11 June 2012

Running - Reno-Tahoe Odyssey 2012

In my account of last year's Reno-Tahoe Odyssey (RTO), I opened with the observation about how smooth the lead-up to the event was for our team, called "DNR".  No injuries or last minute emergency drops.  I'd love to be able to write that this year was a repeat of last year, but that would be false.

We've never had a team carry over intact from one year to another.  (You could knock me over with a feather if that ever were to happen.)  Prior to sending in our registration, we replaced two runners from 2011 with DNR alumni from previous years.  That's to be expected.

But after our team's registration went in, things got interesting.  We lost three runners due to pregnancy, injury, or schedule conflicts, and replaced them with three more alumni.  Then after a two month injury that showed no signs of healing, I decided I had to replace myself in Van 2.  Then less than two weeks before the relay, Jessica Souder, an excellent runner and 4-time RTO/DNR veteran in Van 1 had to drop out.

Paul Smith, my co-captain, and I decided we wouldn't fill Jessica's position, and Van 1 would backfill the missing legs by having some runners run an extra leg.  (We've done this a number of times over the years for both vans when it would have been too late to find replacement runners .)  I also thought it might now be possible for me to run a couple of Van 1's shorter and easier legs if need be, even though I was injured.

All of this was before we stepped up to the starting line.

Trish, Tiffany, and Erin at Wingfield Park prior to the start
(Photo courtesy Reno Gazette-Journal)

I've never run with Van 1, but I was the one who was at the start to run Leg 1 of the 2012 RTO.  Eric Lerude, the man who created the Reno-Tahoe Odyssey who has become a good personal friend, high-fived me prior to our team's 1:30 p.m. start with five other teams.  (See below)
(Photo courtesy Reno Gazette-Journal)
In addition to our team's "staffing issues", we had to deal with a challenge that every other team faced: heat.  Most years the temperature has been pretty mild at the start, and last year it was unusually cool, changing to downright cold in the Sierras.

Not so in 2012.  The thermometer was in the low 90s when we began at 1:30.

Leg 1's 4.8 miles are westbound mostly along the Truckee River bikepath or on quiet suburban streets.  But it was slow going for me being injured and hot.  I loved the places where there was shade.  As I neared the hand-off point, I saw that the runner who had paced the 1:30 group with Nevada DOT's "Chain Gang" team was down and getting assistance.  (I hope he recovered quickly.)  Boy, was I happy to see Trish from Van 1 waiting for the tag and before I knew it she was off blazing a much faster trail for DNR than I had done.

Van 1: Sean Murphy, Erin Gulbrandsen, Trish Frisella
Tiffany McBroom, Paul Smith (photo by Erin Gulbrandsen)
Van 2 assembled at the hotel and then made its way to the Boca hand-off, the first place where Van 1 goes off duty after the first six legs, and hands the relay wristband to a Van 2 runner.  Van 2 then runs its first legs, 7 through 12.

I drove up to the Boca hand-off in my own car, since I was not going to be running with Van 2, but I wanted to see the first hand-off.

Unbeknownst to Van 2 and me, Van 1 was going through its final personnel changes.  Sean Murphy, a 3-time RTO veteran ran Leg 3 and suffered an Achilles heel meltdown.  He finished the leg, but at the cost of not being able to run any more.  On the positive side, Van 1 gained the addition of a full-time driver, a luxury that most vans lack.

Van 2: Sarah Montez, Laurel Hammang, Bryan Bear,
Lisa Duke, Chris Miller, John Maretti (and me in front)
Erin Gulbrandsen ran Leg 6 into the Boca hand-off, passing the wristband to Sarah Montez who took off like a shot on this tough leg.  Van 2 being fully staffed at six runners, proceeded to finish off its first set of legs before handing off again to Van 1 at Homewood along the west shore of Lake Tahoe.

Van 1 now with four runners and a driver tackled its second set of legs.  Erin ran leg 13, Tricia Leg 14, and then Paul ran legs 15 and 16 and Tiffany ran 17 and 18.  Whew!

Sarah, the only person in Van 2 running all three of her legs in the correct order (7, 19, 31) was tagged at the hand-off in South Lake Tahoe near Stateline and did a great job on the super-tough Kingsbury Grade, Leg 19.

Meanwhile Van 1 headed straight to the next van-to-van hand-off at the Walmart in Carson City to get some rest before getting the call from Van 2.

Not DNR's Van 1, but another team's Van 1 crashed out
Walmart in Carson City (photo by Laurel Hammang)
My experience of RTO was considerably different from years passed.  Due to injury I had to replace myself, but then due to other folks having to drop out I decided to help out as much as I could.

