‘Ain’t doing this again …until next year’
September 18, 2009
In Colorado and the Roaring Fork Valley, it seems there’s always an enduro-freak who will one-up your athletic achievement.A future Colorado license plate might just read: “Anything you can do, I can do better. And if I can’t do it better, I know somebody else who can or did.”The awe-inspiring feats achieved by Aspenites can make the common man or woman seem mighty small: The brothers who skied Everest, the stud who climbed and skied every fourteener, the waiter who runs 100-mile races, the woman who swam across the Atlantic, the second-home owner who won the Tour de France (seven times!), the couple passing through town on a cross-country bike ride to raise funds for the spotted owl, the retail employee who cut off an appendage to break free from a boulder.So it was not otherworldly for our 40-and-over, 10-member team – the Old Fartleks – to complete the 175-mile, Sept. 11-12 Colorado Relay foot-race from Georgetown to Carbondale. And it certainly wasn’t glamorous, except for the fancy red shirts provided to us by our sponsor, Brion After of Independence Run & Hike in Carbondale.During the race’s 11 or 12 hours of darkness I was either running, stretched out in the back of a Chevy van, sitting on the cold seat of a Porta-Potty, or sticking a finger down my throat to upchuck. I was not awarded a yellow jersey after each leg.For me – and the nine other members of our team -the Colorado Relay was no small feat. Here’s my story.
A few weeks ago we met over burritos and beers to devise a strategy for the relay from Carbondale from Georgetown. It all seemed like a logistical nightmare to me; to the wily veterans on our team, it was old hat.A new face on the Old Fartleks, I sat mostly in silence at Dos Gringos, other than lobbing up the obvious questions befitting an anxious rookie. What should I bring? Where do we sleep? When do we sleep? Should I pace myself or treat each leg like a race? Will my wife and children ever see me again?The questions were answered by other runners, more or less, in this manner: You’ll figure it out, one way or another.Which was probably the best advice any first-timer could get.As for preparation, I’m not sure what I could have done other than the obvious, which was to put in the miles. That turned out to be the easy part.After the meeting at Dos Gringos, when I returned to Aspen with my neighbor Bob Nix, another rookie member of the team, the mission was clear: The 10-member Old Fartleks would run, one person at a time, over the side roads, bike trails and dirt paths that comprise the 30-leg, 175-mile course. Other than that basic outline, along with our running assignments, relay rookies Nix, Kevin O’Hagan and I would have to learn as we went along.
Our team was separated into two groups – the runners of legs one through five, 11 through 15, and 21 through 25, hunkered down in Van A, a Chevrolet, circa 1990, owned and driven by Carbondale resident and Old Fartlek Brad Palmer, 52. Our other runners were relegated to Van B, a rather uncharming vehicle that resembled a shuttle bus. To say Van A has soul is like saying Bourbon Street has character. More than 100,000 miles have been logged on the so-called Shag Van. Palmer has been running since he was 19 and owns a 2:51 personal best for the marathon; it shows in his vehicle interior, which is decorated with medallions, bibs and ribbons collected from previous foot-races.Compared to the other white, soulless race vehicles, which had clearly been rented, the “Shag Van” seemed as out of place as a Deadhead on the catwalk at a Paris fashion show. Which was just fine with us. We were comfortable, and that’s all that mattered.We took off around 6 a.m. from Carbondale to our destination of Georgetown, where we had a 9:30 start time along with 13 other teams. Teams had been starting their respective first legs as early as 6:30 a.m., so the field of some 150 groups was already spread out. I was assigned the first leg, a 2.5-mile haul from Georgetown to Silver Plume. What it lacked in distance it made up for with a 642-foot elevation gain along the bike trail that runs parallel with Interstate 70. And when I toed the line in that cold, windy canyon, I knew I was in for a challenge, judging from the intense looks on the faces of the other runners. They look fast. And they were. When the gun went off, my opponents took off as if we were racing a quarter-mile. What are they thinking? Don’t they realize they have nearly 15 more miles to run?I battled my way up that damn hill, trying to get the leg turnover to keep up with those stallions, but it just wasn’t happening. Here I was, two minutes into the Colorado Relay, already in oxygen debt.As I finished, my arms flailed and I panted like a dog, ready to vomit. Awaiting me was Brad, who would continue running from there. I was shocked and humbled at the same time. An 11th-place finish was not a good beginning. At least the weather was spectacular, a perfect fall day to run the Rockies. “Well, you wanted some climbing,” said Team Capt. John Stroud.
