Posts Tagged ‘relay’

This past weekend, I once again headed out to Hell, Michigan to run DWD.  This year was certainly an interesting year, running-wise – I spent 6 months over the winter sitting on my butt and letting my thoroughly pissed off foot heal; the past month of my training (which was conservative to begin with to avoid re-angering The Foot) was totally derailed by an awful cold, an engagement and finals; and last, but certainly not least, I was on vacation the week before the race.  While I had good intentions to get some good running in during that week, the truth is I sat on my butt while I tried desperately to sleep in and ate a whole bunch of crap.  It was tasty and delicious crap that I can’t get in Seattle and thusly don’t eat all the time, but crap nonetheless.  My only run?  A 5-miler on Thursday night with a friend from high school, during which I wound up insanely dehydrated and felt like ass.  When I got home after my run on Thursday night, it was all I could do not to e-mail the rest of the team and tell them that I wouldn’t be running this year, but I’d come and hang out.

However, I didn’t do such a thing.  I’d signed up to run, so run I would, even if it was going to be pathetically slow.  On the plus side, I wasn’t too worried – I don’t run on a competitive team, so, really, as long as we could finish before dark, no one was going to care.  Besides, that’s what the cheating bastard card was for – worst case scenario we could start overlapping runners if we needed to.  My lack of training wouldn’t slow us down too much in the grand scheme of things.  In fact, it didn’t really slow us down at all – we picked up two extra runners as replacements in the weeks before the race and they were speedy.  We finished the race about an hour and a half faster than usual, which meant all day long we were hanging out with a totally different crowd than we were used to.  When we got to the second exchange at Silver Lake, it was eerily quiet because no one was there yet.  Normally when we get there, the party is in full swing.

It was strange, but in a good way.  (Especially when we had actual choices for our post-race pizza and soda, instead of the usual, “We only have mushroom pizzas and regular Coke left, so enjoy.”)

As for the actual running?  It wound up being quite the adventure.  My first leg was the third leg of the race and this would be my third time running it, so I knew exactly what to expect.  It’s a great run along single-track trail through the woods with a wide assortment of hills.  I started off way too fast, but once I got into a rhythm (and stopped feeling like I was going to die) I really enjoyed it.  They moved the exchange at the end of the leg to the top of a small but incredibly steep hill, which, dudes: NOT COOL, but other than that it was the same run I’ve done before.  I was amazed when I got out of the trees and discovered that I’d come in about a minute and a half faster than last year – not exactly ground breaking, but certainly much, much better than I was expecting.  Maybe I wasn’t in such bad shape after all?

Except my next leg would prove me so very, very wrong.  When the leg assignments were figured out, it looked like I was going to have three clean and dry legs.  On one hand, I was mildly disappointed – running through swamps and lakes and streams is sort of fun in its own sick way – but on the other?  I haven’t done enough running to have 2 or 3 extra pairs of running shoes that I could sacrifice to the dirt gods.  I had the one pair I was running in on a daily basis (which, despite being a year old, only had about 100 miles on them), the pair I was wearing to the gym, and the pair of Nikes that I hated running in but made good general wear-around shoes.  When I packed, I left my gym shoes at home and packed the Nikes as a second pair of running shoes (that I could also wear as shoes during the week), figuring I’d never need to use them as such.  I had three dry legs!  This would be the first year that all of my shoes would come home!

Not so much.  Apparently Michigan has had quite the wet summer, and as a result the middle of my second leg (the ninth of the race) had turned into a swamp, complete with silty, black, shoe-sucking mud.  At first I thought it would be just a little slick coating on the trail, but I soon found myself ankle-deep in it.  Then I was knee-deep in it.  Then I was ankle-deep in it again, but when I pulled my right foot forward my shoe remained in the mud.  Crap.  I turned around and attempted to get the shoe out while keeping my socked foot off the ground, but soon realized that was just not going to happen.  So I put the socked foot down, rescued my shoe (and the custom orthotic within – had I known that leg was going to look like that, I totally would have run in the shoe’s regular old insoles) and then looked for drier, more stable ground where I could attempt to get it back on my feet.  I figured I was about 3/4 of the way through the thing (I was actually only about halfway through it), but I still wanted my shoe on.  I looked at the inside of my shoe and at the mud-caked sock on my foot and quickly realized those two were not going together nicely.  I could either try and clean off the sock or I could just take it off and put the shoe on my bare foot.  So take it off I did, and I ran the rest of that leg with an inside-out sweaty muddy sock in my hand.  When I made it to the next exchange point, I was exhausted, winded, and generally feeling horrible.  I was not in shape for this kind of running, and I still had three more miles to go.  Ugh.

