Epic Rocky Mountain Relay Race Report
Back in January, a few derby girls went to watch the Hood to Coast movie. We discussed it and somewhat on a whim decided to put together a relay team with skaters from both major leagues in town, the Denver Roller Dolls and the Rocky Mountain Rollergirls.
We registered for the Epic Rocky Mountain Relay, from Colorado Springs to Crested Butte.
As the only team member with relay experience, I became the team leader. Frida took on the overall organization on the RMRG side. We each took 6 skaters initially, but a late cancellation left us a bit lopsided and we ended up with 5 DRD and 7 RMRG. We still did our best to make the vans mixed, so Van 1 had 2/4 and Van 2 had 3/3.
One thing I’d always felt we missed out on doing relays with the the Ohio running group was matching tshirts. Yes, I know it’s silly, but I always thought it looked great. So we had one of the skaters design us a logo and we had tech tees/tanks printed for the team.
We were placed in the 3rd wave. Our starting time was 7:30am on Friday, and Van 1 needed to be there an hour beforehand. Phoebee’s family lives in Colorado Springs (where the race starts, about 1.5 hrs from Denver), so Van 1 decided to stay there overnight Thursday. We had a bit of a switcheroo since Phoebee was in Van 2, and Kowabunga! was set to run in Van 1 but wasn’t going to be able to head to Colorado Springs Thursday night. So Kow drove down with us Friday morning and we drove right to her leg (#5) and picked up Phoebee.
This was the first year for the race, so I wasn’t sure how organized it would be. Overall I was pretty impressed with how things were marked, although they missed a few opportunities to make things run even smoother. For example, it would have been nice to have volunteers spotting approaching runners and calling them to those waiting; especially at night.
I’d created predictions for each leg based on people’s 10K times and the leg difficulty. It was helpful to give us some idea of when we had to be at the next van exchange, though it turned out we killed our predictions! I think they served as good motivation for many, as they’d get back in the van and see how they did compared to the predictions.
In past relays, we’ve always done communal grocery shopping, but that didn’t really go so well this time as some people had brought food, and some of us are picky 🙂 I actually wish I’d just prepared more food for myself beforehand because I think my nutrition ended up being much poorer than it should have been.
It was HOT as Van 2 started. We watched the handoff, then went and got gas and ice for the cooler, and then caught up with our runner. She was looking strong, and we gave her some water and headed off. The leg was gorgeous, a dirt road with some serious elevation. After driving for awhile we thought we should stop to wait for her, but there didnt seem to be a good spot. Finally we stopped and waited for awhile, and then I got anxious we were too close to the next exchange and wouldn’t have time to catch her, so we didn’t offer our runner the support she needed in a hot leg. 🙁 She actually begged water off another team.
I was up next for Leg 8. It was a lonely stretch of road and I really felt like I struggled. It was tough to see other vans out there misting their runner and offering them water. I was frustrated during this leg, but I knew the worst was behind me. I ran 1:03, which was actually my predicted time exactly. I also had a roadkill count of 2-0.
The team kept doing well and as we went on, we refined our driving/support technique. We got to know some of the other vans at the exchanges, though the bibs weren’t correlated with start times and it would have been nice to be able to compare ourselves to the vans around us. We made friends with the a few of the other vans, and enjoyed meeting up with them and chatting away.
We finished our first set of legs early, and headed to Salida, to the next exchange point. We were hungry, so we found a nice Italian restaurant that was only a block from the exchange. When we sat down, dirty and with race bibs on us, the waitress declared “you look like you need carbs – I don’t know what you did, but…”. We certainly enjoyed our carbs and water! Cell phone coverage was spotty so it was hard to keep tabs on how the other team was doing, but they seemed to be tearing it up, and we were about an hour ahead of schedule. Around 9pm, we received a message that one of our strongest runners was running.. and then we didn’t hear anything for a long time. We thought cell phone coverage was the problem, but it turned out she’d gotten lost! Thankfully, she found her way back on course, but we were still well ahead of our predicted schedule. We headed to Walmart for water and gatorade, and then headed to the exchange point. Some of the girls tried to get an hour or so of sleep, but Frida and I stayed up, worried about hearing from the other team. We weren’t sure how ahead of schedule we were staying. Before midnight, the other van showed up and told us Loren was less than a mile away! They’d texted us, but it hadn’t gone through. Panic! Frida got ready quickly, and I tried to round up the troops so we could hit the road. Most of the night legs were short (3-4 miles), and I was worried about making it to the next exchange. Phoebee wandered the park to try to find one of our sleeping runners. She didn’t even think about how people reacted as she wandered the park trying to wake people up with a “Booyah?” (The skater’s derby name).
Soon Frida’s leg was over and it was my turn. It had cooled off a bit (thankfully) and I was happy to get going. My night leg felt great – very peaceful and quiet. My van was there to support me, and I felt strong as I called out “I’m going to go catch that runner ahead of me”. I climbed steadily towards the red light ahead, almost as though the runner were standing still. I felt a small victory as I neared the… sign that had a red light on it 🙁 There was one other runner up ahead, but I couldn’t make up the time. My roadkill count was 0-0. I completed the 3.6 mile course in 28 minutes (7:52 pace) and my heartrate hit 182 in the final stretch.
