Reaching the Beach
What it takes to run a 24-hour relay race
On September 14, approximately 6,000 runners, making up more than 450 teams, will gather at the base of Cannon Mountain in Franconia to compete in the 14th annual Reach the Beach Relay race, covering a distance of approximately 200 miles in roughly 24 hours. The course winds its way down from the mountains, eventually finishing at Hampton Beach.
Each team, consisting of either 12 members or an ultra-team of no more than six, must make its way through 36 transition areas, alternating runners non-stop, day and night, while the resting members follow in support vans reading maps, eating and (sometimes) sleeping until they reach the finish line at Hampton Beach State Park.
It is the ultimate road trip for runners with an adventurous spirit. Participants love this race and no sooner finish it then begin to plan for next year’s event. John Stanzel – known affectionately as “Cap’n John” to his teammates and whose men’s super masters team” (a group of 12 men, all over 40) placed second in their division in the 2011 race – says camaraderie is what keeps him coming back for the relay: “I’m a team sport guy enjoying a very lonely, solitary sport. I really like the challenge of assembling a special team of like-minded runners who will join me in track workouts and tough tempo runs over the summer before the race – the type of running that’s (at least for me) very difficult to do alone. Competition, and frankly winning (at least attempting to), are welcome by-products of RTB.”
But Reach the Beach and other relays of its kind aren’t just for hardcore runners. With the right planning and preparation, newbies to the sport can enjoy the thrills of a relay race. At RTB, team starts begin in waves, with slower teams starting off earlier in the day and faster teams beginning their first legs later in the afternoon, forming a shorter window for finish times the next day. As long as teams can average a 10-minute-per-mile pace, they can compete.
The Reach the Beach Relay is one of the longest distance-running relay races in the United States and winds its way through over 30 towns before finally finishing at Hampton Beach State Park.
Expert Advice from Mike Dionne
Originally from Nashua, Mike Dionne is coming up on his 14th year as co-director of the Reach the Beach Relay series, which he founded in 1999 along with Rich Mazzola. Their company stresses working with local communities, supporting local businesses and environmental responsibility. This is the longest running race of the series, which includes, Massachusetts (Wachusett to Westport, held in May of each year) and their newest addition, New Jersey (Mountain Creek to Island Beach, launching this October 12-13).
Why Cannon Mt. to Hampton? How did that come to be the start and finish?
When I first got the idea, I had just done a relay race myself having never done one before. I had such a great time and thought this would be so cool on the East coast – people here would love it. I thought that New Hampshire would be a great place for this. So we started to scope out a good route and took a bunch of drives through New Hampshire, initially thinking something along the Kangamangus, but we did dozens of drives to find the right route. There are so many great ski areas in NH that would be great to host. The other key thing was that we wanted to give back to the state’s parks and pick up as many of them as we could on the route. It was a really a good fit with Cannon. We didn’t have maps when we first did it; it’s really grown.
What draws all these people to compete in this relay race?
It’s the relationship to the other runners. It’s the camaraderie – you’re in it with a bunch of other people – maybe you’re good running friends or old college buddies and it’s a great weekend away. You go through these hardships together but at the same time you’re having so much fun. It just becomes the weekend you have your group together and people really look forward to it each year. Sometimes you’ll have an injured runner or someone who has to drop out of the team and have someone else jump in, and then next year that person starts their own team. This is the only running sport that you can do that’s social. When you’re done RTB, you have so many war stories to tell like, ‘My leg had 10 hills in it.’ We find a lot of people bring college buddies and this is the time they get together. The couple weeks on the website you hear and see all the stories. If you’ve run thre or four miles you can do this. Everyone can particiapte in this You can mix these people all together.
Who can participate on a team? Don’t you have to be an ultra-runner to do this sort of thing?
Anyone who’s interested in running, and can run three or four miles at a time, can be on a team. That’s the great thing about the teams – you don’t have to have all marathoners. Everyone can be at a different level and run a few legs and participate. We haven’t done it yet but we are planning to put together a captain’s kit for each team leader to give people some resources on how to organize a team, for the people who have never done this before. It would give tips on how to assemble runners, how to best prepare and everything you need to know to get organized for the race.
What makes the New Hampshire Reach The Beach so unique?
I think it’s the quality of the event. We’re the only 24-hour race that gets the community really involved. We have RTB people at each site – you can do other races and have no one there who knows what’s going on. We do a lot of extra things, like finish line photos and photos of all the teams. We put a lot of effort into signs – We really don’t want people to get lost. Also there are police details, so it’s safe and well run. Knowing that this is a big weekend that people put so much planning into, we want to make certain it’s a great one. We try to attend to every detail so there’s less that the runners need to worry about. We have many volunteers, which is our signature thing. The towns really embrace it and are very involved in it. We have clubs, like the Hampton Rotary Club, fire departments and about 20 other town groups that volunteer, help out and sell food and showers to the runners.The runners and the towns both benefit – It’s a win-win for everyone. There is even a state park team running this year, whose team name is “NH State Park Team Bloggers'” and they will be blogging about their training for RTB while also helping to spread awareness about Lyme Disease in New Hampshire.
Preparation seems critical to making things run smoothly for this type of event. What are some things can runners can do to avoid glitches during the race?
One thing we’ve learned along the way is that van organization is critical. It helps for each runner to store their clothes in a bin in the back of the van labeled with their name. With all those people it gets messy (teams of 12 have six runners sharing a van, with two vans per team). People sometimes use their own vans, like their minivans and then wish they’d rented a 15-passenger van, something just a bit bigger. More than one vest is helpful, one with a blinking light front and back and a good head lamp and get used to running with it. Don’t use anything for the first time at the race. Practice early morning or late at night, and whatever you use, use it before the race. Food choice: Know what you can eat that won’t sit in your stomach. You often don’t feel like you want to eat right after a hard leg and so you wait a while, but then you realize you have to run again soon and you’re not fueled up. The other thing people do is they finish a leg and are tired so they sit in the van after the run, but you really need to be stretching out after running hard. Make sure you get out of the van and move around a lot to loosen up so you’ll be ready for that next leg.
The Sprinter Headlamp from Black Diamond ($69.95) is a 75-lumen, all weather light, perfect for the long night legs of the race and features a battery that is rechargeable through a USB port.
You’ve no way of knowing what weather will come your way in September in New Hampshire, so being prepared for the elements is crucial. Brooks Essential Run Jacket ($49) is lightweight for easy packing, water resistant and features Scotchlite Retroreflectivity, helping with visibility at
With the Nathan Vapoair Vest ($149.99) long runs will never be the same with 2L of liquid, back kangaroo pocket, and breathable, chafe-free materials. Sip from the handy quick release valve and stay seen in low light with 360 degrees of reflectivity.
The GoMotion LiteBelt 100 ($59.95) will assure you keep within the rules of running at night during a relay race with its flashing LEDs and its lightweight, breathable hex mesh will keep you cool and comfortable.
Eating on the run is often one of the biggest challenges runners face during an event like a long distance race. Timing is crucial, so if you miss fueling up with some real food make sure you have some portable energy on hand, like GU Energy Gels ($11.60 for a box of 8) which work fast with a mix of carbs and fructose to keep you going for miles.