In December of 2013, three Idiots started kicking around the idea of running in a new 82-mile relay called KT82. It started from St. Charles, MO and went to Hermann, MO largely along the Katy Trail. There was an option to do it as a 6-person or 3-person team to cover the 18 legs of the race. Sure, it was a big commitment, but it felt like spring would never get here much less August 30th. The answer was an easy “yea why not… I think….82miles… gulp”.
Some quick math showed that the distance per person would be roughly 27 miles for the day on a 3-man team. There are plenty of ultra runners in the IRC that might think 82 miles solo is a piece of cake. Our team was not made up of seasoned ultra runners.
At this point in our story, between the three of us we had run exactly zero 20 mile runs. None of us had ever run a relay race before. The logical thing to do was to find three more people and do the 6-person. Being Idiots, we decided to do the 3-person option. Go big or go home, right?
We were fortunate enough to get picked in the lottery for a spot in the event. Over 400 teams applied for one of the 200 spots. Now it was officially on – we had to figure out how to run 82 miles in a day as a team.
Of course after we were signed up and paid in full, we start hearing lovely things from people like, “Running the Katy Trail is pure mental terrorism,” or, “That running surface is nasty and will kick your butt.” Sounds fantastic!
Some research on the legs proved that no one got a free lunch with their position on the team. Runner #1 got over 31 miles on his shoes for the day. Runners #2 & #3 got some gnarly single track trails full of rollers and tree roots, not to mention their legs coming home were longer.
Fast forward through all of the logistics and planning that is required to race day. Yes, planning is important to these events, but it is also boring to read about. The most important thing we had going for us from a planning perspective was Jason – our full time driver that wasn’t running the race.
Jason was our hero. He didn’t run. He didn’t really know two of the three of us all that well or at all. He did it to help us out and see what kind of trouble we had gotten ourselves into, and his positive attitude was there for us constantly. It was a huge help for none of the runners to have to deal with driving these small gravel roads in God’s Country, especially since a 3-person team left little down time in between runs.
On race day our starting time was based on the estimated paces we turned in during sign up, and we were a little nervous. We had no idea how much or little recovery we would get when we weren’t running. Could we actually run the paces we turned in? If we went too slowly, we were destined for the sag wagon. Too fast and we’re going to burn out before the end.
Shortly after arriving at the starting line, it became abundantly clear that we were in the minority regarding the number of runners per team. We just weren’t seeing other 3-man teams. None. Clearly we were living up to our team name of “3 Idiots”. During that “oh crap” realization moment (that was never whispered or spoken aloud), we took a breath and trusted our training would get us to mile 82. Jokes were made like, “Drive fast or I’ll beat you to the exchange point”. We chose to have fun with the day instead of fearing failure.
Our pact going in was simple: don’t get mad at one another no matter how things would shake out during race day. Sounded good in theory, but time would tell how true we were to our word. Three smelly runners and one patient driver stuck in a truck all day long. Three runners that each had to pull off daily distance PR’s to complete the race. There were bound to be logistical issues with this being the first time the event was hosted. The potential for anger and frustration were real, but we were not going to let it happen. Besides drinking water and not dying, we had to keep smiling too.
Here was the key to the relay going really well. We truly enjoyed each other’s company. We might not medal in this race, but we didn’t care. We were going to give it everything we had for ourselves and the team. The support and encouragement through the day from our teammates was awesome. It truly did feel like a team all day long. That was critical.
During the run we used a basic rotation of responsibilities. One runner took the handoff and headed out. The other teammate mother-henned the poor sap who just finished. “You need to eat.” “When have you last had salt?” “Tell me what you need and I’ll get it.” The guy that just completed his run got in the back seat and did what he had to do for himself. The fresh person then rode shotgun, helped the driver navigate, and got focused on taking the next exchange.
The great part of the relay experience was definitely the exchange points. It felt like a mini finish line over and over all day long. The runner seeing the cluster of parked vans, tents and cheering runners on the horizon. The two other teammates seeing their friend pop into view in that shirt color your eyes were straining to see. Screaming at the guy coming in to keep kicking just a few more yards. Being surrounded by good folks going throughout the same thing we were. It got us fired up time and again for over 12 hours.
At the exchange moment, the individual taking on the next leg made it a point to offer support and gratitude for what their fellow runner had just accomplished. Sure, we could have grabbed the baton and taken off like a bat out of hell, but it was about so much more than the run. It was about letting your teammate know that you were grateful for what he went through to get that baton into your hand. Running away from your two teammates and driver, you felt obligated to run your heart out and put that baton in the next person’s hand.
We absolutely respected the distance going in, but those breaks while waiting for your next go of it were not bouncing us back like we thought they might. Heart rates were not dropping as low in between runs as we guessed. Methodical bouts of foam rolling, fueling and hydrating could only do so much. The really fast teams that started late in the morning were flying past us like it was a 5k now, and we were getting tired.
It got hot. The breeze got still. Water got low. Legs got heavy. The Katy Trail seemed to go on to infinity with no end in sight. Still, knowing those guys were waiting for you down the road was such a different motivator than just trying to get to a finish line solo. Slow down. Take a little walk in some rare shade. Do whatever you have to do to get to the next exchange.
The next thing we knew our last leg was in front of us. Less than three miles to go, and we were all smiles.
In Hermann we met our anchor runner about a quarter mile from the finish to run across the line together. Every team did it, but it never got old watching the smiles and fist pumps as teams completed their runs.
It was something special to cross the finish line with teammates that share a passion for running but more importantly care enough to leave it all out there for their team. We loved it, wouldn’t trade it, and accept that we will never have the opportunity to live that day like we did ever again. You only get to do something for the first time once.
In the end there were 183 teams that showed up that morning and ran the race. Only 15 teams ran it as a 3-person team. Our little squad that had never run a 20-miler before we signed up managed to put up a time better than half of the 6-person teams.