Posts Tagged by relay race

What Happens in {Ragnar} Vegas…

Gets told on the blog.

{I know, I know…so creative lame}

First and foremost — thank you all so much for your tweets and comments on my Dad’s post. I can’t even express to you how touched I am by all the positive responses we got to it. The story is near and dear to my heart — I still can’t read it without crying — and so it means the world that many of you were also touched and/or could relate. My father cherished every single one of those comments. I know you all made his day. So thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

As you all know, I spent last weekend running through Vegas with 5 other awesome ladies as a part of the Ultra team with the most creative name – Undecided2. (Race highlights — i.e. short and sweet version — found here.)

Luckily our running skills are much better than our team naming skills. We completed the 197.7 miles in 25 hours, 58 minutes, and 7 seconds which is an average pace of 7:53 per mile. This was good enough for 10th overall, and (more importantly!) 1st place for all-women’s teams AND all Ultra teams (meaning vs. those teams that had men on it as well as women). Clearly pretty psyched about that!

I was the “lucky” runner who got to anchor the team in for my first Ultra and first overall relay win. Which made all those hours (and hours and hours) of waiting around to run worth it.

Obviously everyone’s experience was a little different, so if you want to hear about their races, I highly suggest checking out the recaps written by my speedy teammates:

Runner 1 — Emily

Runner 2 — Margot

Runner 3 — SR

Runner 4 — Sarah OUaL

Runner 5 — Kristina (who sadly does not have a blog. But we can all pressure her into doing a guest post. Her first ever relay was this Ultra. Pretty impressive stuff.)

Runner 6 — ME

There are a couple different ways you can divide up the legs in an ultra relay. We opted to combine two relay legs into one longer one, which meant that every one of us would run through the first transition and hand off at the second. I highly recommend this strategy, because it gives everyone else more downtime (i.e. rest, recovery, snack-eating time) between legs. Plus, it feels pretty awesome to go through a transition point shouting: “Running through! I’m an Ultra!”

The Start

I clearly did not read the course description on Ragnar’s website. Because I was a little shocked to find our van headed up a mountain on the way to the start on Friday afternoon…and completely unprepared for the snow that we found at the top (I suppose the Mt Charleston ski resort should have given it away…)

Ragnar Vegas_start

After experiencing the festive start at Hood to Coast a few months ago, Ragnar’s start was a little very anti-climactic. At 1:30, we had one of the later starting times (teams had been starting since 5:30 that morning!) and it was pretty obvious that most people were out running on the course already. About 5 seconds before we were scheduled to take off, Emily lined up with one other team. There was a quick “go!” and off she went!

Ragnar Vegas_starting lineWe clearly fail in the “give your runner a great send-off category.” Luckily Emily is excited enough to make up for it.  {via Emily}

Emily took off down the mountain (literally!) and I settled in for a long wait.

IMG 7285I think we spent most of Ragnar LV being cold. Can you see SR’s hair blowing in the wind?  {via Emily}

Leg 1: 6.9 miles  – 7:49 pm

I won’t mince words here. My first leg sucked. Not because it was especially long or difficult. It had a slight uphill grade, but at just under 7 miles it was one of our team’s shortest runs.

No — it sucked because I ran down busy roads in Las Vegas on a Friday night. Do you know how many cars were also traveling along those roads at the same time?

Ragnar_firstleg_startPhoto via Emily awesome snuggie courtesy of SR

The hours of sitting around waiting in the van had translated into a ton of extra energy, so when Kristina handed me the super fancy snap bracelet, I took off. Despite the awful headwind, I clocked my first mile in 6:24 and was excited by the fact that my legs (if not completely fresh) still had speed in them.

