Fall is For Running

by

Mark Jimenez

For this desert boy, there’s no better time of year for running than fall. We have suffered through the dog days of summer, running early in the morning to beat the heat. As the temperature starts to drop with highs in the 90s and lows in the 70s, the weather is perfect to get some morning miles in.

Fall also brings the start of the High School Cross Country Season. The Shadow Ridge Mustangs are returning a strong men’s team to defend their 5A state championship. The women’s team is also strong and competitive this year. Three meets into the season, with the 4th happening at the Woodbridge Invitational in Irvine on September 16, the Mustangs are in a great place to keep competing and finding success.

While fall brings good weather for running, pumpkin spice lattes, and cross country season, it also means it is the busiest time of the year for me. Not only do I get to run a small business with three locations (and a fourth on the way), but I also get to help coach the cross country team. Our summer intramural practices are in the morning, but once school starts practice moves to the afternoon. That’s right! We run in the heat in August at 1:45pm. That’s why we celebrate when the high temperature is in the 90s.

This fall I also took a trip to North Carolina to take part in the Blue Ridge Relay. The relay is a 208 mile run from Grayson Highlands park in Virginia to Asheville, North Carolina. The relay is similar to an old school Ragnar, where you get in a van and drive from point to point while you chase the runners. You can have teams of 12, but we ran as a team of 8 in the mixed masters division (all runners were over 40, and we had 4 male and 4 female runners).

The sun rises over the Blue Ridge Mountains

I’ve done a few Ragnar relays back in the day, and I swore I’d never do something like that ever again. I need my sleep, and I start to get grumpy if I’m not in bed by 9pm. I’m an “early to bed, early to rise,” kind of guy. I have never in my life enjoyed staying up all night, and the thought of going 24 hours without sleep scares me. In fact, Carl calls me “pillow-top” because I won’t even do a Trail Ragnar without something comfortable to sleep on.

Hey, we all have the hills we choose to die on. This one is mine.

Ted Lasso was the team theme

I don’t know how I got talked into this relay, but I did. I ended up taking a red eye to Raleigh. I didn’t get any sleep, then we headed to meet the team. Todd was the glue that joined us all together. He used to live in Vegas but now lives in the DC area. He had done the race a few times before, and he invited Carl, Sonia, and I to join. We got about 2 hours of sleep then we headed to the hotel at the start. After another night’s sleep the relay started.

Team WGTR, or We’ve Got The Runs

I’ve lived in the desert most of my life. We have mountains, we have bushes, we have cactuses and rattle snakes. But we don’t have that much green. I can honestly say that this relay had some of the most amazing views I have ever seen. There was green everywhere the eye could see. Lush forests and trees complete with rivers and farms. It looked like something out of a fairy tale.

With all that green you’d think that the relay would have been easy. Far from it! I ran 5 legs in the relay for a total of about 29 miles. My total elevation gain during the relay was 2,353 feet. This included one leg that had the steepest climb and steepest decent of the entire relay. The climb was about 1,000 ft in a mile. More on that later.

Behold the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains

It was hard for me to get away and do this relay. I really enjoy coaching cross country. I love teaching young men and women the sport of running. We are competitive, in the last two years we’ve had a state runner-up and state championship team. But more importantly we are teaching the kids a sport that will bring them joy and happiness for the rest of their lives.

On any given Saturday in the fall you can find me at a cross country race, cheering the kids on as they go by. In order to do the Blue Ridge Relay I had to miss the Las Vegas Invitational (LVI). The way the season is set up, LVI is the third race of the year, but the first one where you really get to tell where your team stands compared to everyone else’s. There is usually some stiff competition from out of town as well as all the local teams.

It’s silly of me to think that I need to be there for the team to perform their best, but I also want to be there to support the kids. When you run miles and miles together in 100+ degree heat, you form a bond. I felt like I was letting them down by not being there. Still, I couldn’t pass up the chance to go run the Blue Ridge Relay. Sometimes you have to make hard choices.

That being said, the Cross Country of today is much more advanced than the Cross Country of my youth. Today we get websites with live results. That means that I could run the relay and watch the results in real time as they happened.

At least, that was my plan.

Unfortunately the Blue Ridge Relay runs through old country roads in North Carolina. There was not a lot of cell phone reception there.

