Sunday, December 4, 2011

Payback feels good - North Face Marathon

Back in February of this year (2011), I took on a marathon in the Marin headlands and it got the better of me. Well I just finished the North Face Endurance Challenge Championship Marathon and got that monkey off my back in what may have been the toughest marathon I've completed to date - yes, I think this one was tougher than Pike's Peak.
Like the Golden Gate Marathon, this one started near Rodeo Beach and wound its way up and over several hills in the headlands. Where GGM was a double loop of 13 miles, North Face was slightly different. It started with a loop around a hill, along Alto Trail providing great views of Sausalito and Mill Valley them swung Northwest to Pirate's Cove, then back to the loop that started it all and back to Rodeo beach for the finish. The up and over consists of five super challenging ascents, three rising nearly 1,000 ft each, and totaling only 4,500 ft of climbing. But it was the relentless up and down these very steep hills that took its toll.
The morning started with a shuttle from San Francisco over to the beach at around 7:30 Saturday morning. The race started at 9am so I had plenty of time to relax and get mentally prepared for the race. Shortly before the start, Dean Karnazes, ever the glutton for punishment, took the mike to welcome us all to his home course. He asked how many were doing their first marathon and about 30 hands went up. I was shocked. This was a very, very tough course to choose as your first. As a running coach I would never let one of my peeps do this one first - they might never come back to running.
The weather couldn't have been better. It was clear as a bell, dry and relatively warm for a December day. At the start it was in the high 40s and never got about 70 degrees.
I got right to the front before the gun went off and started in the top ten. There were some very strong runners in this group and we quickly were spread out. Everyone ran the first two hills with one guy from Spain barreling down the downhills like a mountain goat. I tend to lose time on the downhills so I don't trip and fall. This was the case for nearly everyone on the descent to Pirate's Cove as the terrain was very rocky and super steep.
Several women were total rock stars in this group at the front. A blonde woman in a black running outfit was gone at mile two and kept getting further and further ahead with each mile. She was an incredible climber.
The North Face Endurance Challenge is a series of races that take place all across the US culminating in the Championship event, here in the Bay Area. Multiple race distances are run and to keep the trails from getting too crowded, the break up the races over two days and spread out the starts quite a bit.
On Saturday, the morning started with the 50 milers, then those doing 50K, including my good friend John Rymer, and then the marathon and half marathon - all starts spread about two hours apart each.
We didn't see 50K and 50 milers until Pirate's Cove an at the point we first encountered them we were on single track with high weeds on both sides. Made for some careful footing and leaps into the bushes to let them pass. Only once did an oncoming runner and I collide - thanks to a volunteer who instructed the 50 miler to pass on the left, which no one was doing. Oh well.
Around Pirate's Cove we came to the marathon turnaround spot which was about 16 miles in. This gave me a chance to see all the runners ahead of me, as they came back down from the turnaround spot. I counted them as they went by and at this point I was running sixth overall. Holy cow!
By the third ascent, up from Pirate's Cove, everyone was walking the hills and running whenever a flat or downhill presented itself. Same for the fourth and fifth ascents. This made for slow going and we got even more spread out. A few marathoners passed me at various points here but it was tough for everyone.
A woman with a blonde ponytail, whom I had seen at the very start of the race, but not again, finally showed up passing me up the last ascent - and running it. She looked very strong and clearly had paced herself through the race very well.
As we climbed the Alta Trail for the final time you could see the skyscrapers of downtown San Francisco between two headland peaks. The views were so clear that you could see past downtown to the peninsula and when looking East you could see Sausalito, Belvedere Island, Angel Island and clear across the bay to the Oakland hills. Just spectacular.
We hit the final descent following the Rodeo Valley Trail and could see the Pacific Ocean in the distance. Everyone picked up the pace a bit here. I was feeling pretty spent but was passing people left and right as I just wanted to get to the finish by this point. My feet were sore, my hamstrings and glutes were screaming.
I crossed the line at 4:19. No record by any stretch for me but given the constant climbing and rugged terrain I was very happy. After having to pull out of the last race here in the headlands, it was good to face this challenge again - just 10 months later and defeat it.
I was planning to start my year in 2012 facing down the Golden Gate Marathon again but given that this race covered the same terrain, was not a simple double loop and was harder, I no longer feel that need. A well deserved rest seems in store now.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Rock n Roll Savannah was a Blast...Literally

After an overcast and cold Friday, race day here in Savannah started with a perfectly clear sky and temperatures in the 50s. It was ideal conditions for a fast race and I was on pace for a PR and feeling good.

This was my first trip to gorgeous coastal Georgia. Reesa and I arrived on Thursday afternoon so we would have plenty of time to see the city and take in the history, which is vast, and like most things you hear in the South, a bit embellished. We started the weekend with a walk along the river front which is composed of original warehouses converted into cute shops, bars and restaurants, including the Candy Factory where they make their own pralines and salt water taffy right in the store. We then strolled through the historical district and walked into The Old Pink House on the off-chance we might get a reservation. The Old Pink House, the oldest building in Savannah, is also the top restaurant in town and it was busy when we walked in at 6pm. We took a shot for reservations and found, as we expected, Friday and Saturday night fully sold out. But tonight they could fit us in. We quickly went back to the hotel, changed clothes and returned to the restaurant for what would be the best meal of our trip. The restaurant is fantastically restored with beautiful plank hardwood floors, beam ceilings fireplaces, loads of antiques and of course ghosts.

We closed out a very warm night with a ghost tour, which was very touristy but clearly a must-do event in Savannah which was named a few years back as America’s most haunted city. I can see why when you listen to the yarns they tell here. The historic district was built over burial grounds many times over. Several hotels in town claim to be haunted as are several incredible homes here, one of which includes the Mercer-Williams House which was the subject of the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  The tour took us past the abandoned Candler Hospital that apparently was where nearly 900 people died in the 1800s during a plague of yellow fever and was later turned into an insane asylum. And we both got the creeps when listening to a tale about multiple murders that took place in 423 Abercorn Street, a single home outside Calhoun Square. The square, by the way, was used to bury slaves and two of its giant oak trees were used as hanging trees. Oh…kay… Not fun to hear about at midnight.

The following day, we hit the expo to pick up my bib then had brunch at Huey’s on the River a local Cajun haunt. Despite great Yelp reviews we weren’t impressed with this place but apparently ordered the wrong thing – they are known for the beignets. After this we got out of town and headed into South Carolina to visit a plantation from the 1800s and see Hilton Head Island. The Rose Hill Plantation was a gorgeous Gothic property that had been fully restored by the wife of the founder of TheRobb Report. Our tour guide, Cynthia, was fantastic and seems to know nearly everything you could about the history of South Carolina from before the Civil War on, and shared great stories about the role this house played throughout that time. The owners of the home, who still live there, did an incredible job of restoring it, as nearly half was destroyed in a fire in the 1980s. Incredibly, while the occupying forces of the Union burned down most properties in South Carolina during the Civil War, they left this one untouched. An electrical fire was its downfall.

After the hosts plied us with homemade cookies, peach tea and cake, we headed out to Hilton Head to see the beach. Like many posh vacation destinations, Hilton Head is dominated by big resorts and gated communities, so it’s not actually that easy to get to the beach. When we finally found a public beach entrance we learned why. The beaches here are wide, flat and gorgeous.

After the drive back we settled in to prepare for Saturday’s race. As is usually the case before every marathon, I had a hard time getting to sleep and then was up about every hour. I finally got out of bed around 6:30am and after chatting with my TNT colleagues and coaches in the hotel lobby jogged over to the start. I jumped into Corral 1 and got to chatting with two other TNT members here - one from Georgia and the other from Alabama. Prince, the coach from Alabama was the father of a Leukemia survivor and was shooting for a PR that day. He needed 3:09 for that mark and given the mild temperature, perfectly clear skies and flat, sea-level course, it certainly seemed possible.

After the national anthem we took off down Bay Street in downtown. I got off to a fast, but not too fast start at 7:04 per mile. Priest was just ahead of me and I tried using him as a rabbit for a few miles before he broke off with a twenty-something friend.

The first 5K were along the river, flat and very fast. There were some amazingly quick participants in this race and I never broke out on my own. We weaved back into downtown then headed out to the suburbs as we approached mile 10. I was feeling good as the course was pretty with some great parks and neighborhoods to go through and lots of enthusiastic race fans, cheerleaders and course volunteers along the way.

At mile 12 the marathon and half marathon split off and those of us going 26.2 headed up toward the freeway. I hit the halfway point at 1:34 and high fived the TNT Flex Team coaches who were hanging out on the freeway (wow, that sounds weird). From miles 14-20 the course wound up and down the highway and around some very nice neighborhoods. My favorite was a suburb bordering a swampy river surrounded by yellow swamp grass. Through mile 19 I was maintaining sub-7:30 per mile and feeling great. But that all changed at mile 20.

At this milestone it wasn’t a wall I hit but a wall of headwind. It sapped everyone’s energy and didn’t let up until after mile 25. It was so strong, in fact, that it blew the clock and mile marker onto the arm and shoulder of a passing runner. He was ok. Most of this section was on the freeway which isn’t the most exciting part of any race. When we finally got off, my mile splits had fallen by a minute each and a PR was long from attainable. At mile 25 I was hurting as I tried to crank back up the speed knowing I couldn’t make up for lost time. I talked a TNT coach into running with me the final mile then attempted to use all the energy I had left to push through the last 0.2 miles. By the time I entered the finisher’s chute I had painful cramps in my upper abdominals and watched the clock tick off the final seconds of 3:19 - fifty-seven, fifty, eight, fifty nine... Ugh. I crossed at 3:20:01.

The run was 3 minutes off my PR and I was bummed given how good a start I had. But looking back on the race it was a ton of fun and a fantastic first time for Savannah. This was the smallest city to host a Rock n Roll Marathon event and more than 50,000 people flooded into the town for the event. We were a very welcome bunch as this is low season in Savannah and the local paper estimated the race brought in more than $23 million to the economy.
As usual, Competitor Group put on a fantastic event. This one culminated with a great concert from LA-based Carolina Liar. Sadly another participant died during the race; the second death at an RnR marathon in lessthan 20 days.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tahoe Triple Marathon: Around proved to be the toughest challenge

At the start of this year I set the theme to my 2011 running season as, “Down, Up and Around,” taking on 3 of the toughest running challenges in the U.S. First was the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim. This over-48 mile trail proved a supreme challenge but paid huge dividends on the views and the experience. Next, the Pikes Peak Marathon took me to greater heights than I had ever climbed. But it was this final endurance feat that was the hardest. The Tahoe Triple Marathon wasn’t a single event but three straight and by the final miles I was spent – fully.

