2016 Reach the Beach 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. Here’s the 2016 Reach the Beach recap.

New Team & Week Of

In 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 I ran with my  former employer Dyn. Through a job change, some new Dyn corporate policy, and my original race budget for 2016, it looked like I was going to be skipping the 2016 Reach the Beach. Then, I was invited to join Team Maddie Strong and could not pass up the opportunity. Turns out I was the only male on the team. I also participated on a fundraising team for the Timberman 70.3 for the same cause. One teammate I participate in triathlons with, another was on the Dyn team last year, and one other went to school with my wife. The rest of the women are friends or otherwise connected to the Team’s captain, Maddie’s mom. It would turn out to be a really fun team.

The week prior to Reach the Beach I had what has thus far been the craziest week of business travel yet. I left my house at 4:30 am on Sunday, September 11th for Boston Logan Airport. I was to fly to San Diego. Sunday evening through Tuesday I was at a business conference. I’d then get on a plane and take the red-eye to New York JFK airport and then a short flight back to Boston Wednesday morning. Soon after landing, I’d get back on a plane in Boston and fly to Chicago. After landing in Chicago, we’d drive three hours or so to a prospect of ours. Thursday we’d make the drive back to Chicago and get me back to Boston Logan Airport at midnight on Friday (day of Reach the Beach).

Game Day

My plan was to head north, change at a rest area in Salem and chill out until I needed to meet my teammates and van. It worked out pretty well (I was at a rest area from 1-2 am). I then met one teammate at her parents’ house where the van would pick us up at 3 am. From there we’d grab our other teammates at a park and ride in Hooksett and then continue north to Bretton Woods.

When we arrived the first thing I notice was ALL the branding was now Ragnar. A few years ago, Reach the Beach partnered with Ragnar but we all thought it was only time before Ragnar totally took it over. We noticed all new signage and a change to the title sponsor from New Balance to Reebok. We also noticed a requirement to provide volunteers or pay a fine. I was curious what other changes Ragnar was going to make.

The steps to get your teams number packet were the same:

  • Show safety gear
  • Sit through safety briefing
  • Get number packet
  • Get team photo taken

The first and immediate change (aside from signage and branding) was the “safety briefing.” Formerly, the safety briefing was conducted by a person. It was usually the same woman each year and was quite useful. This year, there was an extremely bright LED panel displaying a Ragnar produced video. Sure, it was funny, but half of the content wasn’t applicable to this race and honestly, provided no specificity about the race. The only human talking after the video was telling us all the things that weren’t applicable from the video we just watched or different rules. For that, we had to read the race rules ourselves. To be perfectly candid, this was a complete waste of time.

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An extremely bright video board for a safety briefing

After the safety briefing, it was upstairs to grab our number packet and divide up the goodie bag between vans. From there, it was outside to get our first runner ready to head out for her leg.

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Some new signage
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Runner 1 had to run to the top of that. 1,000 vertical feet in 1 mile.
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It was really cold at 5:15 am

At the start line I also ran into a friend Andrea and several of my old Dyn teammates who were starting 15 minutes before we were. Turns out we’d be seeing quite a bit of the Dyn team throughout the race as they were running similar paces to us.

Leg 1

I was runner #3. In fact, I was runner #3 in 2013‘s edition of the race. This leg was the same as it was in the 2013 race so I knew exactly what to expect. My target pace was 8:00 per mile. My challenge going into this race was I hadn’t trained for anything faster than this pace and deliberately wanted to hold back as I knew I still had an 8.3 and an 8.9 mile leg to go. Much like my triathlon swim, I was willing to sacrifice crushing the first leg at the detriment of the second two legs. It was also rather cool for this morning leg. I’d assume it was no more than 50 degrees when I started, but I’ve learned too many times to NOT overdress. My rule is take what you think you should wear and remove a layer.

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Half mile into the race. Feel a cramp coming on.

As soon as I received the slap bracelet (the baton) from runner #2, I was off. I started off running up a short hill and then down the back side to Route 302. Route 302 is beautiful. It runs right past the Mount Washington Grand hotel.

Always pretty
Always pretty

As I continued running up the hill, I felt a strong side stitch cramp coming on my right side. Crap, a cramp on leg 1. This was going to be a LONG Reach the Beach. I’m fairly certain this cramp was caused as I took off from the start line like a cannon with limited to no warmup. You’d think I know better by now. In any event, I slogged up the hill to the finish and was still surprised I finished with an average pace of 7:59/mile which was more or less my time goal. Without the side cramp, I’m fairly certain I could have gone 7:30/mile, but kept the pace civil since I was doing everything I could to keep the cramp from getting worse.

