Thursday, August 7, 2008
Wild West Relay
Back in February while talking with my Uncle Kevin about my tax shit (YAY for a family full of accountants!), he mentioned wanting to run this relay in August with a team full of family members. I immediately told him I was on board.. what was there to think about? A vacation in Colorado that revolved around running 195 miles from Ft Collins to Steamboat with my crazy family? That's a no brainer! The Wild West Relay was put on my calender. As time went on, I would hear bits and pieces through my dad, but remained in the dark about most things until, oh pretty much the day before the race. Somehow I didn't end up on the email list so missed out on most of the discussions and most importantly the leg assignments! Yipes! That would come back to haunt me about 10 am on Saturday Aug 2.
I got up at the ungodly hour of 4 am on Thursday to catch my flight to DIA, when I originally booked my flight I figured, the earlier I got into Denver the better. Dad could pick me up and we could head right to Ft Collins (maybe with a stop at REI on the way)... what I failed to consider was that we had to pick up Uncle Patrick from the airport also. He got in at the totally civilized hour of noon, so I hung out at DIA from 7 am to noon. I would also like to add that this was the very first flight I've ever taken that was EARLY! Yep, that's right folks, my plane was 15 minutes early. So tack on anther 15 minutes of sitting. I spent plenty of time people watching and reading, texting my friend Christy and freezing my ass off. DIA has a very fine air conditioner unit. Dad showed up about 10:30, saving me from total boredom and bringing me plums and tangerines.. my hero! (fruit and veggies are in short supply at airports... actually I take that back, I could have bought a banana for almost $2... that's 1 banana for $2.. yikes!) We finally collected Uncle Patrick and we were on our way to Ft Collins. Dad & Patrick spent most of the trip getting warmed up for the Shaw-harrass-a-thon that goes on whenever at least 2 Shaws get together. They practiced on Uncle Greg who wasn't even there to defend himself!
We reached Uncle Kevin's house, ate some lunch that Aunt Judy put together for us and then headed off to pick up our rented mini vans for the weekend. When we got to the place, the owner mentioned that he'd just gotten in a big conversion van if we were interested, it would be an extra $20 a day... we took one look at it and us 4 decided we'd kick in the extra $40 to live in comfort. So we had a sweet van with a DVD player and LOTS more room. A quick stop at Whole Foods and we were ready for our mandatory meeting to meet the other team mates, gather gear and sign waivers. When we got to Pinky's house it was a big blur of new faces and forgotten names. Jenna & Stephanie were the poor girls that were assigned to our van, I was just hoping they could handle the "Shaw effect". The most important part of the evening came quickly though... Uncle Patrick and I had to duel it out as to who got the hardest legs and who got the 2 hardest.... I'm not entirely sure how 2 flatlanders got stuck with the hardest legs!! There was a bunch of bitching, whining & crying and when the dust had settled I ended up with the legs that went over both passes (Sand Creek Pass & Rabbit Ears Pass), I figured it's all good training for upcoming races! The party broke up early so everyone could get some sleep since it would be in short supply the next night and we had an early morning start.
The next morning was kind of a comedy of errors as the guys tried to decide what was necessary to bring along and how to fit it all in... I had to keep reminding them that we still had 2 other girls stuff to fit in too! Finally we got everything & everyone in and we were on our way to the start.. the other van had to be there first since they were "active" for the first 6 legs and had to turn in all our paperwork. We were showing up to snap some pictures as a team and cheer on our first runner and then we were able to take it easy for 5 hours. The start line was a riot of decorated vans, matching teams & confusion. Fun! After we cheered off the 7:30 starters and the other van took off to the first relay point, our van retired to the nearest coffee shop to chill for awhile. My uncles & Dad promptly started insulting each other and after just a few quick seconds, Jenna & Stephanie joined in happily... whew! It was a relief to know that they were going to fit in just fine. It was also a relief to find out that they were of a more liberal bent then the rest of my family... I was beginning to feel a bit out numbered! We hung out and drank coffee (or in my case a yummy fruit smoothie) for a bit and then figured we get to our transfer point.
A quick drive and a few minutes to find a parking spot and the waiting started. It was heating up quickly and we heard rumours of temperatures in the upper 100's. Yikes! We spent the time decorating our van with glass paint, lying around insulting each other and waiting in super long lines for the porta potties. We figured that our runner would probably arrive around noon and sure enough, right around that time our other van showed up and told me I had about 20 minutes till go time. One last wait in line for the pottie and I was good to go. My first leg was the easy one, only 3.6 miles and it was classified as "medium" on the difficulty chart. Honestly it should have been classified as "easy". The thing that made it hard for me was the heat & my non adjustment to the altitude... it was baking hot on that road and not a single bit of shade anywhere. When I started running my heart rate skyrocketed I was having trouble finding my rhythmic breathing pattern, and my mouth was instantly dry and parched. By the end I was really dreading my next leg and questioning my sanity! I bumped knuckles with Jenna and she was off into the heat. I grabbed some water, climbed into the van and we were off to the next point. The next few hours were a blur of driving, then waiting, and a flurry of activity when our runner came in and the next went off. The heat kept climbing and everyone was feeling pretty wretched out there. 4 of the runners in our van had their hardest legs of the relay first off and they were made harder by the temps over 100 degrees. About 5 pm we made it into the transfer point and hooked up with our other van and made the trade off. They figured it would be about midnight when we saw then again.