After the prior two events, with Pikes Peak coming just five weeks prior to Tahoe, I wasn’t worried too much about whether I could do the distance and knew I could handle being out there for that long. What I wasn’t sure about was how well I would do getting up on Saturday morning and again on Sunday to run 26.2 twice then three times. Two weeks prior to the event I took advantage of the long Labor Day weekend to run three straight 20 mile training runs. They were hard but I felt better after the third event that I thought I would. I felt I was ready.

After a short taper and a very long couple of weeks of work, Reesa and I drove up to Tahoe the Thursday before the race. After settling into our rental, I went over to the event headquarters to get my bib, gear and have dinner with my fellow competitors. I immediately started to feel like a loser, despite all I had accomplished. At that dinner eleven out of the eighty people signed up for the triple had run more than 100 marathons – including Yolanda Holder the Guiness record holder for the most marathons by a woman in a single year, 106. While I had signed up to run 78.6 miles over three days, there were 27 people who would run 72 miles in one night, seven who were planning to do the super triple – Friday and Saturday’s marathons, then the 72 mile ultra -- and two crazy people doing the Double Dare, the 72 mile ultra twice. Sheesh!

At dinner marathoning legend Dick Beardsley spoke. Like me, he prefers the marathon distance and kind of felt the folks doing the ultras were a little crazy; but he said it with admiration. Unlike me, Dick, now in his sixties, still runs a sub-3 hour marathon. I was starting to feel like the rookie in the room.
After the dinner, I tried to put the evening’s revelations out of my mind and concentrate on preparing to run my own race. This wasn’t a competition to see who could take the most punishment or who could out-do each other in number of events – it was one race at a time with me against the course. I’d like to say this mental strategy helped me get a good night’s rest for the first race. Oh well.

Sunrise at Emerald Bay
Day One: Emerald Bay Marathon
Each race started with a bus ride from the Horizon Casino & Resort in South Lake Tahoe to the start of each event. Day one took us to the southwest shore of the lake to an incredible small inlet known as Emerald Bay. We started from high above the shore where we could look down on the bay as the sun slowly rose in the distance. The views were incredible. It was in the high 40s at the start and the first few miles were on the highway, along some steep downhill switchbacks. This made it easy to get up to my desired pace. After the switchbacks, we were got off the highway and onto a bike path that wove through the woods. Around mile three I experienced a runner’s high as we went along this trail. If you haven’t experienced this, it is a lot like a mix of the feeling you would get catching a touchdown in the Super Bowl, on your birthday while having an incredible orgasm that lasts about five minutes. If you have ever wondered why people run, this is a big part of it. My iPhone belted out Daughtry’s Feel’s Like Tonight which struck just the right tone. I was probably doing sub-7 minute miles for the next three or so.

As the bike trail flattened out, around Camp Richardson, what I thought was a course volunteer told me to take a left down a road. “That’s what those runners did.” I looked down the road and a small group of runners who were pacing ahead of me were heading away down this same road, so I followed. This turn wound us through a series of small historic villages near the lake’s edge but I had a sinking feeling I was off course. After about two miles this trail rejoined the main bike path so I forgot about it and kept going.

As we emerged into South Lake Tahoe we were back along the highway, running on the sidewalk. This was a noisy and uneven part of the race as there was road resurfacing going on. The construction backed up traffic like crazy and we had to switch over to dirt trails a few times and dodge construction vehicles as we worked our way to the Nevada border. The halfway point came behind the casinos near the lake shore. Then we worked our way back up to the highway. From here it was past the casinos and out of town. On the one hand I was happy to get away from the traffic and congestion but on the other, we lost the sidewalk and would be running on the shoulder of the highway the rest of the way.
This was definitely the least appealing part of the run as the shoulder went from more than a car length wide to less than three feet at parts. It was still morning and traffic was relatively light, and thankfully most cars and trucks gave us a wide berth. But there were a few close calls. A Ford F-350 truck with massive mirrors that stuck way out so the driver could see around anything they were pulling came within a foot of my head at one point. And as I was hugging a guard rail, a truck pulling a flatbed blew past me going 50 miles an hour and taking up all of his lane. The wind he created nearly blew my visor off.

After a few miles of slow up and down climbing we came to a tunnel that had no shoulder from the highway at all. Thankfully, the race organizers had paid to have the Nevada highway patrol cone off the lane closest to the lake for us. This gave us a wide birth that apparently runners from previous years didn’t have (and nor would those doing the ultra). There was good and bad to this tunnel though. While the cones signaled less worry, they also were the start of a grueling 7 mile climb. The grade wasn’t very steep but the hill never gave in. I pushed on as best I could but needed a couple walk breaks before the course finally turned and approached the finish, which was in a small park and ride lot off Highway 50.

When I saw the finish line, I called out to the organizers, “Is this really the finish?” There was no finish line banner and nearly no spectators, or finishers – just a small coned off area and two guys with clipboards. Part of me feared it was just a water stop and we had more running ahead but thankfully, this was the stopping point.

I finished in 3:54, seventh place. The organizers handed me the first of the three finisher medals I would collect this weekend – a big metal model of the lake with the first course mapped around the bottom. The guy who finished before me was handed a second, larger medal, for winning his (and my) age group. Shortly after me, the first woman came in and got a similar large medal.

The finish was high above lake level so after stretching and refueling I was ready for an ice bath. Reesa picked me up and after fighting South Lake Tahoe traffic we headed to the lake looking for a beach. After searching a while we gave up and headed to a local marina. I considered acting like a boat and walking down the launch ramp but then decided to walk down the wharf and hang over the edge. I know I looked ridiculous but the cool lake water was heaven.

That afternoon I wanted to keep my legs moving so lactic acid wouldn’t build up so we all went for a hike through the woods by Fallen Leaf Lake with the dogs. We finished the day with dinner at a lakefront restaurant watching the sunset.

Kent and I at the start of Cal-Neva
Day Two – Cal-Neva Marathon
The bus from the casino took us back to that park and ride lot off Highway 50 for the start of marathon number two. My good friend Kent had signed up for this race and we prepared for the start together. The second marathon started as casually as the first had ended. The race organizer walked into what seemed like a randomly selected spot in the parking lot and then yelled for us all to gather 'round. He then swept his arms parallel to his body and said, “Everybody line up here. This is the starting line.” Then after shouting a few instructions about being careful of the traffic on the highway he said, “OK, go!” and we were off.

Kent and I ran together for the first 5 or so miles, which started with a downhill along the highway through some beautiful woods and then along the lakefront. We hugged the lake most of this race and the East and North shores are absolutely beautiful. As we came to the northeast corner of the lake we passed by Sand Harbor, a small isolated camp ground that looked like paradise. It had wide sandy beaches with gently lapping waves and crystal clear water. I’ll have to come back here sometime. After this we came to the posh Incline Village. This provided us a nice break from the highway as we cut over to Lakeshore Drive which had much less traffic and was lined on both sides by incredible vacation homes of the rich and famous. There was also a nice multi-use path next to the road so I could get off the asphalt for awhile.

As we left Incline it was back to the highway as we made our way along the lake and back into California to Tahoe City for the finish. Kent was roughly 5-10 minutes ahead of me most of the race playing a nice rabbit. I crossed the line a minute slower than Friday but again in seventh place. This course wasn’t nearly as hilly or challenging which was a needed break from day one.
Tahoe City at the end of Cal-Neva
After stretching and congratulating the other early finishers we walked down to the lake and went in. Ice bath number two was easier to get to and again very, very welcome. We celebrated our victory with burgers and beers in Tahoe City.

That afternoon I kept the legs moving with a long walk with the dogs then accelerated recovery with a dip in the Jacuzzi hot tub. Did the same Friday night as I’ve found heat and hydrotherapy to be key parts of recovery.

Day Three – The Lake Tahoe Marathon
I was definitely moving slower Sunday morning. The long ride to the start took us along the paths of the first two day’s marathons so I got a chance to relive these races and realize just how far I had already come. We also get a chance to see and cheer on some of the ultramarathoners who had started their 72 mile quest at 10 pm that night. About two miles before Tahoe City I saw my fellow TNT coach, Cam getting some refueling and a change of clothes from his dad. I would hope to catch up to him during today’s race and hopefully help him through the finish.

The race began at the lakeshore and we got off the bus just as the sun was rising over the mountains to the east. The sky went from dark blue to purple then yellow before slowing turning a perfect light blue that would hold the rest of the day. It was warmer at this start that the previous two days and where the prior two events had been casual road starts with the select few of us who had chose to do the triple, this one was a full marathon with over a thousand people. We lined up under a real banner this time, had a singer for the national anthem and a real gun was shot off to start the race.

The first few miles were up into Tahoe City and along the highway (again) heading out of town. I had driven this race course with Cam the day earlier so knew what to expect but wasn’t prepared for the fatigue that ran through my body from the very start. The first ten miles were very tough going, especially the hills as this course went up and down all day long.

As we neared mile 11 I started feeling like myself again and picked up the pace for about the next ten miles. It was through this stretch that I had anticipated catching up to Cam but had still not seen him. He must have been having a great day.

Part of the long stretch where I was feeling good included a long climb known as the highway to Hell. It took us from 6,200 to 6,800 feet in about 1.5 miles. It was grueling but nothing compared to Pikes Peak the month before and all my hill training this year had prepared me for it. I powered up it but tried to make sure I didn’t power it too hard as I had another big hill to go.

This last hill came at mile 19 and was after a long downhill to Vikingsholm, a mansion built long ago by a Swedish aristocrat. From here we had a 2 mile climb back up to the Emerald Bay overlook that had started this crazy race Friday morning. I was hating life by the time I got to the top of this hill and was running on fumes. But worse was the downhill as my Achilles was fuming and each downhill step was agony. Like Friday, the decline from Emerald Bay overlook was a series of steep switchbacks and I was forced to take them very slow. I tried to avoid stepping too strongly onto my left foot as each time I did my Achilles sent a bolt of pain up to my brain.

