Far more than a race, Tuna 200 was a family reunion with kickass style and speed. Oh yeah, and we WON!!!!!! Love my Banditos!
Our journey began on Friday, October 18 at 11:30 AM outside the playground in Lake Benson Park outside of Raleigh, NC. After dividing gear and a pre-race logistics meeting, we commenced our pep rally complete with temporary tattoos, cowbells, and illuminated hood ornaments. Love my Banditos for taking class to a whole new level!
Van-dito 2 cheered Andy off the start along with four other teams, then made like bandits to the first major exchange. We knew we only had so much time to dig in to all of the food we packed! Thanks Julia for keeping us on it! Love my Banditos for planning ahead and packing accordingly!
While waiting at the exchange, we also invested ample effort in further team and Tuna spirit adornments such as a new line of Oskar Blues Bandito earrings and van paint celebrating our sponsor and the race. There was some general bonding and a reasonable amount of sizing up the other teams (we could take ’em!).
Van 1 was in near constant communication via text, phone, and twitter, so we were more than prepared for their pending arrival (can’t quite say the same for our night legs, but we’ll get there later). Andrew led off for Van-dito 2 in his commanding yet relaxed way, not unlike a giraffe, or so it has been described by other teams. Van 1 transferred the scepter and we were off! Love my Banditos for having a scepter!
I was on deck and psyched to run leg 8. Weather conditions were perfect: cool without being cold, cloudy skies, air that was easy to breathe. When Andrew passed the slap bracelet baton I took off (at least by Carly standards). I knew it was too fast, but it felt so GOOD! I cruised up and over (small) rolling hills, keeping a careful eye for dogs I had been warned about. It was smooth sailing and I loved every second. Knowing how well Van 1 had run inspired and pushed me to push myself. What a great feeling. Love my Banditos for supporting and inspiring each other!
I passed off to Brian and we snapped a picture. One down! This is also my first memory of being noticed for our speed. Love my Banditos, who are not just runners, but a force! Darkness fell over the next four legs and we were all crushing it. The adventure was only beginning.
Reuniting with the other van is always special because if seven Banditos are fun, all fourteen are extraordinary! We have a chance to check in on team spirit and make necessary gear swaps. Of course, the reunion is also more relaxing when you are the van doing the hand off.
After the transfer, Van-dito 2 was on the road again; this was also the fateful beginning of my navigational mishap, which took us to exchange 24 instead of 18. Navigating when tired and hungry is hard! Luckily, we knew we made a mistake with plenty of time to get to exchange 18, but the extra sleep would have been nice. Also love my Banditos for their instant forgiveness of my faux pas!
While on the way to 24, we made a stop at a Subway gas station combo for fuel for ourselves and the van. There was a beautiful moment where we were all sitting on the gas station curb, munching our subs, like this was totally normal. I wish I had a picture, but my phone was in the car charging, so the scene only exists in memory. Love my Banditos for creating this moment! Fueled up we carried on.
It was not that late but it felt like midnight. I remember as we were driving toward the (wrong) exchange I saw the lights of TVs on in homes, and thought, “Wow they stay up late!” Then I looked at the clock; it wasn’t even 10 PM. Relay time exists on a different dimension.
When we arrived at exchange 24 and saw No One, we knew something was up, and pretty quickly we were driving back the other way. At least one silver lining is that we had a chance to preview parts of the course. Also, we saw who we thought to be the front running team (at least physically, since there had been a staggered start, and made a note of their time and location). Finally we arrived at the correct exchange, parked in Teacher of the Year (left principal parking for Van 1 in honor of Andy) and settled in for as much “sleep” as could be had.
About 70 minutes later, I was startled awake with a, “Yo yo yo! Becca is a mile out!” Thank goodness I wasn’t running, and Andrew was ready. My phone had gone into nocturnal mode, so it did not ring when Paige and Liz were texting, oops. Another thing to put on the reminder list for alternate-time-dimension-relay world. We pulled it together pretty quickly and were able to meet Van 1 in time to cheer Becca in and Andrew off just as the rain picked up. It was midnight and we were on the road again!
After Andrew made the pass to Julia, we learned that he had road-killed another SEVEN teams on top of Becca’s SIX. We were now overtaking teams that had started hours before us. In fact, Julia was now running the leg that we had passed the supposed physical race front-runner less than three hours later. Love my Banditos who are so lighting fast they can overcome the disruption of the time-space continuum otherwise known as a staggered start!
I was on deck for leg 21 and once again was hearing how our reputation preceded us. This time the volunteer leg checker said, “Oh yeah, I heard of you guys.” Love my Banditos who have a rep! With the slap of the wrist bracelet, I took off. Again, I knew it was too fast, but it felt GOOD and I wanted ROADKILL! And I got some – eight, almost nine, by the end of a mostly downhill, rain-drizzled 5.6 miles. It was glorious. Two done and still having fun! Estimated time of leg finish: 2 AM. No big when you are a Bandito. Love my Banditos who, at the exchange, would call out, “Bandito?” And when the response came back, “BANDITOOOOOS!!!!!!” Would take up cheering and hollering with a dingalingalingalingaling from the cowbell to boot!