We stretched out some sleeping bags in the shade and tried to get a bit of sleep but it was way too noisy so after about an hour we headed out to the next transfer point. It was really lucky we left when we did since we had to take a 40 mile, 2 hour detour to get to the transfer point. The roads the runners were on in this section were super dusty and narrow so to keep the dust from killing the runners they had to detour the inactive vans. When we reached our transfer point (Woods Landing) it was a nice camping area with a diner/bar and they were serving a pasta dinner for the runners. After everyone ate we stretched out the sleeping bags again in a field and napped, this time I slept for an hour or so but got paranoid that we would miss our runner and ended up spending a lot of time looking up at the amazing night sky. The stars were so incredibly bright, living in Kansas City, I forget how riveting the night sky is. I saw shooting stars, satellites and planes while laying there, and even the odd UFO, but that could have been when I was dozing. Finally around midnight I got up for good and got myself ready to run and about 10 minutes later our other van showed up and told me I had about 40 minutes to go time. By this time the temps had dropped into the 50's and I was feeling much better about this leg. (Of course the few sips of coffee I had might have contributed to my feeling fabulous. I haven't had a drop of caffeine in over a year and 1/2 so it was like fucking rocket fuel for me.)
This leg was considered "very hard", 8.8 miles up Sand Creek Pass, from 7,464 ft to 9,126 ft. My headlamp was giving me issues for the first mile or so and my van had to pull over to swap up for a different one. Since it was pitch dark and pretty darn remote for the first few miles my van shadowed me until I waved them on to the relay point. It was amazing once they had taken off, it was pitch black, I was running up a mountain pass with the most incredible starry sky above me. I kept turning off my headlamp and just enjoyed running in the cool, quiet dark. I could have kept running like that forever. All too soon I came up on my relay point and I was sad to see this leg come to an end. I bumped knucks with Jenna and she was off. I climbed into the van, covered up with a sleeping bag and dozed on and off for the next 5 hours. The night was more difficult to spot our runners and be ready, but the low temps made it so much easier to run. I think our thermometer showed temps as low as 39 degrees... I was grateful for the sweatshirt I had brought! I have no idea what time we made it to our transfer point since I had fallen asleep after our last leg started and didn't wake up until after the next van had already started. When I woke up Dad was sound asleep in the van and Uncle Kevin & Patrick were asleep on a soccer field, and the girls were getting ready to take a shower. The North Park High School was selling access to their showers for $3 a person... what a bargain! I jumped at the chance to be clean and brush my teeth, so we spent a nice time luxuriating in water and soap. When we got done we got the guys up and went on to the next transfer point. Since the heat of the day before had slowed so many teams down, they were allowing teams to "stack", in other words, even though our other van still had runners running, we could go ahead and start our legs. It was a good thing since it was forecast to be another scorcher.
So at about 9 am I started on my last leg. This leg was classified as "hard", 5.7 miles over Rabbit Ears Pass, 8,552 ft up to 9,432 ft. The tag line for the Wild West Relay is "Get your ass over the Pass" and this is the Pass they are talking about! This leg kicked my ass, I don't know why it hit me so hard, but I got seriously altitude sick, I was head achy, nauseous, and dizzy as all get out. It might have been a combo of very little sleep, altitude, and heat but every time I started to run hard, I started weaving all over the road and seeing little twinkly stars in my vision. Not good. I was reduced to walking really hard over the pass. I was still pulling 12 minute miles for the most part but I when I started to run, I would come close to passing out. This leg sucked not just for how I was feeling, but the cars & trucks coming down the pass had no interest in giving me any room. There was a fairly wide shoulder but I was in fear for my skin a few times, that plus the stinky emissions reminded me again why I love the trails so much. Finally I stumbled my way to the top and Jenna was off and running. I stayed upright long enough to get a picture taken with Dad and then I promptly got horizontal. As we started to go down in altitude I started feeling better, and by the time we hit Steamboat I was feeling human again, a mild lingering headache was the only aftereffect. At the beginning of the race I had planned on running the very last leg with Stephanie (who's leg it actually was) and Uncle Patrick, but decided to bow out. At last Uncle Kevin came into sight, bumped knuckles with Stephanie and they were off on the very last leg.
We drove into Steamboat, met up with the other van, everybody put on their team shirts and waited for Stephanie & Patrick to appear so we could all run over the line together. They quickly came into sight and before we knew it, we were over the line and posing for pictures. Whew! Done! They were serving a BBQ for the runners, and they obviously knew I was coming since they had watermelon. A bunch of my team mates are silly and don't know the magical properties of watermelon, so I was more than happy to eat their pieces. The original plan was to have a few beers before heading back to Ft Collins, but we decided that alcohol combined with sleep deprivation would be a bad combination with driving. So we jumped into the vans and headed back.
It was a great time and I really enjoyed spending time with my Uncles and Dad, I am blessed to have such a great family and it was really a special time, even when the harassment and insults reached a new peak. Everyone on our team ran their hearts out, we had a huge variety of backgrounds and abilities and everyone did amazing! I regret not getting to know the people in the other van much, the 10 minute chat session every 5 hours wasn't very conducive to close friendships. Kelly did a fantastic job at organizing things, she really worked her butt off and it all went so smoothly. At first I thought that there was no way I'd do it again, but after a few days of thinking about it, I realized I wanted the chance to run over Sand Creek Pass again in the dark, and I definitely have a score to settle with Rabbit Ears Pass. Next year I'm coming out a few days early so I can do some altitude adjustment and I'm hoping it won't be record breaking temps either. It was a very well put on race and a lot of fun, I would totally recommend it for anyone looking for a challenging relay race. The scenery can't be beat!