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Handoff!
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It’s either cold out or I worked the engine too hard and it’s overheating

After my leg, my friend Mia handed me a #ItsTheNerve which was the beta testing brand for Team Hotshot. I’ve only used this product once and it worked quite well to keep a cramp from coming on. Pretty close to immediately, the cramp was gone. Turns out, Mia had two more of these things and doesn’t use them. They would turn out to be a Godsend during this Reach the Beach.

My Savior
My Cramp Savior

Hotshots Consumed = 1

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Transitions Before Leg 2

After my leg was done and stopped smoking when outside, it was time to continue the trek following our runner on the road. One of the next transition areas was at this little lake. I love it as it’s shallow, peaceful, and usually has ducks in it. This day was no exception.

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What’s up duck?
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The scenery you find in NH is often surprising
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Being in Van 1 means you get to see the most beautiful part of the state for longer

Runner #6 had the longest leg of all which was nearly 11 miles. While we waited for her to arrive, we ran into the Dyn team. They arrived 15-20 minutes before our runner did. Unfortunately for them, their runner arrived before 10:45 which meant the race held them at this transition until that time. No runners were to leave before this time which was likely due to needing more time to setup later transition areas as well as restrictions at some of the schools later in the day since kids would still be in classes.

Soon our runner was in and we handed off to Van 2.

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We made it to Attitash

Our van would be impacted by a different time cutoff. Our next major transition area was Kenneth Brett School in Tamworth. This transition would not accept any vans until 4 pm yet we done and looking for a place to go (and eat) around 11 am. Our first thought was heading to the restaurant right across from the school (The Chequers Villa). Little did I know that they also didn’t open until 4 pm. So once we got there, we were looking for a new place to eat. We found a lovely little diner named Rosie’s Restaurant. I ordered an egg omelet and it was fantastic. It wasn’t greasy and had just enough food. The waitress was hustling and I’d go so far to say that depending on when your van hits the area, I’d totally recommend the place. The only issue was they would only take cash. I always have trouble with this as a former accountant and making it easier for your patrons to pay you. That, and you know, the paper trail of sales for the tax man.

After we were done eating, and per the guidance in the race bible, we went to White Lake State park to hang out. So you are telling me that I can go to one of my favorite places in the world to hang out for a few hours with friends and teammates? Yes please!

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This is the view from where I took a nap

Also at White Lake was the Dyn team Van #1. We’d be playing hopscotch with them all day.

Leg 2

My second leg would be 8.3 miles and was at night. It was much different than the leg I completed in 2013 which was less than 5 miles. My time goal for this leg was to average an 8:30 mile. I knew the route looked quite rolling which would turn out to be perfect for me.

I was originally a bit worried that by this leg I was going to be so tired due to sleep deprivation that I’d barely make it through it. But since I was able to relax at White Lake State Park earlier in the day I was surprisingly refreshed. I also realized that since this leg was going to start a little after 7 pm, it was around the time I normally do my runs and rides, so it would likely feel really natural to me. As I was getting ready for my leg, I felt that side stitch feel like it was coming back on. So, 10 minutes before our runner was expected to arrive, I drank another Hotshot in hopes it would hold off the cramp I had earlier.

Hotshots Consumed = 2

It was rather cool at night, but a bit warmer than my first leg. As I started out I looked at my watch and realized I was running 8:00-8:30/mile up the hills and 6:00-6:30/mile down the hills. Damn…this was feeling good and was going quick. I was passing person after person. My side stitch was also nowhere to be found. Hot damn, the Hotshots work.

Mile after mile I felt great. I took a gel at mile 2.5 and 5 and ran with my Nathan Hydration Race Vest filled with Nuun. I drank as often as I could and felt awesome, though I started to feel a little fatigued with 2 miles left, but still muscled through it. Over the course of 8.3 miles I passed 27 people. When I finally handed off the baton to the next runner I realized that I had absolutely crushed my projected average pace by 40 seconds per mile. It felt awesome but started wondering how much damage did I just do to my last leg which would be the hilliest and longest of all.

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I’m a human glow stick

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Transition 2

After our last runner finished at Gilford High School, it was time to head out our next major transition area which was Bear Brook State Park. After the hour or so ride from Gilford to Allenstown, we were able to get sleep. I setup my camping pad and my sleeping bag with an alarm for 4:30 am and promptly passed out.

I think I got close to 2.5 hours sleep. The air was cool and we found a nice quiet spot. Once the alarm went off, it was time to get our runner ready. As we all woke up, we started to feel that accumulated fatigue (and sleep deprivation). I still felt that nagging side stitch.