I went back to Reno to sleep at the hotel, but set the alarm for 3 a.m. and then headed down to Carson City to run another leg for Van 1, Leg 25, the first one out of the Walmart parking lot.  Happily, this was cool and dark (around 5 in the morning) and short.  3 miles later I tagged Trish.

From that point on my understanding is that Erin and Tiffany divided up the leg that Sean couldn't run.  Erin ran the straight-up killer Leg 30 into the last van-to-van hand-off in Virginia City to tag Sarah for the last time.

It was Van 2's third and final time in charge while Van 1 celebrated with Bloody Marys at the Bucket of Blood Saloon in Virginia City.

Sarah ran the tough couple of miles out of Virginia City to tag John at Lousetown Road, where he continued up to the Geiger Grade summit and then down to tag Chris, who ran the long Leg 33 grind down Geiger Grade.  Chris tagged Laurel at the bottom of the grade, who then ran a long leg 34 through suburban southern Reno.  I ran the first half of Leg 35 through business parks and then passed the wristband to Bryan who finished Leg 35 and did the last hand-off of the relay to Lisa, our stalwart anchor who ran through the attractive older part of south Reno to finish at Idylwild Park, where Van 1 was waiting to rendezvous with Van 2 to run the last hundred yards to the official finish and then the ceremonial finish.


After all of the personnel changes and the hot weather challenge, the remarkable thing is just how well DNR did.  (RTO 2012 results.)

The final time was 22 hours 31 minutes 14 seconds (shortly after 12 noon on Saturday), for a 41 minute improvement over 2011 (23:12:13).  Overall out of the 247 teams that finished, DNR came in # 11.  Out of the 100 mixed (coed) teams, DNR finished # 4!

Paul Smith, as always, did a terrific job on Leg 4 the toughest in the relay, coming in fourth of all teams at 57:28.  (This is not Paul's fastest.  He ran it last year in 54:10, but this year's heat took its toll even on Paul.)  Chris Miller, ran the other timed individual leg, # 33, the "Geiger Grinder", in 45:28, thirtieth overall.  Nice going, fellows!

What DNR did this year was the essence of relay running.  Working together, being flexible, and, if need be, making it up as the event unfolds.  Sure, it's nice to have everything go smoothly like it did last year, but that's not always the case.  This year there were lots of curveballs before we even got to the starting line, and then another one that was thrown after the relay began.  DNR took it in stride.  What a great team!

Related links:
Reno-Tahoe Odyssey website
Reno Gazette-Journal article (more links there to other RTO articles and photo galleries)
"The Daily Double" - Sean Murphy's account of his attempt to run two BQs in one day

Here follows a selection of pictures from along the way.

"The Flying Monkeys", Van 1, at Boca
Chico's other RTO team

Lisa and Laurel waiting for Sarah

Van 1's Tiffany, Trish, and Sean hanging out while Erin
is out on the road (photo by Paul Smith)

Sarah hands off to Laurel, Leg 7 to 8

Erin, probably running Leg 30
(photo by Paul Smith)
Night moves: John to Bryan, Leg 11 to 12
(photo by Sarah Montez)

Two too fast: Erin hands off to Sarah in Virginia City
Van 1 is done!
Sarah tags John: Leg 31 to 32

John starts Chris on Leg 33, the long Geiger Grade descent

Last hand-off: Bryan to Lisa, Leg 35 to 36 - Go Lisa!

Van 1's prerogative:
Bloody Marys at the Bucket of Blood Saloon
(photo by Paul Smith)
Last of all, here is a memory that Van 2 can take to the bank.

John and I were driving down Geiger Grade in my car while Chris was running Leg 33 and the rest of Van 2 was in the van.  John spotted a home made sign attached to a reflective paddle sign by the side of the road in a pull-out.  He realized it was a Burma Shave-style series of signs and it started with "DNR".  This could not be an accident.  The series read: "DNR - U - Look - Pretty - Run!"  I could attempt to explain the significance of this, but suffice to say that it is a private joke in Van 2 that dates back to the first running of the RTO in 2005.

John and I were mystified as to who might be responsible.

We considered Van 1.  Not likely.  When could they possibly have done it?  The Flying Monkeys?  (This is the other Chico-based team captained by the irrepressible Ed Hudson.)  Within reason, but we didn't think they knew about the joke.  John's wife Cathy or my partner Keith? - nope, they were on the road to Reno from Chico.  We called Lisa in the van to let her know about this, and she's the one who cracked the mystery.  She assigned guilt to Roseann, who was in Van 2 for the last three years.  She was one of the runners who had to drop out this year due to injury, she lives nearby in Reno, and this is exactly the sort of thing she would do.

Nice going, Roseann.  If it hadn't been for Lisa, we might never have known.  And thanks for stopping by at the 34 to 35 hand-off! 

Here is the first  photo that shows the entire Burma Shave series, followed by a close-up of each sign.