The relay started on Friday, and my first leg was a nice 5.2 mile run with a pretty nice little hill in it. It was humid, but not too hot. I ran with a smile on my face the whole way. We just don’t get running like that in Vegas. It’s hard to describe how nice it was to run in a place so green. That being said, they also have bugs there that will eat you alive, so it’s a pick your poison kind of thing. At least out here in Vegas we don’t have to do tick checks and we only get mosquitos for a day or two in the summer after a rain.

My 2nd leg the longest for me. An 8 mile run with more climbing. I had some GI problems on this one. Every runner goes through it from time to time. Even with that, I was able to finish the run and hand off to the next member.

Starting Leg 2

It was after the 2nd run that things began to get difficult. Running 5 miles, then getting in a van for a few hours, then running 8 miles, then getting in a van for a few hours, isn’t a receipt for success when it comes to running. I still had 3 more legs to run. I was getting tired and there wasn’t a comfortable place to catch a nap.

My 3rd leg was by far my favorite. As day turned into night it had started to rain. One of our runners really got poured on hard. As it came time for me to run again the rain had mostly let up but the roads were very wet. It was pitch black outside, we were in small towns and there just wasn’t much ambient light around. As I started my 5.8 mile run a kid from another team immediately passed me. He couldn’t have been more than 18.

“On your left,” he said as he went by.

“Oh no you didn’t!” I thought.

Usually I’m not super competitive, especially when I get passed by somebody 30 years younger than me. But something about this set off my competitive juices! I started chasing this kid through the mountains. I couldn’t see much, but I could hear a creek running next to the road and I could see the reflective lights on the kid’s vest in front of me.

I ran to chase him down, but I also ran to stay close to him. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have visions of mountain lions of bears coming out of the woods to eat one of us. There is safety in numbers!

With about a mile to go I finally passed the young whipper-snapper.

“On your left,” I said (I couldn’t help it).

He said, “did you speed up or did I slow down?”

“I’m old, it takes me a while to warm up!” I said back to him.

The time between this run and my final run (with a 4th run in between) was definitely difficult. Like I said before, I don’t do good without sleep. I was tired, uncomfortable, and a little cranky. Most of my energy was going to not letting my lack of sleep turn into me snapping at the people who were on my team. I wasn’t about to let a lack of sleep ruin the relationships with my teammates!

I was able to doze off here and there for 15-30 minutes. Not really sleep, just closing your eyes and trying to sleep.

My 4th run was a 4 miler out of town. Nothing to report on.

The 5th run was one of the “Mountain Goat” legs. Carl (he of amazing hair) had one of the other Mountain Goat legs. Carl’s leg was 6 miles up, the whole way was uphill. He had about 1100 ft of climbing in that leg. it was switchbacks the whole way!

My Mountain Goat leg was 5.3 miles with a little under 1,000 ft of climbing. But the climbing all took place in the first 3.5 miles, with most of it coming from mile 2.5 to 3.5. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, they pretty much drop you off the side of a cliff and say, “run down.” The steep downhill running after the steep uphill running was very challenging!

I tell the cross country kids that when you pass somebody on a hill in a race that you own their soul in the afterlife. It’s a fun little joke we play, and after a race with a big hill I’ll ask them how many souls they collected. As I started up this steep hill I only had one thought: I cannot ask my cross country kids to run up hills only for me to quit on a hill. I swore that I would not stop running, no matter what.

I passed a lot of guys who were walking up that hill, but I never did. I might have run really, really slowly, but I didn’t walk.

When I finally got back to the car I knew there were a few legs of the relay left, but my part was done. I went straight to my phone to check the live results of the Cross Country races. What a day for Shadow Ridge! The boys one ever race they were entered in, a clean sweep! The girls placed 2nd in the large school race, with three of our runners in the top 5, and one of our usual runners nursing an injury.

I couldn’t have been happier to see how the kids performed at the first big meet of the year!

The Blue Ridge Relay was an experience unlike any other. The views were amazing. The runs were beautiful, and the weather was perfect. We won our division, and the team is talking about defending the title next year. I’ll have to give it some time to see if I have the energy for that. Until then, though, I’m very happy with the memories we made along the way.

I’m glad I made it back to Las Vegas. I’m back to the busy life of running a business and coaching a cross country team. We’re having a great season, and if you’re a fan of running you should definitely come catch some meets this year! The CSN Invitational is at Floyd Lamb on September 30th. It should be a fun one! Come out and watch.

*****************

Every Run is a Good Run