Kristi text: "At the exchange point!"
Barry text: "So are we!!!!"
The morning of the relay was an uneventful one. Becca, Amy and I had some pleasant chat in the room and met the gang around 9:00 for hotel sponsored breakfast. Waffles, eggs, sausage, and potatoes, a good cup of coffee and planning the important stuff, like where to buy fake mustaches. The costume goods that weren't provided by Becca's costume closet would come from the Dollar Tree on HWY 95. Our group consisted of five women and myself, the lone ranger. Becca and Amy were my bunk mates the night before the race. We picked them up in Sandpoint where they dropped Becca's car. Since we hadn't had much contact before this race they were both virtual strangers to me. Fortunately, Becca and Amy turned out to be really good people. My impression of them would only improve over the next twenty-nine hours. Kristi was a new acquaintance as well. The middle school librarian in Hamilton shatters stereotypes. She has an adventuresome spirit, is a bit competitive, and has a great sense of humor. We nicknamed her "Hot Rod" or "Violet" depending upon whether she was wearing the purple wig or not. My other two teammates, Jess and Holly rode with me all the way from Missoula to Coeur D' Alene. Holly and I are soccer parents and have known each other through those avenues for years now. Holly is an asset to have in any endeavor that requires organization. She is continuously upbeat and always a great person to have a conversation with. Plus, when you need something done, its done right. Jess is a food lover and we share an affinity for all things with bacon. Jess is a comfortable person to have a laugh with. Her encouragement and humor would be valuable for all of us later in the race. Amy, Becca, Holly, Jess, Kristi, and Shannon were gonna make Montana Mules - Van #2, the envy of the entire race. Then.....
The text. As it turns out the first exchange was at Sontag Park no matter how much we wanted it to be at exchange point #7. Fortunately it would be the only detail of consequence we would overlook the entire race.
LEGS SEVEN THROUGH TWELVE / VAN #2.
The order of runners was set for the whole race right from the beginning. Amy ran first, followed by Holly and then Kristi, Jess was fourth, I was fifth then Becca would be our anchor. When the text came through that we were at the wrong exchange we hustled like crazy to exchange point six for Amy. Generally speaking you would like to be in a place of peace and preparedness when you take the baton from your teammate. The fact that Brandi, the anchor for Van #1, is over six feet tall lends an air of consequence to the hand off. After all who would want to intentionally piss off a person who can get so much painful leverage on your body? Obviously no one in their right mind. Amy is a very right minded person and a solid team player. Brandi had a great outlook, and in spite of the late hand-off we all shrugged it off and immediately moved forward. Forgiveness is a powerful healer. Amy headed out for a good leg and we were in the groove. Over the first four legs we covered some ground in areas of Spokane that I hadn't seen before. Spokane is a place that has consistently surprised me.
Holly's leg was along the river and her exchange was on a footbridge. The area was full of natural beauty and serenity. The trail was cooled by the shade of pine trees and the river. The steady sound of water rushing by lent a meditative quality to the setting. Kristi had the toughest leg in this set of six. After taking the handoff from Holly she had a steep hill to cover after getting off course temporarily. "This hill sucks balls", I believe were her exact words. From the looks of things, it did. The hill was about a mile long from its' beginning and it was steep. Jess had a relatively flat leg through the center of town and Riverfront Park. Her leg was made difficult because navigation wasn't very intuitive. This was complicated even further by the fact that locals would occasionally play with the route signs. Jess put together a good run for the team and I hit the Centennial Trail for my 6.17 mile leg. By now it felt like it was ninety-five degrees. Other than having to wait for one crosswalk I had a good run paced at about eight minute miles for the hand off to Becca. By the time I handed off my shirt was soaked and I needed to put some water and electrolytes back in the tank. Becca ran strong and we picked her up at another beautiful park just outside of Spokane proper. Van #2 was done with their first set of legs. Our race responsibilities were turned over to Van #1 for the time being. We took a short break, got some pictures of the team in their mustachioed faces, followed Kristi in her captains hat and scarf to the car and sought out a place to get a good bacon cheese burger, with sweat potatoe fries and, much to the delight of Jess and I, an additional side of bacon. On the way we had a couple of shots of bourbon that immediately took the edge off the run and added to the euphoria of the moment. We finished the first set with everybody feeling pretty good running right on schedule ready for the next set.
