How did I get stuck in a van with 11 strangers??? I’ll tell you how: The Wild West Relay! I feel like “stuck” isn’t the right word though. More like “selected to be” or “privileged to be” in a van with 11 strangers feels better.
When I really started getting into running and races, I was introduced to the idea of relay races by searching the internet for runs in different states. At first I thought it was crazy or silly, but I think the idea of crossing hundreds of miles on foot is what intrigued me. I knew I probably couldn’t find enough of my friends to do a 12 person team, so I pushed the idea of a relay race off in the distance and added it to my bucket list.
After reading a blog post from Amy at Lavender Parking, she talked about doing the Wild West Relay with a friend of hers from their home town but decided against it. At the time, I was thinking about quitting my job anyway, and to be honest, if I signed up to do the race, I would have had to ask for two nights off from work – which after coming back from Alaska probably wasn’t going to happen. Instead, I used this as a time limit to find a new job and get out of that horrible environment – which, although not the brightest idea I’ve had, it did work!
I contacted Amy and asked her about the race; if she wasn’t doing it then maybe they still needed more people. Sure enough, they needed about three more people, so they were glad to have me fill a spot. Amy put me in contact with the team captain, and after about one minute on the phone, and not much thought, I agreed to do it. It was the last weekend to register, so I knew it was a sign I should sign up. And that’s the story I told over and over to my team members about how I got involved in the mix.
I drove up to Fort Collins Thursday night and knocked on one of my teammate’s door….I was the last one there because of getting off of my new job late, and by process of elimination, everyone knew my name (and the fact that everyone knew each other or at least someone else on the team). Now it was time for me to learn everybody elses’ names….which takes me forever! I’m so bad at learning names…but being in a van for two days helps!
Friday morning started bright and early. Our start time was at 7:30am. We met even earlier to get the vans loaded and the team together. We all headed to the Budweiser Brewery to pick up our race packets, t-shirts and to attach our “CAUTION! Runner’s on road” sign. My van’s sign was made my yours truly! Looks good, huh??
Being in Van 1, it was go time for me! Our first runner lined up with the others in our heat. The announcer counted down: 5….4….3….2…. and we were off! No, that’s not a mistake… on a bet, Mike, our first runner, took off with a five second head start. After one leg, the taunts and teasing from other teams became a 30 second lead, then a minute head start…I’m sure by the end of the game of telephone, er, race, it was probably a 30 minute head start! It was actually quite funny, and the “quarrel” was reconciled with a game of Bocce ball (is that really how it’s spelled???).
My Actual Running:
Leg 6: I was the 6th runner, taking off from my team to meet the second half of our team at the van exchange points. My first leg was 6.1 miles. It was an easy run, the hardest part being that I hadn’t actually ran 6 miles for awhile, but I completed it just fine. It was a pretty hot run at about noon…I am not used to running in the mid-afternoon heat…and Van 2 probably had even hotter temps! The coarse itself had a few hills here and there, but it was on dirt road which was unfamiliar territory to me since I usually run on the road. I definitely need to get more time on the trails! The last half mile or so was on the edge of a busy highway, warming us that if we didn’t cross with race volunteer, our team would we DQed. After that it was a short up hill and I high-fived runner #7 and sent Van 2 on their way. (By the way, I TOTALLY got a road kill on this leg!!! I think our whole team got some more, as well as we were road kill at times too, but after the second leg, it was hard to keep track).
Since we had a few hours to wait around, we grabbed some lunch, parked our car at the next van exchanged and attempted to nap. Attempted because it rained on and off and while I was napping in the van, my other teammates came piling in to avoid getting drenched.
Along the road, on the way to each exchange point, there was plenty of beautiful views to take in of the lovely northern Colorado landscape. Although I’ve lived in CO for most of my life and lived in Fort Collins for 5 years, I actually had never been to this part of the state. Such a breath of fresh air!
