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24 hours, 203 miles—and a Sprint for the Finish

by Don Allison

Photos courtesy of Jim Rhoades

In a race that covered more than 200 miles and a full day and night of running, it came down to the last 100 yards. For exciting finishes, one would be hard pressed to top the relay division of the Run Around the Lake 24 Hour, held on August 3 and 4 in Wakefield, Massachusetts, as the host Somerville Road Runners and the Irish American Track Club battled tooth and nail around the clock, neither team gaining enough of an advantage to ease up until the race was completely finished.

There are many tough races: marathons, ultra-distance marathons, mountain races, all taxing the body to extreme levels. But the 24-hour relay is a special kind of torture. Comprised of anywhere from six to 10 teams (the Run Around the Lake featured a maximum of eight-runner teams), the runners complete their respective legs (in this race a 5-km loop around Lake Quanapowitt); then after handing the baton to the next runner, they try to fashion some sort of recovery, until their turn comes around again.

The 24-hour relay is especially tough on those possessing more speed than endurance, since they are often able to push themselves through each 5-km on leg turnover and guts alone—but that only makes the next leg even tougher. With a break of a few hours until their next turn, they achieve just enough recovery to go out and do it again.

Making it even more difficult is the pressure of not wanting to let fellow teammates down. Seeing other team members push to the point of exhaustion—and beyond—only makes the runner want to do the same. Thus, as the race wears on, hour after inexorable hour, fatigue, cramps, and leg soreness increase to almost intolerable proportions. Watching runners stagger around in a stiff-legged stupor after completing a lap, then just a short few hours later eagerly await the baton to take off on another lap, is a testimony a runner’s spirit.

Normally in such events, 24 hours is enough time for the difference in speed between teams to create a sizeable difference in mileage totals, but not so this year, as The Somerville Road Runners and The Irish American Track Club found themselves locked in a tight battle for first place right around the clock. With less than an hour left in the race, Irish American had carved out more than a four-minute lead on Somerville, thanks to a gusty double leg turned by the inimitable Kevin Hynes. Most thought that would be enough of a margin to last until the finish and seal the win for Irish American. But on the second to last lap, Somerville’s Peter Brook, having recovered from a near complete collapse a few hours earlier, dug down for one more all-out assault on the 5-km loop, covering the distance in less than 20 minutes, enough to cut Irish American’s lead by more than half.

As Bob Ross took the baton for Somerville, he was exactly two minutes behind Irish American’s Tyrone Tse. Slowly but surely Ross carved into the deficit, until with a little more than mile to go he caught sight of the leader. With the margin down to 30 seconds, he kept edging closer, digging down for final physical reserves he was sure had been used up hours earlier. Running his 11th 5-km race within 24 hours, Ross somehow managed to produce six-minute miles. As Tse turned the corner, still in the lead, Ross was right on his heels. Ross and Tse then each unleashed a wild sprint for the tape on the last downhill stretch in the parking lot, as all of the other runners, spectators, and even race personal gasped, then cheered. Ross had just a little more leg turnover; he pulled clear and broke the tape, baton thrust in the air. Tse crossed the line two seconds later, immediately collapsing in a heap as his legs buckled, while Ross fired the baton to the ground, then stormed through the parking lot accepting congratulations, fueled by a combination of adrenaline and exultation.

The 24-hour relay—it’s a hell of a race. Better stated, the race IS hell. If you don’t believe it, just ask runners from The Somerville Road Runners and The Irish American Track Club.

Relay Results
1. 203.2 Somerville Road Runners, Medford MA
2. 203.2 Irish American Track Club, Malden MA
3. 196.9 Comverse All Stars, Wakefield MA
4. 184.2 Run Free Or Die, Hollis NH
5. 162.1 First Place, Boston MA (Mixed)
6. 149.5 Team Middleton, Middleton MA (Mixed)