We arrived at Snow Basin, the second major exchange where we would eventually meet up with the runner from Van Two and get the baton back to kick off our second set of runs, at about two o'clock. We didn't have much down time since the first set of legs for Van Two were all fairly short and they only had about five hours of running. Plus we'd hung out in Eden for a while already. We hiked from the lower parking lot to the lodge, stood in line for the Honey Buckets with the masses, and hiked back to the car. We had planned ahead to have real food with us and pulled the cooler out for pasta salad and grilled chicken. It was nice to lay down on the ground and stretch our legs. We even ended up being sucked into the merchandise tent to get our Ragnar gear - hoodies, shirts and beanies.
At this point in the day it wasn't much different than a day of training; I'd already done several days run in the morning and run at night. And this was the leg I was super excited for - my downhill leg. We checked in with the other team to see if they were on track for their run schedule, which they were, and relaxed for a bit. Steven was the smartest of us who wandered off with his blanket to find a shaded spot to try and get some sleep. The rest of us laughed and gossiped and talked about our next set of legs.
At about quarter till five o'clock we packed our gear up and got ready to head for the exchange point. This meant it was time for me to get nervous with anticipation again and start checking and double checking all my gear. I failed to mention that on my first leg my iPod decided to quit about a mile in. It doesn't like cold temperatures as much as I do apparently. I'd charged it in the car and strapped it onto my arm hoping it wouldn't fail me this time since I had a two hour run ahead of me. Garmin on my wrist, check. Heart rate monitor and Nike+ Sportband on the other, check. I filled up my water bottle to strap to my back, loaded up with my Gu for pre-run and mid-run fueling and prepped my recovery shake with water in my blender ball. I sprayed down with sunscreen and was ready.
Or so I thought...
I stood at the exchange for a long time waiting for Melissa - the last runner from Van Two. I couldn't blame her, she was running up the steep canyon road and she had told us she'd have to walk parts of it. I couldn't have done it and there's no shame in walking. The exchange was crazy and the volunteers were clearly not very adjusted to what they were doing - I suspected it was shift change. The runners were all lined up and craning necks to try and watch who was rounding the corner to see if it was their team mate or not. The more we craned our necks, the more the volunteers told us to step back. All the other exchanges had people who were radioing ahead from a half mile out when each runner would pass and they would announce the team number for those waiting. Well, not this exchange. Finally I saw her turn the corner running like a trooper. Apparently my Hubby, always the jokester, yelled "way to go, Melissa! Just one more mile!" Melissa didn't miss a beat and promptly flipped him the bird and the crowd roared with laughter. The fact that I missed this exchange completely, even standing right there, tells you how distracted I was and focused on my run. Hubby was laughing about it later and I had no idea what he was talking about.
And then I had taken the baton, slapped it around my wrist and headed off... On a journey into Hell.
The description of my leg was something like 'depart exchange 12 via utility road behind the lodge, turn right onto Snow Basin Road... blah blah blah... DOWN the canyon into Ogden Valley'. The reality of that utility road was nothing that I had planned for. It didn't just go quaintly behind the lodge that was right there, it went half a mile up the ski hill behind the lodge and was rocky as hell. I couldn't run it without twisting my ankle so it was more like a hike - a slow hike up a fifteen percent incline. I was super dejected when I realized it was a ski lift I was running next to and the road just kept going up. Finally, after what seemed like miles, the road turned back down the hill and my heart and lungs got a little breather - not to mention my legs. The worst part was the bugs - that kept hitting me in the face and sticking to the sweat there. And, of course, there was no van support on this section so I couldn't even tell anyone I needed the bug spray, which was buried in my bag in the back of the van anyway. I was miserable and had eight miles left to go.
And then I hit the snow...
Yes, SNOW! I had to climb three steps up onto the top of a large section of snow and run across the top of it. Trust me, I looked and there was no way around that snowbank that completely covered a section of the utility road. It was slushy snow - a pile which had been there for a while, cold, then melted, then cold again. I slipped and sloshed around in the ankle-deep slush on top literally cursing with each step thinking about how miserable this run would be if I had wet shoes or wet socks or both.
Once past the snow, I hit the road and was finally back to van-support. I had a section of uphill which I figured was my last and settled in for walk/run intervals to get to the top. Running is such a mental sport and I kept telling myself that I could do it and focused on the downhill reward after this little uphill section since then I would be heading back down to hook up to the main canyon highway from the little detour into the ski resort exchange point. Not long after I hit the road I saw the blessed - and now recognizable thanks to our decorating efforts - back of my van. I yelled at the top of my lungs "bug spray!" and hoped my sister who was hanging out the open driver's window could understand what I was screaming. She did and luckily had some which was more handy than mine and didn't require an unpacking of the van to get to. I stopped to get sprayed down, glad for the little rest after the uphill, and headed out again - still excited.
And man was that downhill ever fun! Seven percent downgrade - hell yes! Except it didn't last as long as I thought and about two more miles down when I hit the main highway I was back to uphill... and it was a long and steady slight uphill grade which is my least favorite. I'd rather have a super tough but short uphill that I can psych myself up about and push through. This was torture. And on top of that, we were now in an area of main highway and the support people in my van couldn't get out and cross the road to me if I needed anything. I'd already drank most of my water I was carrying, was feeling the late day heat and knew I'd need more. Since it was a long non-van support leg, there were water stations and at the first one they let me refill my water bottle and I grabbed some Powerade. About that time my calf started cramping up because I hadn't stretched as much as I should have between runs. I yelled to the van across the highway that I needed a banana and Steven chucked one across the road. I'm a total girl so I didn't catch it and it landed at my feet, broken open and smashed on one end. I ate most of it and tossed the biodegradable remains over the side of the cliff and pushed on hoping my dancing nanny who had told me the trick of eating a banana to get rid of cramps was right. Guess what, she was!
