The Wasatch Back Relay is one of the most grueling and challenging races I have competed in. It consists of 180 miles along the back of the Wasatch Mountains from Logan to Park City, including 5 challenging climbs over mountain passes. Each of the four years I have run the race with the Weber State team have left me physically and mentally exhausted because of the difficult running legs and because of the prolonged competitiveness without rest. Normally the high school division begins at Snow Basin—a third of the way into the race. We have had some pretty good success in our first 2 years. In 2006 we had 11 boys on the team and then Candace and Natalie ran together as our 12th person. We won the high school division that year. Our boys won again in 2007, and the girls also put a team together which won the all-female high school division. In both of these first 2 years the objective was just to have fun. The kids ran hard, but mostly used it as a time to build team unity.
When I found out that to compete in this year’s high school division the team would have to run all 36 legs instead of just the 24 as in the past, I was thinking it would not be the best idea—I thought maybe it would be too much for us. I was worried, but the team seemed really excited to do it, so I reluctantly entered a team of boys and a team of girls—all the time thinking it might be a mistake. I figured if they didn’t run too hard and took good care of themselves in between legs, they would be okay. I kept thinking of the condition I was in as I climbed the Ragnar leg last year—I didn’t want to see any of my athletes feeling that dead at this point in their training. One of my strategies was to put the graduates on some of the tougher legs so that I would not kill off any of the athletes we have coming back. I figured we could beat the graduates up quite a bit and they have a long time to recover – (I give them permission to take their entire life).
I should not have doubted our team. The 24 hours of race this year taught me a lot about the character and toughness of our boys and girls.
The race is set up with each team having 2 vans of 6 runners in each van. There are 36 legs ranging from 3 to 8.5 miles. The runners go in order 1-12, each running 3 legs. This year there were about 560 teams entered in the race. Our girls team included (in order): Van 1 (driven by Becky Kussee): Emily, Katie, Talya, Jessie, Julianne, and Meghan; Van 2 (driven by me): Ally, Loren, Kelsey, Natalie, Hollie, and Carlee; with an injured Candace as our supporter on a bike. The boys team was made up of: Van 1 (driven by the famous Jace Nye): Carston, Brad, Logan, Mike, Bryce, and Leland; Van 2 (driven by Kye Kunz): Curtis, Spencer, Jason, Seth, Ryan, and Caleb. The boys’ team was set up to run 7:00 pace (21 hours) and the girls were going for 8:00 mile pace (24 hours).
We met at the school and decorated the vehicles – mostly just some window paint. The girls had created some pretty cool fuzzy, purple skirts which they made all by themselves – they would end up being their trademark throughout the race. They also made me a sweet cape made out of the same material. Some of the boys had picked up American Flag or camouflage boxer shorts to race in. Everyone had a lot of energy and excitement. We started to Logan a little late and hit some traffic along the way, so we got there just in time to pick up the race packets and get Emily to the starting line. It was hot—at least 95 degrees. Because of the staggered start times, slower teams had been running all day long, so it was nice to be missing a lot of the heat by starting at 3 pm.
We left the boys at the park in Logan they were going to start one hour after the girls. I could tell the boys were ready for a party, and maybe ready to run pretty fast, but mostly to party. I didn’t get to follow the boys’ progress as much because I was driving the 2nd girls van. We did see the 2nd boys van at 2 of the major exchanges for a while, and Jace and Spencer gave me some good updates along the way.
The girls started at the same time as the other two favorites in the all-female team competition: the Weber State Alumni team, and the Curves with a Kick team (last year’s champions). I figured the Weber women were the team to beat. Janae and the girls had been talking trash all week long at practice. Before the week of the race I didn’t think they would have a chance, but then they revealed their ‘Secret Weapon’—Morgan Haws. Morgan, Natalie’s older sister, was fresh off of her All-American 10,000m performance at the NCAA meet. As a former Dart, we felt like Morgan was a bit of a traitor. Adding her really strengthened the Weber team.
