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Not just another long run: Reach the Beach Relay

Posted by Chrissy Horan  September 16, 2013 04:00 AM

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“You did what this weekend?”

That was the response I received more than once, after describing the race I ran this weekend, the Reach the Beach Relay in New Hampshire. I have run Reach the Beach almost every year since 2008 (I was injured in 2009) and look forward to it each fall.

The race is 200 miles long, beginning at Cannon Mountain and finishing at Hampton Beach. The course is broken up into 36 “legs”, or segments. Runners participate as teams of 6-12, typically rotating through the team 3-6 times to cover the course. This year, teams completed the race in 20-36 hours. Here's my teammate, Dale, getting ready at the start. RTB Start

Among runners, distance team relay races are have been gaining in popularity over the last several years. However, each year I run this race, I get questions from my family and friends who are not runners, and just don’t understand how it works. Here is my attempt to answer the questions I have been asked about this race.

How far did you run?
The race covered about 200 miles, so for an average team of 12 runners, each runner covered about 16 miles. However, distance ranged based on the combination of “legs” each person ran. Some teams chose to have only 6 runners, in which case the distance each runner covered was twice as far. This year, I ran 17.5 miles. I won’t lie; I strategically selected these particular legs because 1) I knew the distance was manageable for me to run hard and (hopefully) avoid injury and 2) the distance of each leg decreased from my 1st to 3rd run. I was fresh for my longest run and when I was most tired, I only had a 5K left.

What did you do when you were not running?
Each team had 1-2 vans that transported the runners and their gear along the course. After a runner started her leg, our van drove ahead along the course to the next Transition Area (TA), sometimes stopping along the course to provide the active runner with water, or to make sure the runner didn’t get lost. Although the course was well marked with signs, sometimes, especially at night, runners could miss a turn.

When all the runners in our van finished, we had 5-6 hours “off” to do whatever we liked, while runners from our second van ran their legs. Usually this included eating, sleeping and driving ahead to the next TA where we would meet the 2nd van.

So, you had to run at night?
Yes, everyone on our team had at least 1 night run. My second run started at 3:00am. Just staying awake for that was a challenge for me, not to mention being ready to run. Runners must all wear reflective vests, lights clipped to their front and back and have a headlamp or flashlight with them. As a local resident told me, we looked like running Christmas trees, decorated with lights. Even the vans got in the spirit.


When/where did you sleep?
Whenever I could, wherever I could. I got a couple hours of sleep while our 2nd van is running in the early morning hours. I slept in our 15-passenger van, sprawled out on one of the benches. However, others runners found a spot for their sleeping bag in the grass. At Bear Brook State Park, New Balance sponsored “Tent City”, tents set up for runners to grab a few hours of shut eye.

Tent City 2

When/what did you eat?
For me, this has always been one of the biggest challenges of the race, as I have a bit of a fickle stomach when running. I tried to stick to small, plain snacks, with the exception of a real dinner, a stop at Flatbread Pizza in Conway, NH. I also packed lots of water. My first year running this race was a warm one, and during her third run, thirsty and sick of Gatorade, my teammate resorted to drinking the water from melted ice in our cooler because we ran out of bottled water. I learned my lesson quickly after that; there would be no drinking cooler water for me, thanks.

The timing of meals is important too though, and eating too much or too close to a run can be bad news. Which leads to the next question…

What did you do when you had to use the bathroom? Thumbnail image for Port-o-potties
Not surprising to anyone who has ever run a road race, there are port-o-potties along the course at each TA. Unlike any road race, these port-o-potties are pretty much the only “bathrooms” the runners have access to for 20-36 hours. I’ll keep it clean here, but this can present its challenges. At least 1 TA that my van stopped at also offered use of the school locker rooms and for a small donation, use of their showers. It was possibly the best $5 I have spent in a while.

While I doubt my responses convinced any of my non-runner friends to sign up next year, I have plenty of runner friends who continue to come back year after year. The course is challenging, yet beautiful and unique, covering both mountains and the beach. The time spent with a team offers the chance to bond like nothing I have experienced since playing sports in college. The inside jokes are endless. For my team, like several others, we ran to raise money for the Alzheimer's Association, one of the race's official charity partners.

Regardless of finishing time or running experience, runners are proud, as individuals and of their team, when they finally reach the beach.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

     Chrissy Horan has been running around Boston and nearby neighborhoods since 2000. An athlete through high school and college, she has found the running community in Boston to More »

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