Comprised of returning runners Simon Godwin, Terrie
West, Jack Youngren, Tony Fong, Jason Lejonvarn, John Heber and Sherman
Bruster, with newcomers Chris Swain, Nathan Knuth, Fletcher Lesley,
Colin Soloman and Lanse Whitcomb, the WVTC team, Ottoway's Dirty Dozen
took second place overall and finished first in the Men's Submasters
Introduction: 'Prelude To Pain'
It was a hare-brained idea. Who in their right mind would cough up 80 bucks to spend two days in a van with five other smelly guys, running head-on into traffic at all hours of the night? Well, it was the East Bay Striders, where foolish feats attract flies like honey!
Thanks to the unrelenting effort of team captain Eric Ellisen, the East Bay Striders (EBS) are now the proud owners of the Third Annual Napa to Santa Cruz Relay title, not to mention a new course record, and a couple of keen plaques. It is arguably one of the highlights in EBS club history. Thanks also to PowerFoods and Barton's Bagels for providing the fuel for victory!
Rounding up the twelve fools was probably the hardest part of the job. With only eight guys (including one woman) signed up with a week to go, we had to do some serious begging, lying and threatening. To make things worse, five other EBS fools were already committed to running the Cox Cable 10K road championships in Eureka (which made the Relay seem like time well spent by comparison). By race morning, however, the king and his court were in place, along with their trusty Ford Windstar steeds. At least half the battle was over.
Race morning, Friday, September 19th, found the team, cleverly named The East Bay Striders, lounging in the parking lot of the El Cerrito Plaza mall. Ellisen and co-captain Thom Trimble wheeled in an hour late with the aforementioned minivans. Van A, cleverly named 'Van A' would chauffeur the leg 1-6 runners, while Van B, cleverly named.....yeah, not funny anymore... would carry the 7-12 leg runners. A total of 36 legs (3 legs per runner) would be completed before the race was over....hopefully.
With the start only 2 hours away in the town of Calistoga Van A had to burn rubber to simply make their allotted starting time. Van B, in the meantime, was able to take a leisurely drive to Napa for lunch to await their early evening jaunts.
To facilitate a more compact field, Relay teams were sent off every half hour based on their expected finish times. The slowest teams started at 9:30 AM on Friday, while the fastest departed seven hours later at 4:30 PM. The EBS team was the proud owner of a 4:30 PM start time, along with four other teams. Based on the course profile and EBS talent pool, the team was looking at just nipping under the 20 hour mark, slightly better than the course record.
Legs 1-6: 'We Just Barely Made The Start'
The Striders in Van A were certainly sweating as we made our way north to Calistoga. Not only were we a bit nervous that we would miss the start, but it was hot, probably in the low 90's by the time we got underway. The team checked in hastily (by this time, the organizers had pretty much run out of all the cool, free stuff that our $480 entry fee included), and captain Eric Ellisen prepared to run.
In this final starting group, the 'fast' guys, we were seeded with 'Ottaway's Dirty Dozen', the team fielded by the West Valley Track Club (WVTC), and the winning team from 1996. The group started right around 4:30, and Eric assumed the immediate lead, which he held for about the first mile. As things settled in, the team dropped to fourth place out of five starters, and was able to hold that position through the end of the first leg.
Eric handed the baton to Strider Ultra maven Ken Gregorich. Gregorich and Ellisen were just coming off finishes in the Pt. Reyes 50K trail race two weeks earlier, so 6:00 pace was about the limit. Ken held his ground and passed off to Rob Flatland.
Rob, certainly the dark horse of Van A, smoked his first leg and averaged 5:21 pace for the 4.1 miles along Silverado Trail. During this time, we moved up a couple of places.
Next came Barton Goode, who held his own, and was able to pass the 'Dozen' during his leg, and put the Striders into the 'lead' for the first time. We would go back and forth with WVTC through the night, and not cement our lead until sunrise the next morning.
Barton handed off to Joe Schieffer, who maintained our position. It was during Joe's leg that the Strider team began picking off teams from earlier starting groups. Over the course of the race, we would pick off a couple of teams per leg, and steadily move up through the field.
By the time Joe handed to Brian McGuire, the sun was going down, and we were able to cool off somewhat. Brian kept our place, but had a dicey moment when he had to fling himself into a busy Napa intersection, and dodge cars; hopefully, in the 1998 edition of the race, the organizers will see fit to institute traffic control at these locations. Brian kept up a 5:27 pace for his 4.5 mile leg, and handed off to Larry Menard, who was the first runner off from Van B.