Emily started us off strong. When I saw her about 3 miles into the 5.1 mile run, I could see that the heat was getting to her, but she kept a good pace and came in pretty close to the other 2 female teams. Both of the other teams started with one of their stronger runners: Heidi Bowhuis for Weber and Jessie Winters for Curves (who was also a former Weber State runner). It was on this first leg that we started playing We Will Rock You as loud as we could out the window whenever we passed the Weber runners or the Weber van. Em ran well under 7:30 pace and finished about 2:30 behind the other runners, but Katie quickly made up the gap on her long, hot 6.7 mile leg. It wasn’t long before she caught the Weber runner—who began to struggle with some heat exhaustion. Katie loves the heat, the hotter the better. She powered past the Curves runner and put our team in the lead by the exchange. The Weber runner came in about 7 minutes behind Katie, and I figured we were pretty safe; I should have remembered how long the race was. That was the last we saw of Van 1; we had to drive around the mountains while van 1 was going over Avon Pass.
The girls in Van 1 kept flying through all of there legs. Talya and Jessie ran through the flat, hot, long roads of Hyrum and Paradise and I heard we were ahead by over 10 minutes. That gave Julianne a good lead over Morgan. Julianne climbed 7.4 miles and over 1,200 feet up Avon pass. I heard she loved it and felt great. Then Meghan got to run 6.9 miles and 1,400 feet down the other side. I heard she didn’t love it and didn’t feel too great. I started to worry about Meghan. That much downhill can be pretty hard on the legs and she still had 2 more fairly tough runs to go.
While they were running, we had a great time driving around to Ogden Valley. I had always heard how funny Carlee is, and I was finally getting to hear some of the funny things she says. We were talking about how to pronounce ‘Mantua’, and Carlee says, “Why is ‘Kanab’, ‘K-nab’, not ‘Nab’ like how ‘knife’ is ‘nife’ not ‘k-nife’?” Not too much further down the road we were talking about the Oprah Christmas episode (I have no clue why) and she says if she were on that episode, “I’d kill myself . . . out of joy.” Then we were talking about her Homecoming date and how she didn’t really know the kid and couldn’t even remember his last name and never really talked to him before and never really talked to him since, but how her mom said he was in her 4th grade class and should she should have known him. Anyway, I guess you have to spend time around Carlee to realize how hilarious she really is.
We met the boys 2nd van and picked up Candace and Caleb in North Ogden at the Maverick. Candace had been hurt, so she wasn’t running, but she was going to bike quite a bit with the girls. After finally getting Spencer out of the big cooler where the ice is stored, we were on our way over North Ogden Pass to Liberty where the 2nd van would begin. The updates from the boys’ first van were good. Carston started off strong, and Brad Nye, the freshman, had run well on the long, hot 6.7 mile leg. (Although Katie’s time barely beat Brad’s, he is showing a lot of promise).
Waiting at the park in Liberty was fun. There was some free pasta (although not as much as we were expecting – just a really long line for these tiny little plates), and there was some free smoothies. The entire team kept switching back and forth between the lines – saving spots and then hording pasta and smoothies. One guy called them ‘cherry pickers’ but I called it teamwork (that’s good coaching). I think everyone got 2 or 3 free smoothies. The weird old guy handing out them out wasn’t fooled at all – he kept saying “Coming back for more? You can’t sneak past me. I recognize you.” But then he would still give them more smoothies. The girls also found a fun, tall, swirly slide to go down and to take some pictures on (although it gave them slide burns), and the boys had a lot of fun on the swings – sometimes 2 boys to a swing. I think we were the most excited team at the park—definitely the weirdest and most childlike team at the park. This is also where we met the women from the 2nd van from Weber State alumni team. I introduced the girls to the Weber team, and the Weber team already started making excuses and justifications about how they were ‘old’ and out of shape. They had a combined 16 children among them (Summer had just had her 4th baby 9 weeks before), and they were all acting like they were ‘has-beens’. It definitely got me thinking how it wasn’t going to be as much of a challenge as I thought it would be. I should have known better—together they had quite a few all-conference and all-Americans in their day. I left the park thinking we probably wouldn’t see them the rest of the relay.
