Sunday, August 28, 2011

Race Report: The Colorado Relay

So there I am, finished with my first leg (a 3-miler up Boreas Pass), using my friend Patty's foam roller in the gravel next to the trail on top of the pass as we wait for Patty's hand-off to our next guy, Ron. The view is stunning. I'm feeling good. Our team is running well ahead of schedule.

Here's the view of a section of my first leg, though this picture was taken later in the day.

Our van was parked across from the old boxcar. How that thing got up that pass I'll never know!
It was in that idyllic moment that I looked down and realized I'd put my hand in something's poop. What did I do about it? I got out the paper towels and the hand sanitizer and wiped that stuff off. Then, when Patty arrived, I assured her the stuff had not in fact gotten on her roller. And then we moved on. That's how you roll in a big 200-mile relay.

Relays are full of moments like this. Here are some other funny moments:

--The Leg 1 runner who finished wearing nothing but his shoes, race number and a white jock strap. Let's just say I'm glad I didn't have to put that number on.
--Watching Ron try to hoist his leg up onto onto our van's bumper for a hamstring stretch after he finished his last run.
--The male team at Copper Mountain who were all wearing slightly pornographic superhero costumes. It reminded me the Chippendales in American flag undies.
--Me getting passed as I cruised down to Vail from Vail Pass by a male ultrarunner who looked like the old children's Bible renditions of Jesus: no body fat, flowing brown hair, no shirt (or body fat). I thought I was going fast before he passed me. After he passed me, I wondered if the altitude was starting to get to me. Was I hallucinating? (It was too early for hallucinations!) Would it next be a Greek god or a book character who glided by me?
--Tim's characterization of his walk from the van to the restaurant in Carbondale after we were ALL finished as "leg 31" of the race. Tim made many such remarks over the course of our group's 30 or so hours together.
--Four of the five of us ordering alcoholic beverages (three Bloody Marys and a screwdriver) at that same breakfast at 7 a.m. I stuck with chai--I was worried about falling asleep at the wheel on my drive back later that day.
--All five of us sleeping in the van at the finish line in Snowmass as we waited for our compadres in the second van to arrive. It probably looked like a van filled with dormant zombies.
--Me using the decidedly leaning port-a-john under the Snowmass ski lift. I seriously thought it was going to tumble down the mountain with me in it.

And there were some really beautiful moments too. I saw three shooting stars, Orion (my favorite constellation) and the rising crescent moon. The fixed stars were beautiful too. I hadn't seen the Milky Way since going camping last summer with my family. It's especially amazing when you're running in a canyon by the Colorado River and the only light other than those stars is coming from your headlamp.

My team was amazing and welcoming, especially considering I was trying to fill some big shoes. Elizabeth, my friend who couldn't make it, is the paragon of optimism and unflagging enthusiasm. She's someone you want in your van in the middle of the night when everyone's tired and starting to get punchy. But the other folks made me feel right at home.

What about the running? That was great too. I did the short but intense 3-mile run I already mentioned, up Boreas Pass. Then I did the 9-mile Vail Pass descent where I saw Jesus. Here's a picture of the bike trail I ran on. It's actually on the I-70 shoulder for a  brief while:

Interstate on the left; bike path on the right. But there was another section where I was literally on the shoulder.
In addition to the divine sighting, the adventure of this run was increased because my crampy stomach forced a stop under the I-70 overpass. Luckily I had TP and had been-there, done-that.

My third leg was the magical starlight one, too short at 2.88 miles, in Glenwood Canyon. Here's a picture of what that looks like in the daytime:

Those were my three official legs. But they totaled only just under 15 miles, and my training plan for the Top of Utah Marathon called for a slow steady 22 miler. So (after asking his permission) I jumped in with my teammate Ron (who used to be Dan's boss) for his third leg, a seven-miler between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale. It was just the ticket (though I ended up behind Ron for most of it--he was speedy, and I figured the team wasn't depending on me for this one, so I just tried to stick to my prescribed training pace). And it was on this run that I saw Orion and the crescent moon coming up just ahead of the sun. I'm so glad I did it.

I'm so glad I did the whole thing. If you've never done a relay like this one (or Hood to Coast, which a lot of my blogging buddies did this past weekend), I heartily recommend it. You'll come away with new friends if you're jumping in with people you don't know, and your old friendships will be stronger. You'll have more confidence in your abilities as a runner (10,000 feet isn't a trivial altitude to run at!). You'll see beautiful things and find your perspective softening (I was reminded that there are many many fun things to do in running that have nothing to do with the Boston Marathon).

How am I feeling? Sore quads (Vail Pass), a little tired (but the sleep wasn't too bad considering, and when I got home last night I slept like a rock) and very inspired. I'm hoping my fabulous husband can join this team next year. I certainly owe him. THANK YOU, Dan, for taking care of the kids all weekend so I could do this. (I'll hopefully post some more pictures as my teammates send them out.)

Meanwhile, all of you out there say a prayer for my friend Elizabeth's mom. Elizabeth, thanks to you too! It'll be you next year, flying down Vail Pass behind Jesus.


  1. Wow!!!! How beautiful it must have been running in the canyon with the stars! I just don't know if I could do one of these or not...I'm not very nice without sleep but it sounds like a blast!

    I love that you realize that sometimes you just have to do something even if it's not on the "schedule"!

  2. Sounds like a great time, loved your recap of all the funny things, some people wear some crazy stuff!

  3. My last night run was Thursday where I tripped over a crack on the sidewalk and skinned my knee and calf. I was talking to Jesus but not in a manner that anyone would approve of (I promise I made amends). Yours sounds so much better!! Gonna keep your story in mind the next time I'm tromping through the neighborhood after dark to escape the heat. I am so glad you were able to do the relay. Hard, diligent training is important but an inspiring weekend to remind you of the joy of running may be even more so!!

  4. Oh, that sounds lovely and like tons of fun. I hope to do a big relay like that some day.

  5. Aside from your first leg, you and I had the same legs as when I did the CO relay. That Vail Pass is not fun at 11pm, those headlights from oncoming cars are pretty bright and you can't see a thing. But my run through the canyon as the son rose at 5:30am was breathtaking. I'm so glad you got to get out and spend some time with some fellow runners. I know you do a lot of your long runs solo so this had to feel great!!

    I saw about 10 shooting stars when I laied my sleeping bag out under the starts during my relay...I am certain I will never forget them - incredible!! I bet that was just amazing seeing them while running.

    Glad you slept well and feeling great :).

  6. awesome awesome! your relay looks so beautiful. And totally relate about the poop comment. That's exactly how you roll in a relay :).
    Nice work!

  7. Ha - leg one naked runner ... I would totally do a naked 5K, but I can't get Michael to join me. That was a beautiful day! Awesome!

  8. What an adventure! Jockstraps and Jesus all in one weekend! I need to do a relay soon! Need to!
    Running under the stars like that had to be amazing!