Monday, June 15, 2009

(Solo) Sawtooth Relay Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 4; 14th Edition
384.3 miles raced in 2009

Race: Sawtooth Relay
Place: Stanley to Ketchum, ID
Miles from home: 357 miles 
Weather: 30-50s; mostly rainy

I did not even know the Sawtooth Relay existed until I was doing a book signing at Shu's Idaho Running Company back in April. I saw a flyer for the race and noticed it was "only" ~62 miles. Figuring this would be a fun adventure to try solo I was curious how much convincing of the RD it would take to allow me to do so. I then realized there was a solo option for the race already on the flyer. I guess it won't take much convincing at all! I looked to see if it would fit in my schedule, and it did oh so snugly between an aqauthlon in California and the Mt. Evans Ascent in Colorado on consecutive weekends. The question was whether I could handle three such extremely different events in such a short time span. After figuring that you only live once and I should just give it a whirl I mentioned to Shu's I wanted to give this a try. Shu's then offered to be my "sponsor" for the race and I was only happy to help advertise such a wonderful store. And like that I was signed up!(Ironically, unforeseen events had me cancelling both my aquathlon in June and the Mt. Evans Road Race. Silly life. Always getting in the way.)

My biggest fear on race day was the potential for heat and sunlight. The entirety of the race course would be run out in the open with no tree cover to mention. I have well-documented my struggles with running in the heat and am greatly jealous of those who handle it far better than I do. However, as the days approached, the entire Idaho and Utah areas were dealing with unprecedented chilly and rainy weather. I remember last summer (my first in UT) how I commented to a friend that I hadn't seen rain in 33 days (thank you, trusty running log!) Well, now I was going on two straight weeks where it rained at least once every day. I know people love Seattle, but I am sorry - I could not deal with that constant threat of rain.

So now I had to figure out how I was going to stay dry and non-chafed through nearly 100k of running. (I mentioned previously I was hoping to turn the 61.9 mile race into a 62.1 miler for purposes of running an official 100k but alas, it was not to be.) I had given thoughts to running the race unaided but rules stipulated I needed a support crew. A friend in Idaho mentioned to me she had a co-worker who was always up for adventure and would ask to see if she would wish to crew for me. Presto change-o, Jessica and her sister Melody were my two-person crew! Now all I had to do was run 62 miles, in the rain up to 8,701 feet.

Race: I had a scheduled 4 AM starting time. Yuck. Double yuck when that calls for a 3 AM wake-up call. You get the triumvirate of yuck when, try as you might, you cannot fall asleep until after 1 AM. Oh well, 2 hours of sleep should be enough, right? Right?!

After picking up my packet at the Stanley Elementary school and seeing how remote this little location actually was, I was still perplexed how we couldn't add .2 of a mile to its beginning. Oh well. 61.9 miles promised to long enough.

With teams leaving every 15 minutes starting at midnight and going all the way until 9 AM, there promised to be plenty of opportunities to get to know several different groups of teams along the way. As they counted down until the 4 AM start time, an announcer read off all of the team names. Part of the fun of running a relay like this is the creativity put into the creation of your team's name. "We've Got the Runs" and "Tortoises in Training" were just a few of the various humorous names in my starting wave. Then the announcer said "Dane Rauschenberg. Oh, that's a solo guy! Let's hear it!" and those in attendance gave me a hearty cheer that warmed the air (~38 degrees at the start of the race, just an FYI). I was ready to get rolling.

