Dan and Melanie had fast and low key legs to start their part of the relay, but Michele had the same train wreck in the heat I had to deal with last year. Dan’s leg was a bit humorous as to how ridiculous the initial run downhill was. If there was an opportunity to blow out your knee, this was it. Dan went slow and steady down the mountain, but took off when it leveled out. Melanie was solid out of the gate, way faster than me, yes, but not too fast for her. Everyone wanted to save something. Everyone wanted to survive this monster of an ultra. Dan and Melanie both finished their first legs with solid times, and now it was Michele’s turn.
As a token of my running of the longest leg of the relay last year, they gave me some funky hair thing to keep my hair up in. This year, to my amazement and Michele’s pure joy, they gave the runner of Leg 6 a medal. Folks. It’s just all about the medal. Seriously, ask any runner and they’ll tell you how important the medals are to them. Michele was worthy of such a gift, and I felt a little ripped off. It’s okay though. I’m over it and so is my hair.
Michele made really quick work of her 10.9 miles, even as the heat started in on her. She looked very relaxed and had a big grin every time we checked on her. I suppose I thought she’d be more affected by the run like I was the previous year, but this goes back to her consistency and experience. By the end of her run, we knew it was going to be a great experience for everyone. All of us had done quite well on our first legs and we were off to a great start.
Both Christy and Julie had 7.3 mile legs next, which seems a bit random. I guess it’s just how they worked everything out. Julie’s was strange because we had to take some serious back roads to meet her at the transition area. They sent the vans a different route than the runners. It felt like we were driving into the unknown. At one point we pulled off the road unsure if we were heading the right direction. To a Midwestern boy like me, it felt like we were in rural Kentucky or West Virginia. Fortunately, a line of vans came by and we followed in line to the next Transition Area.
I was up. Julie came sailing in and I arrived at one of the most awkward transition areas I have yet to see. As soon as Julie slapped the bracelet on my wrist I went and well…actually I stood still and waited for a quite grumpy looking man to stop traffic and direct me across the street. I just kind of stood all excited to do nothing but wait. He was fast, though, and got me and another runner across the road pretty quick. I was off!
A long flat road made for an easy warm up to this 6.8 mile hilly adventure. There were no real mountains for me on this leg, but there were plenty of hills after the first couple of miles. I was calm and steady, and began to climb as I got further into the leg. At the top of a pretty decent hill, my team had pulled over at a local shop where someone bought a salad, which I am told was made by a man who did not wear gloves as he caresses the lettuce. Yikes! Technically we didn’t break any rules, as they mostly stayed in the parking lot cheering me on. There was someone, possibly Melanie Jean Riley, who snuck out a little closer to cheer me on, but I’m pleading the fifth. This was a no van support leg and if they helped me, I’d be disqualified. I didn’t receive any help, but a ton of encouragement.
I was good! I had my hydra pack on my back and was timing my drinking to every few minutes throughout the race. It was getting hotter and hotter as the leg went on, and I could really feel it on the hills. I was quite careful to wear light colored, dry fit clothing that would keep me as cool as possible. I don’t love the fit on some of those shirts, but out here the game is to keep cool. Last Spring I wore that brutal black cotton shirt on my last leg of Cape Cod and the heat clung to me like one of my kids to an ice cream cone. I wasn’t making that same mistake this time.
I knew the last mile was virtually straight down, until the last part of the leg. As I started dropping into the incline fast, I leaned back and regained control of my body and my legs. My pace actually slowed down the steep hill, always carefully protecting my knee. I had come in with a knee issue and I wasn’t having any of it on my second leg. If my knee gets messed up here, I’m totally screwed. I had to be very careful.
As I came closer to the finish the street leveled out more and I began to pick up my pace. A young, athletic looking man caught up to me and we encouraged each other all the way into the transition area. He was a cool dude, just like most of the people I talk to on Reach the Beach. One of the best parts of the Ragnar Relays are all the cool folks you talk to, and I make it my mission to do such things. It’s part of the reason I don’t wear headphones out there.
I came fast into the Transition Area feeling great and handed off to Dan. I was about 15 seconds faster per mile than my first leg, which was pretty interesting, since this leg was longer and with more elevation. My confidence was up, and our team was well on its way. My thoughts immediately drifted to my next leg, one I had been preparing for the past few months. I knew the route precisely, since I watched Dan run it last year. I told myself I could handle the hills and big broad sidewalks early. I liked running in the street light better than the dark, and once I finished the first few miles, I’d be all set. It was 8.1 miles, but not such a bad run overall. I was grateful to know the route and to go out and execute it to perfection. I was very excited.
My enthusiasm would have to turn into something else, though, if I knew what was coming. Determination and courage were going to have to find me for my third leg. You see, sometimes changes are made, and I was about to find out all of my preparation for Leg 15 wasn’t going to mean a whole lot. The entire course had completely changed, and I was about to begin an 8 mile run deep into some of the darkest part of the mountains.
(To be continued)