I am the last runner in Van 1. I’ll be Legs 6, 18, and 30. My first leg is 7.1 miles, easing down the last transition from the mountain into the town of Sandy. I’ve run these legs before and I don’t like this one. Leg 6 is a net -408 elevation, seemingly easy, but it is long, dry, and highway-bound ugly. As you encroach from the mountain into town, its outposts and inposts seem to suggest you are there, almost there, almost there, almost… but you are not fucking there. You are miles from there. You might have surged a little bit to get there, but there you go, you’re still not there. I've done this before.
I am anxious through all five of our other Van 1 runners. I am not excited. I am not certain I can complete my leg. The lower part of my Achilles tendon on the inside of my left heel is very tight, and I feel it strain every time I push off. I've known this was a problem. I am certain it will tear. Every foot fall of my 7-mile run, I compensate, making micro-adjustments to how I land, how I thrust, how my ankles rotate, how I bear weight on my hips, on my knees, on both sides of my body. It is exhausting. I can feel the realignment work its way up to the tendons, straining at the top of my quads. I have 10.5 more miles after this, if I even make it through this fucking leg. Let’s just make it through this fucking leg.
I roll deep into Sandy and come across the first in a string of volunteers. I hadn't let myself hope, but now I know I'm close:
"Right at the light, you're almost there"
At the light:
"Stay on the shoulder, just couple hundred yards, almost there"
I runstumble on the graveled shoulder to a cross walk:
"Just across the street, almost there"
"Just down this path to that arch, almost there"
Down the path, under the arch:
"Through that tunnel, take a right. Almost there!"
Through the fucking tunnel:
"Cross over to that path along the pile of skulls, so close!"
Cross to the path. Nearby I see lots of relay participants. I must be close.
"Run along the backstop, don't make eye contact. Almost there!"
Stagger past the backstop:
"Up this bark-chipy path, around the clubhouse... sooo close!"
Each foot sinks deeper. Hope is extinguished. I never get there. I die, exhaling hot, dry slivers.
But then I'm there, at the exchange. I give the bracelet to Runner 7 from Van 2. The Van 1 crew pat me on the back, we load into the van, and drive to someone's house. We shower, eat, and lay still with our eyes closed. I wouldn't call it sleep. In a few short hours, we’re back on the road.