The Route: The race had seven legs of greatly varying difficulty. Legs one and three were the easiest, legs two and six were very difficult, and leg seven was the hardest of the remaining legs.
Leg One: 9.6 miles long starting at 6,250 feet in South Lake Tahoe, California at 7 o'clock in the morning. Flat for the first 5 miles, just inside Nevada at Stateline it encountered two significant hills, each one rising one hundred feet before its downhill finish at Zephyr Cove. Running past strip malls and tall casinos, it had few glimpses of the lake and was the least interesting leg by far. (Above: My first glimpse of the lake didn't come until the third mile on the first leg. My next view wouldn't be until the sixth mile.)
Leg Two: The shortest leg at 8.2 miles, it was essentially five miles of rolling hills followed by an unrelenting three-mile climb rising 700 feet which topped out at 7,000 feet. The stunning backdrop scenery that lasted most of the rest of the race started here.
Leg Three: 10.3 miles long beginning with seven miles of straight downhill, followed by three miles of flatlands. Picturesque panoramas. (Above: Typical scenery during much of the downhill third leg.)
Leg Four: The longest leg, 12.3 miles of mostly level running through villages back into California. It contained a nasty 220 foot tall hill in the third mile that afforded a towering view of the lake.
Leg Five: 10.6 miles of mostly flat running, it started out with an immediate mile-long uphill climb of 250 feet. The lake was often close at hand just to the left.
Leg Six: A nearly impossible 10.5 miles. Nine miles of sharply rolling hills which led to a monster hill rearing up 520 feet in the last mile and a half. Some hair-raising views.
Leg Seven: Drop-dead gorgeous, but dangerous too. 10.5 miles long, it ran downhill for two miles, then climbed 225 feet in the third mile to a narrow shelf road at 6,800 feet with no guard rails and a sheer drop off on both sides. A series of downhill switchbacks then led to a three mile flat run into town to the start and finish line.
The Runners: All from sea level, six hailed from DC and one was from LA. It was a team built upon loyalty, not speed. In the order of their legs:(1) Me, the team's "fast" guy, a mid-pack runner in my mid-fifties. (2) K, the team's indomitable will, a thirty-something runner who trained for the longest leg but was handed the shorter, brutally hilly second leg upon her arrival. She never complained. (3) H, the team's steady performer, a thirty-something runner ready to face the challenge of a seven-mile long steep downhill section. She got no respect because of the perception that her leg was the "easiest." (4) E, the team's athlete, a former major college varsity player now in his early forties who was doing the longest section of over twelve miles even though he had never run any distance greater than ten miles before. His longest training runs for the race were a couple of seven-milers. (5) A, the team's free spirit, a thirty-something photo journalist who kept the team loose and who neatly solved the logistical conundrum by suggesting using two chase cars instead of one. (6) B, the team's soul, a twenty-something California surfer dude who had prepared for the most grueling leg of the race by "visualizing" himself running with perfect form once a day. (7) Bex, the team's captain and organizer, its heart, a bustling dynamo in her mid-thirties who never backed down from any challenge and who impatiently waited all day to be let loose so she could start running down the runners who had gotten ahead of us.
The Running: I turned in a workman-like performance on the first leg, running a 1:19:37 (8:18). My early 7:40 pace gave way to something far slower on the late hills and I lost three places here, but then I was able to sprint the last half mile downhill to hold onto 43rd place for the team.
K ran the rolling hills in the first half of her leg but had to walk up part of the gargantuan, never-ending final hill. She kept exchanging places with another runner on the last hill who kept bragging to her that he had trained for his leg by running three miles, once. Every time he would utter this inanity, K would smile sweetly while telling him under her breath to go to perdition. She finished in 1:32:22 (11:16) with the team in 77th place. (Above: K is glad her leg is done while Bex has to wait all day for hers.)
H ignored the spectacular scenery of her leg as she steadily picked off nine runners on the long downhill portion, once having to duck under the protruding mirror of an oversize camper as it passed by her. The narrow or non-existent shoulders afforded no room to get away from passing cars. She finished in 1:30:30 (8:47) in 68th place. (Above: B and E form an arch for H to run through.)
