Let’s be perfectly clear. I love sleep. Like, have-a-big-smile-on-my-face-when-I-bury-my-face-in-the-pillow-at-night love it. And I alternate between states of grouch and zombie on the days following a short night’s sleep.
But it’s remarkable what the body can do when tasked to rally. For example, on a weekend where you fly 3,000 miles across the country, get up close and personal with a group of people you mostly don’t know, and run 200 miles non-stop together on about 4 hours of sleep and erratic nutritional intake. Operating on fumes and adrenaline, you forget about your typical grumblings and march forward.
I left Boston on Friday morning. My flight left on time and arrived 45 minutes early (good omen, I thought). The weather in San Francisco was beautiful. I connected with Carrie and Kelly, who I absolutely adore. They’re both laid back (as in, laid back enough to leave their luggage sitting at baggage claim while they left the airport to explore downtown San Francisco) and funny. It was great to have a chance to bond with them after we picked up our Acadia and drove to the hotel since they were in Van 2 and I knew I wouldn’t have much en route time with them.
We arrived at Country Inns & Suites and it was great to find various teammates — all of us were on the same floor and arrived around the same time. I knew Marie and Heather already (and it was awesome to see Allison, who came and helped volunteer), but everyone else — runners Sherry, Samantha, Linsey, Kelly, Meg, Kari, Brenna, Emmie, Carrie, and drivers Jane and Jill — was new to me.
We enjoyed our team dinner (courtesy of the rock stars over at GM) and then the vans split up to grocery shop and get organized. Despite our best intentions, we didn’t get to bed until about 1am and were up by 3:30am to hit the road (the start line of The Relay was a couple of hours north of our hotel and we clearly needed the extra time to get lost several times). Detours aside, the drive up was beautiful — particularly through Napa; I want to return with Jon and Laurel some day. We got to the start line and got our van sorted and waited for things to start (7am). It was strangely desolate due to the staggered start times (slow teams like ours started earlier in the day than faster teams) but still festive.
And then the madness and hilarity began. The basic plan was that the 12 runners (6 per van) run one after another, repeating this cycle 2 more times for a total of 36 legs. I think it’s safe to say that, in general, Van 1 had less speedy and experienced runners than Van 2 so we were prepared to stop frequently along the route to check in with the runner re: moral support, fluids, etc. But apparently we were tired, confused, clueless, and somewhat disorganized at the start. Sherry was our first runner out, and after we sent her off with a bang, we proceeded to go to a coffee shop, lose track of time, forget to check in with her en route, and almost miss meeting her at the end of her leg to swap in Marie. OOPS. We eventually got into our rhythm though and all 6 members of Van 1 ROCKED their first leg. I was elated about my first leg; it was definitely later in the day than I normally run (around 3pm EST) and it was hot, but I felt comfortable and happy. I even picked off a few runners along the way. I clocked 5 miles at 9:30 minutes/miles, which is much faster than my normal pace. We changed over with Van 2 ahead of schedule.
Van 2 then proceeded to run their legs while we reorganized our van, got some lunch, and attempted to nap on the grass at the next van crossover point (this didn’t work for me). At various points in this part of the course we lost mobile service so we weren’t sure where Van 2 was and just waited, somewhat confused and disgruntled by our inability to tweet, DM, and IM. When our teammates rolled in (around 7pm or so), we learned that our amazing teammate Kelly — a super fast runner who injured her hip a week before the race — still insisted on running the first and last miles of her first leg (clocking a speed way faster than I can achieve on a healthy day…), with Carrie filling in the remaining miles (crazy amazing). There was also the additional craziness of Brenna (our fastest runner with the hardest course) proceeding along her extreme leg (almost 9 miles, very hard) and going an extra mile out of her way due to poor signage.
Van 2 departed for food and a few hours of sleep under the Golden Gate Bridge and Van 1 headed out to track our runner. And at this point, it looked like things might be going down the crapper. We didn’t start until around 7pm or so and night was setting in. I’ll admit that I was really nervous about running at night for fear of getting lost and/or attacked (part of my route went along a bike path) but I tried to breathe deeply and buck up. Sherry was our first runner of the night and she slipped on a narrow shoulder, tumbled into a ditch, and dislocated her shoulder. It was a blessing that two men driving the other direction (not affiliated with the race) saw her and got out to help because she couldn’t move. It took three tries to pop her shoulder back in, then a fourth to pop it back in again when it popped right back out after attempt #3 (shudder). But that woman is AMAZING. We learned about all of this at the pre-determined meetup one mile into her route and she brushed us all off and KEPT ON RUNNING with one arm pressed against her body.