Meghan was staggering back and forth across the street as she finished her leg. I couldn’t tell if she was just exhausted or confused about where she was supposed to make the exchange. The weather was finally starting to cool as Ally started off the 2nd van. We didn’t have much time to talk to the girls from the first van, but it sounded like they rocked it. They were about 9 minutes ahead of Weber and 1 minute ahead of the Curves team. I was kind of surprised that the Curves team was so close. In fact, the woman running against Ally was really strong. Although Ally ran a great 4 mile leg, right at 7:30 pace, the Curves lady passed her and built a 1:00 lead. We would have been closer, but we had to scramble to find a head lamp and reflective vest for Loren, and then Loren got to the exchange without her race number on and they wouldn’t let her go without it. She speedily swapped purple skirts with Hollie and took off (it was quick thinking on Hollie’s part). Loren ran solid through her 3.4 mile leg and past the Curves team. Then Kelsey stretched the lead out and that was about the last we saw or heard of the Curves team. We were starting to get a lot of comments about the purple skirts, and as we flew by other teams they were starting to notice how tough our girls were (people kept asking me if I was the lucky coach). It was fun to stop along the routes a few times each leg to cheer the girls on and to give them water. They all looked really strong, and Candace was a good support for each of them on the bike. Natalie busted through her 3.5 mile leg in 6:10 pace, and I figured we were well on our way to the win (I’ve got to learn not to get so arrogant so early in that relay).
By the time Natalie finished it was dark, and I had decided to run up Old Snow Basin road with Hollie and Carlee (according to the rules I could only pace once the sun went down). Hollie’s leg was 3.8 miles with about 900 feet of elevation gain. She looked really strong up the mountain and we talked the whole way up. I don’t know how Hollie does that. She can be running really hard, but still tell a story with ease—it’s pretty impressive. Right at the end of Hollie’s leg we hear this van approaching behind us with the music blasting and someone yelling at us out the window. It was the boys 2nd van. I was surprised to see them so early, but it was a good sign for them. They said Ryan was still a ways behind Hollie, but they were coming. Carlee continued the climb up the road. Her leg was 3.1 miles and gained 830 feet in elevation. There were some pretty tough uphills, or as Carlee would say, “there were some real crankers.” (She later claimed that she felt stupid for using the word ‘crankers’). She ran really strong, but was disappointed in her time. I thought it was impressive for the beast of a hill she had climbed and I knew she had given a great effort by how hard she was breathing, but Carlee wanted better. The boys van passed us again near the end of Carlee’s run. Caleb was running hard up the same leg, but he didn’t catch Carlee.
We got to the Snow Basin exchange, and I continued to run down Trapper’s Loop with Emily. Van 2 was going to meet me down at the next exchange. This was one of the legs that I was most worried about—it didn’t help that Emily had run her 1st leg during the hottest part of the day. Em’s leg was the longest of the relay – 8.5 miles with 2100 feet of elevation drop. It also had a considerable (700 foot) elevation gain to begin with, plus the entire run would be in the dark. I know Emily is tough, but I was really worried about this one. She started off really strong. She said how much better she felt compared to earlier when it was so hot. Emily’s parents had driven up and were following us down the road, giving plenty of encouragement (I think her mom was much more worried than I was). We found a nice fast rhythm and just cruised down the mountain, enjoying the cool night air. Out of no where a runner came up behind us. At first we thought it was Carston, but it wasn’t. It was Heidi from the Weber team. I honestly thought they must have driven their runners up Old Snow Basin Road. It surprised the heck out of me. Just when I thought we were creaming them, Heidi goes flying by us (she actually wasn’t running that much faster than Emily, I think she just wanted to make a statement as she went by). I asked Heidi how much she started behind us and she yelled back ‘about a minute’. So after everyone had run one time, we held only a minute lead on the Weber team (amounting to about 1 second per mile at that point). It was going to be a much closer race than I thought. The ‘old’, ‘out of shape’ mothers of 16 had gained 8 minutes on our team. Emily stayed pretty close to Heidi over the long leg and averaged under 7:00 pace. She was pretty tired by the end, but I thought she handled it really well. Emily was a little disappointed that Carston caught her during the run. It was close to the end of the leg. I guess Carston wasn’t ready when Caleb got to Snow Basin, so the boys lost a minute or two and Caleb really freaked out. Imagine that, Caleb freaking out. I bet it was pretty funny. I was kind of glad to hear that the boys were being so competitive. They were well under 7 minute mile pace after each of them had run once.
I met van 2 at the gas station at the bottom of Trapper’s Loop. After about 16 miles of running I needed some calories (especially if I was going to drive all night). The girls didn’t understand how I could finish a long run like that and then down a Coke, a bag of chips, and a king-size Reeses Fast Break right afterward. I guess I am pretty talented like that. The girls were kind of hungry and were craving (of all things) peanut butter. I found some in the gas station and surprised them with it. It is funny how something so simple can produce so much gratitude – I like that about this team. Plus they were really excited that I found the peanut butter in the ‘cute, little jar’.
