It all began on the fine evening of February 28, 2012 at 4:50 PM with a simple note from Sriram, the VP of Engineering at my company asking a few of us if we wanted to take part in “The Relay”.
The Start line
The relay is about 191 mile relay race that begins in Calistoga, CA covering 36 cities and ends in SantaCruz, CA. The race covers scenic trails across Napa Valley, Golden Gate bridge, Sausalito, San Francisco, etc. Each member on a team of 12 has to run 3 legs of the race in rotation. The legs range from easy to hard and could be between 3.5 to 8 miles in length. The proceedings from the run benefit a Non-profit organization called Organs ‘R’ US and we were supposed to run for another Non-Profit organization called ILP (India Literacy Project) that promotes education in India. As the relay is organized in the Bay Area, teams from different companies such as Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, etc all compete for the win. The famed runner Dean Karnazes also runs the relay (Apparently, that guy has only one motive in life to keep running as written in this article on Cracked). The relay was scheduled for May 4-5, 2013 this year, which gave us about 2 months to train.
I was really hesitant at first to commit myself to the relay. I used to play Soccer in school and had a severe fracture in 2006. I had to rest for about 4 months and had to undergo a surgery where the doctor had to join the bone using a titanium plate and got about 12 stitches in my leg. I have totally given up on running or playing soccer since and am currently at a 200 pound weight mark. However, in his note Sriram mentioned that you don’t have to be a runner for doing the relay and I fell for the trap 🙂
We were not able to get 12 people to sign up for the event and hence, the 12 people team consisted of 6 Nomis runners and 6 from Xilinx. I don’t have enough information about the team from Xilinx but am outlining my team mates from Nomis here.
Sriram Kumar: The Leader
Like I mentioned before, Sriram is the head of Engineering and had done the relay quite a few times before with other people. He had the most information about the relay among our team members and he was our team captain to handle Van 1. He would be the one making sure all of us reached the handoff points on time, making sure to motivate each of us along the way, handing out Gatorade / water / snacks to the runners and took part in driving the van. Basically, the leader at Nomis was the leader of our team
Shashin Chokshi: The Youngster
A fellow Gujjubhai, Shashin is the lean mean running machine. He was the youngest in our team and the most dedicated. Coming from the product team @ Nomis, Shashin really helped in co-ordinating the practice runs and to check on people when they miss it. He has done several different runs for charity over the past few years.
Krishna Ramamurthi: The Lord of Running
Krishna is the fastest in our Nomis team. He was our go-to guy who was best equipped at the run with different kinds of socks, anti-inflammatory medicines, some awesome cream that just relaxed the aching muscles and a Lumia 920 that we used the most for navigation purposes. He also fixed the headlamps and blinkers to use at night. I think he did some sub-8 minute practice sprints in and around the city. He told me to cut my toe nails before the long run, a simple step that I didn’t take and which is still causing pain 😦
Niranjan Shetty: The Motivational Runner
He is from the Analytics team, and did some good runs. He never attended any practice runs and I didn’t expect him to be so good and he was the best person that motivated the team. He ran with Sriram and me even after his strenuous legs to simply push the runner. He also maintained a sub-9 minute pace that was really awesome as well.
Anand Ramasubramaniam: The SandBagger
Seriously, Anand ran the most in the relay for our team. He did some 19 miles in total alone over the 2 days. He swapped turns with me so that he had to run more instead of his regular run. This guy showed no expression of fatigue or tiredness and would just plug his iPhone in his ears and keep running. He had to take up the longest of legs in the worst weather conditions and still didn’t complain about it… Terrific job!!!
And lastly Me, myself: The Snail
Seriously, the running pace that these guys achieved I couldn’t even do it on a straight downhill road!!! I was the slowest and the largest in the group, a very bad combination to begin with. For me it was simply an achievement that I finished all my legs and didn’t back out (I did try to back out but thanks to the support and loud cheering of my teammates, I was able to finish all legs successfully).
The relay is really awesome if I think of it now and was a great team building exercise. Before the run we were supposed to pick up the van a day earlier from San Jose. I totally messed up and ended up in a residential place @ Mountain view instead of the address in San Jose. The street address was the same and that got me really confused and everyone else angry on my stupidity. However, I drove crazily through the evening traffic on 101 and reached the rental place in the nick of time. The first day started with all of us driving up to Calistoga and Niranjan starting his leg at 10:30 am in 89 degree F temperatures from there. It was a really hot run and pretty strenuous with some uphill patches and yet he finished it quickly. God bless the makers of Gatorade as without the awesome stuff, it would’ve been really difficult to stay hydrated in the heat. I was the second runner and was already ready having done my stretches and was nervous with anticipation. When the baton finally came to me, I did really dismal and just after running about 20 minutes, I was all exhausted and sweating profusely. I was ready to throw in the towel and just drive to the next exchange point, but my teammates were so awesome that they kept cheering me on. I finished at the end with a 15 minutes per mile pace. I was really disheartened and even though no one showed any signs of anger, I just felt boy I brought the team down! But then we had the lord of running take over and he finished the leg in the fastest time outpacing the other teams that went ahead. Anand did a terrific job after of running 7 miles in the extreme heat!!
Nighttime was much better. We had an awesome meal at Azzurro pizzeria. The temperature dropped down a bit and was way more fun to run. I had a 5 mile run at night and I did a better average of 13 min/mile. Not at all something to be proud of but I was glad that I finished it and actually ran it instead of simply walking it. The leg was through a deserted trail and hence, no support from the teammates was available for a larger distance. I actually lost my way in between that brought down my pace a bit more 😦
After finishing the Leg at night
The best part of the trip for me was driving the van. I did most of the driving and I really loved that huge van with capacity to seat 12. Even with sore muscles, driving always ends up giving pleasure. The second best part of the race is the feeling you get when you finally end your legs.
After finishing all of my runs
As soon as you see the exchange point, it injects a new lease into your legs and you sprint towards the finish line. Also, the camaraderie was good between all the runners and everyone would look out for others. We would not only cheer our team but all the runners that would go by and we saw the same sort of encouragement coming from the other teams. Lastly, before my last leg, A couple, Ajay and his wife, volunteering for the ILP project, brought all ILP teams awesome Samosas, Tea and upma with jalebi. It was the best snack at the end of an arduous run. We finished strong with Shashin and Sriram doing an all uphill run with approximately 9 minute pace. Sriram’s sprint in the last 5 minutes on his final leg was terrific and Shashin’s support was commendable. I mean after running uphill for even 0.5 miles, I would be dead and this guy ran his 5 miles uphill and then ran alongside Sriram to motivate him… Unbelievable!! After the relay, we went to Madras Cafe for some hearty South Indian meal, dropped off extra stuff at Sriram’s place and boarded a train home. BTW, a big thank you to Sriram’s family for having us dirty, stinky people into their place and serving us awesome cookies and tea 🙂
After the relay, I got some bengay and advil and just slept for about 12 hours!! We actually didn’t do bad and ended up being the 135th rank out of 180 teams that participated. Next year, if I improve my performance we can do even better and hopefully, I will be running again unlike my claim that this is the first and last time that I am volunteering for such a run 🙂 The donation page is still up @ http://www.ilpnet.org/ILPRelayFundRaising/169 Please donate for promoting literacy in India and help feed and educate children.