The word epic can be defined as “a story about exciting adventures” or something that is “very great, difficult, or impressive.” However, in recent years the word epic probably became the most overused word by the younger generation. Everything became “epic”, from cars to movies to haircuts to tests and even fails.
Special Thanks to Charlotte Running Company and Donny Forsyth for Sponsoring the Team Singlets
At the conclusion of the 2016 Blue Ridge Relay, grown men ranging in age from twenty-two to forty-two, were using the term to describe the previous twenty hours. I do believe it’s the perfect word to describe the battle that had taken place between two distance running groups from North Carolina.
The Asheville Running Collective and The Charlotte Running Club began their rivalry at the 2011 Blue Ridge Relay. That year after twenty plus hours of running, the guys from the ARC won by a mere two minutes and ten seconds. Both teams smashed the former course record, and that began a string of “belt races” between the two groups.
After that year a WWF World Championship belt was purchased from Toys “R” Us for about $23. This belt has become a tradition and symbol of honor and pride, worth well more than its purchased price. The belt represents the friendly competition and sportsmanship between the two teams.
So, why was the 2016 race an epic one? To make a long story short . . . after thirty-six different legs covering 206 miles, almost twenty hours of running, twelve different individuals on each team running three legs apiece, and the two teams starting at 1:30 PM on Friday afternoon (90 min. after the next fastest teams), ARC and CRC finished just ten seconds apart at the finish line in Asheville, NC.
It’s truthfully hard to understand how two groups can cover that distance and time with so many different individuals and finish so closely together. The competition between the two teams brings out the best in each and every member. None of the guys that ran are professional runners. Some have been running for well over twenty years, and others are recent college graduates. At any stage in a competitive runner’s career, motivation is important. For the Asheville Running Collective and the Charlotte Running Club, the Blue Ridge Relay is one of the major motivating factors come summer time each year.
Captains Frankie Adkins of Asheville and Mike Beigay of Charlotte spend a lot of time preparing during the preceding months. They are gathering intel, putting the team together along with alternates, and getting all the final details from the Blue Ridge relay race director. The amount of work they do certainly doesn’t go unnoticed.
Team members were finally announced the week of the relay via Facebook, but it wasn’t until about 12:45 PM on Friday that the running orders were shared with one another. At that point each team began the obvious conversations about the matchups. However, it’s the Blue Ridge Relay and after years of competing, both teams know that anything can happen.
As 1:30 PM approached, the lead off runners got in their warm ups, and the initial casual conversations between the two teams switched to silent head nods and low key wishes of luck. The competition was on and it was time to get serious.
How it played out.
Leg 1: Bert Rodriguez of the Charlotte Running Club blasted an 18:18 on the leadoff 3.9 miles downhill to open up about a 50 second gap.
Leg 2: Jesse McEntire, CRC, increased the lead to 1:38 over the 7.5 miles. However, Asheville’s Pat Woodford closed the gap some during the final couple miles.
Leg 3: A new course record was set by CRC’s Ryan Jank, running 27:22 for 5.2 miles. He was able to increase the lead by about another minute. The lead grew to about 2:37.
Leg 4: A pretty even leg between CRC’s Chris Capps and ARC’s Brent Schouler. Capps was able to put another 16 seconds up for CRC. The lead was now just over 2:50.
Leg 5: Mark Driscoll of Asheville closed the gap through the streets of West Jefferson. He knocked off 1:15 on the 4.8 mile leg. CRC’s lead decreased to 1:35.
Leg 6: Charlotte’s Mike Mitchell and Asheville’s Chass Armstrong tackled the newly lengthened leg 6. Already a difficult leg, now became more of a grind. Chass gained another 1:15 on Mitchell. The gap was now only about 20 seconds after the first van completed their legs.
Leg 7: Both Ed Schlichter and Phil Latter ran well for their short 2.3 mile run, and CRC’s Schlichter increased the lead ever so slightly. CRC was now up 28 seconds.
Leg 8: Rookie Reed Payne of the Charlotte Running Club increased the lead by around 1:00 over the difficult 5k. Lead now up to about 1:25.
Leg 9: Asheville’s Caleb Masland closed the gap by about 50 seconds over leg 9’s 4.6 miles. The lead was down to around 30-35 seconds.
Leg 10: CRC’s Ben Hovis increased the lead by just over a minute, now 1:42, over the 5.3 miles along the South Fork New River.
Leg 11: Shiloh Mielke of the ARC closed the gap over this 8.4 mile leg by around 25 seconds. The lead was approximately 1:15.