Van 1 continued on the course. There 2nd legs were all a little easier than their first ones, and a lot cooler. They seemed to be in good spirits, and were recovered alright other than Julianne’s stomach ache. I was pretty worried about Meghan being able to come back from the tough downhill leg. I think Becky was enjoying herself as the driver, but I am sure she realized how crazy this whole thing was by this point.
I drove van 2 on to the next big exchange–the halfway point at East Canyon Reservoir—hopefully to get a little rest. The girls still had tons of energy – except for Natalie who fell asleep in the front passenger seat. We passed maybe 200 teams while we were driving up to East Canyon and I knew we would be running past teams like crazy the rest of the relay.
When we got to East Canyon we quickly found some grass to put our sleeping bags down on. We had a little less than 2 hours before van 1 got there. Everyone got out of the van except Natalie. She is in her own unconscious world once she gets sleepy. This is not the first occasion where we couldn’t get her to wake up enough to move. We laid her seat back, put a pillow under her head, and put a blanket on her. I think she thought we were trying to sabotage her sleep (just because we can usually get funny reactions by messing with her when she is this tired), but she settled back into her deep sleep.
We fell asleep, but not for very long. It seemed like no time at all before I got a call from Becky saying that Meghan had about 2 miles left. I knew the last 2 miles of that leg were uphill, and I knew Meghan had to be pretty tired from her previous leg, so I figured we had at least 16 minutes until they were there and I let the girls sleep a little longer. That was a mistake. We casually got things ready to go and I was walking with Ally up to the exchange when we ran into Janae and she was like, “Meghan’s been up there for like 3 or 4 minutes.” I thought Janae was just messing with us, trying to be funny, but she wasn’t. We got up to the exchange and Meghan had been there for at least 4 minutes. Ally found her and grabbed the slap bracelet and took off into the night. The Weber girls took off about 10 seconds behind Ally. In the previous 12 runners, Weber had beat us by about 9 minutes. The delay at the exchange zone was totally my fault. It is always at this point in the relay where I have a hard time moving with a lot of motivation (it was like 2:18 in the morning), and I was a little too laid back in getting Ally up to the exchange. The good news was that Meghan felt amazing on her leg and she was in a great mood when she finished. I think every year the runners on my team who have finished that leg have been ready to die – but not Meghan, she had a lot of energy. I think Julianne was pretty upset at us for losing time at the exchange; I could tell she was getting competitive.
We didn’t see the boys at East Canyon – they were sleeping somewhere when we got there. It could have been right next to us for all we knew. They were gone by the time we got up to run. The only update I got from them was that Spencer’s hip flexor had been bothering him, which worried me a little because he had a 7 mile leg coming up. I guess I wasn’t too worried though – he was one of the graduates that I didn’t mind beating up a little bit. He’ll have 2 years on a mission to recover.
Ally ran off into the night racing against Sharlynn from Weber – a 3 time All-American, while we got into the van and tried to find some energy. The energy came from Gettin’ Jiggy With It by Will Smith. The only time anyone will ever catch me dancing like that is at 2:30am. That’s all I am going to say about that.
After Ally, Loren’s leg was 7 steady downhill miles. She took off about 4 minutes behind the Weber runner – their captain Stephanie Chambers (who writes for the Standard Examiner). Stephanie’s husband was pacing her on a bike. I had decided to hop out and run with Loren while Natalie drove. Luckily Natalie seemed to have regained consciousness – I still don’t know if I should have trusted her to drive that late at night. I didn’t want Loren to get lost, even though it was one long, straight shot. It was dark and in the middle of no where, and Lor is not that good at directions. We started running at a pretty quick pace. Plus the darkness made it feel like we were going even faster. We were flying by tons of other teams. I wouldn’t tell Loren how long we had been running until late in the run, and I was trying to distract her to keep her at a fast pace, so I was telling her a bunch of stories from my childhood and talking to her about college running. I kept asking her if she was okay and if we needed to slow down. She would decide to slow the pace just a little, then I would start telling her another story and we would start passing people and soon enough we would be running as fast as before. I told Loren to just run, not to think – she said that should be easy for her.
After we passed the 1 mile to go sign we could see Stephanie and her husband (on the bike) pass under a street light way ahead of us. We were still about 45 seconds behind her, but Loren started running even faster. I didn’t think she would catch them, but with about 200 meters to go Loren started sprinting and she passed Stephanie right at the exchange zone. She also elbowed her and cut her off in the process. Stephanie later used that as motivation to try and beat Loren on their final legs.
