Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Red Eye Relay: Race Report

This is long overdue, and I still don't have all the pictures gathered together yet. That will have to be a future post, I guess. For now, the report:

The Red Eye Relay is a 104-mile, overnight relay beginning and ending at the IU track in Bloomington. The course consists of two 52-mile loops that wind through the back roads of Monroe and Morgan counties, including some that are not paved, and visiting some of the craziest hills that southern Indiana has to offer. Our team was the in the open mixed gender division, meaning we had five to seven people on our team (seven, in our case), with at least half being female. Each of us ran three legs.

My strategy was to stay up late Friday night and sleep in as late as possible Saturday morning, in the hope that I would find the all-nighter on Saturday night a bit less of a shock to the system. I hosted some of the other members of our team; we watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Without Limits. I think we ended up going to bed around 3 a.m. or so.

The strategy backfired a bit when I woke up at 9 a.m. or so and could not get back to sleep. Oh well, I got up and made the best of it, figuring I'd have a nap in the afternoon (which I did). We just tried to rest up and take it easy during the day, and then finally headed over to the track around 4.

After loading up the cars and getting some pictures, we went down to the track to cheer on Jenny, our first runner. As she set off north towards Griffy Lake, the ladies piled into the car (not quite intentionally, we ended up with a girls' car and a boys' car) to get me, the second runner, ready for my leg. At this point, it's about 5:30 p.m. and it's HOT and HUMID. I believe it was close to 90 degrees. My leg headed uphill from Griffy Lake and through a residential area before descending a truly monstrous hill on Boltinghouse Road (hopefully there will be some pictures of this). By now it's mostly wooded patches and farmland, not very much shade. I'm POURING sweat and am probably bright red in the face. A nice man driving a small tractor pulled up next to me and asked if a race was going on (I was wearing a number) and then asked if I was okay. Heehee. I thanked him and let him know I had people up ahead. No matter how many hicks* in diesel trucks gun their engines as they pass or leer at you, at least there are redeeming human beings out there.

I struggled up one last hill and ran down into the exchange zone to hand off to Becky, our third runner. I was so hot that I could literally feel my face and body radiating waves of heat. My teammates had some cold water ready. I felt better pretty quickly, but wow, I don't think I've ever been that hot and sweaty before!

First leg: 5.84 miles in 45:32 (7:47 pace)

As we drove around to follow and support Becky, I ate some shot blocks and drank more water. Last year at this race I got sick after my second leg, and I suspect it was because of dehydration and not eating enough. Becky handed off to Michelle, and once Michelle finished, our car was done for the time being. We had PB and J sandwiches and Gatorade. I also ate some snack crackers.

By the time the boys' car was finished and handed back off to our car, it was almost 11 p.m. I received the baton (which was actually a slappy bracelet!) a little after 11:30. I actually ended up running my previous leg backward, which meant I had to run up the monstrous Boltinghouse hill. After dark, we followed runners with a car as much as possible, but we had to have runners ready for hand off and it was actually really hard to drive that slowly up some of the steeper hills, so I was on my own going up Boltinghouse (we each ran with a headlamp, red blinkie light, and a reflective vest). I managed to run the whole way, but I was slowed practically to a crawl and my calves were like rocks! The run back down to Griffy Lake was pretty exhilarating. I came in at exactly the same time I ran for the first leg, which was good considering the Boltinghouse hill.

Second leg: 5.84 miles in 45:32 (7:47 pace)

We had to hurry this time because Becky's leg was really short and we didn't have much time. We jumped in the car and downed some more shot blocks and water on the way. I didn't do as good a job of eating after the second leg, but I also had some more snack crackers and Gatorade, and of course more water. And some barbeque chips. Yummy.

Once our car was finished with our second round, we drove ahead to park and rest for a bit. I don't think any of us actually slept (I know I didn't), but it was nice to lie down and close my eyes for a few minutes. Eventually I got up and started moving around a little bit, but I was really tight and already feeling some soreness. The fact that I didn't have the opportunity to stretch or warm up at all was definitely taking its toll by now.

Finally we were on again. During Jenny's run I was having real trouble staying away and was really not excited about running. But once I got the baton I felt better. It was around 4 a.m. Right after I started, before the car could catch up, I heard barking and saw a pair of glowing eyes streaking towards me. I stopped and whirled around and the dog stopped in a puff of dust, but wouldn't run away. I started to turn and it came at me again, so I had to keep facing it. Luckily the car came up right then. I deducted about 20 seconds from my time to make up for the devil-dog attack.

This leg was very surreal due to the darkness, the very bright moonlight, and the weird shadows thrown by the headlights of the car and my headlamp. The first bit wound through farmland, but before long we plunged into the woods and the road turned into gravel. We headed up, and up, and up. I seriously thought this hill would never end. It wasn't as steep as some of the other hills, but it was bad enough. The length was the real factor. I didn't time the uphill portion, but I would have to estimate it was close to a mile. I was crawling almost as bad as on Boltinghouse.

Earlier in the leg I been repeating to myself, "The faster you run, the faster you're done," as a litany. But it was a huge challenge to stay focused. I really struggled mentally during this leg. And when I hit that nightmare uphill, I lost it completely and just concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. I finally reached the top and the car went ahead to get Becky prepared. I started downhill, which was actually pretty terrifying because the darkness was so complete and the footing was uncertain. My headlamp seemed like a faint blueish spot in the darkness. Eeek! It was only about a quarter mile, but man I was ready for that leg to be done!

Third leg: 7.04 miles in 59:40 (8:28 pace)

That uphill and the general exhaustion really made a difference! I was so relieved to be done. It wasn't over yet, however, as we had to keep Becky and then Michelle supported and safe from dogs and other wildlife. There was also a possibility that our fifth runner, Mark (my Mark), might be unable to run his last leg because he wasn't feeling well and his calf hurt.

Our car really hit up the boonies. We were on gravel roads for a good long while, hitting roads with names like Bear Wallow Road and Slippery Elm Shoot Road. We returned to more familiar ground as it was getting light out. It was the home stretch and Mark was running! I was a little worried that he would really hurt himself, but mostly relieved that I was really done. :)

We headed back to the track to wait, where we had the opportunity to shower and change. I didn't shower, but I did clean up with wet wipes and change into dry clothes, which was the best feeling ever. A former teammate from last year's relay came by see us finish. She brought champagne and orange juice and made us mimosas. Incidentally, she is my new favorite person. As we waited, the first-place overall team finished (they had started hours after we did). Their name was Team Brilliant and they ran the last lap as a team, carrying full pint glasses of Guinness. Incidentally, they are my new heroes.

Finally Mark and Rob, the sixth runner, arrived, heralding the appearance of Peter, the last runner. We all attempted to run the last lap with him, but he was going pretty fast, so we were a bit fragmented. Jenny just cut across the field and Michelle and I ended up about 100 meters behind. I wasn't wearing a sports bra. Oops.

So we finished in 15 hours, 41 minutes, and actually won our division. Good times were had by all. I was exhausted, but my body was also craving protein, so we stopped at the local breakfast place for steak and eggs. Yum. When we got home, we literally dropped our stuff by the door and fell into bed.

Picture post hopefully coming soon!

* The term "hicks" is not meant to refer to anyone living in a rural setting. If you're a rude, boorish person living in the country, you're a hick in my book. If you're polite and compassionate and live in the country, then you're a nice man or a decent human being, no matter what kind of accent, education, or other characteristics you may have. :)
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