Running – “Big Relays”

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For runners or non-runners who’ve never done a relay event like the Reno-Tahoe Odyssey (RTO) that I just wrote about, here’s a an explanation followed by a chronology of my team’s experience this past weekend. The chronology will turn the abstract into the real.

A course of up to about 200 miles is divided into 36 separate legs of varied distances and difficulty. No two segments are identical.

Teams of 12 runners compete, with each runner responsible for three separate legs. For instance, the first runner runs legs 1, 13, and 25. Runner 2 has legs 2, 14, and 26, and so on.

Because 12 runners in one vehicle is not feasible, each team consists of two sub-teams of 6, each using a full-size van, SUV or minivan to travel. While one van of 6 is running its legs, the other van’s runners are trying to eat or get some rest, but in anticipation of the call alerting them that their services are needed again.

There are now a number of races structured like this, all of them inspired originally by the Hood to Coast Relay, which accurately calls itself the Mother of all Relays. Hood to Coast began in 1982 and since 1998 its cap of 1000 teams (yes, that’s 12,000 runners) has been filled the first day registration is allowed! It is a colossal event, now sponsored by Nike, that starts in Mt. Hood and ends at Seaside on the Oregon coast.

Its success has spawned two related relay events: the Portland to Coast High School Challenge and the Portland to Coast Walk. Hood to Coast isn’t a relay; it’s a force of nature.

Closer to home, there is another “big relay”. It has had various names over the years depending on sponsors but originally and now again it’s known as The Relay. However because of the name changes, I simply refer to it as the Calistoga-Santa Cruz relay, because of its start and end points. (It finishes on the beach at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk – really nice.) The scenery is splendid and the relay covers territory I know very well. I’ve done it twice (’01, ’02) and would recommend it although for several reasons I’m partial to the RTO. One of those reasons is the RTO is a giant circle course as opposed to a point-to-point like The Relay or Hood to Coast. Logistically, circle courses are much easier.

Here’s a map of the Reno-Tahoe Odyssey. (Click on it for a larger format.) Using my team’s (“DNR”) experience this past weekend, you’ll get a good idea of what 12 runners go through during the course of a big relay.

Here’s one other piece of key background information for understanding these relays.

Teams’ starting times are handicapped by estimated completion time in order to assure that all of them finish within a roughly 5 hour window. The slowest teams start first and the fastest teams start last. In this year’s RTO the first teams began at 7:15 a.m. and the last teams began at 4:00 p.m. The fastest team finished in just under 18 hours while the slowest team finished in about 33.5 hours. Click here to see complete results.

Our team started at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, 29 May.

Our Van 1 consisted of Carla, Tom, Megan, Paul, Sean, and Lisa.
Our Van 2 consisted of Bryan, Greg, Chris, Roseann, John, and Chuck.

(Carla, DNR’s runner 1, is second from left, # 37)

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Leg 1 – Carla starts off in Wingfield Park in downtown Reno along with runners from four other teams. She tags Tom in Mogul. (4.8 miles)

Leg 2 – Tom runs to Verdi where he tags Megan. (5.5 miles)

Leg 3 – Megan continues through Verdi where she tags Paul. (4.9 miles)

Leg 4 – Paul runs what is considered the toughest leg of the entire relay and tags Sean. (8.0 miles)

Leg 5 – Sean runs past Stampede Reservoir and then tags Lisa. (5.8 miles)

Leg 6 – Lisa runs to a point just off of I-80 east of Truckee where she tags Chris. (4.7 miles)

First hand-off between vans: Van 1 to Van 2 at 5:39 p.m. and 33.7 miles into the relay. Van 1 is done with its first six legs and heads to Tahoe City to get something to eat.

Leg 7 – Chris runs up Hirschdale Road east of Truckee and tags Greg. (4.9 miles)

Leg 8 – Greg runs through downtown Truckee and tags Bryan. (4.8 miles)

Leg 9 – Bryan runs south on Hwy. 89 and tags Roseann. (3.3 miles)

Leg 10 – Roseann continues running south on Hwy. 89 as far as Squaw Valley and tags John. (5.5 miles)

Leg 11 – John runs along the bike path to Tahoe City and tags Chuck. (5.3 miles)

Leg 12 – Chuck runs south on Hwy. 89 from Tahoe City to Homewood along the west shore of Lake Tahoe. At this point it’s dark so Chuck runs with a headlamp and vest. He tags Carla. (6.2 miles)

Second hand-off between vans: Van 2 to Van 1 at 9:41 p.m. and 63.7 miles into the relay. Van 2 scoots down Hwy. 89 to the Raley’s at the “Y” in South Lake Tahoe to eat and try to get a nap before getting the call from Van 1.