LEGS NINETEEN THROUGH TWENTY-FOUR
After burgers, beers, bacon and enduring the unfortunate company of an annoying mother sitting at the table across from us, we arrived at our next exchange point early enough to get some rest. The backseat of the Suburban turned into a nice nest with the addition of a sleeping bag and a couple of pillows. I had the good fortune of taking advantage of this resting spot and collected a few well rested moments while Amy hit the trail for a 6.5 mile out and back near Coeur D' Alene lake. It was dark now. Very dark. On a overcast night. Running in the dark has advantages and disadvantages. Since Amy was our first night runner we were keen to hear what she had to say. The fact that all the runners had to wear flashing red lights and a headlight made them easy to spot. This turned out to be something Holly was particularly fond of. We all agreed that it stoked the competitive juices a bit being able to see each runner you were about to pick off. The lack of light also contributed to a lack of navigational capacity, but it also eliminated some of the monotony of straight and out and back runs. This would be good for our spirits. The cool was the most welcome quality of night. We all agreed that the cool air felt great and it produced our fastest time splits of the event. Amy turned in a solid time and came in feeling great. The cool was refreshing and she picked up three "kills". Kills equal runners passed. Amy's ass kickin' leg was motivating and I think it rubbed off on Holly.
Holly's leg was ridiculously short, a fact we would not let her forget. At 2.10 miles it was the shortest leg of the relay. In spite of the razzing, she took complete advantage of her sprinter's background and the good fortune of short distance to turn in the fastest splits of the entire relay for Van #2, while picking up 5 "kills". Holly is a bit competitive. The kill per mile ratio being greater than two to one was really good for her attitude, and ours. Evidently those blinking red lights represented one target after another. After catching her breath she was all smiles. Kristi hit the trail next. Bolstered by the cool night she bested her average split times by about thirty seconds per mile. She joined the popular past time of the evening collecting two "kills" herself and came off the course feelin' like she brought some smack down on S2S. Night running was definitely good for us. Three fast times and a lot of good feelings.
Jess's turn to put in an effort. Her leg was almost exactly seven miles. A zigzag between Coeur D' Alene and Hayden. The fact that her middle name is Hayden and she would finish on Lancaster Road, the namesake of the county she was born in, lent a touch of fate to this leg. More good news, one kill and an uneventful hand off. My nerves were getting the best of me before this run. At 7.56 miles it was my longest leg. I don't regularly run more than six miles. The distance combined with the darkness, which is also new to me as a runner, and the lack of waypoints made me uneasy. The map was a good friend of mine and I knew the route well. My leg was straight for 5.58 miles then a left and on to the finish in 1.98 miles. Not bad. The author of the map made sure to mention one railroad crossing and two highways. Be sure to stay alert. He did not mention the second railroad crossing though. The crossing that happened to be busy when I ran. Just another curiosity to help keep you alert. The cross road we made a left on was called East Cutoff Road on the map but was in fact Scarletto Road. None of this would be of any consequence if you weren't running on one hour of sleep over the last twenty two hours in the dark in a strange place near the middle of nowhere, not a friend in sight without use of your cell phone. Good judgment prevailed and I finished with eight minute splits. Six kills.
The hand off to Becca was timed right and she hit highway forty-one with a smile on her face. As we pulled out of the parking lot with Captain Rodriguez (Kristi) driving we were happily discussing our night runs. Amy was asleep in the back and Jess and Kristi were in the front, Holly beside me in the second row. Our conversation focused on how much fun this night running was and how great the pickles that Jess brought tasted. Then we started up the long steep uphill portion of Becca's run. I couldn't have been happier to be eating pickles in the van. Becca's run would suck, but as we watched her cross the finish line she was in great spirits. By then I had taken a shower and felt pretty good myself. Becca handed off to Ken and we made plans to head to the next exchange and wait the five hours until Van #1 finished their final set of legs.
LEGS THIRTY-ONE THROUGH THIRTY-SIX
The lead-up to our final set of legs was a little more somber than the light hearted chattiness of our previous sets. The effort thus far had taken a toll on our energy and the value of good teammates couldn't have been more obvious. Amy again had the first leg. It was her longest, at over eight miles. Jess had a hip that was acting up and my calves were tired. Becca was in an amazingly good mood and humor was still everyone's friend. The idea that the end was in sight played into our hands as well. At least when we were done with this round we wouldn't have anymore running to look forward to. The fact that the finish was still more than twenty miles from our location started to become less daunting as the morning carried on. There are times when there is nothing more reassuring than sharing a laugh with friends to convince your weary mind that all things are possible. This hour was tailored for camaraderie and humor.