I felt pretty good (probably because of the Coke, chips, and Fastbreak from earlier) so I decided to keep going with Kelsey on her 6.2 mile run. Kelsey was running against Summer from Weber (who had had a baby 9 weeks before). Her husband was also biking next to her. Summer immediately got a 10 meter lead on Kelsey, but the lead stayed right at 10 meters for 3 or 4 miles. They were running the exact same pace for the longest time. Telling stories to Kelsey seemed to distract her as well, and the pace was pretty fast. We finally caught Summer and ran with her for a while. They were both working hard and breathing heavy. I told Summer about the 100 mile race I ran and I think it wore her down. We started to pull away over the last mile. It was a strong run by Kelsey, and both of them would have to run their hardest leg in the morning (Pre-Ragnar).
I was done with my running after that (and craving a Coke). The race with Weber was getting more and more intense. Natalie ran another strong leg against Janae (while her husband Ken was riding beside her), but the next 2 Weber runners were really strong and even though Hollie and Carlee ran well, we exchanged about 4 minutes behind them at exchange 25. Everyone had 1 leg to run. When Carlee finished her run, we told her she had done great and had averaged 8:03 pace (even though she really ran 7:40s). She was a little disappointed that she had run slower than 8:00 pace. We let her think that for about 5 minutes, and then told her what she really ran. All Carlee could say was a tired “Woohoo.” Even though she wasn’t too enthusiastic, she was genuinely happy, and we were all proud of her.
Emily started running her final leg. She ran over 19 miles for the relay (the most by about 4 miles). I figured van 1 must be pretty tired, but they seemed to show some energy. They were all still wearing their purple skirts, and they were definitely passing a lot of other teams. The girls in Van 2 quickly fell asleep while I drove ahead to Heber. It was just getting light again. While driving through part of the 2nd leg for that van we drove past Brad Nye on the boys’ team. They were probably about 30 or 40 minutes in front of the girls at this point. While I was driving in silence, I figured that although we had stayed close to the Weber girls to this point, they were probably going to beat us. They have a lot more experience and a lot more years of running and their 3rd legs would probably be their strength and our inexperience or youth might hurt us. Besides, the girls had run so hard on their first 2 legs, that I figured it might be tough to come back from the lead Weber had built.
Once we got to Heber Middle School we found the boys team and they all put their sleeping bags out on the grass and fell asleep while I went inside for breakfast and a shower. It felt great. At least 5 people that I talked to inside had seen our boys or girls teams, and they were amazed with how well each team was doing. I felt like such a proud coach. I love when these kids run so awesome and make me look good, and I don’t really have to do anything except take credit act like it is because of me. I told at least 10 more people who I talked to that our teams were running great and probably going to kill their teams. I came back out and lay down in my sleeping bag, but couldn’t get any sleep because I knew Caleb and Spencer were plotting to do something to me when I fell asleep. I never get good rest on things like this (high altitude camp, bus trips, etc) because I am always paranoid that these boys are going to try to pull some kind of prank. It is not just paranoia, it is usually the truth.
All the boys seemed to be feeling okay. The reports they were getting from Jace in van 1 were all positive. Everyone was running fast. It sounded like Leland and Carston were the studs of the first van. Van 2 was also in good shape. Spencer was hurting pretty bad, but knew that he could finish his leg – he’s tough. Jason had run well so far, and wasn’t too worried about his asthma going into pre-Ragnar (but I was). Seth was excited to run Ragnar (it ended up that he was the fastest high schooler on Ragnar, and the 5th fastest overall – I heard he was amazing to watch and really pumped up by his teammates). Ryan was in a good mood; he probably didn’t realize how difficult the steep downhill of his last run would be on his legs. Caleb was still being a goof – which was a good sign because it showed he had some energy left. He wasn’t worried about his last run, he was just worried about who was the biggest flirt on the boys team. He thought it was Seth or Ryan; I assured him that he was because Jordan wasn’t with us.
Although Curtis is a senior, this was his first race with us, and I could tell he was nervous. Everyone else was lying down or joking around, but Curtis was already moving around, ready to run. He was the first leg in van 2, and even though he had at least a half an hour before van 1 arrived and it had been a long night, he was ready to go again. He is going to be a good addition to the team.
