Saturday, May 09, 2009

2009 Running The Relay for Literacy in India

This was my second year in running The Relay, a 200 relay marathon from Calistoga to Santa Cruz. I ran it on May 2-3 to raise money for the India Literacy Project, an organization that funds literacy and social development programs in India. Given my current job, I did not have the time to raise money like last year, but my friends and family came through in the last minute. We beat my goal. They were incredibly generous. Thanks to them before the run and some after (yes, you still can donate), it made the whole weekend even more fulfilling.

18 miles may feel like a lot to most people. For a person who considers that a marathon training run, it doesn't seem all that hard. The difference is the hills. There are lots of them, some fairly steep. Then there's the element of time. You want to run it quickly. You want to pass people. You want to help your team win. You may may say, how can you win at 192nd place. Well, we were in a friendly competition with the other ILP teams. And if we were ahead on time, then we wanted to actually pass them at the finish (they had earlier starts). There's very little sleep over the 33 hour period and there's lot of time spent supporting your team and driving from place to place.

We were in Van #2 of Literally Running, so we did not have to drive up Friday night. We got together at 7am at Rina's house. She was our team organizer. Luckily for us, she is uber organized. We didn't have to worry about anything - van, food, water, sleeping arrangement, pain relievers - Rina had it all set up. Plus, she brought her laptop with projected finish times for all of us. Interestingly enough, we were within 15 minutes of her 33 hour projection.

Kumar and I knew each other. Other than Rina from last year, I never met the other guys - Raj, Hari and Vinay. It turned out that everyone got along well. It didn't hurt that we had plenty of space in a 15 person van. We were all into the fun of the run and camaraderie of the cause. In 30 short hours, we would get to know each other really well.

We got to the First Baptist Church in Napa where we would make the exchange with our Van #1 group. We learned that they were running ahead of schedule. We were as well. We got there at 10 for a 1 pm exchange. That left us with lots of time to hang out, eat cookie and have a spaghetti lunch. I even took a short 15 minute nap on the floor mats.

Here's a shot of some of us inside the church with all those delicious donated cookies in the background:

It was fun to get going, but I was running leg 12. That means I would get to finish the race, but it also meant a long wait. It was raining all morning and into the day, so I was hoping for a light rain. Luckily the time passed quickly as we would stop and root for our team members. It kept it interesting - stopping every couple of miles, taking pictures and handing off drinks.

I got lucky in running leg 12 in Petaluma. It was around sunset, so I got the rolling vineyards of Napa Valley just as the rain cleared. Since I was concerned about the wind and relative chilliness, I went with the long sleeve shirt. This leg was considered hard. Not as hard as leg 10 for Hari - very hard, but it had climbs up to 500 feet over the 5 mile leg. I enjoy hills. I love the burn as you grind up a hill. For some reason, there's a sense of fulfillment when you can power up without walking or stopping. I'm more torque than speed - not the fastest in the flats, but give me a good hill any day, and I'm game.

Here are a few shots of my first leg - leg 12:

After the handoff at the Marin French Cheese Company, we got out of there quickly to grab dinner at San Francisco. We had a few hours until 12:30 am to get the hand off from Van #1 on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge for our am run. Here's a picture of our team with the Van #2 team of the 3 R's team at the Pasta Pomodoro in SF:

We then went to the Golden Gate bridge to run our next leg. For some reason, I couldn't sleep, so I ended up doing some driving and a lot of support for my teammates. Here's a shot of a handoff between Vinay and Raj at Ocean Beach in SF:

I got to make my run right around sunrise. I couldn't see any sun as it was a fogged in, cloudy, misty morning. But I was fired up to run the 6 miles of leg 24. This was a moderate course that ran along Crystal Lake around the San Mateo area. Even though the wind was blowing, I was fairly warm and just ready to go. I really enjoyed the rolling hills of this one to Canada College. There a great team of women who rooted for me every mile. They were following one of their runners and went to town for me. It's one thing for your team to pull for you. It's another when its just a random group doing it out of the goodness of their heart.

Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of that run. I'm sure some of the guys were taking naps. The support was still great. As usual, I got to sprint the finish and hand off to Smita from Van #1.

After that, we were close enough to home to eat and sleep at Kumar's house. I got to take my first shower in 24 hours and 2 runs. Then, I took a nap for an hour before we left to the next handoff point up by Skyline for the run through the Santa Cruz mountains.

At this point, we were ahead of all the other teams in time, but not in terms of finish. Due to Vinay's amazing run down the hill, we actually had a shot of passing Chai Latte. That would mean beating them by 30 minutes. That became the challenge. To a group that liked having something to shoot for, we now had our goal. As Rina was running, Kumar and I decided we could catch them. Given that Hari was fast, he would set it up. Kumar had leg 35, a hard course through the hills, while I had leg 36 a mostly downhill chase to the finish. Since I enjoy running up hills and have run with Ajit (my friendly competitor at Chai Latte), I felt I could come close. We figured he would run all the way through the first 4 miles, then walk up the last couple where the hills were steep. Then Kumar could close the deal.

I did as much as I could. I did well on the first hill. After that, I was surprised at how steep down it went. I passed a number of folks, but I became uncomfortable. I don't usually like to go that fast because I don't want to burn out too early. It's all about conserving energy. Still I let gravity guide me. Maybe it was the rain or some other glitch, but my running meter was off. This time on the low side. I had no idea how much longer I would go down or what my real speed was. I use this typically to slow myself down and prepare for the hills. These sorts of things play with your head, but I tried my best to put it out of my mind. I finally hit the hills, and it was even harder than I thought. I tried to run all the way up, but had to walk. It was simply too steep. My team was very supportive all the way through. They told me everyone was walking up. In the past, I would still want to run up, but this time, I just said to myself to do what I could do and conserve energy. Don't get overly obsessed. There was a ways to go and it was more important to enjoy the ride rather than beat some silly time. So I walked as long as it made sense and took in the amazing scene. It was like walking the misty woods in New Hampshire - only with redwoods instead of pine. Then I ran after I caught my breath. And I was able to make my normal sprint to the finish to hand off to Kumar. Here are some shots.

After the handoff to Kumar, we made our way to the finish. The excitement of the race overtook him. As a fellow overachiever, Kumar ran way too hard on the downhill, and fought his way to the finish. Hari and I ran with him for the last half mile to cross the finish line.

After 33 hours, we finished. It was an amazing adventure. It was full of all kinds of challenges. We met all sorts of folks and enjoyed ourselves. Doing something like this is always fun with a dedicated group of people. You train harder and get to know interesting people. Most of all, you get to help a great cause.

Here are some finish line pics of Van #2 and the whole Literally Running Team. Someone else got the whole group.

If anyone wants to join us next year, let us know. And yes, you can still donate.