Ali, Eric, and Brian rounded out our rotation. There was more roadkill/shooting fish in a barrel. By my estimate, Van-dito 2 had chewed through one-third to one-half of the other teams by the time we handed off to Van 1. Pick ’em up, put ’em down, stretch ’em out! EAT ‘EM UP! Rawhide!
Van 1 looked excited (and maybe a little sleep deprived) to get their THIRD legs underway. We said adios and after double- and triple-checking, made for the correct exchange 30. It was approximately 4 AM and the drive to exchange 30 was mostly a test of wether Michael and I could keep each other awake. We passed, and we talked about Bill Bryson, and I don’t remember much else… Then it was sleep in the van time.
After a fitful 1.5-2 hours, it was nearly time to roll. Time check: about 7:15 AM. I made friends with the exchange volunteers so that I could see the arrival/departure list – someone has to get intel on the competition! I also thanked them multiple times for their service, so it was not all for personal/Bandito gain. One team had gone through at about 6:50, then two more passed in quick succession (around 7:20) before 7:40 when Paige powered in at number four! We were in physical position FOUR after starting behind 55 other teams! And we weren’t done yet!
Slap dat bracelet! Van-dito 2 was back in the game and Andrew was giraffe-ing through his final 8 miles. The sun was rising behind thick clouds and the humid air made the final legs less like running and more like swimming, but a Bandito never falters.
At the next exchange, we first experienced a phenomenon that was all too familiar to us from our previous fall relay: beating the volunteers to the exchange. We are just too fast for them! We also had a good chuckle as an ultra team runner made to start her final leg; she did not look like a happy camper! She left a few minutes before Andrew came in and we later learned that Brian easily overtook her. Relays are not for the faint of heart! Love my Banditos who are strong in heart and quads!
In a show of true love, Brian passed off to Julia. Our final legs would take us incrementally up Emerald Isle to Atlantic Beach. Bring on the beach and waves! Van 1 Banditos were already enjoying the spoils of the finish and we were eager to join them.
As Julia ticked off the miles, the temperatures and my nerves were starting to rise. There were only TWO teams physically in front of us (of course, temporally we were winning with gusto). Julia passed off to Eric, and with that, there were only three legs left to finish this thing!
While Eric completed the 7.3 mile leg 34, we learned from the other teams that we might be held at the next exchange – the organizers needed time to set up the finish for us. That’s how fast we are. So as if running the last leg wasn’t bringing on the nerves enough, now we might be held until? It all worked out and the Banditos were ultimately not held, but it still gave me some stress because I wanted to see if I could help our team toward first physical and temporal finish line cross.
At exchange 35 to 36, I waited anxiously to see Ali come around the bend. I timed the departure of the other runners and when Ali slapped off to me, I knew the full team was six minutes ahead and the ultra about eight. I had 5.3 miles (or so I thought) and my work cut out for me. Naturally I had gathered intel on the other two final leg runners and knew from their teammates that they were not feeling great. Then again, I wouldn’t exactly call my status exceptional, but the race must go on! A Bandito never gives up!
In keeping with tradition, I started way too fast, but I kept replaying the mantra, “Be bold in the attempt.” If I didn’t catch them, it was not going to be because I didn’t try. I did, however, pause briefly to help a turtle cross the road; if I didn’t catch them, at least a turtle would live another day (any Bandito would have done the same, which is another reason I love my Banditos!).
Beats from my iPod served as a power source and distraction:
“I live for the APPLAUSE!” “(S)he’s going the DISTANCE!” (Paige, that made me think of you!) “I set FIRE to the RAIN!” “There’s a place up ahead and I’m GOING, just as fast as my feet can FLY!”
And it worked! I caught the full team runner and had ultra in my sights. Ultra was about a quarter-mile ahead and moving slower than me, but by my watch, there was less than a six-tenths of a mile left (which proved incorrect, but I didn’t know it at the time), so I kept plowing on, but there was simply not enough time (note: I am not complaining that the leg ended). I went around the grassy triangle, which added another .25 miles I was not expecting, and turned on to the boardwalk.
And There They Were: My Banditos!
Focused, I pushed into the last gear I had, clutched the beer they handed me, and ran across the finish line. The immediate post-running period is a blur, but I remember getting down on my hands and knees for a bit before being encouraged into a picture (“Labels out!” went the cheered command – love my Banditos for their thoughtful product placement!). Then thankfully water was swapped for the beer (just wasn’t quite ready for the brew) and the party could begin in earnest.
I think I’ll leave the after-party to be summarized by one of my Bandito teammates, but suffice it to say, much fun and delicious beer was had by all. Ultimately we finished in 24 hours 14 minutes 43 seconds, an average pace of 7 minutes 8 seconds per mile, and a NEW COURSE RECORD!!! What a finish to an epic adventure.
I love my Banditos, and I cannot wait until we run again.