West Valley Track Club Sets New Course
Record!, by Jack Youngren
The following article appeared in the West Valley Track Club Newsletter. It details the escapades of the 1996 Relay winners, "Ottoway's Dirty Dozen." Note from Jack Youngren: "Please note that the article is not written in a completely serious manner and therefore pokes a small bit of fun at the race and our competitors, though actual team members take it on the chin much harder. No disrespect is intended, and the article can be reproduced with the disclaimer that the WVTC has the utmost respect for the race organizers, who did a fantastic job in putting together a logistically outrageous event, and for each and every competitor in the race, who no matter what their speed certainly suffered just as much, enjoyed themselves as much, and limped away with just as great a sense of accomplishment as the members of "Ottoway's Dirty Dozen." The runners of the West Valley Track Club anxiously await the 1997 Relay, and would not dream of missing this great event."
Pick up a race flyer for the 1997 edition of the Relay, the 194 mile, 12 person relay race from Calistoga to Santa Cruz, and you'll find a challenge from the race organizers to test your mettle against the course record holders and defending champs, the members of the West Valley Track Club. To find out how the 10 men and 2 women that comprised "Ottoway's Dirty Dozen" established WVTC as the standard of excellence in Northern California's toughest relay, we must travel back to the afternoon of September 27th and a dusty parking lot outside the two bit roadside attraction, the Calistoga Geyser...
By 3:30pm, 78 teams had already departed for Santa Cruz in the staggered, seeded start usually employed at such events. Tony Fong was fretting over his impending mano a mano duel with the lead runner from Reeking Havoc (the only other team with a 4pm start), and WVTC Van 2 was nowhere to be seen. Minutes later, Anthony Davies brought the missing van to a gravel spraying stop, as his charges quickly spilled out, thankfully unloading the Gatorade bottle full of Jason Lejonvarn's steaming urine.
With barely enough time to decorate the vans and take on an ungodly amount of PowerAde, the start was upon them. Tony quickly pulled away from the Reeking Havoc runner as the vans headed out in the hot afternoon to set up at the first exchange point, which was right over there. Or maybe right down past that curve. Actually according to this map it should right past that telephone pole. Or is this even the right vineyard? Off to an auspicious start, the relay organizers had packed up the first exchange point and gone home, leaving the two top-ranked teams to arbitrarily establish their own exchange venue!
Completely unfazed by (and perhaps familiar with) the surrounding chaos, Sissel B-Heber calmly took the wrist band from a strong finishing Tony (who averaged 5:31 for 5.4 miles) and blew the race open on only the second leg. Cranking out a 38:38 10K through the late afternoon heat, Sissel so thoroughly demoralized the top ranked Reeking Havoc team, that after being stomped by a girl they were not heard from again (at least until they started whining about their lost van keys, but more on that later). The race rolled through Calistoga, Yountville, Napa, and headed out through the boondocks toward Sonoma. With the runners of van 1 turning out 6 minute miles, the "road kill" count started to rise as runners from teams starting an hour earlier were caught and passed.
As night fell, out came the flashlights and reflective vests for the runners from Van 2. Van 1, having established a start so strong that thoughts of race victory were already sneaking into their heads, headed off to the Cheese Factory in Nicasio to await their return to battle.
Jason, Anthony, and out of town'er Grant Lejonvarn kept the pace remarkably constant at 6 minutes per mile along the country back roads. True drama finally arrived during the 10th leg, run by Will Clark. The race organizers had decided that this leg was best run through some unlit cow pastures instead of along a very narrow stretch of country highway with a shoulderless, blind bit of road known as "Dead Man's Curve."
To be fair, leg 10 runners had been warned to watch for hidden divots and gopher holes that could easily break bones along this 1/3 mile stretch. It seems that the organizer's had not planned the spectacular barn fire that lit up the entrance to the pasture quite well, but which provided much more excitement for the support crew than help for the runners. It seems that the trouble for Van 2 truly started when Will's flashlight died the minute he got out into the booby trapped cow field. Unable to catch up to the undeterred and hammering Mr. Clark, the WVTC boys, with Jason at the wheel, took off to intercept Will as he emerged from the pasture gate back onto the road.
Wherever that was. Following a flashlight ahead, the frantic van members mistakenly chased down a 60 year-old man who most definitely was not Will, but it did take 2 or 3 passes to determine this to everyone's satisfaction. Heading back up the road the van again passed a runner that might have been Will. In his enthusiasm to provide help to Will as quickly as possible, Jason, who obviously spent too many years living in the lawless climate of Central America, decided to pull an emergency U-turn right in front of the aforementioned "Dead Man's Curve." To his credit, Jason did manage to get the van completely perpendicular to the road before the sound of squealing brakes and the air horns of the 18 wheeler behind us became deafening. Also to his credit, Jason seemed to be cool and unhurried as every other soul in the car screamed for him to get the van into reverse. In the end, all was well, as several WVTC members found religion in those seconds, and a couple of others professed their long unspoken mutual love.
Probably still rattled from this near-death experience, Jack Youngren took the first wrong turn of The Relay, and concluded a short sight seeing trip through Petaluma on a hopping Friday night with a little "where-the-hell-do-I-go" dance which he performed in the middle of D street. John Heber brought the Dirty Dozen into the van exchange zone at the Cheese Factory. It was apparently at this spot that one of the geniuses from the Reeking Havoc team tossed his keys into Van 2, which promptly departed for some quick shut eye at the Heber's residence in San Francisco.
Tony, challenging a belligerent crazed truck driver to a shouting match/martial arts dual after an attempt to run him off the road, lead Van 1 on their way toward San Francisco. Tony, Simon Godwin, and Jacob each powered out sub 6 minute paced legs. Sherman showed why he prefers the well-defined confines of the track as he got lost on a perfectly straight stretch of the Sausalito bike path. As a result he was inconsolable for the rest of the night.
With a strong run (6:30 miles) on a difficult leg, Terrie brought the race over the Golden Gate Bridge and into the Presidio, where the not-quite-rested Van 2 team waited to take over. As Jason raced off to his exchange at the end of the Great Highway, on familiar ground at last, Terrie decided for Van 2 that maintaining proper runner enthusiasm was much more important than any slight benefits a mere couple of hours of sleep might provide.