Leg 1: 5.96 miles
Time: 54:26

Pace: 9:08

Pit-stop: 1:30

The first leg was going to be nothing more than trying to see how well I could keep myself in check for the entire race. My desire was to finish right around 10 hours for the day but this was just loosely based on a few different races I had run. In a 12 hour race at the Presque Isle Endurance Classic, run in weather that was more or less perfect for me (and is probably my greatest running achievement to date) I had run 84 total miles. But that was on flat ground at no elevation. So I did some extrapolation and figured that 62 miles in 10 hours at elevation was totally doable. That worked out to around 9:45 minutes per mile for the entire distance. Now, I simply had to decided if I was going to try and hold that earlier in the race (very difficult to go that "slow" so early on) or go slightly faster knowing I would tire later. Throw in the fact that when I had more energy and would be more fresh here in the beginning would be where I would be dealing with 90% of the uphill. Lots of factors to, um, factor in here. So I just decided to run!

I hooked up with about three different runners during this first leg and either pulled away or got pulled away from as I maintained as steady a pace as possible. Inevitably the discussion would turn to teams and I would have to admit that I was indeed doing it solo. One of the runners had mentioned they had heard me speak at the Ogden Marathon and were very much looking forward to getting my book. That was flattering indeed as you are talking to a person who is out there doing the same tough running you are, even if they are doing it in relay form.

For this first leg, I told my crew to simply go ahead to the relay exchange as I would not need any food or fluids for the first leg. As I approached the exchange, I realized that it was still pitch-black out and I had no idea where they were parked. Even though Melody snapped a picture of me, I was clueless as to where they may be.

Finally they flagged me down as I looked around the parked cars and I was able to grab a quick drink of water and sneak a peek at the race program to get an idea of what was ahead. Jessica came armed with a huge bottle of water, a huge bottle of Gatorade and food in both hands. I laughed and told them that from this point on I would simply meet them at the car, after the relay exchange point, and grab whatever I needed. They needn't bring the entire pantry to me, no matter how sweet that was!

I could see the next leg was shorter than the first and with less uphill. Even though I felt I had gone out a touch too fast, I decided it would be good to take advantage of some energy here and go where I could. I swallowed an energy gel and headed off into the darkness.

Leg 2: 5.83 miles
Time: 49:40

Pace: 8:31

Pit-stop: 0:55

More of the same running in surreal settings in gorgeous areas was what I had in store for me on this leg. The sun was beginning to tickle the darkness out of the night sky and hints of the mountains I had seen the previous evening were developing in front of me. I was eagerly anticipating the beauty that the day would bring and knew that once the sun was out, this would be a site to see.

I ran mostly alone in this leg, passing a few people, with me wondering when they had started, and whether I was going too fast this early in the race. With no mile markers to help gauge me and only a watch on my wrist, I needed to rely only on my own pacing. My crew met me at around the halfway point and I could tell I was faster than the previously leg but felt quite good. A swig of energy drink and I was on my way.

As I approached the second exchange, my girls were in position and we wasted no time throwing some cheese crackers in my mouth, downing a nice cool swig of water and heading on down the road. I told them to ready my sunglasses for the end of the next leg. Oh how cute that idea seems right now.

Leg 3: 5.03
Time: 43:00

Pace: 8:33

Pit-stop: 0:46

The third leg called for a little more uphill than the second but was a shorter distance overall. What would become the norm for almost the remainder of the race, my crew would drive about 2 miles ahead and hand me anything I needed before moving on to the next exchange position. About halfway through this third leg, I could see the idea of sunglasses was a premature one. Cloud cover had begun to move in over the mountains to my left and while the sky was brightening, all it showed was that what lay ahead was nothing but dark and menacing clouds. Well, crap.

About halfway to the middle of first half of the race, I tried to pick out what peak was Galena Summit in the foreground. However, with no geographical knowledge of the area and parks of the peaks shrouded in mist, I had no such luck. But at least I was dry, was able to remove my headlamp and soon would be tossing aside my reflective vest as well.

And now, with it not as dark, I was able to assuage my fears of getting mowed down from behind by a passing car. I am not sure why we ran on the right-hand side for the entire race but after thousands of miles run on roads facing traffic, it was very counter-intuitive to do the opposite.

