Interestingly enough, the first one I looked at described my first experience meeting Stephen and Shannon who got married on Thursday. It brings a wonderful smile to my face to have experienced some small part of their journey together.
|Meghan (officiant), Laura (sis), Shannon (bride), Stephen (groom), Cody (bro)|
Wild Miles 2005
My Wild Miles 2005 Adventure relay began on a cold and rainy Tuesday night in March at UCSD masters track practice. That evening, two speedy women who I eventually began to know as Anne and Meghan decided to put me in the pain cage before leaving me behind as washed-out road kill. I think I had some excuse for not being able to hang with them that night, but I can’t remember what it was, and it didn’t change what had happened. All I do remember, though, is getting spanked by two women in the rain, which seemed to be the extra slap in the face I needed. Over the next few weeks, as I started pushing my workouts a bit harder to prep for Ironman
Arizona, I got to know Meghan, Anne, and Stephen a bit better. I found out that they had an injured teammate on their Wild Miles team and might be in need of another runner. They were also pretty determined to win their division this year, which seemed to raise my interest. The group from my office was also tossing around the idea of competing, but after a small amount of research I realized that they weren’t serious enough to make it to the starting line. So, being the race whore that I am, I promptly abandoned ship from my work team to join team Nacl with 3 people I barely knew and 6 others I had never met.
A few weeks later, we all met up for a race at the San Elijo Dam. It was spec’d as a 10 mile trail run which seemed a good distance to judge fitness for the upcoming relay. Most of the team showed up and everyone decided to kick butt. Anne took the top female spot, leaving 3rd for Meghan, and Tim was sitting in 5th until he got bored and decided to do an extra few miles off course. Noel, Dan, Stephen and Stevan all ended inside the top 50 outof 400 or so, which was probably the most important metric of all. To do well at a long relay race, the team needs to be strong all the way through as one slow runner can have a big impact. Taking stock, I saw a complete absence of weakness in our team, and it was this missing negative which gave me confidence that we might be able to accomplish something great.
I got to meet the rest of the team, during our two meetings. Perhaps the funniest part of meeting the full team was when I realized that I outweighed everyone on the team by at least 20 lbs and most of them by much more than 30. I was pretty impressed with how well picked the team was, it almost didn’t seem possible to find that many lean and mean running machines within such a small world, but Meghan had managed to do so. Most of the team members were some flavor of UCSD grad student, these were people who actually enjoy using their brains, and not really my typical crowd. The rest had some connection to Meghan through UCSD, her spin class, or just pure love of running. I can’t even get 10 of my friends to go out drinking together, much less a 170 mile race through the dessert. But it was all just somehow coming together through absolutely no work of my own.
Race morning came quickly and I was dragging to get to the pickup point on time. When I got there, the team was fast at work assembling the vehicles and loading them up. We drove out to Borrego and stopped at
Dudley’s on the way. I had stopped there last year and decided to keep tradition by purchasing a loaf of Sheepherders bread and some fruit bars. Any morning that starts off with a visit to Dudley’s is bound to be a good one. Once we got to Borrego, we realized exactly how hot it actually was. They started us a bit early, with 4 other teams, because one of the runners had already required medical transport from the heat. So, before I had time to figure anything out, we were off on our Wild Miles adventure.
Ralph was handed leg 1, and he also was the most experienced runner in our group. He also held the best marathon PR of the group by quite a bit, so he was the last person anyone was worried about. Yet, paperwork flew out the window in the 115 degree heat and somehow team Nacl wound up starting off DFL (i.e. at the back of the pack.) This was against 3 other top seeded teams, so we knew we’d have some strong competition, but it was a bit of a slap in the face to get that gut check so early on. Little by little, though, Ralph made his way back to the military team running in 3rd, and by the checkpoint he had closed a lot of the gap to the 2nd place team. That was experience out there running that first leg, a man who knows how to pace properly in extreme conditions, and knows to listen to his body and not his mind under such circumstances. I am 100% convinced that if I were running that leg I would have blown myself up chasing down the Core 5 team who wound up in first with a solid lead in the range of 5 minutes or more.
Ralph handed off to Anne who proceeded to catch the 2nd place team on a long, miserably hot climb. Watching Anne run is really fun when she’s on your team, though I’d imagine it might not be as fun for the other teams. She just reels in whoever is in front of her and then moves right by them, seemingly without effort. It was a real boost for all of us when she handed off 2nd place to Tim, perhaps our strongest climber, who was faced with the hardest leg of the course. And I couldn’t help but smile a little bit watching the 3rd and 4th place teams roll through and realize that they just got spanked by Anne. I knew what that felt like as it had happened to me not so long ago.