The rest of the leg translated much differently in reality than what I had envisioned based on the graphic on the leg map. It was more rolling hills with a general trend downward. So not what I had been looking forward to in the form of constant downhill! Guess I should have trained for uphill just a bit more than I had...
At the halfway point I was a wreck. I had pushed my body to lengths it had never been pushed before and I was approaching - and would exceed - the most mileage I had ever run in a twelve hour period. Not even my half marathon mileage was this long. My feet were hurting, my plantar fasciitis that I'd been babying for a week of rest prior to race day was flaring and shooting pain up my heel with every step. But I kept going because there was no way this race that I'd been dreaming about for years and training for months for was going to beat me. And then I could see the end and the last stretch of downhill waiting and knew I just needed to make it the last three miles and I could rest. I had hit a point that I needed to be by myself to struggle on my own and didn't want my van-mates to see it so I waved them on to the next exchange so Hubby could get ready for his run. I took some more Powerade from the last water station and settled in for the longest stretch of road I have ever run...
As I crested the last section of slight uphill with about two miles left to go, I looked up and saw the most beautiful view of the Ogden valley opening up below me. The sun - which was almost setting to my right - bounced off the green hills surrounding me with surreal light. And then our song from our wedding started playing on the iPod in my ears which thankfully hadn't quit on me this time. I started crying, it hit me so hard. And I'm not going to lie, I cried those last two miles almost nonstop while people continued to pass me and yell "good job" counting me as the roadkill I felt like. This was also the point I had officially sweat off all the bug spray because the bugs returned and started sticking to the sweat on my face again. Bugs are so gross!
As I came into view of the exchange I tried to pull myself together, still trudging along and telling myself I felt this way because I had just run fifteen miles in the space of twelve hours - FIFTEEN - and that I was amazing for living through it and still be running. I was able to stop the tears and focus on getting to the exchange point, looking frantically for my Honey who had changed his shirt while I was running. When he stepped up from the line of runners waiting at the exchange and I finally saw him I lost it again, slapped the baton on him and wished him luck. As he ran off looking strong I promptly broke down like a baby while my team stepped up to congratulate me. Luckily my friend Steven offered his shoulder to cry on for a moment while I composed myself. I'm sure it was awkward for him but I appreciated it so much. Then I saw my sister, though, and I lost it again. Thank god she was there for me to hug, cry with and to snap me back to reality. She told me how amazing it was that I had just done something that no one else she knows could have done, reminded me I HAD done it and it was over, and that I needed to pull myself together. Just the right combination of bitchy and supportive I needed. I stretched a tiny bit and jumped into the van because Hubby's leg was only three miles and we couldn't let him beat us to the exchange while I had an emotional fit. I put my big girl panties back on, mixed up my recovery shake and drank it while basking in what I had just accomplished. The irony that the leg I had most looked forward to during training was the one I hated the most was not lost on me. And, we were now forty minutes behind our estimated pace times between me and Melissa having to walk parts of the canyon.
We leap-frogged through the rest of the runners who all now had to wear their reflective gear because we'd entered the official night time running hours: reflective vest, head lamp and butt light all required. Everyone between me and Jose had their easy legs with short and flat mileage paralleling the highway running through the valley I'd just gotten us into and I envied every single one of them.
By the time Jose headed out on his final run it was full dark and this was his hardest and longest leg heading up to East Canyon State Park. A combination of no one paying attention to what time he actually left the exchange, several of us needing to stand in line for the Honey Buckets... again... and him running either faster or slower than his published pace, we lost him. It was surreal how every single runner from the back looked exactly the same with the exception of being able to tell which version of reflective vest they had - the vest kind or the Y-suspender kind. We went ahead of where we thought he should be and stopped to wait. Then panicked after sitting there long enough that we swore he should have passed by already and worrying that he'd already passed that spot while we dallied at the exchange. So we moved a couple of miles ahead passing what we estimated was the entire section of the runners who had just run past us at the last place and then some hoping to catch up to him. We did this three more times without ever being able to pick him out and decided we better head to the exchange assuming at this point he would beat us there.
Except when we got there, he wasn't there and I got worried. Yes, he was carrying his own water and he was a strong runner who said he didn't need anything from us when he headed out but we'd agreed we'd meet him at the halfway mark of his eight mile run to check on him. And instead we'd lost him among the other runners and ultimately abandoned him. We settled in at the exchange with Nancy, the first runner from Van Two, and waited in the freezing night air. And by freezing I mean freezing, literally. Sub forty degree temps are fabulous to run in, not so fun to stand around in with only a hoodie...
Finally we heard them announce our team number and saw Jose come down the last stretch and into the illumination of the lights. Relief! We wished Nancy and Van Two luck as they were off to run all through the rest of the night and we headed to the car to get warm, apologizing to Jose for losing him as we went.
We headed out from the exchange all very excited for some much anticipated rest we had ahead of us. As we read the directions from the race magazine about where we could go and hang out to have indoor sleeping accommodations and showers (for a price, of course) and then realized it would mean a thirty mile backtrack in the morning to get to the exchange which they recommended we get to early, we all decided it would be best to maximize the time we had to sleep and go straight to the real exchange instead of the alternate hang out location. So, we bee-lined it straight to Oakley to sleep and run again the next morning.