Last weekend, May 3, 2014 I ran 191 miles. Not all by myself, with a team of twelve people. We ran from Calistoga to Santa Cruz. It was beautiful, fun, challenging, and surreal at times. Three days later, my muscles are still a little sore, but I'm filled with lessons from this journey. This is what I learned.
We started out early, leaving San Francisco at 6:30AM to travel by van to our starting point in Calistoga. Everyone in the car was sleepy. Waking up at 6:00AM on a Saturday is not my normal routine (surprise). When we pulled into the grassy lot to begin the journey, you could feel the energy. Vans full of runners gathered, ready to depart on a long run to Santa Cruz. This is a photo of us before the race. We look so happy.
There were two vans. My group was "van 1". Each van carried six runners. Each runner was responsible for three "legs" of the race. After van 1 runs their legs, it's van 2's turn. The exchange goes on that way the entire race. It took our team 29.5 hours to finish (about 9.3 minutes/mile).
This was no problem. I was still a little sleepy, but my first run was only 4.1 miles. My split was around 6.5 minutes/mile. I was listening to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. We finished this leg in a little over 5 hours. Then the waiting began. We stopped at Fremont Diner in Sonoma for brunch. This place is amazing. Keep it a secret. My friend ordered fried chicken and waffles. We needed calories. After lunch, we fell asleep in the van to the sound of live music and the light breeze of country air.
Darkness. By the time it was our turn to run again, the sun was setting. We were still in the country when we started, but by the time we finished, we were across the Golden Gate Bridge. When it was my turn to run, my adrenaline was surging. It was pitch black, I had Watch The Throne cued up on my iPod. This leg was 6.4 miles (my longest of the three). I had to wear a reflective vest and a head lamp. When there were no cars passing me on the road, I needed that lamp. At times, it felt like I was looking through goggles because everything but a small window of road was visible. It was a surreal experience.
I've never been so aware of how much my body craved sleep than waking up at 4:15AM to drive down to Redwood City to begin the final leg of the race. I wouldn't say we got "sleep", but van 1 was able to rest our eyes while van 2 was running. We ordered pizza ahead of time so we could eat it when we got to the city. Calories.
My legs were sore. I never felt "out of breath" while running, but by this time my muscles were indicating they needed time to recover. They didn't feel like running the next 5.6 miles. My body was heavy, my pace was slower, my mind tired. All I could think about was my bed in San Francisco.
When van 1 finished our third leg, we drove the rest of the way to Santa Cruz to await van 2's arrival. We had more brunch, and one of the best tasting mochas of my life at Verve (I'd hadn't been consuming dairy to avoid muscle cramps caused by lactic acid). Then we waited. It was approaching 3PM when the last runner of van 2 rounded the corner and onto the last stretch of beach before the crossing the official finish line. All twelve team members ran across the line together. Here's a photo after we finished. We still look happy, but we definitely look tired.
The race was a test of patience and energy more than physical endurance. Staying alert was hard. Timing trips to the bathroom was hard. The running was the fun part. The trail represents a challenge. Collectively, our team of weary joggers overcame 191 miles, hunger, and sleep deprivation and we arrived at our destination.
Why would anyone do this? That's what I was thinking when I started my first run, but I soon realized that aside from the social and physical components of the relay, it represents something much larger. Growth. Challenging yourself with seemingly ridiculous obstacles might make you sore, but the pain is temporary. This is how we learn.