Scott Lutrey, probably the most experienced 24-hour relay runner anywhere, had this one all figured out.
Shortly before midnight Saturday, Lutrey surveyed the maze of runners at the 11th annual Runner's World Eastern 24-Hour Relay. Tents and tarps circled the track at Mullins Field, resting spots for the 218 runners whose time to run their miles was still a few minutes away.
"You curse the teammate who is two ahead of you," Lutrey said. "That's when you've got to get warmed up. You don't curse the person just ahead of you, because by the time he's running, you're already resigned to taking the baton."
Lutrey, 27, presided over the event regally. This was, after all, his 18th noon-to-noon relay, and his 500th relay mile came just three miles after the race started Saturday.
By noon today, Lutry had run 24 miles for his Howard Country Striders team. Another 205 runners had lasted the night, emerging exhausted and cursing whomever convinced them to join the relay.
Only the rules made sense. Runners on 10-man teams trade batons every mile, and runners who miss their turns have to drop out.
"It got aberrant sometime after 2 a.m.," said Walt Eilers, 39, of the Annapolis Striders. "You had the stadium lights, but no other point of reference when you got up to run after you'd already done too many miles.
"People were well dazed," Eilers said. "You see them roll out of corners of tents, struggle up to the line. It's unreal."
At the same time, there were two other races going on. A 100-miler, for which racers circled the track 400 times, and a 50-miler produced meet records and boosted the 24-hour event in its attempt to rank among quality untradistance races.
Ten of 14 male starters went the full 100 miles. Fifteen men, down from 24 starters, completed the 50-mile race.
Cahit Yeter, 46, a Turkish-born traffic enforcement officer from New York, won the 100-mile race in 14 hours 46 minutes 52 seconds. Paul Soskind, 36, of Brooklyn led for 66 miles before finishing second, two hours 16 minutes behind.
Dan Helfer, at 21 a veteran of 27 marathons, flew in from Illinois and won the 50-mile run in 5:36:22.
Alan Price of Washington, who last year had been one of only two men to complete 100 miles, race-wwalked the 50-mile event around his turns for the Potomac Valley Striders race-walking team.
"I might have gone the 100 miles, but I go there too late (a half-hour past the noon starting time)," Price said.
In the relay, the Fairfax Police team was a natural, if any was, for finishing all 10 men. There was no way they would drop out, not with two men named Rocky on their squad.
One of them, Rocky Colavita, hadn't known just why his fellow patrolmen had recruited him. "The guys were looking for someone to be the 10th man," he said. "I did a five-mile race a few years ago, but nothing like this. I'm really hurting. I've gone too far.
The team that went the farthest, the Alligators, was mostly composed of Baltimore County runners sharp from college track seasons. The Alligators, helped by Bill Miller's fastest-of-the-day 4:58.4-mile average over 27 miles, covered 265 miles 1,115 yards.
The Virginia Roadrunners, a team whose members from Richmond and Charlottesville had 79 marathons among them, finished second, four miles short of winning. They finished with nine runners after Mike Levins, their third-best miler, left the race because of injury four hours from the end.
Runners used all sorts of food to help them through the 24 hours. Yogurt, fruit, pretzels, and nuts, the standards for such events, were mixed with cola, beer and coffee.
The third-place finisher in the 100-mile race, Dan Brannen of Philadelphia, took three aspirin every 15 miles past 50 to numb the aches. Brannen and never run more than 70 miles. He finished shortly before 8 a.m., and stayed by the track through noon to record laps for other 100-milers still going.
The last, 21-year-old Wesley Emmons of Philadelphia, finished with 16 minutes to spare.
"You do whatever it takes to stay awake," said Gil Hill, of one of two Health's Angels teams, the National Institutes of Health's contributions to the relay. "In the spaciness and punchiness, people come up with funny things that make the relay bearable. The quips aren't funny by themselves, but it's funny because you're there running miles in the middle of the night. "But mostly you just grub it out, because taking a shower would make you feel comfortable and go to sleep."
Health's Angels lost one runner to sleep, when Jennings Brown took a shower, then fell asleep in the back of a van around 4 a.m.
Unlike previous 24-hour relays, no team withdrew altogether. Finishers included Winston's Night Mares, an all-woman eightsome from Churchill High School; the youngest, 14-year-old Betsy Schmid of the Generation Gap team and Springbrook High School; and the oldest, 74-year-old Eddie Benham of Ocean City and the Potomac Valley Striders.
Debbie Snaggs, a University of Richmond runner and the only woman on the Virginia Roadrunners team finished with the fastest women's average, 5:40.