Monday, April 18, 2016

Illinois River to River Relay Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 7th Edition 
88 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Illinois River to River Relay
Place: Southern Illinois
Miles from home: 2135
Weather: High of 86, sunny, humid

The impetus for this race was many-fold. However, one of the main reasons was to experience a race which was a candidate for the book I am writing about must-run races in North America. Another was to take on a difficult feat with my buddy, Mosi.

Mosi and I have been trying to get our schedules to coordinate ever since we met over 7 years ago at a marathon in California. However, during that time, in spite of our efforts, nothing came to fruition. When I approached him about taking on this challenging relay here in Southern Illinois we finally had at opportunity which fit.

I have had some experience taking on a multiple-legged relay with just one partner.  I also have had the opportunity of conquering on a 202-mile relay by myself. So, logistics-wise I felt I had this one in the bag. Given the relay was 80 miles, I figured that if we tackled three legs at a time (roughly ten miles each) it would give each runner just enough time to recover from their run without getting too sore or stiff while waiting. Mosi would run approximately 39 miles and I would run 41. Breaking the legs up this way was about the easiest way to doll out the miles and get them as close to even as possible. Whether they evened out in difficulty from leg to leg was not to be trifled with. I can say unequivocally this plan would have worked just fine in a vacuum. I say "would" because we were not expecting a high of 86 degrees and unrelenting sun. But I will get to that in a bit.

Another perk of this adventure was staying the night at a former law school professor of mine's house in Carbondale. I hadn't seen Peter in 14 years and being able to catch up with one of my favorite educators of all-time was an absolute treat. His house was also located in close proximity to many of the places we needed to go which was just an added bonus. So, after a steak dinner for both of Mosi and me, we were off to dreamland. Forget carbs, it is all about protein.

Race Morning: 

We were scheduled for a 7:15 start. In hindsight, I wish we had started an hour earlier. Then again, we didn't know it would be 86 degrees. (Sensing a theme, here?)  Plus, given my complete nocturnal nature, needing to get up any earlier than necessary was not on the list of wants for the day. As such, 7:15 seemed perfectly fine. We awoke in the 5 o'clock a.m. hour somewhere, moseyed into the car, and headed toward the start. We perfectly allocated just the right amount of time to get Mosi to the start and for me to cool my heels for a few minutes. I bid him farewell, gave him a high-five and watched him head off to begin our trek.

Mosi's First Leg: 10.15 miles (All distances according to website.)

I got a sense of how each run went for the Ebony of Team Ebony and Ivory as we chatted post-race.  Nevertheless, my recaps of his experiences will not do them justice.  Suffice it to say that this first set of runs was the easiest of the day for all of us. According to the Mosi and the website, there were no three consecutive runs which rated "easier." Throw in the fact that these were run in the morning, when the temperature was still 55 degrees, as well as mostly in the shade and Mosi had it made. This is verified by the fact he was cruising along at barely over 7 minutes per mile. I told him before we started to take it easy. He needed to remember we were running 40 miles today.

He didn't listen to me.


It was a bit of a clusterbomb to get through the first series of turns with the car as everyone seemed to have the early-in-the-race jitters and was pushing the brakes like it was the plunger on Press Your Luck. No Whammies!

Fortunately, the cars/vans were given a 5 minute head start on the runners or otherwise Mosi would have caught me at the first exchange. This is no knock on anyone in particular, either runners or organizers, as we were on a narrow winding road and we needed to be safe.  I just wanted to get to my exchange ASAP and get ready.

I finally got to where I would take over the baton and parked the car. I readied my gear which included a Camelbak Circuit pack and got the car ready for Mosi to towel off and get going himself once he finished.  I figured it would take him about 1:15 for this first set of legs. In fact, I hoped that was what we would both average for each segment as that would get us a 9:59:59 for an overall time. Ambitious, but I knew we had it in us. Sure enough, at 1:14 and change, here he was. Looked fresh as a daisy, too.  Even though he admitted he had gone out too fast. Listen to the old guy, Mosi.

