Relay running: 200 miles long and 36 legs

 

Washington Post Service

To complete a mythical journey, one needs the following: a series of impossible tasks, a fairly accurate map and, most important, companions united in a common goal.

And if said journey involves a lot of running, make sure to bring clean socks and ripe bananas.

Running isn’t an activity usually seen as quest-worthy or a shared experience. A run is a solitary pursuit, one step and one breath at a time. Earbuds in, exertion out. Relay races, however, are helping to change that perspective. Whatever the preference, a 200-mile trek through rural back roads or a slice of the marathon course, local race organizers are capitalizing on the running boom and athletes’ desire to take on a challenge.

It’s no wonder that many of these races are branded as an “odyssey” or an “adventure” in line with Nordic warriors of old. Running a relay might not have the gravitas of conquering foreign lands, but completing such a journey with a team — sidestepping potholes and animals in the road, running through the night with little sleep — feels like an accomplishment.

“The people who have the most fun are those who accept there are obstacles,” said Bob Fleshner, founder and race director of the American Odyssey Relay, a spring race that takes about 140 teams of runners 200 miles from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to Washington. “We may not get told about it, but you have to be ready to overcome.”

Depending on the race course, a runner could run a three-mile leg through residential streets or a nine-mile leg along a country road. There are hills to tackle, fields to run through and, for those given the most arduous task, there’s the dark of night to beat.

And relay races are more than just the running. Teams navigate the complexities of the course, switching off at exchange points and making sure each participant runs in order. However a team travels, often in a decorated van or bus, the goal is to get all the members to the end.

Since the American Odyssey’s creation in 2008, Fleshner has seen wedding proposals at the finish line, veterans with missing limbs competing with hand cranks, and runners, volunteers and local townsfolk coming together to overcome adversities.

Tanner Bell, 34, the co-founder and president of the Ragnar Relay Series, has seen the team dynamic firsthand, from the first race in Utah in 2004 to the 21 road and trail races Ragnar offers during the year. He started the races with his college roommate, who was a runner. He was not, but he became a “Ragnarian convert.”

“The run is important, but we look at it like an experience. It’s a chance to connect in unique ways that people wouldn’t have done on their own,” Bell said. “Coming together is something we don’t get to do anymore. People yearn for real connection and to make genuine friends. It’s like summer camps; you run with complete strangers and end up being friends.”

Local relays run the gamut of race structure and support. Ragnar and the American Odyssey Relay are highly structured, well-supported races for teams of 12 runners, while Tom’s Run, which occurs the first weekend after Memorial Day and honors Coast Guard values of self-sufficiency and teamwork, is more free-form. In its 16th year, the race named after Chief Warrant Officer 4 Tom Brooks, who died from Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1999, provides a course, some guidelines and a mandate: Be at the finish line by 11 a.m., as a team.

Tom’s Run “celebrates the things that were important to Tom Brooks, and it’s about us as Coasties,” said race director Roger Butturini. “The goal is to get from Point A to Point B and end up with everybody else at the same time. You have to plan the race backwards. It doesn’t matter how fast or how many team members you have; the key is getting everyone to work together.” This year 17 teams with nearly 300 runners participated.

Annie Ferret, a 32-year-old marketing director, found the American Odyssey Relay during a Google search for relay races and talked her husband into putting a team together.

“In my second year of running AOR (in 2012), I had the chance to run through Antietam [National Battlefield] at about 2 a.m.,” Ferret recalled in an e-mail. “With only a headlamp to light the way and the sound of my own breath and heartbeat in my ears, I became incredibly aware of what the battlefield meant, the lives lost and spared there and the opportunity we all have to make an impact right where we are. I don’t know, maybe I was somewhat delirious, but it was a spiritual experience for me and one I won’t soon forget.”

Read more Health stories from the Miami Herald

  • Skin Deep

    FDA warns about not using Expression as a filler

    It never ceases to amaze me how some people can take injections so lightly. Yes, they are cosmetic and non-invasive, but these treatments require the training and skill only an experienced dermatologist, plastic surgeon, facial plastic surgeon or oculoplastic surgeon possess. Every week I have at least one patient that comes to me to correct filler injected by an inexperienced or inartistic doctor.

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">Staying safe: </span>Research indicates sunscreen is hurting the oceans.

    Environment

    Study: Sunscreen may harm the sea life

    It’s a crowded Sunday at the 14th street section of South Beach.

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">AFTER AN ACCIDENT:</span> A former paddleboard competitor and bodybuilder, Melina Cherry, who runs SUP the Workout in Coconut Grove, first tried stand-up paddleboarding after a car accident left her with a serious neck injury. She teaches students, from novice to experienced, different paddling techniques and conditioning exercises to help get them in shape.

    Fitness

    Indoor stand-up paddleboard class in Coconut Grove is a first

    Indoor stand-up paddleboard class teaches the proper strokes and gives you quite the workout

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category