Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Southern Odyssey

Warning - this is LONG but is my report from my first relay race. The short version is I loved my team and had a great time. Think of a long road trip and college weekend (without beer) rolled in to one. Lots of great people and generosity. Lots of time to get to know people. Loved running at 1:30 a.m. Would do it again.

It becomes an adventure near the end during our third interval if you want to skip the rest!

I had taken a camera, but let others take pictures. Hopefully I will post some soon.

A Southern Odyssey

I had heard about the Southern Odyssey for a long time – the Big Peach was promoing it a lot. I wanted to participate, but didn’t know a team.

Fast forward to July. During a ride at Cartersville, Chris Hartley asked if I wanted to run with his team. I thought about it during the ride (had to consult with Carlos and be sure I was comfortable with what it would do with my training schedule for the Richmond Marathon. As it ended up, it is not ideal, but I wanted to run it so I said yes. This was basically my first 20 miler for Richmond. We shall see what happens there in a few weeks!

But for now, back to our Odyssey!

Getting there

After a couple of last minute team member changes due to fatigue and injury, we were set to go. Twelve team members, two vans, 200 miles. Six people are in each van. When Team A is on the road, Team B is resting and vice versa. That’s it for the typical rules/process.

I was runner 7 – the first runner for Team B.

The race started in Athens, GA. Team A started at 9:30 a.m. Team B did not need to be at the start. Four of us (Lauren, Paul, Kelly and I) met to drive up together at Lauren home to drive to the exchange point (Team A to Team B) – my start. Katie B and Tim (married) joined us at Katie’s start (leg 11) since both of them needed to work.

Lauren brought more than just a great pair of running legs and good person to be in close proximity for an extended period of time – she brought our much needed second vehicle - a Honda Odyssey! Quite a nice vehicle – good pick up and turning radius. It also does it’s best to minimize Darwin’s theory by protecting you from yourself in many ways, sometimes to our frustration.

So Team B participated in our Odyssey in an Odyssey. Team A was in “Baby Blue” – a light blue church bus that looks very much in size like the special needs buses of yore. The blue made it very easy to identify.

Team B's First Interval

As we drove to our starting point, we realized we may be late. Start stress reaction 1 in me! We passed Baby Blue and the question came up if we should stop to which I said “No.” I wanted to get to the start. I could have been less pushy, but it ended up a good thing we carried on. We arrived, I found the bathroom and then wandered over to where Team A was waiting, walked with Chris to get our numbers. I was still putting my number on (we were team 1!) when our 6th runner arrived. Eep! I quickly finished putting on my number, put on my bracelet, gave Bart a fist bump and was off! My first leg was 9.4 miles and I started at 2 p.m. It was hot. I also think eating to run in the afternoon is hard. I could tell I was a little off as food I had eaten felt high in my chest. However, it was basically an annoyance - slowing me down a little and being a little uncomfortable.

During this leg I learned this event will be different from anything I have ever done. Other teams cheered as they drove past me or as I passed where they waited for their runner. One team gave me some cold water (very nice since the water in my bottle was warm). The generosity and spirit on this Odyssey was spectacular.

My leg finished – about 1 hr 29 minutes. Three people passed me. All were flying. I gave Paul a fist bump and he was off. I was navigating, Lauren driving and Kelly communicating with Team A. Team A had headed off to the camp site to rest and eat. We quickly realized that Team A has the shortest legs, giving us little rest time between legs. We realized that if we went to the campsite we would have little rest time, and little time to eat and a lot of driving time (1.5 hours driving time of a 4 – 4.5 hour leg for Team A). We worked with Team A and they agreed to bring food and our gear to the second exchange and we would sleep near the third exchange.

Meanwhile, we also kept running. We would drive ahead a bit, check on our runner and cheer them on and then drive ahead again. Paul had a great run. Kelly was off. Kelly had done the Bourbon Relay in Kentucky last year – the only one of us who had done a relay before. Kelly handed off to Lauren. Her run was rated as “moderate.” As we drove it we thought “moderate my ass! This is hard. It was almost all on an incline!). We saw her at the top of one of the inclines and then headed off to meet Katie B. and Tim.

