American Odyssey Relay Race Report

I thought I better go ahead and start this report before I forgot too many of the details.  I signed up for the relay in June 2008, so I’ve been anticipating this relay for almost a year, I almost backed out a few months ago and I’m so glad I didn’t because it was an amazing experience I will not soon forget!

I tried to pack light and the weather looked a little warm so I had everything I needed except 1 thing – long pants for when it was cold at night, my legs were cold.  Let me start back on Thursday when I arrived at BWI airport in Baltimore, my duty was to pick up Van #2,  wait until around 6:30 pm for Natalie and Jeff who were flying in from Boston after seeing Bruce Springsteen the night before and then the 4 of us would pick up Matt and Dan who drove in from New Jersey, it was flawless, almost, we did miss the exit and had to loop back to pick up Matt and Dan, but it wasn’t our fault.

With a mini-van full we headed to Gettysburg, PA, the start of the Relay.  The route was slow going since most of it was through small towns and 2 lane roads, we did cross the Mason-Dixon Line, cool.  The countryside was beautiful, the temperatures cool, 50ish.  We arrived at the host hotel, Wyndam around 8:15pm, in time for the start of the Director’s meeting which we promptly ditched for some dinner at Ruby Tuesday’s since none of us had eaten.

Once we got back to the Wyndam we had a group meeting with Van #1, lots of meet and greet, t-shirt passing, 3 in all, last minute instructions, questions, answers, people almost passing out from the long day of travel and crossing multiple time zones.  We received our official binder with all our legs, phone numbers, park passes, emergency contacts and who knows what else.  We were instructed to drop off Matt, Dan, Natalie and Jeff at the Holiday Inn and then wait for the other Jeff in Van #1 to gather the girls going with me to the Hilton Garden Inn, we waited and waited and come to find out they had dropped off the girls….oh well, it’s a short drive, thank goodness, we were pooped.

At my hotel we had 2 rooms, one room for Karen, Taryn and Katie and the other was me, Juliet and Jaqualin, the 3 of us were ready to go to bed, it was almost midnight and we had to be at the start of the race at 6:00am, but for us we could come back to the hotel, take showers, eat breakfast or nap since we were in van 2 our actual run wasn’t going to start until around 1pm.  We had to get to the start an hour early in order to decorate the vans, they looked great, Ann Marie was in charge of decorations and she did a bang up job, no other team van looked better, we still don’t know who won the best decorated van.  Here’s a couple of pics.  The hubcap covers were pennies, the guy in the picture was good old Abe Lincoln, the other side had George Washington, the magnet of Abe has our team name- Four score and Seven Blisters Ago – which won best team name.

Van #2

Van #2

Van #1

Van #1

Close to 7am we headed up to the start to send Karen off, she was on Leg 1, the best spot!  After sending Karen off on the Inaugural Race we loaded back in the van and back to our hotels, Nat and Jeff to the Holiday Inn and the rest of us back to the Hilton for showers and breakfast, meeting back up at 10am.  Did I mention how cold it was that morning?  Around 30 degrees!  Frost on the pumpkin.

We had 2 rooms for showers and packing up our stuff, ate a good hot breakfast, loaded up our van, picked up Nat and Jeff and put our coordinates in TomTom for Leg 7, which would be our transition area for Van 1 to Van 2.  Thanks to Katie we had a pretty good idea of where to go and we were also able to drive Natalie’s leg 7, hilly to say the least, but the worst part was driving Taryn’s route, leg 6, it was a long leg with a 5 mile hill, and it was not a small hill either, it was insane!  We got to the transition way too early and drove down to the small town, not sure now what town that was, but it was cute and quaint, used a real bathroom and headed back up to the transition area.  At that time there was only 1 other van as time went by other vans started pulling in, most of us stayed in the van, it was still pretty cool outside and then all of a sudden rain started, what the hell?  It wasn’t supposed to rain!  it didn’t last long, thank goodness and then the sun came out and it felt wonderful.

Before long a few more vans came in and we started seeing runners come up the mountain, it was exciting, we cheered each one of them in, even the guy who didn’t appear to be out of breath, like the mountain was a cake walk oh and he finished the 6 miles in 47 minutes, or so he said.

