Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Red Eye Relay 2014 - Race Report

(There is a prologue to this blog here. Is a blog prologue, a problog?)

After I run Red Eye, people always say two things:
  1. That sounds awful!
  2. What's it like?
My replies are always the same:
  1. No, it's actually a lot of fun, but it isn't for everyone.
  2. I wish I could explain it well, but I can't.
The Red Eye Relay has an almost magical quality that cannot be explained; it can only be experienced. The best way that I can try to describe it is to say the whole thing is like a dream. The odd combinations of unusual locations and foreign situations is difficult for my brain to handle. So difficult, that after the event, I find myself wondering if the Red Eye Relay really even happened. My brain recalls the incongruous details, and files them under "must've been a dream."

Who, What, When, & Where
The Zoooomin' Cabbits
The Red Eye Relay is an event where teams of seven runners relay through the night to run 110 miles through the hilly country roads of Monroe County. The course, two 55-mile loops, is broken into 21 legs of varying distance and elevation, and each team member runs three legs totaling about 16 miles. My team, The Zoooomin' Cabbits, included Wendy, Tim, Becky, Doug, Elise, and Quigley, all experienced runners and great people.

On Saturday, we all met at Upland West to pack our two vehicles with food, dry clothes, and night running gear. We reviewed the legs our fearless leader Wendy had assigned to us, and we posed for a picture. I was our team's kick-off runner, so at 5:00 P.M., I donned the slap bracelet (Red Eye's form of the relay baton), and toed the line.

First exchange
Leg 1
Am I an experienced runner? Of course. However, that doesn't stop me from making the same mistake over and over. I started my first leg—an easy 5.2-mile, mostly downhill jaunt along the bypass—with a 7:42 mile. Luckily, it didn't adversely affect the rest of my run. With the exception of a long climb in the middle of the leg, the miles clicked off quickly. Entering a wooded area near completion brought some nice coolness, and I was thrilled to post my fastest ever 5-mile split (41:40). Shortly after that, I slapped the RER bracelet on Doug's wrist for Leg 2.

Here's my Leg 1 data.

"Down Time"
There really is no down time in the Red Eye Relay, especially if you are a driver. The next five hours went quickly as I shuttled runners to the next exchange point while our other vehicle followed the current runner. Once I noted exchanges for our team data, I helped the just finished runner recover with food, drink, and "senseless Wet Ones." (I kept mixing up "scentless" and "senseless.") There is still a lot to do, even if you aren't running.

Becky on Leg 6
These crewing moments are just as fun as the running portions of the relay. As we would drive by runners on our way to the next exchange, we lowered our windows and cheered for them... loudest for the Cabbits, though, of course. We chatted with teams at checkpoints. We listened to the stories our runners told as they finished a leg. We rocked out to the Pop Love 2013 remix. We even saw some fireworks on Lake Lemon.

Around 10:30 P.M., it was time for my next, and most challenging, leg. I suited up in my night gear and took off after getting the bracelet from Elise.

Leg 9
Because Tim wanted more mileage than Wendy assigned him, he joined me for this 6.5-mi. leg, and I was thankful for his company. On our third mile, a course directional sign was turned incorrectly, and we made a wrong turn. We lost four minutes as a result of that mistake (that amount of time is important later), but we were allowed to get in our crew vehicle and return to the course. Surprisingly, I was not enraged by the tampered-with sign. I was actually happy to have gotten some extra mileage.

Boltinghouse, a monstrous hill with an 18% grade, loomed ahead, and I hiked most of it. The decision to hike was a good one, because my heart rate stayed at a steady running rate throughout the hike portion. Following Boltinghouse, there were many rolling hills that were steep, but short. On each one, I could feel my strong core (made by Sam), engage to carry me up and over the hill. The last half mile of the leg dropped steeply into Lake Griffy, and we bombed the hill to pass the bracelet to Doug.

