Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Approach

Last year I ran Leg 1 at the Lake Tahoe Relay and got my part in the race over with early. It was 4.6 miles of gently climbing grade followed by three formidable hills in the next five miles. Or at least, the hills would have been formidable at any race back in DC. On this mountainous 72-mile course, these hills were practically laughable.

I finished Leg 1 last year in 1:19:37 (8:18), leaving BOO in 43/97 place. After tough Leg 2 we were in 77th place however, and in 84th place after hellish Leg 6. But Team Captain Bex muscled past eight runners in the anchor leg and we finished in 76th place a year ago. (Right: Leg 1 has a nice downhill at the end.)

This year Bex decided to place our strongest runners on the hardest legs to minimize our damage there. I drew Leg 6. Thanks, I think.

(Left: Leg 6 ascends seemingly into the heavens.) I admired Brian for running Leg 6 last year. Anyone could see from looking at the topographical map that it is pure runner's hell. Brian ran at altitude with attitude, because although he is an athlete, he is a non-runner who came up to 6200 feet from sea level to vanquish it. He faced down the 600 foot climb in the last mile and a half when his legs were rubbery from already running nine miles of sharply pitched hills to get there. Last year each BOO member did his or her own leg with its unique difficulties, but only Brian conquered The Hill and earned a swagger akin to, in another much more serious context, a Screaming Eagle at Bastogne or a Leatherneck at Tarawa.

(Left: Brian soldiers on last year on Leg 6.) So on Saturday as I waited in Homewood for for the tag, The Hill was nine tough miles away waiting for me. After running his 10.6 mile leg in 1:37:23 (9:11) which began with a monster hill the very first mile, E came sprinting into the chute at 3 pm in 79th place with four other runners closely chasing him. One was a mere eight seconds back. E had picked off nine runners. He slapped me and off I went.

I set off at an unhurried pace so I could get my breathing adjusted to the altitude, well aware that thirty-six hours earlier I had been residing happily at sea level. Within a quarter mile I was run down by a strong runner whom I didn't even try to go with as he was clearly running seven-minute miles to my nines. I had my sights on a runner up ahead. By the time I caught her that first mile, the other runner had disappeared from sight. I was back at Net-Zero. After overhauling another runner in the second mile, there was nobody else in sight anywhere. In eight hours, 113 runners can get incredibly strung out. (Right: Leg 6 starts at 6200 feet at lake level but climbs to over 6800 feet the last mile.)

I ran at Net-Plus One for the longest time, over hill and over dale. I alternated running on the uneven canted surface of the sandy shoulder and the roadway, depending upon whether traffic was approaching. The first little hill I came to disheartened me because climbing it took my breath away, but then I settled in and ran easy on the flats, purposefully on the uphills and hard on the downhills.

My support team was excellent, watering me every two miles. About every seventeen minutes I would start to look for them. They later said that I was all business, using one word guttural commands to indicate my preference for either Gatorade or water as I ran up.

I knew the course intimately, having studied it on the map and driven it several times. I put away the three teaser hills leading up to the The Hill one after another while running down one more runner. Finally I rounded a bend and came to the bottom of The Hill with its 1.5 miles of sharply ascending S turns stretching ever upwards. After well over an hour of running I was at Net-Plus Two as I started up.

The long approach done, a battle for position was about to commence on the hillside, with major combat awaiting on the hilltop. (Right: Last year's BOO. Three team members wouldn't be back.)


Sunshine said...

What an amazing story of running as a team sport!!
And how exciting for you to be holding up your part of the race in such grand fashion. (They don't make hills like that in Minnesota.)
Congratulations to you and your team.

Bex said...

I'm loving this extended race report! I started one as well. Legs 1-2 were written about yesterday, and Leg 3 tonight. Hey, you're making me nervous about running Leg 6 next year! You did epic battle with this leg, and your time greatly helped our team.