Running with Strangers; or, Why You Should Run the Green Mountain Relay This June
Picture this: a rural road that twists through some of the most scenic farmland and charming small towns in Vermont. Line that with green hills, white farmhouses, and a blue sky. Now, place yourself on that road, running smoothly and evenly, on a fine June morning, passing cows in their pasture and cozy inns.
Posted Monday, 16 February, 2009
Maybe you get to run beneath the shade of maple trees, and the only sounds are your breathing, the birds, and the breeze through the leaves. Until, of course, a van full of your teammates comes rolling by, a welcome interruption to your rustic reverie, tooting and hollering their support as you race one of your legs in the 200-mile Green Mountain Relay.
The setting is stunning whether you’re on foot or in the van leapfrogging ahead to support your racer. The relay’s course traces Vermont’s Route 100 from Jeffersonville to Bennington, crosses seven covered bridges, and is (I’m told and have no reason to doubt) considered to be one of the most beautiful drives (or runs, in our case) in the country. In a nutshell, the Green Mountain Relay is a perfect run through the countryside only enhanced by the constant companionship of 5 or 11 other sweaty teammates in close, smelly quarters, with no sleep and no regular meals.
Last year, I joined my first relay team at the GMR on blind faith. I wanted to try out a long-distance relay but couldn’t rustle up any of my running buddies to tag along, so I ended up on a team full of strangers. This could have been a disaster. I have always felt, and know many runners who agree; that much of the sport’s appeal is that it is done alone. I possessively guard my solitary training through the streets and over the bridges of New York City--while you do run your three (or one, if you’re on a 6x1 ultra team; or six, if you are on a 6x6 ultra team) legs by yourself in a relay, the rest of the time you’re in the van, talking about running, swapping stories and joking around with your teammates. I regarded the relay experience with equal parts enthusiasm and doubt. Would I let my teammates down by being too slow, dull, bossy, effusive? Or would they be perky Mouseketeers I’d want to bludgeon with my bottle of Gatorade?
I’d heard of the larger relays like Hood to Coast or Reach the Beach, where the checkpoints are madness, every van has a crazy theme, and there’s a real party atmosphere to the weekend. And certainly, GMR has a bit of that—every race is, after all, what you make it—but I prefer the boutique feel of this Vermont relay. There is a cap on the number of teams (100), so it becomes easy to mingle with other similarly paced teams while still getting that benefit of a solitary run through rural Vermont. The smaller size also enables the organizer, Paul Vanderheiden of Timberline Events (which also stages the Wild West Relay [http://www.wildwestrelay.com/] in Colorado every August), to take thoughtful care with the details that his participants appreciate, including gracious checkpoint volunteers, top-notch mapping, and course indicators with blinky lights for the night runners. One of last year’s participants, RZ of South Boston, MA, said on behalf of his team, “We’ve done the biggest/most prestigious relays in the US, and I can hardly believe that your event, after only three years in the making, meets if not exceeds the professionalism and organization of those other races.”
Another way that Vanderheiden distinguishes the GMR from other relays is through Volunteers with a Purpose, Inc., an organization he founded that makes donations to non-profit agencies within the relay community. Those non-profits provide race volunteers (the kindest, friendliest ones I’ve ever met) as a way to fundraise for themselves. I like knowing that through my participation in the GMR, I am giving a little something back to the towns through which my team runs, because we are a kind of invading (albeit peaceful) army that weekend.
Most runners join a team on which they know at least one other runner; I suppose mine was an unusual case. It could have ended badly, my weekend in a stinky van with people I’d never met before, all of us voluntarily depriving ourselves of regular rest and meals so that we could run our legs at whatever time of day or night the sequence dictated. I ran wearing a headlamp (with a sweaty headband) at 2 a.m., but so did other teammates. I was spared the rain, but others got drenched, and when they were done running we were ready with the van door open wide and a dry towel.
My team started out mostly strangers, randomly collected yet singularly determined to run along unknown roads to move 200 miles south through Vermont as quickly as possible. It was somewhere in the middle of those 200 miles that I understood what makes a relay such a unique type of race. 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 wearing a big plastic trash bag to hold an umbrella over you at an exchange point, or turn to pointedly assure you that your effort on the course has been recognized, and appreciated. As a runner who prefers to run her miles her way, I learned that the camaraderie of my team is not just a gratifying perk of participating in the GMR, but ultimately the main point.
Our van hadn’t even begun the drive back to New York City before I had made up my mind to race the GMR in 2009—and preferably, with the same team of scrappy, talented and fun runners I’d just spent two days with. So, come say hi to us on the course—we’re the New York City Running Chicks and a Few Dudes, and I’m the one in pigtails.
WANT TO RUN THE GREEN MOUNTAIN RELAY 2009?
Some Quick Facts:
- The GMR starts on Saturday, June 20th and ends on Sunday, June 21st, 2009, the weekend of the summer solstice.
- Registration is limited to the first 100 teams.
- Team sizes include: 6 or 12-person, and 1 to 3-person Super Ultra
- Team categories include: men’s, women’s, mixed (minimum 6 women) open, master’s (40 and over), Hash House Harriers, and High School
- For more information about the Green Mountain Relay, including course maps, registration information, photos and links to reviews of prior GMR’s, and more information about the Volunteers With A Purpose, go to www.GreenMountainRelay.com
TK is a runner from New York City. You can read more about her 2008 Green Mountain Relay experience by clicking here. Green Mountain Relay But really, she thinks you should just form a Green Mountain Relay team now and worry about the rest later.