We were all a little rattled after this and agreed to hang behind the runner for a while instead of advancing immediately. Sherry thankfully finished her leg without further incident. Marie was up next and we waiting for a bit before rolling up to connect with her, and then saw her down on the side of the road. She had rolled an ankle due to poor visibility + an unexpected drop in the shoulder. We were all freaking out, but she shook it off and KEPT ON RUNNING. It was a struggle but Marie was determined and finished her leg; she refused to give up.
By this point I was a huge bundle of nerves. I stated out loud that I was setting positive intentions for our team for the remainder of this crazy night leg. Samantha and Heather proceeded to rock their runs, which left me feeling hopeful about my upcoming leg.
But truthfully, I was still scared. I think I would have felt better if my route was through neighborhoods and town centers (where I could at least bang on a door if I needed to), but my leg either ran on an access road parallel to the highway (but not immediately on it, so I couldn’t flag anyone down if I needed to) or ran along an isolated bike path where — if I got attacked — I would be done for. The van could not follow me through this leg so I took a walkie talkie and hoped for the best. I thought, okay, maybe the leg will be populated with other runners.
It was around midnight when I started my leg alone. I held an easy pace, hoping one of the other runners I saw back at the exchange would catch up with me. Soon I was relieved to hear another runner behind me — it was a man and I joked that I was glad he was there so I could follow him and not get lost. However, he blew past me. So I picked up my pace and tried to keep up with him, desperately chasing the blink of his headlamp. This proved to be a bad move (re: burnout) but I kept pushing. As I saw the flicker of his headlamp get further and further away I felt more and more panicky. But I kept running, trying to keep up, even as my run started to go up a huge hill (so much for the leg being labeled easy). By the time I got to the top of the hill, the road split in two and my runner was gone. I felt doomed.
I decided to go to the right because I thought that was how the course map read but in another minute I heard another runner behind me shouting, telling me to go the other way (I owe that dude big, whoever he was). By this point my legs were burning and my brain was totally fried from the stress, but I tried to pick up the pace and keep up with him, once again following the blink of a headlamp. But he kept getting farther and farther away and as we entered onto the bike path I felt as if I was going to have a nervous breakdown. I was all alone and every time I saw or heard movement that wasn’t mine, I panicked. I felt a little bit like I was in that scene of Watership Down, in which the rabbits are trying to gain ground at night and are beyond twitchy about getting picked off by bigger animals.
Under different circumstances, the bike path would have been beautiful. The moon was huge and the view beautiful, but the path was isolated and pitch black (except for my headlamp). At one point I caught up to another woman runner and another one came up from behind and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief and commiserated about the fear of being attacked and also, what the hell was up with the giant dude allegedly walking his dog in the middle of the night a half mile back? We ran together for a bit and I checked in with Van 1 via walkie talkie briefly but the reception was not good (so much for that safety plan). Unfortunately, by this point my legs were toast (from trying to keep a fast pace with the other two guys) and I had to drop back and walk. I was all alone again. I kept looking over my shoulder, wondering if I could even sprint if I sensed an attack coming on.
It was basically the longest and most stressful 4.9 miles I have ever run. I wish my mindset had been better — it was a beautiful, perfect evening. But it was what it was and I just did my best to walk/run the remainder to get off that desolate path as fast as I could. I was hurting and a bit demoralized but ultimately glad to get the leg over with. If I had had any water left in my body at the end I would have cried tears of relief.
Linsey proceeded to rock the final night leg of Van 1 and I was so, so happy for her. She ran across the Golden Gate Bridge and I regret that in my post-run exhaustion I didn’t really even have a chance to debrief with her about the awesomeness of that experience. We changed over with Van 2 at the bridge, gave them a quick update to alert them about safety (though by this point it was starting to get light again), and then decided that it was worth driving back down to the hotel to sleep in real beds vs. camping out in a gymnasium. Good move. We all slept like rocks for about 2 hours, before getting up to do it all over again.