During the first six legs, the team members became acclimated to the group spirit and the teamwork that would be required to make this effort a success. The members of Van A pulled off their journey pretty seamlessly, which was saying something, given 19 hours together in a ripe smelling van with six guys and little sleep.
At the point where Van A handed off for the first time, we had a chance to rest at a local church, located by the handoff. Unfortunately, we had a bit of an altercation with the church management, who claimed racers were doing their business in the bushes of their property, so that we weren't welcome. In the midst of this awkward moment, we realized we had the wrong church, so we backed away gracefully, and went to the right place, and crashed in their gym.
Legs 7-12: 'Riding the Rollercoaster'
With the sun ready to call it a day, the Van B dudes were making grass angels in the local park. It was almost dark, we had been up for over 12 hours, and we still had to run three times each before we were done. This fact did not lend itself to warm and fuzzy feelings. The first phone call from Van A, midway through their first set of legs, made our hearts sink a bit. Of the five teams we started with, we were in third. Dreams of an easy victory quickly vanished. Subsequent phone calls changed that as we learned the the Striders had pulled into first and were leading at least the group of five.
Last-minute recruit Larry Menard was to run the first leg for Van B, his set of three legs being about the fourth toughest grouping. Larry was also the first to don the required reflective vest and flashlight, as the sun bid goodbye for the next 20 legs or so.
Prior to departure we adorned our van with the prerequisite "Ruuners on Road" sign and numerous PowerBar bumper stickers. PowerBars and Bartons Bagels would provide most of our fuel for the next 20+ hours.
Van A had pulled out a 3 minute lead over the other top teams and things were looking pretty good. Larry hammered his 4.6 mile rolling leg and added another 45 seconds to the lead. Some of the earlier starting teams were becoming our victims with each successive mile.
Larry flew into the exchange zone so abruptly he missed the handoff to Jeff Teeters, costing us 2 valuable seconds! Jeff was assigned the third toughest set of legs, which began with a rolling 6.1 miler. Just like Larry, Jeff pulled out another minute or so on the second place team, now positively identified as the 'Dirty Dozen' from WVTC.
With over a five minute lead courtesy of Jeff, Alan Steeples tested his legs on a relatively flat 4.6 mile leg. Although the terrain was modest, the minimal shoulder and pitch-dark conditions made the going tough. Alan did his part and added to the EBS lead, now standing at around six minutes.
Van B captain Thom Trimble took the bracelet from Alan and headed into the longest and most confusing leg of the day. (Thom was assigned the toughest leg grouping by nipping Brian McGuire at the previous week's cross country race.) Running on six inches of shoulder in darkness was bad enough, but throw in 1.2 miles of cow trails and a fading flashlight and things became really interesting! Unable to see much of a trail, Thom resorted to power-hiking most of the dirt section. After going off course twice, he was at last able to find the pavement again. Thom finished the 7.7 mile leg at just over 6 minute pace, but had given up half the lead in the process...DOH!! The evil WVTC team, like a bad date, came calling again.
Mike Ignatius took the stick into the second longest leg of the day. His 7.1 miler culminated in a long steep hill to its finish. While the trailing Van got lost somewhere in Petaluma, Mike was able to make his way to the finish with only a minor off-course venture. Since the tone of the race was to be set by how each team stood after one full round of running, we were hoping to have a sizable lead after leg 12.
The good news was that Mike held onto the lead. The bad news was that the lead was now merely ONE SECOND! Our hearts were in our throats as WVTC had slurped up our six minute cushion and was now looking for our sofa pillows!
New-member Mike Kinter had the dubious honor of trying to regain EBS' pride, not to mention the lead. The early going of Mike's leg 12 didn't look promising as WVTC pulled ahead by 20-30 seconds early into the hilly 4.8 mile leg. The Van raced ahead to the exchange zone at the Cheese Factory with hopes that Mike would do his best at damage control.
Arriving at the tumultuous leg 12-13 handoff zone, a couple of cheesy guys approached the team. It was Striders' Mike Frankfurt and Steve Brenneck, the invaluable EBS volunteers. After engaging in small talk for a few minutes, our focus returned to the handoff zone with the imminent arrival of Mike Kinter.
Much to our surprise, Mike had not only caught the WVTC runner, but had put a full 80 seconds on him! While 80 seconds wasn't much in a 197-mile race, it was a huge mental advantage knowing we were the fastest team over the first round of twelve legs. Now it was time to start the whole routine over again, this time with all of a minute head start. Third place at this time was the Tarahumara team, a few minutes back.