I was expecting to possibly need to shed my under layer long sleeve shirt as the sun came out and the temperature rose but since neither happened my pit stop was short and sweet. The 4th leg was the shortest leg so far and I was looking forward to passing more teams ahead. I was not looking forward to the misting rain which had begun to fall, however.

Leg 4: 4.43
Time: 38:00

Pace: 8:35
Pit-stop: 1:55

I was most assuredly into a rhythm as my pace for the last three legs showed. Almost exact minutes per mile kept me humming along even as I rapidly approaching the foreboding skies ahead. At my quick interlude with my crew I put on my jacket for the first time of the day. Mere minutes later the rain really started to pour down. I told the girls to simply go ahead to the exchange and I would meet them there. I had brought another jacket (fortunately) and would spend the rest of the day alternating between the two jackets with the car heater warming and hopefully drying the one I was not wearing at the time.

The visor that Shu's had given me was proving to be extremely effective at keeping the rain out of my face and unfortunately I missed a great deal of the surroundings in this area. I could see babbling creeks and fields probably as green as they have been in decades with the sudden and constant influx of rain this area had seen in the previous few weeks. However, at the time, I could not care less about Mother Nature watering her garden and cared a whole bunch about not being soaked.

Leg 5: 5.83
Time: 52:00

Pace: 8:55

Pit-stop: 5:12

Mother Nature, however, didn't give a damn what I wanted. The rain would slow, or sometimes even stop altogether but never for very long. Into the thick of the darker clouds I had passed and there was really no end in sight to the wetness. While I was happy to not be baking in the sun I could have done without the drenched body.

The 5th leg of the course was probably the second hardest leg of the day. With zero feet of downhill and over 310 feet of climbing of the less than 6 miles runners would take this leg to the foot of the Galena summit before passing off to the unlucky sap who had drawn the short stick and had to tackle the leg 6 monster. Unfortunately, I was the only one who I could pass my slap bracelet onto here (which I did much to the delight of other runners as I handed off from myself to, well, myself shown here earlier in the race.)

I finished the 5th leg and called for my chair. I sat down, and took my soaking wet shoes and socks off. For a few minutes, the rain actually stopped as if to even the odds a little by at least allowing me to get the new dry socks and shoes on before unleashing the water demons again. I did not mind the rest and here tried to take in a PB&J sandwich, some crackers and a bite of an Energy Bar.

With a break here that lasted as long as the other four legs breaks combined, I was ready to get to the top of Galena Summit, not only the highest point of the race but over halfway mileage-wise to the end of the race (32.43 miles).

Leg 6: 5.35

Pit-stop: 3:50

I could tell right away that there would be points where power walking would be just as fast as running as I began the 1331 foot climb to Galena Summit. When I would pass someone or get passed, I would always have the same exchange: "What bet did you lose to get this portion of the course?" It always got a laugh and made me smile as well.

Two miles up, my crew stopped and grabbed quick shot of me motoring up the hill. I was already quite ready to take a quick break.

If they had simply panned to their left a little bit, and the fog and mist had abated a touch, they could have captured what us runners had already climbed.

I continued to climb and was surprisingly warm. I figured as we approached 9,000 I would feel a chill. Heck there was still plenty of snow on the cliff walls around us. Then I realized it had finally stopped raining for the last mile or so and my body temperature was finally coming back up. As it probably never reached the 50 degree mark for the first half of the race, I had visions that once we crested the summit and headed back towards the finish line in Ketchum, that perhaps the mountains were holding back all the rain and crappy weather on one side and the beautiful weather on the other. This made me smile. That and the fact that I can fake happy even at high elevation.

A few well-timed power walks and running surges had me gaining on just about everyone in front of me. I passed one gentleman at the peak and with .15 of a mile left from that peak until the exchange; he must have been bothered by this too much as he sprinted towards that point with reckless abandon. I simply ran through the exchange point and onto my waiting crew at the car.