As I set out for my last leg, I was beat but trying to stay positive.  It was only 3 miles!  I could bang that out in no time!  Except it was three miles of either insanely technical trail (narrow, hilly, windy, and littered with fallen branches and tree roots) or barely-person-wide paths through open sunny fields.  Neither of these things were what I wanted to see.  I couldn’t get into a pace on the technical trail, and the open sunny fields left me feeling overheated.  It was only 80 degrees, but you just don’t see that kind of weather running in the mornings in Seattle which means I wasn’t at all acclimatized to running in the sun.  Even if I had been, I still would have been suffering because I just do not do sun well at all.  (Shocking, I know.)  It took me nearly 45 minutes to get through those 3 miles and I spent most of that time just wanting to go home.  What made it worse was that the winding nature of the path meant I could hear cheers at the exchange when I still had a mile or so of running to go, so I kept thinking I was closer to the end than I was.  I resisted the urge to walk and ran as much as I could, telling myself that the faster I moved the faster I’d be done, but the ugly truth was this: I was toast.

At that point in time, I never wanted to run again.  I was pathetically out of shape and spent most of my run time that day feeling like shit.  We made our way to the finish line to wait for our runner, and as I sprawled out on the grass I just wanted to lie down and take a nap.  As I sat there though, I gained a little perspective.  Sure, I wasn’t even remotely in shape for this race this year, but at least I had one good leg.  Plus, I’d survived.  I’d been slow, but I’d made it through every inch of my assigned 10 miles, which was the most I’d run in a single day in over a year.  Most importantly, despite the ankle-rolling terrain…. my foot didn’t hurt.  It felt fine.  There were no twinges or soreness or anything.  It was perfectly happy to have made it through the woods and never once bothered me while I was out there.  In fact, it felt so OK that I didn’t even notice it until someone asked me about it, which is better than I ever would have hoped for 6 months ago.

So, yeah, I’m still slow.  I’m still pretty out of shape.  But to go from barely being able to run at all to 10+ miles of pain free trail running in 6 months?  That’s some pretty good progress right there.  I’ll totally take it.  And next year?  I’ll actually be trained for it again.

The rest of the weekend was, as usual, a blast.  The same group of about 30-40 people runs this every year and, for the most part, it’s the only time I see any of them.  It’s a great group of people and the chance to spend some time with them again was totally worth the pain of being horribly undertrained.  I even managed to stay up past 10 p.m. this year, which I was pretty proud of.  Sure, I was in bed by 12:30, but that was a choice I made as I was sitting at the table playing speed quarters.  My beer was empty, and I knew that I could either go to bed now, or I could get another one and end up stumbling back to my room at 4 a.m. in a state that would best be described as “not even remotely sober.”  I opted for bed and the hangover-free flight, and I can’t even tell you how glad I am to have done that.  I am, officially, old.


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After running GMR (which has since been renamed) last year, the Tall Kids (tm Barb) and Barb and Mike and I all agreed on one thing: we’d be back in 2008, for sure. 30 hours in a van with 5 of your closest friends? Running all night instead of sleeping? What was there to not love about all that? Since we all pretty much felt that way, we all stuck it on our calendars and got geared up for a repeat performance.

