Earlier this summer, Stewart Ellington, from the Knoxville Track Club asked if I was interested in joining their team and with a quick approval from Mary and over 20,000 miles left on my Southwest Card, I booked my flight and was looking forward to the trip. Since I didn't have a fall half-marathon race scheduled, I figured this would be a good, solid fitness test before I begin my marathon-specific cycle.
One of my biggest worries was which legs I would be given. Since I am finishing up my "speed" phase, I feel I'm pretty well-rounded in most areas and distances. However, I've always been a really bad uphill runner and am somewhat struggling with an off-and-on issue in my left patella tendon and have some pain in my right groin. I'm pretty sure they are somehow related and are probably due to a muscle imbalance, that I've been too lazy to fix.
I spent some time researching the different leg combinations, and was really hoping that I wouldn't have leg one or two, which is literally down a mountain. Leg one drops over 2,000 ft. in 5.6 miles, and most guys can run that leg in an average time that isn't much slower than their mile time. I was also really hoping that I wouldn't get legs 5, 17, and 29. Two of those legs have a ton of climbing and overall, I feel they are the hardest overall legs someone can have. A few days later, leg assignments were given, and I ended up with the dreaded legs 5, 17 and 21.
|Leg 5-500 feet of gain over the last three miles|
|Leg 17-That's my kind of leg!|
|Leg 29-Over 500 feet in about three miles, followd by a screaming downhill|
|Leg 9- Long gentle downhill...my kind of leg!|
|Leg 21-Yeah Baby!|
|Leg 33: A lot of rolling, but at least it's the last leg|
After just a few hours of sleep, I flew out of Nashville and was on my way to Portland. I had a short layover in Las Vegas, followed by a quick stop in Reno, NV. Reno was one of my top five cities I wanted to move to before dating Mary, so it was cool to see the city (from the window of an airplane). Some of the guys traveled in their team uniform, but I wasn't brave enough.
I got to the airport before any of my teammates and ran into my old friend Lauren, who I knew from back in the South Carolina high school running days, and haven't seen in about 10 years. I also ran into David Riddle, who I ran with for a few miles during the 2010 Rocket City Marathon and who is also one of the top ultra marathon and trail runners in the country right now.
After getting to the hotel, I took a short nap and eventually, I met up with most of my teammates, and we went on a short run before heading to dinner. My roommate for the night was Paul Davis, who is friend's with and lives in the same city as my friend Kameron. They live in Boise, ID, which was my top pick to move to back in the day (and still is my top pick). Being in Oregon (which was also one of my top picks), seeing Reno and rooming with a guy from Boise reminded of my desire to move out West. Mary and I debated moving a few years ago and will eventually down the road, but for now, we are staying put in Hendersonville.
After waking up and doing a short run with Paul (can't let my miles drop too much), I ate breakfast and we were on our way to Mt. Hood. On the drive up, I noticed my eyes were starting to ache, I had a squeezing pain in my head and my body was starting to get pretty achey. I had these same feelings in Minnesota at the USA Half-Marathon Championships, so I figured it was due to allergies. I bought some Zyrtec at one of our stops and was hoping it would knock the issues out.
After a couple of hours, we finally got to the mountain and walked around while we waited for the 3:15 start. I ran into some of my friends from the Hendersonville Running Club and watched them start their race. There were a lot of vendors out, so I was able to snag some Monster energy drinks, some Powerbars and Swiftwick even showed up and I got a pair of their 12s. Free stuff is always good stuff! We then took a few team pictures and watched Elijah start the first leg.
On paper, we were seeded second behind Toyo University. Toyo won the Ekiden Relay in Japan, which is a huge deal. Nike paid for some of their teammates to run the race and they were the overwhelming favorites to win. For the past couple of years, our team has battled with the Nike sponsored, Bowerman Athletic Club (BAC), so I was looking forward to that battle.
Toyo was alone from the get-go and their first leg ran the first mile of the course in 3:50 (huge downhill.) Over the next few legs, we went back and forth with them and when Stewart started leg 7, I ran a couple of miles with Brad to loosen up. Brad got the stick with a nice lead and was able to hold off former Olympian and 13:16 runner, Jon Riley.
My first leg was 6.95 miles, which included 5.5 miles down a greenway. It was a slight net downhill and I knew I could get rolling pretty quickly if I wasn't careful. Because it was after 7pm, I was reqired to wear a reflective vest, a blinker on the front and back and a headlamp. I've never run with a headlamp before and the thought of running with one bouncing up-and-down on my head drove me crazy. Joana Riddick, from the HRC, said she ran with hers over her stomach last year, so I decided to try it that way. It seemed secure, so I went to the exchange zone to get ready.
After knocking out a few strides and leg swings, Brad came running down the hill and handed off the slap bracelet. After a couple of minutes running, I checked my GPS and saw that I was running close to 4:40 pace. I put on the brakes and settled into the 5:00 range. After a few minutes, I turned onto the greenway, which consisted primarily of crushed gravel. The surface was making me slip on my push-off, so I decided to run on the grass, beside the trail. I was locked into my rhythm and feeling pretty smooth. I would pass the occasional runner but everyone seemed really strung out. After a couple of miles, part of my headlamp (well, waistlamp) became detached, so I yanked it off and carried it in my hand.
