19 May 2012


Another cool T-Shirt design, courtesy of John G.
For some reason, I had been procrastinating over the write up for this one. The race itself was very different from anything else I had ever participated in since I started to compete in races beyond the marathon distance just three years ago. It required a lot more coordination and logistics planning than any previous race I attended, nut just prior but during the race as well. However, I have no one to blame but myself, since I am the one that put the team together. I was the one that signed us up, I was the team captain. While there were many things I messed up in my role as team captain, I did do one thing right. I signed up a bunch of engineers and that meant that the majority of the planning and logistics would be taken care of by people other than me. Hey, that's just the way it works out when a bunch of engineers are involved. Everything gets planned out to the minute, every detail gets addressed. While I am known to be "slightly" obsessive compulsive when it comes to preparing for anything, all I could do in this case was to let nature take its course, i.e. let the engineers have at it. Thanks again guys for making my job as team captain so easy and for allowing me to focus on the important things, e.g. who to "motivate" to run faster.

When it was all said and done, we had spent a total of 31 hours, 27 minutes and 54 seconds out there, setting the ultra division record, which wasn't too difficult since we were the only ultra team that competed this year. While most teams had 12 runners to complete the distance, we had 6. Who is we, you ask? That would be crew chief #1 and team volunteer James Duncan, crew chief #2 and driver Ryan Ezell, and runners Mike Trice, Richard Trice, Ed Johnson, Dan Brooks, Jay Naves, and yours truly, team captain and instigator of this adventure. Together we formed team "I Lost My Sock In Huntsville". We were the only team from North Alabama as well as the only entry in the ultra division of the inaugural Dixie200, a 200 mile relay race from Atlanta, Georgia to Birmingham, Alabama.

All eight participating teams started Saturday morning at 7AM just outside Atlanta, Georgia at the Silver Comet Trailhead. We would continue to run the entire length of the Silver Comet Trail before continuing on the Chief Ladiga trail once we crossed the Georgia/Alabama state line. Once we reached the end of the Chief Ladiga Trail, runners would continue to run on open roads along a preset course and with some assistance from local police on busier roads (especially during the night). However, for the most part, runners were responsible for their own safety and following the rules of the road once we left the trails.

Team "ILMSIH" had arrived in Atlanta the night before the race via van, courtesy of a friend of Ryan's (thanks again). I had picked up the van at Ryan's friend's house and driven it to the predetermined meeting spot at a local office at Research Park. Mike was still slaving away while Rich, Jay, Dan, Ed and I were already loading up the van with out gear. James had already driven down to Atlanta to recon the course and to camp out near one of his volunteer stations along the course. James had volunteered for the race in order to save our team 100 bucks off the registration fee (thanks so much). As it turned out, fewer teams than expected meant more volunteer duties than initially expected, so James ended up having to work at two exchange points rather than just one. In the end, I don't think he minded too much. He still had enough energy to continue to crew for us once his volunteer duties were completed (thanks yet again;-).

We took off from Huntsville just after 3PM in order to make it to Atlanta in time to pick up Ryan from the airport. He had volunteered as our crew and driver, but a work assignment had him travel out of town the week of the race. But instead of stepping down as our crew and driver, Ryan just rerouted his return flight to Atlanta, so he could still crew and drive for us. What a trooper! I'm not sure he would have done so had he known what to expect. A bunch of sweaty, stinky and sleep deprived runners cooped up in a van for 33 hours with no access to showers or clean clothes (I'm referring to you, Richard;-). At the end, Ryan had to me more sleep deprived than anyone else. After all, he had to drive the entire time, while some of us managed to squeeze in a few minutes (or hours, if your name is Jay;-) of shuteye.

We arrived at Atlanta airport with a slight delay due to a stop at a Greek-Italian restaurant for dinner, or was it Italian-Greek? Sorry, Ryan, I know we told you the poor weather conditions delayed us, but it was really just our need to eat and drink beer. What made it worse was the fact that Ryan had just ordered food and was about to eat his own dinner when we pulled up at the airport, giving him no time to eat nor to grab his food to go. I know I would have been grumpy as @W#!$, not Ryan though. After traveling all day, he just had a big smile, introducing himself to everyone and stating how excited he was about the adventure we were about to embark on. Little did he know...

Dan had arranged two hotel rooms for us near the race start and we finally made it there around 9PM the night before the race (thanks, buddy). We split up in two groups and decided to hit the sack as soon as possible, knowing that we wouldn't get much sleep over the next 36 hours. I remember talking to Rich, wondering how much of the course James had already surveyed and when he would share his intel with us. I also remember worrying about James. We did hit some severe weather as we were arriving in Atlanta and I was certain that his camping spot would be hit as well. In the end, my worries appeared to be unfounded and James made it through the night just fine.

Our alarm clocks (e.g. Blackberrys, iPhones and Androids) went off at 5:30AM, allowing us time for a quick breakfast before heading to the race start. We wouldn't meet up with James until we would make it to his first volunteer station and exchange point. By 6:30AM, we had arrived at the trailhead, ready to check in and ready to get our first runner Richard on his way. With only 8 teams toeing the starting line, the race start was a little anticlimactic in a funny sorta way. We all yelled and screamed and before the runners had even covered 10 yards, one of the 8 runners took a wrong turn. Thankfully, it wasn't Richard. This should be fun...

The race was broken down into 36 legs, each leg ranging anywhere from 3-10 miles. Because we had opted to start in the ultra division, we only had six runners. In addition, only 4 of us were actual ultra runners, which meant we would assign more legs to the 4 ultra runners. We would also assign the longest legs to the ultra runners. This ended up working reasonably well. We would need to make some adjustments along the way , but that was to be expected from an event like this one. Being one of the ultra runners, I was assigned 7 legs ranging from 5 to 7 miles each for a total of just over 40 miles.

