Hands down, this was some of the most fun I’ve ever had at a race. Will really doesn’t race anymore after three ankle surgeries but I wrangled him into this one because it was a relay race, involved beer and was on trails rather than roads. The basic setup was that there is a two mile trail loop and teams of 1 to 4 had an option to drink a beer before the lap then set off for a 2 minute deduction in total time. The other component was that you had to carry a full beer “baton” for the whole race. There were age graded adjustments built in as well for final results. We did the relay as a two person team; I ran legs 1 and 3 and Will ran legs 2 and 4.
The night before the race, we had the arduous task of choosing our beer. It had to be >5% ABV, it had to be beer based (meaning ciders etc were excluded) and we wanted it to be in a bottle for easy drinking and something we would likely never want to drink again in case we got sick while running. We spent an inordinate amount of time in Ingles and finally settled on New Belgium’s Watermelon Lime Ale, coming in at 5% in bottle form. Our only mistake was not making sure they were twist off tops, which meant that we had to also remember to bring a bottle opener.
We got to Travelers Rest a little before 9 on Sunday morning and had an easy, breezy check in process. The Race Director was delightful and super welcoming, which was a nice change from my last attempt to get involved in the running community here. Will and I set out to preview the course which was marked with big arrow signs and after the first downhill (which, incidentally, was super technical), encountered two arrows that went like this –> <–. Hm. We tried to backtrack from the other side of the loop and still couldn’t make it work. We finished the course preview of the second half, a loop that included a football field and old asphalt track and let the Race Director know that something was up with the first loop. When he went out to check, he found that someone had reversed 5 of his arrows overnight! After he fixed it, we went back out to preview the first half of the course and it had magically turned into a great trail loop!
From the get-go, this race was low key and fun and prerace was no exception. People were hanging out, drinking beers and playing beer pong and corn hole. I didn’t drink before because I was already concerned about my ability to drink two beers and run 4 miles. I was also worried that I’d overload on fluid so despite the fact that it was in the 80s and sunny, I didn’t let myself have water and was PARCHED. My biggest prerace concern was chugging a beer at the start. I’ve never been one to chug anything, in part because of my inability to burp, and I was worried that it would take me 2 minutes to finish my beer and erase the 2 minutes that drinking a beer erased from each lap.
The start went WAY better than anticipated for me. I got the bottle open without difficulty and managed to drink it in ~25 seconds. I started to run in about 15th place and jogged out of the start area. Our plan was to take the whole race at about tempo effort but try to run intelligently on the course. The first mile was all trail and had sections with very technical footing and a big climb. The second mile was much more runnable and had a football field and lap on the old track, so was a perfect place to make up some time. The first downhill was MISERABLE. I was so full and had a sloshy stomach and desperately needed to burp, which is never my strong point. Since the whole idea was to have fun, I just kept jogging until I finally mercifully burped and felt 100% better. I found my tempo effort and started passing people quickly. When we came out of the woods, I found myself in 3rd place, solidly behind first (the race director who is a beast of a trail runner and beat us by 90 seconds) and about 30 seconds behind second. As we moved onto the faster part of the loop, I worked at closing the gap to second (our main competition) and ultimately got within 15 seconds of him. I finished the first lap in 15:35 and tagged off to Will, who put his beer down much more efficiently than me.
Will’s first lap was a beautiful thing. I’ve never seen him race and it was really fun to watch him pick his way over the course. He’s a great trail runner and a heck of a gamer in races and it was incredibly fun to get the chance to cheer for him for a change. The runner from the other team was very, very fast and Will did his best to hang close enough to him to keep us in it. At some point in his loop, Will passed the second runner from the team who had come in first (they were a 3 person team) as well and he came into the exchange zone in second by about 20 seconds.
My second beer was not as smooth as my first but I got it down in about 30 seconds and took off again. Unfortunately, the team that we were chasing was much more proficient and he was gone from sight before I finished my beer. This time, I was able to burp almost immediately and pushed my effort to tempo effort from the get-go. Although I couldn’t see my actual competition, there were plenty of people to pass on course which made it very easy to stay focused. Unfortunately, the second lap was MUCH warmer than the first. When we were in the woods, it wasn’t too bad but when we came out into the full sun, woooooweeee it was hot. I worked hard to not give up on the track and through the final field and was happy yet again to find that I had the fitness to start in tempo/interval effort in the final part of the race. I came into the exchange zone in a solid second but quite a ways down from the first team. My lap time was 15:45, which I was happy with now that I had two beers sloshing around.
Will took off after another great beer exchange and I jogged to the corner at the end of the woods loop to await him. The runner for the first team is clearly a trail guy; he hammered the first half of the course and put a lot of distance on Will. When they hit the flats, however, Will started to close the gap again. They ultimately beat us handily but I think Will and I were both super happy with our efforts!
The final rule was that at the finish line, you had to shake up the full beer that had been your baton the whole time and crack it open and spray. I’ve rarely seen Will smile so easily as he did when the finish line official made him do it! I had to duck and run to avoid a full spray of warm, shaken Budweiser.
All in all, it was an awesome experience for us and a decent workout to boot. After the race, we hung around for almost two hours and ate pizza and met lots of runners from the Greenville running community. I connected with a runner (incidentally the guy who ran my leg from the team who beat us) who works at Pace Running, which is a local running store in Travelers Rest that exclusively carries Skechers so it was fun to talk shop a bit. It was such a nice contrast from my first experience to feel welcome and included just by virtue of showing up.
From a race perspective, I’m just so grateful to continue forward progress. My laps were very close in time and our team average pace was 7:45, so my 7:47 and 7:52 didn’t hold us back too badly! Given that my mile pace for the Asheville half was 7:20, I feel very good about this performance on trails, in the hot sun post-beers!
My favorite part of the day, however, was getting to see Will in race mode. We met after his first ankle surgery when he was already in the long, long recovery process and he hasn’t raced much since then. He did one 5K as part of the VCM relay and paced another for one of my athletes but otherwise just runs for fun. Without putting too much of him on the blog without his permission, I’ve always thought that he was nervous about racing again because it might fall short of his prior performances. I think Sunday was a great step for him to realize that you can reinvent yourself and race for fun and still be a “runner.”