting right down on me - maximum sun exposure on this climb.  I had to walk most of it, although I did run when the grade allowed.  I was very thankful to reach the top and start the descent.

The early part of the descent seemed to have a lot of shade.  Apparently the road crossed the ridge and now put me on the other side from the sun.  I really started feeling better and was able to pick up my pace significantly.  The feeling of light-headedness was dwindling and my heart rate was coming down to a more reasonable level.

As I approached the final descent for the leg, I started looking at my Garmin.  My estimate for my run time was 59m36s - I was going to be VERY close!!  As I came down to the finishing chute, the Clan gathered around and we ran in together.  I was very happy to be finished.  Of course there was celebration and we got the finishing photos I've shared above.

Another great year in the books.  The Ultra experience is very different from the 12 person experience.  I'm looking forward to next year already!

My actual run time for my final leg was 1h0m14s.  within a minute of my estimate.  When I did some after-action analysis, I found that I estimated 20 legs within 5 minutes of the actual, 12 legs within 2.5 minutes of the actual and 6 legs within 1 minute of the actual run time.  I love this shit!

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