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It has been a busy couple of weeks since I’ve updated. The first weekend in June I ran my fourth Reno-Tahoe Odyssey, and the following weekend was a marathon of concerts with the ensemble I play with, Tintabulations. (check out our website and concert schedule here: we have a handful of concerts left before taking a summer break!)
The RTO is a 178-mile relay which starts in Reno, loops through the Sierras around Lake Tahoe, into the Carson Valley, up the mountain into Virginia City, and ends a bit past the starting point in Reno. There are almost 300 teams competing (well, really only a handful of teams actually competing; the rest of us are in it for the fun of it!) The majority of teams consist of 12 runners, split up between two vans. There are 36 legs of the relay so each runner theoretically has three legs to run. Distances vary from a few miles up to 8, and range from very easy to very difficult.
It was in training for my first RTO in 2014 that I really began to feel that running was no longer just something I did. Running became a part of my identity. Also, because of the RTO, a half marathon seemed do-able, seeing as how I practically ran one then (over a 24-hour period). Each year has presented its own set of challenges, triumphs, and firsts. This year was no exception!
A big part of running the RTO is choosing a team name. Scroll through the team roster on the RTO website and you’ll see some very creative names. Ours this year has to be said out loud to be fully appreciated…Hoof Hearted. Let’s just say the name is descriptive of the RTO life in a van with five other people!
Our teammate Kris designed our shirts. The design depicted a mechanical-looking flatulent unicorn breaking wind in colorful fashion, as one would expect from a unicorn! She also pulled together two sponsors for our team, Bison Construction and Port of Subs, who paid for our shirts.
Tutu Girl, and A First for Me
There had been heavy construction traffic getting to my exchange. By the time we arrived I barely had time to slap on some Body Glide and fill my water flask before our runner came in and I was off.
The first legs of this relay kind of set the tone for the rest of the race. You see what kind of van support you’re going to get and what kind of support each individual might want.
I feel like I’m a “clingy” runner when it comes to this race. It was a hot day, so I requested team support about every mile and a half of the almost six-mile leg. And they complied, with water guns aimed and ready. Strangers in tutus were generous with their spritzer bottles, as well. My team also helped support their teammate, nicknamed “tutu girl”, as she and I leapfrogged each other the entire route! That’s what this race is all about!
Around 4 miles in, just after my teammates gave me support and went ahead to the next exchange, I started feeling the urge to pee. I became much more aware of forest and the large trees alongside the road and down a slight embankment, and I began to realize that I would not be able to make it two miles. By this point I didn’t see any runners coming up behind me, nor much traffic. A quick scan of the area yielded no signs of wildlife except the birds who seemed to be mocking me from above. So for the first time ever in my five years of running, I took advantage of mother nature’s outhouse and copped a squat behind a tree. I was so glad I did. I felt much better and able to run in strong to finish my leg.
I really hate the games my mind plays when I’m out there. I’m usually a confident runner and don’t worry much about my pace. But as part of a team, and the oldest on the team, it’s different. Seriously, some of my teammates are the same age as my children! So when I was out there tackling the hills in the heat, thoughts crept in. “yep, you can tell I’m the oldest runner on the team!” “I’m the slowest so far.” “I wonder how long these younger friends of mine will want to have home on their team?” “I wonder if this will be the last year?” “Maybe I should have taken the ‘princess’ legs” (this is how one of my teammates jokingly refers to the easiest legs).
Then I would see my van and speed back to a run while they cheered me on, cooled me off and called me a “beast”! After my leg was complete, my teammates assured me my pace was strong and steady. Yes, I walked the uphills (no shame in walking!) but made up the time on the downhills and straight-aways.
In my rush at the beginning of the leg, I didn’t start my Fitbit until about a half mile in.
After we had completed our first six legs and handed off to Van 2, we found a nearby park and gobbled down the Port of Subs sandwiches & chips provided to us. Turkey sandwiches and Cheetos never tasted so good!
Then we changed into fresh clothes, spread out some picnic blankets and relaxed until the time to venture the 30+ minute drive to meet up with Van 2 and run the next set of legs.
