Monday, November 12, 2012

197.6 miles. Margin of victory: 12 seconds

Anyone who has run competitively before has a scenario they play in their head.  It's a scene you live out on countless runs causing that spike in endorphins and a quickening of the step.  For each runner this scene is unique and changes throughout their life.  Whether you have competed in high school and college or picked up running later in life, you know what I speak of.  It's a scene of heroics and redemption.  That ideal race where everything is on the line and, despite all odds and past failures, you overcome and deliver.  You yearn for that day.  It's what drives you.

I write now to speak of such a day, and, as with all in life, the scene I had played in my head countlessly veered from the intended script.  But what would be life if everything was scripted and without spontaneity?  It's these unintended diversions from the script that make it ever more meaningful.

I'm running the anchor leg.  Not because I'm our fastest runner.  But it's the card I've been dealt, and I'm happy to play it.  We've run near 200 miles throughout the night and on little sleep.  I ran legs 12 and 24 earlier.  The first was short and fast.  The second long, downhill, and fast.  Our lead has fluctuated between one and three minutes for most of the night.  I'm ready to have this race done.

As I loosen up, I get a good look at my opponent as he readies with form drills.  Young, legit.  I've maintained or extended the lead slightly on my prior legs.  But now the sun is up, and they can see us.  It's tough running in front, not knowing where your competition is.  Knowing the sight of you ahead is giving them all the motivation to push harder.

They are whittling down our lead.

Eddie's filling in for the injured Andrew on leg 35.  He comes up to me while we wait for Larry to finish leg 34.  "Down to just you and me," he says.  He has a short leg, roughly 3 miles or so.  I ask him to give me as much cushion as he can.  Larry soon comes in, and the exchange is made.  We wait for their runner to hand-off.  54 seconds is the gap.

We drive to the next exchange.  I shuffle around a bit.  Any more warming up won't help me any.  I stretched after each leg.  And I've felt much worse going into my final leg before.  I'm not nervous, but I'm anxious.  We both wait at the end of a tunnel, just outside where the handoff will occur.  I verify the course with the volunteers.  5.2 miles starting on hard trails, rough terrain on either side.  Toughest part is at the start where we will climb nearly 150 feet in the first mile.  It levels off a bit and rolls, right turn at 2.9 then again at 4.7.  Second half is a gradual downhill.

I hear our number: 301.  Theirs is called a bit later but I don't think about getting a split.  There is a long wait then Eddie appears from the tunnel with Ben and Larry escorting him through the final stretch.  Here we go.

I tell myself to hold back on the climb, and I do.  I have a slight shortness of breadth mainly from the nerves kicking in.  First mile is 6:08.  Slow but expected.  I work the downhills where I can, picking up the pace.  5:40s or so, the descent steepens and I hit a turn around 1.5 miles.  This is unexpectedly early.  It's clearly marked with a Ragnar sign, so I don't worry.  Eddie gives me water and yells encouragement.  I glance back and see their team running back up the hill.  Yelling for their runner, Jesús.

He's catching me.

I later find out our lead was 70 seconds at the exchange.  I keep pushing, hoping he went out too hard.  Then I hear yelling.  "YOU'RE GOING THE WRONG WAY!"  There's confusion.  I look back but keep running.  Their team is running down the hill chasing me as is ours.  I don't know what to think.  I know I followed the sign correctly, but I also know the map was different.  I'm on the road instead of the trail.  Jesús appears, also making the same turn.  Whether he ignored his teammates seeing me ahead or didn't hear them, I don't know.  But they are able to direct him back before he goes too far.

I start cursing, "Which way am I going?"  I'm at a practical standstill.  Eddie and Larry direct me back up and across the road and onto a gravel trail, leading up to another path.  Just like that our lead has evaporated and I'm back a good 100 meters or more.

I finally get back on course and gather my wits, but I'm not disheartened.  If anything a sense of relief comes over me.  The fear of getting caught, the anxiety, it's all gone.  This is how the scene is suppose to play out.  This is the chase.  This is what I've been waiting for.

Adrenaline kicks in.  I tell myself to stay in control.  It's still early.  I have time.

I'm running 5:20 pace.

He's in reach.  I know it.  I keep telling myself to run smart.  We are on a hard trail with an expanse of grass buffering the road in front of us.  The gap is closing steadily.  The path turns, but at the end Jesús cuts off to the grass and beelines to the road.  I take pursuit.  There's standing water in places, but not enough to waterlog my shoes.  We are soon back on the road.  The gap can't be more than 20 meters. 5:10 pace.

I reach him and settle in behind to recover.  The pace slows significantly. About 5:50.  We are near 2.5 miles in.  At least I am.  The pace quickens to about 5:25-5:30.  He's not content letting me sit on him.

Then he throws in a surge.  I respond, hanging just off his shoulder.  Sub-5 pace, but it's short lived.  This is a relief as I'm not sure how long I could hang with him.  We settle back into 5:45 pace.

I move up next to him. "Do you know where you're going?"

"No," he replies.

"Neither do I."

We run abreast, stride-for-stride, each sizing up the other.  What does he have left in him I think.  His breathing doesn't appear labored, but who knows what's left in his legs.  Neither of us really knows how much distance is left in the race or if we're even on the course.  It doesn't matter.

There's a median dividing the road.  Our van drives past on the opposite side as we run against traffic.  Someone yells that we are back on the van route.  Turns out this was also the updated course route, so we both had made the right turn in the first place.

The pace starts to quicken.  5:30 and falling.  We are more than 3 miles in.