Legs 13-18: 'Just Keep Your Eyes on the White Lines'
By the time Van A took the stick out in the countryside south of Petaluma, it was nearing Saturday morning, and pretty dark. As team captain Eric Ellisen started south, the only clue for seeing was the white line at the side of the road; mandatory flashlights did little to illuminate the way. On top of this, oncoming cars narrowed further the strip at the side of the road that was fit for running. Two miles into leg 13, the 'Dozen' caught the Striders again, and it would not be until San Anselmo, around leg 16, that the Striders would regain the lead.
At this point, we were flying by earlier starting teams, and we felt for the first time that we might have a shot. Ken, Rob and Barton all ran strong legs; we had fun cruising the Red Hill Safeway in Fairfax early on Saturday morning while we waited for Rob.
We were worried a bit about leg 17, with its complicated twists and turns, but Joe Schieffer navigated beautifully, and handed off to Brian for leg 18 with a healthy lead over WVTC. Brian drew the lucky assignment of running across the Golden Gate Bridge, although that included a pretty good climb up to the deck. The Van A group landed at the Presidio a few minutes before Brian came in; like back at the Cheese Factory near Petaluma, it was quite a scene here. Brian handed off to Larry, and the Van A's were off for a bit of rest.
Legs 19-24: 'Bear Down Striders!'
Van B raced up to the Presidio for its first nap time. Arriving at around midnight, we parked our bodies on the lawn with hundreds of other runners, trying to grab a few winks and wolf down some more PowerBars and Gels.
Just as we were about to drift off, the cell phone broke the silence. Eric informed us it was deja-vu all over again. EBS had fallen behind WVTC early in their second set of legs, but was now pulling away again, as they approached the Golden Gate Bridge. It was now a two-team race as we learned that third place Tarahumara had become lost on leg 10 for over 20 minutes!
Larry warmed up for his second jaunt of the day. In sharp contrast to the rolling hills of Napa, Larry would now contend with the streets of San Francisco. Larry took the 'stick' from Brian with nearly the same lead Van A had provided the previous round - three minutes. Before we could get the Van B sleepy-heads roused, Larry was gone. We charged after him minutes later. After driving nearly four miles without seeing any Strider singlet in sight, we realized the worst - Larry was lost!
Doubling back on the course we eventually found him, running like a man possessed, cursing that he had gone off course for nearly four minutes. As a result, WVTC was now dead even with us again, another cushion gone. Our hopes for victory were sucked from us once again. Now, rather than relying on incremental gains over WVTC each leg, we had to bear down and run like we meant it. No coasting to the finish here!
Larry took out his frustrations by putting 90 seconds on WVTC over the final four miles of leg 19. The question was, would he have anything left for his final leg? Mike Ignatius vowed that we would not goof up again and began issuing random orders left and right. The rest of us ate bagels and stared out the window of the van.
Jeff blasted into his 5.9 mile rolling leg and continued to distance himself from all pursuers. At this point in the race we were passing slower teams every mile or so. This helped by giving us short-term goals throughout each leg. Jeff hammered up the steep finishing hill and handed off to Alan once again, this time with nearly a three minute lead.
Alan plowed through his 6.5 mile leg 21, some of which was run on a bike trail.
Vowing not to give up any time on his leg this round, Thom charged into his rolling 4.1 mile leg with a lead of exactly three minutes. Passing runners left and right added fuel to the fire and made him oblivious to his legs screaming: 'It's 3 AM you fool, we should be sleeping!' This time, rather than giving up 3 minutes, Thom had actually gained a few seconds on the pursuing Dirty Dozen guy - a critical blow to WVTC's psyche.
Mike Ignatius did more of the same as he powered through his 3.7 mile leg. Close following by the van ensured that Mike ran only as far as he had to. Thom's yell of '400 meters to go' (in reality 800 meters) squeezed every ounce out of Mike's legs. Although he did not gain on his rival, he did limit the loss to just over a minute. EBS was looking good now, spirits were rising.
Mike Kinter now had the luxury (burden?) of a sizable lead. The gradual climb on leg 24 to the Canada College finish worked out perfectly for Mike's running style. Rather than putting 80 seconds on WVTC, he was able to pile on another two and a half minutes, giving EBS a huge four minute lead at the two-thirds point in the race.
Showering at Canada College, with Van A hard at work on the roads, faint smiles came over the team. We could actually smell victory for the first time! We were wrong...it was the potato piroshkis in the gym! We ate them as an appetizer anyway. It was the only real food we had eaten all day. After the rinse n' blintz we raced up into the Santa Cruz mountains to grab another faux nap before our last runs of the day.
Legs 25-30: 'Ain't That a Beautiful Sunrise!'