headlamp testTesting out the headlamp {via Emily}

My excitement didn’t last very long, however. I hit my first stoplight a little over a mile into the run, and proceeded to spend the remainder of my leg cursing Vegas traffic. It seemed like every time I picked up speed, I’d be faced with another huge, 4-way intersection with two lanes of traffic traveling in every direction. I got lucky enough to hit the timers right on a couple of them, but most times I had to stop and wait for what seemed like hours (clearly not dramatic at all). I had heard a rumor that they were disqualifying teams that weren’t obeying traffic rules, but I wouldn’t have been able to sprint across those wide streets while avoiding cars anyway (although there were a couple times I went before I technically got the “walk” signal…shhhh). I knew that my time really didn’t matter (we were going for the overall win and I realized that everyone was dealing with the lights, not just me), but there is nothing more frustrating than standing at a stoplight and watching your average pace drop from sub-7 to 11 minutes as the seconds tick away.

IMG 7329Ready to run…or dance {via Emily}

I kept trying not to let this get to me and enjoy the run, but it was nearly impossible. I was so happy that the leg was short, and vowed to bring it on the next one.

I forgot to actually re-start my watch before the next leg, so I don’t know what my overall pace was. From my rough calculations, I clocked the 6.3 miles (Garmin measured short) in just over 47 minutes, or about 7:30/mile.

Leg 2: 13.3 miles ~ 4:30 am

IMG 7315Passing the time with a porta-potty photo shoot…what else? {via Emily}

After scarfing down half a sub around 9:30 pm and laying my head down for a quick 30 minute nap, it was time to gear up for Leg #2. It was still dark, the wind was still blowing strong, and it was COLD. Colder than I’ve ever experienced in a relay. I’m not going to lie – watching the other runners come in, bent over from the wind and bundled up from the cold was a little intimidating. But despite all that, I was looking forward to this leg. Over 13 miles with a net downhill (the last 8+ miles were down the same long hill that Sarah OUaL had worked hard to run up a couple hours earlier…thanks for doing all the hard work Sar!) sounded like the makings of an awesome run.

Kristina came into the transition fast…so fast, that I was still wearing my sweats, SR’s snuggie, a beanie over my running cap, and didn’t have any of my lights on. Winner of the most prepared runner before their leg does not go to me.

I was a little flustered, but managed to somehow get my pants off without falling on the ground or losing too much time. I realized about a quarter of a mile in that I had forgotten to turn my headlamp on, but after that I was able to settle in to a steady pace. Right away, I noticed that there were way more teams around on this leg than my last one. We had started so far behind everyone, that I had only seen 3 other runners on my first run earlier that evening. But now there were people everywhere! Having a long run ahead of me and nothing better to do, I decided to play a game and keep track of every runner I passed (known in relay-speak as “roadkill”).

The first 4.4 miles were pretty uneventful. I was running slightly uphill, but the wind seemed to have died down a little. The air was cold, but in an invigorating sort of way. I tried not to look at my watch too much, knowing that my legs weren’t really moving as fast as I wanted them to. Instead I just focused straight ahead on the blinking light in front of me, counting them off one at a time. When I had passed over 25 people on the first section alone, I made it my goal to get to 50 before the end of the run.

Going through that first exchange felt awesome. I said a quick hello to the team, then settled into 8.9 downhill miles. I could feel my pace picking up slightly (though not a ton…my legs just didn’t have speed in them) and tried to relax down the hill. As I ran, the sky started lightening up all around me. First I noticed the stars starting to disappear, then the sky changed from black to dark purple. I could see the violet outlines of the mountains in the distance…and the bright lights of Vegas before me. Most of the run was just a straight shot down 804 (S Las Vegas BLVD) which had been closed off to other vehicles. Watching the lights of the city grow closer as the sun started peeking out over the horizon was one of the coolest experiences. The lighter the world got, the lighter I felt. I stopped thinking of the run in terms of distance, and just focused on watching the sun rise, listening for the beeps on my Garmin and counting off runners as I went.

