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Posted on May 30, 2012 in Dear Diary, Races | 20 comments

Reach the Beach: Final Thoughts

So I said that I’d be recapping our tour of the New Balance factory that we took pre-relay, as well as wrapping up my final thoughts regarding Reach the Beach. Well, I’m a woman of my word (ish), so here it is! I know it’s a little late, and RTB fever has probably (blessedly?) passed, but I’m nothing if not thorough… when I want to be. Advanced apologies if you find this thoroughly uninteresting, but I kind of think it’s fascinating and, well, it’s my blog and I can write what I want to. 😉

C’mon, admit it: you’re as excited about this as I am!

So before we got around to the whole running 200 miles thing, we were able to tour New Balance’s factory in Lawrence, MA. As I’ve mentioned before, New Balance is the only major athletic shoe company that manufactures ANY of their shoes domestically! They have factories in Massachusetts and Maine (probably among others, but I’ve forgotten where else, haha), which means they provide around 2,000 American jobs that would normally be outsources overseas. Pretty cool! It definitely seems to be a point of pride for New Balance that their 990 shoe line (their benchmark shoe, from way back when) is still, to this day, produced in the United States.

Tina and Sarah

Elizabeth and Bridget


We were able to tour the actual manufacturing floor, which I actually found fascinating. It’s also where I got the sa-weet safety glasses (and headset!) that I’m sporting in the first pic above. It’s a huge, huge facility, is CRAZY loud (which is why we had headsets, so we could actually hear our tour guide!), and there are TONS of people working on the floor, each at different stations.


I remember being distinctly impressed with the sheer number of employees working on the floor. For some reason, in my mind I always imagined that any massed-produced product — athletic shoes included — simply come out of a machine already made. Not so, as it turns out! Every shoe produced in this facility is touched by something like 20+ hands. Pretty neat.


We were able to see the beginning-to-end creation of the 990 shoe model, from the floppy and flat shoe form, all the way to molded upper (which is then attached to the sole, laced up, and even boxed by hand!)

IMG_6962.jpg IMG_6963.jpg

After our factory-floor tour, we headed down to the Sports Research Lab, where we were able to see all of the hard work, science, and research that goes into the development and testing of each shoe.


I barely took any photos while we were down here, but we were able to do things like analyze our gait, see how our weight is distributed on our feet, and check out the varieties of foams that go into the soles of running shoes. Neat stuff, though, admittedly, it wasn’t quite as fascinating to me as it probably was to more of the seasoned runners on the team. You know, the ones who actually care if they’re heel-striking or not, hahaha (confirmation: I heel strike like my life depends on it).


You can see more of our time inside the factory in the video that is embedded at the end of this post!

Oh captain, my captain. 😉

Okay. Now. Prepare yourself for like 10 straight paragraphs of text. Here are my final thoughts about the relay, my contribution to it, and all that general wrap-up stuff:

1. I am SO proud of myself.

I know it sounds pompous to say that, but whatever, it’s true. This is an event that I would never have done on my own if Tina hadn’t asked me to be a part of it, and I am so grateful to her, my teammates, the race organizers, and New Balance for making it all happen. I ran 11 miles in total, which is by FAR the furthest distance I have ever (and likely will ever) run. I climbed a freaking mountain! I get to say that I was part of this epic adventure, and that elicits pride for me. PRIDE!

2. I was REALLY unprepared, in more ways than one.

Physically, I prepared myself to run shorter distances, 3 – 4 miles. After all, my legs were all around that distance, and because of the hours of “off time” that we would have in between, I really didn’t consider the fact that I would be running 11 miles in total. I just concentrated on each leg as an individual distance. While mentally, I think that was a good thing because it helped me from becoming overwhelmed and freaking out (er, more than I already did, haha), physically those miles REALLY added up fast. By the end, my legs were sore, my feet were bruised, and it’s kind of a miracle that I was able to run (hobble?) across that finish line at all (and is the reason why I’m waaaaay in the back — unseeable, haha — in all our finish line pictures). I now know that the way to train for something like this is more closely aligned to half-marathon training than training for the individual distances of your legs. Live and learn!

I also thought that because my short distance running pace has improved so much since I first starting running (from 12:30 to around 10:30/10:45), I’d be able to hold my own more in comparison to my super speedy teammates. Well, throw 600 feet of elevation and a rocky mountain trail into that first leg, and it’s a whole different story. I was slow. So, so slow. I think that my average pace for this relay ended up being closer to 13 minutes per mile, which is hard for me to openly admit. I mean, that’s pretty much walking. Luckily, my teammates don’t judge, and in fact, they were wildly supportive of me before, during, and after every single leg. They’re kind of the best.

The last thing that I felt unprepared for was the whole mentality of Reach the Beach. I kind of figured that it’d be like marathons and half-marathons are these days: sure, there are tons of incredibly fast, seasoned, competitive runners, but there are also lots of more casual runners who are there more for the experience and sense of personal accomplishment. I felt that almost all of the runners that comprised the other 165 Reach the Beach teams steadfastly fit into the former category. This was an elite running event, and these teams were FAST. We all said that we were going into it with the intention of having fun and just being able to finish, but with an average pace of 9:30, we still ended up with fewer than 20 vans finishing after us. While that’s not really a big deal to me (says the person who single-handedly shifted the average down the curve, haha), I know it definitely bummed out some of my more competitive teammates.

