Leg 2 of GRR supposed to be 7.4 miles, projected time 58 minutes
I stood in the exchange area and yelled myself silly telling my cousin Dan how awesome he was. He is a newbie to running. He took it up to train for this race. And now he was letting his adrenaline carry him. He smoked into the exchange and slapped the relay-bracelet on my wrist 20 minutes ahead of his projected time. Woof.
I pushed my watch and was off, ready to follow the advice I'd given Dan earlier, "Screw conventional wisdom. If you're feeling the adrenaline, run with it. Run like you mean it." He'd apparently taken the advice to heart.
As I was prepared to do. I headed down the Great River Trail, letting my legs and my adrenaline carry me. It felt divine. My brother Cam, our team captain, had plugged my 10K time into GRR's prediction software and I was projected to do this thing in 58 minutes. I switched on auto-pilot. Like clockwork. Like butta.
I ran along the trail drowning out the cicada symphony - the mighty Mississippi River on my left, wooded bluffs on my right - with the hum of my thoughts. A sampling?
- Geez! I really need to "kick it." Wonder if that grass over there would be OK to wipe with. Nah, looks too sharp. I'll keep going.
- Hmmm... I wonder what I should have for lunch. Ooh, I'd eat ANYTHING right now... A Culver's turtle sundae. No, a sub sandwich with turkey and provolone. Mmmmm.
BUT the other 10% were on the people that I love in the world. At points on the trail, my face split into a goofy grin just because I remembered that my mom was alive and breathing in this world. Was, in fact, volunteering at Exchange #4. I pictured her there, wearing one of the 30 black and pink polka-dotted "Sarah is 40" sashes she had made for the team. Then my grin got even wider as I thought of my OLDER sister turning 40. Hee. Hee.
I cruised along in this blissful, gloating state, with not another runner in sight, for about 57 minutes before I started to wonder. I had heard cheering off to my right a while back, but no sign had indicated a turn off the trail so I kept running. Then I got to 63 minutes and still had no indication of race signs or race volunteers. I crossed a huge wooden railroad trestle that had been converted to a running trail bridge while, at the same time, a train paralleled me just 100 yards down the gorge on an active trestle, tooting away. I took in the smell of the creosote-soaked wood and the romantic whistle of the train. My mind was transported miles away again.
And came lurching back at 68 minutes out. Whoa. I crunched the numbers. I should definitely be there by now! I decided to turn around and retrace my steps until I came to the last sign I had seen. I had no recollection of how far back it had been, but figured it couldn't have been more than 10 minutes. No biggie.
10 minutes passed. No signs. No humans.
20 minutes passed. No signs. No humans.
I'm getting nervous. I start playing the worry tape. Second-guessing the distance of this leg. Was it longer than I remembered? Should I have kept on the trail another 2 minutes? What was my team doing? Were they being held up because of me? I'm getting thirsty and have no water left. I'm hungry and am out of Gu. My legs hurt. My longest training run was 1 1/2 hours. I'm at 1:28 right now with no end in sight. Just loooooooong straight flat wooded stinkin' trail. Shit! What if I die out here??
FINALLY, at 1:38, I spied another runner. A high school kid loped down the path toward me. I stopped him and asked if he was Leg 2 of the Great River Relay. Yep. Was he sure he knew the route? Yes, just stay on the trail, he thought.
Then I told him my story. The damn kid had the audacity to ask, "Did you look carefully? Are you SURE there were no signs at the crossings?" Um, ye-ah. When a person thinks they're lost, they sort of look reeeally carefully on their way back to civilization! Then he says, "Well, I was a little dazed when I passed that last sign. But it's like one or two miles back."
My heart sank. Dazed Damn Kid turned back the way he'd come and loped off. I walked for 12 minutes, cursing myself and replaying the worry tape. Then I shook myself and remembered Dean Karnazes's Ultramarathon Man. A non-runner, he left a bar one night and ran 30 miles. That was the start of his ultra-running career. OK, I thought, I'm just Dean-in-Training. That cheered me considerably and I began to trot.
At 1:55, I saw the Kid way in the distance. He had stopped in front of something orange. Then he took off down the road to the left. I reached the road and discovered a three-foot high, bright orange sign with an arrow that clearly indicated that one was to turn right down the road. I walked around it twice, scrutinizing it. I even put a tentative hand out and touched it. It was real. There's NO WAY that sign was there when I'd gone through the first time. But, be that as it may, I still had a run to do. In my foggy state, I decided to run now, think about the sign later.
Now runners were coming pretty steady. I fell in with another woman and told her my story. She empathized and hung with me for awhile. And informed me that we were only 3.75 miles into this 7.2 miler. After she left my side, I despaired again. Cue worry tapes. Screw Dean-in-Training (DIT) - I was a DITZ! And I was thirsty and hungry. Plus my legs hurt. Waaaahhh!
Shake, shake, shake. I calmed myself. I needed a plan. I would keep running, Dean-style, until I saw another team's van. Then I would ask for their cell phone and call my team. At 2:14, I approached a van with a group of wildly-cheering 20-somethings dancing about. I briefly told them my story and asked to use their cell phone.
Dan answered on the first ring. "Where are you?? We've been looking for you for the last hour! Are you OK?" I managed to squeak out my location. He said they'd be right back to pick me up. I thanked the dancers and started to run down the road again, only belatedly thinking to query, "Who are you guys?" and simultaneously snapped my eyes to the side of their van where their team name was written.
"A... Fucking... Badass... Runners...." They cheered wildly as I pronounced the last syllable with all the energy my calorie-deficient, brain-deficient self could muster. I gave them a smile and a wave and was off.
At 2:24 my van came into sight. Leg 2 of GRR was supposed to total 7.4 miles. My actual was closer to 15 miles.
After I hit my watch, I drank in the sight of my teammates. Dan opened the door and pulled me in. We swapped stories. Tom was running the next leg and Cam was at the exchange after that, ready to run his leg. Within minutes of me going over-time, Cam knew that I was either lost or hurt. He'd made the executive decision to get Tom going, send a sweep for me, and then trust me to find a cell phone and call them. They'd notified race volunteers who'd informed them that other runners on the early teams had made my mistake (but had realized it sooner!) and that they'd fixed the problem with a that big orange sign.
We were all reunited at Exchange #4 where my mom hugged me and shook her head, "Were you looking for that Illinois state line again?" That officially signaled the break between the concerned-for-Triteacher stage and let-the-ribbing-begin stage. I will be hearing about this until I'm at least 80!!
I informed my team that, on the bright side, I'd had plenty of time to plan lunch. Later that afternoon, we made a bucolic little scene in Merrick State Park. We'd put to bed the first legs of our GRR adventure. We had 4 hours to relax while our other vanload of runners ran their set of legs. And we munched Triteacher-styled turkey and provolone sandwiches.
As if this wasn't enough, there is more yet to come:
My second leg, Leg 14, 8.2 miles - Running in the Dark, but Not Getting Lost (Woohoo!)
My third leg, Leg 26, 4.4 miles that became 7.2 miles. - Eye Candy Saves the Day