Then… well, then things happened. People got hurt. Others got busy. We had a full team, then we didn’t. Then we did. Then we needed one more runner. Then we needed two. Next thing we knew, we were 6 weeks out from the race and only had half a team with no one really having the time or the resources to kidnap 6 additional runners and handle the rest of the remaining logistics. So we bid a sad yet somewhat relieved adieu to our triumphant relay return. (Personally, I was bummed out we weren’t running it, but my summer was rapidly filling up with other travel and the idea of bracketing the relay, which would be exhausting in and of itself, with cross-country flights? Wasn’t exactly at the top of my list of “fun and awesome things to do.”) Once GMR was off the table, I resigned myself to a relay-free summer, which was fine. I had plenty to keep me occupied: weddings (most of which were not in Seattle), travel, a half-iron in July and at least one (if not two) marathons in October to train for. Keeping busy would clearly not be a problem.

Then, a week after Lake Stevens, an e-mail came across the running alias at work. Turns out there was a big huge relay out here at the end of July, and someone was looking for a female runner to fill out a team. Hmmm. I almost responded right away saying, “Me! Pick me!” Then I realized I was still, you know, recovering from that whole “8 hour effort” and whatnot. At that point, I felt great but hadn’t really tried any sort of taxing workout, so I wasn’t sure if I was as up to it as I thought. Then I realized the relay was still two weeks away, so there was plenty of time to be recovered enough to get myself through the equivalent of three 10Ks. Plus, it was the same weekend as The Boy’s massive puzzle event, so it’s not like he was going to care (or notice) if I was zipping around the state in a van with a bunch of smelly runners. In fact, he’d probably be all for it. So I went for it – I responded to the message and volunteered myself to run.

Approximately 12 hours after sending my deposit off to the team captain and confirming my spot on the team, I woke up with that post-nasal-drippy feeling in the back of my throat that signals a cold is coming on. Not wanting to screw around with it, I spent the next couple of days (Friday and Saturday) resting and sucking down tea and other fluids and keeping my fingers crossed that I could avoid actually getting sick. By 4 a.m. Saturday night/Sunday morning? The Boy was dragging my sorry ass to Walgreen’s because I was sick, and we had no drugs. I’d gone from “feeling sort of gross and drippy” to “hacking up a lung, even when I thought I was sleeping, and feeling like twice-baked ass.” It wasn’t good. I was going to have to get healthy, and fast, but, maaaan, I wasn’t sure how long it was going to take. I wanted to run, but it was quickly getting to be too late to back out of the team since we were down to less than a week to go before the race. Aaaaack.

I woke up on Monday feeling, well, like I sort of wanted to die. The Boy made me go to the doctor, so I did and got relatively good news. My lungs were clear, there was no sign of any sort of infection in my sinuses or ears or throat, so it was just a matter of getting past the worst of the congestion and getting my energy back. Which I was totally sure I’d be able to do in the 4 days remaining until the race. So I went home and proceeded to drug myself up and sleep all day, after which I felt significantly better for the first time in 48 hours. By Wednesday I was giving some serious thought to going running, but couldn’t quite work up the energy to actually do it, and by Thursday I was absolutely itching to get out the door and move. So I did. While I wasn’t quite 100%, I’d be good enough for the weekend. Plus, it just felt good to get up and run outside after spending a week semi-conscious on the couch.

Friday morning, I packed up the few things I’d need for the weekend and headed out to meet up with the rest of my van for the ride to Bellingham where we’d meet up with the rest of our team at the first van exchange. I was the #10 runner (#4 in our van), so I had plenty of time to relax before my first leg rolled around. When it did? I was ready to go. My predicted pace for the weekend was 10:00/mile, but I had no intention of killing myself to hit it. I figured I’d go out and see what I could do. I took off a little on the fast side (which I always do in these things, since odds are the person coming in before me is running a lot faster than I do, so I always take off a bit faster than usual) but got settled into a pace pretty quickly. A short ways up the road at the next main intersection, I saw a sign with an arrow pointing up and to the right, so I figured my first turn was at the next block or something.

