It took me a while to write all this down, and it's long, but I figured, in case anyone in the future is interested searching for info about the GAP Trail Relay (since this was its first year), better to have it available.
Pre-race We assembled our team, named Pace Oddity
|Goal: ||Achieved? |
|Thank the volunteers ||Oh yeah |
|Get some sweet High 5's ||Amazingly so! |
|Have fun ||A blast! |
|Win the Sheetz Calorie Challenge ||No |
(as an homage to David Bowie’s Space Oddity
) and thankfully, we were an awesome, easy-going team. There were organization meetings (with less than a week’s notice from the race organizer) and lots of revisions to the Runner’s Guide and race maps. Granted, this was the first year for it, but still, there were problems. Additionally, P3R had written in the Runner’s Guide that headphones were strictly prohibited, and that teams should be on the lookout for other teams violating safety rules and to ‘tattle’ on them. We got e-mail confirmation from P3R that we could, in fact, run with headphones, but to just be smart (only use one ear, etc.) but the ‘tattling’ thing left us with a bad taste in our mouth. Ultra running has more of a ‘runners against the course’ feel, not ‘runners against each other,’ and especially since there is zero prize money, this seemed out of place and against the spirit of running.
P3R, the week of the race, also provided two, uneditable PDFs to track your team’s time (one that had a heading for 8 runners, one that had a heading for 4). By this point, we already had a spreadsheet created that would auto update as we put in each leg’s start time, had nearby gas and food options, and we were set up with a Slack channel to keep everyone up to date. We joked that P3R was too busy making TWO
PDFs, so they didn’t have the time to properly organize the race.
But still, our team rocked. We sadly had one member have to drop out two weeks before, but we found a replacement that day, and with adding her, four of us were from my Ultra Running Team (u/ midmoddest
), so that gave us a great base to build upon, mostly of doing incredibly stupid running things.
We also did two overnight runs, and I think that that helped us a ton! We met at 8 p.m. on two Fridays and ran different length loops until we were called it a night. The first night I ran three loops, about 16 miles and we finished around 1:30 a.m., the second I think we ran 18 until about 3 in the morning. We would run a loop, then back at the cars fuel, stretch a bit, try out different gear, and repeat. It was a lot of fun to run with friends at night, and gave us great practice for the evening legs. We even liked it so much we’re going to keep doing it! Thursday
That week I finished packing up two totes, one for each van, assembled two binders with all the important information (as well as some fun car games to play), and we headed down to Cumberland. The drive down was uneventful, and we competed with the other van to see who could post the most beautiful picture in our Slack channel.
Cumberland is a beautiful little town, although the highways that cut through it make it a bit wonky to get around. Four of us stayed in a delightful little bed and breakfast, and as we found out, two members of a team we’d see a lot of, were staying downstairs. We walked over to packet pickup (after walking past it once) and got all of our gear, as well as a GoPro that we were asked to film with. The safety meeting was good, and afterwards we headed to the runner social
at a local bar, which was a lot of fun. The bar had a tap takeover, and they ended up putting our team in their fancy, private dining room. Pre-Leg 6 Friday morning
, our team headed to the start line at 7 for an 8 a.m. start. We did a quick safety check and then cheered on the teams starting at 7:30. This is where some of the problems started. Our team was originally supposed to start at 10:30, but we got moved up. The idea was to have all the teams finish about the same time, so we all submitted our estimated paces. Our team was accurate (or at least as accurate as we could be, I suggested that we submit paces for each leg individually, an easy 4 mile leg will have a different pace than a hard 9 mile leg), but the organizer feared many underesteimated our times, so they moved many teams up earlier.
A group of (non race affiliated) cyclists show up to start a trek at 8 a.m., and P3R, instead of holding the three runners back, insist that they must start at 8 a.m. and after they head off towards Pittsburgh, the cyclists go past, creating a safety concern right off the bat.
The start line was neat though, with tons of coffee and donuts, and we met a few other teams we’d see throughout the day. We took off, having some time to kill before going to the first major exchange. We did our first Sheetz run, playing the calorie challenge
. Each team was given one $25 Sheetz gift card…for two vehicles. So we decided to turn it into a game: how many calories can you get with your share of the $25? $3.12 per person (including all taxes on prepared food), or $2.77 for hard mode, including our drive+1/amazing husband of Fox who was in our van. I thought the milkshakes would be a good bet, but couldn’t find the price. Twizzler’s ended up being the winner: 2 for $3, 1,000 calories. A bemused customer asked us what we were doing, and after explaining the game, he did mention that mayo packets were free, so he might have won on a technicality!