E took the baton in Incline Village and ran steadily on his long leg, handling the long hill on his section without stopping. Running back into California near Tahoe City, he energized the team by a wild escapade. Hearing that Bex was in a nearby Subway Shop ordering her lunch, he mischievously deviated off course, burst into the restaurant and shouted out a greeting to her. Startled, she shouted back, "You can't stop for food now! Get back out there!" E made amends for his momentary wildness by picking off three runners in the last quarter mile and finishing in 65th place in 1:56:02 (9:26). (Above: Oh. My. God. What are you doing here!)
A immediately ran into trouble on her section, charging the uphill portion that her leg started out with while she was still full of adrenaline. Halfway up the mile-long hill she was breathing in ragged gasps and had to take short walking breaks. She later said she seriously wondered what, exactly, she had gotten herself into as her heart pounded in her ears. By the top of the hill her equilibrium was back and she ran steadily to her handoff point in 1:44:59 (9:54) in 71st place. (Below: A keeps Big Blue always to her left.)
There B was waiting. The rest of the team was nervous for this non-runner with the worst leg. "It's cool," he said. "I've got it covered. Hey, I'll do Bex's leg too." He ran the sharp hills of the first nine miles of his section at a steady pace, knowing what lay ahead at the end. Halfway up the terrific last hill, at a place where he could look half a mile above him and see even more of the steep roadway winding ever upward, he stopped, out of gas. While his very nervous teammates clustered around him, B coolly sucked down a Gatorade and a Gel. "Piece of cake," he said as he set off running again, to the top.
Bex was waiting at the top. She had nervously gone into the porta-potty for the third time when B came into sight far down the hill and someone yelled, "Here he comes!" A nano-second later the porta-potty door exploded open with a tremendous bang and Bex burst forth, flying across the dirt turnout and hurdling the rope into the starting gate. There she came to rest crouched in a sprinter's stance, hand extended to receive a tag. Puzzled because she was alone in the starter's chute, she looked around in ever wider circles until she finally spotted B still 100 yards off.
B tagged Bex at 1:53:45 (10:50) with the team in 84th place. As he limped across the turnout rubbing his sore hamstrings, he righteously said that he felt he had accomplished something incredible by overcoming the grotesque difficulty of his otherworldly leg. On a runner's high, he declared that it was a life-altering moment for him. The experience was so intense, B said, that he felt like crying. (Above: B tags Bex and off she goes to reel in some runners.)
Bex took off on a dead run and immediately started running people down. She was next seen on the wicked uphill portion of her course, crying dry tears of rage at her enforced slowness caused by the arduous climb while far below her the deep blue waters of Emerald Bay glittered in the late afternoon sun. Upon surmounting the hill, she ran furiously the rest of the way into town to finish in 1:34:45 (8:56). She had picked off eight runners to enable the team to finish 76th out of 97 teams. Afterwards what Bex remembered most about her run was seeing an open palm stuck out the window of a van travelling towards her at 30 MPH. As it went by she impulsively high-fived the extended hand. Oww! Although her own hand stung for the rest of the race, she insisted that it was a good sting.
The Result: The Band of Outsiders, flatlanders all, finished this hilly race at altitude in 11:32:00 (9:34) in 26th place out of 39 teams in the Mixed Open Division. The Lumberjack Warriors came in first with a time of 7:03:18 (5:51). Try keeping up with those guys. Another team was comprised of one man who ran all seven legs.
It was an intense emotional experience for all involved. For twelve hours we traveled around the lake together, ran our portion of the race to the best of our abilities, and helped each other out in a hundred different ways. Everybody gave their all to the effort. The intensity of the experience was best personified by the following post-race exchange between Race Director April Carter and B.
April came by and observed Fox, B's dog, busily licking the sweat off of B's arms as he sat there at the finish line. Indicating the white streaks of dried salty brine on B's face, April said to him, "You ought to have your dog lick your face clean next." (Below: B and Fox. View some more pictures of the Band of Outsiders here and here.)
"No," B said, "those lines are my sweat tears. I earned them in this race. I'm going to leave them there forever."