After the switchbacks the course leveled off a bit and returned to Camp Richardson. The detour I had made on Friday, was indeed off course on day one and turned that race from 26 miles to 28. This time it was really part of the course as it was lined with much-needed water stops. My Achilles stopped yelling at me so much through this section and the mile markers – which counted down from 26, unlike most other races – were thankfully in the very low single digits.

Sunday’s race was a celebration of running as in addition to the marathon there was a half marathon, marathon relay, 10K and 5K all on the same course. It was great having so many other runners around so you never felt alone or fearful that you had veered off course like the prior two days, but it was very disheartening to see a fresh half marathoner or relay runner blast past you. While most gave words of encouragement, as all us triplers were wearing our official bibs, I couldn’t help but envy their speed and energy.

The final mile came after four hours of running and felt forever long. Eventually I turned a corner and saw Reesa, Kent and other supporters standing at mile 26 smiling and cheering. I needed their energy and picked up the pace for the final stretch. As I caught sight of the finish line in the distance memories of this entire weekend poured into me like lifelong flashback and I began to tear up. And in a supremely fitting turn of events, Daughty's Feels Like Tonight came out of my iPhone for just the second time. This brought my emotions to a boil and I poured on what remaining speed I had, fought back the tears and held my arms high over my head as I crossed the final finish line. 

Celebrating the finish with (RtoL) Emily, Kent, me and Reesa
I crossed the line at 4:19, substantially slower than the prior two days but still good enough for a top ten finish for the triple. After getting my finisher medal, I immediately ducked into the first aid tent to have my Achilles wrapped in ice. After stretching for a while and refueling, Reesa gingerly walked me to the lake where I slowly entered for a much needed ice bath. Several other triplers were there either icing or collapsed on the shoreline. We looked like the walking wounded brigade.

Cam and I in a much-needed ice bath in Lake Tahoe
I never did see Cam on the course but apparently had passed him on one of the hills. I felt terrible about this but did finally see him at the final mile. Despite my own pain, I handed Reesa my shoes and joined him on the trail for the final mile. I was in total awe of him having run 72 straight and wasn’t about to not be there for him at the end. We both went into the lake after that. A second ice bath was definitely in order.

Looking back on the race now, I can say that it was an incredible feeling to have fully looped the lake and it gave me a real sense of accomplishment. The views, the hills and the companionship I felt with my fellow runners were all worth it and the organizers did a masterful job – plus provided some awesome bling! But would I do it again? I think I’ll return to single marathons for a while before entertaining this question.

Next up: A return to Competitor's series -- Rock n Roll Savannah Marathon, November 5.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pikes Peaked, Up Complete – Pikes Peak Marathon

After weeks of what can only be called hill training by comparison, I have completed the toughest marathon of my career, summiting the 14,115-foot Pikes Peak Mountain in Colorado. Most marathons cover 26.2 miles giving you a tour of a city or covering pretty trails through national parks. Pikes Peak Marathon takes you from the cute town of Manitou Springs at 6,500-ft above sea level immediately uphill for a grueling 13 miles up to the top of one of Colorado’s famous fourteeners. The course is brutal, with endless switchbacks, tough rocky terrain with tons of big boulders you have to step high up and over; and Lord help you if you look up during the race as the top of the mountain looks impossibly far away.

My training for this event started back in April of this year with the tallest climb I had ever done, which was up the North and South rims of the Grand Canyon. Those rose 6,000 and 8,000 ft respectively and from April to August would be as high as I would get. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area you just don’t have access to anything approaching Pikes Peak. My weekends were filled with climbing Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County, Mt Diablo in Contra Costa County and climbing up to the Skyline ridge along the peninsula. The distance I knew wouldn’t

be the problem. It was the altitude I was worried about.

To acclimate to the high altitudes for this race, I came to the Denver area the week prior to the race. In between client meetings and research work I trained at Lookout Mountain which rises above 10,000 feet and Pawnee Peak which gets to 12,000. All this training gave me a new

appreciation for mountain climbing as the views were simply incredible from each mountain I summited. Plus I found that, other than some stiffness in my neck the altitude didn’t really bother me. But I was told by just about every Coloradoan I met that it would be different from 12,000 to 14,000 feet.

Pikes Peak Marathon starts in the cute little touristy town of Manitou Springs, just five minutes from Colorado Springs, which is the home to the US Air Force Academy and the US Olympic Committee. Because of its high altitude, it is a fantastic town for athletic training and thus one of three US Olympic Training Centers is located here. We took a tour of the state-of-the-art facility which houses a select hundred or so promising athletes who are sponsored into this program by the governing boards of their respective amateur sports – only the top 10 percent of athletes in each Olympic sport are eligible. Future Olympians in swimming, shooting, basketball, gymnastics, volleyball and hundreds of other summer, and some winter sports train here. In fact, this program is so elite that one year’s entire class of basketball players are now all in the NBA.

Also down the street from Manitou Springs is an incredible park filled with massive red rock

formations known as the Garden of the Gods. Here you will find rocks hanging at what seem to be impossible angles, suspended or balancing on tiny rock bases and sheer cliffs that are straight drop offs on both sides. It’s a bit of a Mecca for free form rock

climbers, hikers and cyclists. This park also served as the start point for the new USA Pro Cycling Challenge, a bit of a Tour de Colorado featuring many of the pro cycling teams from the Tour de France. While I was climbing Pikes Peak, Reesa and our friends from Denver saw Tour de France three-time runner up Andy Schleck and his brother Frank training in the Garden in preparation for the following day’s kick-off time trial.

The night before the race, we stayed at the incredible Garden of the Gods resort where every spacious suite-style room had breathtaking views of the park and far beyond it Pikes Peak. From arrival, through dinner and all through the night I stared down my nemesis of the following day like a gladiator might look upon his opponent.

On first arriving in Colorado Springs and seeing Pikes Peak, I have to admit, I was intimidated. From town it looks incredibly far away and ridiculously high up. As we were walking through the Olympic Village, touring the opulent Broadmoor Hotel, and especially as we were picking up my

registration packet and bib number, it seemed to get taller and more intimidating. I kept reminding myself that it was just 13 miles to the top and as I tell all our Team in Training participants about hill climbing -- don’t look at the top of the hill but just 50 feet in front of you and before you know it you will be at the top. I sure hoped that philosophy worked over 7,000 feet.

The night before the race, a huge grey cloudbank rolled in covering the top of Pikes and pounding us with rain, thunder and lightning. There are often afternoon showers in August in Colorado and we had had similar but much lighter showers the prior two days. This was concerning because the weather at the top of Pikes Peak can be very unpredictable. It can be as much as 50 degrees cooler than at the bottom and when clouds roll in can become very windy, let loose a torrential downpour with not a moment’s notice, or let out a lightning storm that has singed runners in prior years. That night’s storm turned out to be a good omen as it rained all the moisture out of the skies giving us a perfectly clear day for the marathon.

This event is capped at around 900 runners and sold out in less than 40 minutes back in February. I registered at 5am from my hotel room in London. There is also a half marathon here that happens the Saturday before the marathon; 1,800 runners make the Ascent which normally takes about twice the time of a typical half marathon. I factored that into my planning. As a 3:40 marathoner that meant it would take me about as long as a typical marathon to reach the top and about half that time again to get down.

At 7am Sunday, I gathered with the other marathoners as the gun was fired and we headed into the mountain. On my left was Marcos a twenty-something Colorado Springs native who as attempting to break his PR on his third attempt. On my right was Phil from Los Angeles who set his sights on Pikes Marathon a year and half ago having never run further than a 10K in his life. He jumped into running hard after setting that goal, crossing the line at 4 marathons prior to this one and summiting Mount Baldy.

The course starts out by leaving town and passing the Cog Railway Depot. This is home to a train that climbs to the top of Pikes Peak in about two hours. It gets its name from the massive iron cogs used to pull the train up the mountain. After leaving town the course jumps on the Barr Trail and begins climbing immediately; and nearly everyone walks the hills. With 13 miles of this ahead, you have to really focus on energy conservation; otherwise the top of the mountain can turn into a death march -- if you see it at all. Over the next several miles we traversed a series of switchbacks, known as the Ws stepping over boulders and large tree roots. This portion gets its name from how it looks on the course map – the letter lying on its side and repeated several times. It’s a long, slow climb. There are times where it levels out that you can run a bit and points where it is wide enough to pass a slower climber or two. The group I crossed the Ws with I would see nearly the entire race as we pass each other back and forth up the mountain.

When we emerged from the Ws there was a small clearing from which you can see just how high we have already climbed – Manitou Springs is a speck below us. Here it is mostly level as we shift from a foothill over to the main mountain. The clearing gives everyone a chance to run a bit as well as rest their climbing muscles for the next section which is more switchbacks. These are a bit tougher as the boulders we climb are larger and the incline greater. We were deep in the woods at this point working our way up to Barr Camp which about half way up the mountain; half way from a distance perspective but only 30 percent of the way in total climbing time. As we moved higher the incline got even steeper and when we got above treeline rocks took over the trail. For the next 3 or so miles the terrain was crushed rock which gave like a sandy beach making the footing a challenge. Each switchback was an exercise in pushing off, with each step losing a little ground. It was a perfectly clear sunny day so we were spared any rain or strong winds and at this point, you could see incredible views far beyond Colorado Springs – a perfect day for this race.

With three miles to the top the terrain shifted to mostly rock with large boulders you had to strain your quads to step up and over. We were using our hands and arms to help us step up over the bigger ones and many had jagged edges making the going rough. The last three miles were so steep that they took over half an hour to traverse. They call the final mile the 16 Golden Stairs (click the link if you want to know why). There are way more than 16 steps and while the rocks are kind of yellow the only thing “golden” about any of it is reaching the summit, which I do just shy of 4 hours from the start.

When you get to the top you don’t get a breather in this race as the volunteers take a bib tag from you to confirm your summiting and immediately send you back down. There’s no clearing at the top where you could walk around a bit and take in your accomplishment. That would have to come later. So I took a quick look at the view and immediately begin the descent.