Little did I realize that running would be the easy part, and that waiting would be the hardest. That’s because, while we ran the first four legs consecutively, the fifth leg did not start until 2 p.m. The break grew out of the following memo from the race director, which we’d received weeks earlier because of a rockslide that had deterred plans: We are looking at several options now including the leading candidate which will run from Georgetown uphill through Silver Plume and Bakerville to Loveland Pass Ski Area. This possible route would be legs 1-4 and include one leg of trail. We would then capture your team’s time at the end of Leg 4 (to add it to your total time). Vehicle B would restart your route at Exchange 4 (start of leg 5) at the Burning Bear Campground accessed via 285 with runner 5. This runner would start in Vehicle B, but get handed back to Vehicle A at Frisco. We would assign Vehicle B a starting time at Burning Bear.”To me, this was clear as mud. But to old hats like Stroud and Palmer, who’ve combined to run eight or nine of these relays, it was simple. And that’s all that mattered to us rookies. By 11 a.m., we’d completed four legs and headed through the Eisenhower Tunnel to Frisco. There we would wait. And wait. And wait. We became familiar with a local brewery, a deli and two public parks, all because of the 2 p.m. start time for the fifth leg, which would be followed by the sixth though tenth legs. By 8 p.m., we were still waiting for the tenth runner on our squad, Jim Korpela of Aspen, to make his way down to the Frisco Community Center, where I eagerly anticipated the exchange. By this time, I was actually in race mode. I felt loose and ready, and was among all of my teammates – including locals David Clark, Mark Feinsinger, Peter Heitzman and Bentley Henderson. I was ready to unleash my pent-up energy on my 8-mile run from Frisco to Copper Mountain – in the dark.It seemed like an eternity, but he finally arrived. And I took off on a surreal adventure down the Ten Mile Canyon bike trail. Just me, all alone, with a headlamp as my guiding light. Not a person or a mile marker in sight, only the sound of the wind blowing the trees and brush, my feet pounding the asphalt and my steady, heavy breathing.Then came the cramps – first in the calves, then the stomach (the likely culprit being the potato skins and chicken fingers in Frisco). But it was the hamstring cramps that would force me to stop – several times – to find the right stretch to ease the agony. They would not go away. Four-letter expletives leapt from my tongue. Don’t panic now, you wussy. It will only get worse if you do.It took a series of several stops to finally shake these cramps. The stomach cramps, however, did not leave. Not even after I finished at Copper and forced myself to vomit, hoping it would go away. Not at the portable potties in other I-70 relay-exchange spots, where I tried to exorcise the demons in my belly. Which might explain the sleep deprivation. Fifteen minutes of wink-time might be a stretch. By the time of my final leg, which began around 4:40 a.m. in Eagle, I had nothing in the tank. Or so I thought.As I waited for Korpela at the exchange, the dry heaves continued. Pete suggested I bring a roll of toilet paper for the 7-mile run to Dotsero. I blew off his advice.When Korpela arrived, I took off, yet again. Seven miles. That’s not so far. I did everything to convince myself it would be over soon.And finally, I felt like a runner. The muscle cramps were gone. The stomach felt great. A runner’s high in the wee hours of the morning was about as expected as the Swedish bikini team pulling up to offer me a ride home. But there I was, cruising along at around a 7:30 per-mile clip. Go figure.By the time I reached Dotsero, I was in an altered state of bliss and euphoria. But five minutes later, the stomach cramps returned, gnawing at my innards as if to remind me: Stay humble.Which I did as our team, now the Smelly Old Fartleks, rode along in the Shag Van, dropping off other runners at their exchange points, en route to Carbondale. Van A and my mates would arrive in Bonedale some time around 10 a.m. Saturday.
At Sopris Park in Carbondale, hundreds of other runners gathered to eat food and drink beer. Neither was in my plans, as I stumbled aimlessly around, ready to crash anytime, preferably in front of a TV showing college football. But there was one obligatory final run, albeit a short one, to do. The relay makes it mandatory that the whole team finish together.And when Korpela arrived, the other nine of us sauntered along for those final foot steps, knowing that our mission was complete. I was too exhausted to share what was supposed to be a good feeling, but ecstatic that we were done. I could go home, shower and sleep.A common theme emerged when the Old Fartleks had finished their final legs. “I ain’t ever doing this again … until next year.”The more time that separates me from the event, the more I concur. But next year, I’d like us to do better. We finished second to the Pickled Prostates in the masters division, completing the journey in 23 hours and 7 minutes.Better start training now, while our prostates are still intact. firstname.lastname@example.org
While the 10-member Old Fartleks ground it out from Georgetown to Carbondale, another local team, with half as many members, had twice the work to do.The Whippersnappers, also sponsored by Brion After of Carbondale-based Independence Run & Hike, competed in the ultra-division of the Colorado Relay, finishing third overall in their category with a time of 24 hours and 27 minutes.Running assignments for team members ranged from 30 miles to 43 miles. Team members were: After, 37; Alan Feder, 39; Jennifer Gee, 30; Jennifer Berry-Mendez, 37; and Hadley Hentschel, 30. Hentschel, a teacher in Carbondale, ran some of the hardest legs for a combined 43 miles. The race exceeded After’s expectations. ” I was up for over 36 hours (getting up at 4 a.m. on Friday) with less than an hour of sleep and still trying to perform at a high level; it was tough,” he said.Likewise, Berry-Mendez said sleep deprivation was one of the biggest challenges: “Trying to balance eating with running and only about four hours rest between each run leg, all while getting only about an hour of sleep over the 30-plus hours of travel and racing – our team was like a well oiled machine.”Feder, a Snowmass ski patroller and Pitkin County ranger, said the challenge was worth it. “The race itself was superbly run, including dealing with the closure of Guanella Pass. The terrain was fantastic, especially during the first part of the race on the trails. We ran through the night along the I-70 corridor and were re-energized by the rising sun. We hit Glenwood and then we were pretty much home free from there … Personally I really enjoyed the camaraderie of my teammates no matter what time of day or night. I also appreciate the fact that this event is going to two great causes: Colorado Outward Bound and Judi’s House of Denver. “It’s nice knowing that your hard work is going to help someone in need.”- Rick Carroll