Following the travesty at Pacific Grove, I decided to look into semi-professional training in my area. One of the resources I stumbled across was an organization called the Golden Gate Triathlon Club. These maniacs have club events like skinnny-dipping in the S.F. Bay, leisurely 2-hour bike rides up Mt. Tam, and easy-going 20 mile track runs. Oh, and did I mention that most of the main people in the club are multiple-time Kona competitors? Yikes!

Anyway, the club has an email list. Since email does not involve anything life-threatening, I signed up for it and am now getting email messages from these people. Last week, I got a bevy of email requests for runners for this thing called the Providian Relay. I thought about it, and even though I really didn't know any of the details, I sent out a message to the four people who were looking for runners.

I got my first responce within 20 seconds. Literally. I pushed "send" on my email, and in the time it took me to turn around and ick up a pencil, my phone rang. I had a little chat with a lady on one team. She offered to email me information and asked me to confirm by noon. A minute or two later, I got a call from a guy on a different team. I told him that he was "too slow" (and we both got a good laugh about that).

I looked over the materials that the frst lady had emailed and it seemed like a fun little run. So at lunchtime I called back. And found out that they had already filled the slot I was supposed to take. Apparently, a woman also called her and there is an advantage to having more women on the team (they give you a better start time), so they took her and bumped me. So, I called back the "too slow" guy and told him that I was available. He gave me contact info for the team captain, and within an hour I was "officially" signed up to be in van #1 for Team Lactic Acid.

I left my apartment at 10AM on saturday. I got home from this "little run" at 10:15PM on SUNDAY (36 hours later). This relay-race went from Calistoga (in Napa) to Santa Cruz. 199 miles.

The way it worked was that each team had two vans, with six runners in each van. Van #1 goes first. One runner starts, and the other five drive up the road about a mile or so and wait for the runner. We provide support (cheering) food, and water, and the runner runs. Then we drive up another mile or so and do it again. At the end of the "leg", the runner passes the "baton" (which was actually a metal wristband) to the next runner and we start again. Each leg was between 3 and 8 miles long.

As you can guess, there is no "downtime" here. When runner #6 finishes, he hands the baton to runner #7 in van #2 and van #1 gets to rest until runner #12 comes around to hand-off to runner #1 again. During this "rest" was the only time we had to shower, eat and sleep. There were three big handoffs like this, so we had three rest breaks the whole time. As you can expect, this means that every runner runs three legs of the total.

As we drove to the start line, I was shown our "expected" times. Based on what, I don't know. But one of the team people had developed a "schedule" of times and distances that we were supposed to try and match.

Leg 1
My first leg was from Yountville to Napa. Flat as a pancake. 5 miles. Almost perfectly straight. No wind to speak of. And about a million degrees in the hot, hot sun. I panted along as fast as I dared to push myself (knowing that I had two more legs to do) and managed to finish in a hair over 45 minutes. I had been scheduled to run this with 7:30 min/mile and I ended up at a bit over 9 min/mile... oops! I felt that I had run as fast as I could, but I thought I was letting the team down. Some of these people were hardcore marathon runners. The guy who went after me finished his leg with 7:15 min/mile!!

During the rest break, we were able to shower at a communinty church in Napa. The showers were not designed for the use they were getting. There was four inches of standing water in the shower, with a layer of soap scum floating on top. I was pretty happy that I did not have contact lenses in, so I really could not see what I was standing in. It was pretty nasty. But it was a shower. We then ate pizza in Petaluma and drove to the Cheese Factory (out in the boondocks) and caught about two hours of sleep... or at least I did. The rest of my van thought they would be smart and laid sleeping bags out in a field to get away from the cars and people in the transition area. But what they didn't plan on was the guy with a bullhorn announcing bib numbers every 20 to 30 seconds! "Numberr EIGHT SEVENTY TWO!! Runner, get ready!"