Amy hit her eight mile leg, van mates who needed coffee grabbed what they needed, and we hit the road. The coffee was slow and Amy went out fast. By the time we caught her I think she had covered about four miles. As we pulled up, Journey's "Its' More Than A Feeling" came on and, being the supportive teammates we were, we felt compelled to serenade our friend. She wanted to laugh but I think the stitch in her side got the better of her. The smiling, grimace she gave us was enough to indicate how much she was suffering. We drove down the road another mile or so and when she arrived we made a plan to have Holly pick up two miles of her leg. Respite running is a part of endurance relay. We drove to the next hill and waited. Amy was apologetic, but we would have none of it. She was our Guinea Pig. She ran first. We had the advantage of her experience before we had to run. We had her advice from the previous relays she had run. Her contribution was more than running. Not to mention she ran more than fifteen miles of the relay in measured steady pace. We couldn't have done this without her.
Holly picked up and ran the last two miles of this leg and the more than two miles of her next leg. Holly's flexibility was such an asset. She killed her splits and handed off to Kristi who donned the purple wig for her last effort. The day had heated up and the rain we were expecting never arrived. This would be a theme that would not play out favorably throughout the remainder of the morning and early afternoon. Kristi was so hot after her run that she jumped into the river to cool off. By her reaction this may have been her best move of the relay. I'm sure you could've convince her to swim a leg after her short dip, but Jess was on the road now and we needed to catch up. Jess specifically requested that we wait a bit before heading up the road to catch up with her. She wasn't sure how she would feel and wanted to get in the rhythm of her run before we caught her. When we did I thought we scared her because of her startled reaction. Hop step to the side, some shuffle jumping, and the words, "I'm so fucking hot" indicated that she was not scared but baking in the sun. "Get me some water. I need someone to pour some water on me. I'm so fucking hot." Water out. Deluge over Jess' head. Back in the van. Jess on the road much cooler than before. As we pulled along side of her we rolled the windows down and shouted, "She's so fucking hot". Laughter. We were getting delirious now.
I took the next hand off with water in my hand, two hundred yards behind Megan from team Rocket Cheetah. The first two miles of my run were uphill. When I caught Megan she had a cramp in her side and I needed some moral support from a fellow runner. I asked if she would mind some company and we fell in step together. Megan was twenty-one, from Spokane, with bright red hair, green eyes and a friendly smile. Her company was great medicine. She signed up as a single that was assigned by the race directors to her team. We ran side by side for four miles and passed two more runners. One of my regrets in this race was that I did not tell Megan how much I admired her spirit. At twenty-one she signed on to run a twenty-nine hour race with strangers. The courage she had surprised and inspired me. Along the way my Montana Mules stopped a couple of times to play loud music and dance by the road side to encourage me to kick it along. Good friends. My hand off to Becca could not have come at a more perfect time. My calves were crampy and I was ready to be done running. Back in the van to cheer Becca on for the final four plus miles. Becca knocked out her mileage and brought us home in 29:41:30.4. We all crossed the line together happy to be done, better for the effort.
There have been some great lessons learned from my first endurance relay. The thought that you can do what you put your mind to may be the most important lesson gained from all this. I will never again look at challenges in life the same way I did before this event. I am still the same person that went but I will always carry the confidence of the resolve it took to do this. The friendships that were forged because of this lunacy also carry great weight for me. I owe my teammates a thank you for their support but at the same time gratitude for their friendship. We were there for each other step by step. Our individual accomplishments were of no consequence compared to our achievement as a team. Add to this the achievement of Van #1 and its not long before you can see that harmony in mankind could be our greatest accomplishment. Alignment and harmony are powerful concepts that provide tremendous results. Never once did we focus on our differences, instead we had a common goal and the faith in one and other that its' achievement was within us.
There wasn't one team out of the eighty-three that entered that did not finish. By my math that is more than 17,800 team logged miles in less than thirty six hours. A monumental achievement by any measure.
Shed those things that throw you out of alignment and harmony, and have the resolve to do something great. Remember you will always have more than you need and never have less than you want.