Leg 3

When I arrived at the transition right before my last leg, I started to realize something. My imagination seemed to not be playing with me. Every transition seemed to have just a few less Port-o-Johns as in prior years. The wait lines were longer than they ever had. The bank of the restrooms seemed smaller. I could just be making this up, but it seemed like Ragnar was putting the squeeze on the bathrooms too. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking like these were hour long waits, but they were 10-15 minutes. When you sometimes only have mere minutes to get in a restroom before your runner arrives, you don’t need that stress. Sure, there was an “on deck” reserved unit, but there were 7 of us in line indicating that the restroom lines seemed too long. After the others in the non-“on deck” line graciously allowed us to cut their spot it was off to the transition line. Approximately 10 minutes before our runner arrived, I took the last Hotshot.

Hotshots Consumed = 3

My last leg was very similar to the one I completed in 2013. I knew there was a short downhill and then a series of tough uphills starting around mile 3. I had hoped that I left enough gas in the tank for this leg, but was curious how the side cramping and legs would hold up. Before the event, I set my time goal at 8:45 per mile based on my long runs at the time and how I thought I’d handle the accumulated fatigue.

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Not as many kills but still felt pretty strong
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Yup, I caught him

The plan for this leg was to take the first three miles easy enough that I’d have plenty of gas in the tank for the last five. The first three were flat to downhill so I maintained a pace around 8:00 per mile. Once the hills set in, I just tried to run them as strong and comfortable as I could. I took a gel at mile 2.75 and 5.5. I also had my Nathan Hydration Race Vest filled with Nuun. This stuff worked well for me in the past so I went with it again.

Pacing generally went well and I was surprised how strong I was on the hills all things considered. I passed 7 people on this leg and it was much more spread out than the overnight run. The last two miles hurt, but what’d you expect? I was certainly happy to hand the baton off one last time and call my running portion of this year’s Reach the Beach done.

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Coming into the finish.
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Ready to hand off the baton. Legs are cooked.

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Last of Van 1 Legs & Finish

As we hit a few more of the transition areas I still kept thinking to myself that there just felt like a few less Port-o-Johns than there were in years’ past. I can’t prove it and don’t have any hard data, but there were either lots more teams and not enough toilets to go around or there were a few less at some transitions. I wondered if Ragnar took a calculated gamble that people would be willing to wait just a little longer if they reduced the counts by some amount. It’s purely speculation however.

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Were there more or less? I don’t know.

The annoyance of the Port-o-Johns aside, we eventually finished all our legs and made it to Hampton Beach State Park where we’d grab a meal and wait for the other van.

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Ah, I can’t wait for my Boloco bowl. Let’s go get one…wait, what the hell? Boloco was gone. We had a new food vendor. What the heck is that they are serving?

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A kale and quinoa salad? Seriously?

I want to know who thought it was a good idea to serve runners who just completed 200 miles running, didn’t sleep, and cramped in a van a freaking salad. For what it was, it was tasty and don’t blame the food vendor at all, but Ragnar, you totally blew it on this one. You had EVERYONE returning looking forward to their Boloco bowls. These were lettuce, rice, beans, chicken, steak, salsa, and cheese bowls. Not a salad. I cannot emphasize how let down we all were. I don’t know why they decided to pull Boloco (probably a profit motive), but do not, I repeat, do not, serve a kale salad next year.

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Finish line excitement

After our horribly disappointing meal (and my attempt at seeking out something that was horribly unhealthy to compensate), we went down to the beach to meet the rest of our team and wait for Maddie’s mom (our 12th runner). The wind was quite strong down at the beach and those flags you see in the pictures acted like sails and pulled down the metal barriers. I went up to the finish line to get a Ragnar staff member to fix them.

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This stretch felt like 100 miles to run up

When Maddie’s mom Kathy arrived, we’d have to run a small portion of the beach and up into the finishing chute. Based on past experience, I knew this was going to hurt after three legs. While waiting though, we got a chance to meet Maddie, our inspiration for this team and my prior fundraiser. Maddie is quite a special and courageous young woman. This day was also a special day for her medically and we were glad to be a part of it.

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Team gathering, meeting Maddie, and waiting for her mom

Once our last runner arrived, it was up the beach and through the ridiculously oversized finishing arch to collect our medals.