By now it's 6 AM on Saturday morning, and the Van A's, after a whole two hours of sleep, were up and ready to go for their last round. We were handed a four minute lead over the 'Dozen', and it was looking pretty good. Leg 25 had us running down toward Stanford and right into the approaching sunrise: beautiful. Even though Eric nearly took a wrong turn which would have landed him smack in the middle of an Interstate 280 offramp!, he was able to keep a slim lead on WVTC, about two minutes by the end of the leg. This lead we were never to relinquish, and in fact, extended it from this point on.
From here on in, it was pure adrenalin and excitement, which built through the remainder of these legs. Ken, Rob and Barton all cruised their legs through Palo Alto and Portola Valley at or near 6 minute pace; Barton handed to Joe for leg 29, then the final work began for the Van A's.
Joe and Brian, by the assignment of their legs, had drawn the two toughest of the 36, save perhaps for number 10 through the cow pasture in the dark. Their task was to make the climb up to Skyline Blvd, Highway 35, an elevation gain near 2,000 feet in a very few miles. Both Joe and Brian held near 7 minute pace on their ascents, and we handed off to the Van B's with a secure lead, and began a celebration of sorts, mostly because we were done! All that was left for the Van A's to do was drive the route, and cheer our compatriots on to victory.
Legs 31-36: 'Coasting to the Coaster!'
When we arrived at the exchange zone for leg 31 we were virtually alone. We had essentially passed all but a few of the 169 teams ahead of us. While a quick nap under the trees proved refreshing, what we were about to learn upon awaking did more than coffee could ever do.
With our cellphone now DOA we were totally out of contact with Van A until we saw it screech into the exchange zone, at the top of the hill. Eric bounded out and yelled "15 minutes!" We asked if that meant Brian would be here in 15 minutes. Eric replied: "No, we're ahead by 15 minutes!" Cheers erupted.....well okay, not really, but it did beat a poke in the eye. (As it turned out, the lead was just over 13 minutes.)
Narrowly escaping a citation from the park ranger for camping without a permit, the Van B Striders were packed and ready to commence their march to victory. Larry paced about the exchange zone showing little sign that this would be his third 'race' in 12 hours.
The only thing that stood between us and victory was the possiblity of getting lost, or the quick recruitment of several Kenyans by WVTC. To reduce our chances of getting lost the Van kept very close tabs on each runner.
For some strange reason, Larry's last leg was labeled as 'Moderate' despite the fact that it was all downhill. Larry surprised even himself as he flew through the 10K distance in an amazing 30:58!
Jeff kept things interesting by announcing that he was concerned about blowing out his Tevas on his downhill leg. Jeff had no spare shoes with him and the only member who wore his size was Ken, in Van A. We therefore kept a pair of Ken's size 12 in our van just in case. It turned out that no spares were needed as Jeff scorched his 6 mile leg in 31:09
The lead now stood at around 15 minutes as Alan prepared for his final 5.5 mile meander thru the foothills of Santa Cruz. With the pressure off, the runs became a bit more enjoyable. The presence of daylight also buoyed our spirits. Alan still turned in 6 minute miles to record a solid 32:25 for his final effort of the day.
Despite having the race in the bag, Thom still had to negotiate what turned out to be equal to the toughest legs of the course. While only 10K in length, the last 2 miles were straight up. While Thom clipped through the first four miles at 5:40 pace the last two were sheer agony. Clubmate Matt Urdan's advice of 'walk fast' was taken to heart as Thom pressed up the last stretch to finish his leg in 37 flat. At this point EBS had passed all but one of the teams in the race.
Mike Ignatius got a taste of The Hill for the first mile of his leg but was able to enjoy a relaxed downhill for the remainder of his 6.5 mile leg. With few turns on his leg, Van B raced ahead to the final handoff zone to prep Mike Kinter for his 12-turn final leg. We vowed to 'shadow' Mike for the entire last leg to ensure our victory didn't end up traveling down Route 1 towards Watsonville.
Mike decided to hold 6 minute miles to prevent any possiblity of crashing over the last 6.1 mile leg. Van B met him at nearly every corner. With 2 miles to go, and Mike safely past the last junction, both Vans met at the Boardwalk to prepare for the victory dash across the finish line.
Mike appeared on schedule and escorted the 11 other happy but trashed team members onto the beach and across the finish line. Despite the 1997 course being 3 miles longer, EBS had crushed the old record by over 30 minutes! The club was able to enjoy the limelight and interviews for a full 14 minutes before our new arch rivals, Ottaway's Dirty Dozen, appeared on the scene.
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