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Text of NYTimes article


Posted by Geoff R.

Here is the text of the August 9, 2007 NY Times article on Hood to coast:

Published: August 9, 2007

WHEN Tara Ruotolo recruited far-flung pals and friends of friends to run the 197-mile Nike Hood to Coast relay race in northwest Oregon, she didn’t choose her partners in grime based on talent or tenacity alone.

Her main criteria? Whether or not she wanted to spend an entire day huddled in a van with them, catching up on who’s dating whom and lending clean togs to forgetful teammates.

That’s because an endurance running relay is a road trip punctuated by bursts of racing, including at least one middle-of-the-night effort.

Ms. Ruotolo and her crew of 11 took turns tackling 36 legs, ranging in length from 3.5 to 7.5 miles each, so the bulk of their day was spent in two support vans they rode in between exchange points. Ample time to share tips for running in the dark: follow the bobbing headlamps.

“It takes a certain kind of person who wants to run through the night, and after 30 hours together you know who you can be lifelong friends with,” said Ms. Ruotolo, 29, a graduate student in Manhattan who has done the Hood to Coast twice.

Relays, a staple of track and field, are no longer just the province of collegiate speedsters. Now that relays have been expanded to include hundreds of miles and 24-hour time frames, a growing number of runners and mountain bikers are planning vacations around these races.

Part of the draw is the relatively short mileage of individual legs, not to mention the bragging rights of racing overnight. Add beer at the finish line, bonfires and live music and it’s not hard to see why endurance relays have become crowd pleasers.

The 12,000 spots for the Hood to Coast event later this month, the largest running relay in the country, filled up in a day. The MyoMed Ragnar Relay race series now involves more than 6,600 runners in four events nationwide, up from 264 at their inaugural 2004 relay through the Wasatch Mountains in Utah. Because of demand, organizers of the Reach the Beach Relay modified the 203-mile course through the White Mountains of New Hampshire this year to accommodate roughly 650 more competitors, bringing the total number of participants to 4,320.

Ten 24-hour mountain biking relays, which entail doing laps on a fixed loop, have been sanctioned by USA Cycling this year, but there are dozens more that the governing body doesn’t oversee. One is the popular EAS 24 Hours of Moab in Utah, which draws more than 1,400 mountain bikers (and thousands more spectators) each October. Laird Knight, the founder of the Association of Mountainbike Team Relays International, estimates that 20,000 riders will be participating in 24-hour relays this year, up from 12,000 in 2003.

In an age when local marathons and century rides are a dime a dozen, destination relay races set in picturesque deserts or mountain ranges are a fresh way for old friends to reunite annually. “You’re getting exercise, going on vacation and being social all at the same time,” said Don Allison, the editor and publisher of UltraRunning magazine, who has run nine relay races.

Besides, misery loves company. Why compete alone when you could be nursing blisters with an old pal? Beyond “all the body odor, aching muscles, blisters and sleep deprivation” is a genuine “sense of community,” said Noel Rix, 55, of Hampton, N.H., a relay veteran who helped persuade his employer, Timberland, to sponsor Reach the Beach after running the race.

Having teammates also shores up the resolve of competitors. Mr. Knight, president of Granny Gear Productions, the organizer of six mountain biking relays, got two flat tires near the end of a race in West Virginia. All out of tire patches, he said, “I ran three miles with the bike, which I never would have done if it was just me in a solo event.”

Some races double as reunions for college alumni, such as former track and cross-country team members from Bucknell who regularly place in the top 10 at Hood to Coast and Reach the Beach. But even co-workers who share cubicles like to sign up for another 24 hours together.

Matt Blair, 32, said mountain biking with colleagues to train for a relay relieved stress at the Tucson design and printing firm where he is the sales director. Different teammates were in charge of bringing alcohol to weekly practice rides on the course itself in the Arizona desert. “Some of us were truly riding to get to the beer,” he said.

Knowing the course (and its pitfalls) is a good strategy, but the real hazard of a relay is the multiple legs. It’s “not the same as running three short races because you do not recover between your runs,” said Warren Finke, 65, a running coach in Tualatin, Ore., who has completed seven relays.

The former Olympian Jeff Galloway, a marathon coach with two relays under his belt, cautioned that marathoners would need one to two weeks to recover after a relay, and that it could compromise marathon preparation.

Still, bored marathoners love the novelty of a relay, and its comparative ease. Training for a relay, they say, is less taxing than logging miles for an upcoming marathon. After running 15 miles in three legs over 24 hours recently, Marie-Pierre St-Onge, a 32-year-old assistant professor at Columbia University, said “it certainly was not as hard as running 15 miles straight.”

But come race day, cyclists have it tougher. Because their teams usually comprise four to six people (compared with 12 for runners), rest periods are shorter. “For me it’s an endurance game,” said Alexandria Fabbro, 43, from Mammoth Lakes, Calif. She prevailed in June, setting a woman’s course record on her second of four 12.8-mile loops at the 24 Hours of Big Bear in West Virginia.

Most participants want to finish quickly for a more tangible reward: beer. Some 90,000 people attend Hood to Coast’s party in Seaside, Ore., where exhausted racers dip in the ocean, drink craft brews and listen to live ’50s rock music. “We share funny stories from the race over a cold beer,” Ms. Ruotolo said. “And then we all pass out.”

 
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