What I learned from running Reach the Beach, 208 miles across New Hampshire

RTB34A few Fridays ago, myself and 11 others showed up at Cannon Mountain. We were a motley crew, kicking off our impending 208 mile relay across New Hampshire, hoping to reach Hampton Beach sometime the next day. This event is called Reach the Beach and this past year, celebrated it's 15th Anniversary. Yes, people have been doing crazy things like this, long before I ever dreamed them possible.

The basic premise is that the course is divided into 36 legs and our team of 12 would each be responsible for running 3 legs. Each leg is of predetermined length, all varied over the course. Degrees of difficulty were also different, some uphill, some downhill. The weather, well no one had control over and it rained/poured during our first six legs.

Oh and the best part? There was over 460 teams that participated in NH's Reach the Beach this year. Yes. Lots of people think this is a great idea!

I've had some time since we finished to rest, stretch and make up for a calorie deficit. Along the way, a few lessons were learned. Sure, there's the obvious of bringing ziploc bags to store your stinky clothes so the whole van doesn't suffer. Or making sure you are running in dry sneaks + socks which is a must.

This is what else I learned:

1. Sports bra are great places to put things that you don't want to lose in a crowded van.

Heck, we didn't even have a van. We were using our team's runner #12, Saturn SUV. It sat 8 people. While we were just 6, we had enough stuff for you to think we were hoarders. Imagine 3 running outfits for each person, food and snacks to last 30+ hours, sneakers for 6, sleeping bags and tents. Oh, and a first aid kit, safety vests and blinky lights for everyone!

I don't know if everyone figured this out, but I created a space in the car where I kept my most important items (chapstick, sunglasses, running gu + my inhaler.) This was, when I was in my pre-panic mode of "where'd--put-that-which-I-must-have-BEFORE-I-run?" golden so I could find what I was looking for.

Putting socks, keys and sunglasses in my sports bra was also ideal. Nothing got lost, easy access and it eased my mind to know that I always had the essentials on me, literally.

Lesson learned? Simplify and take only what you need. (And then keep it in a safe place.)

RTB32. Teamwork.

Teamwork makes the dream work as my friend Nick Mirabello says. Our team of 12 people ran 208 miles from Cannon Mtn to Hampton Beach. We couldn't have done it without each other, nor would I have wanted to. From the moment my friend Caitlin and I decided to organize our own team for RTB 2013, we worked on building a team. We recruited friends, strangers, friends of strangers. Come game day, even though I didn't know everyone on our team, we were all united and committed in our one goal. To Reach the Beach.

There were over 450 teams of people running Reach the Beach this year. Team sizes ranged from 4 - 12 people/team. Every team had at least one van, most had two. Add in drivers for the van, spectators, community members, volunteers, police and safety officials, RTB official staff and that's a helluva lot of people cheering you on.

Beyond our team of 12, I felt as if everyone running RTB 2013 was on the same team. From the moment we started running at 10am on Friday to the moment we crossed the finish line at 4:40 on Saturday afternoon, the cheering, the high fives, the thumbs up, the "youcandoit!!!", the "you'realmosttherelookinggreat!" cheers never. ever. ever. let up. They went through the night and into the wee hours of the morning.

If I wasn't running or driving, I was hanging out of the window cheering on every single person our van drove by. Didn't matter if they were on my team or not. We were all in this together.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention our team name, Team 121 Toes (and no, I'm NOT going to tell you the inspiration behind the name.) I've never been a prouder member of any team. Our whole focus was helping to carry our entire team across the finish line in Hampton. If a team member needed water, they got water. If a team member needed encouragement, they got it. If a team member needed a foot massage, done. If a team member needed a pb + honey sandwich, they got it. If a team member wanted company on their late night run up a hill, they got it. No questions asked. I was a proud mama hen :)

Lesson learned? Life, anything, is way more fun when you've joined up with others.  Teamwork really does makes the dream work.

RTB213. Smile at Strangers

In the sea of people running and supporting Reach the Beach, 99.9998% of them are strangers. We were just our team of 12 in a sea of thousands of people. Actually, our two vans rarely saw each other. Only at a few transition zones between legs 6+7, 12+13, 18+19 and 30+31 did our paths cross. When it did, it was sometimes just for a few moments. So really, we were our team of 6.

Everywhere we looked, except for the one time our van got food in Conway, we were surrounded by like minded, kindred spirits of crazy people who also thought running 208 miles over two days was a good idea...or at least were up for the challenge. (And even at that restaurant in Conway we saw fellow RTBers, as evidenced by what they were wearing and moving in a pack of 6.)