The way back is the same as the way up and those still climbing did their best to get over to the left yielding to downhill runners. It was tough going at times because the trail is very narrow. Gravity pulled me down the Golden Stairs and due to the height of the boulders I was literally leaping from rock to rock. After the first couple miles down my quads and hamstrings were screaming and I knew I was going way too fast. But I have to confess, this was the most fun part of the course and I felt like a little kid bounding down the mountain. I returned to treeline about 30 minutes later and as the incline leveled a bit my legs started to feel the effects of the 16 miles now behind me. The rocks and roots jutting out from the trail made descending quickly very treacherous so I slowed way down in this section so as not to fall. Several other runners did the same and a few who didn’t, paid the price. One went by with blood streaming from his head, another twisted his ankle trying to navigate between two large rounded boulders and a third wiped out after his foot caught on a root.

When we reached Barr Camp for the second time I was heavily fatigued. I started stopping at each aid station to drink water and rest a bit. I was wearing my Nathan running vest which had a bladder filled with 70 ounces of PowerBar energy drink which allowed me to blow past all the aid stations on the way up. I still had some electrolyte drink left but by this point it wasn’t feeling so good on my stomach. Plus after 6 PowerBar Energy Gels I needed something simple.

Once past Barr Camp the downhill became easier with more runnable surface and less jutting rocks. The miles came a bit faster now – prior to this it seemed that the miles were way longer than they should have been. From here down I was running most of the way. With five miles to go the clouds moved in and thunder cracked overhead. As I ran through the Ws light rain was falling over me which was a welcome coolant. Thankfully the overnight downpour had not made this trail all that slippery and there were no large mud puddles I would have expected back home.

Shortly after passing the “2 miles remaining” marker and then the final aid station, I emerged from the Barr Trail and was back on the roads in Manitou Springs. The course was still very steep at this point and the asphalt was tough on the feet. Locals were cheering us on as we wound down the hill and into town where Reesa was waiting and cheering. I crossed the line at 6:16, winded, spent and proud.

After a bit of stretching I then headed for a small creek just behind the finish line and went right

in for an ice bath. Along with several other thankful runners I sat hip deep in the cool waters immersing my sore legs and feet. We traded stories about the Ws, the Golden Stairs, PRs and what we went through to get here. Champions all.

Now I begin training for the third leg of my ultra challenging year. In four weeks is the Tahoe Triple – 3 marathons in 3 days circumventing Lake Tahoe. Wish me luck.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Detour to Provence: A worthy break from running

I’ve been absent from the blog for a while as I switched sports temporarily in preparation for one of the best vacations of my life – cycling through the Provence region of France. Reesa and I spent May getting reacquainted with our road bikes and riding hills, knowing we had a lot of that ahead of us and left from France at the beginning of June.

For the short version of our trip, watch this video.

I arrived in France via Barcelona where I was for work. I flew from there to Lyon, a beautiful large city in the south of France where I had but a few hours to look around. The town by the train station is rather uneventful but due east is the Rhone River which Lyon has adopted as a wonderful park. The river is lined on the West side with walking and biking trails, green spots for a quick game of tag and a fantastic public pool. Resting in the waters are a series of floating barges converted into wine bars, restaurants and night clubs. One, a rusty old storage ship, proclaimed to be an authentic Australian bar and grill called Ayers Rock.

I grabbed a glass of rose, which is everywhere here in the summer time and my first authentic French croissant of the trip while enjoying the sun and people watching.

From here I took the TGV down to Avignon in the hopes of arriving just shortly before Reesa so we could relax in town before the biking trip kicked off. But no such luck. Reesa’s flight from San Francisco had been cancelled due to mechanical problems and instead of a short flight to Chicago then direct to Paris, she had been re-routed SFO to Dallas, to New York, to London, then finally to Paris. Her short 15 hour trip would be elongated by 17 more. Here final arrival wouldn’t be until nearly 1:30am that night.

So I was on my own in Avignon for the evening. We stayed at a great little apartment hotel in a quiet part of old town, just steps from the Palais des Papes, the historic home of the pope during the 12 and 13th centuries. After settling into the apartment, with its cute little living room and view into a tiny French courtyard, I headed off to see the town. Gotta love summer nights as it remained light out until around 9pm.

I walked the gardens of the Palais, through the pretty town squares and out along the medieval town walls that are in surprisingly good shape. That night, our hotel owners pointed me to a great vegetarian restaurant in town, Terre de Saveur. I had a great tofu pasta dish and a half bottle of local red wine as I took in the local flavor, watched the sun set and waited for Reesa to arrive. Dinner was finished with a fantastic rhubarb crème brulee.

After picking up Reesa and bringing her back to the hotel we both slept soundly through the night. We were awakened by a 9am call from Stefan, one of our guides from DuVine adventures letting us know they would be by around 11:30am to collect us. I showered and headed out to Les Halles and a local bakery to pick up a quick continental breakfast.

At around 11:15am, a striking young American in a matching biking outfit bounded up the stairs to our apartment to greet us and help us with our bags. David, another of our guides was in his mid 20’s, with a perfect v-shaped body, broze tan, blonde hair and broad smile. He had the looks of a character from a romance novel or TV dramedy with the personality and back story that you just can’t make up. Born to an American father and a French mother, David split his youth between Provence and North Carolina. He came to DuVine fresh off a bachelor’s degree from UNC and a stint in the Peace Corps in Africa building homes and schools. And to make the picture even more perfect, he’s leaving in the fall for a Ph.D. program in environmental sciences at the University of New Zealand. Ok, ladies, now you can swoon.

Our cycling tour couldn’t have started out any better (see the album on Picasa for all the photos). DuVine took us to our first hotel of the trip, La Vieux Castillon in the cute little hilltop town of Castillon-du-Gard. This sprawling, historic hotel was a village within the village – a series of homes that were linked together to create the hotel. It’s right in the heart of town with big rooms, a sweet little garden courtyard where they serve breakfast and a pool built into the ruined walls of the village overlooking rolling hills covered in vineyards.

After unpacking and settling in, we headed down to the pool to greet our fellow travelers over a toast of local wine and olive tapenade. There were 14 people in our group, large for a DuVine trip but definitely not too large to enjoy the vacation. Six of our fellow cyclists were from within 50 miles of us, here in Northern California; one couple lived right on Canada Road where Reesa and I had been training each weekend for the last month. Along with them were two great young couples from Michigan, one celebrating their delayed honeymoon. And two more great couples from Miami who were long-time cyclists doing their second biking vacation.

After the toast we all headed down to the bikes. As we adjusted seats, helmets and as clip pedals were put on, the DuVine crew served up a crudité with fresh avocado, tomatoes, gazpacho, local artisan bread and cheese. If this sounds like a lot of food and wine before heading out for a bike ride, it was thematic of the trip to come. No one says you have to eat it! But how can you not!

Our third guide, the veteran on the team, was Justin and he gave us the verbal preview of the days ride. Justin is a trim, strapping guy from Colorado who has a deep love of France and had been guiding tours for DuVine for 10 years. Reesa said he looked exactly like a young Clint Eastwood.

That day’s ride was the easiest. We headed down out of town and out to see Pont du Gard an

original and mostly in tact section of Roman aqueduct built in 19 BC. We then headed out and through a couple small rural towns, Ledenon and Cabrieres before heading back up to Castillon. The ride up to town was the first of the hills and gave everyone a preview of what to expect in the days ahead. I couldn’t wait!

That night, before dinner was another wine tasting where we drank in a white, rose and red

from a winery you could see from the pool. We then went out of the hotel to dinner served by Mario, a local legendary chef and rugby player with personality appropriate for both passions. He took great pride in serving us himself and describing each sumptuous dish in great detail.

The following morning, I woke with the sun and ran down into the vineyards below Castillon-du-Gard and ended up, quite by accident, running right past the winery from the toast last night. After a great continental breakfast – someone please help me understand why croissants taste so much better in France? – we geared up on our bikes and headed down to the medieval town of Uzes. This is the town the benefitted from the waters of the Pont du Gard aqueduct. The result, lush fields growing pretty much everything you could desire. We had lunch on the town square under a warm sun before getting back on our bikes and down through the villages of Flaux and Valliguieres. That night was dinner in the restaurant of our hotel which featured an incredible chocolate and coffee dessert. It had a small espresso mousse in a coffee cup made of dark chocolate, truffles and a steaming cup of espresso. Yum.

The following morning I started the day with a brisk swim in that incredible pool (did I mention it is not heated – so brisk it was), breakfast and packing, as we were leaving Castillon-du-Gard for our second hotel. Gotta love these bike trips where they carry your stuff from hotel to hotel for you.

We cycled out of the Gard region, across the Rhone River and up a hill to the Abbey de St. Michel-de-Frigolet where we parked our bikes near a tiny tree-covered grove to discover an

incredible picnic lunch prepared for us by our guide David (yes, ladies, he is single). There were four kinds of salads, three types of olives, local breads, meats and of course a full flight of French cheeses. David expertly described everything, spending extra time on the cheeses as he said he is still in search of his personal cheese. He introduced us to his mom’s signature cheese a hearty, soft cheese, and dad’s a hard, sharp white cheese. I stopped listening after he displayed my signature cheese, French camembert. This soft, ultra creamy cheese is really, really bad for you but oh so good! You can get camembert in the US but not French camembert, due to export restrictions, so next time you are here you have to try it.

We gorged ourselves on the incredible spread, then took a tour of the Abbey as the food and wine settled; for we had a full afternoon of cycling ahead of us.

That afternoon we rode through the villages of Graveson and Maillane, saw some incredible fruit and grain orchards and got a look at les Alpilles, the tiny Alps. We then headed through

more gorgeous orchards and past fields with miniature horses grazing and then a flock of sheep being herded by a very friendly border collie. We stopped to take a photo and he gleefully ran over, posed for a picture and nuzzled us for a pet.

To the right of this field was our next hotel, Chateau Roussan, a palatial country estate which was built in the 17th century for Michel de Nostre-Dame, better known as the prognosticator Nostradamus. His mansion was surrounded by incredible grounds that included a front balcony, which could hold an entire Renaissance ball, and sprawling gardens including a pond filled with swans and goldfish.

After dropping our bags and looking around a bit, the guides offered the first of our extra rides, for those still looking for more challenge -- a 7km climb up to a view point overlooking Les Baux de Provence, a medieval village that once defied the local government declaring its independence from taxation by daring the rulers to scale its cliffs if they wanted to take it. This heritage is playfully honored with a display of medieval weapons including a catapult and a trebuchet which for 5 euros you could have a go at firing.

