Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A whole new meaning to the word EPIC

I'd like to start by asking myself the same question I ask myself every weekend: "Why do I do this to myself?". Yes, I do ask myself this question EVERY weekend since I continue to sign up for events that do nothing but KICK MY ASS.  What did I do this time, you ask?  Well, I grabbed 4 of my (now) closest friends and a weirdo (what's a running team to do without a weirdo?) and headed up to Logan, UT to run a relay race of 205 miles that finished in Jackson Hole, WY. Each one of us needed to run over 30 miles to complete this task, and while we could all run 30+ miles (and most of us have in the past), little did we know how hard it'd be if you did it in 90 million degree weather, no sleep and poor calorie intake. 

Somewhere in the middle of nowhere (read: northern Utah)
The EPIC adventure started on Thursday when we started driving northwest towards Logan, UT.  It seemed fitting, after an 8 hour drive, to feast on hot wings from Buffalo Wild Wings to watch the Bronco game. We didn't really pay attention to the game and no, eating hot wings was not a great idea the night before a 30 mile run. We all seemed to have a good night sleep that night and we headed out to the start line bright and early on Friday.  Our start time was 7:00am and we were checking in at around 6:20. Took some goofy pictures, decorated our van and off we go. 

From left to right: Mr. Weirdo, Holly, Kevin, myself, Fernando, Mike
Let me explain how a relay race works in case you've never done one. Basically, you get a team of 12 people and you divide your peeps in 2 vans of 6 people each. There are 36 legs to be run by your 12 runners, so 3 legs each. For example, if you're runner #1, you will run leg 1, leg 13 and leg 25. If you're runner #12, you run leg 12, leg 24 and leg 36.  Runners usually get anywhere between 6 to 8 hours of rest between legs and also get 4-6 hours of "downtime" in their van when the runners in the other van are running.  This is usually when the van parks in a big parking lot and they get to take a nap before having to get ready to run again.  When you do it this way, people run anywhere between 12 to 20 miles total divided in 3 runs. Also, this way, you get to have beginner runners and advanced runners and they all get to have fun.  

Happy Endings Van. Runners resting, Runner ready, Runner taking pic (me), Runner running (Holly)
That said, there is a thing called ULTRA teams. Ultra teams are teams of 6 instead of 12. So you have half the people to run the exact same 36 legs. Gaby's thought: "How fun would it be to have an ULTRA team??" Gaby's thought at the time of signing up: "This is such a GREAT idea." Gaby's thought today: "Yeah, not so much fun. Lots of pain."  There's two ways the ultra teams can officially run this race to be eligible for awards. Each runner runs 6 separate "shorter" legs or each runner runs 2 legs in a row to make 3 long legs. So for example, your runner A can be runner #1 and #6 or he can be runner #1 and #2.  We went with the latter option, so we still ran 3 legs, but they were double. This way, we'd get 10-12 hours of rest in between legs.  

Slap that Sh!t. Mike finishing his first run, Kevin about to face the heat
Ok, back to the actual race. Our first 3 runners did amazing. They all had 12-13 mile legs and weather seemed to cooperate. Little did we know, the heat was just around the corner.  Kevin was our runner #4 and he was tackling legs 7 and 8 when the heat got slightly out of control.  His first leg was LONG, roughly 15 miles, and he managed to get through the first half just fine.  The second half of it was brutal, the heat was unbearable and he was struggling. I started to get nervous since I was up next and I was about to start running at roughly 2:00pm and was going for 10 miles. Slow but steady, Kevin completed his leg and I was bummed I couldn't stay behind to make sure he was ok, but the rest of my crew was amazing and I knew they'd take good care of him. I started running carrying my water bottle but I finished my water in 2.5 miles. My crew was waiting for me 3 miles in and re-filled my water bottle. I asked them to meet me at the exchange point again. The re-filled my bottle and I continued on to my second part of the run. The first half was ALL UP, and with the heat, it seemed like I had used up all my energy, but my second half was mostly downhill, at the beginning anyway so I was able to eat up a few miles fairly quickly but then it got flat so I struggled. I met my crew another 3 miles in, they re-filled again and I told them to just meet me at the finish. Surprisingly, I ran out of water AGAIN and a crew of Colorado runners helped me out. That was enough to get me to the finish (which was uphill for roughly a mile). 

Couldn't be happier to finish this first leg. IT WAS HOT
I've never been happier to finish. It was time for Mr. Weirdo to head out. He underestimated the heat and was bragging about how fast he could go. He slowed down 4-5 miles in but he was still a pretty fast runner. If the heat didn't slow him down, a wall would... that was enough for him to stop bragging.

Big A$$ climb
Once he finished, it was time for round two. Holly, our runner #1 was up again. It was just past 6pm and it was slowly starting to cool off. Fernando, our second runner, started around 7:30pm when the sun decided to make us smile by coloring the sky in all sorts of shades of purple, yellow, orange and red. Nice sunset in  the middle of Idaho. 