Anthony, worked into a blind rage by the actions of the heartless Dept. of Parking and Traffic workers, took the wristband from a cruising Jason and headed up the steep climb up Skyline Blvd. with only one thought in mind, "Kick the ass of those Navy Seal wimps." His 39:08 uphill 6 mile run did exactly that, Anthony collecting the most lethal road kill of the race. As he approached the hand-off zone, Anthony was a little disconcerted to see his van entering the parking lot behind him at 40 mph and on two wheels. This reckless driving was almost enough to wake the slumbering Messrs. Heber and Clark, as Grant was decanted into his second leg.
Grant handed off to a smoldering Will Clark, anxious to compensate for the acts of God which had slowed his first leg. Will duly scared everyone with a virtual sprint up his first climb, shedding other runners like leaves in the Fall, covering over 4 miles in 23 minutes. Jack was so determined to compensate for his detour-slowed first leg that upon taking the hand-off from Will he took off in a sprint and flattened a race official. Doing the honorable thing, the rest of the team jumped in the van and fled. So terrified was he of the wrath of officialdom that Jack ran the fastest leg of the race (not coincidentally on the race's easiest leg).
Meanwhile, John had lost his race number. Yes, that's what I said. After 10 minutes of tearing their van apart, team WVTC became team "kiss race official's butt." Much to John's surprise, the said official, at 4am on a deserted stretch of Canada Road, was not carrying a replacement number for him. Luckily, the kissing worked and John was allowed to continue Southward towards van 1.
Now Jacob is really one of the more ascetic members of the team. For instance, he never normally drinks coffee. However, apparently unable to refuse anything of a Scandinavian woman clad only in her underwear, he had accepted Sissel's Norwegian Devil Brew to caffeinate during the Van 1 slumber party. The result? Violent emetic activity in the bushes lining Tony's last leg.
For the uninitiated, it is around this point in the proceedings that relays cease to be humorous. Running your third 10K in some 14 hours, during a night of little or no sleep, really makes you wish you were somewhere else. In fact sitting in a cramped van at the summit of Highway 9, Jack was already formulating his excuses for not participating in The 1997 Relay. However, the realization was dawning that, even having started last, WVTC was now behind very few teams indeed. This drove Tony, Sissel and Jacob (now traveling light) to seriously hard final efforts, leaving Simon, Sherman and Terrie with the task of climbing to the top of Saratoga Gap toward the slumbering Van 2.
Climbing relentlessly on single lane roads through the scariest backwoods, inbred enclave that this Jersey boy had ever seen, Sherman handed off to Terrie. She set off on a final 5K destined to gain 1100 feet in elevation - a cruel finish indeed. Terrie pushed herself to the limit, moving the team into 5th place overall in the process. However, the punishing climb took its toll on her very soul. A mere 100 yards from the finish, Terrie was assured that the end was just around the corner. However, when the summit was still out of sight 50 yards later, her reserve cracked. "Sweet merciful Mary, Mother of God" is a rough approximation of the phrase she uttered as her body attempted to stop in mid stride. Fighting through the urge to stop, Terrie, with Jason waiting to make the exchange, then attempted to throw herself under the wheels of a passing semi-trailer. The ever combative Tony Fong gave the driver a large piece of his mind, and Van 2 were on their way to the ocean.
Screaming downhill, Jason lowered his 10K PR by four minutes to 32:45, handing off to Anthony, who took WVTC into fourth place overall. Grant closed in on the third place team, LAPD, whom Will overtook on a brutal 10K with a vertical last 2 miles including a 14% grade in one stretch. At this point, the members of Van 1 put down their glasses of cabernet long enough to get back on the course and offer support to the runners toiling through the Indian Summer heat. Jack took the baton uphill for another mile, before starting the descent into Santa Cruz and having the enviable task of running down the team of Stanford nurses, who had been holding second place after a suspiciously early start.
Running a strong anchor in sight of the Pacific Ocean,
John came tantalizingly close to becoming first finisher. Unfortunately,
the WVTC team was unable to overtake the ironically named "Road Kill"
team, which was able to hang on to 7 minutes of its 3 hour head start.
Running as a team across the finish line on the Santa Cruz beach, Ottoway's
Dirty Dozen finished over 40 minutes ahead of their closest rival, Reeking
Havoc, while setting a new course record of 20 hours, 3 minutes for 195
The 12 of us -- Tom Lord, Kurt Peterson, Mike Esparza, Terri Lee, Carl Hekkert, Phil Tracy, Dick Kirkpatrick, Ed Casey, Pat Farrance, Scott Bang, Helen Kim, and myself -- packed up our vans with Power Bars, Togo's sandwiches, sleeping bags, multiple running shoes, and an assortment of computers, cell phones, and pace calculations to track the logistics of this overnight race from Calistoga to Santa Cruz. It was amazing there was room for us.
At our sendoff dinner at Fresh Choice, there was already mutiny in the air. At first they were pleased that I had adjusted the predicted 7:10 pace over the dreaded Santa Cruz Mountains to a more feasible 8:10 pace. But, to keep us under 24 hours, I set the next 12.5 miles of descent at 5:44 pace. Ed and Dick, citing that even a 6 minute mile after 20 hours of sleep-deprived racing would be impossible, recruited followers to disregard the spreadsheet.
We stayed the night in Calistoga. Friday morning, after a nice breakfast and a prayer, we went to the Old Faithful Geyser and began soaking up the incredible excitement that was building like the high pressure geyser itself. Like Old Faithful, the starting gun would blast periodically, sending teams, according to their ranking, racing down the Silverado Trail towards a destination they would not see until Saturday.
At 1pm, Tom led us off on Leg 1. He ran smart, letting the other 11 teams speed away and then passing them as the heat and constant rollers took their toll. Leg 2: Kurt took the baton and managed a 47 minute 10k despite the hot sun and irritating rollers, "where did those hills come from?" Mike steadily worked Leg 3, coming in very thirsty but faster than predicted. Leg 4: Terri, our faithful alternate who joined the roster only 3 days earlier, looked strong and fast as she took her turn on the hot and scenic route through the Napa Wine Country.