Justin and I led our small group up the climb where an absolutely incredible view awaited us.

Les Baux, from this height was a clearly forboding site. Behind it lie les Alpinnes to the South and the Val d’Infer (Valley of Hell) to its North. The Val d’Infer, a deep, sprawling valley of grey granite was supposedly the inspiration for Dante’s Inferno. I don’t think an invading army would dare take this route to Les Baux.

After overlooking the site we headed to Les Baux ourselves, passing a former granite mine that had been turned into an amphitheater, then walking the medieval streets of what our guides told us is the second most popular tourist attraction in France. It was definitely very touristy but had amazing views.

Day four started with a ride to nearby St. Remy where it was market day. The streets were covered with stands selling tons of local fare including some of the most colorful and stepford-perfect fruit and vegetable stands I had ever seen.

Huge flowers were displayed at several stands as were hordes of local sausages, sweets, breads, olives and more. One stand even had two massive pots filled with steaming Paella, the aroma of the fresh fish cooking in saffron rice could be smelled for several blocks.

We left St. Remy, passed a couple Roman ruins (they were actually monuments built to make the region appear loyal to the Romans, so they would be left alone) before heading out to the vast fields in the foothills of les Alpinnes. These fields were the inspiration for many of Van Gogh’s paintings, one of Reesa’s favorite artists. We then stopped for a late lunch in the cute mountain town of Eygalieres. Apparently a favorite of Brangelina, this cute town has a ruined church (St-Laurent) at its top harboring sweet views of the valleys surrounding the town.

The afternoon was a bit stressful as we had to go through a bit bigger of a town, Luberon, on our way to our next destination which meant riding on busy streets filled with tiny commuter cars and big trucks. It weared on us all and didn’t really prepare us for the long slow climb to Gordes. But when we got there, it was all worth it as this town was incredible! Another mountain town, Gordes is all packed together on a cliff’s edge.

Our hotel, a real stunner, was literally built into the cliff walls spreading out narrowly affording every room an incredible view.

The guides offered another extra ride from here, of which I was the only taker. It included a tough but fun climb through the hills surrounding Gordes and taking us right past the Abbaye de Senanque,

one of the most famous sites in all of Provence, and one often photographed with its spread of lavender fields before it.

That night we dined like locals in a great restaurant featuring regional foods. I was treated to a plate of steamed and grilled local vegetables with ratatouille and locally pressed oils. Dessert was a basket of local ripe fruit. We took it all in with incredible local wines of course, and were treated to a lunar eclipse breaking just above our table. Wow.

Day five was the final cycling day of our trip and was certainly the piece de resistance. It was a day filled with hill climbing, lavender fields, rapidly changing terrain and stellar views in every direction. This was my favorite day because of all the climbing but it was tough on others. The morning included a climb up to the red rock town of Russillon. Here another local market day was taking place but we left in short order after Reesa noticed a pickpocket strolling through the crowds. Good eye, Reesa.

We then climbed up to Menerbes, through Lacoste and up to the House of Truffles for a

leisurely lunch that included a pasta dish covered in fresh picked truffles, shaved paper thin. It’s a good thing the lunch was paced because the group was tired from all the climbing. I look advantage of a breezy overlook to rest my eyes too.

That afternoon was more climbing followed by a fantastic, fun downhill in some back roads where we barely saw anyone. We wound down the hill, then back up another that led us to an olive house where we got a tour of the pressing machines that make olive oil – and a taste of several varieties of course.

We got back to Gordes via the same long climb and everyone was greeted by the hotel preparing a classic French aperitif, pastis. This anise-flavored liqueur is prepared by pouring it over a sugar cube resting above your glass on a silver slotted spoon. Justin said this is a key

ingredient in the secret to French dominance in cycling - their EPO (eau, pastis and olive oil). Cyclists like this joke as it plays on the illegal doping that has tarnished professional cycling for years. French EPO, is of course legal.

We toasted our trip on the balcony that night as a light rain cooled off the evening before the hotel chef served us the final feast of our trip. It was an incredible six course meal that would make leaving the next morning very hard.

We said our goodbyes then spent another day in Avignon so Reesa could finally see the city before heading up to Paris for two days to celebrate our 20th anniversary reminiscing in the city where we had first started dating. Love you Reesa! I hope we have 20 (no 50) more!

Sadly all good vacations have to end but this one will not be soon forgotten.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

SMS Takes on The Relay

It’s a couple weeks past watching 12 of my best friends take on an annual rite of passage here in the Bay Area – a 194-mile tour from the Napa wine country down to the beaches of Santa Cruz County and I’m relaxing in our Jacuzzi J-325 hot tub so my sprained ankle and sore muscles can get a faster recovery. The Relay, now in its 16th year hosts over 300 teams of 12 runners who take turns running 6-8 mile segments of the course that winds through grape fields, past cow and sheep pastures, up to and over the Golden Gate Bridge, down along Ocean Beach, through the streets of Silicon Valley, up into the Santa Cruz Mountains along the always-nasty Highway 9 and down to an organic strawberry farm at the beach. Whew. And I didn’t even run it this time.

The beauty of this event comes through its incredible scenery but more so through the bonding all teams get being packed into vans for two days. This year, PowerBar returned as our sponsor providing run-ready nutrition and visors. Jacuzzi stepped up as our newest sponsor this year providing awesome racing shirts, arm warmers and water bottles (no, they didn’t throw in the hot tub; I had to buy that).

This was the third time our SMS running club had taken on The Relay and the second year we had done so in combination with one of the original teams from the very first running, Are We There Yet? Only one member from that original team stayed with us, Rick P; this would be his 13th running. Awesome.

Joining the team this year were a few veterans and long-time SMSers, Hang, Yan, Miriam and Kent and a passel of eager newbies to the race, Krissy, John, Steve, Christine, Sigrida and Sheila. I sprained my ankle in the Grand Canyon the weekend prior so subbing in for me was Sheila’s incredibly sweet and enthusiastic niece Bridget.

We started the weekend with a kick-off party at my place where we packed sandwiches to sustain us over the two days, decorate our vans and carbo-loaded on pasta, two yummy salads, fresh fruit and enough dessert to sink a Special Forces team. Thanks to Kent’s wife Emily for the logo-emblazoned homemade cookie.

Our course volunteers Char, Alfred, Tracy and Helen were there as well. They would be helping out along the course to ensure we didn’t make any wrong turns. We are eternally grateful to them for their assistance. And to Helen who brought a six pack of beers that we celebrated with at the finish line.

I was heartsick about sitting this one out. It would have been my 5th Relay and I was looking forward to being with my teammates for this fun weekend. However, I knew I would see them all, as our home was serving as the crash pad on Day two. However, my teammates would have nothing of this sitting out concept, so they convinced me to join them serving as a driver, switching off between vans where appropriate. At first I was reluctant to join for fear that the desire to run would overcome me elongating my ankle’s recovery but they were insistent and, heck, I love these guys! Done.

Day One – Calistoga to San Francisco

Each team loaded up their vans with coolers full of sandwiches, a case each of water and electrolyte drink, fruit, PowerBar Protein Bites, salty snacks and half the dessert haul from the prior night. Van 1 hit the trails at 11:30am (our seeded start – yeah, we’re fast). Here’s each runner’s take (in racing order).We're still awaiting the accounts from a few of our runners. Hopefully seeing their names in "lights" will push them to share their stories!


Rick: Wow, year number 13 and we are off once again. My latest start time in 13 years; what’s up with those Van 2 runners and their sub 5-minute mile times? Drove to the start, registered and got virgin Christine ready to start us off. We drove to the leg 2 start with white knuckles because Yan “Can” not drive! J Hotter than anticipated but the short leg made it bearable. I anxiously looked for Miriam to hand off the coveted “baton.” Did I tell you it used to be a metal bracelet covered with paper, by the end there was no paper and the metal rusted….GROSS.

Miriam: It was the first nice day of weather we'd had in a long while, so I was ready to enjoy it! As I ran along The Silverado Trail, I noticed the miles markers for the Napa Marathon were painted on the pavement. I first saw the number 8, so I knew that I only had to run a little past 12 and I'd be done with my shortest leg. Normally for shorter runs I don't take any water with me, but something made me carry a little and I'm so glad I did! After a season of running in cold, rainy weather I was not used to that strange, bright globe in the sky. What's it called again? Oh yes, SUN! It was hot out there! I would take a few sips then dump water on my face. I was very happy to see Hang between the two orange cones where he took over.

Hang: It was a pleasant day as I was waiting for the baton. However, as soon as I had it and started running I realized how warm it was. The sun was beaming down on me even with my PowerBar visor on. Within the first mile I felt parched.

I spotted a runner with calf length socks far ahead. From his steady and smooth stride I knew he was a good runner but could tell that I was slowly gaining on him. I was determined to overtake "socks" and make him a roadkill, which I knew would take a long while; I needed the long term goal to distract myself from the sun. One after another we were overtaking other runners. The first one happened so soon I hardly noticed. The next one was a runner wearing Vibrams, which I took special delight in overtaking. Then it was a lady who looked like she was struggling. I said, "Good job" as I passed her and she turned and gave me a big smile.

About 3 miles into my leg, our van was ahead waiting for me with water. I took a drink and then poured the rest over my head. I was afraid "socks" had escaped but dehydration was a bigger concern. Luckily, "socks" had the same challenge and soon he was in my sights again. The water evaporating off my head gave me a boost. I was soon directly behind him. As I started to pass him, he turned and said, "You've been haunting me for miles." I smiled and we started chatting. After about half a mile and a couple more roadkills he told me to go ahead and I replied, "See ya at the finish."

About 2 miles from the finish, I saw my next target, the RightScale runner. RightScale is sort of a competitor to my company and product. Even though I wasn't running as part of my company, I needed something to play mental games with and they would do. He was also a decent runner but I was gaining on him quickly. My biggest worry was that he would reach the finish before I could overtake him. My watch told me we were near the end. I started to sprint and passed him just before a bridge. As I came over the bridge I could see the exchange point. I was worried that if RightScale saw how close to the end we were he would try to overtake me so I ran as fast as I could. I was probably running 6:30 minutes per mile near the end. I reached the exchange point and handed off to Krissy with RightScale about a quarter mile behind me.

