Inaugural Mason-Dixon 50 Mile Relay Meets with Success
BY JIM ADAMS
HEREFORD, MD--The Inaugural Mason-Dixon 50 Mile Relay began bright and early on a cool, sunny May Day morning. Teams congregated in the parking lot of Fila's U.S. headquarters to register, and in some cases to meet each other for the first time, before heading up to Hereford Middle School for the start. Race Director Rick Bingham had his hands full as he coordinated the activities of five different areas (assembly, start, exchange one, turnaround, and exchange two) while greeting all the well-wishers arriving in Fila's parking lot.
At least five teams used the matching service to round out their roster, including the eventual winning team who lost a member to a stress fracture a couple of days before the event. The winning mixed open division team was assembled entirely through e-mail coordination, and the complete team met together for the first time at race-day morning packet pickup. Glenn Engler also had a cyber team (E Males) that he had e-mailed to meet at a van with traffic cones stacked on the roof.
The first wave of teams started at 7:30 a.m. The lead runners headed downhill to the Northern Central Railroad Trail, then turned south. Meanwhile, teammates drove over to Sparks Station for the first exchange point 4.65 miles away...
Fifteen minutes later the second wave began running the course. Immediately, John Roemer IV of the Parkton Track Club took the lead and set off after the lead pack, fifteen minutes and almost two miles in front of him. The only reason this is notable is that the rest of his team consisted only of Ed Vachino, and everyone was wondering about the wisdom of going so hard when they had twenty-five more miles to run.
At 8:00 a.m. the third wave departed Hereford MS as elements of the first group were making their way into the first exchange point at Sparks Station. Baltimore Road Runners Club President Chris Cucuzzella supervised the exchange procedures as the second runners began making their way south to the Ashland turnaround. The vehicles set out on the twisted, winding roads to get to the Phoenix Exchange, the shortest leg at 3.87 miles.
At 8:15 a.m. the fourth wave began their race, followed by the fastest teams who were seeded to start at 8:30 a.m. By 9:00 the last waves were rolling south while the earlier waves were heading north to Monkton Station, some 5.21 miles away.
Jim Carville thought that there would be a lot of "down" time between running, but discovered that was not the case. Drive. Park. Let the next runner loosen up. Socialize with the crowds. Cheer your teammates on through the exchange. Hand-off. Cooldown. Jump in the vehicle. Talk about the effort, the trail, your part of the course. Drive to the next exchange. Park. Socialize some more.
And so it went. From Monkton Station, 5.67 miles, to Parkton. From Parkton, 5.65 miles, to Freeland. From Freeland across the Mason-Dixon Line and into Pennsylvania. Through New Freedom PA, and all the old trains an arm's length away from the course; 4.23 miles to the northern turnaround at Railroad Borough.
The York Road Runners provided the exchange point and road guards in Pennsylvania. At the turnaround, YRRC President Jeff Hines had brought donuts and drinks for the participants, and decorated the area with banners celebrating his club and Pennsylvania. He and race director Rick Bingham were discussing the possibility of extending the course further north into Pennsylvania when the word came...the first runner was on his way.
Ed Vachino of the two-man Parkton Track Club was the first team into the turnaround. By this time the two runners were beginning to experience some difficulty in climbing in and out of their monster truck in order to drive to the next exchange point. What they really needed was an ambulance with a stretcher, a driver, and a massage therapist.
The other teams began to pull into the turnaround. Team Master Plan was calculating the time between them and the PTC, wondering when PTC would fade. Then Jeff's radio crackled. "Team 22 is a quarter-mile away," came the report.
"Team 22, get your runner up here!" Jeff shouted. "Team 22!" There was no team 22 in the area. "Maybe he misread the number, we have a team 12 with a runner ready to go." So the Westminster Diplomats Grandmasters Team toed the line.
Then the runner, a Marine by his looks, appeared, wearing number 22. Charging into the exchange point, he shouted, "Where's my team?" No one knew. "That's unacceptable. Where are those guys!" The assembled host of teams waiting for their runners began grinning ear-to-ear as he grumbled, "Those guys owe me a six-pack, and it's gonna be a twelve-pack if they're not here quick."
Once again the runners passed each other, those northbound waving as the leading southbound runners headed back to Freeland. Chip, of the Nine Milers, commented on the social aspect of the event. "I thought you would run, then wait around for the next leg," he said, "but there was a lot of support and partying going on in between." Another driving jaunt through the twisting, turning, scenic Pennsylvania farm roads took the teams back to the party in the Freeland exchange lot.
A couple of teams were set on catching the Parkton Track Club, but most everyone else had targeted Team Marine. Rather than enter a team of lean, mean, running machines, the Marines had shown up with a bunch of stout lads capable of storming the battlements while loaded down with machine guns and rocket launchers. Those hefty body types did not exactly lend themselves to a fast second leg of five-plus miles in the warm sunny afternoon temperatures, and the hard-core runners knew it.
Again the road rally moved south, with each team assessing their relative position by noting when and where other teams were coming into the exchange points. "We spent more time road-rallying than running," said Christy St. Clair, who ran with the Sole ******. "There really wasn't a lot of time between your running assignments. Trying to get to the next relay point in time was just as challenging as running your legs." Back to Parkton, to Monkton Station, and then the last 5.21 mile leg to the finish line at Phoenix.
The Parkton Track Club was the first to cross the finish line, while Master Plan edged them on the clock by 9½ minutes. The forty-five minute differential in the start made it hard to judge on the trail itself. Total strangers just twenty-four hours before, the CyberLinks finished third overall and first mixed open team and became instant best friends.
Westminster RRC Diplomats were fourth, and first men's Grandmasters team. The amazing thing about the event was that so many of the times were extremely close after fifty miles of racing. Even runners who entered it as a "training" run found themselves reaching for their best performance so that they would not let their teammates down. And the races were close. After fifty miles, Team Finished Product inched ahead of Team Leukemia by 21 seconds while the Night Crawlers edged Sole Train by 41 seconds!
BRRC threw a big pizza party back at Fila's headquarters. Awards and recognition were generously distributed. Drag'n'Drop was picked as the most creative team name and the NCR Trail Snails failed to live up to their slogan (We're Behind You All the Way) by taking two team awards. Team Wanda from the Penguin Brigade finished as the first women's Masters team and declared the event "Penguin Friendly." Tom Smith was recognized for completing the course solo, a project which was (and still is) highly discouraged due to the lack of ultra-support teams on the course, limited time windows, and long isolated stretches of wilderness.
"Best Saturday I've had in a while," remarked Rudy Castellani of the Internet linked E-males. It didn't hurt that he picked up some hardware too.
After the smashing success in the inaugural event, plans are already under way for the Year 2000 Relay. Organizers feel that they can handle more teams, and intend to expand the number of teams allowed. A number of coaches observing the event requested that the date be adjusted slightly to occur after their track season is finished so that high-school teams will be able to participate. Stay tuned for more details. As Vicki Grace said, "We are ready for next year!"
The Baltimore Road Runners wish to express their thanks and appreciation to the York Road Runners, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the York Heritage Trail, the Baltimore County Police Department, and Fila USA for their help and assistance with the Inaugural Mason-Dixon Fifty Mile Relay.
1. The Master Plan 5:14:49