In the meantime, Van 2 was sipping champagne at Mumm Winery, watching Van 1's impressive performance, and, as Helen put it, "itching to get a piece of the action!" Leg 5: Terri passed on to Carl who, despite nurturing an old stress fracture, hammered out a blazing 6:11 pace for 5 miles! He was a little surprised himself. Phil's Leg 6 was starting to get windy. Luckily he sprinted through many green lights without getting stopped. Finally, our Van comes into play at 5pm as Phil hands off to Dick. In the excitement, the baton is dropped but quickly retrieved again as Dick races towards the hill awaiting him on Leg 7. Dick is right on pace with 6:42 miles as he hands off to Ed (Leg 8) who rips up his 10k stretch of 100 foot rollers with the fastest pace of the day, 6:02!
However, after 40 miles we are a few minutes behind and I wonder if, as day turns to night, our pace will continue to slow. Did Van 1 go out too fast and will they suffer during their next shift? We've planned for 23 hours 30 minutes, leaving a half hour of cushion in hopes of breaking 24 hours. We can only hope unforeseen problems don't arise.
Pat takes the baton for Leg 9 and proves that determination beats past performance as he comes in 3 minutes faster than expected! And this after 3 weeks of honeymooning and only 3 weeks of total training. For Leg 10, a 7.7 mile stretch through treacherous farm trails, around burning crops, and into the wind, we send off Scott. Then we see his hilly trail, "He's got to go over THAT!" We look out the window like a family sending their son to war.
Remarkably, Scott survives with a hard-fought 6:30 pace and hands off to me (Leg 11). I run as day turns to night, appreciating my flashlight and reflective vest and reminding myself, "Don't get lost, don't get lost." It's pitch black as I wind up the hills of Petaluma focusing on each bobbing vest and flashlight ahead. I pass 8 "roadkills" (other runners) and come in 3 minutes ahead of schedule. The exchange is chaos with teams looking for runners in the dark, and vans getting stuck in the mud. I find Helen and she races into the night and up the 470ft hill of Leg 12. Under a full moon, she also racks up 8 "roadkills" and betters her time by 3.5 minutes!
By now we've caught up to many earlier teams and are 3 minutes ahead of schedule. Van 1, after an earlier burrito dinner and some rest, is ready to go. This is the critical moment, finding out how well runners perform after a 10K race 7 hours earlier. Leg 13: At 8:40pm Tom takes the baton and looks surprisingly strong. Our van leaves for San Francisco to eat, sleep, and resume running at 1:10am. As we try to sleep, we wonder what is happening out in the night, along the dark canyons of Nicasio and Sausalito where the rest of our team is racing to stay on pace. We wake at 12:15am, call Van 1, and are startled to find out they're 17 minutes ahead of schedule! We race to the Presidio, there are runners everywhere, the race has heated up throughout the night. Dick jumps out and, without prep, immediately takes the baton from Phil who emerges from the foggy Golden Gate Bridge after clocking a 6:40 pace up from Sausalito.
Van 1 turned in great performances by Tom (Leg 13), Carl (Leg 17) and Phil (Leg 18) who crushed their predicted times by "seeking and destroying" all runners they saw ahead of them. Kurt (Leg 14), Mike (Leg 15), and Terri (Leg 16) were solid and stuck to the pace despite the cold and darkness. Now Dick was running Leg 19 through twisty, hilly San Francisco. We caught up and outfitted him with vest and flashlight since there was no time at the exchange. While Dick was racing through the chaotic night life along the Great Highway where he saw car crashes, derelicts, and bonfires, Van 1 was off to some well-deserved sleep in Hillsborough. Ed hammered out Leg 20 with a 6:38 pace up 600 feet of climbing and passed to Pat who ran Leg 21 7minutes under prediction!
It's 3:30am and the weather is perfect. Scott sees two teams ahead and is determined to get both kills on his fast 4.2mi Leg 22. At the exchange I see the runner coming that Scott didn't catch. Then we all see a shadowy figure running the wrong way. Thinking Scott is now speeding to nowhere, Dick races after him in the van. But luckily it wasn't Scott and he quickly appears out of the night finishing with 6:15 pace and one roadkill.
Leg 23: I take the baton and sprint after the team ahead of us. It's all downhill and I clock 5:45 miles. I get my kill and pass on to Helen (Leg 24) who embarks on a long, lonely, dark run down Canada road. She is racing hard but feels like she's getting nowhere since there is nothing to sight on except a small spotlight of pavement.
Meanwhile, Van 2 is racing to meet us at Canada College. At 5am on a Saturday morning they notice the freeways and streets are empty, quiet and engulfed in fog. Suddenly they see a lone runner sprinting through the darkness. "It's Helen! And she's flying!" At the college, 30 minutes ahead of pace, we hand off to Van 1 as they crunch out their final set of legs. They are in good spirits despite only 1 hour of sleep. Tom, running Leg 25, is still racing fast as he cuts another 2 minutes off his time. Leg 26: Kurt goes all out and, even after bonking midway, manages to stay on pace. Leg 27: The sun is coming up, people in their homes are stumbling out of bed, and Mike is flying down Foothill Expwy, 2.5 minutes faster than predicted. He hands off to Terri for her tough 28 leg through Steven's Creek Canyon. Stomach cramps tear at her sides but she refuses to give in. After only giving up a few minutes, she successfully hands off to Carl (Leg 29) who gets 2 minutes back as he grinds his way up Redwood Gulch, 920 feet, at 7:49 pace, to hand off to Phil, mentally preparing for his 1100 foot climb up Hwy 9.
In the meantime, we're again waking up from 1 hour of sleep and packing the van to meet Phil at the top of Hwy 9. Phone contact is impossible in these mountains so we race to the top, not knowing where our other team is. We see a strong runner climbing the grade and instantly think that the elite runners who started behind us have finally caught us. But we learn that we are 30 min under schedule, still ahead of the elites, and that only one team remains in front. Our new goal is to be the first team to Santa Cruz!
Phil conquers the steep grade of Leg 30 with a 8:08 pace, impressing all of us. Now our van descends towards Santa Cruz with Dick screaming down Leg 31 with a 35:15 10k time (5:41 pace) and Ed running on flames to successfully catch the final team (a major kill!) and clock a 5:18 pace for Leg 32! And they said sub 6 was impossible! We're now 33 minutes ahead. Pat's Leg 33 included being chased by a dog, nicked by a car, and wanting to stop and sit down, but instead he exploded and turned out a 7:21 pace which moved us 38 minutes ahead! Scott's Leg 34 was a monster. Four rolling miles followed by a 2 mile 600 foot climb in the 10am heat. He managed an impressive 7:05 pace and held off the approaching elite teams. I grunted up a 300 foot hill during the first .5mi of Leg 35 and then enjoyed 4 miles of downhill clocking 6:05 pace.
