We gathered at the Starting Line near the Timberline Lodge. The first wave of runners left the start at 8:00 AM Friday morning. 9 hours later, it was finally our turn to begin the treck. Nine hours - can you believe that teams had already been running for nine hours before my team ever even set foot on the course? And there were still quite a few more waves to go - the last team didn't take off until 7:45 PM!
All teams are required to finish the race by 9:00 PM on Saturday. So I have to admit, getting the late start time was both exciting (hell yeah, we're fast!) and nerve racking (but are we THAT fast?) We only had 28 hours to finish, meaning we had to average 8:30 miles the entire time. Could everyone on the team do that? For three legs? On zero sleep? In the middle of the night?
We'd soon find out. Van #1 blazed down the slopes of Mount Hill and through the first six legs in approximately four and a half hours. So at 9:35 PM, it was time for Van #2 - The San Francisco Contingent - to begin our journey.
Running in the afternoon can be difficult for me, so to say that running at night - er, EARLY morning - is difficult is also an understatement. I ran my first 5.9 mile leg of Hood to Coast form 1:00 AM to 1:50 AM. Sure, I averaged under 8:30 minutes/mile, but it was painful. I think everyone in Van #2 felt that way, too. We finished our legs, but it wasn't always pretty.
So, after meeting up with Van #1 at the exchange, the SF Contingent piled back into Van #2 and headed down the course to the second van exchange. During this time I had the *pleasure* of riding in The Stinky Seat, which not only sucked, it smelled. Needless to say, I did not get much sleep during this rest time. But I'm pretty sure feeling nauseous due to a lack of sleep, a smelly van, and an overdose of Cliff bars is all part of the fun of a distance relay...
Four hours later, it was time to run again. The sun was coming up now, and I must say, Oregon is really quite beautiful. RN, our first runner, had a pretty difficult 6-mile leg. Up up up up up lots of hills in time to pass off to DC, our second runner. He averaged 7 minute miles through most of his legs, and was a great last minute addition to the team. DC endured 6 miles on a dirt road for Leg #20. He passed off to EZ, another 7 minute miler, who killed his leg before SS climbed a mini mountain and picked up 17 road kills for yet another 7 minute mile performance on Leg 22!
The hand-off from SS to KT was just as fast, transferring enough momentum to KT to keep the speedy paces going. KT finished 4 miles for Leg 23 in 30 minutes! An average pace of 7:45 minutes/mile! She was going so fast she almost couldn't stop to do our transition dance. (You laugh, but relays are SO much better with transition dances...) I shouted, "Come on KT - MAKE IT WORK!" To which she replied, "Go Nic! CARRY ON!" (Yes, in our best Tim Gunn voices. Not going to lie, the crowd loved us.) A quick do-si-do and I was off on Leg 24.
It was starting to get warm by now. And although Leg 24 was flat, there wasn't time to slack off in cruise control. I flew out of the transition and onto the long, winding road. It felt good to be running in daylight. The team drove ahead to meet me 2.5 miles into my leg, but I reached them a little less than 20 minutes into the leg. No one saw me. To be frank, they weren't even LOOKING for me yet. I guess they thought I'd be running 8:30s again. Turns out, though, I was running a little faster than 8:00 minute/mile pace. And it felt good. So good. But not good enough to stop for water! I decided to keep going for fear that slowing down would bring me to a standstill.
Instead, I said I'd meet them at the transition, which turned out to be easier said than done. Because by now, there was a bottleneck of vans trying to make it to the van exchange. I passed our van and realized there was a chance I was going to make it to the handoff before they did. And that's almost what happened. Except luckily, SS and RN jumped out of our van and sprinted almost an entire mile to the exchange, just in time to see me finish 4.9 miles in 39 minutes. (With 15 road kills!) Under 8:00 minutes/mile average pace - a PR for Nic, and the start of a very-well deserved rest period for all of Van #2.
Thank goodness. Because by now it was pretty effing HOT. It took a long time to drive to the next van exchange. The traffic was terrible and there were runners everywhere. I don't think I have ever seen so many runners. It's just amazing to think that for two entire days, 200 miles of Oregon was covered in runners.
The heat slowed Van #1 considerably during their final legs, so we had to wait a little longer to run again. This extra time made us realize how tired we were. So by the time we met up with Van #1 at the final exchange, we weren't looking good. But we were so close! And Van #1 was done!!!!! So Van #2 embarked on the final legs of the race. Tackling rolling hills and cruising through well-deserved flats. In a lot of pain but with a lot of heart, everyone blazed through their final legs. Until it was my turn to run Leg 36...
I was nervous at the handoff. I was just so tired. And nervous. And tired. I really HATE being last! For almost 26 hours I had been dreading this final leg. Leg 36 had nearly two miles of climbing at the start. And I just haven't been training very consistently, lately. And I certainly haven't been running too many hills! FUCK! I'm tired! And petrified of that hill!
