It's 2:30 a.m. and my stomach feels like it's somewhere between my sternum and throat—moving ever upward with each step. The Denny's chicken strips and barbecue sauce I had three hours ago has apparently sprung back to life and is trying diligently to escape. If you also happened to be running anywhere in Western Nevada at such an ungodly hour on Saturday morning, these two sentences need no explanation, if you weren't, consider this your introduction to the Reno-Tahoe Odyssey. In its fourth year, the Odyssey is the longest relay running event in Nevada at 178 miles. Teams of twelve people split into two vans and each person runs three legs of the 36-leg course. Heart and Sole, the sophomore team that adopted me this year, was one of 99 to compete in the growing event. Since all of my teammates deserve more than a passing mention, here they are, in the order we ran: Cathie Meyer (our fearless leader), Kristen Loos, Shirlee Bingham, Brett Long, Amy Bottenberg, Chris Ipsen, Brian Finley, Melissa Oxley, Debi Olson, Joe Cacioppo, and Kari Long.
The start of the race was staggered so teams would all finish within a couple hours of each other. We started at 1:15 p.m. on Friday, placed among the later starts (the fastest teams started at 4 p.m. while others started as early as 8 a.m.) due to our predicted speed. We all met at the starting line at Wingfield Park in Downtown Reno to cheer Cathie out the gates. After that, van one continued along the course while van two, my van, grabbed a bite to eat and went to the transition between legs three and four, the beginning of the infamous Donner's Downfall, the most difficult leg on the course. Traveling eight miles from Verdi into Dog Valley, leg four climbs about 1,200 feet in less than three miles and is so demanding that the fastest finisher gets a special prize (usually some much deserved beer), separate from the Odyssey itself. Brett, our strongest runner, finished it in 57 minutes and 14 second.
Van two reached the van exchange around 5:30 p.m. Though we had been thoroughly enjoying the scenery and the chance to cheer our team on, we were excited and ready to start our legs of the journey. Since Melissa had to attend her brother's graduation—a schedule conflict that resulted in hours of teasing and torment after she joined us further along the course—Brian and Debi each graciously extended their runs to fill the gap. After passing Truckee the course continued along Highway 89 to Tahoe City. My first leg, 10, was along this stretch of highway for five and a half miles near Squaw Valley. Despite heavy traffic and a narrow shoulder, I had a great run in the beautifully shaded canyon. Joe finished the route to Tahoe City just as the sun set, and Kari took us to the next van transition by about 9:20 p.m.
After passing the torch back to van one, we were ready for a break and a bite to eat. We took care of a few errands and headed into South Lake Tahoe, the location of the next van transition and our best bet for finding food. Running through the night, van one made excellent time—Brett and Amy each clocked our team's fastest times at five minutes, 47 seconds and five minutes, 38 seconds per mile respectively—and caught up to us only an hour after we finished our meal at Denny's, the only restaurant we found open.
When we got out of the van in preparation for our next set of runs, the cold Lake Tahoe air hit us like an open freezer door—it was just before 1 a.m. and our bodies were already telling us we should be in bed, not running. Leg 19 from South Lake Tahoe to Daggett Pass reached an altitude of 7,344 feet, the highest on the course. Brian, still digesting his Denny's omelet, made the climb in less than 40 minutes, an accomplishment that set the bar high for the rest of the van. From the pass, Melissa and Debi split the descent into the Carson Valley south of Genoa where myself, Joe, and Kari took us the rest of the way to the next van transition at the south end of Carson City. By the time van two finished our second set, about four a.m., we were ready for some sleep, and sworn against ever running and consuming Denny's in such close proximity again.
Between us we managed a couple hours of fitful, cramped slumber while the runners in van one raced along the Carson River and up Highway 341 to Virginia City. With the start of a new day and the finish less than 40 miles away, our spirits lifted as we took over on the last six legs of the journey. Brian, Melissa, and Debi made amazing time out of Virginia City and down Geiger Grade, completing the 13.3 miles in about an hour and a half. The relay continued through southeast Reno to the Truckee River and along the river path back through downtown and the finish line in Idlewild Park.
At 11:37 a.m. Heart and Sole finished the Reno Tahoe Odyssey in 22 hours, 22 minutes, and 15 seconds (unofficially, the results have not been posted as of this morning), third place in the open mixed division and seventh place overall.
The Odyssey was hands down the most fun I've ever had running. In addition to being a great workout, it gave me the chance to get to know 11 wonderful people that I am proud to call my friends. In a sport that is customarily a solitary pursuit, it was an incredible chance to be part of a team. I will always remember the feeling of being cheered on by my teammates around every corner of my third and final leg of the relay and the boost of speed it gave me.
Here's to the Reno-Tahoe Odyssey, the devoted volunteers who made it all happen, and most of all, my Heart and Sole teammates!