The 100 Mile Relay

I’ve been coaching “Learn to Run” clinics at work for a few years and while most participants never look beyond the five kilometres that I set as the goal of the two months training, there are a few that have used it as a stepping-stone to bigger events. A handful of my charges and running partners started training seriously in the fall of 2004 and on the Monday after the Bay, a few of them asked me what their next challenge was. Jokingly, I suggested the club’s eight person, one hundred mile relay as a group event. And darned if they didn’t jump at it too!

I not only get voted team captain, but I also have to fill out the rest of the roster with runners. I make a few emails to likely candidates and we get another request for runners sent out on the company fitness list. Darned if I didn’t fill up my eight-person roster in a mere two hours, with a few alternates to boot.

I bump into lunchtime running friend Jeff at his desk a few days later and he asks if there are any spots left on the team. I was sorry to disappoint him, but did suggest that he form his own team. We get a few people at neighboring desks chime in on the discussion and one of the new hires even volunteers on the spot. What’s there to do but hand over my list of alternates and suggest some more leads for him to follow up on? And darned if he doesn’t fill in a second slate of relay members in short order.

A week later, at the suggestion of team members, everyone is invited to join me on a training run though the wonders of Sulphur Springs Conservation area trails. I hold three training runs prior to the race and almost everyone on both teams make at least one lap.

During the intervening weeks a little good-natured posturing happened and as boys will be boys, a small wager was made. The side bet between Jeff and myself was for a pint of Guinness for the winning team captain. Let the trash talking begin!

Throughout the day the lead went back and forth between the teams, as did the good-natured trash talk. The best gibes came when the Devil team’s anchor runner was late and Team 214 captain, Jeff, volunteered to run for them (“Honest, I’ll run for you, /aside/ just not too fast”). We then found out that they didn’t have any head lamps or flash lights, the gear was with their missing runner. I had an extra lamp (just in case), and offered to lend it to them, but at a cost, a twenty-minute penalty to be exact.

After we got the laughter under control, Jeff asks, “Do want the batteries to go with it?”

By late afternoon my team was in last place with a deficit of fifty-two minutes and only three runners to go. So far, our team members had kept us in the race, and now our fastest runners would try to make up the difference.

I decided that if we were going to have a shot at anything but third place, I was going to run last. I know the trails intimately, I’ve run them at night the last two years pacing Monica Scholtz and I knew that the other anchors didn’t. When Dennis Swan, the anchor for the Devils finally showed up the first question was, “Is Collis running the last lap? Ah, crap!” I also know that Dennis can’t run hills as well as I do, so he’ll have to get a good lead and hope he can out distance me before I can reel him in.

The Devils last runner went out on the last lap at an elapsed race time of 14:19, Team 214 was next out at 14:21 (two minutes back) and I had to cool my heels until 14:33 (fourteen agonizing minutes) when our runner arrived.

I had decided that I was going out full bore, holding nothing back. We were already in last place, so, what was there to lose? The only thing I could do was hammer and try to catch the guys ahead of me. I knew they were probably slower, but I didn’t know by how much. I was hoping that they both knew I had home court advantage, would go out too hard and crash trying to build on their lead.

Every aid station and runner I passed gave me a different report on how much of a lead they had, so I stopped asking. I pass the fifteen kilometre marker in the cornfield and with only another five kilometres to go and I had still only overtaken 100-mile runners.

On the third of the course’s four big down hills and with only three kilometres to go, I catch my first relay runner on the Headwaters trail section heading down from the corn field. This section is in deep woods, pitch black, muddy and I was running at the limits of my lighting. As I pass Dennis, from the Devil team, I put the hammer down and try to leave him behind quickly, not giving him a chance to respond, hoping that he can’t respond. Praying that he can’t respond.

There are two problems with this strategy. First, I’d been running at the red line for the last seventeen kilometres. Secondly, I’m out running my lights, so I can’t see where I’m running, except in a general sort of way, no details, just the edges of the trail, sort of. Luckily I knew this section well, and the trail was fairly flat and smooth (I hoped). I didn’t even look back until I was sure that I couldn’t see Dennis’s lights behind me. Only then did I slow up a bit.

Less than five minutes later I catch the runner from Team 214. I wasn’t sure if it was him, so not wanting to startle a 100-mile runner, I call out from behind, “Don’t worry, I’m relay runner.”

As I draw even, he turns and says, “Darn right I have to worry, you’re the competition!”

Running shoulder to shoulder, before I pick up the pace again, I tell him, “You don’t have to worry about me any more, just Dennis behind you.”

Apparently, the aid stations were phoning in the progress of all the relay teams on that last lap so they knew that I was still six minutes behind at the third to last aid station, but thought I might have a chance at catching one of the teams.

I run the rest of the race as hard as I could, including one big, nasty up hill (ok, so I actually walked the Gulch) and hammered the last big down hill like I had the devil on my heels (well I did, didn’t I?) As I pull up the last little hill to the finish I scream out, “GUINNESS!” to let Jeff know he was going to have to pay up. As I got closer to the lights of the finish area, the support crew, relay team members and race personnel start cheering, helping me pick up the pace even further for a sprint through to the finish.

After 100 miles (160 kilometres), eight runners and over sixteen hours, I wouldn’t have guessed that it would come down to the last three kilometres of the race. Blood Sweat & Tears finished the 100 miles with a total time of 16:15, Team 214 finished one minute behind at 16:16, followed by Run With The Devil at 16:23.

Yes, I did end up lending the Devils my spare headlamp and as it turned out, we didn’t even need to invoke the time penalty.

By Mark G. Collis
July 1, 2006