It’s been one week since running Brew to Brew, but it’s taken that long since motivation has risen enough to write about it.
That’s not to say it wasn’t a good time; it was a blast. But it also was so dang exhausting. I’ve never had such a tough time recovering from a race. Usually it takes two or three days after a long run or race before energy levels return to normal, but this one required a full six days off to work through the aches and pains, veg out and rehydrate.
First, a little background info: Brew to Brew is a 44-mile relay race from Boulevard Brewery in Kansas City, Mo., to Free State Brewery in Lawrence, Kan. It breaks down into 10 legs, and our team’s plan was to have five runners doing two legs apiece. I was going to anchor the final two for 8.7 miles for a tough but relaxed Sunday long run.
Plans changed the Monday before the race when our team captain, Amy, had a family tragedy arise that she needed to tend to. Completely understandable and unavoidable. No problem. Brian and I each agreed to pick up a third leg to compensate. That’d stretch my mileage to 12.7 — a bit tougher, but no problem.
Then, after learning of Amy’s situation, another girl dropped out because she’d had a long flight and she assumed she’d be too tired to run … six days later. That was a pretty unacceptable excuse to me, but whatever. Brian — who’s a beast of a runner — took up a fourth leg, and another friend of Amy’s volunteered to run the first leg.
Problem solved. Missy would run leg one, Brian had legs two, three, four and seven, Aimee had five and six, and I would anchor eight, nine and 10.
We met at Boulevard at about 7:30 a.m. for our 8 a.m. start time. After Missy took off, Brian, Aimee and I did a quick beer toast with some of the complimentary Boulevard they were giving out at the start. Then we set off to meet Missy at the first exchange zone.
Missy came through like a champion, and once Brian was off on leg two I took Missy back to the start so she could grab her car and head home. Aimee, Brian and I were in for the long haul.
Brian had raced Rock the Parkway the day before and hit a half marathon personal record of 1:33. Brew to Brew was his recovery run, and he hit a relaxed clip that would smoke my race pace. Everything went smooth for a bit, but as the day wore on the temperatures rose. This was expected. The projected high was the upper 70s, maybe 80. When Brian handed off to Aimee for the start of leg five, though, it was 86 and rising.
The temperature continued to climb during Aimee’s five-mile leg five. A strong headwind — easily 30 MPH and stronger at times — didn’t help. Neither did the nonexistent cloud cover. As she neared the finish she began to overheat. She was a trooper and wanted to push through it anyway, but Brian and I didn’t let her. No sense in having someone get sick or injured during an event designed for fun. Brian hopped out and ran the final quarter-mile to the finish, and then I picked up leg six for a fourth leg on the day.
Leg six was 3.3 miles that wound up and down paved roads. I’d simply grabbed my water belt and iPod and took off without paying much attention to pace. I felt good when I got to the next exchange zone in 29 minutes and handed off to Brian for his final leg. Still, it gave me a taste of what was to come. The wind was mild on leg six, but I knew it would be much worse toward the end of the race. In addition, the heat was pretty brutal, but leg six was one of the few legs that offered occasional shade.
Brian handled leg seven with more ease than he’d expected, and after clearing the boat crossing he trotted into downtown Linwood and handed off to me for to take the thing home. He’d run about 18 miles for the day and was ready for a much-deserved beer.
As I headed out of Linwood and onto a gravel road, the headwind grew stronger. It was clear the final 12.7 miles weren’t going to be a piece of cake, but I’d felt comfortable on leg six and was well hydrated from downing two liters of Gatorade earlier in the day. I was as prepared as could be expected.
Leg eight covered four miles and took almost 45 minutes. Given the headwind and the distance I had to cover, it was too fast of a pace. Brian — Boulevard Wheat in hand — and Aimee met me at the aid station. I reloaded the four bottles on my belt and told them I felt good. My pace was steady, I felt hydrated and comfortable. Other than the wind, this was a piece of cake.
It was at that point that I said the dumbest thing possible: “I feel good. Go ahead and skip nine and just meet me at the levee in Lawrence. I’ll see you in about an hour and a half.”
With that, they were headed to Lawrence and I was off down the gravel road for what seemed like the longest stretch of ground I’ve ever traveled.
I was about a mile and a half out of the aid station when my right calf began to cramp. I immediately stopped and walked for a bit before returning to a slow jog. Then, the left calf started to cramp. Again, time to walk.
I alternated walking up hills and jogging down hills until even the short jogging stretches were impossible without cramping. The final 2 1/2 miles of leg nine took about 45 minutes, and each step was a reminder of how foolish I’d been to send the team on to the finish.
Finally at the last aid station — skillfully manned by the Kansas City Trail Nerds — I popped a couple snacks and refilled my bottles for the final 4.7-mile march down the levee into Lawrence.
As I was leaving the aid station, I noticed a woman leaning on the railing with a friend. The woman was probably about 70, and I’d seen her on leg nine. She looked exhausted, so I approached and asked if she was OK.
“No,” her friend firmly replied.
“Come on, let’s get her to the aid station and get her in the shade,” I said.
Her friend told me to go ahead since I was running. After replying that I welcomed the break and couldn’t run if I wanted to because I was cramping, I put an arm around the woman and her friend and I began to escort her back to the aid station. About halfway there she began to black out. Trail Nerds from the aid station ran over, and we carried the woman to a chair in the shade where she was given fluid and cool cloth for her head until an ambulance arrived.
Upon seeing the ambulance on the scene, I returned to the levee for the final walk home. My friend Justin of the Lawrence Trail Hawks came along, so we walked together down the levee, into the wind and into the scalding sun, until a mile remained and he jogged on to the finish.
Eventually I reached the bridge where Brian and Aimee were waiting. I hobbled over it to the finish line about an hour behind when I’d told them to expect me.
My 16-mile day was done.
Despite the unexpected obstacles, our team pulled together and finished the race.
Also at the finish line were my friends Sara and Betsy from another team. Sara informed me that it was now 91 degrees.
We headed to Liberty Hall and grabbed dinner and a beer before heading home. It was a great day and a wonderful event with a fun team of people, but that darn heat took the life out of a lot of us.
Free State Brewery later reported that it was the hottest Brew to Brew ever. More than the mileage, the heat and the cramping that came with it fatigued my system more than I could’ve imagined.
Much of the past week I’ve felt brain-dead. My calves hurt and motivation to run was nonexistent. Finally I was back out the door yesterday for an easy 6.5 miles at Shawnee Mission Park with about 16 Trail Hawks who’d made the trip to town for a field trip run. It took my legs a few miles to wake up, but it was good to run again. In the same sense, it’s good to finally relive Brew to Brew and write about it. I want to run it again next year, just not so much of it and not in such extreme heat.