Leg 13 – Carla continues running south on Hwy. 89 and tags Sean. (4.8 miles)

Leg 14 – Sean continues the increasingly challenging trek on Hwy. 89 and tags Tom. (3.1 miles)

Leg 15 – Tom runs and then tags Paul. (5.0 miles)

Leg 16 – Paul runs and then tags Megan near Camp Richardson. The most challenging parts of Hwy. 89 are now over. (5.5 miles)

Leg 17 – Megan runs to the “Y” in South Lake Tahoe where she tags Lisa. (4.2 miles)

Leg 18 – Lisa runs almost to Stateline in South Lake Tahoe where she tags Bryan. (4.6 miles)

Third hand-off between vans: Van 1 to Van 2 on Saturday, at 1:01 a.m. and 90.9 miles into the relay. Van 1 drives directly to the Wal-Mart shopping center in south Carson City where the next hand-off point will be, and where they try to snooze a little. They drive directly via Hwy. 50 while Van 2’s course will be on back roads.

Leg 19 – Bryan runs past the casinos at Stateline and then up the brutal Kingsbury Grade to Daggett Summit where he tags Greg. (4.3 miles)

Leg 20 – Greg runs a purely downhill leg and tags Chris. (4.3 miles)

Leg 21 – Chris completes the long downhill stretch and tags Roseann. Nearly all of the elevation that was gained since leaving Reno has been given back in these two course segments. (3.7 miles)

Leg 22 – Roseann runs a mostly flat leg into the historic town of Genoa, Nev. where she tags John. (5.8 miles)

Leg 23 – John runs a long, gradual uphill that ends at a fire station where he tags Chuck. (6.2 miles)

Leg 24 – Chuck runs to a large shopping center in the south part of Carson City where he tags Carla. (3.3 miles)

Fourth hand-off between vans: Van 2 to Van 1 at 5:04 a.m. and 118.5 miles into the relay. This will be Van 1’s last six legs to run. Van 2 drives to an RV park in Virginia City where they will refresh themselves by showering even though they still have one more set of legs to run. It’s light now but Van 2 is mostly quiet while trying to get some rest.

Leg 25 – Carla starts a series of legs that take her van through southeast Carson City, the capital of Nevada. She tags Lisa. (3.2 miles)

Leg 26 – Lisa runs and tags Megan. (5.3 miles)

Leg 27 – Megan runs and tags Tom. (4.3 miles)

Leg 28 – Tom runs mostly eastbound along Hwy. 50 and tags Sean. (5.0 miles)

Leg 29 – Sean has a tough uphill leg through the Comstock Lode country as far as Silver City where he tags Paul. (3.4 miles)

Leg 30 – Paul who carries it further uphill to finish in Virginia City close to the Bucket of Blood Saloon where he tags Bryan. Van 1 is done! (3.5 miles)

Fifth and final hand-off between vans: Van 1 to Van 2 on 7:49 a.m. and 143.2 miles into the relay. Van 1 being done, goes to celebrate with Bloody Marys at the Bucket of Blood Saloon. Afterward, it heads back to DNR world headquarters at Circus Circus Hotel to shower and later meet Van 2 at the finish line.

Leg 31 – Bryan who starts Van 2’s and team’s last set of 6 legs. Brian heads north out of Virginia City on a short but challenging climb. He tags John. (3.1 miles)

Leg 32 – John who runs a sharp uphill for the first half of the leg and then a steep downhill the second half. He tags Chris. (3.7 miles)

Leg 33 – Chris runs a long, steep, curving downhill on the Geiger Grade Road leading to the Washoe Valley floor where he tags Roseann. (6.5 miles)

Leg 34 – Roseann runs a long segment in a new suburban part of south Reno where she tags Greg. (7.5 miles)

Leg 35 – Greg runs another long stretch mostly along McCarran Blvd. He ends at a bikepath along the Truckee River in Sparks, Nev. where he tags Chuck. (7.5 miles)

Leg 36 – Chuck runs what is called the “anchor leg”- the last leg – of the relay. He runs west along the Truckee River bikepath and through downtown Reno to Idlewild Park where his 11 teammates have gathered to run in with him for the last hundred yards, everyone attired in a DNR t-shirt. (6.1 miles)

It’s now 12:25 p.m. on Saturday. 22 hours and 55 minutes and 1 second, and 177.6 miles later, and DNR has finished the relay. The team’s average pace per mile was 7 minutes 43 seconds.


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The next post will be about the origins of Reno-Tahoe Odyssey and the man who created it.

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