11 June 2011

Running - Reno-Tahoe Odyssey 2011

RTO '11 wristband (photo by and of Ramon Ferguson)
For anyone who has done what I call a Big Relay, a 12-person, 36-leg, run day-and-night until you finish kind of thing modeled on Hood to Coast in Oregon, then you know it’s not normal to have things go smoothly leading up to the event.

It reminds me of a scene early in one of my favorite movies, “The Big Chill”, where three guys are looking around up in a dark attic, and one jokingly says, “It’s quiet – too quiet” and then all of a sudden bats fly out of nowhere to scare the daylights out of them.

I felt like things were “too quiet” leading up to my team’s running the seventh annual Reno-Tahoe Odyssey (RTO) on Friday-Saturday, 3-4 June.  None of my 11 teammates had laid the groundwork for dropping out by complaining for months of nagging injuries.  I didn’t hear anything about a last minute scheduling conflict.  No family emergencies occurred at the eleventh hour.

Yes, it was too quiet.  You see, I’ve done enough of these relays now to expect a last minute crisis, that forces me and my co-captain to have to find a replacement runner.  Not this year.

And the smooth lead-up to the relay on the part of my team, called “DNR”, was exactly how the relay itself unfolded.


The first teams begin at 7 a.m.
In Big Relays, 12 people are split into two groups of 6, each of whom occupies a van or large SUV.  The first van runs six legs, hands off to the next van which runs its 6 legs while the first van rests, and then the second van hands the baton (in this relay a yellow wristband) back to the first van, until after three cycles like this (a total of 36 legs of different distances and challenge) the team complete the relay.

Here's a link to the 178-mile course overview that includes links to maps of the individual legs.

DNR for the second year was a mixed (i.e. coed) team, which means that at least 6 of the runners must be women.  Van 1 consisted of Paul, Jessica, Tiffany, Ramon, Sonya, and April.  Van 1 included Lisa, Chris, Jody, Roseann, John, and me.

Our finish time was 23 hours, 12 minutes, 13 seconds, good for a fifth place finish in our mixed division (90 teams), and sixteenth among all teams (204 teams finished).

Paul Smith, one of Chico’s very best runners and my co-captain gets a good share of the credit for our performance.  He was our runner in Leg 4, considered the toughest of all of the 36 legs for both its distance and elevation changes.  Leg 4 is the only leg that is individually timed, and Paul finished Leg 4 fourth overall, only 9 seconds behind the two guys that tied for second and third, and was the first “flatlander”.  (This event is run from between 5,000 to 7500 feet, which can leave those who live at or close to sea level gasping for breath.)  Paul also ran a fourth leg when one of his van-mates suffered a bout of stomach distress prior to running her third leg.

Van 1 before its 2 p.m. start:
April, Paul, Jessica, Ramon, Tiffany, Sonya
(photo by Lisa Duke)
The number of registered teams was the highest in the RTO’s history: 209.  (Last year 155 took part.)  But in spite of the one-third increase in teams, the relay was not in the least bit negatively impacted.

If anything, in the first half of the relay the perspective of those of us in Van 2 was actually of seeing fewer teams than in previous years.  It was around the midway point that Van 1 mostly, but Van 2 also, began passing large numbers of slower teams.

How the handicapping works.

Van 2 in Virginia City after our showers and
before our last set of legs.  Clockwise from
bottom, 1960s album cover style: Roseann,
John, Chris, Jody, Greg, Lisa
(photo by Roseann Keegan)
Teams are handicapped based on predicted finish times with slower teams starting early – as early as 7 a.m. – and faster teams starting as late as 4 p.m.  DNR began at 2 p.m.  As the relay progresses the faster teams overtake and pass the slower ones.

The finish times themselves are not handicapped; they are measured in real time but team starting times are staggered, in order to ensure that all teams finish in a window of approximately 4 hours.  The race director can and does halt teams midway, stop the clock for them, and then restart them, if they are running significantly faster than they predicted.  This is unavoidable, because if they arrive too early at leg-to-leg hand-off locations or at the finish line they will find them not yet staffed by volunteers.