Krissy: I was a little nervous with this being my first relay. It was pretty hot and I wasn't used to running in the heat yet. I watched four runners in front of me complete their first part of The Relay. Now it was my turn! I didn't want to let the team down. Once I started running I felt pretty good. Yes, it was hot but this is what I love to do, RUN! I was able to complete my run holding my 10-minute mile pace. It felt really good having van one cheer me in and over to Yan.

Yan: My first leg (Leg 6) was not so flattering - I thought it's such an easy leg that I should finish it really fast and easy. Unfortunately the Gu I took 15 minutes before I took off wasn’t so friendly to me and I had a stomach problem 20 minutes into my leg, resulting in a time 3 minutes off my goal.

After Van 1’s successful take-down of the first six legs, I joined Van 2 at the Napa Prime Outlets for a quick lunch before we took the wrist band and carried our team the rest of the way South through Napa:

Kent: Taking over from Yan, I could feel the Napa heat right away. The route through Napa gave me a mix of big shopping complexes, residential areas, and some open farm land. The energy from those cheering was great and a welcome sight to look forward to. I didn't see too many other runners along the way, and those that were out there were coming up with ways of cooling down. By the end of the run, I was glad I had a Jacuzzi cold towel waiting for me in the van.

Sheila: I was a little nervous about the whole weekend of running, although I had trained for this well. Why did running a marathon seem easier to me somehow? But, the minute I got the baton from Kent, I was eager to get a good start on my first leg. It was pretty hot out there with little shade. I had been told about “roadkill” so I was looking for my first conquest! I got into the rhythm of the run and loved it, but was ready to hand off that baton to Sigrida and finally cool down. So happy to see everyone at the exchange!

Sigrida: Somewhere between Napa and Petaluma: A short (4.4 miles) and flat route (35 feet of elevation gain – woo-hoo!) stretch – perfect for a first leg! The one challenge was that 3.4 of those miles were straight into a headwind. The fun part was the finish, running past sheep and other farm animals, through an organic farm – so very Northern California! I made good time (for me) at better than 9.5-minute miles. I will say that it was tough to hop out of a van, stand by the side of the road wait for my teammate Sheila to come in, and then start to run from a dead stop with no warmup – who does that?!? Relay runners, that’s who! The treat was our swing by Jacuzzi Family Winery. I went to Acalanes High School in Lafayette, California with a couple of Jacuzzi kids, so this was one of those “one degree of separation” type of moments for me. We scored two bottles of red, which were safely stashed away between bags beneath the middle seat.

John: I had the 10th leg overall, and so waited many hours to begin running. By the time my leg started, I was jumping out of my skin. One of the wonderful things about The Relay is the teamwork. While I waited, we “chased” the runners in our van. Steve and I have run together many times, but I didn’t know the others in our van. It was so cool to stop, wait, and cheer them on as they motored through! And then there I was at a cool hand-off point on an organic farm, and here came Sigrida, running strong and steady (like she does). Exchange, boom! Off I went!

My first leg was a bit over 8 miles mostly on Hwy 116 with a hill at the start. The hill was made doubly fun by the construction along the route. Surprise: The construction zones were like trail running (which I adore)! Then I found myself on a long, long, long stretch of Hwy 116 hoping like mad that the drivers whizzing by me hadn’t spent too much time in a Napa tasting room. Don’t hit me, I’m just runnin’ … I was surrounded by pastureland. It was lonely too – neither roadkill nor roadkillers in sight. And where the heck was our van? Nowhere to be seen. Later Cap’n James told me the vans weren’t allowed to stop along that stretch.

Suddenly I emerged into a neighborhood and there was Steve up ahead for the exchange. Had 8 miles passed already?

Steve: I was excited to be doing my first ever relay like this. It was so cool that everyone in van 2 became instant friends and were completely supportive of each other. As soon as the van left James’ house the yakking and laughing started and never stopped. My first leg had a fast flat start for the first 5 miles then a very good climb up and over to the end. I focused on having fun and keeping my mile pace under 8 minutes so I could jam up the incline without much time loss. The best motivation was the camaraderie of the team members in van 2. The laughter and great conversation and instant bonding kept me loose and focused. It was dark when I finally made the handoff to our ringer---Bridget! Oh and eating potato chips while cheering Bridget was awesome J

Bridget: I found out I was doing the relay about four days before we packed up our duffel bags and settled into the vans for one of the craziest weekends of my life. Needless to say, I probably should have been running a few more hills, had I know I was going to be scaling mountains! Multiple mountains. My first leg was an “H”...that means Hard. It should have been a “VH” because it was straight up hill. My saving grace was that I was the last person in our van to run on the first day, therefore I was running in the dark so I could not see the hill looming ahead of me. I could only feel it in every muscle of my body!! However, it was the most AWESOME experience to be running along and seeing your van, with all your friends hopping out, waving cowbells (well the cow bell could have been left behind!) and cheering you on excitedly. The support and enthusiasm from my wonderful teammates made up for the fact that the hill was beyond steep. When I got to the hand off, it was so wonderful to hear the crowds cheering, because of course there were other vans waiting for their teammates as well and to gleefully pull off that green band and hand it, in my case, to Christine. While running, wildly decorated vans would drive past you, honking and hollering...although The Relay was competitive (and I was definitely in the OCD van!) there was an overwhelming sense of camaraderie between the runners...after all, we were all crazy enough to go run almost 200 miles in 30 hours!

As I was the one leg between Van 2 (and dinner), my fellow runners were getting a bit hungry...and as I ran past them at one point, they were all standing outside the van eating Baked I was, puffing up a hill, while they snacked. Needless to say, I cannot even think about Baked Lays now without laughing and picturing their gleeful faces. After an hour or two and a yummy meal at Rick's brother's house (THANK YOU SO MUCH!) we piled back into the van to relieve Van 1 and to send Kent off in the chilly cold San Francisco night. We were all a bit groggy and cold, but still excited and pumped.

Van 1 took over at Marin French Cheese at the cross over from Napa to Marin County. This organic food haven is nestled deep within a collection of rolling green hills that reminds you quickly of the back country of Switzerland. Don’t stand on a bluff spinning and singing about how “alive the hills are with…” Please, just don’t.

Here dusk settled in and Van 1 took back over as the course turned onto Sir Francisco Drake and descended into ultra-scenic Marin County. Ok, so all their legs were in the dark, but trust me, Marin is very beautiful.


Rick: In the van, what is that smell? We must really like to run. Leg two, I HATE hills, but in the pitch black it became apparent that your mind has as much to do with running as your body. I ran the entire leg not realizing I was climbing, a small feet (pun) for me. Even after 13 years, these night runs can be a little hairy with no police support or road closures. First time with chocolate covered espresso beans. I think there were laced as the girls couldn’t stop laughing after injesting them.

Miriam: On the way to the exchange, most of us in Van 1 downed lots of those chocolate covered espresso beans. Mmm! While Christine ran, they kicked in. I had the biggest giggle on record. I could not stop laughing to even catch my breath. I'd stop for a moment then start up again, and it was contagious. I got Hang, Yan and Krissy laughing pretty hard as well. My abs had a great workout! Two years ago I was runner #2, and was well aware of how dark and creepy this section of the road can be! I had a headlight, a flashlight, a red blinker in my ponytail, and mace! Yes, I was laughed at for the mace, but I don't care! I was prepared for Jason, Freddy, and Cujo! Luckily I didn't need the mace. This was my longest leg --close to 7 miles. It was nearly all uphill, but I loved it the most of the 3 legs. It was the perfect weather, nice and cool, and you couldn't see the hill or what was ahead, so I could just be in the moment and enjoy it.

Hang: The second leg of my run was very, very cold. Our first two runners told me how great it felt to run in the cold but I was fairly skeptical. I was shivering, even more so than my natural tendency to, while I waited. While my teammates huddled around me to keep me warm, "sports bra" from another team came in, handed off the baton, and started doing some variation of stretching and bicycle crunches with only her sports bra on top. Nuts. There was no way she had more natural insulation than me and I was freezing to death.

Miriam finally arrived and gave me the baton. With my headlamp and bright green vest on, I realized again how surreal the relay is. Night runs are always my favorite part of the relay. This is when we get to do something that's crazy on a couple of levels. Running is a slippery slope. Once you get used to the idea of running 26.2 miles and breaking your body so you can run that distance, doing other abnormal things is simply par for the course, as long as it involves rapid bipedal locomotion. That's how I ended up running like a mad man through a city dressed like the child of a coal miner and an elementary school safety patrol while trying to chase down someone with glow-in-the-dark arm bands carrying what appeared to be a toy lightsaber.

My teammates were right. Running in the cold was awesome. The only problem was there wasn't always a bike path to run on so I spent part of the time on the sidewalk, which wasn't very flat. With no adverse environment, my only concern was chasing down other runners. The cold kept my heart rate low so I kept accelerating. The biggest problem was having to stop for cars crossing the streets and the undulating sidewalk. I reached the exchange point with five more roadkills. My pace was actually a little slower than my first leg but my running index, a measure of running efficiency, was near a record high according to my watch.

Krissy: After a nice dinner and rest it was time to start again. It was getting pretty late and I'm used to going to bed early so I was getting pretty silly while I was waiting for my turn to run. I never got my cheesecake before my run but that's okay! I was so happy to be running at night since it was so hot earlier in the day. The cool weather felt really nice to run in. I got passed by several runners but this actually made me feel okay because I knew I was running the right way. It was pretty dark and quiet so I was second guessing myself if I was actually running the right way. I saw van one two miles into the run waiting to see if I needed anything. The run went great! I finished strong and felt good!

Yan: I was so thrilled to run Leg 18 from Sausalito across the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco! I have run across the Golden Gate Bridge in many races, but this one was so special - running at 1:15 am under the stars! I could see the city lights on the Bridge, and everything was so quiet on the Bridge. I passed one runner and told her "good job, almost there!" At that moment, I didn't feel it's a race, it felt like a runners' privilege to run on the Bridge.

