Sunday, September 14, 2008

Reach the Beach Relay

(Edit: Official results were just posted and we finished 159th out of 355 finishing teams. We were 36/52 in the Open Men's division, despite most of our team being masters or seniors runners. Our official time was 29:25:48, an 8:26 pace for 200+ miles.)

Yesterday, sometime around 5:30 p.m. or so, the Barking Spiders team (don't ask - I just ran for them) finished the Reach the Beach relay, with a total time of about 29 hours and 30 minutes for 209+ miles. Our goal had been to run about 1:45 faster than we ran, but as I found out, in a relay like this, plans can change quickly.

The team was made up primarily of IBM employees, most of them from the San Jose area. One of the team members is a retired IBM'er who I ran with when I lived in CA years ago. They were only able to come up with 10 runners for this 12-person relay, and my friend Dick suggested me as an 11th runner, because I live close to the race site. The team also hoped I could find a 12th runner for the team from the local runners I knew, but I was unable to do that.

So, at noon on Friday, we started with 11 runners. Three of us, including me, had volunteered for a 4th leg, so all 36 legs were assigned at the start.

Unlike the 100 on 100 relay in Vermont, this race is big and very logistically complex. The 100 on 100 relay had 60 teams this year, I believe. RTB allows 350 teams. This means that parking for handoffs and team transitions (2 vans are required per team) is complex. Because lots of parking space is required, the length of the legs was very variable. The shortest leg was 2.5 miles and the longest was 9.3 miles. Because some runners were running only 3 legs and some were doing 4, and because of the leg length variability, we had runners assigned to run anywhere from 14 to 25 miles. I was assigned to run 23.8 miles and I clearly had one of the two most difficult assignments.

On the drive to the start, I was very concerned about my legs. I started a new lifting routine on Monday, and Wednesday was a leg day. I tried to take it easy, but I had done dynamic lunges with dumbbells for the first time in a couple months, and my left quad was sore to the touch. Also, both hamstrings were a bit tired and sore at the very top of the muscle. Because I was running for a team of people that were mostly strangers to me, I really wanted to run well, but I knew my legs were going to pay the price.

Our team captain had looked at our 1/2 marathon projections that we submitted to the race web site when we registered. From that, he came up with an approximate 10K pace. He projected me at 7:00 pace for 10K, which is consistent with the 20:50 5K I ran two weeks ago. He then applied some factors to each leg for difficulty, distance, and the number of accumulated legs, and predicted a time for each leg. There had been much whining from team members about these numbers. To be honest, I was skeptical about my numbers, but I'd stayed quiet. My biggest concern was actually leg 35 - a 3-miler where he projected a 6:50 pace after I'd already raced 20+ miles. It turned out that I wouldn't even run this leg.

We started at noon on Friday in a pouring rain. About a dozen or so teams started with us, and for 12-person teams, leg 1 is the toughest. Because of that, there were a number of strong runners going out with our lead runner. Our lead runner, Craig,a former member of the XC team for Penn State (walk-on, not scholarship, but still a strong runner) was running injured, with a knee problem from a tough marathon he ran last month. Despite being slower than he wanted, he ran a solid leg. Our second runner, Mark, was a stalwart. He wasn't the fastest runner on the team, but he was far from slowest. And, he was strong on every leg, and always smiling. No complaints. He had a long first leg and handed off to me, running in the 3rd slot.

We had started the race at Cannon Mountain Ski area and we were going to finish at the ocean. So, the course was obviously a net downhill. Of the first six legs, I think the 5 were a net downhill. Leg 3 was the exception. My 3.8 mile leg was uphill most of the way and the last two miles were the steepest. I opened with a 7:12 mile, then a 7:19, and then a 7:59 as things got steep. The last 0.8 was brutal and my pace was 8:41. Overall, I averaged a 7:45 pace for my leg and I was a bit disappointed. Our team captain, Dennis, would later say that the main thing he underestimated about the course was its hilliness. These guys have run Hood to Coast multiple times and that race apparently doesn't have the tough uphills that this race has. I had been projected to run a 7:00 pace for this first leg, but I was not physically capable of doing that. My 7:45 pace was at nearly 100% effort.