Leg 18: After our second half of the team arrived, the hand off was made to runner #1 again, and we took off down the hilly mountain roads over Deadman’s Pass. The first 4 runners were running the steep inclines and declines, by the time it was my turn again, we were out of the mountains, but that doesn’t mean my run was easy. My second leg was the hardest for me. It was pitch black, 11 pm – 12 am at night. It was a little chilly outside, so I had trouble figuring out what to run in. I chose capri yoga pants and a light, long sleeved shirt. I had a 6.5 mile run through the dark valley of Wyoming, at least I think it was a valley, cause I couldn’t see five feet in front of me without my head lamp. By this time in the trip, I was tired and my stomach was upset. If it were any other day, I would have chosen to not run. I strapped on my reflective vest, hooked my blinking red light on my back (which would fall off about a half mile down the road and break) and attached my head lamp to my head. I took off into the dark and concentrated on running. Hills became endless because I couldn’t actually see the end. Cattle guards snuck up on me last minute, and headlights looked like mirages in the dark. I still made good time though, but not without feeling nauseous with the light of my headlamp bouncing on the road. I think I was the only one out of my team that didn’t like running in the dead of the night. I’m glad I had my music player tucked into my sports bra, or the dead silence probably would have freaked me out too; but that’s just the type of person I am.
After finishing, we ended at Wood’s Landing and ate some over priced spaghetti to refuel. After watching a few local Wyoming cougars dancing around their table in the bar, we decided to pack it up and head to the camping area in Walden. The local high school opened their doors for the racers. They had free coffee, food, and offered showers ($5) for those who wanted it. The hallway was littered with racers sleeping in their bags. The guys on my team opted for the more comfortable lawn while me and my fellow girl teammate slept in the van. I think I only got about 2-3 hours of sleep, but by the time we were woken up, our van was one of the last waiting for their team.
With one goal in mind (to pass a bunch of other teams) our first runner, Mike, took off into the morning. In attempt to cheer on his teammate, Nick stuck his head out the van window: “Alright, Mike, you’ve got a lovely summer morning. The temperature is a brisk 55 degrees…” -M: “stop talking to me.” -N: alright, what do you want? Us to stop every mile…?” -M: fuck off!! It was actually pretty funny and had our whole van laughing bright and early in the morning. Later on, while Nick was running, Mike would apologize for cussing at him.
For fear of literally being picked off the course, we decided to triple up runners. The first three ran normally, but runners 4, 5 and myself were dropped off at about the same time while the van swung around to grab them as they finished. (For people unfamiliar with relay races, this is allowed to save time, but you just have to let the race volunteers know when you start). Runners 4 and 5 had 2 mile and 4 mile legs respectively, and I had 6.7 miles to conquer.
Leg 30: Ahhh, finally the last leg! 6.7 miles! Since we had tripled up, I was left mostly unsupported without my van. I was a little groggy since I started a little before planned, but I ran like a champ – especially for it being a gradual uphill the whole time! My van found me when I was about 1.5 miles from the end…however, after asking them how far I was, they had mis-calculated my milage and said I still had about half way left to go. At hearing that I felt extremely exhausted! I really thought I was farther. I told my van to meet with with a mile left for one more water break. They took off around the corner, and much to my surprise, I was already at one mile left!! I honestly was so relieved/shocked, I asked if the sign was in the right place! One mile left! Seeing that I was so close and not just half way gave me a huge second wind and I kicked into high gear and charged off to the end. I ran 6.7 miles in about 1 hour and 2 minutes! So fast, at least for me! I finished through a tunnel of arms made by other teams and our van was done!
Van 2 started a little earlier to save time, so I didn’t get to hand off on my last leg. Feeling accomplished, we made out way to Steamboat Springs and had lunch (breakfast was already over, which really bummed me out cause I wanted Pancakes something horrible!)
After devouring a huge, juicy hamburger, we headed to the finish line to wait for out last team member. The finish line/festival was actually quite uneventful; very anti-climatic. We just crossed 200 miles….couldn’t we get a little confetti or something??? We waited for runner number 12 to come around the corner and we all filed in behind her to finish together; the announcer letting everyone know that Ginger’s Ninjas had finished the race! And that was the end!
Not gonna lie, that was an exhausting two days. By the end, I was so grumpy that I didn’t know what I wanted. I was complaining about random things that were important, and worried about things I couldn’t control. Half of our team was staying in a condo in Steamboat, including me and most of van 2. I kept asking questions that weren’t getting answered and it was strange to spend two days with one group of strangers, then to hop in another van with 6 new people. But after getting a beer and hot tub time, I was in a much better mood. The condo was really nice, although, a little expensive for me, but there was nothing I could do about that. And after getting in the hot tub time, the rest of our team met us for pizza, more beers and lots of laughs!