The van stops ahead to direct us at a traffic circle.  Some of his teammates had hitched a ride with our van.  They start yelling for Jesús and at least one jumps in to help push the pace.  We're running close to 5-flat.  I yell over at them, "Hey, let us race!"  They back off a little but run with us still as we start hitting a downhill.

Eddie and Blake, I think, are there, too.  They join, running along side us as well, all while yelling encouragement.  Whatever's gonna happen, it's happening now.


Traffic cones are flying past either side as we race down the road.  There's a slight uphill before the road plunges again.  I find myself with a half-stride lead.

It wasn't a conscious decision.  But this is when it was made.  I open up my stride and go with it.  The gap is immediate.  The pace blistering, dropping from 4:50 to 4:20 with the aid of the downhill.  I don't look back.

I soon see the other half of our team at the bottom on the opposite side of the road, cheering wildly.  They direct me to cross.  I jump the median and make the turn as they block traffic.

The finish is right in front of me.  Andrew directs me around a few obstacles.  At this point I'm in an all-out sprint, arms pumping furiously.  I hear our team name announced.  And just like that, It's done.

Hands to my knees momentarily, then I keep walking.  I look up into the sky and mouth, "Thank you."  Then the runner's high sets in.

I turn to see Jesús finish, 12 seconds behind.  I walk over and we embrace, exchanging congratulations on a hard-fought race.

Our teams arrive, and details of the race come forth from my lips, likely incoherently.  Eddie comes running down the finishing stretch with an expression of jubilation on his face, having run the last 3/4 of a mile watching the finish unfold.  He grabs me in a bear hug.  Someone else, Loren or Larry maybe, help him hoist me on their shoulders.

Nearly 200 miles and it comes down to the last kick.  Insane.

Both teams loitered around the finish, a sense of camaraderie evident as we talk and take photos together.  Over 19 hours of racing will do that to you.  Despite the loss, they are in good spirits.

Having experienced that sort of defeat before, I know it isn't as tough as it sounds.  It's the journey that matters.  A hard-fought loss is better than an easy victory.  It provides the motivation and that scene to play out in your head.  They'll have their day again.  But this day is ours.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Food organization system

Thanks Craig!

The race is on

Must say a) it's more fun doing relays when they are close and b) our competition is absolutely lovely. Great group of guys despite their questionable clothing choice: speedos. Not flattering. Brent is running now and started with a 2:35 lead. He's got 9 tough miles then hands off to Larry. Eddie is doing a 4th leg to close the race. Andrew's stress fracture got the best of him leg 2. It's an exciting race. Van 1 just had delicious breakfast and are heading to the finish line / Ragnar park.

Go Google 1!

It's a dog fight

The differential has been no greater than 3 minutes all night. We fell behind once but managed to push back up to the front.

Now we are up 1:20 with 6 legs to go. It's gonna be a dog fight all the way to the finish. The long legs remaining should bode well for our team.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Van 2 extending the lead

Van 2 just completed our first set of legs.  The competition is tight between Google1 and Pants Optional, the only other team to start with us.  We took over from van 1 with a 2-minute lead.  Blake led off leg 7 tackling a tough uphill climb and managed to gain about a minute in the process.  Next up Ben L cruised through his leg, impeded only by those pesky traffic lights.

The remaining set of legs were short and fast.  Brent ran his 2.9 miles hard, the distance being practically a sprint for him.  Larry took an extended leg of 4 miles managing a solid time despite running a marathon less than a week earlier.  Andrew tested his injured foot out on an abbreviated 3-mile leg and it proved sound.  Jeff closed out leg 12's 3.3-mile distance, not letting the challenger's anchor gain any ground.  Van 1 takes over with a 3-minute lead.  Still anyone's race though.

Earlier at the airport

Van 1 looking sharp

A bit minimalist this time but still hot and ready to cruise the
200 mi strip.

Balmy las vegas

Around 21 degrees at the ski resort start

Ben feeling lucky

Virgin airlines prior to our flight offered an impromptu craps game at the gate. Guess who won the grand prize. See other post ...

Ben's winning s

Ben was a winner before we even started the relay. He still has yet to cash in I believe.

"The nicest exchange I've ever seen"

Reporting from van 1 as we wait at exchange 12 for van 2 to finish up. We currently are in the lead by 2 minutes and 40 seconds.

L-train: thoughts on Exchange 12

Loren, a veteran relayer, just commented that this is by far the nicest relay leg he has ever seen. It's not every relay that you get to pass the relay baton beside a black bentley convertible after using the restroom at a posh Marriot hotel casino. Loren, wearing his running gear, admitted he may have received a few strange looks as he passed a few octogenarians, dressed to the nines in suits and ties listening to 1950s lounge hits.  


Ragnar Las Vegas kick-off!

Apologies, this post is long overdue and quite outdated at this point, but we finally have internet connection. Someone forgot to bring his 3G-enabled Chromebook (ahem perhaps this blogger.)

We made it to Vegas! But our stay was short-lived. While most passengers on our flight booked it straight to the casinos upon touching down, Google1 had no time to party (despite "party mode" being enabled on the Google+ event we created). After picking up our two rental vans, we began the hour drive to the relay start in Lake Mead ~200 miles away from the finish near Vegas. We were warned by the van rental folks that we'll be running through a wind storm. Now as we pass struggling runners, who started earlier today, it's clear that the wind will be a force to be reckoned with. 



Vegas baby!

We officially started and it is officially freezing in Reno.

Correction: apparently we were at Lake Mead and not anywhere near Reno.

Back in action

Flights are out of SFO at 8am tomorrow. Its gonna be an early morning, so thanks daylight savings time.