{Side note: my favorite of these was number 46 — who should have been 40. I came up behind a young kid who clearly didn’t like the thought of being passed by a girl so early into his run. No sooner had I passed him with a “good job!” did he come sprinting back around me, not saying a word. I settled in behind with the knowledge that I still had around 7 miles to chase him down. Poor kid didn’t stand a chance. 6 people later, I passed him for the second (and final) time. Thanks for the motivation, buddy.}

ragnar_leg 2 finishPassing off to Emily – and yes, 36 degrees might be cold, but it’s still running shorts weather {via SR}

13.3 miles later, the world was bright again and I had made it to the exchange having passed 67 people. An all-time relay record.

Garmin stats for legs 1 & 2: 19.34 miles in 2:22:08 (7:21 pace)

Ragnar_leg2 doneSuper flattering “I’m so happy! I love running!!!” shot {via SR}

Leg 3: 8.5 miles – 2:31 pm

At this point, sleep was out of the question. The sun was up and we were running our final legs. Despite the strong wind and a course that was tougher than we had expected (maybe next time we’ll actually study those elevation charts), everyone was running really well. We knew we still had a chance to run a decent time, which only fueled the excitement.

Ragnar_pro compression.jpgModeling our Pro Compression {via Sarah OUaL}

But I still had a long time to wait before my third and final leg. I think this is the absolute toughest part about being Runner 6 (or Runners 11/12 on a typical relay team). You watch your teammates running their final legs, and can’t help but feel a little jealous of the relief and excitement that washes over them when they finish. …all while trying to keep yourself pumped up to run in another 7 – 8 hours.

Luckily (for the sake of my teammates’ safety) we were able to scrounge up some Starbucks coffee and breakfast wraps that gave me a little more pep. The day was getting warmer, the wind (seemed) to be dying down, and the runs were becoming more and more scenic.

Ragnar Vegas_mountain exchange

 

Ragnar Vegas_exchange bike pathOUaL coming over the mountain while SR models her hot orange sweats (new fashion trend?)

The last three runners got to spend the major portion of their runs on a bike path. Which meant no dealing with cars or intersections (positive side) but also meant long climbs through the mountains.

IMG 7414{via Emily}

As the day went on and we got closer to my final run, the sun seemed to disappear and the wind picked up again (seriously — what is with all this wind and my races these days??).

Ragnar_pre leg 3.jpgGetting ready for leg 3. The few precious hours of warmth – officially over {via Sarah OUaL}

Finally, as the clouds seemed to get thicker and the wind got stronger, it was my turn to run again. My legs were heavy but I felt so excited knowing I’d get to bring the team home.

Ragnar Vegas_final handoff.JPGThe final hand-off! {via Emily}

Ragnar Vegas_LB final leg.jpgReady to fly home… {via Sarah OUaL}

….straight up a hill

Ragnar Vegas_final leg start{via Emily}

It was around this time that Ragnar’s leg rating system finally sunk in. Apparently, the difficulty of a leg has nothing to do with factors that can make a run feel hard – like huge climbs – and everything to do with the distance. The first section of this run was only 3.3 miles, so of course it was rated easy….despite the fact that we were running into the wind, on a trail up a mountain. Any route that has switchbacks does not count as easy in my book.

Even though the leg was short, so many people were walking. I felt like my pace had slowed to a crawl. This wasn’t exactly the dramatic, speedy finish I had envisioned. But in the middle of a particularly challenging climb, I raised my eyes from the path and truly looked around at my surroundings. What I saw nearly took my breath away. Miles and miles of desert bordered by mountains. I could see Lake Mead in the distance, and could watch other runners climbing ahead and behind me every time we went around the corner. It was incredible. And that’s when I realized — when else am I going to have an opportunity to run up a mountain in the middle of the desert? No matter how fast or slow I was running, I was determined to soak in every last step of that run.

I went through the first transition around 4 miles, was handed a lei and some water, and got pumped up for the final stretch.

