So the Sunday afternoon email read; ”Kirk …what are you doing this coming weekend? How about running in a 180 mile, 24 hour relay with 11 other people (read strangers) in the Tetons of Idaho/Wyoming?” I replied back; “Hmm… can we visit about this? I think I have some questions regarding the logistics. I may need to stay home and mow my yard, clean my refrigerator or dust furniture.” Obviously my interest was piqued with the mention of the word running combined with racing. But before committing I needed to conduct my own recon work.
I quickly searched the internet for “Grand Teton Relay 2014″.The promotional video front center on their home page began with the narrator referencing some sort of an adventure. This trek was scheduled to begin in Ashton, Idaho, travel the Mesa Falls Scenic Highway, over the hilly fertile valleys of Eastern Idaho, through the communities of Tetonia, Driggs, Victor, with a steep ascent / descent from the Targhee Ski Hill followed by the steady climb up and over the very Tetons themselves descending into the Jackson Valley through Wilson, Wyoming with a finish line located at the Jackson Ski Hill resort of Teton Village.
Also mentioned were references to; running in the dark, following abandoned rail road tracks, using a headlamp to light your path, the need for bear spray, extreme weather conditions, steep uphill / downhill, all in the quest to survive and just see how fast a team could finish. This is indeed beginning to sound like an adventure. Sounds risky. Beginning to sound fun. My response to the invitation; “I am in!” Little did I know what I had committed to?
Reality began to emerge late Thursday as I traveled in a van heading towards Driggs, Idaho arriving at a residence used as base camp at 10 PM – just 12 hours before show time. As we pulled in the driveway the support crew leader (and mom of the organizer) approached my side of the vehicle. I politely rolled down my window only to have one simple question asked (before any formal introduction) “Have you lost your mind?”. Uh oh.
I stayed. And I am glad I did. The next morning found 2 official race vans full of the 12 team members of “Crown Runners” in Ashton, Idaho at 10 AM cheering Runner #1 as she toed the starting line at the local high school track. Sasquatch was there along with an appearance from Mr. Kid Rock himself (however local paparazzi were unable to verify his authenticity). Twenty five hours and 40 minutes later this team made up of Montana State University Students, MSU Track and Field Athletes (think sprints and mid distance), business professionals, and a public school teacher all from the community of Bozeman, Montana would cross the finish line in Teton Village.
But first this group must endure the competition from another 104 teams from across the region and US. Other challenges included; rain, lightning, temperature swings from 43 to 84 degrees, another teams’ 15 passenger van that careened off a tight one lane US Forest Service gravel road while crossing a cattle guard (which blocked the entire road only to be dislodged by sheer human muscle), running in the dark, a surprise waist deep dive into an irrigation canal at 5:30 AM, gastrointestinal challenges throughout the race, sore achilles, and an average of 2 hours of sleep over the entire 180 miles. The majority of the race was run in elevations between 6500 and 8500’ feet with steady climbs over 10% grade in just 2 miles with steep descents of 2400’ + in just 5 miles. Not your leisurely stroll in the local city park.
All this while placing one foot in front of another, fueled by the adrenaline rush of knowing Crown Runner Team Members (aka Crown Crazies) were counting on you. Adding to this excitement was a running total kept by the tally of road kills scored while chasing down competitors. Vans supported their runners by offering; water, resounding cheers, hoots, hollers and words of encouragement as they followed them through their respective leg to the next exchange. Transitions occurred from one van to the next at legs 7, 14, 21 and 28. Stories of each runners’ success (or challenges) were delivered once they climbed back in their van. Most runners averaged 15 to 18 miles of total racing by completing their assigned three of 36 legs.
Team bonding was forged by crisis bonding. Low water supplies, heat exhaustion, blisters and living in your van for a full day somehow has a way of “bringing folks together”. The energy exhibited by the youth of the collegiate set was balanced by the maturation and stealth commanded by the masters runners. A very nice complimentary balance indeed. A productive combination that produced a 7th place overall finish and a “podium” finish of 2nd place for the 12 Team Member Division. Wahoo!!! Pretty impressive for the eclectic mix of male, female, young and experienced runners many of whom had just met in the preceding 24 hours.
The success of this team was driven by the organizer and her parents who graciously gave of their time and talents by hosting and feeding this crew throughout this adventure. Hot meals before, during and after running complimented by a hot shower were a much welcome contribution to buffer the fatigue of no sleep and plenty of miles. Their smiles and genuine inquiries of how each of us were holding up was much needed encouragement. The hard work and attention to details from our organizer was evident throughout the entire event.
Sheila thank you for organizing this adventure and the last minute invitation to join your team. We appreciate your willingness to open up your house and allow us to use it as a base camp. Thank you to Tom and Mary Kay for your hard work preparing and serving the food that kept us well fed and vans stocked with essentials.
I had assisted with other long distance relays but had yet to compete on an official team. Now I have. To the Crown Runner Team Members (ok Crown Crazies) – thanks to each of you for your efforts throughout this race. I trust the sunset across the western sky, the 17 billion stars that shown (I counted each of them while I ran my two legs in the dark), the sunrise over the Tetons, and the elation of completing such a challenge somehow made up for the blisters, sore muscles and residual fatigue you experienced. You rocked! It was a real privilege to address each of you as “my team” for the Grand Teton Relay 2014 (Ashley, Adam, Jodie, Kim, Kela, Sheila, Zak, Kyle, Justin, Tobin, Lila, and our volunteer; Christopher).
Strangers no longer, thanks for the memories. 7th overall, 2nd in our division. Wow. A truly “grand” weekend.
Until next time… enjoy the run!