Reach the Beach 2015 Recap

Another Reach the Beach Relay has come and gone. For those uninitiated, Reach the Beach is a 200 mile relay race starting at the Bretton Woods ski area in New Hampshire’s White Mountains and finishing at Hampton Beach State Park. We were a team of twelve runners with six in each of two vans. Each runner is responsible for running three separate legs, spaced evenly. In years past, the race started at Cannon Mountain, but this year moved to the original starting location of Bretton Woods. Here’s how it went.

New Job and Less RTB Responsibility

In prior years, I was the guy who would pick up food provisions for the vans, help pick up the vans, pay for gas, and help our captain with various logistical issues. Aside from wanting to help, I was the guy with the Corporate credit card. We were a team of coworkers. This year, as I no longer worked for the company that sponsors the team, I had a lot more time on my hands and was much less stressed the day before the race. I was also packed for RTB days before the race which is a new trend for me. I’m much fresher for race day packing a few days before the event. Go figure.

Vans. Never rent from them from Enterprise.

For the three years preceding this race, our team made van reservations MONTHS in advance from Enterprise. In each of the three years there was a problem. See, there are well over 500 teams (541 I’m told for 2015’s race). That means there are at least 1,000 vans that need to be rented in the New England area. As you can imagine there is a significant supply problem. In each of the prior three years, we’d call Enterprise days before the race and be told they oversold their supply and we wouldn’t get a van. Two of those years we were able to yell loud enough and get our vans. Last year, we got Chevy Suburbans as a consolation prize. This year, it was even worse. Enterprise refused to give us a van, didn’t offer a Suburban, and instead called around finding some vans for us…in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We ultimately rented with Adventure Rent a Car. The vans this year were very new 15 passenger Ford Transits. These vans had comfortable “bucket” style seats and were tall enough you could fully stand inside them. So far, I’d say these were the most comfortable vans we ever had. I’m grateful we had teammates that not only could pick these up way down south, but were able to return them Saturday evening when we were all tired. Enterprise certainly screwed our team and others by allowing rentals to be taken, thinking you have vans, and then pull the plug. Totally not cool. It’s not the stress you need before a 24-30 hour race.

Bretton Woods

As is typical with Reach the Beach, we leave early in the morning. This year we left around 5:30 am for Bretton Woods. It is amazing how long it takes to get 12 people’s stuff loaded into a van. Once we were loaded, we began the 90 minute or so trek north.

On the road again.
On the road again.

Bretton Woods originally was the starting location for Reach the Beach several years ago. For whatever reason, it was moved to Cannon Mountain. This year the start was moved back to Bretton Woods. Note, Bretton Woods was the starting location for runner 3’s first leg in the past. One thing that was immediately clear was that the parking at Bretton Woods was far better than at Cannon.

RTB 2015 Start – Bretton Woods
RTB 2015 Start – Bretton Woods

After both vans parked, our team walked up to the base lodge to start the checkin process. First was the mandatory safety equipment check. New this year required us to show 12 reflective vests. Previously you only needed to show four vests. We also had to show several blinking red lights and several headlamps. We knew something was up when we saw a massive line not moving ahead of us. Come to find out this was the orientation and safety meeting. Typically, only one representative from each van needed to be there. This year the athlete guide suggested having all team members there. This not only proved to be a bad idea, but wasted valuable space in the meeting room. Several teams missed their starts. After making it through the meeting, we shuttled one of our faster runners to stage three, which was to gather the bag with the bib numbers, race bracelet/baton, and t-shirts. Soon after, we sent off our first runner. The first two legs were at Bretton Woods and the third runner left the location as in prior years.

Mandatory safety orientation. Too many people?
Mandatory safety orientation. Too many people?
Decorations geeks understand
Decorations only geeks understand
Let's Go!
Let’s Go!

Transition 1 & Leg 1

I was in Van 2 as I was runner number 8. The first vehicle transition area for us was Attitash Mountain. So, off Van 2 went driving through some spectacular views in the White Mountains.

NH is a lovely place. Don't even think about cell phone coverage up here.
NH is a lovely place. Don’t even think about cell phone coverage up here.

Since we had a few hours to kill once we reached Attitash, we grabbed a bite to eat at the restaurant across the street. But this wasn’t before we found a smoothie guy. Apparently he works for Ragnar, the company that partnered with Reach the Beach to bring the race. Given how it was well into the 80’s, the frozen goodness certainly hit the spot.

Vehicle Transition Area - Attitash
Vehicle Transition Area – Attitash
Smoothies on an 85 degree day? Yes please.
Smoothies on an 85 degree day? Yes please.

For whatever reason, this year included an 11 mile leg for runner 6. Once she arrived, our van was “on” and off we went. Since I was the second runner up, I was already changed and ready to roll. You never know in Reach the Beach when you’ll hit a traffic jam, Port-o-John with no toilet paper, or have the van have a hard time getting parking quickly. You don’t spend much time at the transition areas so I’ve learned it’s easier to just get ready to run a full transition area before the runner in front of me.