3. Living in a van? Not so bad!

The things that I was dreading most about this race (other than the, y’know, running part, haha), were having to deal with being crammed in a van for 2 days, and getting no sleep. As it turns out, neither ended up being that bad! Yes, I was thoroughly exhausted (actually, the word “exhausted” doesn’t really even being to cover it) at the end, but basically napping in the middle of the night for 40 minutes with my legs pushed up against the van door wasn’t THAT bad. Adrenaline goes a long way, and once I was up and out of the van, I didn’t really feel the sleepiness again until our van had totally finished. I think having a driver (thanks a million, Nicole!) helped a TON with keeping the additional mental exhaustion at bay, too.

I also expected it to be totally smelly and gross in the van, but was pleasantly surprised! Maybe it’s that we’re not super smelly people (hard to believe, though, after 100 collective miles, haha), but we were all pretty diligent about wiping down, reapplying deodorant, and keeping our stanky running clothes locked away (I put mine in giant 2.5 gallon ziplock bags and it worked wonders!).

4. The million dollar question: Would I do it again?

I had an absolutely amazing time doing this relay. I feel bonded for life with girls that, prior to piling into a van for 31 hours with them, were total strangers to me. I accomplished a physical feat that, if you had asked me to do just one year ago, I would have crumpled to the floor in laughter. I don’t regret being a part of it for one second. All that said though, if I was going to be 100% honest with you all? I’m not really sure. I mean, I’m not saying no, I’m just not really saying that I’m positive I would be up for it again. This is an event for RUNNERS, and while I hope that our blogging about the experience encourages relays like this to go more mainstream — because it really was incredible! — I am not one. A runner, that is.

I reiterate my gratefulness to have gotten the opportunity to participate, and I feel like I was challenged to break through my limitations, which is an awesome feeling. That said, I do think that there are tons of other bloggers out there who might be better suited for an event like this. Who knows though? I’m kind of “off” running right now, but things tend to come full-circle with me (um, my recurring — and current — obsession with My Little Pony much?) and if I get the motivation to want to start conquering long distances again, I might change my tune entirely. For the meantime, I am perfectly content to place my Reach the Beach experience in the “once in a lifetime” folder.

Credit: Jack at pixelwiremedia.com / rtbrelay.com

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but RTB had a videographer (Jack, from pixelwiremedia) who split his time between our two vans for the ENTIRE race (getting even less sleep than us, if you can imagine!). The first episode (I think there are supposed to be 5 in total! Eep!) of his video recaps is up on Youtube, and it’s kinda awesome (you know, in a totally embarrassing way). Make sure you check it out below (or on Youtube by clicking here).

This episode covers our New Balance factory tour and our pre-race campfire interview. And yes, of course I cried during my interview question. Don’t you know me at all?


  1. What a great looking bunch! Congratulations again. I think the race sounds amazing and inspiring! I love the idea of sealing away your clothes in ziplock bags but that’s the clean-freak in me thinking out loud haha!

  2. I have been following your blog for a few months now, then I started seeing your posts about RTB relay! Congrats on finishing the RTB MA! I was a TA captain at TA13 and 30!! I’ve worked at both MA races and a few NH races. It’s a great event! You should be so proud to finish!!

    • Oh gosh, the volunteers at every TA were so great! I wonder if we saw each other and didn’t even know it… 🙂

  3. Sounds like quite the experience! Congrats on finishing and completing something that most people would shy away from.

  4. <3 I am so, so proud of you, Gretchen! And I do think you're a runner.

    Also, I definitely didn't realize either just how competitive it was.

  5. can’t wait to check out that video when i’m not at work!

    congrats on the accomplishment! it’s pretty amazing!

    also, i would have geeked out watching them make shoes. it’s like being part of a “how it’s made” episode 🙂

  6. Gretchen, you are too adorable. I’m def a sensitive gal myself, esp when I see others cry. FYI, I shed a tear with you at 5:41.

  7. I know I don’t know you, but I can’t explain the emotion I felt seeing you complete this! It’s so amazing to accomplish something you never thought you could do, or were scared to do. You should absolutely be proud of yourself and bask in the success 🙂

  8. What a great accomplishment! 😀

  9. You SHOULD be really proud!! What a great accomplishment! I say this with even more certainty than I could have two months ago, because I just started running. Which is to say, during my regular two-mile walk, I break into a turtle-like trot for the sixteenth of a mile I’m capable of! But I waddle a wee bit further each time. Eighth of a mile, I’m coming for you! 😀

  10. I loved the honesty in the recap!! I too am not a runner, and fall into the self-accomplishment category when I have went in races… It is hard being the slowest!! I am right there with you! I just started swimming lengths with a group and I have to work hard to keep up to their leisurely pace! I think kudos to you for getting out there and giving it your all. We all have to start somewhere, and I know my body thanks me for getting out there at least moving rather than hiding from experiences.
    BTW your St Maarten pics looked great! I love your confidence! …and that pic you took for Ben and his fiance is GORG!!

  11. Well I really enjoyed the video. What an awesome group of Ladies you all are.

  12. omg thats so awesome that there was a videographer there to capture these moments! i really shouldn’t be watching this at work but its so inspiring watching the video. haha can’t wait for more eps!

  13. Hi, just tuning into your blog and I love it. Great job on the relay, looked like a blast. Wondering what glasses you are wearing, I am in search of new running glasses that don’t make me look like a bug.

    • Hi Jacky! Thanks so much. The glasses I’m wearing actually aren’t running sunglasses, they’re just normal ones. I didn’t run in them. A lot of the girls are wearing Oakley sunglasses though that are specially made for sports, but still look really cute! I was definitely jealous of their ‘specs. 😉

      • Thanks! I will have to give my regular glasses a try before I invest in the Oakleys.


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