We started getting a little nervous, where was Van 1?  We thought they should be there and they weren’t, we had talked to them a while earlier and they said they were on their way, hmmm.  Someone called them and they said they had been checking on Taryn.  Before we knew it Van 1 pulled in, it was good to see them and see how their legs had been going.  All along they had been texting Katie with the leg times which we were supposed to be keeping up with, that lasted about 12 hours.

Everyone was at the top of the hill and I think Karen and someone else walked down the hill a bit so we would know when Taryn was coming up the hill and before long her she came, seriously I don’t know how she did it, that hill was the biggest hill I’ve ever seen for running!  She had a smile on her face as we cheered her in, as she caught her breath Jeff presented her with a tiara, queen of the mountain certificate and some sort of scarf, not sure I remember what the scarf was for.


Nat took off for leg 7, it was now Van 2’s turn to run their 6 legs, the weather was great!  Maybe a tad warm.  We drove down to the leg 7 transition area to wait on Natalie, next up was Jeff, we passed Natalie on the way, at the time she was walking up a hill and we handed her some water, I think, it’s getting fuzzy already.  At transition 7 it was tight, not very much room for parking at all, but there were these guys who were just pulling it out and peeing, holy crap!!  They could have walked a little further in the woods so we didn’t have to witness their “hey look at me” BS.

Once Natalie came in Jeff took the bracelet and he began his leg, oh by the way it was after he had his pre-race smoke, we were all like “WHAT?”  But, he did fine, he admitted he had trained in the last month because of an injury, but we gave him hell for smoking and running, really kind of defeats the purpose.  Jeff’s route they had recommended wearing trail shoes and he really needed them, most of the route was on gravel or packed dirt road with a big hill in the middle, but he had a great downhill before hitting the pavement where I took over on Leg 9.

I was nervous, I think I went to the bathroom 3 times before he got there, it was around 3:30pm, the temperature was probably high 70’s, not really sure.  This was going to be a great leg for me, or so I thought, I won’t go into the details of what eventually happened on around mile 2, but I started out with a great pace, first mile 9:05, fast for me, I thought “this is great” the scenery was beautiful too, nice stream running along the road, but there was no shoulder to run on and once I got closer to town the traffic got a little worse and back to the mile 2 problem, I had to make a pit stop, which slowed my pace to 10:44, ugh!  I never did get back into the 9’s again and I really tried, I was so disappointed, I just knew I was going to blow my time out of the water, but I didn’t.
Leg 9 bracelet hand off

Leg 9 bracelet hand off

I think I ended up with an average of 10:20 pace, holy cow, that pit stop blew it, not to mention I was feeling pretty bad the last two miles, sick to my stomach, breathing hard, the heat I think, oh well.  My leg ended in the Lowe’s parking lot with lots ofpeople milling around, nice town.

Juliet took the bracelet from me for leg 10, and we headed to the next transition area, as we headed out we started smelling cow manure and it just got worse and worse and then we noticed this contraption in one of the fields, it was slinging cow shit!!  Man did it stink, poor Juliet.  Another beautiful transition area despite the cow shit!


Jaqualin was off on the next leg, we were all starting to get hungry, thank goodness Jaqualin and Juliet both ran super hard on their legs, not that everyone else didn’t, but they were super fast!  We picked up Jaqualin and sent Katie on her way, Katie was our last leg and we were already talking food, it had been a long day, after food we wanted to go to Boonsboro where we thought we could get a few hours sleep before we had to start running again around midnight.  Some of the best laid plans….

After we got Katie loaded up and said goodbye to Van 1 we started looking for a restaurant, everyone was getting a little grouchy, myself included, we had all been up since around 5:30 am, ran in the middle of the day and had only eaten bagels and snacks throughout the day, we were hungry and tired.  We had a restaurant in mind, but it was a bust, we were all standing in line and I started ordering when Jaqualin piped in “I can’t eat here” and then I think Juliet agreed and so we decided to go somewhere else.  It was fine I didn’t want to eat there either, they just didn’t have the kind of food we needed.  We ended up driving close to Fredericksburg and eating a Bob Perkins or is it Dave Perkins, something like that.  But, it was so good, just regular plain food, yummy, now we needed sleep.

