Especially when it’s really only 205 miles. But 36 hours of living like circus people in a crowded van with occasional breaks to run lonely 10Ks through oppressive heat or inky blackness has a way of feeling as long and arduous as a swim from Maine to Hawaii. Or a walk from Hollywood to Argentina. Or an emotional trek from Palin to reality.
In any case, the 205-mile relay from Madison to Chicago last weekend was at once exhausting, sweaty, painful, smelly as a bucket of goat butts and quite possibly the second awesomist running experience of my life … right after crossing my first marathon finish line.
Our team of 12 runners was divided into two vans, and we hopscotched all over Wisconsin and Illinois through 36 transition points, dropping off runners, picking up runners, grabbing showers in college dorms, grabbing sleep in 40-minute shifts on the van floor, changing clothes in front of each other, checking cell phones for updates on runners’ pace times, posting pictures on Facebook through the magic of iPhone technology, chugging more Gatorade than can possibly be healthy for anyone … and generally having a freaking amazing time collectively running a whopping 205 miles from 7:00 am Friday to 7:00 pm Saturday.
Since my van held runners 7 through 12, we didn't have to be at the start line in Madison so early on Friday so we took our leisurely time Friday morning getting up to just somewhere near Madison. Here we are at transition point 6 waiting for runner number 6 from van number 1 (got all that?) to reach us so we could start our half of the adventure:
I was runner number 9, which put my first leg of the race at 2:00 in the afternoon on what ended up being a swelteringly hot day. Here I am waiting for the baton—which was really a slap strap that wraps around your wrist—before my little Gatorade-distended belly and I began our 8.5 miles through what you can see is a pretty shade-free section of oh-my-holy-crap-on-a-fart-colored-cracker-is-that-hot rural Wisconsin:
My team found me around my sixth mile to reload my no-I'm-not-in-my-third-trimester-of-gestating-triplets tummy with water and Gatorade before sending me back into the oppressive heat:
As I continued slogging through my little sun-drenched nightmare, I found myself wishing that a local hunter might mistake me for a deer trying desperately to masquerade as a human by wearing hunter-orange running shorts and shoot me in the head for my hubris. But I had no such luck.
By the time I passed my grotesquely sweaty slap strap to runner number 10, I was sunburned and delirious, but already enamored of the epic adventure I had embarked on:
Once we got through our 12th runner, we passed the baton (as it were) back to van number 1 and used our six hours of down time to scrub the stink off us in a college dormitory and grab some dinner at a local carb emporium. The rules for the relay clearly stated that all runners had to wear reflective vests when the sun was down with no exceptions so we dutifully wore them to wolf down our bowls of pasta and plates of pizza:
I have no photos of my 2:00 am 6.5-mile run in my reflective getup and my headlamp (which felt ridiculous but ended up being an awesome accessory for running down rural highways in pitch blackness) but the weather had turned blessedly cool and I was positively euphoric through my entire hour with my slap-strap baton wrapped securely around my midnight-blackened wrist.
My van finished our night shift at dawn and we used our down time to nap in whatever configurations we could manage in the van, near the van and perhaps even under the van. And by morning we found ourselves waiting to start up our third shift in a school parking lot with hundreds of other team vans (this one time ... at van camp ...) while storms rolled in and threatened to shut us down completely.
Which they did. And they did. Except we never really saw the storms. But we got tons of tweets from the race organizers telling us to stay in our vans until we got the go-ahead to resume the relay. So of course we used the down time to organize all the crap we had stashed in the back of our van:
The race came back to life after two hours, and my last 5.5-mile leg along a manicured suburban nature trail at 2:00 was another study in glorious weather and runner's euphoria. And by the time I passed off my final baton, I had thankfully burned off the Gatorade bloat in my poor little tummy:
And now all that's left is the memories. And the few pictures we took. And of course the blog post. But now I have a new hobby! And since the team I ran on this year was a corporate team of some friends who are moving to freaking Australia in a few months, I've already emailed all my fun runner friends to build our own team for next year. And we're going to have a cool team name ("Princess Sparklepony and the Li'l Glitterpickles" is currently my working title) and cool shirts and cool vans and even more Gatorade bloat and goatbutt stink and it's gonna be awesome and I'm so excited I can't wait for June so I can do it all over again!