By this point we were all running on fumes. Everyone was better for running in the daylight, having had a proper breakfast and a couple of hours of sleep, but the miles still seemed long and the sun was getting hot. However, in general, I think everyone’s experience on the final leg was better than on the night run. My final leg was very hard — 1000 foot elevation in 3 miles, but I survived. I was alone for almost the entire thing but daylight made all the difference. I ran the first mile or so but otherwise had to walk. I never train hills and the incline was so steep at points that I was huffing and puffing and my legs were burning just walking, much less attempting to run. And I felt like less of a wuss having had cheetahs like Brenna (who eats hills for lunch by the way) encourage me earlier to walk the crazy inclines. But I finished. And due to the kindness of Charlene (former teammate who had to drop out due to injury…she brought a couple of frappucinos) and Samantha and Sherry (who picked up sandwiches), I could celebrate finishing my part of the relay with some of life’s luxuries.
Now, lest you think we rested on our laurels for long, things once again got a little crazy for Team EBR. There were lost keys that need to be reunited with drivers. There was our Acadia so low on gas that we had to cruise down the hills in neutral. There was more poor signage that resulted in one of Van 2’s runners running 3 extra miles. There was Carrie closing in on 25 miles total since she was running extra miles for the injured Kelly, who we all insisted should not run any further. And it was getting late. It was looking like we would not finish until 9pm (our projected finish was 6pm).
But while Heather, Linsey, and Marie were waiting for me at the end of my leg, they heard from relay officials that we could run some of the remaining legs concurrently instead of sequentially so we could get done closer to target. And so commenced Team EBR’s leap frogging. Van 2 started with this plan (dropping the first and second runners off immediately, then doubling back to pick up the first runner, etc.), and in a moment, of “Holy crap we need to get this done,” Van 1 decided to tag team Kelly’s final 6-mile run because none of us could fathom the Van 2 ladies — who had already been running extra miles — intentionally or due to poor signage — running another 6 miles on top of what they already had done.
So we each decided to take one mile and do it all concurrently. Thanks to Heather’s brilliant plan, we rallied the team members, drove to the end of the race, then dropped each runner off in reverse order so the preceding runner would know where to stop and wait to be picked up. The idea was that we would all record our times for our mile then add it all up to submit for the final leg data.
And though crazy, in a weird way, I was pumped and ready and excited for this extra mile. Not only did I want to help (seeing the Van 2 ladies log all those extra miles was inspiring), but I was also in need of some redemption after the unusual circumstances of my 2nd and 3rd legs. My knees were burning and I was beyond exhausted but I was ready to rock it.
Which I did. In 8:30. The fastest time I have ever posted for a mile. I was overjoyed. I could have run the last 3 miles to the finish.
Van 1 finished — overjoyed and proud — and then we waited. And it took a while. Finally, the impressively patient kids of Sherry and Samantha, Linsey, and our amazing driver Jane were losing it and had to pack it up and go. We so badly wanted a team photo at the finish line but totally understood. We said our goodbyes, then Heather, Marie, and I waited for Van 2.
And minutes later, just like that — like so many moments on this race — things miraculously worked out. Sherry called us saying they spotted Van 2 coming to the finish and that they (and Linsey’s family) were turning around. We all got to cross the finish line together as a team and take pictures. We collected our medals together. It was amazing and euphoric. And we even got to go out to dinner and debrief on things and just enjoy some downtime together in our sparkly skirts and knee socks. I felt so grateful to be amidst these old and new friends. The experience was a remarkable testament to the power of friendships via blogging.
If anyone ever asks me why I blog, I will probably just point them to this post. And probably to this one too. And all of the ones here. After a lifetime of declaring that I was incapable of running, it’s pretty safe to say that I never would have started this running journey without my blog peeps, never would have stuck with it without the continued support of my blog peeps, and never would have signed on and experienced something like Eat. Blog. Run. without my blog peeps.
Yesterday I went for my first run since returning from California. And I kept waiting — hoping — that I’d turn the next corner and magically see my teammates cheering me on. I was sad that that vision never came to fruition, but I have a feeling we’ll all meet again on another course in the not too distant future.