Monday, June 09, 2008

What happened in Van One?

Well, I'll tell ya.

We got off for our first set of legs at 11 after watching the 9-o'clock starters leave and then get poured on. It was really hot and humid, but we had a big wind that was mostly at our backs out of the west. That was nice. The first few legs for Megan, Lauren, and Chris were around Madison and its suburbs. The parts we ran through included some lakefront scenery, and on Megan's leg, some campus neighborhoods that smelled like marijuana. Just before the parking for Chris' leg we saw a man (not running in the race) slumped against his van in a neighborhood, as if he'd maybe had a heart attack or taken a bad fall. A team from the Air Force had come through just before us, and ran out to help him. I think they called an ambulance for him. After Chris' leg I was out on the Glacial Drumlin trail, which the next several legs would follow. The picture Danielle has of the trail in her entry is pretty representative of the ten miles I put on it in my first leg; there wasn't really much variation on the trail or even many turns, but it was comfortable and there weren't many street crossings either.

After handing off in Lake Mills we went for an early dinner at the Blue Moon Café in town. It wasn't open at first, so we just rested in a gazebo in a town park for a while. Then it was off to Waukesha for the next set. We had a bit of a hard time finding the exchange in Waukesha. Then we had a hard time finding our way to pretty much every one of the exchanges in this set. Either Waukeshan drivers don't like clear, legible road signs, or Waukeshan teenagers like to steal them. Our van was operating in panic mode as we struggled to navigate our way into the next exchange before our active runner. Megan, Lauren, and Chris' legs were largely on the Glacial Drumlin and New Berlin trails; my double-leg then spilled out onto Greenfield Avenue, went east to the Milwaukee Mile (an auto-racing track, which we took a lap around), and then right back to a park near where I started. I was not very happy after my leg, and disparaged the high curbs, traffic, and numbered streets of the area, but mostly I was frustrated because I bonked on a half mile-long hill leading to a highway overpass. Which is to say, all that hill training I got in California is gone now. I'm a real flatlander again. Tim's leg, finishing at Martin Luther High School in a Milwaukee suburb, started the southbound portion of the relay in earnest. And then the baton was back with Van 2, as we went to a church in Racine to sleep.

It would be poetic to blame fate, karma, psychological discomfort, or the good old wrath of God for my inability, as an avowed atheist, to sleep in the sanctuary (!) of that church. But really it was just a barbershop quartet of snorers. I was pretty irritable in the morning. Right. Megan took the baton from Joe during sunrise, and as she finished along the shore of Lake Michigan the fog rolled in of the lake and covered her up completely. I think it was Tim that said it was like something out of a Steven King novel. The fog delayed the heat of the day for a while, but soon enough the sun burned through it and we were back to the heat and humidity of the previous day. Lauren had some tricky (or maybe just non-existent) course markings on her leg, and I actually had a small directional mishap as well. Van navigation was a bit easier this time around; with the sun up, Lake Michigan firmly on the left, and lots of numbered streets, we got around pretty easily even when the given directions mixed up streets and avenues. I don't think anyone had an easy time physically running their last legs. I really struggled to the finish of mine; Coach Newton always calls it rigor mortis when lactic acid seizes your muscles and you lurch along like a zombie. That's what I had. Someone's team van was honking repeatedly at every runner it passed, and I totally started yelling at it, "HEY! SHUT UP THE HORN!" Sorry, guys (although honestly, I hate all non-emergency horn-honking with a burning passion, I usually have the presence of mind not to yell at offenders). There were lots of teams just ahead of me at the end (including the red-jerseyed Team 26 from Accenture), so I convinced myself to lurch my way into a final surge.

There was some down time after we finished; Van 2 had some long, grueling legs ahead through the sun and wind; we met with Lauren's parents (north-suburban residents) at exchange 31, then drove downtown to get Tim and Chris to Union Station and on trains bound for Columbus and Naperville, respectively. We had plenty of time to get up to Montrose, so we took Upper Wacker around the river to Lake Shore Drive to check out all the beautiful architecture. Lauren left to go shower for her wedding, leaving Megan and I at the finish line when the storms blew in. Eventually, with a restart uncertain and Megan's phone dying, I thought it would make sense to just drive up the road to the last exchange. I severely overestimated my knowledge of roads in Rogers Park and Evanston, and for some reason underestimated the distance to Northwestern, but Lauren's nav system came to the rescue and we made it to the exchange just as the race was restarted. So we turned right around and headed back to Montrose.

With all the humidity and heat, even though there weren't many hills, this was really a tough race. I didn't run much more mileage than I did last year, and my legs were in much more pain at the end (though I wasn't cramping as much, probably because I did a better job of keeping electrolytes in my system). Well, I also probably took it out a little faster in the first two legs than I did last year. With all the van navigation difficulties, and the general fact that we were in more heavily populated areas throughout the race (meaning the difference between car speed and runner speed wasn't as great), we didn't have as much down time between legs. This race was distinctive in the small footprint it had on the surrounding communities. I think all the exchanges were in normal parking lots, they didn't close off any streets, the start was a low-key send-off in a Sheraton parking lot, and the finish a tiny fenced-off area in a corner of Montrose Harbor. Most of the people along the route probably didn't even notice it was going on. A little more presence would have been nice, but for a race with only just more than 100 teams that would have been hard to maintain. Some work on the van directions and a couple of extra signs would have helped too.

Before my final leg and also after the race I ran into Serena, a River to River teammate from a few years back. Since her introduction to relay running down in Little Egypt she's latched onto various teams, is running different relays every year, and happened to be running leg 4 for this one. I think she was on the Great Feets team, which finished 4th. And so the relay running bug spreads. Tell all your friends!

(Disclaimer: when you tell all your friends, most of them will say things like, "You're crazy," and, "I'm not crazy like you," and, "You know, Al, if you don't stop it with this cannibalism stuff people are going to start believing you." Well, anyway, if relay running is crazy then commit me!)


Unknown said...

I think it's a good kind of crazy!

lauren said...

i'm glad you wrote the van one recap. i was feeling delinquent...