We drove to Boonsboro, the big huge transition area where Van 1 already was and where we thought we might find a quiet place to park and nap, boy we were so wrong.  We parked far away from the transition areas, but it was just too noisy, people getting in and out of their cars, announcements “Team 32, Team 32 your runner is in”, and then a band starting playing.  Mind you, this is all at 10pm!  When we got in the van we were hoping for 2 hours of sleep, at 11:30 we were hoping for 20 minutes of sleep, we got ZILCH!  It was going to be a long night of running.  Oh, and the temps had dropped considerably, probably in the 40’s by now and I did not have pants.  Great.

Our first runner out was Natalie, she wanted us to hopscotch for her so we would drive ahead about 1/4 of a mile and wait for her to pass us and then we would drive 1/4 mile or less, and the cycle continued until she finished her run, it was so desolate and dark out there.  We all had headlamps, blinky lights and reflective vests, but it was really hard to see the road.

Next up was Jeff around 2am, he had a hard 8 mile run, he did not want us to shadow him so we drove to the next transition area, we got lost and finally got to the transition area, it was at a Church of the Brethren in the middle of freaking who knows where, but I had to pee, of course, there was no where to go so I had to go behind the church and behind a tree, no fun.  And once again the guys just stood out in the middle of where ever and pulled it out, get real dudes.

The temperature had dropped some more, it was really cold, see your breath cold!  It was close to 3am and I didn’t want to run, I told Juliet or was it Jaqualin?, I don’t want to do it, it’s dark, it’s cold, I’m tired, I just don’t want to run.  We keep waiting on Jeff, getting kind of worried, our van was facing the road so we could see all the runners as they came in and by God you weren’t going to miss the volunteer who was screaming “bring it on in number XX” he was way too loud for 3am.  I’m sure the people that lived nearby agreed.

Around 3:20 am I got out of the van, but I decided to leave my jacket on, it was too cold for just a short sleeved top, about 3:30 here comes Jeff, he handed off the bracelet and off I went.  It was so freaking dark!!  There was a couple of people that started at the same time as I did, but they were gone pretty quick.  I keep a good pace, I thought I was running faster than I was, darkness plays tricks on your minds.  After about a mile I the van came by and asked if I wanted them to shadow me, I told them to go on, but take my jacket, the jacket was a little too warm, but I wish I had long sleeves on.  The van was gone and I was alone.  In the dark.

This leg was about 5.6 miles and we all had mini 4×5 routes printed out just in case the signs were missing, but I could barely read it in the dark.  Occasionally I would hear someones footsteps behind me, I would always look to make sure it was a runner and not a boogey man.  I was running up and down hills and it was hard to perceive them both unless a car came by or I was about to pass out from running uphill.

The night run was my best run, it was much cooler than both daytime runs, even though it was a bit slower than I thought, I really thought I was flying.  Weird.  I was so ready for a bed.  When I got to the end of my transition, Jaqualin said we gotta go, her run is only 3 miles, oh crap.  It was always a worry getting to the next transition, we had van instructions, but we were sleep deprived and the instructions were iffy.  I think Juliet finished her leg in about 27 minutes and Jaqualin seemed to be pumped and was off.

We had a hard time finding Jaqualin’s transition area, I don’t know what happened, we got lost and a lot of it is a fog now, but I can hear Katie telling me she HAD to go to the bathroom before she headed out on her run, we were at what we thought was the visitor’s center and there was no bathroom, then we were speeding over to the transition area and Katie was still telling us she had to go to the bathroom, according to the time we knew we were pushing it, we had to find the transition area.   After we made the same turn about a million times and backtracked we finally get there and who is standing there waiting on us, you guessed it, Jaqualin, her words “Are you kidding me?”  We apologized profusely and poor Katie, just hopped out of the van, took the bracelet and took off, no bathroom.  Jaqualin said she was only there about a minute, thank goodness.