We headed back to the first major exchange, we went there before Sheetz just to check it out, and when we returned, there were other teams there waiting. We parked, hung our Pace Oddity banner
on the back of the van, and joined in some cardboard cutout dancing with another team. A very angry goose
from the farm across the road was upset there were people here, and it wandered over to us to honk angrily. When we arrived at the exchange point the first time, we found a clue
left in an envelope to some sort of treasure, and we took the extra time to look on a map where we think Fox would be able to find it. We also met a cyclist who bemoaned the idea of running something just to complete it, instead of competing to win. “Back in my day,” he told us, “I competed in Ragnars, I didn’t just run them.” We gleefully replied that we were there just to have fun.
The other van arrived, and we waited for Cat to come in, after having crossed the continental divide. She made some friends on her run
(after having to chase her coat due to the wind) and they passed around some high fives as Fox took off. We said goodbye to the other van and hopped in, heading to the next exchange, where I’d be running. Leg 6: Meyersdale to Garret
This was my first leg, and the exchange point was this really neat railroad museum
! We took a few minutes to look around, and I wish I had picked up a GAP decal, so maybe if I’m down in that area, I’ll stop by again. There was also a local woman giving out free maple candy to the runners, which was awesome! And this exchange featured the largest port-a-potty I have ever seen in my life. There was a cordoned off section inside it was so big.
One of my goals at any race is always to get some sweet high fives, and this leg helped me check that off my list. Fox came in, slapped the bracelet on my wrist
and off I went. The trail was really pretty, and it reminded me a bit of the trail from the Buffalo Creek Half. As I was headed down the path, there was a middle school class out on a hike, so I got a whole line of high fives from the kids, and only one snarky remark! Which, to be fair, was a lot less than I expected!
I passed over the Salisbury viaduct, which is over 1,900 feet long, which was also much higher than expected. Have I mentioned that I’m afraid of heights? This will come up again in Leg 22. It was still super windy at that point, and I took off my hat to avoid losing it. Once you cross the viaduct, there is a small family cemetery on the right, just four headstones, a bench and a small fence around the perimeter. I wish I would have stopped to take a photo, but I kept going, I wasn’t too far from my exchange.
Just to be safe, I didn’t put my one earphone in until well after I left, and I pulled it out (and hid them both) as I made my way into the exchange. I passed on the slap bracelet, with exuberance
, to Mike, and he took off. I ran this leg significantly faster than I predicted (knowing I would, but also knowing my time would even out with the next two legs), and as a team, we were posting in Slack to update our spreadsheet, so it wasn’t an issue.
I refilled my water bottle and we headed off to meet Mike at the other end of his leg. Pre-Leg 14
The exchange where we picked up Mike was really cool, and I got some good time talking with some of the other teams. I changed out of my running gear and Mike came in pretty quick. Jill took off
an we headed towards the second major exchange at Markelton. This area was scary, mostly due to the fact that the owner of the land directly next to the trail decided this was the time to play with a giant rifle, which sounded like a canon each time it fired.
The parking lot at the exchange zone however was right next to a small river, and we spent some time playing on the rocks
, which was a nice distraction. As a team, we volunteered to run with a GoPro to help P3R get some footage, and we believe at least one other team was doing the same. At check-in, they gave us a GoPro set up in Spanish, so we had to exchange that out. Then, as we discovered, it was set to such a high resolution that even after we charged the battery (it wasn’t full when we got it), we weren’t able to record all that much. So Fox, who had her laptop, downloaded the footage
, and we reset the resolution to something lower. As we hung out at the exchange zone, we had some impromptu interviews and some footage of us enjoying the area.
Jill came in and handed off to Elizabeth and the second van was off (after taking down a hammock Jason had set up
, which was genius). We wanted to grab something more substantial that Sheetz food, so we headed towards Ohiopyle and Confluence, eventually finding a restaurant that was open. The food was great, we read some children’s books about nightime animals
and we saw four other teams all eating there too. We used their WiFi, and finally grabbed a picture with David Bowie
on the deck before we headed to the next major exchange at Bruner Run.
Bruner Run was split into two, the lower lot next to the trail, and the larger, upper lot. We hung out in the upper lot and tried to catch some sleep, and as we got closer to when we were expecting Cat, we drove down to the lower lot. Because of the rain and space concerns, we were the last vehicle they allowed in, and the volunteer parked us in a mud pit. After getting two other cars to move, and with lots of pushing, we got unstuck
and settled back onto firm ground.