Leg 7: 6.02
Time: 52:10

Pace: 8:40
Pit-stop: 5:30

Doing a systems check I noticed I was now a little cooler than I had been and threw on the lighter weight of my two jackets. I fueled up here with some more crackers and some fluids. I was quite surprised how little sweating I was doing and also quite pleased. I had brought what I thought was ample drink and could tell I was not going to come close to consuming even half of it. Hindsight always has perfect vision but I can see now I should have been taking in more calories, regardless of the lower sweat rate. But I was 52% done with the race and ready to get home.

I began to run the backside of Galena Summit with its 1,401 feet of downhill in this leg and almost immediately was hit with a chill. I flagged down my crew as they passed me and asked for my heavier jacket. Who says you need to stop running (or even see for that matter) to change clothes?

This section began the part of the race where I was passing less runners and getting passed by more. Even knowing they were relay runners and had run, at most, 6 miles hours ago, it was still difficult to keep myself in check. Plus, even though I expected to float down the hills here, I was working harder than I expected. My quads were more sore than I thought they would be and with no runners in sight very often I was only guessing that my pace was good.

Two miles in I was dying of thirst and quickly stopped to grab a drink from my crew.

The next few miles were tough on me as I could feel my energy bleeding from my very rapidly. Granted I was running at an enhanced clip down the side of the mountain but I was finding it harder to keep my legs moving.

When I fit the relay exchange I flipped onto the hood of my crew's car and cursed the rain which had begun to come down again.

Leg 8: 5.09
Time: 49:00

Pace: 9:38
Pit-stop: 3:30

I tried to get out of the exchange station sooner but simply could not find the energy to do so. I had put on an ear warmer as the temperature had seemingly dropped again. This worked two-fold as it cut out all sound around me and allowed me to focus inwardly. Of course then I had to be extra careful not to swerve into the road and get plastered by a vehicle behind me.

As I continued down the hill from Galena Summit, this time going down another 360 feet, I was all alone. No one in front of me and no one behind me. After a few miles I saw my crew pulled over to the side and I desperately needed a break.

I leaned against the roof of the car and just stood there for a few seconds trying to catch my breath. I knew when I finished this leg I only had 17 miles to go. Even with my slowing pace I thought I might have a chance to break 10 hours. I would be nowhere close to the course record which I thought was 9:32. This was both liberating and maddening. Earlier I felt that if I had a good day I might have a shot at breaking the course record. However, the lack of sleep and the rain made sure I was not going to have a good day. On the other hand, with no record to break I felt free to walk more, stop more and make sure I simply kept moving. Fortunately, I did not know that the course record actually had a pace of 9:32 per mile and that the time for the whole course was 9 hours and 43 minutes. If so, I might have made an attempt to break that and today was not my day. But I digress. It was time to move on.

Leg 9: 4.64
Time: 49:00

Pace: 10:34

Pit-stop: 8:00

I was really looking forward to this leg as it was one of the shorter ones of the day and when it was all done I had about a half marathon distance left to run. Much to my chagrin, however, this is where the rain really picked up again. After a mile or so, it stopped but mentally it was taking its toll.

I was using the stops with my crew in a bad way - as a reason to stay stopped. I am glad that it was difficult to bring out my chair from their car or I would have asked for it more often. This is the death knell for a runner and my crew was sweet enough and inexperienced in crewing enough to probably have let me sit there as long as I wanted when they should have prodded me forward. But like I said, the chair was not out and I could not linger forever. No matter how tired I was, I always left the small stops with my crew with a smile!

However, at the end of this leg, I was done. I called for the chair, asked for a Strawberry Quick and my box of cheese crackers. I needed calories and I needed them bad. Spending eight minutes sitting, resting, drinking and eating were crucial here. I spent some energy exchanging some banter with a few runners as well as we all enjoyed the fact that no matter how hard the day may be, we were out enjoying life. I finally goaded myself into action but the time sitting had made the legs stiff. As I needed to walk for a bit to make sure the food stays down this wasn't a problem at all.

