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1995 ARTICLES

THE RELAY: MINUS THE BATON
by Dean Karnazes, October 1995

There was only one problem with the inaugural Napa to Santa Cruz Relay. Just one slight blemish in an otherwise flawless event.

Overall, the 195-mile, twelve-person relay was a remarkable success. The course covered some of the most spectacular countryside on the planet. So, no, the problem had nothing to do with the race design. The problem, actually, was a personal one. And it was really my problem. I wanted to run the 195-mile race.....solo.

It is possible that I am deficient in some key factor necessary for rational thought. When I was a child, my father used to tell me that anything was possible if you set your mind to it. Perhaps I was so gullible during my formidable years that I actually believed him? Whatever the case may be, for some inexplicable reason I was determined to run the 195-mile Relay not as a twelve-person team, but on my own.

So on a warm Fall day, in the bucolic town of Calistoga, I set out to accomplish my goal.

It started off just like a jog through Golden Gate Park. But forty-eight hours and 155 miles later, I was questioning my overall grasp of reality. In the previous three days, I had slept a total of about four hours: I was too nervous to sleep the night before the race, and I only took brief cat-naps during the actual event! I was feeling incapable of taking even one step by the 155-mile point.

But my crew was encouraging. They reminded me that at the 155-mile mark, it was merely another 40 miles to the finish. "Wow," I thought. "Just a standard marathon, and two 10Ks back-to-back." I was so uplifted I thought I would faint.

But remarkably, I somehow was able to keep marching onward, and by Mile 178 I felt certain that I would either finish the race, or kill myself in the process. At 9:50pm, when I saw the lights of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, I knew that I was either nearing the finish or that there was a fairly large Ferris Wheel in heaven. When I crossed the finish line, I was given my official race time of 57 hours, 54 minutes and 7 seconds. To be honest, I had stopped keeping track of time about one day earlier.

When people learn that I ran 195 miles, three questions inevitably arise. The first: "How did you run 195 miles?" My answer to that question is pretty straightforward. You can run 195 miles the same way you run a 5K: one step at a time. You just put one foot in front of the other and you don't stop running until you reach the finish line. Actually, that's only half the truth. The first hundred miles you run with your legs...the next hundred miles, you run with your mind.

The second most frequently-asked question is, "What did you eat?" My answer is, "a lot." I estimate that during the course of the run, I burned 50,000-60,000 calories. That is roughly 240 Clif Bars. I ate almost constantly during the run. My diet was a mixture of science (Cytomax, Clif Bars, Metabolol) and pleasure (sweet rolls, pretzels, jelly beans). I still lost about five pounds during the run.

The final question, "Why did you run 195 miles?" is the most interesting one, which I have asked myself many times. Why would an ordinary guy like myself decide to get up off the couch and do something like this? After considerable introspection, the answer I come up with is simple. I ran 195 miles because....I COULD!

When I look back at the race, it was actually the first hundred miles that were the toughest. I was on my own for that first half of the race and, to be honest, it was lonely! Devoid of contact with others, I felt detached and purposeless as I ran across the barren, rural landscape of Point Reyes in the middle of the night. Like an astronaut who has lost contact with the Mother Ship, I was floating aimlessly in a sea of doubt.

Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge was possibly the most inspirational point of the entire run. Adding to the emotion was a group of friends who greeted me at the halfway point on the bridge. They could never have comprehended the impact that their presence had upon me. It rejuvenated my soul and inspired me to keep trying.

When the other teams began catching up with me, the race really started to get fun. Long distance runners are a fairly eclectic crowd, and some of the athletes I met along the way were members of team "Just Watering Your Flowers, Ma'am" and "Old Blues Upchucks." Hm.

At 1am the first night, 70 miles into the race, race director Jeff Shapiro found me and my support crew in Marin County at Exchange 11. We had spoken often on the phone to work out the details of my lone journey. When we finally met face-to-face, it felt as if he had been a member of my team for a long time. He had spent untold hours meticulously mapping and plotting the course. He met and solicited the help of businesses, churches and community organizations along the way. The detail and thoroughness of his work was truly astounding. And this reminded me that The Relay is and will always be a TEAM effort.

I had been concerned about this issue from the beginning. Running is such an individual sport, yet here was a chance to combine the camaraderie and spirit of a team sport with running. I thought this was a fantastic concept -- but yet I was participating in this team event as a loner! My biggest concern was to not take anything away from the teams. This race was about team participation, and not about some nut case trying to meet a personal goal.

Yet the further I got in the run, the more I realized that I, too, belonged to a team. Perhaps my team could not be neatly defined as twelve individuals, but in a strange sort of way, I was a member of a bigger team. The human team. People encouraged me to keep going not so much as an individual runner, but as a human being attempting an extraordinary physical task.

For a brief moment in time, I was elevated above the human condition. Every step further seemed to say, "yes, we humans can succeed." We can put aside our trivialities and together we can accomplish remarkable things. Never before have I experienced life with such crystal clarity, never before have I felt such hope for mankind.

Or maybe I was overdosing on endorphins?

But when I ran past the team of running rugby players -- twelve of the gnarliest dudes you would ever want to meet -- they were all chanting, "Team Dean, Team Dean, Team Dean" and it made my eyes water! They didn't want to kill me, nor tackle me: they just wanted me to make it to Santa Cruz. It was damned inspirational.

So with feet blistering and legs cramping, I dragged myself onward. With such support, I could not stop. If there is one insight that running 195 miles taught me, it is that while the human body is capable of some remarkable feats, it is the human spirit that truly knows no bounds.

 
   
   
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