Ready to start first leg
Ready to start first leg

My first leg was 7.3 miles and it was HOT. My leg started at Echo Lake State Park and ran down West Side Drive in North Conway for nearly the whole leg. I ran this road the opposite direction during the White Mountain Half Marathon and rode it a few times on my bike when vacationing in the area. I did carry 16 ounces of water on my waist and pounded a gel just before the leg started. This proved perfect. The course was pretty flat and mildly exposed to the sun. I started out very strong, but felt good through the full leg. Come to find out I set a new 10k PR during this leg…which was 1.1 miles longer than the 10k distance. I suppose I peaked properly for this event! The transition area in the past was the Hamm Ice Arena, but due to construction I had to run a little bit longer to a Ranger station. No biggie. Nailed this leg with an average pace of 7:35/mile and passed lots of other teams including that of one of our friends.

Leg 1 complete
Leg 1 complete

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Transition 2 & Leg 2

After our 12th runner finished his first leg, we stuck around to grab some dinner at a Reach the Beach tradition. Dinner at the Chequers Villa. This is a little Italian place right across the street from the major transition area. The food is ok and is better than stuff out of a bag, box, or fast food. With so many people in the area, service suffers a bit as it is clear the wait staff want to get people in and out as fast as possible.

A Reach the Beach Tradition
A Reach the Beach Tradition

After we ate some dinner, we got back in the van and drove to the next major transition area, Gilford High school. This was the “sleep stop.” In previous races, I’ve tried sleeping in the school, but found that to be creepily quiet until someone coughed, sneezed, or a phone alarm went off. Either way, I used to get terrible sleep. I elected to stay in the van, but all “benches” were taken, so my spot was the front passenger seat. It wasn’t the most comfortable thing, but I got an hour or two of sleep. Plenty during the race.

One difficult thing about Van 2 is that you are the van that runs during the whee hours of the night. This year was no exception. My second leg started around 2:30 am. This leg was interesting as runner 7 & 8 share the wild card leg. My friend Kevin had the first leg and me the second. His third leg would only be about 2.5 miles so we made him run until mile 8 and we switched off. Fortunate for me (and not so much for Kevin) he got all the hills. I had a few in my leg, but he took the brunt of it.

My second leg would only be about 5.5 miles and would be mostly downhill. I love running at night during Reach the Beach because the temperature is cool, the moon was out, and I could see lots of red blinking lights in front of me. I caught several of them. For this leg, I averaged 7:25/mile. Knowing I had a longer third leg than most in our van, I kept this leg quick, but didn’t kill myself. I didn’t run this leg with fluid, but did pound a gel before the leg started. I was wide awake and felt great. While it shouldn’t count due to the downhill, I had my second best 5k ever in the middle of this leg.

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Transition 3 & Leg 3

Our last major transition area was Sanborn Regional High School. This is a massive school that has lots of shade, showers, and an air conditioned gym. This transition area also has food…real food. After filling up on an egg sandwich and fruit, it was time to relax inside the gym for a while. I didn’t sleep, but just wanted to get off my feet.

Vehicle Transition Area - Sanborn Regional High School
Vehicle Transition Area – Sanborn Regional High School
This is what rest looks like
This is what rest looks like
Ready for our last legs
Ready for our last legs

By the time you get to your third leg in 24 hours, your legs typically are screaming at you. Interestingly, while my legs felt sore, they were far better than any other past Reach the Beach during my third leg. I totally chalk this up to my year of multisport training.

Off for Leg 3
Off for Leg 3

When the morning started at the high school it was probably low 50’s/upper 40’s. By the time my leg started, it was warming up fast. My last leg was 6.8 miles and had rolling hills. As with the first leg, I brought water with me and pounded a gel before I started. I caught and passed so many people I lost count. In the beginning, I had a guy in my sights a few yards in front of me. Then, he pulled away and eventually got a 200 meter gap on me. With two miles to go, I blew past him. I suppose his previous two legs caught up to him and he blew up hard. The good news was I still finished this with an average pace of 7:58/mile which beat my estimate.

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Reaching the Beach

Hampton Beach is always a welcome sight
Hampton Beach is always a welcome sight

Van 2 gets the privilege of actually parking at Hampton Beach State Park. After we parked, we found our teammates on the beach and waited for our runner #12. I ran this leg my first year and it has a brutal half mile finish on soft sand. Once our runner arrived, the 11 other teammates joined him and we all finished together. After gathering our medals and emptying our shoes of sand, it was time for our well-earned finish line meal. Boloco was back again and let me tell you this thing hit the spot.

The Beach Has Been Reached
The Beach Has Been Reached
Finish line picture
The crew

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Lessons Learned

This was my fourth Reach the Beach, so there isn’t much to learn, but here are a few things.

  • Taking Aleve every 12 hours worked very well
  • The Stick” is a great way to recover
  • Using the packing list a few days before the race was the way to go
  • A year of multisport training significantly reduced the accumulated fatigue during this race
  • Making sure I ate reasonable portions of easy to digest foods at least two hours before my leg was absolutely perfect. No Cramps!
  • I may not work for the company any more, but Dyn has some great people
  • Next year I need to acquire and run in a Northeast Multisport Singlet/Shirt

Until next year!