Leg 12: Another newcomer, Mike Tamayo of the CRC team, crushed a 10k along the Blue Ridge Parkway in 32:40, just missing the course record. The lead was now up to 3:47 for CRC after the first full rotation.
Leg 13: Bert Rodriguez had another solid leg heading into Blowing Rock, NC. Over the 9.3 miles, Bert was able to increase the lead by just over a minute and a half. The lead had now been pushed to over 5:00 for Charlotte.
Leg 14: Pat Woodford of the ARC lowered the lead to back under 5:00, as he was about 45 seconds quicker over the 6.2 mile leg. Next up was the huge 10.5 Grandfather Mountain run! The lead was about 4:45.
Leg 15: Ryan Jank of the CRC and Alex Griggs of the ARC ran almost identical times rolling up this difficult 10.5 mile run. Despite being separated by almost 5:00, Jank only put 8 seconds on Griggs over this grueling leg.
Leg 16: Chris Capps, CRC, ripped the 3.2 downhill leg following Grandfather. He rolled 4:40 pace, going 14:58 for the leg. However, Schouler of the ARC wasn’t far behind with his 15:20. The lead had jumped back up to just over 5:00, about 5:15.
Leg 17: ARC’s Mark Driscoll once again ate into the lead, knocking off about 50 seconds over 2.9 miles. CRC’s lead was now just under 4:30.
Leg 18: Closing out Van 1 for the 2nd time around, Chass Armstrong, ARC, took about 2:00 off of the lead over this 5 mile leg. Lead now down to about 2:30. Driscoll and Armstrong were able to impressively cut it in half over only about 8 miles of running.
Leg 19: Asheville’s Phil Latter chipped away a bit more, taking 20 more seconds off the CRC lead over this 5.8 mile leg. Lead now down to around 2:10.
Leg 20: CRC’s Reed Payne lengthened it back out by just over 50 seconds during the 3.8 mile run. So it appeared the lead was just over 3:00.
Leg 21: Over the next two legs, classic Blue Ridge Relay troubles occurred for CRC. Caleb Masland of the ARC ran a great leg over a nasty 8 miles, while CRC’s Chase Eckard dealt with some cramping in his legs. The lead changed hands for the first time, as ARC took a lead of close to 1:00.
Leg 22: Then, CRC’s Ben Hovis missed the first turn of leg 22, and added on almost ½ a mile to this short 2.6 mile leg. Stu Moran of Asheville was able to increase the overall lead to around 4:00 after the mistake by Hovis.
Leg 23: Dan Matena of the CRC took it upon himself to get his team back in the mix. Matena chopped off just over 2:00 during the 6.6 mile run. The lead for ARC was just over 2:00 now.
Leg 24: CRC’s Mike Tamayo then rolled 19:16 over the next 4 miles to cut another 1:30 off the lead. So after two complete rotations, ARC had a lead of just above 40 seconds.
Leg 25: Now it was time for each athlete to run their last leg of the competition. CRC’s Rodriguez lost some ground to ARC’s Javan Lapp early in the leg, but was able to cut back about 15 seconds in the end. The lead was in the 30 second range.
Leg 26: Jesse McEntire of Charlotte, after a self-proclaimed rough leg 2, went chasing after ARC’s Pat Woodford. On a quick decent about halfway into the leg McEntire caught Woodford and now they were running stride for stride. They competed well over the final climbs of this run and Woodford handed off about 2 strides in front. So, after 26 legs and about 13 hours and 23 minutes of racing, the two teams were right back where they started. All tied up.
Leg 27: This leg proved to be one of the most insane of the race. Both Jank, CRC, and Griggs, ARC, were coming off of amazing runs up to Grandfather Mountain. Now, they were neck and neck with 9 miles to cover. Jank pulled away after a couple of miles together. However, late in the race, with about ½ a mile to go both athletes were having real difficulty. Jank was beginning to weave across the road and Griggs was complaining of both legs seizing up on him. The lead was about 90 seconds with ½ mile to go, but by the time they both stumbled to the exchange zone, everything was tied up once again. Both Jank and Griggs collapsed to the ground and had to receive medical attention. Thank goodness both athletes were okay in the end! The spirit of the competition was definitely represented by both athletes.
Leg 28: CRC’s Chris Capps and ARC’s Brent Schouler took off together into the darkness of the night with 8 miles of road ahead. Capps was able to gain the lead for CRC and handed off about 26 seconds ahead of Schouler. This was officially the 3rd lead change.
Leg 29: Asheville’s Mark Driscoll went out hard, catching CRC’s David Willis a couple miles into their 7 mile leg. The two then ran next to one another for a couple miles before Driscoll put the hammer down and was able to get a lead of about a 1:00 by the next exchange. The 4th lead change.