The connections were immediate. Be it the people in the van you parked next to at the transition zones between each running leg. Or the person who so nicely held the port-a-potty door for you at 2am. Or the team that was hopscotching me on my first 9 mile run. There were no frowns or sad faces. Smiles galore. And every smile sent a big wave of energy into my body to take that next step when I thought "what the hell am I doing? This was the worst idea ever. Ugh. I hate hills."

But then I'd see a stranger, smiling at me. And I'd think "This is awesome! I'm totally doing this again next year."

Lesson learned? Smile at strangers. It makes the journey a lot more pleasant.

RTB24. Tell people what you are up to. Share your goals and dreams

Prior to running Reach the Beach, I went all out gangbusters telling everyone and anyone who would listen, what I was up to. Most of the time the responses I got were raised eyebrows and a response that went something like this:

"What exactly are you doing?"

" You're not running at night are you?"

"Wait, How long do you run for?"

"You're starting where and running to where?"

I posted about my impending adventures all over Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Yes, I even took selfies while running and was live posting the event (to the extent that the northern NH AT&T coverage map would let me.) Yes, I was texting people while running thanks to Siri, thanking them for their messages of encouragement. I was telling people what time I was running so they could cheer me on in spirit. I was texting people when I finished my late night leg so they knew I was safe.

Even now, over a week after RTB has ended, people are still asking me all about it, wanting to know all the details and adventures that happened. Even those that weren't actually running with us, were there in spirit. It was fun to have them as a honorary member of our team.

And I couldn't not mention my parents. Not only do they think I'm awesome on a daily basis BUT they followed us...for the entire course. They were at the start and ending of each of my three legs and those of my dear dear friend Caitlin. They were there at ungodly hours, in the rain, in the dark, at night and in the morning. They schlepped from down by the Cape north to Franconia Notch and then zigzagged south thru NH to Hampton. Mom and Dad - I love you.

IMG_0054Lesson learned? By sharing hopes and dreams with others, you gain the collective encouragement of everyone you tell.

5. You need a plan.

This one is pretty self-explanatory. We started running at Cannon Mtn at 10am on Friday morning. We finished running around 4:40pm on Saturday afternoon at Hampton Beach. Reach the Beach covers 208 miles. There were 12 people on our team in two separate vehicles.  We never stopped running. Somehow between running legs, we had to eat, sleep (riiiiiight), stretch, rest and keep moving forward to meet the next runner at the transition zone as they finished their leg and the next runner began. We had to coordinate timing between runners of vans 1 and 2 so that when van 2 finished leg #12, van #1 was there for the next runner to start running leg #13.

Ya with me or did I already lose you?

Reach the Beach has lots of moving parts to it - literally and figuratively.

Lesson learned? You gotta have a plan. No ifs, ands or buts about it.

JV on lst leg6. Everyone is on a different journey. Don't compare yourself.

When I set out on my first leg around 11am on Friday, I was staring down a stretch of 9 or so beautiful, scenic miles in northern NH. It was kinda foggy and misty out, threatening to rain (which it did.) I was running along, big smile on my face, super happy and riding high.

And then I got passed. By this guy who looked like a runner, ya know what I mean? Tall, thin, short running shorts, cross country tank and cranking along around a 6 minute mile. We cheered each other on and soon, he was a spot on the horizon.

And then I got passed again. Oh, and again.

The first time it happened, well, I don't know how to describe what I was feeling. I wasn't mad  at myself. It was more like "Rats. It sucks to be passed."

And then I saw a young woman up ahead who was walking up this looong, steadily climbing hill. I set my sights on her to keep me moving up the hill. When I reached her, she didn't seem too happy (understandable.) Turns out she had a cramp of sorts so was walking it off.

I cheered her on and offered to run with her for a bit. She perked up at the encouragement and so we matched steps for a minute or two, up this hill, in the drizzly rain. But then she hung back a bit, said thanks and wished me luck. I continue trucking up this hill, turning back every so often to cheer for her.

It was then that I realized, while we all may be on the same journey, we are all at different places on this journey.

For all I know, her team could have started two hours before ours. Or maybe they started after us. Doesn't matter. And really who cares?

No point in comparing myself to her or anyone else who passes me. While I may know where they are geographically at that point in their journey, I really have no idea where they are.

Lesson learned? Don't compare yourself to others. We're all at different spots on the same journey.