The boys’ first van got to Heber and the second van left. They took Candace with them because she had to get back for her sister’s wedding. That was the last we would see of the boys. They were running well under 7 minute pace at that point.
I thought I would get some sleep. We had about 1 hour before the girls’ first van arrived. All the van 2 girls were mostly settled down, and I was just about asleep when I get this phone call from Julianne. She was all fired up. She says, “Make sure the girls are ready to go when we get there!” I was like, “Okay. Whatever. We will be ready (now let me sleep, Julianne).” But she was like, “I am serious! You better not miss the exchange again. We are all running fast! And we are going to beat Weber!” I was just thinking, Stop yelling at me, Julianne. But she kept going on about how they were all revived and had tons of energy and were taking it to the Weber team! She wouldn’t shut up. “Katie and Talya built up a lead, then I nearly held off a charge by Morgan, (the ‘Secret Weapon’) and now Jessie is running awesome and going to catch the Weber girl. And Meghan is going to rock on her last leg, so you better be ready this time!” I was glad Julianne was so enthusiastic, but I was also trying to get a little rest. Looking back on it, that kind of competitiveness and excitement is what is going to help us this fall.
I got a little sleep (it felt like 10 minutes), then I was up and making sure that Ally was ready in plenty of time (thanks to Julianne). I went over to the exchange with her while the other girls got things ready and loaded into the van. It was about 10am and it was starting to get hot again. The Weber team was at the exchange, so I took the opportunity to talk some trash. (I think they knew I was kidding). I asked them if they had heard about the penalty their first van got for pacing and that they would have to beat us by 5 minutes to ‘officially’ win. They didn’t think that was funny. I told Stephanie she did a great job the night before (when Loren caught and passed her at the finish line) and she was like, “Yeah, what was that? She didn’t have to run me over.” But I just said she better watch out for Loren on her final leg because there is a lot more where that came from.
Meghan came in looking strong (especially for so late in the race), and Ally took off (a little scared of Sharlynn after their 2nd legs). I am sure Julianne was pleased that we were ready to go on time. The girls from the first van were super excited and I wish we could have stayed around to hear about their awesome final legs. I only had time to hang around and see what our lead was. It surprised me that we were up by 2:30, but I also remembered that they beat us by 8 minutes on the first legs. The girls were all excited that we had such a lead, and we started blasting We will Rock You each time we saw the Weber girls again. I am sure they were sick of that song. Ally came through with her best leg of the relay. She looked great and didn’t lose much of the lead. She was even getting a little emotional that this was her last race with the Davis team.
By the time she handed off to Loren it was getting really hot. We were stopping every few minutes to give them water to drink and to dump on themselves. I had tried to prepare Loren a little for this final leg because I knew how tough it has been in the past for the runners on my teams. It is a 6.3 mile run, slightly uphill, in the heat, with long straight stretches of road, and all of this after already racing about 11 miles and getting very little sleep. None of this seemed to faze Loren and she ran one of the most inspirational legs of the relay. She was smiling the entire time. I thought maybe she was a little loopy from lack of sleep, but she was actually loving it, and she was flying. She even passed the Weber team van and looked over at them and sang out “We will, we will, Rock You!” It was unbelievable. All of the other girls fed off of her energy, and Hollie kept saying how excited she was to run. I couldn’t understand how they were being so positive at the point where every year I am exhausted and wondering why I am putting my body through this.
Loren extended the lead so much that we didn’t have time to wait around and see how much it was. Kelsey’s last leg is one of the toughest in the entire relay. The first ½ mile is slightly uphill, but then there is a 3 mile stretch of relentless, unforgiving, steep uphill. I remember running it the second year of the relay and it killed me. I felt like I was working extra hard and getting no where. Kelsey looked great through the first half of the run, but then the heat and the hill began taking its effect. I could tell she was doing everything she could do, and it was really challenging her physically and mentally. We kept encouraging her and giving her water. One of the times when she was by the van she looked at me, fighting back tears and asked “Can I walk a little?” I told her “Of course”. I had walked on the same leg a few years before, and Candace had walked on the same leg last year. Kelsey was so committed to doing her best for the team. I was so proud of her and her effort – watching her made me want to cry because I knew she was pushing herself so hard for her friends and for her coach. She would walk a little, then run, then be forced to walk because of the steepness of the hill, but she kept moving. Loren got out and went a little while with Kelsey. I didn’t know where Loren was getting her energy from. Kelsey finally made it to the finish of her leg, exhausted, but she definitely should have been satisfied that she gave a full effort. The Weber team was no where in sight. I think Kelsey had really pushed Summer on the previous leg and I am sure Summer was struggling as well.