Our van was almost out of control with excitement! If we could hold off the other teams for another hour we'd be the first to break the tape at the boardwalk. Helen took the final handoff at UCSC and sprinted 6 miles towards the beach. She was flying! We had a big gap so told her to ease it back. She still averaged 6:28 pace. The entire team ran with her the last 100 yards and celebrated under the finish line as the first team to get from Calistoga to Santa Cruz, 195 miles away!
Due to everyone exceeding expectations, we were able to
break 23 hours, finishing at 22:54:30. Our time was the 2nd fastest for
corporate teams. Everyone is thankful to Kaiser Electronics and Scott
Kusich for covering many expenses; Togo's De La Cruz for lunch; David
Krevor & Kristine Kirkpatrick for loaning their vans and for working
the exchanges; The Potters, the Lees, and the Petersons for providing
our team showers & accommodations; and Charlie Gorwood, Dave Davis,
and Mike & Tanya Golding for coming out to cheer us through our final
Team Menage a Douze competed in the Running Club Coed Division of The Relay, Calistoga to Santa Cruz 194 mile relay on September 27th and 28th. All members of the Tamalpa Running Club, our team consisted of twelve runners (in Van 1: Christie Pastalka, Lorilei Vose, Roger Gordon, Gayle Murphy, Jack Burns, Tomas Pastalka; in Van 2: Bob Miller, Jamie Wendel, Tom Berns, Ron Rahmer, Michelle Holman, and Kattie Gray), two drivers (Bill Katz and Dave Covey), and two volunteers (Hans Lothander and Dave Waco). In total there were 80 teams starting on the hour beginning at 10am until 4pm, Friday the 27th. We started out at the Old Faithful Geyser at 3pm in 89 degree temperatures, along with the likes of the Navy Seals from San Diego and the LAPD men's team.
Over the course of the next 24 hours we would travel through 36 cities and 7 counties. The Relay was divided into 36 legs, approximately 3 to 8 miles in length. Each leg was ranked in terms of difficulty (easy to very hard) based on it's length and the terrain. Each member of Team Menage a Douze ran three legs for an individual average of 16 miles. Our finish time was 24:12:15 at an average mile pace of 7:29, good for third place in our division, 19th overall. And to answer the burning question on everybody's lips; yes there were more than three teams in our division... there were six.
For Team Menage a Douze, race day culminated five months of preparation. Considering some of the stories we heard at the finish line, our advance planning really paid off. We had no problems during the race (at least none that a clothing consultant for Ron Rahmer couldn't solve) and, besides, the team newsletters, training programs, and parties were fun. In fact, the team is already looking forward to the planning phase of next year's race.
However, the planning wouldn't have meant anything if we hadn't had a cohesive team to begin with. From the beginning everyone was excited and committed to participating and contributing. As I mentioned above, this excitement held for five months. As we closed in on race day, a few people were nervous, but none of our alternate runners ever had a chance. No one was going to back out.
In addition to having eleven of the best teammates a captain could ever hope for, we used frequent newsletters, meetings (party-time), and run gatherings to keep everyone involved and up to-date on whatever progress was being made. Our goal was to involve all of the team members and keep them in the decision loop. Everyone had assignments such as arranging vehicle rentals, finding and securing hotel and dining accommodations, designing team T-shirts and having them printed, and arranging for the various items of required equipment, just to name a few. Although we weren't as successful in obtaining sponsors as we would have liked, Power Foods provided Team Menage a Douze with Power Bars, and Cellular One provided us with free air time for two phones during the otherwise billable portion of our race. Their support was very much appreciated. Next year we plan to start early and attempt to raise funds to cover some of our expenses and also make a charitable contribution.
Team Menage a Douze devised a training program specifically for The Relay. Certain aspects of the program were a little unique because this type of racing is unique. First and foremost, we had to be able to recognize each other in the dark. We got together and practiced that quite a bit until we could identify our teammates just by feel. As team captain, I randomly called team members in the middle of the night and had them go out and do a 5 to 6 mile run, on pavement, with a flashlight. Because it is common knowledge that a runner should, generally, try to adhere as much as possible to a normal daily routine prior to race day, we had to be sure our blood-alcohol levels didn't drop too far as we put in those training miles.
We also practiced not sleeping for twenty four hours, eating all the wrong things during that time, and then trying to set a P.R. on a training loop of our choice. To deal with Tom Berns' special training needs, I devised a program that incorporated a shotgun and some salt pellets that were used to motivate him when he felt he had no more to give. In actuality, this didn't work because Tom started looking forward to getting shot. Nevertheless, it was time and effort well spent. From the experience, I learned that Tom really ran best down hill, so with a change in leg assignments he was a star.
For the twelve Tamalpans who comprised Team Menage a Douze (plus our two drivers), The Relay was a memorable experience. If you need some excitement in your life, do one of these things. Between our two vehicles, there must be a hundred humorous stories about things that happened. Two weeks later we are still swapping stories (and gear) and talking about "next year". I have to admit, however, that some of the humor came after the race was over.
For example, Kattie, during the last leg of the race, didn't find any humor in anything. Even though the course was designed to finish along a beautiful two mile stretch of Santa Cruz coastline, I don't think she noticed. The three people who jumped out to run the last mile with her didn't notice either. It seems that Kattie's vehicle-mates had given her erroneous information about how far it was to the finish line. They told her it was a mile to go when it was more like a mile and a half to two miles. Naturally, Kattie turned up the burners when she heard there was only a mile to go. When her teammates realized their mistake, they sped back to tell her and to offer support by running with her for the last mile or so. This was a problem because she was racing, they were supporting. Although Jamie kept up, Bob Millers' and Tom Berns' bodies had finished the race an hour or two earlier. Now these guys had a dilemma. How were they going to get to the finish line in time to run in with the whole team? Particularly Tom ... dressed in sweats, under sunny skies with temperatures soaring. With a Herculean effort Bob and Tom made it happen and we all finished together. Like I said, only the spectators were laughing at the time.
