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Locals take on Granite State

You never know how people are going to define the word "fun."

Does it sound like fun to be part of a relay team that runs about 200 miles over the course of 24 or so straight hours? And when you aren't running, you are eating and sleeping in a van?

Seven local athletes were part of a 12-person team that took part in the recent "Reach the Beach Relay," an annual event in New Hampshire. It's the longest such relay event in the United States.

Stu Clees of Hamburg was the captain of the team, receiving a promotion from mere participant earlier this year.

"We started out last December finding people who were interested," he said. "In August, the guy who was running the thing said he couldn't do it. He wanted to cancel and sell our registration [entry fee is about $1,000 per team]."

Clees took over, filled the roster with runners from Ithaca, Boston and New Hampshire, and was ready to go. The team also included Craig Bloom of Holland, Stephanie Apt of Clarence, Shyri Marazita of Clarence, Caitlin Maska of Clarence, and Bob and Liane Sutz of Hamburg.

There are 36 predetermined "legs" of the race that can vary between 2.9 and 9.3 miles, so the next order of business is figuring out the running order.

"What we did is to let people pick their legs," Clees said. "I put a spreadsheet in Google documents, and everyone filled in their data. Each person runs three legs. The legs are rated -- easy, moderate, hard, and so on."

Organizers have competitors submit typical minutes-per-mile time in a half-marathon in order to stagger the starting times of the field. The "Reach the Beer" team had some runners who could do seven-minute miles, others who were closer to 10.

The race starts at Cannon Mountain in Franconia, N.H. The team split into two vans, with one person on the road at all times.

"You try to sleep in the van, but it's not too easy. It depends on how good a sleeper you are," Clees said.

"I'd didn't do much driving, so I slept in the back with the luggage in a five-passenger van with six people in it," Bloom said with a laugh.

As the hours and legs go by, the relative strangers in each van bond quickly, but the fatigue builds up just as fast. The route doesn't begin at the top of a mountain and go straight downhill until it reaches the ocean, either. There are all sorts of ups and downs along the way.

"Some of those hills are just killers," Clees said. "The route works its way down in a serpentine path. You stay off the main roads.

"You don't even see the ocean until the very end. The finish line is [Hampton Beach] State Park."

Clees was in a van that contained the first group of runners, so that group was finished running about six hours before the end of the race. A hot shower was not at the top of the priority list, surprisingly enough.

"We stopped at the first beer store we could find," Clees said.

The winning team finished the 200 miles in 21 hours, 29 minutes and 34 seconds, but anything under 24 hours is considered very good. Clees' team did it in 29 hours, 39 minutes, and 7 seconds. When the team was done, it was already thinking about the 2009 race.

"They said they are all in for next year. I'd give them first preference for spots on the team," Clees said.

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New blog

"Sports Ink," another addition to The Buffalo News list of blogs, is up and operating. We'll have updates, facts and results about running on a timely basis in that space, as well as room for your comments. Visit it at buffalonews.com/blogs.

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Race calendar

*Crystal Beach 5K Run, Ridgeway & Erie Roads, Crystal Beach, Ont., 10 a.m. Saturday, 308-8687.

*Ellicottville Fall Festival 5K, Holiday Valley Lodge, Ellicottville, 10 a.m. Saturday, 574-0888.

*Fred Ruterbusch Memorial 5K Run, Fredonia State University, 10 a.m. Oct. 18, 480-1557 or 627-1420.

*Dr. Richard Sarkin Memorial 5K, Albright Knox Art Gallery, 10:30 a.m. Oct. 18.

*Ridge Walk & Run, various, Wellsville campus of Alfred State College on South Brooklyn Ave., Wellsville, 9 a.m. Oct. 19, (585), 593-5080.

e-mail: bbailey@buffnews.com

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