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Finish line taller than my house
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“Yup, that beach run sucked”
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Never forgetting who we ran for

When we finished and gathered everyone for pictures, I put my medal around Maddie’s neck. I wanted to make sure she got a medal (and also my T-Shirt) from the race. She’s the whole reason I ran this race. I didn’t need to add another T-shirt or medal to the collection just to hang on a wall or stick in a drawer. I wanted her to have something to remember that there was a team of people out there who don’t know her, but support her and her family. This race was as much for her as it was her family and friends who have supported her throughout her treatments and diagnosis. Most of my training this year was inspired by this young woman and it culminated with this race. I can’t think of a better place for a medal and T-shirt to go to.

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It’s official. We made it.
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The fearless team and our inspiration

Sadly, once we all finished up, it was time to pack up and head home to conclude the race. We had to clean off the van windows and clean up our stuff. I had suggested a few of us to return our van that night instead of the putting it on our team captain for the following day. It turns out I still couldn’t escape van drama (this time at National). Turns out National has Enterprise in its family of companies so I suppose I continued the streak.

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Van decorations
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Rocking the cancer awareness ribbon
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Isn’t he cute?

Lessons Learned

Ok. Time for my famous lessons learned. This is my place to remind myself what worked or didn’t for the next time I do the race.

  • Nutrition was a bit different this year from what I drank to what I ate.
    • I took Gu gels and didn’t use Clif Bloks
    • I didn’t touch a Clif Bar but used Larabar instead (Cherry Pie)
    • No huge carb meal, but eggs worked pretty well
    • Pretzles and *gasp* Pop Tarts in the van made for easy to digest meals
    • Chocolate milk after each leg
  • Nuun tablets were spot on for nutrition while running
  • Still convinced multisport training made this possible
  • Hotshot drinks absolutely, 100%, freaking worked to keep cramps away. Blown away…
  • I can run rather well on shockingly small amounts of sleep
  • Being the sole male on an otherwise female team is interesting. Vans still get absolutely destroyed just as mostly male teams do. But, the vans smell nicer (partially due to Ragnar providing air fresheners for the vans)

Ragnar’s Changes to 2016 Reach the Beach

I added this section because I, and many others I chatted with who had done this race for years, had some pretty strong thoughts on what it appeared Ragnar was doing with this race compared to years past. This was my first race under the Ragnar brand. You need to keep in mind it was a race taken over by Ragnar from a different owner/management company. I loved Reach the Beach. It was the single race that kicked off a multi-year journey to get back in shape. I’ve lost close to 40 pounds since that original race in 2012. So, I have some very strong reactions when I see a race that I absolutely love to participate in and use as my last race of the season change. Here’s the things I think Ragnar does really well based on my observations:

  • Bring a huge brand to an otherwise “unknown” relay race
  • More marketing muscle
  • Better signage at the start and finish lines
  • Better parking control on exactly where a spot was
  • Significantly more merchandise available (albeit at higher cost)
  • Kept nearly all of the transitions and had the same volunteer organizations manning them as in prior years. These also sold food in the middle of the night which was supremely helpful knowing where they’d still be.
  • Better communication pre race

What struck me as a change not necessarily for the better since Ragnar took over:

  • Forcing teams to provide volunteers or pay a fee
  • Poor choice for finish line meal
  • What appeared to be less Port-o-Johns at some transitions than in years prior
  • New transition parking areas that while accommodating significantly more vans (relieving significant congestion last year) sometimes resulted in a long walk to transition. Volunteers would not let vans drop runners close to the finish of the transition area which led to some stress for the on-deck runner and then the team who had to high tail it out to support that runner
  • Some volunteers seemed less friendly or knowledgable than in prior years. Not sure if this is partially related to the mandated volunteerism
  • Changing the title sponsor from New England based running powerhouse New Balance to Reebok. Reebok is also a New England company, but seems to have a poor following with runners. They do have a great following with Crossfit. It just doesn’t feel like the right partnership.

So with that all said, Ragnar means change for Reach the Beach. Looking back I can’t decide whether this was more nitpicking, not wanting the old race to change, or seeing a huge company (similar to Ironman) come into a race and start to stamp it’s changes all over it to make more money. We’ll see how this all shakes out as Ragnar makes it their own race and collects surveys from participants.

With that, I don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t have fun. I had a blast. It was still a very well run race that was 95% the same as in prior years. My runs were great, the teammates were even better, and it is still one of my favorite races. Change is hard when you expect one thing and see another. Who knows, we’ll see where the race goes from here. It’s not like Ragnar doesn’t have a cult following so maybe they just need time to figure out what works for their brand and this race. I can tell you that this was the 18th year the event was run so I think the former race directors had a pretty good idea.

With that, thanks for reading! 2016 Reach the Beach was a success.