I can’t say all that much about Tim’s work in the grapevine on leg 3, mostly because I didn’t really see any of it. But, one simple fact is really all anyone needs to know. Nobody ran that leg faster than Tim that day, though many started earlier when the heat wasn’t nearly as bad. Tim took everything that leg had to offer and stood up to the test, delivering the fastest split and pushing us closer to the front. That’s what having a solid team is all about, believing in your teammates and having them deliver even under the most difficult of circumstances. Tim put in almost 2 hours in 115 degrees with a net climb of a couple thousand feet and he had done so faster than everyone else. Still, by the end of leg 3, Core held on to a sizeable lead and I wasn’t too happy about that. No competitive athlete on a 10 person team is going to be too happy losing to a 5 person team, and I sure wasn’t taking this race lightly enough to shrug off the gap. So, being young and foolish, and despite knowing better from many painful blowups, I took off as fast as I could in search of Core. I didn’t find them, but I did find a couple of teams along the way, some of whom were running pretty well at that point. It made me feel good to realize that we were now working our way into the teams that had started earlier, since we didn’t get to see them beforehand. When I tagged off to
Shannon, I was pretty satisfied with how things had started off, and yet still a tiny bit concerned about getting too far behind the Core 5 team.
Shannon and Ralph were the only 2 who I hadn’t seen run before, but Ralph came with enough credentials that you didn’t have to think twice about his abilities.
Shannon was a bit more of an unknown to me, so I have to admit I was pretty amazed to watch her bust out a triplet of 6:30 miles and pass another 4 teams on her leg. It wasn’t that much of a shock really because most of the time when someone looks like they can run well, they probably can. But, I was still pretty impressed that I had managed to find a team with 3 speedy women. Any lingering doubts I had were erased by the end of leg 5, and after a quick pit-stop at the only café within 100 miles, I drifted off into a peaceful mid-afternoon nap while we waited at checkpoint 10.
I missed legs 6 through 10 because of my nap and subsequent delirium, but when I came to I found our team smack in the middle of the competition. Temps were still blazing hot, but the shade was starting to sneak over the road and we all knew it was only a matter of time before things cooled off a bit. As I was drifting back into consciousness, I got to see Noel, the flying leprechaun, busting a serious move down the highway. For some reason, that guy had the fire burning that day, and he was really putting in a solid effort. It wasn’t long before I was charged up again from watching him, our team was giving everything it had, and I was pretty charged up about that. As we kept cranking down the highway through legs 10-15, a full moon came out and darkness crept in. We had to get to the county line by sunset, and somehow Tim managed to reach that checkpoint no more than 2 minutes before they shut it down. I assume the other teams behind us were allowed to continue, but at the time I couldn’t help but think that we were pretty darn lucky to have made the cutoff.
Dan was the first to wear the reflective vest, and handed off to Stevan who brought us into Ocotillo. For some reason, we got a little confused at that checkpoint and threw away a few seconds in the exchange. Then it was back to Noel for the stretch leading toward
. The funny part about that leg is that Noel had read the instructions and ran the intended route which was on a dirt trail parallel to the highway. Every other team, though, was running on the road being shadowed by their van. We had passed Noel, thinking it was him but not knowing for sure and worried it might not be. At the time, Meghan decided it couldn’t be Noel’s stride, though mentioned afterwards that he had to run a bit more vertical because of the surface. So, when I finally directed Noel to the road, he seemed confused about the situation and he wasn’t too thrilled that I hadn’t bothered to bring water with me. I got a little bit worried that we were starting to loose our edge at that point, so I ran Noel in and gave Plaster City Shannon plenty of shout outs to get ready.
Just like before,
Shannon brought our team up a notch with her leg, and we continued our steady passing of the other teams. I got the handoff at plaster city, which is the strangest place I could ever think of being at midnight on a Saturday. As luck would have it, Willy from the CAF 5 man team was running right in front of me, so I busted a lung to catch him and gave him a slap on the ass. Of course that just got him fired up too, so we went shoulder to shoulder on that leg and I dug my hole even deeper. I guess I’m still not too good at racing my race instead of going for the win. My handoff went to Meghan who chased down the Soul Train group who was running in big orange afro-hair. That livened us up a bit as there was a group of 3 all running together for a few minutes. Those rare moments of head to head racing are thrilling under such situations, and we all yelled a bit extra to keep Meghan fighting the fight.