This is perhaps the most beautiful part of the RTO course, with views of the majestic Lake Tahoe at sunset, particularly around Emerald Bay. Lake Tahoe never ceases to take my breath away with its pure beauty. Although the legs running closest to the Lake are longer and in some cases, hillier, the scenery is worth it.
My leg in this section was just over three miles. By the time I started running, it was dark. I began in a community called Tahoe Keys, running through upscale neighborhoods without much audible van support, as this was designated a “quiet zone” by race officials. The course then went down the main drag in South Lake Tahoe. Maybe it was because we had to be quiet, and maybe it was because the portion along the main drag was on a pseudo sidewalk and not well lit. It just wasn’t my favorite part of the course. Again, my teammates were supportive and we even hammed it up for some fun pics.
I felt bad for our final runner in this section. Sarah had requested little support, and that’s what she got! Our attentions turned toward discussion of which pizza joints were nearby, and whether we should eat in the van on the way to our sleeping destination! Sarah later quipped that she could have been taken by a bear and we would not have known. (I like to think we would have noticed sooner rather than later!)
We ordered pizza and planned to take it in the van. But the Pizza Hut was comfortable and quiet, and the bartender was very congenial. He brought us all ice water while we waited and invited us to sit at the bar. We were so comfortable that we ended up eating there.
The drive to our next destination was about 20 minutes. The parents of one of our teammates lives just off the route, minutes from the next van exchange point. They are SO hospitable; there were 4 cots with pillows and blankets, along with a double bed and a sofa . In the kitchen there were bagels and cream cheese, fresh fruit, hard boiled eggs, assorted granola bars, trail mix, and an ice chest filled with water and Gatorade! We thanked them profusely and sleepily as heads hit pillows. At least, I’m pretty sure we did!
Sleep Deprivation Motivation
We were a team of 12, but it sometimes felt like we were two teams competing to allow the other as little sleep as possible. Only a little over an hour after we had gone to bed, unhappy people were yanked out of deep sleep with the call that it was time to meet the other van.
We were highly motivated to finish our third legs as quickly as possible. The faster we moved, the sooner we could return the favor and wake up Van 2!
This leg for me was just over three miles, all uphill to Silver City (about halfway up to Virginia City). This time the only van support I wanted was “moral”. I didn’t want to stop for water or rest. I just wanted to push through and finish!
Somehow in my sleep deprivation, I started then paused my Fitbit for the first three-quarters of a mile. You can see the gap in the screenshot. But I pushed up that mountain!
Speaking of sleep deprivation; it was here that I realized that our loss paled compared to the Race Directors’. They were at the Start Line. They were at the “Donner’s Downfall” exchange mid-afternoon when my husband volunteered there. We saw them at the Lake Tahoe van exchange at dusk and the Carson City exchange at dawn. As I ran up the mountain to Silver City, head-honcho Eric passed me and cheered me on. And they were at the finish line. I can only imagine how late they stayed after the finish line festival. Do race directors earn medals, too?
It’s a rite of passage for Van 1 to celebrate completion of its portion of the relay at the Bucket of Blood Saloon in Virginia City, with Bloody Mary’s. We decided to forego this tradition at that early hour, and instead headed back down to Reno for a full breakfast.
Notice the recurring theme here. Run. Eat. Rest. We ran as well as we could have, I believe. The food was consistently the “best ever”. The rest could always have been better, or at least longer!
The Big Finish
Our team was consistent and ran strong. We may not have had much sleep over the course of the race, but the trade-off was that we crossed the finish line before noon on Saturday! It was fun to watch for our final runner, then run into the park together and cross the line as a team. It was rewarding as Team Captain to hand out medals and reward stickers to teammates. We had our official finish line photo, post-race drinks, and enjoyed visiting with one another for a little while before heading home. Many of us had never met prior to this race. Now we have more running buddies, and you really can’t have too many of those!
Each year the RTO is a new and different experience. I think this one was my favorite so far. I’m looking forward to next year’s relay and wondering which legs I’ll be doing then!
Maybe I’ll go easy on myself and do the “princess legs”!