I kept on running, looking for the sign for the turn, but didn’t see it. When I checked the Garmin and discovered I’d been running for almost 3/4 of a mile? I figured I must have missed it, which confused me because it’s not like I’d passed anywhere that I could have turned. Luckily, I’d taken a copy of the leg info sheet with me, so I pulled it out to check how far it was to that first turn. As I saw that the first turn was less than a quarter-mile into the leg, a car drove past and someone helpfully leaned out and said, “You missed your turn!” Well, shit. I turned around and headed back, making special note of the street name I was supposed to turn on. As I was making my way back towards where ever it was I was supposed to turn, the same car that had originally told me I was off-course came back the other way and let me know that my turn was at that main intersection I’d sailed right through. Right on. Thanks, helpful local dude!

I found the right street and got back on course, but I’d also turned my 5+ mile run into a 10K. Oops. Oh well. Right about then, my team van passed me, and while I was glad they hadn’t missed me (as I’m guessing they’d be worried if they drove to the next exchange point and never saw me), I felt a little silly being all, “Hi! I’ve been running for 15 minutes but I’m only 1/3 of a mile into the leg! Woohoo!” (When I told them at the end of the leg I’d missed the first turn, they said they’d figured it was either that or an emergency bathroom break, so they weren’t overly concerned by it.)

The rest of the leg felt very, very long. It was the longest I’d run in a couple of weeks, and I was pushing the pace a bit on the hard side to make up for the extra mile I’d put into the leg. I felt OK, but not great, and kept getting passed by speedier folk. When I saw the “One Mile To Go” sign, I was very, very happy. I was tired, coughing, and I could feel a blister forming on the bottom of my left foot. Not good. Not good at all. Adding to my general feeling of “not good”? The fact that I smashed my knee on the seat belt buckle in the back seat of the truck while trying to get to my bag in the trunk. Owwww. I was tired, I was going to have a huge blister problem after my next leg, and now I’d just beaten the crap out of my knee. Right then, I wanted nothing more than to just go home.

However! That was not so much an option, for I had two more legs to run. We eventually made our way to the next van exchange point and crashed for a couple of hours on a high school hallway floor. I had a bitch of a time getting comfortable, but I did manage to doze off for a bit and felt a little better when the “wake up and get moving” call came in from the other van. By the time my leg rolled around? I was ready to go. My foot felt OK, so I was hopeful the proto-blister wouldn’t develop into an actual problem. I was also determined to not hammer out this run at the same sort of aggressive pace as the first one, not to mention “follow the signs and don’t get lost.” (I missed the turn on the first leg because I’d misread the sign marking it. What I saw as “go up a bit and then turn” was really “cross this main road and then turn.” Oops.)

That leg? Was much better than the first. It was a great course – hilly enough to be interesting but not excessively so – and, had it not been 3 a.m. and pitch-black dark, would have had some lovely views of the water. It was quiet and cool out which was all very relaxing. The bad news? The proto-blister had turned into a ragingly angry bubble of pink goo and covered a big chunk of the bottom of my left foot. I changed out of my shoes and tried to stay off my feet as much as I could, since walking gets to be tricky when you can’t actually put any weight on the middle of your foot. I quickly realized I was putting a ridiculous amount of strain on my ankles just trying to walk around, so I sat my butt in the van and stayed there. The last thing I needed to do was hurt myself because I couldn’t walk normally. I still had one leg to go, after all. A fact that I was desperately trying to ignore for the time being.

The next van exchange (and sleep break) was at another high school. Once again they had the locker rooms open for showers, and figuring I’d sleep better if I was at least sort-of-clean, I hobbled on over for a quick rinse. Another unexpected bonus? Rather than sleeping right on the floor, they had gym mats out for us. I snagged a spot on one and while it wasn’t much, it was most certainly an improvement. I was out like a light.

Until an hour later when the fire alarm went off. What cracked me up was that as crowded as the gym was with sleeping runners? Almost no one moved. No one got up, no one moved towards the door. Everyone either kept on sleeping or put their pillows/blankets/coats/sweatshirts/whatever over their ears to muffle the sound. Eventually, the alarm went off and we all went back to sleep. Only to be awoken twice more by it within the next hour. Not cool, dudes. Not cool. On the bright side (if it can be called that), I was tired enough that falling back asleep each time wasn’t a problem, and there was a good 2.5 hours between the last time the alarm went off and when we needed to get up and get moving again.