Leg 10: 6.13
Time: 1:10:00

Pace: 11:25
Pit-stop: 5:00

The start of the 10th leg, which just so happened to be the longest leg of the whole course, began with a quick downhill and then what seemed like a mountain of an uphill. I decided to walk until the base of that hill and then begin my jogging. Well, I underestimated how long it would take to get to that hill and after 11 minutes of walking I had only gone about .75 of a mile. Time to get going!

Even though I knew the lighter jacket would not be warm enough for the long haul of this leg, I put it on for the start simply because it was warmer than the heavier (and wetter) one.

Before long I was soaked in this one as well and figured that even the one that was more wet would be better at cutting the chill of the day.

This leg seemed to go on forever. As I saw my crew waiting for me around halfway through, I decided that stopping was something I needed to avoid and waved them on to the end of the leg. If I was tired I would simply walk, not stop, and keep moving forward. The day was getting long. Little things were getting annoying for no reason (or little reason.) This is when you know, as an ultra-runner, you need to be done for the day.

Crankiness is a sure sign of energy levels fading. However, soon the calories I took in during the last break took hold and I began to move again. Even with the long walk break to start the leg off I was once again moving along at a good pace. Soon I saw the telltale "Caution: Runners on Road" sign which preceded every exchange point and my spirits lifted. Just under 8 miles to go!

Leg 11: 4.97
Time: 52:50

Pace: 10:38

Pit-stop: 2:30

I made this stop as brief as I could, even though I did sit down again. I polished off a bottle of Mountain Dew and realized for the first time how few calories I had taken in during the day. Live and learn.

One of the more peculiar portions of the race happened about half way through this leg. As I began to gain ground on one particular runner I decided to take a small walk break. I knew I was going to need one soon so I felt it was best to do it now, pass the runner and then keep on running. I did not want to pass him and then begin walking. I might not necessarily be competing with this relay but I have always felt that if you wish to get in someone's head as a competitor you can never let them catch you once you have passed them.

So, I took the little walk break, just as this runner came out of his own break. When I began running again, he had gone around a curve. Once I was able to make a visual on him again he had begun to cross the road. He now hopped into a van and another male runner who had not been there before, seemed to be running in his stead. As we were running the same pace I could not make up any ground on him (about 100 yards in front of me) to make a query into what had happened. About a mile later, again around a turn, I saw this runner hop into the same van and then a woman appeared where he had been. I was completely stunned. Were they really cheating in leg 11 of a race where it was quite obvious they would be finishing in the bottom third of runners anyway? Not to mention that there were no real prizes given out for teams that won, let alone finished umpteenth in their division.

I never got an answer to my question as they were able to put further distance between me and themselves before the end of the leg. At the very least they kept me thinking about something else for a while and the huge drop in my pace for this lap shows the results.

As I came into the final exchange, I knew I would not be able to see my crew until the end. I yelled to Melody to grab my hand-held water bottle and some drink for me. (Note the completely cloudy skies and all-around uckiness just a mere 2.64 miles from the finish.)

I then went through the exchange and leaned against a pole as my crew filled my bottle. I mentioned that I think a team had cheated and they both nodded their heads in agreement. Apparently, they had been quite confused themselves how certain runners they had not passed while driving would pass them when they were sitting. I would like to think that we all just misunderstood what was happening and for the time being I am simply going to believe we did.

I took off my jacket, ear warmers, and gloves and handed the dripping garments to the girls. I wanted to carry as little weight as possible over the last few miles. Thanking them for everything I told them I would see them in about 30 minutes.

Leg 12: 2.64
Time: 28:42

Pace: 10:52

Within half of a mile, every single cloud was gone from the sky. The rain stopped, the sun beat down and I laughed out loud. Literally. I mean it. How could it go so quickly from crappy weather to a beautiful day? And with 2 miles left to go?! Regardless I found myself quite spent. Running along a bike path, the small but abrupt undulations brought me to a slow walk every time. Four of five teams passed me in these final miles and most I recognized as teams that had started at the same time as I had about 10 hour earlier. I was bummed I had not been able to hold them off but was getting elated to be done.

