Hour 23 and finish
It was hot. It was humid. Michelle had a 4+ mile run ahead of her. She hadn’t slept much, hadn’t trained much and had already completed two other runs. She had a 5 minute lead on the guy from Team Continental plodding behind her.
The sun was like needles piercing her unprotected forehead. Someone should have given her a visor or sunglasses. It’s one of the tips of running in the heat.
She held off her foe for a couple miles but he gained. She slowed and he finally caught up. They ran together a bit but eventually he pulled ahead. Team “We’ve Got Balls” was officially in last of all the teams still on the course. She ended up finishing about 8 minutes after the next closest competitor. But my speedy brother was next. He was poised to make up some ground.
Unfortunately, Team Continental’s next runner was also pretty spry. The two of them headed off into the blistering heat on a path devoid of shade. It seemed as though their shoes might melt right into the trail.
At the half-way point we met Paul and gave him some water. He’d already made up three minutes. But that was all he would make up. The sun and heat slowed him slightly, but he still posted an excellent time for 7+ miles. He gave it all he had and did it under an hour.
John Kelly was up next. He previously ran a great leg and looked confident entering the next. Two miles into his 6+ mile run he had already made up 30 seconds. Even the droning of the 17-year Cicadas couldn’t disrupt his focus. But Team Continental was equally determined. Despite being short runners they still managed to hold their lead. JK finished his leg pacing just over 8 min/mile. But we were still 5 minutes behind.
The Brewmaster was up next and we needed him to just hang on. It was a 5+ mile run and represented more miles than he had ever run in the span of 24 hours. He ran strong and kept us in striking distance. At the end of this leg, Team Continental had an 11 minute lead.
But my speedy sister Fay was up next. She ran track at Loyola University back in the day and she’s kept up her running ways. Her run was 7 miles on a confusing course. This one had the most turns of any we’d done thus far. We saw her at mile 4 and she looked good but didn’t look like she’d made up much ground.
Team Continental finished this leg at 4:43 pm. We watched as they made their transition to the last leg and we waited. 4:45 no sign of her…4:46 nothing… 4:47 she’s in sight. At 4:48 we make the transition and I’m off. We are the last team by a full 5 minutes. I had 9 miles to make up the difference.
At first, I resigned myself to being the last finisher. I imagined the scene. Thousands of people lining the finish area cheering for the last few runners. I’d sprint in, head held high, bean bag joggling in front, with a big grin on my face. My team would mob me and everyone would just go nuts. Yes, we would finish last but dammit, we gave it our all.
I jumped out to a pretty good pace (7:15 mi/min) in the first couple of miles. It felt good juggling and running and smiling at all the kids walking around Northwestern University and along the beach. Chicago is a great place to be on a sunny weekend day.
At mile 3 I saw my van mates. They were cheering and offering me water. I passed on the water because I knew Michal would’ve passed. If he can do 19 miles without water I certainly didn’t need it for 9. Then a strange thing happened. My team told me I was only 2 minutes behind Team Continental.
I began to think, “Could I really catch him?”
Then I saw what 2 minutes really looked like. Yes, I really could catch him. So, I ignored the pain and picked up the pace. He kept getting closer and closer. Was he slowing? Maybe. About a mile and a half later I caught up. Thought about drafting behind him but rejected that. I wanted to finish as fast as possible.
As I passed him, he looked surprised and disappointed. He didn’t want to finish last either, especially to a juggler. He stayed with me for about a quarter mile and faded.
When I got on the familiar Chicago Lakefront beach trail it felt good. I knew this path. I knew how much farther I’d have to go. I let the legs take over, looked around and just enjoyed the moment. Entering the finish area gave me goosebumps despite the fact that almost no one was around to cheer. We weren’t the last team but we were second to last. The winners had finished 2 or 3 hours ago.
I crossed the finish line and saw my entire team. The digital clock showed 5:55. We finished! I threw a bean bag super high, spun halfway around to face my team, took a quick bow and caught the ball back into the pattern. The Great Midwest Relay was over.
Team Continental came in about 7 minutes after me. They had a heck of a time considering they only had 8 runners total.
We ended up finishing in 28:55:21. That put us in 88th place out of 120 teams that started. Not bad for our first time. Hopefully, next year we’ll get to start with people our own speed. It really sucks running against teams that are much faster than you.
Thanks to everyone on team We’ve Got Balls. You all did great and it was a lot of fun. If you ever get a chance to do a relay race, I highly recommend it. It’s different than solo running and feels great to finish.