It was about 2am when Yan hit the exchange point. Van 2 had gotten about 2 hours sleep at Rick’s brother’s house at crash pad #1 (Thank you SO MUCH for hosting us Gail!) but were excited about the next round. Kent, John and I headed to the hand-off point. Kent would be next to run and was hopping up and down in anticipation (and to stay warm). John took the van keys as he would be driving next and I was waiting for my ride as I’d be switching vans and driving them to crash pad #2 for some needed rest. “At this point in The Relay, I was living in a time warp,” John said, “It was dark, so I knew it was nighttime, but I was focused on the legs. Kent was next up; where was Yan? Our buddies from Van 1 suddenly are with us in the dark, and so Yan can’t be far away. Rick and Van 1 were immediately worried – where was *the rest* of our team? ‘You guys aren’t committed!’ Oh no, just resting up for the next set of legs. A friendly rivalry was on …

Kent: What a change from the first leg! The second leg in San Francisco started off really cold, and I was jumping up and down to keep warm. As soon as Yan made it over the bridge, I took off as fast as I could just to warm up. The route had me running up and down hills through the city. Running by the beach in the middle of the night was fantastic. It was so quiet you could hear the waves crashing in Ocean Beach even though you couldn't see them. This time, there were lots of runners out and you could see their headlamps from a ways away. However, there weren't many out there cheering as The Relay has rules about doing so in residential areas in the middle of the night.

Sheila: Loved this leg! After training for the winter season with TNT, I had lots of experience running in the dark in the cool weather. That was perfect running weather. I took off from the corner of Sloat and Ocean Highway and headed toward Skyline. Hills are great for “Road Kill.” Lots of runners were walking up that last part of our leg, as the majority of my run was uphill. I kept concentrating on a few feet in front of me. I’m sure the views were lovely on Skyline but all I saw were twinkling red lights from my fellow runners ahead of me and I focused on getting up to them.

Sigrida: Skyline Boulevard, above Hillsboro: I was psyched when I saw that I was going to run this leg – it’s in my backyard. I’ve ridden this entire section of Skyline Boulevard (a.k.a. Highway 35) on my bike, and I’ve run on this section of bike path many a time, which is sort of an extension of the SawyerCamp Trail. The thing I hadn’t done before was run this thing in the dark! It was really great to run at night – being able to only vaguely discern the exact length and pitch of each upcoming climb was somehow oddly freeing, and I ran my best leg of the relay, averaging better than a 9:15-mile pace on long, gentle rollers. It was a bit weird running on the trail at night – it was pitch dark beyond what I could see with my headlamp, and thoughts of hungry mountain lions crossed my mind. The one consolation I had was that I wasn’t entirely alone – there was a woman running a respectful distance behind me the entire time, so I figured if I got jumped by a big cat she would hopefully help me fend off the beast. But no giant cats emerged, and once we got off the trail and onto the suburban streets of Hillsboro, she passed me and left me in the dust – at least she was nice enough to say, “Nice running with you!” on her way by. I figured she could have passed me anytime she wanted to on the trail, but was probably unfamiliar with it and thus happy to have me out in front as her “seeing eye dog.” I have to say that having such strong runners in my van as we did was really inspiring. I felt like I had to put in three solid runs so as to keep up my end of the bargain – a very positive motivator! I think that The Relay is the most team-oriented running event I’ve ever participated in – it gave me some of the same feelings of camaraderie that I’ve had on long bike rides with good friends, which I’ve missed during marathons and other running events. And then there was Captain James, the glue holding the whole thing together, a funny combination of head coach, head cheerleader, driver, and den mother.

John: My next leg was on Skyline Drive, running through some neighborhoods in the dark for a little over 4 miles. At the exchange point, it was very dark except for a pool of light cast by a temporary rig the volunteers had set up. And it was nippy to say the least. Suddenly, the generator powering the light ran out of gas. Peering out into the darkness … where was Sigrida? A runner chugged up to the exchange to find no teammate. (This happened throughout The Relay more than you’d imagine.) Suddenly, there was Sigrida, and I had to struggle out of my jacket and get the heck going.

This leg taught me a lesson: Run hungry. I have an eating routine for marathons down cold. But I was running faster in The Relay than I do in marathons. Massive stomach cramps gripped me almost immediately. All I could do was control the cramps through breathing. And watch my feet! Even with a headlamp, it was so dark I could just picture myself doing a face-plant on the side of the road.

Steve: The toughest leg of all—LOL. Whatever, the leg was shortened to only 1.8 miles due to a bridge being out?? Go Figure-- anyways it was a fast sprint early in the morning and of course my "long distance" was the perfect comedic relief to help keep everyone loose even more. I was having a blast cheering for everyone else the rest of the day but I have to admit I was looking forward to getting some sleep after everything was over on Sunday night. I started to focus on my last leg which would be the toughest with a long steep climb. Looked like I would start my last leg around 2:30pm on Sunday. I figured I would have to channel my inner “Prefontaine” for that one.

Bridget: As sleepy as we were, it was fun to watch Kent fly off into the night. And fly he did! I had a long night of waiting to run, but the thing was -- time flew by somehow. I think it was the excitement of watching your teammates pile out of the van, run their hearts out, then climb back in, sweaty and flushed after handing off the green band. One of my favorite moments of this leg was when the van decided to barely stop for Steve. He was literally forced out of an almost moving vehicle...we told him to do a tuck and roll. The love was strong at 4 AM for one of our valuable, speedy runners. Ha ha it was great watching him pop out of the van and hit the ground running. Our van was full of laughs and puns (Sigrida!) even at 3 AM as we silently cheered and whispered to Auntie Sheila because we were in a residential neighborhood along the Great Highway. Although we were out of the van, the cowbell (thankfully) stayed in at that point. Our team was so far ahead of schedule, that it was my turn to run again seemingly instantly. It was still dark when I took over from Steve. Luckily I had my Jacuzzi arm warmers (THANK YOU!) to wear, so not only was I warm, I matched my Jacuzzi singlet awfully well :) After thankfully handing off that green band to Christine, we headed to James' house for the most amazing shower of my life.

At around 5:45am everyone from Van 1 started rousing to return to the course at the foot of Canada College. Coffee all around and a few quickly-downed pastries and they were off. After Van 2’s all night running through San Francisco and the north peninsula, they were due for another rest while Van 1 carried the team down to Santa Clara County.


Rick: Oh my God is that really the phone ringing?! I just went to sleep! Woke up the sleeping beauties, Christine, Miriam and Krissy and if looks could kill I’d be dead. Once again not letting Yan drive, we headed off to Canada Road. Christine did a great job on her last leg and handed off to me. The mind was willing, but there was no gas left in the tank. Wobbled through the 4 plus miles and Miriam never looked so good, and that’s saying sumptin’. Warming up, but bearable. Took water half way through which is not normal for me, but needed it. Last leg completed; another year under my belt.

Miriam: I wasn't feeling exhausted - mentally anyway and my spirits were high as I took on the next leg. However, my legs were like lead. I was thankful for the mostly flat terrain. Even though it was morning, it was getting toasty. When the van stopped to give me water half way, I asked them to meet me again in a mile, as I knew I'd need extra hydration. I must have been more out of it than I thought, because I never saw or heard our van go by, so when I knew a mile was up, I was sure they had forgotten and gone to the exchange. I decided to plead with another van to give me water, which I know they would have. I was about to ask a nice stranger, when I saw a mirage. Nope, not a mirage, but Hang with my Gatorade! They hadn't forgotten! For this leg, it was about 5.6 miles, so I just told myself that it was 6 miles. Every mile I completed I'd say, "Okay, you only have 4 to go ... 3 to go ... etc." So imagine how delighted I was when I rounded the corner and saw my team a half mile sooner than I expected! I did a long stretch after the hand-off and was ready to be water support for the rest of the team.

Hang: The third leg was quite brutal because it came too soon. I had only two hours of sleep. The shower I took before sleep, however, made up for it. I was more refreshed than I had expected but wished van 2 had taken their time. I couldn't understand why they didn't because it would have been a win-win situation for everyone. Why can't they see the simple logic of it!

My leg started from Los Altos. The sun was out again and I knew it was warm even before I started running. All the runners were quite tired by now and there were several walkers. We had to pass word to another team at the exchange point that their runner needed to be picked up.

With all that in mind, I asked my team to stop every couple of miles during my leg. The run from Los Altos to Cupertino was uneventful and a bit boring. The runners were spaced far enough apart that we rarely saw each other. After a couple of miles I saw my van again and was very glad to down some Gatorade. I told them to meet me again in a couple of miles but with water the next time. A mile later was approximately when the uphill started and it was a struggle. Things started to hurt. However, people driving into the state park were cheering us on. I was no longer so concerned about getting roadkills as just finishing. I cheered other runners on as I passed them and we reminded ourselves that we were almost done with The Relay. I saw the van one more time. Again I downed some water but poured most of it on my head. It felt great. After about 250 feet of climbing and passing five more runners I reached the exchange point and was done.

Krissy: It felt so good to take a shower and get a little rest! I was excited for my last run. I knew it was going to be uphill but I actually enjoy hills! This part of the run was beautiful! -- lots of trees and shade. The first mile wasn't bad. It was uphill but nothing I couldn't handle. Well things changed after that! The last 2 miles were very challenging. But I continued to move forward. I had to finish strong for the team. I would run/walk the rest of the two miles. I got my first and only roadkill so I was super happy about that! I was so nice to see the exchange point!

Yan: Rick was joking that we had no legs left! For me, Leg 30 was my last "leg." Although it was only 3.1 miles, it was BRUTAL, a net elevation gain of more than 1,100 feet. I was passed by 2 runners, but I also had 3 road kills! Woohoo!

Three hours after arriving at crash pad #2, Van 2 was off, heading toward Highway 9 East of Saratoga to take over for the final push to the finish. Van 1 could start celebrating. Their legs were over, their bodies and minds spent and margaritas and egg burritos were calling their names.
“Our next big exchange point was at the top of Hwy 9, and boy did I feel like a slacker riding past all the runners humping up that long hill (about 6 miles), said John from Van 2, “We saw our Van 1 pals again at the top – all of them looking strong but also glad their running was done. Yan came powering up the last rise and there went Ken headed down toward Santa Cruz.”

Kent: The best part of running a relay is that sometimes you get to run down a hill without having to run up the hill. This was the case with my last leg, and I made sure to take advantage of it. This was a great route down Highway 9 -- a route that you usually see lots of bikers on but very few runners. A lot of the teams were starting to bunch up at this point, so there were lots of others out there to cheer us along. By the time my last leg was over, my body was feeling the impact of the race. I was glad to have finished my running and turn my efforts toward cheering on my teammates.

