Monday, April 30, 2007

Team Kwikstep

Chance are my weekend was more interesting than yours. I spent it running across Riverside and San Diego counties with 8 other slightly insane people. Officially we ran a collective 179 miles in about 26 hours, but it was a lot more fun than that sounds.

Our team (named Kwikstep after a character in L. Frank Baum's Oz books) consisted of 9 people, with not much previous association. Some were coworkers of mine at Yahoo!, others were friends, others were folks drafted from message boards, seven men and two women. I was prepared for something like a cross between a military training exercise and an episode of MTV Road Rules, but despite differences in age and background we turned out to be remarkably compatible.

The adventure started for real on Saturday morning. Our first runner (Rick) went out at 9am on a trail at Vail Lake near Temecula. Ameen and Ken ran the 2nd and 3rd legs, also at Vail Lake and it was apparent by late morning that it was going to be a hot day. Leg 4 was also run by Rick, and then John did leg 5. Both sections were uphill and hot. Aimee was scheduled to do the next leg, but she was having stomach problems, so i took that leg. Todd did leg 7, Aimee did leg 8, and Leg 9 was back to Rick for his last leg of the race (he needed to head home in the evening because his son was home alone). This 9-mile leg was brutally hot and mostly uphill, so Rick was suffering by the time he finished. Runners from other teams dropped out at this point, one with fairly severe heat exhaustion, so Rick's effort was amazing considering the mileage he'd already done that day.

Leg 10 was run by Ruth, and then i did leg 11, a fairly flat 9 miler. Leg 12 was Ken, 13 was Todd, and 14 was John again. That concluded the first section of the race in the eastern part of Riverside county, and then we took the van across to the eastern side of the county to start the second section of the race. It was about 9pm by then.

Ah, yes, the van. Like most teams we had rented a large passenger van to haul people around for the duration of the race (we call it the heist van). They're all essentially the same and they have little character to begin with, but for some reason i developed a sentimental attachment to it by the end of the race.

The beginning of the second half started with Leg 15, run by Ken. Todd did the next, a really tough uphill section in a place called Horsethief Canyon. Aimee did 17, Ameen 18, Ruth 19, and then i had legs 20 and 21 back to back. Leg 20 was a flat, straight section of about 5 miles, but 21 was all uphill. I started 21 a bit after 2:30 in the morning, and it eventually went into some unpopulated back country with no man-made light. About half way up the hill i had one of those rare moments of running-inspired bliss where i just felt right with the world. I'd run 20+ miles already during the relay and i knew i had a lot of hill in front of me, but i wouldn't have traded anything for that moment.

I arrived at the top around 3:30, at which point our team was required to take an hour-long break to avoid arriving in San Diego county before dawn (due to some strange regulation). I couldn't really sleep, but i was happy for the rest in any case. At 4:30 John took off on the next leg, a ridiculously steep downhill section with a few brutal uphill turns. Todd took leg 23, a beautiful run along De Luz road that took us from darkness into dawn.

The first three legs on Sunday morning were run by Dana, which served as a marathon training run. He did close to 23 miles straight, which gave the remainder of the team time to rest and relax. Leg 27 was run by Ameen at a really fast pace. John was scheduled to run the next, but had some difficulty finding the exchange point so Aimee ran that leg, and John took leg 29. Ruth brought us home on Leg 30, which finished at San Dieguito Park in Del Mar.

Hanging out at the park i think we all had a tremendous sense of relief and accomplishment. I've finished 7 marathons, 1 ultra, and 4 bicycle century rides but i don't think i've ever felt so good at the finish of a race. I hadn't slept in a day and a half, but i wasn't sluggish or incoherent (so far as i could tell). I'd run roughly the same mileage as a marathon, but having it divided up over 3 sections made it less taxing on my muscles so i didn't feel the sense of complete physical depletion that's normal at the end of a marathon.

I'm at a loss to explain why this event was so satisfying. I can say that it was inspiring to be around so many other serious runners. I can say that it gave me a sense of accomplishment both with respect to the physical challenge and the logistical difficulties. I genuinely enjoyed the time i spent with the team members. But the whole was more than the sum of these parts. I think, maybe, it was just nice to be on a team again given that running is usually a solitary sport.

Internet technology figured prominently in our planning and execution of the race. Of course, e-mail is essential, but we also utilized Google's spreadsheet stuff to plan leg assignments and pace, and to plan for supplies. We used message boards to draft runners and during the race, we used Twitter to update the outside world on our progress, and Flickr to post race photos afterward.

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