Early in the race we almost had an unplanned delay because Runnin' Ron Rahmer's fashion consultant was on vacation and hadn't been there to help plan his wardrobe. In preparation for his first leg (Los Arroyos Golf Course to Casa Grande High School in Petaluma) he changed outfits no less than five times trying to achieve the right look. It didn't work. He ended up in a mixture of things that 1) caused significant wind drag, and 2) rendered him unrecognizable to his teammates when he approached the high school exchange. The Michael Jackson-style single glove look really threw us. On the up-side, he did provide amusement for all the non-runners who saw him along the way.
Each of the runners contributed significantly to the total effort, surprising even themselves with how well they ran in the middle of the night and during the day on Saturday after 18 to 20 hours without sleep. Michelle, Jamie, and Bob turned in 6:10, 6:14, and 6:17 minute per mile paces, respectively, over 6 to 10K distances, on their second and third legs. Roger Gordon ran more times in 24 hours than he normally does in two weeks, and he loved every minute of it. At the end he wanted to eat, then turn around and run home. Tom turned in a P.R. every time he stepped out of the van. The primary reason for his strong showing is that he thought he would be having dinner, breakfast, or at least a snack after each of his runs. A valuable lesson he learned from this is to never take Bob Miller seriously.
Christie led off from Calistoga and provided a distraction for the Navy Seals ... all of whom looked like Richard Gere, Tom Cruize, or Brad Pitt. Lorilei must have been doing some secret training she wasn't telling her captain about. At 9am Saturday morning in Palo Alto she cranked out a 6:55 pace for her third leg (5.75 miles). She did this while negotiating the infamous, confusing, and ill-marked series of intersections near the Stanford campus and Sand Hill Road. Gayle had the pleasure of negotiating an overflow of drunks as she passed the Silver Peso at closing time. They posed no problem since they were more than a little surprised to see someone out running at 2:30am. I guess they thought it was a lot later than it really was.
Tomas looked like a fish out of water running on the streets. There is just something about him that says "trails". Nevertheless, he did a yeoman's job of scaling Alexander and taking us over the Golden Gate Bridge. To any drivers that were crossing the span at 3:15 Saturday morning, Tomas looked like a fugitive from justice; some foreigner with a number across his chest, followed by a drunk, running full tilt toward San Francisco.
Our team was supported by Dave Waco and Hans Lothander, both of whom volunteered to give up their usual raucous Friday night activities and stand around until all hours, checking runners through two of the leg exchanges. Dave was in Petaluma, along with every single member of Michelle's immediate and extended family, and Hans spent the entire night in front of the Corte Madera Rec Center.
Last, but definitely not least, were our drivers, Bill Katz and Dave Covey. What's that, you ask? Bill Katz drives? Yes, indeed! Well, sort of. Basically, we agreed to exchange favors with Bill. We would give him the hours behind the wheel he needed to qualify for his license renewal (he recently discovered that the expiration date was 1948 not 1998) and by letting him drive, it certified us as "Extreme Athletes." Bill is an amazing guy... amazing to be alive, along with the rest of us. Of course, Dave Covey needs no introduction, having, in last month's Gazette, introduced the full text of his novel about traveling across Australia's outback. As a member of Team Menage a Douze, Dave wore multiple hats. Without help from his GPS, he single-handedly drove the relay course for our second vehicle, he was our statistician, and he was the only sane human being in the second van. In addition, Dave set a new P.R. He ate an entire Clif bar without taking a drink of water. Try it sometime.
If you need some excitement in your life, do this race! Although it won't be easy finding twelve people who will commit to do it, and then actually follow through, you will not regret it when it's over. Our team didn't want to split up after the race. In fact, being a hundred miles from home, we reserved the owner's private dining room at Shadowbrook Restaurant in Capitola and spent the night partying. Everyone was up early the next morning for champagne breakfast at Zachary's on main street in Santa Cruz. And Duarte's in Pescadero will never be the same. Most of us didn't make it back to Marin until 8:30 Sunday night. Since then we have had another celebration to share pictures and more stories.
The week following The Relay, I participated in the Bridge to Bridge 12K in San Francisco. I was surprised to see so many of The Relay shirts in the crowd. In conversations with several of these runners I was curious to know how they felt about the race. To a person, everyone I spoke to expressed the same sentiments about their participation as Team Menage a Douze had experienced.
If you are a runner and have eleven good friends,
join The 1997 Relay. You will be even better friends after it's over.
The Relay - like any other race - is to most observers simply a one-day event, an ad in The Competitor, a quote in the local paper. But a closer look reveals the Relay for what it really is: scores of volunteers getting up in the middle of the night, driving hundreds of miles laying the course, interfacing with local government officials and corporate sponsors, interviewing and marketing to the media and sports teams and organizations, and making countless decisions...what will the medals look like...what food will be at the Santa Cruz party? Like any smooth operation, the Relay requires vast behind-the-scenes work. And drawing off of last year's "beta" test, the 1996 Relay should prove to be a whole new class of recreation for the Bay Area.
The 1995 operation literally ran on a shoestring. Last year was kick-off year and thus required the event conceptualization, course creation, community approval among the 36 communities and sponsorship of eight teams. But all this was done by a very "lean" work force of just ten organizers literally rotating at exchanges down the course; two volunteers provided by Burlingame High School, and the remaining hands coming sporadically from organizers' base of friends and family (good thing they have them!).
In contrast, as of August 15, this year already has over 60 committed volunteers in addition to the 15+ organizers, with more expected in the following months. Which is a good thing: at the same time, over 60 teams of 12 people have signed up with more expected as well. That adds up to over 600 people. Wow.
That kind of growth is what attracts volunteers such as Teo Romero, who will return this year to help. "It is really cool to be a part of something that is growing. As the first of its kind for the Bay Area, I would really like to see it take off and do really well." Romero grew up in Woodside and has been active in athletics most of his life, playing football at Woodside High School and as a sports and massage therapist in Los Altos from 1987 to 1993 working with the 49ers and the Giants. He learned about The Relay from his colleague at Sequoia Hospital. But note that he does not run: "I am 6'3" and 260 pounds - I'm a defensive end, not a runner." But he is so enthusiastic about helping the race out that he will be back this year -- just three weeks after getting married. "I am looking forward to there being more people and more organization this year. I personally hope to see more high schools and more media get involved," Romero added.
