Monday, May 9, 2011

American Odyssey Relay Redux - Part I - The Night Run

 "They" say the second leg of a relay is your best one.  The first is tolerable, and the third is pure guts.  It was with this in mind that I rolled from foot-to-foot at around midnight and bounced on my toes in short-shorts and a tank top trying to stay warm, trying to will Mrs. Onthebusrunning over the crest of the final hill to the quiet parking lot that marked exchange point 16.  The time ticked close to midnight.

Trying (unsuccessfully) to sleep 
I'd tried in vein to get a powernap in after our first exchange.  But even though I felt exhausted, there's something about trying to will your body to sleep at 5:30 p.m. where it just doesn't want to cooperate.  The problem is of course compounded by train whistles, the tapping of rain on your sleeping bag, and the loudest flagpole the world has ever seen (or heard).  I checked my Facebook page and saw I had a message from a friend that said, "Hope the race went well."  I snorted.  I posted back from inside my sleeping bag, "We still have 23 hours to go...but thanks!"

As the sky darkened behind ominous clouds and night settled, the temperature may have dropped but the energy in our van was palpable.  Whatever rest we'd managed kicked in and it was time to take on the night.

And so, while I fidgeted at the handoff, I ran through the turns in my head in case the signs had disappeared.  I worried that the 6:20 pace I'd surprised myself with during the first leg might come back to haunt me here...I was still less than 10 days past running Boston.

Ready to own the night!
"This is her, I think," Paul said. 

"Team 82!" someone called out.

"Time to go," I said to no one in particular.  "Nice job, babe!" She slapped the bracelet on my wrist and I took off, leaving what seemed like the whole of civilization behind me.

Running at night makes you feel like you're flying.  I kept my handlamp trained on the road ahead of me and picked my way into the steady 1.75 mi incline I knew waited for me.  There was no shoulder on the road and every 30 seconds or so, another van would zoom by, forcing me into a neighbor's lawn.  Once they past, the night was still except for the steady plodding of my footstrikes. 

I had flashbacks to this time during the Ragnar Relay from September.  The fuse caught and I burned up the dark roads.  I carried that memory with me as I ate those hills up and kept repeating, "Strong legs, strong legs, strong legs" over and over in my head.  I wondered if I'd catch anyone on this 5.7 mi leg, but to this point, I was alone.  Two hundred meters ahead, I could see the flashing blue light marking the end of the uphills and my first left turn. 

I took a swig of water then hung a left.  I traded tall, tree-lined streets for the black Pennsylvania fields unrolling in front of me.  I started to pull back to save myself for that third leg, then decided, "Screw it.  I feel good.  Let's go."  My stride opened up, big ground eaters that sent me barreling down hills like a madman.  I felt invincible.

Off in the distance two red lights blinked.  I was confused at first because I knew there were no right turns on this loop.  Then it hit me that they were fellow runners.  I fought the urge to speed up and go after them, instead knowing that in time, they'd come back to me.

"Nice job," I offered, going by the first.  The second held up a hand of acknowledgement.

The last left turn emerged and dropped me onto the highway.  I stared up at the steep climbs that waited for me and popped a power gel for good measure.  "It's not Heartbreak," I told myself and continued pushing forward.  The searing came to my quads just as I hit the final hill and saw the bright lights of the Boonsboro high school football field.  Waved on by volunteers I threw down my finishing kick and added a couple more "kills" to my night's tally.  Paul trotted next to me to the exchange and I slapped the bracelet on him.  My work for the night was done.  Paul would loop back to the same finish area before handing off to Rohan to complete Van 1's night duty.  We secretly urged them on so that we could get to the next exchange as quickly as possible and get some much needed sleep.  Even a couple hours would do.

Ninety minutes later, I found myself unrolling a sleeping bag somewhere around 1:30 a.m. in the middle of a field in West Virginia.  I didn't care where it was or what I was sleeping on.  I pulled the cover over my head and as closed my eyes, I smiled, thinking, "they" were right.

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