to admit, but despite my love of American history, I have never been to Gettysburg, PA (home of one of the deadliest US military battles and also the advent of the use of photography as a storytelling medium)
That is, until this weekend. Lucky for me, I was part of yet another relay–the American Odyssey Relay from Gettysburg, PA to Washington, DC.
I find the Civil War era fascinating–how it falls at the end of the Industrial Revolution and how the undercurrents of Reconstruction inform American culture even (especially?) today. Gettysburg played a critical role in that war. Its battle (July 1-3, 1863) saw more casualties (over 51,000) than almost the entire Viet Nam war (over 58,000). The entire Civil War was the first extensively photographed conflict, and you can see photographer Mathew Brady’s amazing images here. I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that back in the day, folks would go out to picnic at war battles. The same happened at Gettysburg. I wonder at what point the egg salad sandwich lost its flavor, and the folks just packed up their blankets for home?
So when a friend from my running club suggested participating in AOR, I jumped. And last Thursday, five of us from Jersey headed down to Gettysburg to join 40 others (representing Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio and various other states) on the four Sweaty Turtles teams.
I was the lead off runner for the Blue team, which gave me legs 1, 13, and 25 with a total of 19 miles and change. Plus, one runner from the red team was iffy, so I was on tap for her leg 31 (another 3+ miles). To be honest, I was a bit anxious–I was responsible for a fair amount of mileage and my recent runs have been anything but stellar.
I shouldn’t have worried. Leg 1 started at 8:45am, and the six of us in our wave start headed off at a nice clip for our 6.0 miles. Within a mile we sorted out into two groups of 3, and we fell into a nice conversation and a good pace in the sub 10:00 range. Leg 1 was rolling hills (nothing very steep) and after running through the back end of the battlefield, we made our way through the town of Gettysburg and its college. Time just flew by and I finished up with a 9:23 pace, but eager for more!
The tough part about these relays is the down time. After running for nearly an hour, I had to wait just about 12 hours until 8:23pm for my 2nd leg. This 4.7 miles was hillier, darker and about halfway through, rainier. Another runner and I basically started at the same time, and she quickly overtook me within the first half mile. But then the hills started, and I just plugged away, catching her by the crest of the first climb at mile 2. These 4.7 miles were much hillier (although not the hilliest by far on the race), and I totally rocked it with a 9:18 pace!
Our van finished up the 2nd set of legs by 11pm and we made it to the transition where we actually got to catch some sleep on a high school gym floor (wow. gym floors are not as forgiving as mattresses). At 3:00am, I was up and getting ready for my next leg: 8.9 miles along the C&O towpath.
Um, if you ever get the chance to run a towpath in the damp dark hour of 4am alone, don’t. It’s more than creepy. I like the woods and all, but this was not my cup of tea. The path was not technical at all and fairly wide. But it was disconcerting to be out there all alone. In the dark. With a only headlamp, salted caramel Gu, and cell phone that didn’t get reception. I tried to calm my nerves by playing “what if.” Like, what if a serial killer jumped out at you? (A: run? even more? Squirt him with Gu?). That worked well. After I ate the Gu (mile 5), I realized I had eaten my only weapon, and berated myself over the next mile for being so short-sighted. While the wheels hadn’t come off, the dark and creepiness of the course definitely affected my pace–6.9 miles at a 10:56 pace.
Our van’s runners finished up right on (projected) time, and we were off to a local middle school (which kindly donated their showers) and then for a sit-down meal. After that we trekked into Washington DC to await our other van. Family obligations called me home, so one van-mate and I made our way back to NJ at that point via train, missing the finish line celebrations. Our team finished in 32:12.
This was a great race. The course was challenging and interesting, and I loved every minute of my runs (even the creepy, dark towpath part). I want to go back and re-visit the sites I only either ran or drove through. But importantly, I think I’ve finally got my some of my running mojo back. I ran two very strong legs and one good one. I was outside my comfort zone, but still put in a good performance. Unpack those blankets–the flavor is back in the egg salad sandwich!