My First Leg: 10.3

I took off knowing it would require me running a few miles to get to feeling right. Let's just say that not everything on the ole body has been working well. Not with the broken hand on Christmas and the 103 degree pneumonia in March. But I would be OK. Of course, I start off and immediately go up a hill. Not a big one but a hill nonetheless. Not soon thereafter I had someone pass me. Our rule for the day was it didn't matter who passed us. We had to remember that virtually everyone else was running ten miles total (most teams had at least 8 member to their team.)  However, when you are a competitor it is one thing to think this. It is another thing entirely to follow-through with sane plans.

I did my best to simply stay on target. Before long, I caught the gentleman who passed me and said good job to him. Then the course sloped down a bit and I finally felt half-decent. Soon thereafter, we reached the first exchange and the runner I had passed sprinted past me to hand off. I doubted that would be the last time that would happen on this day (and it most assuredly was not.) I also didn't realize this would be my easiest run of the day.

The next two legs presented quite a bit more hills. But I was still fresh and it wasn't too hot. Yet. I ran with a few people whose teams I would see a great deal of throughout the day. In fact, the 6:20 Club Team pulled up to me and said; "Hey, we are behind you and are a team of 8. Can you please slow down?"  I laughed and said if they would carry my water I would think about it.

I crested the last little hill, handed the baton to Mosi, and he handed the keys to the car to me.  We were 25% done for the day.

Mosi's Second Leg: 9.95 miles

Right out of the gate, Mosi had a monster hill to climb.  Then he settled into some flatter sections before some rollers at the end of his three legs. He told me that even though we had talked about pacing, he felt he wasn't going to be the one to "let us down." As such, seeing me come into the aid station right on time for our overall goal, he took off likewise. I told him afterward that finishing alone would be an accomplishment.  Even though we had an "A" goal, the caveat to any goal was we finished healthy.


I was caught once again in a bit of a bottleneck and this time Mosi actually did catch up to me at the first exchange. I jumped out and gave him a high five. The problem is, this meant I had even less time than planned to get to my exchange, change clothes, get lubed up, etc. Suffice it to say I was a wee bit nervous. In fact, I had barely parked, gone to the bathroom and got everything ready when here my teammate came chugging down the hill. Here I go with Leg Two!

My Second Leg:  9.9 miles

I was happy to know that this leg was a little shorter than my first one.  There were also no majorly noticeable hills. Well, I take that back. The River to River Relay is virtually nothing but hills. There
are few times when you are on a flat. So it all comes down to a matter of perspective. In this instance, there were no hills that I audibly groaned at when I saw them.  Maybe a slight whine.

This section however, was the time where  I was 100% completely exposed to the elements. With a bright hot sun overhead, and running on open roads, I could tell I was slowing more than I would like. I was trying to focus on just getting to the exchange but then I realized that Mosi's next run would be his shortest of the legs all day. It would also be the easiest. This meant I would have even less time than normal to rest and recover.  I shouldn't have thought that far ahead but when you have to plan and conserve, there are many factors you must consider.

In both my first leg and this one I passed double-digit runners. I tried my best to encourage them all.  Unfortunately, some had headphones in and I didn't want to waste my energy if they couldn't hear me. So I would often just give a thumbs up as I passed, hoping it was encouraging to them.  At the same time, I hoped, out of the corner of their eye, they did not think I was giving them the bird.

Mosi's Third Leg: 8.85 miles

Mosi tells me that this is where he knew things were starting to get rough.  The temperature climbed dramatically and his pace did as well. If we had been able to communicate (cell reception was all but non-existent) and had a third person to handle driving duties, it might have been wise to break up the legs differently. Unfortunately, all we had was our feet to get us to the next exchange.


I had a relatively smooth going through to get to next exchange.  Good thing, as Mosi's legs here was much shorter than the others, as I mentioned. I parked and wandered over to the exchange area. Some lovely volunteers had a little picnic table with a umbrella and I asked if I could join them. Given the heat of the day, this respite was necessary. I couldn't take advantage of the bathrooms or the country store nearby as I simply couldn't risk missing Mosi. When he came in, we exchanged our normal pleasantries to tell each other how we felt, where the car was, etc. He then told me he was baked. I knew it was just getting hotter and Mosi runs in heat better than I do.