I got up and changed from my PJs into my last clean set of running clothes, and immediately knew that there was no way I was going to be running without some kind of blistery intervention. Normally, I don’t drain my blisters because nine times out of ten, they’ll just fill right back up within a day or so. However, this one? Needed to go. I had 6 miles to run in a couple of hours, and it was not going to happen with my foot in its current state. Standing on that foot hurt and running on it was unimaginable. So I drained and bandaged the bad boy (which was approximately the size of a quarter), and while it didn’t feel good, it at least felt better. Better enough that I could actually put weight on that foot without wanting to scream. It would have to do.

While it was sunny when we emerged from the high school at 9:30 a.m. (so, so sunny), some light clouds quickly rolled in. It was just overcast enough so we weren’t running in direct sunlight which was perfectly fine with me. Of course, a mile into my last leg? The sun came out with a vengeance and, combined with the hilly terrain, made me very quickly realize that I’d neither ate nor drank enough that morning. Oops. On the bright side, our van had been meeting runners about halfway through their leg with a water bottle, so I knew that I’d most likely see our little traveling aid station around mile 4, right before I started my major climb.

So…. the major climb. Thanks to the race bible, I knew that my last leg involved about 600 feet of descending and 400 feet of climbing, making it an overall downhill leg. However, I also knew that 300 feet of that climbing happened all at once, within a half mile or so. It was a big-ass hill, and when I saw it coming I just stopped thinking about it. I had a pretty good downhill leading up to it, and as I kept running downhill all I could think was, “Please, please level out or start heading up,” because I knew that every foot I ran downhill was another foot I’d have to run uphill very, very shortly. The good news is that when I finally did get to the bottom of the hill, it didn’t look anywhere near as big as it did from half a mile away. (It was probably just because I couldn’t see all the way to the top of it, but whatever. I was just happy that it didn’t look at bad as it had earlier.) Once I got to the hill, though, it felt just as bad as I feared, because that sucker was steep. It was not messing around. Not even a little. I jogged up a bit, but my legs were just toast and I wound up walking a big chunk of it. Whatever.

I started running again just as the hill crested, and the pleasant surprise of the day was that the “mile to go” sign came much, much sooner after the hill than I expected. I knew I’d have one more small but steep bump right before the finish, but other than that it was all flat and downhill so I flew right through it. Once I got up that last bump? It was all downhill into the exchange which, again, came up much sooner than I expected. I hit the exchange at full speed, the blister on my foot absolutely screaming, handed off the bracelet and rejoiced in the fact that I was done.

Overall? I’m glad I went. Despite being not-quite-healthy and the development of the Blister That Ate My Foot (lesson learned: don’t do a big race in shoes you’ve run a max of 4 miles at a time in, at least not without taking a backup pair) (also: the evil shoes have been returned, hopefully the replacements will be better), I did have a good time.  I would have had a significantly better time without those two factors, but I actually enjoyed myself more as the race went on and I just relaxed.  I’d definitely run with this crowd again, despite being both the youngest and slowest runner by a non-trivial margin.

The good news?  After the race, although I was completely knackered and spent most of the next day sleeping, I wasn’t terribly sore.  In fact, I wasn’t sore at all except for all of the tendons and connective tissue in my lower right leg which I must have strained while trying to hobble around without hurting the blister.  Oops.  (Eeeevil shoes.)  Also, while the blister had refilled itself Saturday evening, it was pretty much gone by Sunday afternoon.  That made me incredibly happy, since I wasn’t looking forward to gimping around at work this week.

One last thing: while I did have fun this weekend, piling in a van with 5 strangers isn’t anywhere near as fun as piling in a van with 5 of your friends.  Maybe I’ll just try and import my own team for next year 🙂

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