We went back in town and I turned into the gas station we were finally getting low on gas, I had to go inside and pay for the gas and I really wanted something to eat besides bagels, when I walked into the country gas station I asked what is there to eat around here?  Oh, it was 5:30ish in the morning.  Some old farm boy says Berkholdt’s bakery is right around the corner and he starts telling about the fresh pastries, doughnuts, and my mouth is watering.  When I get back in the van I relay all this to the people that are awake, everyone except Jeff.  Oh, and then the guy at the gas station while I’m finishing up at the pump tells me again how to get there mentions that it’s a Mennonite Bakery.  We’re sold.

We drove right there, but it was in the back of a house and you could smell it before we even got out of the van, it smelled like heaven to us, fresh pastries on no sleep after a cold run, all I needed was a bed.  We walked in, me, Juliet, Jaqualin and Nat, I think Nat grabbed 2 doughnuts and left, the rest of us ooohed and ahhed for 5 minutes before we had a big box of doughnuts, brownies and cookies, and cheap too!  I had a cinnamon sugar doughnut, it melted in my mouth, it was so yummy.

When we got back in the van the phone rang, Van 1 calling asking where we were, that Katie should be there any minute, WHAT?  OMG, we thought her run was longer, not, it was a short 3.5 miles, we had to get to the transition area fast.  Hope she likes chocolate doughnuts!  Thank goodness we knew where we were going this time!

We made it just in time, we saw Katie coming in for our 2 round of legs, handed off the bracelet and we were off to get some rest at the outlet mall that wouldn’t be open for a few hours.  We parked behind the mall, reclined the seats and all of us were out within minutes and the weird thing was we all woke up in 2 hours, 9 am, up and adam, off for a change of clothes, brush our teeth, coffee and breakfast.

The day was going to be a bear, temperatures in the upper 80s forecast, but ended up being in the 90s.  We headed to some town, can’t remember now what the name of the town was…Anyway we decided to eat breakfast before heading to the transition area at White’s Ferry.  Half of us at a breakfast joint and the other half at Subway, it was already very warm at 10:00am, we reorganized the van for about the hundredth time, I was thoroughly sick of picking up water bottles.  What a waste.  We had put in the destination as River Road and some random address, well we were way off course and ended up who knows where and had to back track, ended up behind some cyclists and then Juliet had to go to the bathroom and we were in the middle of no where, but luckily we found our way to White’s Ferry with plenty of time to spare.

Not sure how long we were there but long enough to take this lovely picture of some random dude who apparently forgot his pants, we laughed our asses off.


It was a beautiful day despite the gnats swarming everywhere and the heat, lots of nice people and clean port-a-potties even though the planning of where to put them wasn’t that great, they were in the direct sun, like a sauna!

We were waiting on Taryn to come in from her run, it would be the last run for Van 1, I’m sure they were super excited to be finished for the day at about 1pm in the afternoon when we were just getting started.  As we were waiting one of the volunteers said we should think about skipping a leg, skipping?  I’m not skipping, but what it was is they will let you skip a leg, but the leg you skip the person who was supposed to run still has to run another leg with someone else.  So, it was decided they would skip Jeff’s leg 8, it was a long leg, so he and Nat were going to run Nat’s leg, this would save us at least an hour.  The reason they wanted us to skip a leg is because they wanted all the teams to be finished by 7:30pm and the way the legs were going it didn’t look like we would finish on time.

Nat and Jeff took off and as we were getting ready to take off to meet them at the next transition we thought Van 1 was going to drop me off at my stop since we were skipping Jeff’s leg, Van 2 could pick up Nat and Jeff and leg 8, call me and tell me to take off, this would save some more time, but not sure what happened there.  Then there was another thought to skip another leg, my leg, hmm, I really didn’t want to skip my leg, it was an 8.4 mile leg and I really wanted to do it.  I wanted to redeem myself, but Juliet and I talked and it was decided I would skip my leg and run with Juliet on her 6.5 mile leg, this would save us another 1.5 hours.  okay, I was dealing with it.  This was causing another her dilemma, Nat and Jeff, so we asked Van 1 if they could pick up Nat and Jeff, no they couldn’t because they had hotel stuff to do?  I was not involved in the conversation and I don’t think it was a team effort, we should have all put our heads together to come up with a good solution.  But, what happened was Van 1 ran their asses off trying to get everyone in the right spot at the right time.  We drove to where Nat and Jeff would end their run around 3:45 or so, we weren’t absolutely sure, talked to the volunteers and told them what we were doing and to please tell Nat and Jeff to wait there we had to drive Juliet and myself to leg 34 so that we could take off at 3:30.