Leg 30: Chass Armstrong took off for Asheville and covered the 4.4 mile leg very quickly. He was able to add to the ARC lead, bumping it up to just over 4:00. Now Van 1 was done and all that was left were the 3rd legs for Van 2.
Leg 31: One of the most talked about legs at the Blue Ridge Relay was up next. The “mountain goat” leg that gains almost 1,400 feet in the last 5.5 miles of a 6.5 mile run. CRC’s Ed Schlichter ran inspired and took off almost 1:30 by the time he reached the top. The lead was now down to about 2:30 minutes for the Asheville Running Collective.
Leg 32: This 9.4 mile run pitted CRC’s youngster Reed Payne against ARC’s veteran Frankie Adkins. Reed had cut the lead down to about 30 seconds with just over a mile to go, but Frankie was able to dig down and run a bit quicker over the last bit. By the end of the leg, Payne had knocked the ARC lead down to about 58 seconds.
Leg 33: Another “mountain goat” leg. One that has climbs of in the 10-15% gradient range. This leg peaks and then flies down the other side. ARC’s Caleb Masland set a new course record as he finished up his set of 3 legs. Caleb increased the lead back to over 3:00 with just 3 legs to go. Charlotte’s Eckard did recover well from his previous leg and went 4:54 pace down the backside of the climb.
Leg 34: CRC’s Ben Hovis, needing redemption after getting lost on his 2nd leg, was able to cut into the ARC lead by around 1:00. The lead for Asheville with 2 legs to go was just over 2:00.
Leg 35: Charlotte’s Dan Matena lost a bit of time to Asheville’s Mielke on the initial climb of this 4.2 mile leg. However, Matena ran the downhill like a man on a mission and was able to close the gap down to about 1:48 with one leg to go.
Leg 36: Heading into this leg, both teams were looking at the 2:00 barrier as the place they needed to be. Charlotte wanted the lead to be just under two minutes, and obviously Asheville was hoping for the opposite. Both ARC’s Matt Hammersmith and CRC’s Mike Tamayo were working the tangents and dodging cars as they cruised down the mountain into Asheville. The road is a windy one, and both of the runners knew every second counted. Each team’s vans were stopping regularly to bark out time gaps and motivate their final runners. With somewhere between a ½ mile and ¾ of a mile to go, Tamayo reached Hammersmith and they were neck and neck. So after almost 206 miles of running, it was coming down to a final race over about ½ a mile to the Blue Ridge Relay finish line. Both teams were lining the street, making sure their runner knew where to go and wanting to witness the final steps of this amazing race. CRC’s Tamayo was able to close his final leg of around 6.5 miles at an astounding 4:57 pace! His exceptional final leg was the 5th lead change of the race and gave the Charlotte Running Club a 10 second victory.
Both teams broke the old course record of 19 hours and 50 minutes, as both snuck under 19 hours and 49 minutes. CRC had run 19:48:47 to ARC’s 19:48:57.
As you can imagine, there was an explosion of emotions at the finish. However, in the true spirit of this rivalry, within a minute of the completion of the race both teams were sharing hugs, handshakes, and congratulatory fist bumps. Sportsmanship and respect is evident between the two teams.
Both the Charlotte Running Club and the Asheville Running Collective knew they were apart of something historic and epic. The 2016 BRR will certainly be a race to remember for all of those involved. None of these guys will ever forget this one. Whether coming in 1st or 2nd in this race, with what had conspired over the previous twenty hours, both teams knew this was special.
So for now the belt resides in Charlotte, NC. The next competition between these two teams will be the CRC Winter Classic, an 8K XC race held in Charlotte in January of 2017. Can it come close to writing an EPIC story like the 2016 Blue Ridge Relay? Only time will tell.
Time to train.
Written by CRC’s Ben Hovis Legs 10, 22(yep, the lost leg), & 34
Charlotte Running Club, 19:48:47,new course record. Members were:
Bert Rodriguez, Jesse McIntire, Ryan Jank, Chris Capps, David Willis, Mike Mitchell, Ed Schlichter, Reed Payne, Chase Eckard, Ben Hovis, Dan Matena, & Mike Tamayo
Asheville Running Collective, 19:48:57. Members were:
Javan Lapp, Pat Woodford, Alex Griggs, Brent Schouler, Mark Driscoll, Chass Armstrong, Phil Latter, Frankie Adkins, Caleb Masland, Stu Moran, Shiloh Mielke, & Matthew Hammersmith