My strongest memories of this leg include seeing, "Shut up, legs!" spray painted on the pavement on Boltinghouse, watching my running shadow in the bright headlights of the crew vehicle behind me, and making shadow shapes and puppets with Tim while we ran. Tim's company made this leg pass quickly, both mentally and physically. I wouldn't have run as fast as I did without him.

Here is the Leg 9 data.

The funniest moment of the night happened close to 1:00 A.M. We had been waiting for Doug at the end of the first loop, and he was taking a lot longer than we thought he would. (He was racing well, but we thought his leg was 5.2 mi. It was actually 6.4 mi.) Due to some information from another team's runner, we had reason to believe that Doug had been caught by a train.

When Doug finally got to the checkpoint just ahead of a group of several runners, we had a funny exchange:

Jo: It's OK! We know what happened!
Doug: What do you mean?
Jo: We know about the train!
Doug: What train?
Jo: There was no train?
Doug: No!
Jo: Then what happened?
Doug: What do you mean what happened?! I ran hard! (pointing) I PASSED ALL THOSE PEOPLE!

Indeed he had! Of course, we quickly learned he ran 1.2 mi. farther than we thought he did.

Late night RER selfie
Bizarre RER
After 1:00 A.M. is when things start to get interesting. Your body is fatigued. Your appetite is strange. The locations you saw in the daytime look eerily different in the night. Your brain starts to take sensory information and distort it into information that isn't quite real. Luckily, Wendy and Quigley helped me do the driving on the second loop so I could rest my brain for a bit, though not sleep. With all of the exhaustion and almost supernatural strangeness, one can't forget that a run awaits. I took off again at about 3:30 A.M. after getting the bracelet from Quigley.

Leg 15
Leg 15—advertised as 3.8 mi, but really more like 4 mi.—is a fun one to run because it's a downhill bomb. However, that doesn't mean easy. There are plenty of uphills, too, and the road is potholed and mostly graveled. Plus, the downhills can be almost as difficult as uphills if you don't manage them well. I focused on staying in a steady rhythm with my cadence. Within a mile, I was passed by a member of Team 105, a team with whom we'd been jockeying for position all night. I made it my goal to catch him by the time I finished my leg.

Little by little, I reeled him in. When we were side by side, he surged to match my pace. Reasoning that the experience would be a lot more pleasant if I weren't running alone, I said, "Want to work together?" He replied breathlessly, "YES!" We ran the last two miles together, chatting about the RER experience and our families. Where else can you run the backroads of Monroe County at 3:30 A.M. with a total stranger you'll never see again and finish with a big high five? Red Eye Relay. It's the stuff of dreams.

Here's the Leg 15 data. I ran the third mile sub-8 while having conversation. That statistic and my whole performance at RER make me very encouraged about my current fitness.

I was thrilled to have only support and encouragement as my focus for the remainder of the race. It felt great to put on some dry clothes, too. Luckily, I brought flip-flops, because those downhills created a terrible toe problem. (Only click the link if you're OK with yuck-pics.) I spent the rest of the night shuttling my friends to their exchanges and cheering like a fool for all the runners. We all watched the sunrise together. We celebrated and lamented about the impending finish. Then we watched as Elise crossed the finish line for The Zoooomin' Cabbits in 15:39.

We learned later that we earned second place, something difficult to know during the running of RER, because teams can choose start times. We were second by three minutes and nine seconds. Remember the four minutes I lost when I made a wrong turn on Leg 9? Yeah. Bummer.

However—and this might be the magic of the Red Eye Relay—I didn't care. We could've finished last, and I wouldn't have cared. Running is often a solitary sport, even when you run with friends. Your goals and training are individual. Running for a team fulfills me in a way that individual running doesn't. Everything is more: the motivation, the encouragement, the fun.

Writing this blog was necessary because it convinces my brain that the fantastic experience I had was real. It was a privilege to be a Zoooomin' Cabbit for one crazy night in the middle of a southern Indiana summer.

Red-ribboned Cabbits (minus Doug and Quigley)

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