There are a number of team formats for these events, but the 12-person open tends to draw some of the most competitive athletes (although, in 2010, a 6-man ultra team actually set a new course record while besting all 12-person teams!).
“It’s a 24-hour road trip slumber party with your 11 running buddies,” says Gary Curran, captain of Norm’s Maggots, who won five straight Blue Ridge Relays. “You get to race three times and be a cheerleader 33 times. It’s a month of racing crammed into one day. What’s not to like?”
Sally Spiegel, captain of the Ultra Girls, was apprehensive at her first relay five years ago: “The distance would be a challenge, and running at night scared the little girl in me. Five years later, I run three times as far as my first relay, I own more than one head-lamp and have had the pleasure of putting seven teams on the course. It has brought me great joy to meet runners from all walks of life with various running abilities.
Perhaps relay runner Bill Lawrence best summarized the experience: “When you see your teammates busting their ass at 2:30 in the morning up some mountain, you have to harden up and make yourself hurt.“
Teamwork is at the heart of the relay adventure. Some of my fondest memories are not of the running itself, but of the camaraderie that surrounds the weekend: sitting in an ice cold mountain creek after a hard leg of the relay, searching for a hotel at 2 a.m., and trying to run down my wife on the last leg into Asheville. She was on an opposing team and we were closing in fast!
Sleep deprivation can definitely play a role. I remember finding our hotel in the wee hours of the morning a few years back. We opened the drop box with the key in it, and proceeded to get settled in for a nap. About 45 minutes later, we awake to a “BAM, BAM, BAM” knocking at the door. One of my teammates opened the door, and there was a runner from another team whom we knew well. Words were exchanged, and I quickly jumped out of bed to find my teammate squared off, ready to throw punches.
It seemed we had somehow mixed up his team’s room key with ours and were in their room. But my teammate didn’t want to hear anything about moving: he was fixed on the bed and ready to fight for it. Eventually, we all calmed down and moved to the correct rooms. Only at a 24-hour running relay are you going to find two teams that know each other (heck, we run track workouts together) so low on sleep and blood glucose that they are ready to go to blows over any horizontal soft surface. Good times!