Stephen took us out on the sandy loop and I was dropped off to run after him hoping that my efforts just a couple of hours earlier hadn’t been too extreme. At the checkpoint we found out that only 3 teams were ahead of us on the course, the LA frontrunners, the Core 5 team, and one other. A bit of math on start times had Core 5 in the lead with us in second and LA frontrunners very close behind. It was then that I realized we had a real race going on and 2 other teams who were challenging us, not just one. I held out some hope that Core 5 would be unable to hold their scorching pace, and fortunately for us as I handed off to Anne for leg 23 we could finally see their van up the road.
Anne took a marked turn and ended up on the sandy path that Noel had been following a few hours before, so we had to get her back on the road and following the core van. Despite this extra trip, she managed to reel in their runner and pass him while he stretched out a cramping calf muscle. It was too good to be true, we had caught a team of amazing runners and put ourselves 2nd on the course and 1st in terms of total time. That was the moment I had personally been waiting for since we started, and I held out hope that it would be the final pass of the race.
Leg 24 was the last leg before a driving segment, so it meant that the clock would stop at the end and we’d all have some time to rest. Since Core and Nacl had started together, whoever got to the checkpoint first would have a bit of a buffer on the other team. So, we yelled at Stevan to “do what’s right for you, just don’t let them beat us”. Watching Stevan run his 3rd leg was pretty magical. From some of the other runners like Anne, you come to expect excellence and domination because you know that they can deliver. But from Stevan, you could tell that he was a little uneasy in the situation he was thrown into. The core runner on that leg was setting a very swift pace, and yet Stevan wasn’t giving up any ground. He hung in there for 4 of the 5 miles, and each time a small gap opened, Stevan shut it down. You could see the Core runner getting a bit upset at the situation, and finally with 1 mile to go he broke free with a really nice surge to win the leg and take a bit of lead on us heading into the final portion of the race. But, Stevan’s work had been done and we only lost a handful of seconds. A few minutes later and the Core runner was vomiting and looking pretty destroyed. We found out later that he had to go to the hospital and received 5 IV’s.
So, there were 6 legs left to run, Dan to Meghan to Ralph to Me to Stephen to Tim. That was a pretty strong lineup for us and I think everyone was starting to believe that we could pull this one off. Dan ran a great opening leg and put us within a minute of the LA team. Core was forced to wait as they were in the process of dealing with their sick runner, and for the last 6 legs they lost quite a bit of time. Meghan proceeded to narrow the gap to LA a little bit and Ralph closed it even more, to the point where I only had 10 or 20 seconds to make up. Since this was my last leg, even though it was a long and tough one, I went for the stupid approach of intimidate first and fall apart later. I took the lead before the first major climb and tried to work it as hard as I could to get enough of a gap to scare the LA runner off. Of course I knew their team was so talented and strong that they would know to run steady and would probably reel me in toward the end, but I didn’t care, I wanted the lead. I handed off to Stephen who ran great despite being pretty tired by that point, and we turned it over to Tim for the final leg with enough of a lead to be relatively comfortable.
That last leg was really something special to watch. The LA runner was fantastic and he steadily closed the gap. The finish was downhill and LA was putting us to the wall. We had planned to run Tim in as a team but seeing how close the finish was going to be we got out of the way. We basically ran in together as 2 teams, though Tim managed to hold off the charge by not much more than absolutely necessary. What a race for Tim, having conquered the grapevine and having saved the outright win which meant something even though we had a buffer of around 8 minutes from the first section. I was simply in awe of what our team had done and that feeling of excitement carried me through the rest of the afternoon as we were given our champion medals and rewarded with free entry for next year.
This team was really pretty amazing, both in terms of competence, and in terms of spirit. I’ve been around more experienced athletes before, but I’ve never been around any with more heart. Our organization wasn’t impeccable, but it was well above adequate and we got the job done every time we needed to. Everyone stepped up and contributed to the race and to the preparation with their unique talents. It was truly a pleasure to be a part of such an experience. The only drag about what we did at this race is that the bar has been set so high that I’m not sure I can race with anyone else in the future.
|Tim, Noel, Ralph, Stephen, Shannon, Meghan, Anne, Dan, Me, Steven|