But eventually, it was time to face the incline. I took off at around 6:58 PM, climbing my first mile up mostly trail. Up! Push! Leap! Spring! I dodged right and left around boulders. I scurried past other runners. I pushed and propelled and forced my way to the front of the pack. Once I reached the road, I didn't quit. I continued to grind out the climb, and I made it to the top of the hill in 16 minutes.
Which meant that it was all downhill from there! Downhill for the fastest, most beautiful mile of my life. Winding right and left and down and right and left and down through the tallest pine trees under the clearest blue sky. Never stopping or slowing, only thinking of that beach. That beach that is only a few more miles away! And before I knew it, a H2C volunteer directed me to turn right and said, "Only a half mile to go!"
"WHAT? ONLY A HALF MILE TO GO?"
My watch read something around 37 minutes.
I ran as fast as my little 5'3" body could carry me. I smiled. I cried. I soared. I fucking booked it down that promenade. I high-fived small children. I high-fived their parents. I said hello to doggies. I looked out at that Pacific Ocean and BEAMED with pride and excitement.
And I crossed the Hood to Coast Finish Line at 7:37 PM on Saturday August 26.
Team Total Time - 26:37:36
Team Overall Place - 257/1032
Team Overall Percentage - Top 24.9 %
Team Overall Average Pace - 8:06 minutes / mile
Leg 12 - 5.9 Miles - 49:45 Total Time - 8:26 min / mile pace
Leg 24 - 4.9 Miles - 39:15 Total Time - 8:01 min / mile pace
Leg 36 - 5.8 Miles - 41:29 Total Time - 7:09 min / mile pace
By the time I went to bed that night, I had been awake for forty hours. And I had run - I had really RUN - 17 miles. I was tired. My legs hurt. My stomach was in knots. My eyes were dry. And I was having trouble breathing without wheezing. I had the world's biggest headache and I kind of sort of wanted to die.
And I couldn't remember the last time everything felt so damn good.
"Someone help me. It's not healthy. For me to feel this way..."
I am still at my desk. I have a million more pages of documentation to pull together before I'm, "DONE." (Whatever that means.) I don't expect to sleep tonight. I am icing my left wrist. Because I think I have carpal tunnel syndrome. I have not had a good run in two weeks. In fact, I have barely run three times the past two weeks. And to prove it, I have a fucking WORK injury and not a RUNNING injury!
I am running in Hood to Coast on Friday. Er... Saturday. Our start time is something like 9:00 PM. And I'm running Legs, 12, 24, and 36. So I probably won't be running until the wee hours of Saturday morning. And even though this 195 mile 12 person relay race is supposed to be AWESOME, I just kind of don't want to do it. Because I'm tired and cranky and stressed and overworked. And because I'd kind of rather spend the weekend in San Francisco for once...
Oh, I am not ready for this race at all.
So if you thought I was dead, I'm not.
But I likely will be come Saturday evening upon crossing the finish line on the Coast in Oregon.
Well, I'm currently sitting at Gate C24 of the Philadelphia airport. Only 45 more minutes before I can board my flight back to San Francisco. If I don't make it home tonight, I am certainly going to die trying.
And as I'm too tired to work - wait, doesn't this travel time actually count as work? - I've decided to uploaded all of my pictures for everyone's viewing pleasure.
On Sunday, I attempted a run. It was 7:00 p.m. And I thought that it would have cooled down enough by that hour to attempt physical activity outdoors.
But I was wrong. True, I was already coming from behind with the jetlag. For all intents and purposes, by 7:00 p.m. on Sunday in Madrid I hadn't really slept since Thursday night in San Francisco. Except for a few naps here and there on the plane, coupled with a jolt to 9 hours in timezone changes, I was wiped. And my legs felt it.
But the heat itself was still pretty paralyzing. And the air? It felt like I was smoking every cigarette in the pack at once, while I was running. I mean, I was WHEEZING! I had to stop and walk to catch my breath! Now, I have certainly stopped running to walk from time to time, but it is normally out of mental weakness. On Sunday evening, however, it was because I couldn't facilitate a transport of oxygen from the air to my lungs.
It was a scary three miles. 10-minute pace, maybe. But not EZ...
I couldn't really fit in a run on Monday, because I spent the day in meetings. And then I spent most of Tuesday either working or exploring the city. Which left me only this morning to try one more time. So even though I went to bed extremely late, I rose at 8:00 a.m. I donned my little running shorts and packed my adorable little camera in my ID pouch. (And yes, Dad, I also packed my ID. And a few Euros for cab fare in the event that there was a repeat wheezing performance.)
But there was not a repeat performance. Madrid in the morning is cool and breezy. The air actually feels nice! Not too many other runners were out, but lots of older people taking walks. I decided to explore el Parque de Buen Retiro one more time so that I could check out el Palacio Cristal. I had a little bit of trouble finding it, at first, until I was stopped by an old man who asked me if I like to run...
"Te gusta correr?" he asked.
"Si, senor, me gusta correr mucho," I replied. Kind of funny, I guess. I always just assume that people who are running enjoy doing so. I quickly realized that there was no way I could continue on my run without first stopping to talk this man, and so I did.
