Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Hills of Little Egypt

This past Saturday was the best day of every year: the River to River Relay. R2R is Illinois' most famous relay race, shorter and closer to sea level than races like WWR, but with plenty of its own challenges. The climbs are not very long, but are steep, and with 8 runners covering 80 miles there isn't much time to warm up, rest or stretch at the exchanges.

You'd think that on my fifth time running R2R I'd be ready for the quick turnover. But on my first leg I was late to my exchange. Oops. Once I got running that leg went pretty smoothly. It's supposed to be one of the harder legs in the relay but I didn't think it was too bad. A few rollers, 3/4-mile of steep climb, more rollers, then a long swoop downhill. It was a long, fast swoop downhill for an overall slight decline in elevation. I ran very well on this leg, about 5:32 pace (mostly due to very quick downhills). The second leg for runner 6 is very easy, just 2.5 miles with a gentle climb followed by a gentle descent down to the starting altitude. It's the third leg that's notorious: a drop down to the bridge at Lusk Creek then a steep climb up from it. The incline diminishes throughout the 1.5 miles of the big climb, with a few false peaks. Then there's a quick downhill and about a half-mile of steep climb to the finish. I thought I got out a bit slow but the climbing miles were pretty solid. On the final steep climb to the finish I started my push almost immediately, which left me completely spent at the end. Which is how it should be.

Brent and the guys back at UIUC managed to put together two teams this year; my team was all guys that I knew from previous relays and runs (including Shaun, who is always up for traveling many miles to run a relay race), and the other team had a bunch of new dudes, several of whom had run on college cross and track teams at some point. Brent led off for the other team and had them in first place at the first exchange. They wound up finishing fourth in 7:47:55. My team got 7th overall, 6th in our division (behind one masters team) in 8:09:20. Not bad. The picture here is from one of our teams three years ago sprinting to the finish together, a pretty awesome shot.

This year was the 20th year of the Relay, and it has developed some fun traditions. There's a handicap-division team that makes the trip up from Florida every year called the Dixie Flyers. Their name is no joke -- they don't all look like fast runners, but at their various advanced ages they are favored to win their highly competitive division every year. And after it all they still have the energy to get up and dance to the music of the Old Fishskins, the bluegrass band that plays before the awards every year, and in my opinion is The Greatest Band In The History Of Music, Period. There was also a guy up from Florida wearing a Dixie Flyers jersey and biking the course (except for the parts that were on gravel roads, for which he got picked up by some dudes in a convertible).

And I think the best part, after everyone made fun of me for wearing a windbreaker and long pants in the 75-degree weather all day except while running, was that I managed to avoid sunburn completely. For me, that's quite a feat.


Audrey said...

Good job! Hopefully you will be wrinkle free in the years to come!

Sounds like a very cool race.

Danielle in Iowa said...

The speediness astounds me. Nice running! I hope those California mountains have been good training...

I was not so fortunate in the sunbrn category, but I blame my roommate for locking me out.