Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Brief History of My Time on the Wild West Relay (Part 1)

NOTE: This post was originally published back in August 18, 2006.

195 Miles. 36 Legs. 12 Athletes. 2 Vans. 30 Insane hours. 1 Crazy weekend.

It is incredibly difficult to sum up the experience of participating in the Wild West Relay from Fort Collins to Steamboat, Colorado (with a considerable dip up into Wyoming). It has been almost a week since its conclusion in Steamboat Springs Middle School track at around noon, and I'm still "processing" what really happened. (I told my wife that it was a life changing situation, and as part of the larger "going West" experience, there has got to be a book in there somewhere.)

While I did take a ba-jillion digital pictures (and my teammates took some as well), from the two-day experience, of which the time between legs was much more challenging than the running of the race itself, I've only included a few here to serve as points of reference. (I feel like a could write and write and write about this...)

After meeting at one of our teammates' house at 5:30 a.m., we, as the entire Team Skinnydipper (including the honorary mascots--one baby and one dog) made our way in two vans to the starting line, which was at the Budweiser Brewery in Fort Collins. It was as we pulled into the parking lot that the scope and distance of the race (195 miles!) finally began to sink in. There were 94 teams running, in five different divisions (open, flatlanders, hash house, mixed, high school  and our team was among the fourth wave of starters beginning at 7:30 a.m.

Van 1, holding six runners (actually, in our case, only four as we had received special permission for a "Baby Mobile"--two of my teammates had a baby, and dog--my brother-in-law Mike and his girlfriend Jodi among them), which would be accompanying us) would take care of the first six legs, while we in Van 2 would travel to the seventh exchange point and wait. And wait. and wait. It was about 90 degrees out in the sun so we stringed a tarp between our van and the one next to it in an effort to hide from the heat. It kind of worked.

As we drove to the start in Van 2, our team captain inquired as to what we should name the van. She also came up with the only suggestion: The White Shadow, and this is the name by which the van was referred throughout the day(s).

The Bud Plant was where our "baton," a yellow LIVESTRONG bracelet, was to begin its journey, moving from runner to runner, wrist to wrist...

Our second four to five hour waiting period began in the early afternoon and ended at dusk. Then it was time for our night legs, a period during which we would be running through very rural Wyoming/Colorado between 10:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m. Rules (and safety) dictated that all runners had to wear a reflective running vest, head lamp and blinking light. Fortunately for me, the moon was so large and bright that the technological light was unnecessary. The dark did motivate me to run harder--too many killer hillbilly movies, I guess.

By this time, our van had worked out the process of following the person running, to offer support and fluids. Prior to receiving the "baton," the runner would work out where or when the remainder of the team would meet them along the route. Because the only race markers were for the final mile (allegedly), I would ask for the team to touch base with me half way through each leg. This would give me a better sense of how far along I was. Some of my teammates would ask for us to wait for them at two or three different points, primarily to offer moral support. This strategy was wildly effective in pulling each other through the larger challenges of the relay--which was (at least) as psychologically draining as physically. Apparently, our Van 1 did not use this approach, but my guess is next year our whole team would buy into this.

After our night legs were complete, we barely made it to the last wait point which we had been led to believe would be a field on which we could camp with tents. In reality it was a hilly sage field with two port-a-johns. We were among the first vans to arrive, crawling into the "lot" at about 3:30 a.m. For some inexplicable reason we were prompted (actually directed) to park in what in effect was a gully.

When I woke up at 6:00 a.m., I noticed that all the other vehicles that had been told to park with us in the gully had been moved while the White Shadow remained alone were it had come to rest only a few hours before. After spending three and a half "sleeping" in the seated position, I wasthe first to make a break for it, pushing open the door and falling out onto the Colorado landscape. In the shadow of the Rabbit Ears rock formation, I donated two dollars for a cup of warm "camp coffee," which consisted of a few coffee beans boiled in a pot of water on a small grill. I could have been drinking a cappuccino in Italy for all the satisfaction it brought me... I've never been one to drink my coffee black, but this trip was about making exceptions to rules, right?

My last leg was among the hardest of the 36 (the race director's designation, not mine!) as it was five miles almost straight downhill running into traffic. Fortunately for me, the rain that had harassed those running the two legs prior to mine had subsided (for a short time), and I had brought two pairs of sneakers which allowed me to choose my Montrail trailrunners, providing me more traction and support. I had been wearing both knee supports during all three race legs, and they were most beneficial during this leg which, by the nature fo the steep grade of the descent, would beat my legs senseless. I passed three of the competition team's runners in this leg, a feat that my colleagues had also accomplished during their legs. We all felt pretty good about the manner in which we maintained our overall position during our time with the "baton."

My brother-in-law Mike ran the last leg onto the Steamboat
Springs High School Stadium Track.

"Exchange 35" was the last transition point where the thirty-fifth leg would hand off to the last. Our final runner would run the trail-leg to the middle school track, where the entire team (vans 1 and 2) would meet him with a hundred meters left and run in the baton together cross the finish line.

It was great to be reunited with the entire Skinnydipper squad after being separated for most of the race, and to finally cross the finish line. Despite some conversation around who ran the hardest leg, or did "the best," I think that each one of us in the White Shadow ran to the best of our ability on each leg.

To use a tired sports saying, we "all left it on the court" and then sense of elation (I know I felt) once the relay was complete was incredible! I felt an incredible bond with my teammates, forged as a result of our shared space, effort, H20, and relay experiences. I'm looking forward to sharing some more personal anecdotal type stuff from the relay trail in future posts, but until then...

Breathe in, breathe out... YOU AND I ARE ALIVE!

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