More people, more teams, more more more: Enter the volunteers. This year, that cadre is headed up by Pat Beddia, who helped out in the 1995 Relay as a Zone Captain, responsible for 12 volunteers at six runner exchange sites.
Or have we slid into Relay Jargon already? Let's back up, and clarify. The race course is broken out into six geographic zones, and each zone consists of six exchange sites where the runners switch turns by passing a baton. Each exchange site has two volunteers to record the times and report to the Zone Captain, who oversees the six sites and alerts the next Zone Captain when the runners are expected to arrive in the next zone. In addition to calling other captains, each Zone Captain is also responsible for making sure each exchange site is equipped and that each volunteer receives a packet containing important information (i.e., cell phones, course maps, bathroom locations, and reminders to bring flashlights, watches, signs, FOOD, etc.).
Given the fact that the course spans 195 miles of territory with variance in population, terrain, traffic and daylight, you can imagine how important each volunteer is to the safety and smooth functioning of The Relay. And it is a good thing that adrenaline exists, because some of these heroes worked shifts at some ugly hours last year. "I was by myself from 4:30am to 8am near the reservoir in San Mateo...and it was cold," recalls Relay Saint Alison Freeman. Then she humbly adds, "I didn't do much." Freeman heard about The Relay through her running group, the Impalas of San Francisco. The Impalas is a group of at least 50-60 women who provided several volunteers for last year's race. "Besides the runners, the most noise I heard was the raccoon that came by," Freeman added.
Other volunteers had similar experiences as Freeman's. "I was on duty from 5am to 6am in Palo Alto," said Lauren Woodhouse. "It was pretty cold and that is not a fun time of the day for me. But, she adds, "when the runners came there was such a sense of camaraderie, it was inspirational." Woodhouse got to interact with the arriving team members and was encouraged by their enthusiasm."My brother has run a couple of marathons, so I also know what these events are like vicariously through his lifestyle."
Woodhouse also participates in events such as the Bay-to-Breakers and the Run To the Far Side and she enjoyed the opportunity to see an event "from the other side." She even unexpectedly ran into someone she knew (or vice versa): a former colleague from five years earlier was on one of the teams (which just goes to show that you never know when or where you'll meet someone!). "I am looking forward to 1996 to be bigger and better. I really enjoyed the enthusiasm of the runners." Let's hope so: Lauren has slotted herself for the 10pm to 2am slot this year in San Francisco.
A prime example of Model Volunteerism is David Hill, one of the race directors for the Napa Valley Marathon. He not only gave advice to The Relay race committee before the event, but according to Relay Race Director Jeff Shapiro "single-handedly saved" the race through Napa County after ten of twelve high school students did not appear on race day. Hill modestly downplays his involvement, stressing that the coordination before the race made things easy. Due to a work commitment, he unfortunately is unable to participate this year but emphatically stresses that "I will be back next year, you can count on that."
Among others who earn very Honorable Mentions: Barb Charpiot, who is returning this year as Zone Captain for Sonoma County after recruiting her family members to work exchange sites last year. "Compared to all the other panicked volunteers last year, Barb was amazing," exclaims Shapiro. "We just handed her the instructions and she set up everything perfectly, without asking a single question." Add Daryl Freier and Michele Toppe, who flew down from Portland to help out. Also returning is Andre Dunkell, President of the Santa Cruz Track Club. Last year Dunkell encouraged his wife's team by driving the van; this year he will help set up the finish line.
One of the higher-profile volunteers was Marie Rosenwasser, the President of Canada College. Rosenwasser personally opened the college from 3am to 8am and served coffee and escorted each runner down several flights of stairs and through the basement to the showers (perhaps it is no coincidence that "wasser" is German for "water"?). According to one runner, it was "the best shower I've ever had."
"I was so encouraged by the runners last year," says coordinator Beddia, who describes herself as a casual runner who ran track in high school and participates in events such as Bay-to-Breakers. "It struck me that more than individual teams competing against one another, it seemed like everyone was one huge team that pulled together to make it happen."
Daryl Freier and Michelle Toppe probably traveled
the farthest to help out, coming all the way from Portland, Oregon. Familiar
with The Relay concept from the local Hood-to-Coast event, this couple
was very excited to be a part of a first-time event. Freier and Toppe
spent most of the time driving the course, tying up any loose ends and
making sure the volunteers had what they need. But as runners themselves,
there were a bit antsy, "It was so great, especially with the beautiful
views, we were just disappointed to not be able to run ourselves."
But Freier added that, because Michelle runs new student orientation at
Portland State University, she "is a programmer at heart, so we wound
up being best used on the organizational side."
This name could not be more appropriate, given the nontraditional path it took in last year's Relay. It all started when team Captain Kim Ngo took up the sport only a few months before the Relay. "I had a friend who ran a lot and kept urging me to start running. I finally entered the Bay-to-Breakers that spring, and started doing 30 miles a week after that." If you haven't figured it out, Ngo is a bit intense. As soon as she learned about The Relay, this newly-born runner began assembling a team from contacts at work and through friends.
"It was hard to get others at the beginning, but we finally rounded up six capable runners and one casual runner who brought in the rest at the last minute." The team discovered its own limits on race day. "We almost ran out of "fuel" at the Golden Gate Bridge, and the six of us who were up to the physical challenge had only had a few hours of sleep. Because we were tired, we thought we might incur some injuries." So after a difficult decision, they voted to withdraw as a team. They went home, but the memory of the race lingered.
"We still wondered about the whole course -- how it looked, how it would have felt when we finished," laments Ngo. And the visions were so compelling that one month later, the six "capable" runners picked up where they left off, reassembling at the Golden Gate Bridge and finishing up the entire course. They brought along a faithful cyclist to protect them from traffic. They arrived in Santa Cruz at 10pm.
For 1996, the Misfit 2 team is trying to finish the
course on race day. Of the six "faithful", five are returning,
along with seven other "capable" runners, according to Ngo.
"I emphasized that they must do at least a 10K to be on the team,
and we have some marathoners. I hope to finish in the Top Ten -- that
is my expectation," chides Ngo, who not surprisingly adds, "I
am training with a coach this year." Yep. Intense.