Remember when P3R moved up all the runners? Well this is where shit started to hit the fan for us. Since we were moved up, we were now at the point in the race where we had caught up with the teams setting up the next exchanges. So along with us, 11 other teams were also held at the exchange and then all released at once. Fox took off, with Pooh Bear strapped to her back
, along with the other runners. The rain continued, and we headed up the hill with Cat to drop off into the other van and then we headed to my next leg. Leg 14: Connellsville to Dawson
This was my night run. At Connellsville, they had a spread of pizza set out for the teams. And by spread, I just mean a room of pizza, it really was just an obscene amount, so points to P3R for that. The volunteers at this exchange took a bunch of light up armbands and made running lights heading into the exchange zone, and I saw Fox come through the arch, slap me with the bracelet and off I went
I was running with the GoPro, although there wasn’t much to be seen. I remember picking up glowsticks that had fallen off a runner in front of me, but otherwise, enjoying the stillness of the night. The trail took me next to a campground, as well as near some very large houses lit up by spotlights. I kept going, enjoying the mission of Zombies, Run! I was listening to, and loving the extra atmosphere. About a mile in, I looked behind me to see another headlamp in the dark, and I resolved to not let that runner pass me, so that kept me going. A different runner eventually zoomed past both of us, giving me “looking good” as he sped past, but otherwise, it was just the two of us on the trail.
There were campers out and drinking around a couple fires, but otherwise, it was just me in the woods, and I really loved it. My runner brain didn’t do math correctly, so by the time I thought I still had a mile left, I came around a bend and was at the exchange zone! I slapped off to Mike, and the volunteers gave me some warm apple cider! I stuck around to thank the runner who was behind me, telling her she kept me going, and she said the same, she kept close so she knew there was another person out there, so we ended up helping each other without realizing it! Pre-Leg 22
We headed to Whitsett to pick up Mike and it is was my favorite exchange zone on the whole trail! Much like Homewood on the Pittsburgh Marathon, the community at Whitsett came out in force and welcomed us with open arms! The exchange zone was set up at a pavilion, and even in the rain, they had a big bonfire going right next to it, as well as a nice space heater under the shelter. The local Boy Scout troop made sandwiches and wraps, and there was homemade cocoa, hot coffee, drinks and chips waiting for us. The community members there even asked us to come back and visit when we weren’t racing! While we waited for Mike, I talked with the rep from the trail alliance a bit who we had met at the safety meeting. Mike came in, Jill took off and off we went to the next major exchange.
This major exchange was also a cluster. At this point, even more teams were ahead of the race setup crew due to the changing start times. I believe it was 15 teams that were held at this point, all in a very steady rain. As we huddled beneath the pavilion, we learned we had to wait until 3 a.m. to start, along with all but one other team (one team wasn’t starting until 3:30 since they were even more speedy!).
The teams finally took off, and we headed to a Flying J for a bit of a break. We had first thought about sitting down and getting some real food at the Denny’s, but realized we’d just fall asleep in the booth. So instead, we headed to the next major exchange at Boston and grabbed some sleep in the parking lot. We were one of the first vehicles there, and I remember opening my eyes and suddenly the place was busy!
The Boston fire department was awesome! They had a huge spread of food, and of course a warm area to be inside, as well as a DJ who was playing music in the hall. I stopped over at the PA American Water truck and talked with the guys, who were very impressed with all of us runners, and I got a free water bottle!
We eventually walked down to see Cat come in and Fox go out: van 1 was done! It was fun to see which of the other team’s runners were done, they were the ones really relaxing (one man, very smartly in a big robe) inside the hall. David Bowie got back in the van
(I walked him down to the exchange zone to cheer on the runners) and we headed off to my exchange. Continued
Reddit has a post length maximum, who knew? Check out the rest of my race report, including my last leg, the finish line and after party, here (sorry about that!)
There was a lot wrong with this race, but in the end, our team had an absolute blast. We were a great group of people, knowing we were going into a race to have a good time. Had you asked me that day if I would do it again, I would have said no. Now, I’d probably say yes. If we do the GAP again I’d want to do different legs, or there is a Ragnar race (points for being better run) that runs the C&O Towpath from Cumberland to D.C., so we’d get to see the second half of the trail!
Either way though, it was a great adventure, and I’m so glad we did it! See the full photo album here