When I left off, Girls on the Geaux had just finished Round One and were setting off on Round Two.
Round Two was much the same – Beautiful weather and easy running. Erin encountered dogs on her “ghost leg,” a 7 mile leg that went past an old cemetery and Carville, LA, home to the only Hansen’s Disease treatment facility in the continental United States. Did you know that Hansen’s Disease goes by another name? It’s leprosy. Today, the facility serves as the National Hansen’s Disease Museum. While we waited for Erin at the exchange, I treated my teammates to a quick history of Carville and fun facts, including that armadillos were a HUGE part of finding an effective treatment for Hansen’s Disease, because I’m a dork and love sharing this stuff.
I spent a lot of the race driving, because I felt the most comfortable handling the large van. I was the only Girl on the Geaux not afraid of throwing Rapunzel in reverse! Between my first two trips up the levee, I snacked on a delicious po-boy Kristyn whipped up Friday night and yogurt, but avoided the large stash of candy until later. I didn’t want to crash too early. I realized far too late that I should have eaten a lot more after every leg.
I foam rolled my achy hip and calf (result of my less than perfect first leg) before my second leg and when Heather was done, I took off for an easy 2.7. At least, it was supposed to be 2.7 miles. When my phone told me I was at 2.5 I put on some speed and started looking for the girls. I finally saw them at 3.1 miles! It wasn’t the first time we encountered exchanges in the wrong place or without the support that was promised. (We were told we’d see porta-potties at every sixth exchange, but there were definitely none at the first stop. However, I finished my second leg with what I believe is a 5k PR – 34:20 (10:57/mile).
With Katie on the levee, the rest of the team detoured to a Chevron in Geismar to use the restroom and change clothes. I bought two ice cream treats and loved every bite. As Jenn prepared for her second go, she added the required night gear to her running clothes – head lamp, tail light and reflective vest. The sun was going down; it was the start of what would be a very long night.
Along with the sun, the temperatures started to plummet and the wind picked up. I had experienced a couple of gusts on my first legs that tried to push me back to Baton Rouge, but it seemed so far that the wind wasn’t too big an issue. Until night fell. It turned out that Saturday, February 11, 2012, would be the coldest night of that winter. Temperatures dropped into the low 20s and wind chills were even lower. The onset of night definitely had us chatting less and worrying more about the next 12 or so hours.
We also pulled out the bike at this point. Jenn brought along a full-suspension mountain bike that could easily tackle the levee, but also did a number on us. The idea was that as a runner finished her leg, she would hop on the bike and pace the next runner. Sounds reasonable right? Well, the bike was terribly uncomfortable, it was so cold that it was hard to snap on the helmet or raise or lower the seat (necessary for me since I was 3-7 inches taller than my teammates) and do I even need to tell you what a full-suspension bike does to a girl’s girly parts? Ouch!
Jenn, Kristyn, Erin and Heather all went out for their legs as I sat in the warm van, worried and added layers. Before my first night run (my third leg overall) started at 8:43 p.m., I added to my base outfit of tech tee and capris: another pair of socks, my calf sleeves, running tights, another tech tee, a long sleeve tech tee and a long-sleeved running jacket, along with ear warmers, gloves and hand warmers. Katie was awesome during my fretting. She made sure I had what I needed and felt comfortable going up on the levee. Turned out all my clothes were overkill for the run, though. Within a few minutes on the levee I started to get hot.
This was another 5.1 mile leg for me and I ended up having a running buddy besides Heather on the bike. A woman in her 60s doing the relay on a 3-person team chatted with me for about 3 miles. She was starving for company and I was happy to be talked to. I felt bad for Heather on the bike, though, as I could tell she was miserable and I had heard horror stories from Kristyn already about how bad the bike was. I finished my 5.1 miler in 1:07.34. I was definitely slowing down, but still felt pretty good.
And then I had to get on the damn bike. A major problem with the bike is how quickly your temperature drops after you get on. I had to unhook Heather’s helmet for her as her hands weren’t quite working well enough to do so. Katie took off while I situated the bike, raising the seat and getting the helmet on. Man, it was cold! Katie was about a mile into her leg when I caught up to her and she wasn’t doing too well. Cold-induced asthma and no inhaler had her feeling pain with every breath. We went slowly, which just made my body temperature plummet more quickly. With about half a mile to go, Katie sent me ahead to make sure everyone was ready for the next exchange. I had to leave the bike and go down to the van to get them to help me take off the helmet. My fingers were too cold to do it myself. I send Jenn up and she took off running when Katie arrived. But there was a problem. She had trouble with the helmet and even worse, couldn’t move the bike seat I had raised. I’d forgotten to move it back in my haste to get into the warm van! I realized there was an issue and booked it back up the levee. My hands had a bit of feeling now and I adjusted the seat and Katie finally got moving.
I climbed into the warm van, covered up with a towel I had brought along and shivered… A lot. It took me more than an hour to warm up and the rest of my teammates were all in similar states of discomfort, depending on how long ago they had been on the bike. I refueled with Chobani and Erin’s homemade granola and sipped lukewarm water. Again, should have eaten more, especially to help me warm up.
But as I shivered, I didn’t realize that Katie and Jenn were in trouble. Katie had a full blown asthma attack after she pushed too hard to catch up to Jenn. Katie made it back to the van in not great shape. She crawled under a blanket to breathe in warm air and warm up, while Kristyn started us on round four, with Jenn on the bike.
It was nearing midnight at this point and we were all miserable. Some thoughts of throwing in the towel were passed around, but no one really wanted to do that. We had made it so far! We all agreed that the bike was the worst part – we actually stayed warm while we ran!
After Kristyn, Erin and Heather set out on their legs, it was my turn again. It was nearly 2:30 a.m. I was no longer scared of the run, but the bike was terrifying. I set out as Heather got situated on the bike. Just as she caught up with me, my phone rang. It was Katie. She wanted to pull us off the levee, warm up, rest and come up with a plan. My immediate response was to resist. I insisted I was going to finish my leg. I knew the bike was the issue, so Heather and I talked about whether she should stay on the levee with me or go down immediately. We were surrounded by runners at this point (the 1:00 p.m. start teams had caught up with us, so there were about 300 runners in vans and along the levee top at that point), and I wasn’t worried about being alone. Heather, being the awesome girl she is, stuck it out with me and we finished my fourth leg, 3.38 miles in 44:30, at just past 3:15 in the morning.
Jenn took off in Katie’s place and we put the bike back in the van. No one was going back on it again…
While we waited, I made a little video about night life during Rouge Orleans – cold and dark pretty much sums it up.
Once we picked up Jenn, we detoured to a gas station to use the facilities and found a place to rest. We had made a decision – we would not send another runner up the levee until the sun came up.
Part 3 still to come…