IMG 7463In case you’re wondering, it gets really uncomfortable to run wearing a lei when the wind is blowing you (and it!) backwards {via Emily}

The climb up the mountain seemed to last forever. But finally…we turned off the path and down a hill. I felt like I had been given a second wind. As excited as I was to see the finish, I also didn’t want the run (and the relay) to be over. Besides my crappy first leg, my runs had been awesome. My legs had held up way better than expected. I was on top of the world.

Suddenly I was running by a parking lot, just in time to see my team jump out of a van. There was a moment of confusion — they thought they had arrived in plenty of time and I thought I still had about two miles to run. I shouted hello and just kept on running….down a hill, around the corner, and straight across the Ragnar Las Vegas Finish Line.

Alone.

Ragnar Las Vegas Finish LineI’m the tiny green and pink dot on the left {via SR}

A better teammate would have waited for her team to arrive before the big finish, but not me. I’m just a little too competitive for that…

Fortunately, I was on a team of super competitive runners who didn’t seem to mind that I crossed the line without them.

Ragnar Vegas_undecided2 finishTotally staged but still awesome finish line photo

I know that Garmins are never 100% accurate, and I usually just go with the official course distance. But this leg was more than just a little off — it had to be short (otherwise I ran 8.5 miles…mostly uphill…at a 6:34 pace. Super star LB).

Garmin stats: 7.17 miles in 55:49 (7:47 pace).

Total miles: 28.7 miles official (27.2 miles based on a short last leg)

Short or not, I’m pretty sure my time translates to a new marathon PR (my total running time was 3:17:58)…if only running worked that way!

Final Thoughts

This is already ridiculously long, so if you’ve made it this far – you deserve my Ragnar Las Vegas medal! Overall, I loved this relay. The course was tough, but more scenic than I was expecting. The organization was great — well, besides the fact that it took almost 2 days to post the results (why so long, Ragnar??). I might eventually do a post on Ragnar vs. other relays, since I’ve done a good number of them by this point, but that’s for another day.

Mostly — I’m just so incredibly thankful that I had this opportunity. I couldn’t have asked for a better team to run with. And we couldn’t have had better sponsors. I ran every leg of the race in my Pro Compression socks (a first) and used the Compex e-stim machine between my second and third legs. I honestly believe that these two things led to way less soreness than usual. Despite having run a marathon the week before and running more miles than during Hood to Coast, I felt way better in the days that followed. Yes, I can tell that my legs are still tired, but I was pretty much knocked out after HTC. I’m so thankful we had such great companies keeping us running all weekend.

Team photo_Ragnar finish

Now if only I could run an Ultra Relay every month…

 

Ragnar Las Vegas Highlights

I’m back from what felt like a whirlwind trip out west, still trying to process everything that happened over the past week. I’m exhausted, sore, and just might be getting sick. My body doesn’t really know what time zone it’s in, and I haven’t been able to focus on anything for more than 5 minutes all day.

But I’m also riding a running high that’s so incredible, I don’t know if I’ll come down for weeks. I had two awesome weekends of running/running friends in a row. And after my frustrating, non-running start to the year, I can’t think of a better way to end it.

undecided2_finishTeam Undecided2 at the finish! SR, Emily, Kristina, Margot, me, Sarah OUaL -yep, Undecided2 was really our name. That’s what happens when you sign up and then forget to update the “Team Name” section until it’s too late. Oops.

So while it may take a little while to get myself to come up with coherent sentences for a full race recap, here’s a little preview of the weekend highlights…

{Quick note: An Ultra relay means you run the same distance (around 200 miles), with only 6 people instead of 12. The advantage of this is that your entire team is in one van for the weekend…which means less coordinating and lots more team bonding time. The disadvantage hard part is that you run more miles than you would in a traditional relay.}

Ragnar Las Vegas Highlights

Subtitle: One of the best running weekends of my life

Nevada is beautiful. When I think Las Vegas, I think bright lights. The strip. Casinos. Not miles of incredible beauty everywhere you turn. But Ragnar Vegas surprised me with its views. Mountains, deserts, cacti — It’s amazing how something so vast and brown can take your breath away with its beauty.