Kevin - happy night runner
By the time Fernando finished, it was dark and Mike was on his way. Kevin started his longest run at around 11:00pm and seemed really content with the 17 miles he had ahead of him. Clearly the heat got the best of him but with the sun shining in the other side of the world, he was a happy camper. After Kevin, it was my turn again. I started my longest run at 1:30am. The first section was again mostly uphill with another 600ft of gain and reaching 7000 ft of elevation. The last 5 miles were mostly downhill, but in the dark, it was hard for me to speed up significantly, so I just maintained a comfortable pace that felt "safe". I finished my 13 miles around 3:40am. The night runs seemed to go by fairly smoothly. We all tried to sleep while not getting ready to go run, but it was complicated. Between the car stopping to check in on runners, people getting ready, moving around, other teams cheering their runners on, we didn't get much sleep. We only got time to "rest our eyes". Literally. 

As I mentioned earlier, we started our race at 7:00am along with 5 other teams.  There were probably around 10 more teams out of 73 that started after us at 9:00am, 10:00am and 12:00pm respectively. Your start time is assigned based on your team's average pace. Most teams started at 5:00 or 5:30am and before sunset, we seemed to have passed a few getting to the checkpoints with 20 teams left behind us. But that somehow changed overnight. At 5:00am it was time for Holly to hit the road for the 3rd and last time, and while waiting for her to finish her last run we realized there were only 5 teams that had gone by that checkpoint. Wait, what??? Yep, we passed a ton of people overnight. On average, for the following legs we were between the 7th and 12th team to hit the checkpoints, not too shabby considering we had started towards the end of the pack. We got slightly pumped. I say slightly cause we were tired. 

Chilly sunrise in Wyoming
Faster than we thought, Holly, Fernando and Mike were DONE with their last leg. They'd all automatically get a huge smile on their faces. They were ready to party. Kevin started his last leg and I was anxious to get my part over with. My last leg consisted of a 3-miler, mostly flat and a 7-miler that went up, up, up and down, down, down and then up, and then down... finished flat. I somehow managed to push through the first 3 miles only to start the second section with what looked like a HUGE climb. If I go back today, I can guarantee I would run it just fine. But then and there it seemed like a huge wall. Reminded me of the Mt. Hood 50 "wall". Will this ever END? I walked and jogged and MOST LIKELY crawled backwards. It was hot AGAIN and I literally wanted to die. My crew looked after me stopping every 2 miles at first, but then they seemed to stop every half a mile. They broke my heart by telling me no Gatorade was left in the car, but rushed to get some for me... they gave me hope. At the "one mile to go" marker, my love showed up. I hugged him and I cried. It was the lowest of points. I put my sunglasses back on to cover the tears and jogged the rest of the way. I finished. I was pissed. That was hard. 

Finishing "strong" (Check out the face of pain)
It took a while for this girl to give away free smiles...
Finishing my last leg only meant one thing. 8 miles to go. Mr. Weirdo was the one bringing the team to the finish. We met him half way, got him some water and went over to Teton Village. HOLY COW?!? Is this true? Did we seriously just run from Logan, Utah, through rural Idaho and all the way up to Jackson Hole, Wyoming? While waiting for the rest of the team to show up I decided to go talk to the announcer and ask him if any other ultra teams had finished. He said no. We were the last ultra team to start, so this meant we passed them all and we were still finishing in front of them. Mr. Weirdo showed up. We stumbled across the finish line and they announced loud and clear we won the ultra division. We won. 

We are #1
The stomachache, the pain, the heat, the toughness of it all just went away. We won. Smiles were back and it was time to celebrate and sleep. 

Tired runners
We enjoyed some beer at the finish line area and headed back to our hotel. Unlike other relays, we just didn't have it in us to go "all out" and party, but we did have steak dinner all together. A big hearty meal with manhattans, bloody mary's beers. We attempted to dance some at the Cowboy Bar, but we were slowly fading. We decided to just go to sleep, in the end, we deserved it more than anyone else. 

Tired runners post gigantic meals
Today, all I have left is countless memories, stories and a new friend/running buddy (no, not Mr. Weirdo). It was quite the experience and I think it made all of us slightly tougher. I shared 32 hours in a car with some seriously bad ass runners. If you ever get to meet them, you'll see what I'm talking about. They're truly inspiring. Will I do it again?  Not sure, but probably yes. Will I change our strategy? Not sure, but probably yes. Funny enough, I chatted with a few other ultra teams and they all had different strategies, which they all sounded much better than ours, but in the end we won. Was it strategy? Maybe, but mostly, I think I had some amazing runners in my team and changing our strategy will only makes us faster and even harder to beat.  Until next time, EPIC Relays... I (we?) will be back. 

Email from EPIC Relays announcing the winner


  1. Great write-up, Gabby. Thanks for bringing me in to the team, I had a flippin' blast!

  2. ... And I meant Gaby (stupid auto-correct)