Our night legs ended around 4ish and we decided to drive to the next exchange to sleep there. We didn’t realize how crazy the next few miles were, and I was thankful for Leigh, an experienced driver who took us through some crazy twists and turns. We drove and drove and drove, and eventually came across an exchange marker: for two stops beyond the one we were looking at. So, we backtracked a bit and arrived at the makeshift campground shortly before 6 just as it was getting light out. We got a bit of sleep, but not a ton.
It was gorgeous on the lake, and there was a little shop selling coffee and breakfast burritos. Neither was very good, but it was sustenance. It was gorgeous and peaceful in the morning, as we lazily prepared for our final legs. We all wore our team shirts, and I was one of many runners who put on calf sleeves for the final run.
Race organizers told us that they planned to have a mass release of runners for anyone who’s van 1 hadn’t arrived by 11:30, but we were still nicely ahead of schedule so we didnt think it would be a problem. Then we heard that the previous leg was about a half mile long, and teams were given the option to pick up their runner to drive the extra distance. We knew that Loren wouldn’t go for that, and would want to run in… but imagine how she felt when we learned it was actually 1.5 miles too long!
We had our final handoff, and told our teammates we’d see them at the finish. The final day was great; the weather was cooler than the day before and the largest climbs of the day were over. I felt like Van 1’s hardest legs were the 3rd, and Van 2’s were the 1st, so it was just a matter of putting in the time.
Frida put on a great show at the end of her leg, speeding down the hill to pass another runner JUST at the exchange. I grabbed the armband and sprinted off to hold her off, but was smart enough to realize that I wasn’t going a pace I could sustain for over 8 miles. The runner passed me within the first mile as I let myself slow, but my watch STILL marked a 6:43 first mile. Whoops! I felt pretty good and strong, finally figuring out a gatorade-water blend that worked. My van stopped pretty frequently and I didn’t need much, just kept pushing. I did tell them I was getting bored, as I was just ready to be done, and the van asked if I wanted to do some sudoku as I ran. Uh huh… I finished my final leg strong, getting the heart rate up nice and high as I got to the end. Ended with 3 roadkill, plus the one gal who passed me. So overall my total was 6-1. Not too shabby!
Done for the weekend, I could spend the next few legs looking after my vanmates. The running was starting to wear on some of them, but everyone continued to be in high spirits. We stopped for our runners every mile or so to cheer them on and offer support: by this time we’d taken to soaking a towel in the cooler and using it to help cool down the runner. The wind and sun were both a challenge now that we were out of the cool tree coverage my leg had had.
As we set out for our final leg, we noticed there weren’t many others around. The volunteer confirmed, there were only two teams behind us. Thankfully, we had one of our strongest runners in the final spot, and she took off! We tried to support her as we entered Crested Butte, but wanted to be sure we had the time to gather the team together to come in at the finish. Her leg was supposed to be 5.4 miles, and we could accompany here until mile 3.5, when she moved to a bike path. We drove from town up to the resort where the finish was, and most of the van jumped out. There was actually a strong climb from the bike path to the finish, and so Phoebee and I drove back down to offer her a last water. Then we jumped back in the car and sped up to the parking lot; our hotel was right next to the finish. There were no spots so we had to move to a further lot. We jumped out and sprinted towards the finish area: Phoebee’s legs were obviously feeling better than mine! We met with our group – Van 1 had come out to join us – and soon Booyah came charging in. I think some of us expected she’d slow down so we could all run/hobble in together, but she didn’t let up a bit! We cruised in around 5pm, close to 1.5 hours faster than I’d expected! Booyah had had 6 roadkill so we ended up 41st out of 50 teams, last of the 5 all-women teams. We finished the relay in 33:23:43.
We took our team photo, then went to clean up and get some food in us! Like the good derby girls we are, we had pizza and beer and then headed into town to find a bar and go dancing. We went to Lobar, and were told by the locals the place had never been so much fun!
Soon enough it was time to take the free town bus back to the hotel and get some rest. Surprisingly, we were all up before 9, taking in the hotel breakfast buffet. We then spent the rest of the morning at the pool. Quick showers before our late checkout, and then we all headed to town for lunch, coffee, ice cream, and then the drive home. you’d think that 55 hours with some half-strangers would get to be too much, but it wasn’t. we LAUGHED the whole way home. Everyone really grew closer during the trip, and Frida marvelled that we really didn’t even talk about derby, despite the fact that was the original reason we were all together. It was really an amazing trip, and I was thrilled that everyone else enjoyed. There’s already talk of next year’s relay: do we do this one, or try something else? Some of the gals want to start up a Saturday running group. I’m just so excited and happy with how everything went. The course was pretty, my runs went well and above all, it was just a ton of fun!