Sleep deprivation. Camaraderie. These are the two images that come to mind for Team Captain Gavin Tripp when asked to recall the 1995 Relay. "You really have to push yourself. The 6-mile legs in themselves are not that bad, but it is the three in one day that takes the most energy," says Tripp, who assembled his team through contacts at his work (Citibank) and through some members of the Santa Cruz Track Club recruited by his brother Stuart.
In the 30 year-old age range, this all-male team is no stranger to running. Everyone on the team had already done a couple of marathons (although Captain Tripp asserts, "our time may not have reflected that"). And Tripp is even a race organizer himself, also launching an event last year (the "Mutt Strut", benefiting the Peninsula Human Society, is a 5K event at Coyote Point: this year's event will take place September 7).
But nobody had done a relay before. And team members admit to not being the best prepared. For one thing, they will bring food rather than eat out. "Let's just say that anybody who decides to do garlic pasta and coffee before the run deserves anything their body does to them," laments Tripp. Adds his brother Stuart. "We're not taking my car this year. It still has a distinct odor. The food element had a more serious effect when the team lost track of runner Bruce Smith after going for pancakes. "We didn't make it to the exchange site on time," confesses Stuart. "We felt so low, like second class citizens." Fortunately the team was able to catch up with Smith, who went on to complete 1/3 of the next leg on behalf of runner Danny Staffa.
Other trials were to come. In Marin, the team tried to take a nap in the park but local police informed them they could not. And on the Skyline Boulevard leg south of San Francisco near Crystal Lake, Stuart Tripp's flashlight went out and all he could think of were the recent mountain lion sightings that had been reported in the area. Imagine his shock when he stumbled upon a dead deer in the middle of the road. Despite the bitter cold and lack of sleep, the fright pumped significant adrenaline to jump start him to finish his leg. But perhaps the toughest was the Highway 9 leg which took him on the mountain road from Boulder Creek to Ben Lomond in 2:30pm heat. "After that, I vowed I would not do the race again," remarks the (returning!) runner.
Which goes to illustrate that despite the lack of
sleep, the cold and hot elements and the often too-close-for-comfort quarters
and hygiene (or lack thereof), there is something special about this 24-hour
period of natural beauty, physical challenge, and team bonding.
Physical energy may be required to run a relay, but creativity and a bit of feistiness certainly don't hurt, either. These runners originally came out of Syntex Corporation, the Palo Alto-based biotechnology company. When the multinational conglomerate Roche bought Syntex in 1993, the employees were spread across the U.S. but the sporting bond remained. Now these runners can be found from Santa Cruz to Salt Lake City to the east coast, with a common thread remaining: relay races. Under varying names, this loosely-assembled group of 40 or so runners, ranging from younger than 30 years old to a 68 year-old (known as the "Godfather" of the team). Of these, there is a core group of 15-20 runners which has completed nine Hood-to-Coasts, two Mount Rainiers (a 165-mile mountain-to-ocean course in Washington State), and the one and only (thus far) Napa-to-Santa Cruz in 1995.
"The team is getting older and our times are getting slower, but it is a very nice experience," claims team Godfather Gerry Blaufarb. "It was me who started the rule, Start slow and taper off," quips Blaufarb, who took up running at the age of 48 to avoid putting on weight when he stopped smoking.
Of course one of the first questions that pops into mind is, where did this name come from? The legendary dubbing came out of a creative session in 1991, when team members were returning from Oregon's Hood-to-Coast in a van and were trading name ideas over the CB radio.
"We have done many miles under varying titles," boasts team captain Gordon Gillmouth of Fremont. Other team names have been "Delusions of Adequacy" and "The Assfault Biters," taking a crack (no pun intended) at the earthquake concerns at the time. You are getting the picture if you notice that reverence is not part of this team's culture. The winners of the mixed open division, "Just Watering Your Flowers, Ma'am" went over so well during the 1995 Relay that they have decided to use it again in this year's race as well.
Of all the relays they have done, what made the Napa-to-Santa Cruz Relay so special? In an oft-repeated refrain, team member Bikash Chatterjee of Fremont declares, "I was so impressed with the porta-potties. Every one had paper towel dispensers inside." Another thing that sticks out in Chatterjee's mind is the beauty of the course itself. "Because the course is less congested than other relays, you really feel like you are 'blazing the trail.' There are times when you feel like it is just you and the moon. And the mountains and hills make the most beautiful course you can imagine." True to this team's creative spirit, Chatterjee suggested a new name for the Relay itself: the "Cabernet to Calimari."
Captain Gillmouth adds that a large motivater to run the Napa-to-Santa Cruz race was the newness of the event. "We were jazzed about the opportunity to participate in the first-time event of a race we believe will become one of the best relays ever. We were also particularly enthused about how low-key and non-competitive it was, and how enthusiastic (race director) Jeff was despite there being only nine teams." The non-competitive nature proved to be valuable in the execution of the race: as a young operation, a few exchange points did not have volunteers to take down the times, in which case "we just signed in on the clipboard hanging there and went on our way," says Gillmouth. "It was no big deal to us. Our objective is to have a good time -- to do the best we can, but to have a good time."
It is clear this team meets their objective of fun. "I love the camaraderie of being with people you normally would not associate with in daily life," says Blaufarb. "I personally have been the oldest and the farthest up the corporate hierarchy, and people looked up to me when we started. But I didn't want people to defer to me....now the pendulum has swung the other way and they don't give a damn what I say!," he laughs.
As for 1996, the team hopes to have a good time and is also
looking forward to the 'upgrades' that come with one year of experience.
"I have no doubt that this year will be a success, given the enthusiasm
and organization of the coordinators," concluded Gillmouth.
Coordinating teams of twelve to traverse 36 cities spanning 195 miles is not an easy task. Now scale that up several times and be impressed. The following statistics demonstrate why 1996 is truly the Year of the Ramp-Up:
This year I discovered the explosive trend of long distance relay running. In August I ran the Hood to Coast relay. This event starts at Mount Hood near Portland, Oregon and finishes 196 incredible miles later at Seaside on the coast. In October I ran my second relay, the Napa to Santa-Cruz relay. This California event starts in Napa valley at the Old Faithful Geyser in Calistoga, travels through San Francisco and ends 195 miles later on the beach in Santa Cruz.