Natalie’s final leg was Ragnar – the last 4 miles up the mountain. A 1700 foot gain in elevation over 4 miles. She ran it last year and was the fastest female on the only leg where they time every team in the race. Watching Natalie was incredible. She looked so strong. She was passing people left and right. Not just ‘joggers’ but the best runners on most of the teams. Some of them were grown men who looked like they were in good shape. Hollie kept taking pictures of the men that Natalie was cruising because we were trying to capture their reactions. I can just imagine what they must have been thinking as this high school girl flew by them making it look so easy. Natalie kept smiling at us and dancing to the music we were playing for her. She finished in just over 38:00. Good enough for the fastest female award by over 4 minutes. The second fastest female was Janae – representing the Weber team, but also part of our team. They both ran extremely well. (We later found out that Janae ran it in her 2nd month of pregnancy). Natalie’s time was the 18th fastest out of all 540 runners.
Once again, we didn’t wait around until the Weber team got there but we were hoping that we had built at least an 8 minute lead because we knew their final 2 runners were tough. Hollie’s leg had a little bit of uphill at the start, but then a whole ton of downhill. In 6.9 miles it rises over 200 feet and drops almost 2,000. Hollie was the right choice for this leg. She looked great going down the hills. She had a good rhythm and wasn’t leaning back putting the breaks on. Once again, she past a lot of teams and finished strong. I am sure her legs felt like jell-o as she finished, but she was too excited to care. Carlee started onto the final leg of the relay and we waited around to see what kind of lead we had. We were going to go and tell Carlee so that hopefully she knew she could relax and just run to the finish. We waited for 8 minutes and the Weber girls finally came in.
The final leg is only 5 miles long, but it was right at the hottest part of the day. Most of it is run on a paved trail that goes through Park City and then goes west out of town to the finish area. We tried to find Carlee to get her some water and let her know that she had a good lead, but from the road we couldn’t see where she was on the trail. We couldn’t find her so we decided to go on to the finish. It was easily 90 degrees. I was really hoping that they had placed water out on the path for the final runners to drink. They hadn’t. I didn’t get all of Carlee’s story, but I am sure you could ask her about it and she would have a funny way of relating it. All I gathered was that she was getting extremely thirsty and actually fell down at one point. I am glad she didn’t pass out. I guess it took her quite a while to get up, and when she did she probably felt like she was going to die (not out of joy). Somehow she survived (despite thinking she wouldn’t make it), and the rest of the team was all waiting to run the last half mile with her in their purple skirts.
They were all smiles as they finished the race together. It makes me wonder what makes someone so extremely happy at the end of something so incredibly exhausting (like a 23 hour relay). It is the same feeling I look for every time I finish a marathon. I think the best word for it is satisfaction. Satisfaction that you have pushed yourself and accomplished something great. But with the relay, it is much more than just personal satisfaction – it is knowing that you have worked hard for yourself and for your friends to achieve something great together. Once again, I was a proud coach, looking good and sitting back watching them talk about their great experiences. They were most excited that I told them we would have an easy week the next week and that they wouldn’t have to run to far at the vita course on Monday.
The Weber women finished about 3:30 later. They really gave us a fight. I like how competitive they all still are even though some of them are quite a few years past their competitive careers. We averaged about 1 second per mile faster than they did. It was truly one of the most memorable team races in the history of the relay. I am so glad that it worked out that way – not the winning – just the experience. Our girls had to work hard to earn the victory. (I guess the winning was fun too). Everyone I have talked to on the Weber team has had nothing but compliments for our girls, but they were all sick of me and my trash-talking. They were impressed with the character, the teamwork, and the energy that the girls showed. I think they also liked our purple skirts.
The boys went on to finish in 20 hours and 29 minutes – an average of about 6:50 per mile. It was good enough for 7th place overall and 1st place out of all high school teams. The girls finished in 23 hours and 14 minutes – an average of about 7:45 per mile. Overall, they were the 22nd fastest team, and the fastest all female team in the competition. I just had to drive a little, run a little, talk a little trash, enjoy my Coke and candy bar, and look good as their coach.