From the scorching Saturday morning heat of Napa Valley, through an uncharacteristically clear late night across San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, to a stormy, overcast Sunday afternoon at Santa Cruz’s coastal Natural Bridges State Park, two local relay teams ran for about 30 hours last weekend without stopping, assisted by little sleep and loads of teammate camaraderie.
Team Wicked and Team Two Wicked - made up mostly of South County residents - were participating in The Golden Gate Relay, an annual relay running race that traverses a nearly 200-mile route in northern California, raising money for organ donation efforts. This year, 238 teams (mostly from California but some from outside the state) participated, and the funds raised went directly to a 10-year-old child from Mankato, Minn. who needs a new heart and lungs, according to the event’s website.
Team Wicked captain Mary Seehafer, 33 of Morgan Hill, has organized her group of 12 runners for The Relay for the last five years. The event has become part of her annual birthday celebration, and her way of pushing herself to keep running year-round with a group of like-minded athletes and friends.
“I keep doing it because the runners (on Team Wicked) want to do it again and again,” she said. “I ran my first and only marathon in 2006. I thought that was going to be it for my running because I hurt my knees so bad. Two years later I was missing running and needed a group to push me.”
So she signed up for The Relay when she found out about it.
Plus, Seehafer enjoys the fundraising aspect of The Relay.
Also this year, Seehafer and other veterans attracted so much interest in The Relay from their network of running friends that she formed a second team, known as Team Two Wicked, which also includes some South County residents. Each team has 12 runners.
Some of the runners on the teams hail from the Central Valley, and Seehafer said in the past some Team Wicked members have traveled from New York and Florida just to participate in The Relay.
Starting Saturday morning, May 4, teammates took turns running 36 segments along the 191-mile route, through mountainous back roads from Calistoga to Santa Cruz, where they finished Sunday afternoon. Each runner ended up completing three legs, filling in their time at rest with short naps, quick meals and, inevitably, delirious laughs.
Jittery nerves at each starting line gave way to excited jubilation and immovable smiles by the end of each leg, where the finishing runner handed off a neon green rubber bracelet to their next teammate, in place of the baton used in shorter, more typical relay races.
Two vans per team carried the resting runners to the next hand-off and provided shelter for the weekend, stopping along the way to offer water, snacks and support to their teammates on foot.
Cole Drews, a 26-year-old Navy veteran who grew up and still lives in Morgan Hill, said he felt a strong sense of accomplishment at the finish line in Santa Cruz. Drews is “not really a runner,” he chuckled, especially compared to some of his teammates.
“I’ve never run six miles (at one time) in my life,” Drews said, referring to the length of his first leg at The Relay. “And I ended up doing 17 miles in one weekend. It was a lot of fun, but it was tough.”
Team Wicked’s “van two” (driven by your current narrator) was packed full of first-timers to The Relay.
One of the new Team Wicked members, Teresa Glover, 39 of Morgan Hill, already plans to run next year. One of her legs on this year’s route was a brisk jaunt starting about 2:30 a.m. Sunday, from the southern side of the Golden Gate Bridge along the Pacific coast through San Francisco.
“I thought it was more of an emotional challenge than a physical challenge, being away from your comfort zone,” said Glover, who has run three Nike Women’s Half Marathons in San Francisco. “I would say it was one of my best runs because of the team atmosphere - the people cheering you on, and spending 48 hours in a van with people that you barely knew.”
Shyliene Hunt, 34, of Gilroy, was also in Team Wicked’s van two. She has run four Disneyland half marathons in the past, but she said the Relay was a test unlike any other - not only because of the long distances, but also the lack of sleep, rapidly changing climate from one locale to the next and awkward schedules that throw off one’s dietary patterns.
“It really forces you to learn your body’s mental and physical limitations,” Hunt said.
Hunt hasn’t decided if she will run in the Relay again next year, but she said it was a “great experience” getting to know her new fellow runners on Team Wicked.
Santa Cruz resident Jake Skrabel was one of Team Wicked’s first-time runners in the 2013 Relay, and even though he runs regularly on his own, he has never done so in an organized event - let alone a two-day, non-stop relay race.
Skrabel, 44, randomly met Seehafer and Morgan Hill teammate Carrie Courter following one of their training sessions on West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz leading up to event. In need of someone to fill an empty spot on the team, they invited Skrabel to join them after witnessing his intrigued response to their description of The Relay.
Skrabel, who is getting his life back on track after enduring some personal hardships over the last few years, said his experience at Relay was “life-changing.” He hopes to remain a part of Team Wicked in future years and even help them with fundraising efforts.
“I’ve been struggling with some of my old demons, and this gave me a whole new outlook on life - trying something new, forming lifelong friendships and bonds with people,” said Skrabel, who works as a carpenter. “I can’t wait until next year.”