He told me about the park, and then asked me if I run here often, because he has never seen me before. To which I basically replied that I don't live in Madrid, and that this is only the second time I have ever ran in this park.
Of course, the man assumed I lived elsewhere in Spain. So when I replied, "No vivo en Espana, soy de los Estados Unidos" he repeated, "No me digas!" six or seven times. (For the non-Spanish speaking, he basically said, NO WAY!) So it turns out that this man's son lives in San Rafael, which isn't too far from San Francisco. It is amazing that I know this, however, as I am still not too familiar with the majority of the Bay Area.
We talked a little more, and he told me my Spanish was very good. (MENTIRAS!!!! - LIES!!!!!) He asked me what I did while I was in Madrid, and couldn't believe that I was only here for a few days. He then directed me to el Palacio de Cristal - my final tourist destination of the trip - and then we I was on my way again. But before we said good-bye, he kissed my hand and both of my (sweaty) cheeks. He said he is glad to know I will be returning in October, and that he will keep an eye out for me in the park.
With that, I was back on my run. Legs strong, breathing well, and a smile on my face, as I realized that I was pretty glad I was going to be back in October, too.
NOTE: I'm having trouble with accents and tildes. Lo siento!
I had friends in college who could not bear to sit alone at the dining hall. Moreover, they couldn't bear to know that on occasion, I myself would sit there alone. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. Late dinner. They would always ask, "Why?" Or, "How?"
The answer was always quite simple, really: I was hungry. No one else was.
For the most part, these friends still can't comprehend the general comfort I have achieved with my solidarity. I think it is often because these are my friends who argue with boyfriends over what to buy while grocery shopping - Healthy Choice Frozen Pizza? Or Meat Lovers Digiorno? Wine? Or beer?
The answer, again, to me always seems quite simple: Buy both.
Maybe it's because my parents, still together after all of these years, maintain separate bank accounts. And pay for their own vacations that they take without the other. And prepare their dinners differently. The salad bowl on the dinner table at their house always has another little bowl of cucumbers next to it, because Mom likes cucumbers and Dad doesn't. They have maintained separate interests throughout their entire relationship.
Come to think of it, one reads my blog (guess who?) and the other doesn't...
Of course, I do often wonder how their relationship has made it this far. And I often wish they had more in common. But to be honest, I'm pretty damn proud of my mother for refusing to pretend she likes golf.
Because I am reaching an age when I am finding so many of my female friends conforming to the likes and interests of their boyfriends and husbands. At times it seems that many of them have forgotten to maintain a sense of self within their relationship.
I know I am not the best at listening to them work through the quibbles of their relationships. Perhaps that's because I don't understand why they don't just buy what they want to buy at the grocery store. Or go see the movie that they want to see on Saturday afternoon. Or take a trip to visit their friend without their boyfriend in tow...
It has been a long time since I had to ask Him what He was doing for dinner. For the weekend. For New Year's Eve. Perhaps I'm just insensitive.
But it does follow rather naturally that I am spending my first time in Europe, without a travel companion. Exploring by myself. Snapping photos by myself. Eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner, by myself. I am sitting at a cafe on the other side of the world with no one to tell how entirely exciting and simultaneously depressing it is to be in Madrid. Alone. Because right now, it would really be nice to share this bottle of wine with someone special.
But if I have to drink it by myself, I will. Salud!
Can you believe it? Two weeks ago my boss called me into her office to see how I felt about taking on a new project. I was getting a little bored again, as my other projects were under control. And since I apparently LIKE having too much to do, she noticed that when I actually have time to stop and take a coffee break, I become rather unhappy.
What else would you expect from me? I'm a marathoner! For whatever reason, I enjoy pain.
So to thwart my pending job dissatisfaction, she awarded me my first international project. OK, that's not the only reason why she gave me this project. And it's not the only reason I took it, either. But if you're going to work late at night and on weekends, well it just makes sense to put in those hours while residing in a foreign country.
So, I expedited my passport and picked it up on Monday afternoon. I had a busy week - running, spinning, and yoga-ing on top of dinners with friends and full days at the office. So on Friday afternoon I came home from work and did three loads of laundry. I packed my bags, and then went out until 4:30 a.m. with some friends. The Super Shuttle picked me up for SFO at 5:15 a.m. I boarded a plane to PHL and connected onto MAD.
I arrived this morning at 7:30 a.m.
Once through customs, I picked up some Euros, hailed a cab, and successfuly communicated where I needed to go with the cab driver. We conversed in broken Spanish while we rode to El Gran Hotel Canarias. I checked in, took a shower, and tried to go back to sleep for an hour. But I am apparently too excited. So I headed downstairs to the Desayuno Buffet before picking up an adapter for my laptop's power supply.
And here I am! Is my life not crazy?
So my kick-off meeting with the team is tomorrow. I have all day today to explore Madrid before meeting up with everyone for dinner at 9:00 p.m. (Not sure how I'm going to last that long...) Right now, I'm headed to el Museo Nacional del Prado, and I have no idea what's after that.