The grueling but scenic course covers some of the most beautiful countryside in the United States, winding through coves and small towns, past Christmas tree farms and rivers, along the Blue Ridge Parkway, while rising some 12,000 feet in elevation and falling some 15,000 feet.
“It’s a chance to see some absolutely gorgeous backcountry,” said Nicole Wilhelm, an art teacher from Canton and van driver for the Haywood Harriers team from Haywood County.
There are 36 legs in all ranging from 1.9 miles to 10 miles with varying degrees of difficulty from “easy” to the extra steep “mountain goat hard.”
The race raised nearly $7,000 for the Avon Foundation and its Need For Speed fundraiser that helps fight for victims of domestic abuse.
This year’s teams included North Carolina groups from Asheville, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Greensboro, Chapel Hill, Durham and Cary as well as team members representing Georgia, Alabama, Ohio, Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee and as far away as California. They came with amusing monikers like “Dirty Dozen,” “Team Vas-O-Lean.” “Running with the Devil,” “The Amazing Pace,” and “seejanerun.” Some came with the standard 12 runners, each with three legs to run an estimated 16.6 miles apiece. Other teams only brought four or six members with each runner having to pace out six to nine legs or an average of 33 to 50 miles.
Among the local Western North Carolina teams, Asheville’s “Norm’s Maggots” won the relay for the third straight year with a time just over 23 hours and three minutes and an average pace of 6:15 minutes per mile. “Murphy’s Law” from Cherokee County won the masters division finishing in 26 hours and 52 minutes with an average pace of 7:45 minutes per mile. “Team Hope” from Asheville came in second in the mixed division (men and women on a single team) with a time of 27 hours and 24 minutes and a pace just under 8 minutes per mile. The Haywood Harriers finished 25th overall out of 47 teams with a time of 29 hours and 30 seconds and an average pace of 8:30 minutes per mile.
Teams began at the Grayson Highlands State Park in southwestern Virginia in a staggered start with slower-paced teams starting early in the morning and faster teams starting several hours later. The goal was for most of the teams to finish at about the same time. Runners endured long hill climbs, winding paved and gravel roads, the occasional turf-defending growling dog, highway traffic, lack of sleep, soreness, and running at all hours of the day and night as they drove in vans from one exchange zone to the next. The exchange zones, where one runner would pass of his relay bracelet to the next runner, were often in the parking lots of churches and fire departments where dozens of volunteers set up stations to welcome runners and help with directions. At one exchange zone, the local church opened its doors for weary runners to sleep among the pews and then welcomed visitors with a pancake and sausage breakfast.
Teams slept, stretched and loaded up on Gatorade, bagels, pasta salads, trail mix and energy bars and snacks between runs. Jeff Trantham of Candler and a member of the Haywood Harriers said a little caffeine boost from Red Bull and coffee helped him get through those long hours — especially when it came to running the 10-miler up to Grandfather Mountain this year.
Various teams blogged about their stories of getting lost on the course, pushing themselves through the fatigue and laughing their way through living in cramped quarters with fellow sweaty, smelly runners for a few days.
So why subject yourself to such an exhausting endurance race?
For Lori Bristle, a nurse from Clyde and two-time member of the Haywood Harriers, it was a chance to prove something to herself.
“As a Type 1 diabetic, I do this to prove that nothing is out of reach,” she said.
For more information about next year’s race Sept. 5-6, go to www.blueridgerelay.com.