After my leg, our van captain had a screaming 2.9 mile descent. Then, my friend Dick had a moderate 5.5 miler, I believe. Then, Mike ran our final leg for a while, a tough 8.6 miler that he ran very well. At this point, we were "off duty" for 5 legs while van 2 took over.

There were showers at the transition point at the end of leg 11, so we headed there for a shower, some food, and some rest. Our rest was interrupted when a team of women snuck into the shower and apparently stole the clothing from a male acquaintance who was showering. He still had his underwear, but he was making lots of noise about getting the rest of his clothing back. While we were resting, the rains returned, and apparently Dennis ran in a brief deluge.

Sometime after dark, it was our turn to go again. Craig and Mark had easier legs this time, after tough legs the previous round. My run got significantly tougher though, with a hilly 7.7 miler. My fastest mile was #7, a downhill mile that I did in 7:30, right after a brutally uphill 6th mile that was my slowest at 8:37. I averaged 7:59 pace for this leg.

I handed off to Jacques, who had a tough 8.2 miler. This leg would be his undoing, as his stomach rebelled on him, and he would be unable to run again during the relay. I got the impression that he has GI problems in these races on occasion, and he couldn't really eat for many hours after this leg. He spent most of his time driving or in the port-o-johns for the next few hours.

After Jacques' leg, things were kind of a blur for me. It was late and I laid down in the van and fell asleep. Apparently, I snored a lot while the rest of the team finished up our legs. We then drove to transition 22, and waited for the other van to do their 5 legs. I slept sitting up for a few hours, and apparently managed to snore some more, taking some sleep away from others. While I was sleeping, Mike apparently injured his calf while running his second leg. As the sun rose on Saturday, our van was more like an infirmary. Craig's quad was hurting from compensating for his knee injury. Jacques was clearly done. And Mike had decided that he had to drop as well because of his calf injury.

So, we coordinated with the other team as we transitioned back to our van as the active van. The changes were minor, but we needed to cover every leg and we needed to follow the rules about runner order if a runner was unable to continue. Craig opened up our third round with a solid 6.2 miler while running with a sore quad. Next, Mark powered through a 6.9 miler, smiling all the way. Next up was my toughest leg - a hilly 9.3 miler where Dennis had projected I'd run a 7:50 pace. I told our van "clipboard captain" that I couldn't possibly run sub-8 for this leg. I hoped I could do 9s, but didn't say that out loud. Apparently, after I started running, the team came to the same conclusion as they drove the leg and saw its difficulty.

Rather than having the team stop to help me, as we did on many legs, I carried a water bottle and some Hammergel on this leg. When I started, I immediately noticed that my right hamstring was very tight. I think I'd been compensating somewhat for my sore left quad, and the hamstring had taken some good abuse. But, I pushed on. The most interesting thing about this leg was how I felt the whole time. I'd already raced twice and now I had a long run. At times, I was doing an 11:00 pace uphill. Other times, I was running sub-7:30 downhill. It all felt exactly the same - same effort, same pain, even like it was the same speed.

Mile 1 was uphill and just over a 9:00 pace. Mile 2 was mostly level and I ran an 8:19. Then, things got tough. Mile 5 was ridiculous and I walked one uphill, en route to a 10:29 mile. Then, I started the rolling/downhill side of this leg, and did miles between 8:12 and 8:43 pace to the end. I averaged 8:55 pace and I was trashed. And, because of injuries and illness, my flat 3 mile last leg was now going to be a rolling 4-miler. With a beat up hamstring. But, the team aspect of these races means do what you can, no whining, no complaining. Just run.

Mike showed that spirit and tried to tape up his calf and run a third leg. As it turned out, the compression from the tape helped his calf, but caused his shins to hurt. Partway through his 3rd leg, he ripped the tape off, taking a bunch of leg hairs with it. I got the impression that the hair ripping hurt more than the running.

By now, we were well behind our projected times, and our planned 3:45 p.m. finish was not even close to possible. We were finding that we were a bit behind the biggest "swell" of teams on the course now, after running much of the race in the main pack of teams. The elite teams had passed us (it was really dispiriting at times to be pushing all-out on a leg and have an elite team pass me at sub-6 pace, and I couldn't do a thing to fight back), and we were simply behind the median at this point.