RagnarLasVegas_exchange2

True, some of our runs were on congested streets through main areas, which wasn’t so great. But we also ran through mountains, by lakes, and along bike paths. My second leg was 13.5 miles along a straight road where I got to watch the sun slowly rise over the mountains in the distance. Truly one of the most amazing runs of my entire life.

Lake Mead

Nevada is also cold. Nighttime temperatures were in the 30s. The wind was so strong we often felt like we were running backwards. And then the sun came out and it was warm again. I guess that’s the desert for you.

Ragnar Vegas_start1Snow at the start…oh my goodness

RagnarLV 022{via Sarah OUaL}

Running an ultra relay was both harder and easier than I thought it would be. Relays are tough enough as it is. You have to run multiple times within 24+ hours, all while being cramped in a van and surviving on very little sleep. I’ve always been so tired after relays that I couldn’t imagine adding in any extra miles. But Ultras are so different. When I run a regular relay, my goal is to run each 5 – 6(ish) mile leg as fast as I possibly can. I still wanted to run fast this past weekend, but the longer legs meant I allowed myself to just fall into a “comfortably uncomfortable” pace. Doesn’t mean I wasn’t exhausted by the end…just that I wasn’t running to the point of wanting to throw up.

And that’s something this distance runner really loves.

IMG 7301{via Emily}

Granted, at 28 miles for the weekend, I also had the shortest legs on the team. Maybe I’d sing a different tune if I had run over 30 like everyone else…

Sometimes you get to meet an Olympian…who is running a relay in jorts like it’s NBD.

Nicksymmonds ragnarOh hello Nick Symmonds {Photo via Emily}

Lookin’ good buddy…

NicksymmondsRagnar(Source)

Still waiting for confirmation as to whether or not we beat him…

If you ever run an Ultra-style relay, having a van driver (or drivers) is a must. Brian and Lee (our driver extraordinaires) took care of everything all weekend. They navigated the somewhat confusing, almost-but-not-quite-correct directions to each exchange without issue….all on basically zero sleep. It was so nice to be able to sit back, eat, rest, and run without worrying about any of the logistics.

I don’t know how they made it through the weekend without wanting to kill us. We all owe a huge thanks to Brian and Lee, because we couldn’t have done it without them (now are you two game for undecided3 in 2013??).

IMG 7334So much driver love {via Emily}

Not only was this my first Ultra relay, but it was also the first time I was on a team that was trying to be competitive in the overall results…not just run for fun. And while there’s definitely something to be said for running a relay without any pressure, I think it’s pretty clear by now that I consider competitive racing synonymous with the word fun. I don’t think any of us really had the races we wanted. We were all struggling for one reason or another, and (being the competitive people that we are), always wanted to run faster. But everyone was out there pushing as hard as they could. It was so encouraging to be a part of all that.

And in the end, our hard work paid off. We finished in just under 26 hours (my fastest relay finish ever!!) to win the woman’s division! Preliminary results have us listed as the 2nd ultra team by just 12 minutes (To my knowledge, there doesn’t seem to be a “women’s ultra” division).

I somehow pulled off the marathon-relay double. While super stars like Emily and SR can run a marathon every weekend like it’s no big thing, this was something I was legitimately nervous about. But the amazing thing was, once it got started…I just ran. My legs didn’t feel fresh, and I certainly didn’t PR in any of the distances. But I finished!

RagnarVegas_sun.jpg

At this point, my legs feel like they’re in a permanent state of soreness. They haven’t stopped hurting since Sunday, Nov 4th at approximately 12:08 PM. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to go down stairs without pain in my quads again. But I kinda sorta like it…in a weird, hurts-so-good kind of way.