My Third Leg: 11.1 miles

I wanted to get this leg done as soon as possible. Perhaps that had me taking it out too fast at the beginning. The nice steep downhill assuredly didn't help me in holding back. All that was on my mind was that when I finished this leg, we both had 30 miles under out belts. I did the math and could see that unless we had a herculean effort in both of our last legs, we probably were not going to break 10 hours like we had wanted. But if we were able to keep everything in check then sub-11 was no problem.

My first portion of this section went fine. Not great but fine. Every once in a while a runner from another team might catch me and chat for a bit. I wanted to be friendly but I also wanted to save my energy. It is hard to do both. The second portion of this leg was just about the same. Slower pace, friendly runners. Then when I began the last portion I began to feel the heat. I felt like what Mosi had described at the end of his last leg. With two miles left in this leg I took a quick walking break and drank heartily from my Camelbak. It seemed to help and I powered forward. With one mile left, I knew I needed to take another walking break. As I took this break and made a turn I was presented with a rather cruel uphill. As I began moving again, my legs seized up. I came to a dead stop.

I was offered water by one runner and more from another. I knew, however, that lack of water was not the problem. It was a complete lack of salt that I had tried to balance throughout the race. I had the energy. I could powerwalk. But if I tried to run, the entire quad just shot through like lightning with searing pain. I knew that stopping here wasn't an option. I had to suck it up, walk, and hopefully get ready for my last three legs.

As I approached the handoff I told Mosi what had happened. I asked him did he think he could pick up one of my legs for me. Instead of him doing three and me three, if he could do two and then one for me and then repeating it, we could finish this. I knew he was tired but I also knew at this point I couldn't do what we needed to do. It is one of the things I have learned about my body from having Gilbert's Syndrome. Once I am wrecked, there is almost no coming back from it without serious time off and calories in.  He said he could do it. I can't tell you how grateful I was for that.

Mosi's Next Two:

We didn't get to talk much about these.  I just know they did not go well for him.


With just two legs to get ahead, I knew this was going to be even tighter than normal for me to get to the exchange. As I passed Mosi while driving I told him to simply go slow. It would allow me to recuperate and would keep him from hurting himself as well.  As it had been a 41.85 to 38.15 split as originally planned, I told him this would also give him bragging rights as the numbers would be reversed. He smiled his million watt smile and away I went.

When I parked and began walking I knew I had a blister on my toe. But I didn't have time to take care of it at this point. Plus I knew I needed to walk around and get ready for my next leg. The last thing I needed to do to Mosi was not be ready.

When he rolled into the exchange, I knew something was not good. He told me he simply could not do the extra leg. I know Mosi and if there is any way he can push himself to do something, he will do it. If he said, no, then it was a definite. The only problem was that I had only brought my handheld from the car and not my normal Camelbak. It was too far to go back, and I didn't have the energy to add extra miles. I told him he had to go to the next exchange and meet me there with the car and liquid. I couldn't do two legs with just the handheld. I didn't realize how right I was.

My Next Two Legs:

Without a doubt I was a bit crestfallen I had to do these two legs. There was no fault or blame put on Mosi, I just had convinced myself of what I could do. As I began the first portion, I could get the legs moving but only for a little bit before they threaten to cramp. Let's just move ahead to the exchange and say that the next three miles were much of the same. Awful, potential cramps, followed my loathing of my situation. Anger that we had made it so far doing so well just to have the end be this death march.

When I came into the exchange, Mosi was waiting for me with water, ice-cold. I told him I needed to sit down in the car.

While there, my friend David from Evansville, IN just a few hours away, stopped by the car to offer support. He too was taking on the leg that I was about to try to get through. I asked him what his take was on this next leg and he paused.  He looked like he didn't want to tell me what he had to tell me.  "Um, it is the hardest leg of the entire course."

Well, crap. To put it in the words of the race itself  "This is the favorite section for everyone except Runner number 6."

It was not pretty. It wasn't even ugly. I wouldn't even try to sell this leg to my friends as having a
nice personality. I sheepishly trotted down the long beginning downhill before crossing the bridge and seeing the hill from hell. Starting at 379 feet and going to 729 feet there was nothing to like. I walked virtually every step of this.  My heart was lifted only by the fact that many of the runners in front of me didn't seem to be going all that much faster. Only pride pushed me forward in the last few yards to give the baton to Mosi.