The final miles were a reflection on the day's work and how I was quite pleased with my efforts. Nevertheless, my tired but was ready to be finished. Entering Atkinson Park I could hear a band playing in the distance. Some helpful volunteers guided me across the street and stopped traffic.

Here I would like to pause to say that the volunteers and race people did a wonderful job of cheering on runners, providing assistance and just generally being cheerful, in spite of the fact that they too were stuck out in the rain for hours and hours. Kudos to you, Sawtooth Relay volunteers and workers. We all appreciate your hard work, even if we didn't have the energy to thank you then.

Some flags appeared ahead and a cruel ankle-breaking 270 degree turn revealed the final 50 meters. As I approached the finish, someone had radioed ahead my number and the announcer let everyone know I was a solo runner. A cheer erupted from the large crowd assembled near the end and I smile and waved to those in attendance. A few steps later and I was done.

10 hours, 36 minutes and 59 seconds after the odyssey began it was done. I won the solo race and beat my fair share of teams as well (exact numbers to be posted here later).

Only now, after the race is done and I look back do I wish certain things had happened differently. If I had know that the 3rd fastest time ever run here was just 5 minutes faster than mine, I am pretty sure I would have sped up some. However, even when we have regrets, and with running there are few races where we don't think we could have run just a little faster we can still be pleased with our efforts. And truth be told, I was quite pleased with mine.

For my efforts, I was fortunate enough to best the weather, the elevation and the other solo runners this year to take first in the Solo runners’ category. More importantly, I got to test my limits again to see what I was made of, see a beautiful part of the country I had never before laid eyes upon and meet some really great salt of the earth type people.

So for those who asked, "Did you do anything fun this weekend?" I can say, "Yep."


Chisholm Deupree said...

What a day !! Great run, and recounting !

ilovesteaks said...

Great job, this recap has a Forrest Gump feel to it!

Seth said...

Hey Dane,

Great job. It was great seeing you and cheering you on along the way.

That is VERY odd about the cheating. I really don't understand why anyone would cheat for the relay. There is truly nothing to be gained by it in this case.

Anonymous said...

Great job, Dane! I am exhausted just reading this. Congrats on a fantastic finish and the win!

BTW, KY is having a 200 mile relay (The Bourbon Chase) in October. It would be great to have you run it with us!

Loreneo said...

Dane, Solo Sawtooth is amazing. It was sooo cold and windy, your recap must have a glaze of happy on it. I remember it much differently, oh wait... our team of six took a few hours longer than your solo. ahh...we have lots to learn ....little grasshoppers that we are. Congrats on your great effort!

Bob McLaughlin said...

I was on one of the teams that started with you at 4am. When they announced you as a solo I thought "you got to be kidding". I saw you a couple more times during the day and thought you had a great attitude. Glad you made it. Come back to our scenic state and shoot for a course record.

Runner NYC said...

Nice work, Dane! Congratulations on your win!

As you know, I would have turned in the cheaters. I think you should.

Dane said...


I had a great day!

Forrest Gump, huh? Interesting.

Great to meet you as well, Seth.

Cindy, I had heard about this relay and it definitely sounds funny.

Loreneo, That only means you got more value for your money.

Bob, it was a gorgeous state and I hope to return.

I don't know which team it was, Runner.

Ben Blessing said...

Sawtooth Relay is awesome. I was going to go back and do it again a killer out-n-back 200k this year, but military training got in the way this weekend. Check out my blog on doing it last year:

Alice said...

Wow ~ ♥ ~ Lot of heart went into this! How I love the recap ... Smile ~ ♥ ~ & that we share something in common in this race! We have both won the Solo Division of Sawtooth Relay although my pace was a whole lot slower! Blessings!