As the race progressed, the legs started to get shorter, and our next rest period was shorter than previous breaks. We knew that when we started running again, with only 3 remaining runners in our van (Craig was now out, Mike couldn't go again, and Jacques was still sick), we had 3 short legs and then van 2 would take leg 36 to the beach.

Mark and I decided we each wanted to go sub-8 pace for our 4-milers. Mark averaged about 7:45 pace, which put the pressure on me for a good final leg. I quickly discovered that my leg was rolling and somewhat urban, with a number of unprotected intersections. As it turned out, I preferred unprotected to what would happen to me 6/10 of a mile from the end of my leg.

I had a number of teams relatively close in front of me as I headed out. I started working on reeling in other runners. It was still a race and despite how tired I was, I wanted to beat anyone I could. I was running well in my first mile, closing on the runner in front of me, when I heard footsteps from behind. A runner just blasted past me - flying. She was very encouraging as she went by, but she smoked me. That made me more determined to catch some of the other runners up front. At about the end of my first mile (7:34), I caught the first runner. Near the end of the second mile (7:38 with a big bridge over Interstate 95), I caught a second runner. Then, early in the third mile, I caught two more and I was closing on a fifth. I also noticed a runner slowly gaining on me from behind, but I was sure I could hold her off.

And then, the cop screwed up everything. I was within 5 seconds of what I thought would be the 5th runner I'd pass, when she went through a controlled intersection on a green light. The light was still green but the cop stopped me. Just like that. "Stop." I wanted to protest about the color of the light, but there was no way I was going to risk a team DQ for the other guys. I was wearing sunglasses, but I burned holes through the lenses, glaring at the cop. The last 3 runners I'd passed caught up as I stood there. I would glare at the cop, look at my watch, and glare some more. I couldn't believe how long he was holding me. I'd been running downhill and when he let me go, I was going to have to go from a cold start to an uphill finish. I was furious. Finally, after 75 seconds, he started to give instructions on how we'd be allowed to proceed when he said the magic word. Just then, the runner who'd been gaining on me showed up. I spent 90 seconds at a dead stop, while 4 runners caught me.

We took off and I went as hard as I could. I had 6/10 of a mile and I'd be done. Regretfully, I couldn't go as fast as the woman who had been closing and she put 10 seconds on me in the rest of the leg.

My reaction to this is probably stupid. We weren't winning the race. We probably didn't even start at the same time as the other teams. We probably weren't in the same divisions. But, when I'm wearing a race number, I mean business. It's not that I'm not having fun. But, I'm a competitor and I felt like my ability to compete fairly was taken away from me arbitrarily.

When I completed my handoff, I took my hat and threw it on the ground. I yelled a nasty epithet about the cop, so the runner who finished in front of me could hear it. She probably thinks I'm an idiot. Oh well, maybe I am.

My time for 4 miles was 32:59, or 31:29 if you subtract the 90 seconds. So, I did manage a sub-8 pace for my final leg as far as I'm concerned. From this transition, Dick had a rolling 3 miler and then Holger from the second van ran 4.3 to the finish. We were still trying to park when he finished, but we re-assembled the team finally for some food and a well-deserved rest.

I'm trashed today and taking a rest day. I may take another rest day tomorrow, and if I do anything at all, it will be upper body lifting or simply walking the dogs.

All told, I did 24.8 official course miles in about a 24 hour period. My Forerunner recorded 25.11 miles. My fastest single mile was 7:12, my slowest was 10:29, and my total running time was 3:27:48 for an 8:17 pace on rolling terrain. My best estimate for climbing that I did is 1900 vertical feet. In general, I find that my Forerunner claims a number about 2.5 times the actual climbing amount, and it claimed 4800 vertical feet.

I had a great time and would recommend this race or this type of race to anyone. But, the racing itself is hard and you need to be adaptable to the team's needs. Maybe the IBM team will invite me to run Hood to Coast with them sometime, or perhaps I'll convince my 100 on 100 team that we need to go to Oregon. One of our runners is in Oregon on vacation right now and he'll be easy to convince.


Tania said...

Glad you had fun!!!!

David Ray said...

Good report. Very interesting read on the details of a long relay race. Way to get through relatively unscathed.

david gildart said...

Hello from up north. As they say in Newfoundland "Good on ya"