Juliet drove like a mad woman, got us to Great Falls on the C&O Canal, we got all our stuff and sent Katie and Jaqualin back to pick up Nat and Jeff.  There were so many people at Great Falls, it was Saturday afternoon and very warm outside.  We used the bathroom, got our fuel belts situated and at 3:30 took off on our 6.X mile run.  We did not want to go super fast, it was HOT and the Trail was crowded, we were doing 10:30 or so to start, but after the first mile I had to take a walk break and I wasn’t sweating at all, Juliet was soaked.  I was not feeling good, but I just kept pushing, Juliet was a great cheerleader, we just tried to go for certain distances and then take walk breaks, it was just miserable, I would get chill bumps, I must have been getting some sort of overheating or something.  Needless to say it was a good thing I didn’t do my original run by myself and I didn’t redeem myself either, but we made it back before 5:00, which was our goal.  Because when we got back we had to wait on Katie to get down the hill, it was a trek down a mountain to get to the Canal.  We kept waiting and I kept thinking, I’m going to throw up any second now, we would walk a little bit and this wave of nausea would just sweep over me, it  was horrible.  Before long I saw Katie coming down the hill and she was off.

Katie told us that Nat and Jeff were not happy with us, and we felt really bad, but there was no way around what we did, we hated leaving them at the transition area.  Apparently they had to sit there for about 45 minutes before the van got back, it was unfortunate but I know Katie and jaqualin did everything they could to get back as soon they could.

We hopped in the van and were off to the last transition area to send Jaqualin to the finish, we called Van 1 and told them that Jaqualin would be taking off at a 6pm, so we were planning on meeting her around 45 minutes into her run and running with her to the finish.  As we waited for Katie we sent Jaqualin on her way, YAY, we were almost done!  Right after she took off I could see Katie’s blue skirt in the distance, I had talked to her a few minutes earlier and for some reason runner brain had taken over and when she told me she was at 3.9 miles I thought she had a mile to go when it was only 1/2 mile.  We gathered Katie up and headed for downtown Washington DC.  This was another adventure.  Jeff was driving and Juliet was navigating, what a pair, we were cutting people off, making weird turns, but it worked out and we saw the finish and parked within feet of the finish.

We got out with our cameras and waited on Jaqualin, we kept calling Van 1 and they were stuck in traffic, OMG, we were so afraid they would not make it.  We saw Jaqualin coming and knew she had a loop to make, but Van 1 was not there yet, this sucks.  Juliet was on the phone, they couldn’t find the finish, holy hell.  Then here comes Jaqualin again and as we crossed the street she asked “where are they”, we had to tell her they were stuck in traffic, she stopped dead in her tracks, she said I’m done.  We said no, come on let’s finish we can re-enact the finish when they get here.  She was really mad, she said she had run her ass off to get there before the cut off and Van 2 wasn’t there.  But, here they came in Ann marie’s vehicle, whipping in,  jumping out and we all ran in together.  It was so cool!  35:50 hours that is.

Here is an official picture

Four Score & Seven Blisters Ago

Four Score & Seven Blisters Ago

Yep, I’d do it again. It was an amazing adventure.  Sorry this is so long!


4 Responses

  1. Don’t think I will ever do it, but glad you had a good time! man, you sure did remember alot of details!

  2. Great report.
    I notice you omitted the details of the pit stop on leg one.

    We got it done, it’s what matters. Rookie issues as Jaqualin says, if it’s to be done again, I’d put a lot more time and thought into the skipping leg scenarios and worst case scenario.

  3. Cheryl, this is AWESOME! Gosh I wish I could have been there! Such scheduling drama, I can only imagine! What an adventure!

  4. Cheryl, what an adventure.

    In the Tour de France, the winner of the King of the Mountains competition wears a polka dotted cycling jersey. Taryn was our queen.

    The whole thing was a blast. We lived, we learn. Would do some things differently, but all in all, I think we did great!

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