Up until the relay started, the weather was certainly in question.  Northern California and the Sierras  have experienced a prolonged wet and cool spring with snow falling in the mountains up until a day before the race.  On the drive to Reno the day before, I saw lots of snow.  And when van 2 drove west from Reno toward Truckee to meet Van 1 for the first hand-off, the surrounding mountains were clearly getting some form of precipitation.  But good fortune prevailed, and except for a good deal of wind on Friday, and a few brief sprinkles or very light rain during van 2’s first set of legs, the good conditions held.

DNR at the finish:
left to right: Sonya, Jessica, Roseann, Jody, April, Greg, Tiffany, Lisa, Paul, John, Chris, Ramon
(photograph by April Hennessy's camera)
Race director Eric Lerude, his assistant Shelly Demaray, wife Stephanie, cousin Rick, and army of volunteers have created an event that Reno can be proud of.  Lots of local teams and plenty of visitors now have a grand tradition of running the RTO.  Eric had planned to cap the event at 200 teams, but now may have to reconsider the cap, or participants will need to be sure to register early in order to assure a place.  A happy dilemma for Eric, to be sure.  (The first running of the RTO in ’05 attracted 36 teams.)

Night scene - one of Van 1's hand-offs along Hwy. 89 on Tahoe's west shore
(photo by April Hennessy)
For the first time ever, Eric and Stephanie actually drove the course during the relay to see events on the ground.  In previous years, they moved from the start of the race at Reno’s Wingfield Park to their home (aka the RTO command post) and then moved again to Idylwild Park for the finish.
Paul hands off to Ramon, Leg 28 to 29
(photo by April Hennessy)

This time, Shelly went to the command post, while Eric and Stephanie drove the course to see what Eric’s creation really looked like.  I’ll bet it looked nice to see more than 200 teams out there!

My own experience of the relay was that I ran legs 8, 19, and 35.  Leg 8 I have run in each and every RTO.  I was a little faster this year than last, and passed one runner and saw no others.

Leg 19 was a first for me.  It’s one of the tougher in the race, starting in California close to the casinos in Stateline, heading back into Nevada, and then making an abrupt right turn after a mile to ascend the steep Kingsbury Grade – about a 1000’ elevation gain in 3 miles.  Let’s just say I was glad to see the hand-off point, but it went well enough and I passed 6 runners.

Sat., 4 June - about 5 a.m. Jack's Valley Volunteer Fire Station,
hand-off from Leg 23 to 24, between Genoa and Carson City.
I've run Leg 35 for the past two years, and ran it again this year.  It was one of a number of legs that underwent major course changes this year, becoming shorter (6.2 miles instead of 7.5) and somewhat more scenic in its second half.  I passed about ten runners, but it was still a challenge, and I would like to do better the next time.  I think I need to work on the pre-fueling more thoughtfully for Leg 35 next year.

Fueling after the relay was no challenge at all.  Those from DNR who stayed over in Reno went out on Saturday night to Silver Peak Brewing in downtown Reno and had a great time.  I enjoyed one of the best stouts I have had anywhere, anytime.

Time to wrap up this post.  Thanks to my team for doing such a good job and being so easy to organize.  Shall we make it a date again in 2012?

Here are a few more pictures of the event.

Paul hands off to Ramon, Leg 4 to 5
(photo by April Hennessy)

Ramon hands off to Jessica, Leg 5 to 6
(photo by Tiffany McBroom)
Jessica hands off to Lisa, Leg 6 to 7
John on the downhill half of Leg 32 comng
down Geiger Grade (photo by Lisa Duke)

Jody waiting to get tagged by Jessica in Virginia City,
Leg 30 to 31 (photo by Lisa Duke)

Van 1 is done, time to celebrate at the Bucket of Blood Saloon
in Virginia City! (photo by Tiffany McBroom's camera)

Van 1 - Tiffany, Jessica, and Ramon lounging
(photo by April Hennessy)
Van 2 - John, Chris, Lisa and Jody engage in important
deliberations (photo by Roseann Keegan)
At the top of Geiger Grade in the middle of Leg 32
(photo by Lisa Duke)

The open road early in the relay
(photo by April Hennessy)

No comments:

Post a Comment