The Sunrise to Sunset Relay is a unique race. Teams of 12 or less run a relay across the state of Florida from Jensen Beach to Fort Myers, a distance of 178 miles. The race consists of 36 legs of about 5 miles each. Our team was an ultra team, consisting of 6 members. This meant that we had to run about 30 miles each while driving from exchange to exchange and staying up all night.
Most of us had run it before. We knew what we were in for and what it would feel like after 20 hours or more, with the mid-day Florida sun beating down, with 25 miles on our legs (each) and more miles to go.
This race has a staged start, from 9 AM to 3 PM. The starts are seeded to allow all of the teams to finish near the same time. Our team had won the ultra mixed division the previous year, so we were in the last start group.
We left Jensen Beach on the east coast of Florida at 3:00 PM Friday afternoon. The early miles were spent trying to stay in touch without burning ourselves out early. After the first round of legs and about 30 miles, we were in the middle of our starting group, which was the last group leaving, the fast group. We ran very well until the leg 14 to 15 exchange at about 2 AM. A navigational and communication problem cost us 59 minutes. The course is not just a running challenge; it is also a navigational challenge and a mental challenge. Logistics at 3 AM, after 12 hours on the road and no sleep will certainly tax the brain.
After our mistake we were near last place. To make matters worse, I had pulled my calf muscle at the end of leg 2 for me (leg 11 for the team). It was minor at first. As I ran through leg 3 (leg 17 for the team) it hurt a little. During and after leg 4 (leg 23 for the team) the pain was excruciating. I thought I was through and told the team that. We started making plans for the rest of the team to cover my last two legs. Imagine signing up for 30 miles in 24 hours and having someone tell you they need you to run more.
This put us in survival mode. We had to back off and do whatever it takes to finish.
Some very kind ladies on an all-women's team at exchange 23 gave me an ice pack, Ibuprofen, and an Ace bandage. I wrapped the leg and drove on. The calf felt a little better, so I told the team I would start my next leg in a shuffle, though they might have to finish it for me.
I made it through the leg after all.
The team pressed on, willing to do whatever it takes to finish 178 miles across the state of Florida. The sun had come up and the heat was getting oppressive. The temperature was in the upper 80's with less and less cloud cover as the day wore on. Everyone on our team was incredible. They ran on and on. In spite of the heat, they kept running, leg after leg.
Eventually, we were down to the last 6 legs, meaning each of us had only one leg left to run. It was 87 degrees and the sun was blazing, but the team was upbeat.
We passed a couple more teams and pressed on. We were running late, but hoped we could finish in time to get credit for the finish. Several teams were behind us, but the stated target finish was 2 to 4 PM. We were not sure how late the finish line would stay open and the afternoon was pressing on. Around 3 PM we came into Fort Myers on the west coast of Florida, but still had about 15 miles to go. Our best runner, Rudy, blasted into town at sub-7:30 pace. He handed off to me and I shuffled on. I managed to keep running, but probably was not as fast as I could have been.
Once our last runner Joe was underway, the team jumped in our vehicles and headed for the finish line. Following the alternate driving directions, we managed to meet Joe just before the finish line. We ran together across the finish line, each of us feeling an incredible sense of both accomplishment and relief as we crossed the finish line. We had done it. We ran 178 miles across the state in 25:51 and finished a tough but very satisfying race. Unfortunately, some of the teams behind us had dropped out. They probably had many reasons. Some may have been injured. Perhaps some just thought the idea of struggling on for more hours, only to reach a vacant finish area was too much (though the race director actually kept track of everyone and probably would have waited for them). - Update: Matt Ringer, the race director informs me that every team that started, finished. As suspected, he was there at the finish line at 8 PM when the last team crossed the line. YES!!! What a race, what a bunch of brave runners!
We didn't win the mixed ultra-team category this year, but we had a great time.
The Sunrise to Sunset Relay is not just a race. It is an adventure. Whether you finish first or last, you will feel a sense of accomplishment for having completed it. You also will have an incredible time, assuming your teammates are the kind of people you want to spend 24+ hours in a van with. They also have a pretty incredible post-race party.
The team I ran with are some of the toughest people I have ever met. The other teams are probably tough too, but the characteristic I noticed most is that they are some of the nicest people I ever met. I probably wouldn't have managed to press on without the help of another team and we helped or at least encouraged a couple of other teams ourselves along the way.
This is a race where everyone seems to be on the same team. We all mostly want to finish. We help each other and encourage each other. As much as runners everywhere seem to be some of the nicest people you ever met, imagine those same brave souls in an epic struggle. It makes me proud to call myself a runner.
Our team consisted of: Joe Jacoby (Captain), Rudy Behrand, Kurt Holst, Barbara Krause, Frank Norris, and Nancy Rowan.
Copyright 2009 by Florida East Coast Runners and Frank Norris. Reproduction or reprinting without written permission is illegal.
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