We found them. A side note about Katie B – she had finished her first Ironman (Ironman Wisconsin) about 3 weeks ago and she was ready to run! Her first leg was also 9.4 miles, and she kicked it. At this point we had two vehicles, and would continue to do so until the next exchange point. Tim picked up the next leg – 7.4 miles. It was getting dark. He had a flashlight. It ended up he ran on gravel roads which took a toll on his knees, but he made it and did great time. While there one runner came in and had to wait about 7 minutes before his van came in – and he had run hard. There were some FAST teams out there including the UGA cross country team. They flew.

The third exchange between teams (Team B to Team A) was at a church – they were open letting us use the bathrooms, and had a cafe they kept open, and were selling water and Gatorade. Yea! It was there we took a team picture, met Claire – the woman who prepared food for us, and got dinner (this is about 10 p.m.) We pulled out the cooler, put head lights on it so we could see and ate in almost pure silence. We were hungry and the food was terrific.

With our first leg done we drove to the area of the next exchange and slept in a parking lot. Laruen couldn’t sleep and wandered. I slept a little, but not much. Soon the time passed and we headed to the next exchange. When we arrived there were many teams there that had just gone right there and slept at the exchange site. Lesson learned – no need for a camping site – we would never use it – just go right to the exchange site and sleep. That was our plan after the second leg.

Team B's Second Interval

So I got ready for my second run. I go up to the exchange site and the race director sees my sweatshirt and gives me a big hug. His two kids had gone to U of Michigan. We chatted about Michigan and the relay race and other races he had directed. Soon Bart came in to site, I passed my sweatshirt to Kelly, and I was off – with the director wishing me good luck on my run.

The weather was perfect – cool/cold but not too cold. The sky was clear and you could see so many stars. Absolutely amazing. Three runners passed me. We chatted a few seconds and they moved on. I kept moving along. I felt a little bloated/yuck on the run, but it didn’t bother me much, just made me a little uncomfortable. One van tailing a runner asked if I was OK running alone. I told them I was and thanked them. People are so amazing. Eventually I saw my team waiting for me. They would go ahead about a quarter of a mile or so and then move on as I passed. I actually enjoyed the alone time at night. I had on a safety vest, head lamp and flashing light (all runners did at night). I felt comfortable. It was gorgeous.

Soon my leg was done and I fist bumped Paul. He was off. We continued our game of leap frog with Paul and a few vans tailing runners and never leaving them.

Next up was Kelly and I drove. I started leap frogging her, but thought the other vans may be getting annoyed, and then asked if she wanted us to stay with her. At that point we heard dogs howling and she said “Yes” very quickly. So, I stayed with her. We did the same for Lauren and Katie. I asked Kelly for some of her Ginger Ale and she gave me her second bottle. It worked wonders and I started feeling better with a few slow drinks and burps.

At this point I was getting tired and pulled a little ahead just out of fatigue. We would leave them close to the end of their leg to let the next runner get ready. Tim was running the only leg where we could not follow him – he ran up and back at Amicalola Falls. A short but vey hard and steep run. I fell asleep before he left and next thing I heard he was back. It was a hard run and his knees hurt. Tim got some of the worst runs and was quite good natured about it.

Now it is Team A’s turn. We headed to the next exchange to sleep. A few vehicles where already there. We sacked out. Soon someone was knocking on our window saying the pastor had opened the fellowship hall to let people sleep in there and use the bathroom. We stayed in the van, but appreciated the bathroom and running water. He really did that out of the goodness of his heart and we all appreciated.

