I won’t go into too much depth about this year’s Wild West Relay, as it was seemingly much less competitive than last year’s, and I was definitely just trying to have fun and enjoy the time with my fabulous team. While we didn’t place as high as we did last year, I still had three epic legs that I couldn’t have enjoyed more, nor given anymore, and feel really good about.
After changing up the vans a bit this year, as well as switching running legs with the amazing Katie Stuckey, I was in the 11th position (in terms of difficulty) behind only the incredible Amy Smith who had the toughest legs. With that said, Stucko started us off, I was next and handed off to Earl, then came Nick, Molly and then Ben, who handed off to van 2. We had a great group together that motivated and supported one-another throughout the whole race (including multiple full moons) and I couldn’t be more thankful for them.
My first leg was on the streets of Fort Collins – a 4 mile stretch of undulating gravel and blacktop in the mid-morning heat. I finished up the leg in about 32 minutes and was happy with my time considering the heat.
My second leg was really where it was at. Eight and a half miles and over 1,100 feet of elevation gain climbing up Deadman Hill to the second-highest ascent of the relay? Yes, please! The first couple of miles were relatively downhill and I played it safe and didn’t push too much, knowing what was to come. At about mile two and a half the ascent began. Four miles of uphill at an average 6% grade at altitude. Needless to say it was a bit of a rollercoaster of a run.
Some moments I was feeling awful and just grinding up the hill, and others I was feeling incredibly light and at ease. When I saw the van and my team at mile 5 I wasn’t feeling too hot, but their awesome support (think large amounts of cowbell and two adorable full moons) gave me the confidence and motivation I needed. Once I started getting other runners in my sights I pushed even harder. I crested Deadman Hill after passing four other teams and shot down the next two miles of descent, finishing up in 81 minutes. Not too shabby.
The final leg I had was just after sunrise. It was a 6.7 mile “easy” leg on the streets among farms and ranches. It was absolutely stunning. I crested a hill in the first couple of miles that offered a gorgeous vista of the rolling farms and mountains in front of me. It makes you feel so small, and yet so powerful at the same time.
My stomach wasn’t happy with me (what, after no solid meals, little sleep and lots of running, you’re surprised?!), but I was thankfully able to pull off the run with no technical difficulties, obtaining three roadkills in the process. It was a bittersweet moment when I handed the proverbial baton off to Earl after my finishing up my leg in 56 minutes: I was done with my portion of the relay, finally able to enjoy a tasty beverage, but also sad that the experience was almost over.
Speaking of Ben, I had a moment with him at about midnight that got me thinking. We were standing on the side of the road, somewhere between Colorado and Wyoming, waiting for Nick to run by. The full moon was out (the real one this time), the stars were trying to peek behind the clouds, and the night was genuinely silent.
Slowly but surely a captive noise grew gradually louder. It was a runner approaching with music playing out of a small speaker. You see, the WWR doesn’t permit headphones as a safety precaution, so this Britney Spears fan was outwardly playing music for the whole evening to hear. I wasn’t mad or anything, I was just sad that this runner wasn’t enjoying the fruits of running in the mountains at night.
It got me thinking how important it is (to me, at least) to be able make your own music. Don’t get me wrong, I love to throw on my headphones and escape reality every once and awhile, but there’s just something to be said about the sound your feet make against the pavement, or a gravel trail. And the escalation of your breathing as you climb a difficult hill. What about the trance-like rhythm your body gets into that allows your mind to travel almost anywhere?
It’s like going to a baseball game and seeing people wearing headphones – they’re missing out on the quintessential pieces that make baseball what it is: the crack of the bat, the snap of the catcher’s mit, even the roar of the crowd.
To me, the music of running is just another element of the experience that makes me love the sport even more. I know all us runners are different, but try heading out on a run and thinking about the sounds your body makes and maybe even how it could improve your running, or make you enjoy it just a little bit more.