Smoky Mountain Relay

This time last year, I felt like I was on a reality TV show. For about 36 hours, I was living with ten sweaty and stinky strangers, navigating our way across the mountains of Western North Carolina, on foot and in a fifteen-passenger van. I was participating in the Smoky Mountain Relay, a 200-mile relay race from Brevard, NC to Bryson City, NC. It was a race, but at times, it also felt like a crazy social experiment.

I’ve lost 30 pounds since this photo… can you tell?

Tomorrow, I get to do it again and I am so excited!

Last year’s relay was tough, but I had loads of fun and immediately wanted to commit to doing it again.

What I liked about the relay wasn’t just the fitness aspect of it, but the social aspect too. Most of the teammates knew each other a little, however, I only knew one other person when we arrived the night before the race. We all said our hellos as we put up the tents for the night and then loaded into our van and headed to a local brewery to pick up our race packets. There’s no better way to quickly get to know folks than in a van, at a brewery, or sitting around picnic tables having conversations in the middle of nowhere.

During the race, runners rotated out of the van for their respective legs as we relayed our way across Western North Carolina. We ran down trails, along parkways, up mountains and over rivers during this fun race. Think “over the river and through the woods.” That was us, however, instead of grandma’s house, we were mostly strangers running 200 miles towards the finish line, a medal and a cold beer.

It was a neat experience to run in the relay last year with complete strangers who quickly became friends. We were cheering for each other and giving each other high fives after every leg. We laughed as “Mario Andretti” drove us down dirt roads, bouncing some of us all over the van while trying to sleep. At times, we nervously wondered where Google Maps was taking us. We learned quickly, that sometimes the maps were wrong in the mountains of North Carolina. What looked like roads on the map were sometimes fields, or worse, woods.Delirium started to play a factor as had very little sleep over the course 36 hours and 200 miles.

Remember, we were also in a van, most of us strangers. Almost all modesty went out the window when we are packed into a cramped van. We were all sweaty from running the race and having to change into dry clothes while the driver slung us around the sharp curves on the way to the next transition. If cameras would have been rolling, it would have made for a funny show, for sure.

We didn’t win the relay race, but we had fun and more importantly, we finished the race with memories that will last a lifetime. For me personally, it was last year’s Smoky Mountain Relay that helped motivate me to train harder and set my sights on my new fitness and triathlon goals.

Tomorrow morning, we will load up the van and start our 200-mile journey around the mountains of Western North Carolina. This year though, we are not all strangers. I get to spend the weekend racing with my girlfriend, my stepsister and a really good friend from college. Other teammates from last year will be there as well. It’s going to be fun catching up with them and laugh at the funny, and probably embellished stories from last year.

The cameras are sure to be rolling this year as I document the race experience for others to see. Follow me on Instagram @mattwells07 and check out my page and my stories as we take on the adventures of the 2018 Smoky Mountain Relay.

Also, be sure to tune in next week at for the finale of “Season 2” of Smoky Mountain Relay. It is sure to fun and entertaining!