My first leg would the the fourth leg at just under 7 miles to start just after 9AM. And what did I do? I missed the arrival of my teammate and ended up sprinting to the exchange point to take over for him and chase down the guy ahead of me. Of course, you don't really want to sprint the first mile of a relay race when you will be running over 40 miles. I paid the price for a 6 minute mile soon after, but I was able to maintain a pace of just under 7:30 minutes per mile for the entire leg.

5 of our 6 runners resting at one of the stage finishes.

After each leg, I would immediately change into dry clothes and discard my running clothes in a mesh bag. I had brought 7 complete sets of running clothes, hat, shirt, shorts and socks, one for each leg. My next leg would be leg #10. This leg was just over 5 miles and I was just hoping that I could maintain a reasonable pace. It was just under 4PM and nearly impossible to find any spot that wasn't swelteringly hot. It was during this leg of the race that I would reach the end of the Silver Comet trail to continue on the Chief Ladiga Trail, crossing from Georgia into Alabama in the process. Ryan had started to join runners on a bicycle to provide moral support and entertainment. I completed this leg of the race in just under 8 minute per mile pace.

Next for me would be leg #16, just over six miles. It was now just after 8PM and I needed to wear a reflective vest as well as a headlamp and a red blinking light for the back while out there at night. Ryan accompanied me once again, this time providing a soundtrack to listen to while we were running. This leg of the race was once again a transitional stage of the race. I would exit the Chief Ladiga Trail at the end and enter a town called Weaver. I had to run on the main road leading through town and to my surprise, I received a personal police escort for this section of the leg. A patrol car followed Ryan and me to keep traffic behind us until we exited the main road a mile and a half later. We now had to start paying attention to the race signage. We were no longer just staying on a straight trail. Instead, we were running on open roads, having to take multiple turns along the way. I completed this leg in an 8 minute per mile pace.

My next leg would be #20, just before 1 in the morning. This was another 6 mile leg. It felt like I was running one 10K after another. I managed to keep a pace of just north of 8 minutes per mile. I was slowing down a little, but that was to be expected. This leg was way out in the country with not much light other than our headlamps around us. The biggest challenge was the sheer number of loose dogs eager to take a bite out of some runner's legs. Luckily, I had packed some pepper spray and we kept a crew cyclist with each runner during these late night legs. I was glad to finish this leg without any serious dog encounters, ready to take a nap at the next stop.

I was able to get about 90 minutes of sleep prior to leg #27 on top of a picnic table at one of the race transition areas. I had to cover 5.5 miles and the daylight and a little bit of sleep helped me drop my average pace to just below 8 minutes per mile again. During this stage, I was matched up with some seriously fast runners and even though I was getting faster, I was being passed multiple times during this leg. However, I was able to pick off one runner just a few yards before the end of this leg. The race was taking its toll on all of us. While the other teams had 12 runners and two vans each, we were covering the same distance with half the runners and it started to show. While we were finishing 3rd and even 2nd during a couple of the early stages, we started compete for second to last and it felt like a battle for first, we were working so hard.

Leg #32 was another 5.5 mile leg. It was my second to last leg and I was spent. It showed in my pace. While I still managed to run the entire leg without any walk breaks, my pace slowed to almost 9:30 minutes per mile. I needed every bit of motivation that I received from my accompanying crew member. My mind was in such a poor state, I couldn't even recall who was riding alongside me at this time. I only know I needed the support as I was running on a Jeep road early on during this leg before heading back onto black top roads that started to heat up nicely with little to no shade to speak of. I also got to enjoy some rolling hills just to add a little challenge. I was soooo glad to complete this stage, knowing that I only had a short 4 mile leg left, leg #36 to the finish line....or so I thought.

Mike was scheduled to run arguably the toughest leg of this race, leg #35. This leg provided basically no shade and included the toughest climbs over the course of 6.6 miles. In fact, this leg had as much elevation gain as my previous 6 legs combined, almost 800 feet. Unfortunately, Mike was in a bad place. He had struggled severely during his last leg, basically walking half of it because of exhaustion. So discussions started about who was still able to run at all. Ed, Dan and I seemed to be the only ones left still able to put some running in, although I certainly didn't feel like it. Since Ed had the leg just before leg #35, he was not allowed to run another leg right after. And since Dan wasn't an ultra runner, it seemed like a bad idea to have him run the toughest leg, yet. Who did that leave? Unfortunately, me. We decided to have Dan pick up the final leg (you're da man, Dan!) with me running the second to last leg. Well, what I was doing was barely qualifying as running. James was kind enough to pace me...on foot. He was running/walking right alongside me and that helped a lot. I finally had to tie in and walk a couple of sections of this leg. The climbs were ridiculous. My pace had now slowed to just under 11 minute per mile pace and I was ecstatic to finish my last leg.

When we arrived at the finish to join the rest of our team and Dan who was running the final leg, i couldn't have been happier. My first relay race and we all made it. While it was sometimes a struggle to keep going, I had a great time and I am glad I decided to put a team together. I can't wait to do something like this again...well, maybe I can wait a year;-) Thanks again to all of my team mates for making this happen and for making my job as team captain easy. I really didn't have to do much at all...well, other than running that ugly leg #35:-) Hopefully, I will get to do something like this gain. I would've loved to be able to write about the other legs that my team mates ran as well, but my brain just couldn't keep up with all the action on the course. All I remember is how badly I wanted to catch some sleep between legs, but was never able to. Thanks guys, I had a great time! Thanks also to the RDs and to the crew of volunteers that made this amazing relay race a reality for all of us.

Team "I Lost My Sock In Huntsville" at the finish of the inaugural Dixie 200.

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