After a few miles, the greenway finally turned into pavement, which made things much easier. I was clicking off the sub 5:00 miles and feeling pretty strong. After a while, I started to get a little bit bored and to pass the time, I would only allow myself to check my GPS whenever I passed someone.
I ended up passing the bracelet to Paul Davis, with a 2:00+ lead over the BAC and had to jump into the van so we could drop Chris Rapp off in time for his leg. I ended up running 6.96 miles at a 4:55 average. The effort was pretty controlled, but I was feeling pretty feverish when I got done. I didn't have any appetite, but I was able to drink a recovery drink and cram down a few mini Snickers so I could get in some calories.
I knew I had several hours until I ran again, so I tried to get some rest but I ended up getting caught up in our back-and-forth battle with the BAC, with Toyo University way ahead. After a few more hours, we lost cell phone reception, which was actually a good thing, because it forced me to try and catch some sleep. We stopped at some fairgrounds for a little bit over an hour and there were tons of people sleeping outside in sleeping bags. It was probably close to 50 degrees, so I did my best to try and sleep in the van, which probably resulted in about 15 minutes of shut-eye. Just as I was getting settled, it was time to go and only about an hour before my next leg.
At this point, I felt like complete crap. I could tell the sickness was creeping in and was doubting how I would run during my second leg. When we got to my exchange zone, I had about 20 minutes to relax, and while I wasn't feeling like warming-up, I walked around for a while.
While it was a little over 70 degrees for my first leg, this leg felt a good bit colder. The course was a net downhill, down a gravel mountain road in the middle of nowhere. The race website suggested that people on this leg should wear a mask or banadana over their mouth because of the insane amount of dirt in the air. Since I couldn't find Galen Rupp to borrow his mask, I decided to run "normally."
When I got going, the BAC had a little bit over a minute lead. I put a good amount of distance on their guy on my first leg, so I was hoping to close the gap. I got a little too amped up and I covered the first two miles in 9:43. I slowed down the pace to just under 5:00 and tried to hang out there.
During the daylight, this would have been my easiest leg, bar-none. However, with the other vans driving by, combined with the bright headlamp, it felt like I was running through a fog machine. When a van would drove by or when I would see a runner in the distance, I would be able to find the road and run somewhat smoothly. Whenever I was "alone", I couldn't see at all and ended up running off the edge of the road a few times.
After getting a few miles into my leg, I noticed that our team van still had not passed me. I was starting to get nervous and once I got to the "finish", Paul was nowhere in site. I knew that put the nail in the coffin in our race against the BAC and around six minutes later, our van showed up.
I was surprised with how well I felt during this leg and felt like I could have run a few seconds faster per mile but was maxed out in my speed because I couldn't see where I was going. I ended up averaging 4:56 for five miles and with two legs down, I was looking forward to finishing. I was also looking forward to getting all of the dirty off my face and out of my mouth and teeth. That leg made my skin about 10 shades darker.
I don't remember much about the next few hours, except for a lot of laying down and unsuccessful attempts at sleep. I was insanely tired at this point and just wanted to be done. Before this race, I felt like the volume of racing would be the hardest part of the relay. However, it was much more mentally tiring, then physically. My next leg was 7.72 miles over some rolling hills, which would be my hardest asssigment of the weekend.
The weather dropped another 10 degrees or so and it was much better than the normal 75 degrees and high humidity that it typically is at 7am in Hendersonville. Looking at the times people have run in the past on this leg, I was hoping to run under 5:10 pace. However, if I ran 5:05s, it would put my individual relay average under 5:00, which would be a good motivator. My leg started on a long hill, followed by a downhill. The first mile wasn't too bad but the second mile was much more difficult and was my slowest mile of the day, with a 5:18.
This was definitely the prettiest leg of the day and took place alone side a lake, with plenty of green trees around. I had a huge desire to stop and take a nap on the side of the road but I decided to pick up the pace and run harder so I could be finished sooner. I really started clicking off the miles and was surprised that I was able to run right around 5:00 pace.
Once I hit seven miles on my GPS, I was really looking forward to the end but unfortunately, the last part took place on a hill. I finished the 7.72 mile leg at a 5:03 average and handed off the bracelet to Paul, went straight to the van and laid down. After dropping off Chris Kane for his final leg, we parked our vans at one of our beach houses and walked to the finish line to see him finish. He finally came around the final turn and we ended up finishing in 3rd place overall.
Overall, it was a really fun experience. I spent the next day getting really sick and had a high fever the next day, which lasted until Monday. Before this race, I was hoping to average between 5:05-5:10 for my overall pace, so running a sub 5:00 average is a huge motivator going into marathon training. The trip was mentally and physically draining, but it was a ton of fun and I'm glad I was able to run with the Knoxville Track Club guys and meet some other cool guys as well. I just wish I didn't get sick, so I could have had some more fun after the race.
I don't know if I'll run this year again, being that it was more of a bucket list type of thing, but I really enjoyed being in Oregon and hope to one day live out this way.
Knoxville Track Club Hood to Coast Team: Jason Altman, Stewart Ellington, Elijah Shekinah, Kyle Stanton, Brent Johnson, Nick End, Ethan Coffey, Brad Adams, Scott Wietecha, Paul Davis, Chris Rapp and Chris Kane with drivers Catherine Lasswell and Herb Gengler