As a business consultant I was amazed at the large cross section of people represented. There were runners of all ages and backgrounds, the youngest in their teens and the oldest to put it nicely were well into their golden years. They ranged in running ability from world class to novice. I met scores of people who were adventurous trend setters excited about life, health and leisure.
In researching the demographics of relays, I've found these events to be largely undiscovered. For those unfamiliar with these events, let me describe them. Running is largely an individual sport but relays bring the concept of team running to life. These super-marathon distances are typically divided into legs of 5 miles or so, and teams rotate their runners sequentially, each runner completing a single leg before passing off a light weight baton to the next runner on their team until many legs and many miles later each team crosses the finish line.
200 mile relays are usually divided into 36 legs with 12 runners on each team. This means that each runner runs 3 of the 36 legs, for an individual total of approximately 15-18 miles. Legs are rated from easy to hard so runners of all abilities can participate and be challenged. One of my relay teammates this past year had only run four times before joining our team.
Teams typically rent mini-vans and divide into 2 groups of 6 runners, allowing one group of six runners to complete their legs while the other van tends to food, supplies and rest issues. The strength, endurance and strategy required for a successful team creates sheer excitement, camaraderie and bonding between runners. There is nothing quite like the feeling of handing off that baton after a particularly difficult leg to an eager face ready to keep it moving for the team, with teammates and others cheering you on. It brings a whole new dimension to running and is an explosive trend on the West Coast, with events growing in California, Oregon and Washington.
Hood to Coast, probably the best known relay race in the world has been increasing in popularity every year now for over a dozen years. Established in 1981, the first race had only 9 teams. Last summer's race boasted 830 teams from all over the country. The event which includes a shorter relay and a walking relay had 12,000 participants and 40,000 celebrants at the finish.
Although some teams are competitive the vast majority of teams are there for pure enjoyment. Most teams are comprised of recreational runners with experience ranging from veteran to novice. Relays are a celebration of life and running. Many corporations enter teams, some challenging competitors, vendors and customers to participate. Others are filled with like minded people, either representing clubs, organizations or simply friends or family. Still other teams are a hodge-podge of personalities and backgrounds. Teams invent creative names, van decorations, and even costumes for their runners. Team names like "Dead Jocks in a Box" denoting a team of older previously competitive runners in their van, "Just Watering Your Flowers Ma'am", "Beachin' Babes", "Killer Bees", "Used to be Friends" reflect the range of teams and spirit.
Some teams use the uniqueness of the relays in their fundraising efforts. "Cruisers with a Cause" is a team of 12 women, 3 of whom have survived breast cancer. They have won 5 relays while raising $10,000-15,000 each time for the breast cancer society.
These events create heroes and winners, teams that triumph and return in following years to defend their titles and seek to better their performance. Incredibly, both events I participated in this year had a team comprised of a single runner. In Hood to Coast Cindie McKenna ran the 196 miles, and in the Napa to Cruz relay Dean Karnazes completed the 195 miles. These are staggering distances for a single individual and a testament to the human spirit.
From a business perspective these events are largely undiscovered. Sponsorships and advertising seem to be very affordable for the exposure. For example, the Napa to Cruz relay travels through 36 bay area cities including San Francisco and Silicon Valley, crosses the Golden Gate Bridge and boasts the largest number of recognized tourist destinations along its course of any running event in the world. The novelty and magnetism of including a large geographical area in a single event extends sponsorship exposure beyond that of shorter races.
The events are an ideal medium for athletic industry companies since many runners participate in other activities such as bicycling, swimming, walking, aerobics, hiking, skating, and skiing to name a few. The events are also a potential venue for health/performance foods, lifestyle products, leisure products, travel services, etc.
Companies could design clever marketing to tie into these unique events. For example, Ford Motor Co. recently spent $40,000 on the launch of the redesigned Taurus, parading its new model through San Francisco. As a title sponsor of a "Running of the Bulls Relay", Ford might showcase cars leading the runners over the 200 miles. Another example might be the "Wells Fargo Stagecoach Relay" with a stagecoach leading runners over the course. How about a real estate company displaying their signs through a large geographical area marking turns for the runners for 200 miles?
Based on my research, participants are on average 60% male, 40% female, ranging in age from 13 to over 60 with a median age of 40.5, talk about baby-boomers. Nearly 90% have attended college. 64% are employed in professional / managerial capacities. The average household income is $75,000 with a median of $65,000. 65% of participants are married, and most describe themselves as trend-setters, 90% responding that they give advice on everything from athletic equipment to food / diet products. In addition to sponsorship opportunities, these events have finish line areas setup where runners and their guests purchase everything from clothing, to sunscreen, to food.
Since the events pass through cities and municipalities, there are opportunities for local enterprises to man exchange points in their area with volunteers or supply products, or samples. in return for advertising at these exchange points. This was the first year for the Napa to Cruz relay and the response from both the teams and the volunteers was outstanding. Based on current inquiries and registration, the event promises to grow next year by a factor of 10 or more. Hood to Coast now in their 14th year is projecting an increase in participation for 1996 of 20%.
Participation in running events in 1995 grew by 10%. Participation in women's races grew by 37%. Health conscious baby-boomers are creating ripples in running. This combined with an apparent interest in including a social dimension into health activities seems to have given rise to this growth in relay and team events.
A variety of vehicles exist for companies to participate in this growth. These include everything from race sponsorship, to team sponsorship, to direct mail. The mailing lists alone from these events offer access to the participants at minimal cost. The January 1996 issue of Runner's World lists "running a relay" as one of the 12 best new ideas in running. These events are just now starting to tap a national market of 35 million recreational runners. Some companies have even demonstrated the promotional power of recruiting an elite running team and winning these events. Both Nike and Adidas enter competitive teams in a number of divisions, the rivalry and competitive nature attracting world class runners like Olympic Gold Marathon winner Alberto Salazar to anchor such teams.
As for me I'll be putting in the miles getting ready for the relays this spring. I'll be tackling these keeping my eyes open for new products, new ideas and new opportunities.
Sincere thanks to the helpful staffs of both the Hood to Coast and Napa to Santa Cruz relays for their support in preparing this article. Hood to Coast relay - (503) 292-4626 Napa to Cruz relay - (650) 508-9700
David Pariseau, President of Technology Plus, has been developing technical products and consulting on technology issues for the past 14 years. He lives, runs and writes in the heart of Silicon Valley.
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