I woke up after a couple of hours sleep and knew I was up for good. I was also in the very back of the van and unable to escape. I also had to go to the bathroom. I muttered (good naturedly I think) that I was the wrong person to be in the back of the van. Kelly heard me and let me out! Yea! So I wandered, saw other teams arriving (some had gone to breakfast). Eventually other team members started waking. We had breakfast (leftovers from last night, bagels, cream cheese and bananas) and waited. It was very relaxed and fun. Lots of teams and activity – very festive. Things started clearing out. It was here I realized ours is one of the last teams. None of us are slow – 9-10 minutes miles. A few of us (Team A) were running sub 9’s (and sub 7:30’s). There were some speedy teams here. They also must have really underestimated their finish time as we didn’t pass many people and so must have started before us. It is all a guessing game, I know, but was surprised at the speed of the other teams.

Team B's Third Interval - It gets good here!

And so we waited and got reports from Chris. About 11:30 Baby Blue pulled in to sight. With a fist bump with Bart I was off on my last leg (seven miles) of the relay. I felt the best for this part – stomach felt good, and I felt light. I was a little tired, but still kept a fair pace. It was starting to get hot. Team A had the shortest legs as well as the cooler morning legs. Oh well – we decided that means Team B gets better bragging rights!

I finished my leg with little adventure – our van waiting for me every couple of miles. They handed me a water bottle refill with about 1 mile left. I fist bumped Paul. He took off and like that I was done running. Kelly was getting nervous about her leg as it was over 7 miles and getting hot. Soon it was her turn. Paul did great. Off she went. We followed her closely – giving her a water refill and some salt. We were thinking it’s a good thing the rest of the legs are shorter (4 miles and less). The end was in sight.

Lauren drove ahead because she wanted to go to the bathroom and get ready before the exchange. I took the van, Paul was with me, and we drove back to follow Kelly in. Bad news here – we took a wrong turn and missed her. By the time we got back I was flustered and Lauren had been running about 8 minutes. I waited as impatiently as a flustered person can and soon we were back in the van and heading out. My main mission was to see Lauren and get Katie B to the exchange. For some reason I thought Lauren’s leg was about 3.1 miles. We passed Lauren and arrived at the exchange. I kept thinking that the one time we don’t wait somewhere for the runner something bad would happen. Well – not horrible but after Katie was on her way Lauren told us she had been out of water for about 2 miles. It was hot out there. I felt very guilty. We got her water and started up the van to go follow Katie.

More bad news – we couldn’t find Katie. She can run well, but 2 miles in less than 10 minutes…not likely. Her goal was a 9 minute mile. Eek! We turned back. Eventually we saw her and she gave a frustrated shrug – she had missed her turn and ran for awhile before realizing it. She was back on course but frustrated when we saw her. We checked don’t her water status and then headed off to the next exchange. So far Alpharetta has not been good for us (we started making mistakes once we hit Alpharetta).

Next up was Tim. We were determined not to lose him! Somehow we lost him at the start, back tracked, and picked him back up. Then we went ahead and saw one turn poorly marked so turned back to make sure he made the turn. All seemed OK. We headed to the end to get ready for the finish. We waited. Finally we saw Tim. He yelled “Does anyone have water?” from afar. He was out of water and it was hot! Yikes! We brought water to him, and came in to the finish as a team, but he was really hit hard by not having water for the last part of the run. It took him awhile to recover. It was really hot out there.

Lauren mentioned that she and Tim tend to dump water on their head to cool down. Lesson learned: next relay I will check to see if a runner dumps water on their head. If so, their support intervals will always be short because they will run out of water suddenly. I don’t do that, so it never dawned on me that anyone would run out of water on a shorter run. BIG lesson learned.

We finished as a team in 31 hours on the nose. We had a great time. I loved my team mates. It really felt like a long road trip and college without beer all rolled in to one. There is no reason to do this except for the fun of it. I loved it. The challenge was running on little sleep, staying organized, and (for me) running shorter legs. I always say my favorite running distances are between 8-20 miles as that is when I feel my best. This had me running 20+ miles but in segments mostly shorter than 8 miles.

Would I do it again? In a heart beat! So many wonderful people and good will and just a terrific Odyssey!

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