Mosi's Last Leg:

Screw that jerky jerkface with his jerky being done jerkness. Oh yeah, he finished strong, too. Or something.


With just one leg to recover, there was no recovery. I had just given Mosi an hour and a half to recover and now I knew I wasn't going to get a third of that back. When I parked the car, I simply put the seat back and tried to get myself settled. Everything was cramping. My heart was racing. I looked at my shorts and saw they were covered in salt. It almost looked like a pattern on the shorts.  I had to remind myself that I had pure black shorts. My intention had been to change them throughout the day but there had simply never been enough time.

Sitting there, I had zero desire to do this last 3.3 miles. I looked at the chart. Oh, good. It is a "hard" leg. too. And then I looked in the rear view mirror. There is Mosi. Only like 7 hours earlier than I wanted him to be here.

I ambled out of the car, gave him a quick high-five as he gave me the baton, and a swat on the ass.  I then promptly shuffled out of the exchange zone. I couldn't run. I wanted to. For all the people who were cheering me on, I wanted to.  I just couldn't.

My Last Leg:

I saw we had an hour and 45 minutes to finish the race under the time limit. I figured even if I crawled the last 3 miles that would still be enough.  As before, I had energy, not much of it, but it was the cramping that was the problem. Again, I do not wish to bore you with the woe is me portion of this run, so I will simply skip ahead to the last mile where I could finally run again. Well, "jog."

As I approached the merciful end of this relay in Golconda, I could see Mosi waiting for me to run the last .2 in. I told him that would still put him less than two miles than me for the whole race and that I hated him and he was a poophead.

We trotted down the final stretch to more than a few cheers from the teams who had finished, many I recognized from the run and had passed us in our last ten miles. I was a little ashamed to be ambling in after such a solid effort earlier in the day but the fact I was upright was an accomplishment in itself. As we neared the finish, I could hear another team coming up behind us. I looked at Mosi and said "There is no way in hell I am letting them pass me." I hobbled forward at double time and held off what was undoubtedly a great group of people who I had no intention of finishing after.

We held the baton aloft together, took a few steps, and crossed the finish line. I stopped my watch, and then embraced Mosi in a hug. Eleven hours and 48 minutes after we started, we could finally sit down.

Well, not just yet as a line of well-wishers had gathered. The last thing I wanted to do was seem rude to those who had stopped by to wish us congratulations. But I also thought it would be rude if I pitched forward as I passed out from exhaustion. So after a few conversations, I excused myself and sat down. Mosi, who doesn't exactly like the limelight, was forced into being the spokesperson for a bit. Thankfully, he had his wits about him a tad more than I did at this point.

Within a few minutes, I was able to get moving again, albeit slowly. We spoke to the race director, Brad Dillard, and told him what a wonderfully put together race he had with excellent volunteers and staff. Virtually every runner we encountered was affable and friendly, whether they knew we were a two man-team or not. It is no secret why this race completely fills, year in and year out, within minutes of its registration opening.

We were sincerely grateful to Brad for allowing us to compete as a two-man team as we knew he often gets such requests. I think, like all things in life, he looked at the totality of the circumstances and decided this one time would be worth the exception. We can only hope that we made everyone comfortable with their decision.

Next year is the 30th running of this race.  Maybe Mosi and I will come back with a few more people in our van to hand off to!

End total: Mosi - 38.15; Dane - 41.85.  Not that anyone's counting.  :)


Buttercup said...

Our team saw you guys on the race course. What an awesome accomplishment. There are teams each year that do not finish that have eight runners on the team. You both are unbelievable runners. Team suck it up buttercup salutes you

mwj said...

Awesome job I ess post of the team that finished right behind you. I had no idea it was just two of you. Much respect.

Unknown said...

Saw you guys on the course and had a chance to talk with your running partner. You both represent the spirit and yet the humility that makes us proud to call ourselves runners and glad that we put on the Relay. It changed my life and it continues to change others lives.
God Speed!
Keith Kibler
River to River Runners Club