Bob Nelson, Captain of our Blue Ridge Relay team, reflects on this weekend’s accomplishment.  From start to finish Bob kept us organized, motivated and laughing.  Bob – Our thanks to you and Carolina Godiva for letting Great Outdoor Provision Co. join in this adventure.    Here’s Bob’s race recap from the 2010 Blue Ridge Relay.

Van 1 at the start
Van #1 at the start with 6 Regular Guys & Trusty

The word “epic” is fairly overused these days. It seems that a weekend bike ride, an overnight backpacking trip or a Saturday morning trail run are now “epic”.  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes the word “epic” as a) extending beyond the usual or ordinary especially in size or scope; b) heroic.  On Friday morning, September 17, 2010 I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with twelve regular guys staring down 208 miles of Blue Ridge Mountain roads from the base of Mount Rogers in Virginia to downtown Asheville.   The twelve of us would trade off running a plastic slap-band up and down some of the toughest hills on the East Coast to arrive in Asheville with a goal time of 28 hours.

Our team, Carolina Godiva/Great Outdoor Provision Co. Open, was made up of twelve “regular” guys (if you can call anyone who wants to do this “regular”) and one brave soul that we bribed to help drive. The runners would run in order through the thirty-six legs of the race. Our team was made up of Chuck Millsaps, Colin Jones, Jason Clark, John Millsaps, Tom Kirby, Peter Millsaps, Harold Hill, Doug Hensel, Bob Nelson, Heiko Rath, Jeff Hall and Shane Slaven. Our driver was Steve Abbott, affectionately known as P.I.T.A.

Late night fuel & killer tattoos

We traveled to Boone on Thursday coordinating travel with the Carolina Godiva Mixed team. We arrived in Boone and chowed down at Black Cat Burritos before checking in to the Hampton Inn. After a trip to buy some team supplies we prepped the vans for the race and crashed. Six O’clock came pretty early for the first van. They hit the Hampton Inn breakfast and drove the hour to the start at Grayson-Highlands State Park in Virginia. Chuck Millsaps led-off with a fast downhill leg that put us on our way. The terrain was up and down but nothing too difficult in mountain terms. In other words, we don’t have anything to compare to these around here. The team moved the wrist band through West Jefferson before meeting up with the second van and getting a well deserved break back in Boone.

The second van members slept in a bit before leaving Boone at 10:30 a.m. After the exchange we carried the band through Todd, Boone and into Blowing Rock. The climbs began to get longer and steeper once leg 10 began. Heiko Rath climbed the first monster hill on the course while Jeff Hall and Shane Slave got to run the first two legs on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We met-up with the first van in Blowing Rock and took our own well deserved break back in Boone back at Black Cat Burritos.

Leg 14 finishes at Grandfather Mountain

Colin Jones ran a heroic 10 mile 14th leg to the base of Grandfather Mountain followed by a fast descent by Jason Clark. It was dark when the two vans met in Linville to begin hop scotching our way to Asheville. The temperature dropped quickly as we forged on. Tom Kirby ran a really tough 17th leg and Peter Millsaps burned through leg 18 to the half-way point. Doug Hensel ran a very dark, winding, up-and-down nine mile section through Pisgah National Forest passing off to me for an easy downhill section through a deserted Spruce Pine. From there, Heiko took us up to the Penland School and Jeff ran an unpaved section that vaguely resembled a road. Shane finished up the second van with a strong 24th leg.

Two legs down for each of us, one to go. At this point it was around 2:00 in the morning. We were all tired and wondering how we would make it through our final legs. Meanwhile, Steve Abbott was fortifying himself with energy drinks and Skittles. It was a potent combination. Chuck and Colin made it through two short but fairly tough legs. Then Jason Clark just hammered the nine mile 27th leg.   He was really impressive.

Peter stretches before night exchange 

Not to be outdone, John Millsaps flew through the next leg before handing off to Tom Kirby. Tom powered through a really tough 29th leg with a strong effort. Peter took over and well, let’s just say we know why his middle name is “Miles”.

At this point van 2 took over, van 1 had done their job and were beginning to relax. NOW THE FUN BEGAN! If you see Harold Hill, tell him that he is the man. He ran up the longest climb in the race, running 6.5 miles up a mountain. He held pace, never flinched and ran like a stud. You ‘da man Harold Hill! Harold passed off to Doug Hensel who screamed down a nine mile descent. It was an awesome performance. Doug actually opened up his stride on this leg. I was waiting for him as he finished the leg in less than an hour. Now it was my turn.

Bob tops out on Mountain Goat Hard Leg 33
Cap’n Bob tops out on Mtn Goat Hard Leg 33

Before the race I asked people what a 13% grade looks like. No one could tell me. Well, it’s steep! It’s really, really steep. The climb started with a gentle incline then kept pitching upwards. When it got to 8-9% I began to shuffle. Both vans passed me and waited at the top of the climb. The elite Norm’s Maggots van passed me on the climb and gave me some encouraging words. When they reached the top of the climb they asked the guys if they were from Godiva. They said yes and asked how I was doing. The Maggots van said, “he’s moving, he’s kind of limping though. Is he O.K.?” I was moving in some semblance of a run but it was slow and excruciating. Finally, I saw the guys on top and trudged my way up, finally making to the top of this 3.5 mile climb before plunging downhill to the finish of my leg. As I reached the end I started to tear up. I hurt so bad but had done it. I had run the Blue Ridge Relay.

We still had three legs to go. Heiko rolled through leg 34 and passed off to Jeff Hall. Jeff climbed a 10% grade up two miles before getting some relief on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was another heroic effort. He then passed off to Shane Slaven’s very capable legs. My fellow Ball State University Alum carried the wrist band down to downtown Asheville to the finish. We all escorted him in and finished in a time of 25:23:50, 7:20 pace, over an hour and 35 minutes under our predicted time. We place eighteenth overall (of 100 teams) and fifth in the open category. Best of all we were the first of three Godiva teams to cross the finish line just a couple minutes ahead of the awesome Godiva Masters team and thirty minutes ahead of the Godiva Mixed team. It was so great to see all the Godiva teams finish so close to each other.

Heiko, Harold (nice skirt!) and P.I.T.A. (aka driver) wait on Jeff at Leg 35

So…………..a bunch of “regular” guys ran 208 miles of Blue Ridge Mountain roads in 25:23:50. The team that included Chuck Millsaps and his sons John, a sophomore at Wake Forest University, and Peter, an eighth grader at Martin Middle School in Raleigh. Jason Clark, an EMT, Godiva legend Tom Kirby and Godiva newcomer, come backing Colin Jones. We had another Ball State grad in Shane Slaven, hashing greats in Doug Hensel, Heiko Rath and Steve Abbott, our new friend Jeff Hall and our old friend Harold Hill. We all extended beyond the usual or ordinary especially in size and scope and we were heroic. I want to thank my twelve brothers for the epic adventure and the comradery. Thanks also to the Carolina Godiva Track Club and to Great Outdoor Provision Company for helping to make this all possible. If you haven’t run in this event, well………………… this event.

BRR_Carolian Godiva Great Outdoor Provision Co.
12 Regular Guys enjoying the finish of the Blue Ridge Relay