100on100—Wedding Party or One-Act Play?

Charlie Kimball
Posted June 17th, 2010

The 100on100 relay running race is somewhere between a wedding party and a one-act play. In a short span of time, team members get to know each other intimately, as they push themselves physically and mentally. They come to rely on one another for everything. And for a weekend, they take on a persona that is completely different from what they “normally” do, sometimes even assuming a nickname that is relevant only to their teammates and support crew. Then, once it is over, besides the finisher’s medal and the t-shirts and the sore muscles and blistered feet, they have only the memory of that experience, when they were able to escape their normal lives. Nobody from their regular routine would understand the bond that developed, the shared experience that was so meaningful and special. So they keep it to themselves, a “happy spot” of their own.

That is why the 100on100 has a 75-percent return rate. Rob O’Neil, who shares race director responsibilities with his brother, Scott, spoke of the camaraderie that develops on the route. “It isn’t about the fast runners, though they are great to have and impressive to watch,” says Rob. “It is about the experience for the teams. The 10- and 12-minute-per-mile teams are the mainstay of the race, and that is who the event is designed for.”

The O’Neils came up with the idea of starting a 100-mile relay run after participating in the inaugural “Reach the Beach” relay run in New Hampshire in 2005. They enjoyed the feel of the race, the espirit de corp of the participants, and the novelty of a point-to-point relay. “We loved the concept,” says Rob, “and we wanted to bring it to Vermont, with our own twist—more accessible, smaller, easier to manage.” Instead of a 200-mile course, 12-person teams, and 24 hours, Rob and Scott created a 100-mile course, 6-person teams, and a 12-hour goal. “It is something you can do in one day, with one van and with just 6 people” explains Rob.

It works.

Teams start in waves according to their estimated paces, with the slower teams going first. The course is 100 miles on Route 100, starting at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe and finishing at the Ice House at Jackson Gore at Okemo Mountain Resort in Ludlow.

At 6 a.m., the dew-wet grass shimmered in the early morning sun at Trapp’s. It was easy to see why the Sound of Music family from Austria ended up here, as the layer of clouds below and the sharp peaks of the green mountains above made it feel like the Austrian Alps. The team members all had a nervous excitement to them—excited to be there, to cheer on their teammates; nervous for their own run, hoping not to let their teammates down, wanting to do a good job. The Ultra teams had even more reason to be nervous, as each one of the three-member teams had to run six sections, or a cumulative thirty-three miles. Their rest time between relay legs would be less, the strain on their body more.

After the first group left the starting line, it was as if the teams heaved a collective sigh, relieved to be under way. After an exuberant cheer, they went into race mode, with supportive encouragement for the next runners to get prepared for their sections. And so began the conversation thread of the day, revolving around the next transition zone, the logical spot on the road to stop to offer teammates water, ice, or other nutrients, the food they needed, the actual versus estimated pace…

In the caravan of support minivans and full-sized vans, the window graffiti opened a window into the personality of the team. “We’re not here to win,” read one. Another, “Cody’s Crew,” was running in memory of a young boy, the father a part of the team and deeply thankful to his friends who came from Indiana, Chicago, and elsewhere to support him and his family. “Running for More…” read another, a group of women who met in New York in running events designed for women over 40. They were running together in what is now an annual tradition. Mostly the names of the team members were on the van windows. One man I spoke to was from Delaware. His group of friends decided it was easier to do this race than the Reach the Beach—fewer people to worry about, it is just one day… It works.

Perhaps the most interesting team was the trio of barefoot runners. The “RunTellmanRun” van was professionally wrapped in support of one of the members, Tellman Knudson, who will began his transcontinental, barefoot run last September 9. It was disarming to see them run on the gravel and dirt road and along the gritty tarmac without shoes. Tellman explained that the white lines can help because they are cooler and that the grit doesn’t usually stay on the white line so it is a little smoother. The designated driver and support man, Ben, wore his Norse-inspired Utilikilt without the slightest inhibition, providing his crew and other crews with supportive comments and encouragement. “We definitely deserve an award for being the most supportive team,” he says in the finish area at Jackson Gore at Okemo. No sooner had he said it than a runner from the day said, “Thank you guys for all of your support today. It was great.”

The barefoot trio did not make the full 100 miles, dropping out at 82 miles. They had each set new personal marks for barefoot distance in one day. “You are only going to reach your real goals by establishing outrageous goals and doing everything you can to achieve them,” says Tellman. “We are psyched to have run 82 miles today. And we had a blast!”

In the Ice House at Jackson Gore, on the surface of the indoor tennis courts, the O’Neils had set up a wide finish chute so that each team could run together across the finish line. There were shouts of joy, hoots and hollers by the finishing team and the other teams who had already finished. The last team did not finish until after 11 p.m., in the dark, with flashing lights on the runner’s reflective running vest. There was still a crowd waiting for them, as happy for them as they were for themselves. It didn’t matter that the winning team, Team OSX, finished three hours earlier at a 6:02 per-mile pace. They weren’t there to win. They got their finishers’ medals, had a picture taken, and then grabbed some food before sitting down with some refreshments to bask in the glow of a great accomplishment. There was no nervousness now, no modesty. They had shared something amazing together, something that no one could understand or take away from them.