Thursday, April 23, 2009

We Came, We Ran, We Conquered...

After all the craziness that was finding 6 more people to run on our River to River relay team, we could not have found a better group. Jason aptly referred to us as the "team of last resort" due to the fact that the majority of our team committed to run the week of the relay.

Matt Steidl, a childhood friend of Jason's flew up from Texas. Angie Rathjen, a high school friend of Jason's drove over from St. Louis. My mom drove up from Fayetteville, TN, picking up Gary Harris and his daughter, Valerie Moore on the way. We all convened in Marion, IL where the packet pick-up was located.

The morning of the race, we all rose bright (or dark) and early. Jason, Matt and I met the others in Carbondale and picked up Angie on our way to the start line. We parted ways when we got close so that Matt and Angie could take Jason to the start line and Mom, Gary, and Valerie could get me to the second exchange zone where I would start my first leg of the relay.
Our start time was 7:45a.m. and even though I didn't see Jason start, I knew it wouldn't be long before I saw him flying around the corner to hand me the bright red baton our team would pass from runner to runner. Sure enough, nineteen minutes later there he was on the heels of the front runner for the 7:45 pack. He handed me the baton, and I took off for my first 3.6 mile leg.

It was a flat, easy leg with many scenic spots along the way. I ran hard with the excitement of starting the relay and fresh legs to carry me along. My goal was to run my first leg at a sub-8 minute pace and then to hold the rest under 9. I finished in 26:55, running a 7:31 pace for my first leg. I passed the baton to Valerie and off she went. One leg down, three to go.
With everyone running close to a 5k each time, it wasn't long before it was my turn again. Jason and I were splitting up the legs of our missing runner 8 and so he was doubling up on his second and third legs, giving him a little over a 10k each time.

As I waited at the next exchange zone, I thought I had more time and after visiting the port-a-potty station, I was headed back up to the car to put on a tank top when I heard, "JANE!" I turned to see Jason racing up the hill. I met him at the exchange zone and took off running once again.

I didn't remember until too late that I'd turned off the GPS function on my Garmin. I told myself I didn't need to know my pace...only to quickly decide otherwise. So while running as hard as I could, I messed with my watch until I had it giving me all the necessary information. Once I had it, I told myself to focus, and picked up the pace. It was hot by this time and I had more hills during this leg, but I only had 2.85 miles to go and it went by quickly. My watch said 20:33 for this one, but I added two more minutes for all the Garmin issues.
When we weren't running, we were munching on the goodies we'd brought, drinking water and gatorade, talking, laughing, and cheering on our current runner. A light rain showed up, but left shortly after leaving us to run in peace. The sun stayed hidden behind the clouds, however, and that was fine with us. It was chilly between sections, but perfect when running.
My third leg was my longest at 3.75 miles, and the hardest I'd encountered thus far in my race. With several steep hills to climb, I pushed, but not as hard as I had before. Weariness was beginning to set in and I needed to save some energy for my final leg, which was THE last leg of the relay. While running this third leg, I mistakenly thought it was 3.3 miles and so when asked by a fellow runner how much we had left, I told him less than half a mile...which was off by another half. Oops. As I passed another fellow runner on one of the steep hills, she said, "You go girl! Look at you go!" I meant to say, "Good job," or "you too" but I lost it somewhere in between and just said, "You...."

I decided after that, I should quit talking and just run. I finished that leg in 31:43, giving me something around an 8:30 pace. I'd hoped for better, but I'd take it. I had one last leg to go and I'd need all my reserves for that one.
As I waited to run the final leg of the relay, I watched my teammates run their final legs. Jason ran his last 6 miles like a wild man, as if it were the first time he'd run that day. Valerie conquered some of the meanest hills in the relay with gusto, despite the lack of time to prepare for them. Mom ran her strongest during her last leg, finishing with such strength that even the teammates of other teams were cheering for her. Gary flew down the last part of his final leg holding nothing back. Matt's final leg was the hardest leg of the entire relay and he conquered it in no time, facing some ugly hills head on. Angie's last leg finished with an uphill climb and she did not slow her pace as she ran to the exchange zone where I was waiting to take the baton on it's final leg.

In preparation I had put on my bright orange racing shoes and my running skirt for good measure. I'd stretched out the kinks and the muscles that had been slowly tightening throughout the day. This leg would be my most difficult, and I meant to run it as hard as I could, keeping in mind the amazing team that had run so well to get me there.

I took off up the rest of Angie's hill, with the cheers of my team spurring me on. I said out loud, "Let's do this. Let's DO this!" I climbed those Southern Illinois hills as fast as I could, racing down them with wild abandon. I knew from the map that once I turned on Hwy 146, it wouldn't be long before Main Street and the finish line. I heard the cheering before I saw the sign. I picked up my pace more and more drawing from any strength I could find.

Once I turned on Main Street, I could see the finish line. As I raced toward it, I heard my mom calling from behind. I began to slow in order to let my team catch up so we could cross the finish together, only to hear Jason say, "Don't you dare slow down!" I picked up my pace one final time and flew through the finish line. Our team, The Tortoises and Hares, finished in a little over 11 hours, and we were ecstatic.

We took pictures, congratulated each other, and quickly made our way to a well deserved dinner. We celebrated with 17th Street BBQ, talking and reliving our favorite relay moments. We parted ways after that, all of us pleasantly exhausted and longing for showers.

The week before the relay, I had no idea if we'd even be able to run it. But close friends and family stepped in, regardless of the short notice, and they gave their all. It was wonderful to meet some of Jason's friends and to see his old stomping grounds. He is from Murphysboro, IL, which is very close to Marion, and I got to see his house, his church, and many of his old running routes.

The relay turned out better than any of us had dared to hope and as we parted ways, I can say for a fact that all of us had plans for next year's relay dancing around in our heads...


  1. I love your race stories! They make me feel like I'm running them with you! (My physical fitness level would not attest to that, however--ha!) You are SUPER glad I wasn't able to make it, as your finishing time would be more like 13 hours! Sounds like you ran a good race, and I'm proud of you!

  2. awe that was a really wonderful blog. I am in a meeting with tears in my eyes...Such inspiration Jane!!!