I did the The Relay a couple years ago and it was a lot of fun. I was hoping to pick up a spot this year, but nothing had turned up, so I had pretty much given up on it. Then I checked my voicemail.
It was Sandy. Apparently she was on a Providian Relay team, but due to workload, and she was planning on going to Kona to watch the race there, and bevy of other things, she was looking for someone to take her slot. Of course I agreed! I was going to be in Van #1 with five girls, running leg #2, the third easiest assignment!
By the time our 1PM start time rolled around, I had been shuffled off to Van #2, and swapped to leg #8, the fifth hardest leg.
My first run started out at dusk, on a dirt trail, through rolling hills and woods. Then I hit a monster hill. It was so steep that the dirt had been paved over so vehicles could climb it without spinning out. I walked that portion. Then it was a long gradual descent through a vineyard, out onto highway 12, across the Napa->Sonoma County line, take a right on Napa Road, and four miles to my hand-off. I felt nice and strong for the first 4-5 miles, passing a half-dozen people. After around the 10k mark, however, my legs started loading up with lactic acids and I could feel my running getting slower and slower and slower. I finished the 7.4 miles in 1:04:37. 8:44 minutes per mile average. Slow, slow, slow!!
After our van did our last hand-off, we went to Terry's apartment in SF, showered, and got about 2 hours of sleep. That was to be my only sleep for the whole weekend.
My second leg was much worse. It started in the early morning (5AM) at the intersection of Sloat and the Great Highway. Anyone who has ever lived in that area knows that this area is foggy 350 days a year. Sunday morning was no exception. As i took the "baton" (which was actually a plastic spring bracelet), the fog was just starting to get thick. As I ran south it got worse and worse. while I was on the Great Highway, I was fine. I had a headlamp (a very nice white LED lamp that had a range of about 25 feet) and I could see the white line on the side of the road. Just follow the line, thought I. Yeah, right. Within two miles, visibility was down to around 15 feet. My glasses were completely fogged up, limiting my range of sight to around 5 feet. I plodded along, uphill the whole way, cold, wet and blind.
At mile 4-ish, the course did a little one-block zig to the right. I would have missed it completely, if not for the van that someone had parked across my path. Despite being parked directly under a street light, I did not see the van until I was less than 10 feet away from it. I yelped, and the people in the van yelled "Turn RIGHT!" I'm sure that they were waiting for their runner (not me) but I am sooo glad they were there. I'm sure there was a neon green sign on a post somewhere, but I couldn't even see the ground, much less a signpost.
One short block later, another van was parked in the middle of the road. I asked these people if the course turned again, and was rewarded with a "Yes, it goes left here." Now I was in a residential area. No more white line to follow. As I ran along, a dark shape would suddenly appear in front of me, about 10 feet away. A Toyota Corolla. Or a Volkswagon Vanagon. Or a Seville. People park their cars in front of their houses. But in my limited visibility, these things were huge obstacles. I ran in the middle of the street to avoid parked cars, but whether it was due to me not running in a straight line, or the road turning, eventually I would almost hit a car and have to correct for it.
I caught up to another runner at one point. Having a car swim out of nothingness a few feet away was startling. Having a PERSON appear a couple of steps away was frightening!
At the next turn, there were a few vans parked around. I thought to myself "Self, these vans must be here for a reason." Just as the thought formed in my mind I saw a HUGE chalk arrow on the roadway telling me to turn left. That was mile 5-ish. I was only running through the residential section for a mile and a quarter, but it was so stressful that my upper body was clenched the whole time. I felt as if I had run twice that distance.
A short time after the last turn, the fog began to thin a tiny bit. I could see maybe 30-50 feet now. It was getting a little lighter too. I saw another runner ahead of me, crossing the street. I followed suit, hoping he knew where he was going. A car approached so I hopped up onto the sidewalk, nearly missing my step since the red-painted curb was nearly invisible in the fog. As I ran along the sidewalk, a rough-finish concrete wall was on my left shoulder. Like the outside of an office building, or a supermarket, or... AHA!!! I suddenly knew where I was. This was the back wall of Serramonte shopping center! My leading runner turned left at the corner, behind the building.
I turned left and there was someone standing there. I literally stopped in amazement. I quickly (and breathily) asked "Which way?" The reply was, "Right over there, that's the exchange." I was thinking "Where?" as I started off in the direction he indicated. It was diagonally across a 4-lane road. A well-lit gas-station. Which I couldn't see from 50 feet away. I ran in and handed off the "baton". Finally, I was able to relax. I was drenched. not with sweat, but with condensation from the fog. I looked like someone had dumped a bucket of water over me. My clothes were literally dripping. Fun stuff.
I finished the 5.9 mile run in less than one hour, but my overall pace was well into the 9+ minute per mile range. Considering it was all uphill, and the condition, I was satisfied with my performance.
After our hand off, we drove down to Caņada College, showered in the gymnasium (no hot water, but at least it was a shower!) drove to Woodside and had a totally unhealthy breakfast of a giant cinnamon roll, bought a premade sandwich and then drove up Page Mill road to "sleep" at the next hand-off. Sadly, there were about 100 other vans there, plus it is a popular motorcycle route. Sleep was not possible. But I was able to doze off and on for about an hour and a half.
Before I even started my third and final run, my legs were sore and tired, my head was aching and I was looking longingly at the asphalt road thinking that it wouldn't be that hard or uncomfortable to sleep on.... As I started to get the pre-race jitters, the adrenaline smoothed out the headache and washed away my fatigue. By the time I was running, I actually was feeling pretty good again.
The run started with a steep downhill section. After that it was rolling up and down hills. It actually was pretty fun, despite the ever-present pain in both of my legs. As the distance crawled along, I could feel my leg muscles shutting down a bit at a time. It was not only a race against the clock, but I was also trying to finish my relay leg before my body stopped working. I had reached my endurance limit, and was pushing past it.
I ended up passing three people and was passed by three people. I finished about 1-2 seconds behind two others. My total elapsed time was 37:05 for 4.7 miles, an average speed of 7:53 minutes per mile! This was my fastest run, and it was when I was nearing total muscular breakdown. Way to push the limits!
I got home Sunday night around 10PM, 34 hours after I had left on Saturday. In that time, I had two deli-style sandwiches, one cinnamon roll, a LOT of water/gatorade/cytomax, a handful of energy bars, three hours sleep and two showers. And had run the equivalent of a full marathon.
Monday was spent lying on the couch.