Sheila: Another hot leg, but fortunately, all downhill and only 4.7 miles! Plus I had some shade. It’s a different feeling, starting off the last leg from the first. For one, over the span of the last 24 hours, I got to know everyone in my van really well. We had a lot of laughs! It was fun having my niece, Bridget, in our van, as she was a hoot! To do The Relay with her was a very special experience. So glad that my sister did not know how narrow the shoulders on the road really were!! J I was a little sad that the legs were over and I was crazy enough to wonder why we all couldn’t do four legs over the course of the weekend!

Sigrida: Highway 9 into Ben Lomond: Another stretch of road I’ve covered on my bike before – twice, both times going the other direction (climbing from Santa Cruz to Skyline). This road brought back memories of 2005, the year of living strenuously, when I completed four “double centuries” (200 miles in one day) and a small group of us, on two separate occasions, rode a 125-mile loop from our house in San Mateo to Santa Cruz and back as part of our training. Well, thankfully my leg was short enough (6.5 miles) and predominantly downhill, because my legs were tired and very sore from the previous leg. A few years ago, when I was getting ready to do a 10-k “classic”-style cross-country ski race at Bear Valley (elev. 7000 ft), I figured it would take me about an hour and that it would involve a significant amount of suffering, because the course consisted of two loops around a circuit that includes a long climb up the black diamond (i.e., most difficult) “Equipe” trail. I told myself going into it, “I can do anything for an hour.” I had a decent race that day, achieving my greatest goal: not getting lapped by the elite skiers! So here I was, hopping out of the van for my final leg with legs that were having a rather animated conversation with me before I even started running. Well, I pulled out my old motivator: “I can do anything for an hour.” I could feel the lactic acid building up with every stride, but the fun thing was that I was scoring MAJOR ROADKILL!!! I picked of 17 – count ‘em, SEVENTEEN! – roadkills over the 6.5 miles into Ben Lomond. I was picking them off two by two – way too much fun. I may have been the slowest runner on the team, but I racked up the highest number of roadkills, both overall and on a single leg – woo-hoo! Looking back on it, I’d have to say that that hour was the point in my running career that I truly learned to run with my arms – my legs were totally shot.

John: Again, I was after Sigrida, and this time we had a great view of her leg, which she crushed. Sigrida kept holding up fingers like she was counting as she flew along. Turns out she got 17 roadkill on that leg! Unheard of … it was mass murder out there and we were running out of space on the van for our roadkill symbols.

My last leg was a jaunt through a couple of quaint mountain towns until I reached a bad old hill up to a quarry. The sun was out, but the heat was not a problem. There were many runners along this stretch. At one point, two young lads asked me how far we were all running. “Two days,” I said as I went by. Then I was on the hill, and what a hill it was. Fortunately it was gorgeous but I was tired, (and fortunately I’d passed on breakfast and so wasn’t fighting stomach cramps again). Thank goodness my teammates stopped several times on the way up to cheer me on. That helped a lot.

Then … the last rise … and I was done. I wanted to run another leg, but I was finished. Next year.

Steve: Who the heck puts a quarry in the middle of a relay—UGH. The map description was bad enough but then I realized they had left off the initial climb out of the quarry. It was good I had trained with John on plenty of hills 'cause I really needed to count on that. It was a pretty run but very challenging. I just wanted to finish in under an hour and help the team the best I could. It was so cool to have the team cheering me along the way on this leg it really helped. I did record 8 road kills in those hills so I guess it suited me well. I learned a lot about myself during that last leg. My favorite saying is “persistence and determination don’t recognize failure” and I feel that I had finally lived up to it! And now the final hand off to Bridget (maybe more potato chips?).

Bridget: Thank you James for letting us use your showers, house, and couches for some much needed rest, food and cleanliness! Although some of us (no names mentioned) declined the showers, the van smelled much fresher when we all piled in for our last legs. I was the last to run, the supposed “Glory Leg” but I also thought of it as the “High Pressure Leg” as everyone kept reminding me I was between them and beer. And it was true.

Despite running past Van 2 and watching them eat chips at one point, and brownies at another (they seemed to delight in eating in front of me while running) I really enjoyed the last leg. Maybe because I met a friend named Louisa, who I chatted with while running (and who later became ROADKILL) or maybe because it was the last leg or maybe because the first two miles were downhill...however the support and excitement were magnificent. Running up that last hill to the Strawberry Farm was great and it was at that point I realized maybe James was right when he said my leg was the Glory Leg. I was so proud of our team. Not only had we run from Calistoga to Santa Cruz County, but we became fast friends. I know I can count on all these people to either run with me, eat chips in front of me while I run, or just be there for me for anything I may need. It is remarkable how quickly one bonds with others when sweating and sitting in a van and running up and down hills and not sleeping and eating at weird hours. The whole weekend was magical, words cannot really describe the emotions and experiences that occurred. I would not trade my weekend of bug bites, sore legs, sunburned shoulders, no sleep and blisters for anything in the world. Team Are We There Yet? got there...and I know that I could not have done it without the support and love shown by our teammates. Everyone had something special to offer the team...and everyone influenced me in so many ways. I think next year I will try running a few hills in the weeks leading up to The Relay however...that way I won't be so sore the following Monday :)

We all gathered for finish line pictures, beers, Sangiovese from Jacuzzi Family Winery (thanks!) and lots of hugs and congratulations. Then you could feel the fatigue from two days of running settle in. We climbed back into our vans for the final time and headed home. It was another incredible year and my thanks and love go out to all our runners and volunteers. We finished the race in 30 hours, ahead of the middle of the pack and were all winners. You don’t run The Relay to win; you do it for the experience and the friendship.

Tips from a veteran team:

We’re team #4 in The Relay and 15 years of experience has taught us how to do it right. Here’s how to make the most of this incredible event – and the rapidly growing list of other relays across the country. Want to do it like a pro? Heed Rick’s top tips – sage advice from a 13-year veteran.

· 12 passenger vans: If you are going to cram six increasingly stinky and tired runners into a vehicle for 19-48 hours it’s important to have room to stretch out and catch a few moments of sleep. Minivans might be great for hauling pre-teens to the soccer field but they are torture on aching runner’s muscles. Go for the big daddy, the Ford F-350 12-passenger van. It gives lots of room for stuff, people, food and of course cowbells.
Rick’s top tip: remove the first row of seats in the van. This gives you extra room for runners to get ready for their legs and stretch after a grueling hill climb. It also gives you extra room for the cooler which is much easier to access when it isn’t buried by bags, towels and pillows.

· Crash pads: when your Van is off, the last thing you want to do is stay in the van. Sadly many teams do just that cramming themselves into inhuman poses trying to get a few hours of shut eye. You can go the outdoor route and pull out sleeping bags to rest at the Van Exchange but they are never quiet and not all that comfortable (plus you gotta cram the bags and tents into your van leaving even less room to stretch out. The Are We There Yet? plan is to coordinate with family or friends who live near the van exchanges to serve as crash pads. Everyone gets a chance to shower, sleep on a bed or couch and fully rest.
Rick’s top tip: Don’t throw anything at the van leader when he wakes up up at O-Dark-30. It is not his fault that the other van is 5 hours ahead of schedule. Sit up and say thank you sir, may I fix you coffee.

· Plan ahead on when to leave the pad. While each team tries its best to calculate when it will arrive at the next van exchange things never go as planned. Runners hit a high and take off faster than planned, routes get shortened by construction and the blood lust for roadkills results in a PR. The running Van’s responsibility is to call the resting van when they are starting to approach the end of their last legs but cell phone reception is a problem in the hills where the exchanges take place and you can’t miss a hand-off. If you finish a leg and the next van and next runner aren’t there, you gotta keep running.
Rick’s top tip: Plan on leaving the crash pad between 30-60 minutes earlier than you scheduled and ask the running van to call you when their fifth runner is on the course or as soon around that hand-off as they have cell reception.

· Headlamps and blinking reflectors. The Relay mandates reflective vests and carrying a light when you run at night but we err on the side of greater visibility for the cars on the road and for the runner. As a coach for Team in Training I usually advise runners who have to share the road with bikes and cars to run at traffic as this gives you and the oncoming vehicles equal visibility to each other and equal chance to dive in the bushes if your eyes are more alert than the oncoming driver or rider. But The Relay mandates running with traffic. Since no one wants to be slapped on the back by a cranky old biddy in a two-ton Volvo it’s in your best interest to be as visible as possible and that’s where the blinking red reflector on the back comes in. Looking forward you must carry a flashlight but I find that a handheld breaks up your natural arm swing to hold the beam where you need it, right in front of you. Headlamps are better as they keep the light right where your eyes go so you always have a safe step ahead.
Rick’s top tip: For added visibility, carry the hand-held flashlight anyway, but point it behind you. This gives drivers even more visibility to you. And you can quickly flash it into the woods if you hear scary noises at night. Miriam, no watching scary movies the night before The Relay.

· Register and reserve your vans early. When I first joined Are We There Yet? for The Relay the even capped the number of teams at 199 (matching the total mileage of the event most years). Now there are well over 300 which means sellouts are inevitable and renting 12-passenger vans from the local rental car agencies can be difficult. The most famous relay is Hood to Coast in Washington and has sold out every year for the past several years. Registration for most relays opens up to a year in advance and rental car companies take reservations that far in advance too. Don’t risk being a minivan moron.
Rick’s top tip: Next year’s vans are already reserved (at the same price). It pays to know people.

R Recover like a champion. While I missed out on running this year, I’ll be back again until they tell me I can’t (and probably a year or two after that). With nearly 30 marathons, 5 relays and a few ultras under my belt I can tell you that proper recovery is the fastest path back to the trails. My recipe: chocolate milk followed by lots of stretching, a good go on the foam roller, a long soothing shower, and a dip in a Jacuzzi hot tub. At 102 degrees and its jets on full blast there’s little else that beats it for relaxation and recovery. I like to rotate between the seats of my J-325 starting with jets pulsating on my lower back muscles, then to the spine-tingler opposite the foot jet for a nice arch rub, then over to the seat with jets hitting the shoulder blades. Pop open a bottle of Jacuzzi Family Winery’s award-winning Barbera. invite in the wife and a couple other runners and let recovery take over. Sweet.

Run it next year: May 5-6, 2012