Leg 2
My second leg was from Corte Madera to Sasalito via the marshway bike paths. At 4AM. On a clear morning. With a near full moon shining down on me. It was gorgeous. It was perfect. I was overdressed. I thought that it would be cold at that time of the morning, and it was kinda cool, but not cold. I had on a long sleve thermal shirt, plus a T-shirt, plus sweats. I was soooo hot. When I finished, I was litterally steaming. It was mostly a flat run, and again I felt like I was slow. I could have been much faster if I had been dressed appropriately, I believe.

After our last hand-off, we drove down to Canada College and showered there. The gymnasium was set up as a large, dark sleeping room. Since I had such good luck the night before, I elected to "guard" the van. Sadly, the trend did not continue. I was unable to sleep at all. As the sun rose, the people around in the parking lot got noisier and noisier. No respect. Anyway, I did not get more than a few minutes of sleep during that break, and before I knew it, it was time to get rolling again. Choke down a bagel, a PowerBar and the umpteenth bottle of gatorade, and we were off.

I should point out that aside from the pizza the night before, the only solid food I had eaten since breakfast the day before was Clif Bars. I was drinking a mixture of Gatorade and water. That's it. Coupled with only two hours of sleep and a lot of driving, I was not in a very happy mood.

Leg 3
My third leg was... interesting. It started out in a nice wooded area, with a little creek meandering next to the road. Woodsey houses sprinked in amongst the trees, with the sounds of kids playing and dogs barking off in the disance. I passed a young couple having a picnic next to the stream (really!) and then, I turned right and saw... The Hill. 1000 feet. Uphill. Steep. Not just "steep", but s-t-e-e-p. As in, cars-were-going-up-it-in-second-gear steep. I'd-be-afraid-to-ski-down-this-hill steep. You'd-have-to-be-nutso-to-run-UP-it steep. And here I was, running up it. As I started up the hill, another team's runner was maybe 50 yards behind me. I vowed not to let him pass. After about a half mile, I had to walk. But the hill was so steep that walking was the same speed as running! So I just took big steps and walked from there on up. At mile 2, the guy behind me caught up. We fell into pace (he was walking too) and chatted for a few minutes. Then some evil guy ran past us. Fast. Going uphill. Insane fast. Eventually the the slow guy pulled away from me and I lost him around a corner on the road.

I remember thinking, "I am NOT going to let this hill win. This is just training for Wildflower. I am going to RUN this hill!"

I got to a spot where the road narrowed to one lane. There was a short dirt section with two bicyclists standing on the other side (facing DOWN hill) drinking water. As I came up to them I gasped out "Please tell me you've seen the transition?" The guy replied (quite happily) "Yep, it's about 150 feet away, downhill and around the corner!" And it WAS!! They were standing on the top of a little hill, and I was able to take the downgrade, and the last bit of energy I had and -sprint- into the transition. It was impressive!

Oh, and that guy who passed me? He ended up finishing about 50 yards ahead of me. The evil guy gained about 5 minutes on me and I saw his teammate in the next leg bent over a guardrail puking. That's what being evil gets you, I guess.

After we did our last hand-off, we went and took a shower at one of the guys' house. He lives in Campbell and it was only about 30 minute drive there. Shower and drive back to Santa Cruz for the big finish. When the last runner came in, we all jumped in and all 12 of us ran across the finish line! Very exciting.

When I got home, I called in to work and told them I was not coming in on Monday. I slept for 12 hours, and then took a nap Monday afternoon. I think if I have to eat another Clif Bar or drink Gatorade, I may go postal and kill someone. At least for a while. Solid food is much better!

As it turns out, Team Lactic Acid was disqualified. We skipped three legs (ALL of which were in Van #2) and we did not have two volunteers (each team must supply these) AND we were over the 26 hour cut-off! But I did get a chance to see the overall times. Despite how I -thought- I did (badly), I ended up being ranked about in the middle of the team. I was faster than some, slower than others, but pretty much on-par for everyone else.

I had never met these peple before this run. But I literally lived with the five of them of them for a day and a half straight (although it seemed a lot longer). An interesting way to make friends. On a fun little weekend run. I hope they ask me to run with them again next year.