I am hooked on Ultra Relays. Completely. Utterly. No hope of turning back. I thought my addiction to the 12-man relay was bad, but this is something else. I can’t really explain what it is about running 200 miles with only 6 people. Maybe it’s just how hard it is that makes it so addicting. Or maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment. Either way, I have an ultra-relay fever that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to quench.

Finally – a huge THANK YOU to our very generous sponsors: Pro Compression and Compex. We couldn’t have done it without the help of these companies who literally kept us running all weekend.

apple green pro compression

Want some Pro Compression socks of your own? Use the code “RRLV”  for 40% off and free shipping! P.S. And tell them that you want to see these amazing “green apple” (i.e.Team Watermelon) socks in their store.

Currently seeking: a 200-mile relay race sometime in the next few months. Recommendations encouraged!

 

#VTcheeseparty Recap

When I first suggested to Sweaty Em and Stephanie that we form a relay team for the Vermont 50, all I could think about was getting these two up to Vermont in the fall. A weekend of running, beer, cheese, and friends — what could be better?

What I failed to grasp, however, was just how grueling the actual running portion would be. I mean — people were running an entire 50 miles on this course. Surely 19 would be no big deal.

Well…spoiler alert/cliff notes version: 19 miles on trails is hard. Really hard. I realize most of you probably grasp this concept already. Trail running is much harder than road running (who knew?!). Let’s just call it a case of extreme denial.

It turns out that running for hours and hours through mud, pouring rain, and up and over so many mountains really really steep hills is just a little different than running on the roads. And in the end, all my grand plans of “adding on extra mileage” so I could get to exactly 20 miles went right out the window…at about mile 14. Seeing as it took me almost as long to complete my leg of the relay as it does to run an entire marathon, I deemed it a “time on my feet” run and called it a day the instant I handed off to Steph.

And through all this…I somehow forgot to take one picture of the entire weekend – well, besides this one lone picture of a beer.

Please don’t ask why. I was exhausted and starving at the time, which hampered my ability to think logically. Plus, I suppose I thought that the fact that this was my 3rd different type of pumpkin beer in 2 days deserved documenting…or something.

Harpoon_pumpkinHarpoon UFO Pumpkin – delicious!

Which means that the few pictures you see in this post were ones I managed to steal from Emily or Steph (thanks guys!)

Okay…now that you know the ending, let’s back up a little, shall we?

Pre-Race

The #VTcheeseparty festivities officially began Saturday morning when Steph and her husband/driver extraordinaire arrived in my tiny little town. After showing them the best this town has to offer in terms of food (i.e. taking them to our one and only sandwich shop for lunch and then over to the cheese shop for sampling/purchasing), we drove to Ascutney Mountain Resort to pick up our packets for the race and figure out how long we would actually be running.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that the relay portion of the weekend was added in as an after-thought to appeal to a slightly less hardcore crowd. After some confusion with our bibs (which were eventually found in the “cyclist” section of the packets), we tried to get a clear answer about the leg distance so that we would know what order we’d be running in. Not only were the legs listed differently on two different places on the website, but the individuals working the Information booth at registration had no idea how long the legs were actually supposed to be. It took some map checking, a little math, and (finally) a talk with the RD to figure out that Steph and I would actually be running roughly the same distance on Sunday (18.9 and 18.8 miles, respectively).

With everything worked out, we traveled back home for some race prep — carbo loading in the form of local pizza and beer, race outfit decision making, and horror movie watching. I went to bed with my alarm set for the awful hour of 4:00 am.

50 Miles of Trails – Relay Style

We arrived back at Ascutney around 5:30 am for a “mandatory” pre-race meeting that seemed less than useful. We filled up on NYC bagels and peanut butter, and got ready to send Emily off into the woods.

Vtcheeseparty bagels

Fun Fact #1: the Vermont 50 was scheduled to start at 6:25 am. Sunrise on Sunday was at 6:47. Emily (our first runner) hadn’t slept at all the night before. Perfect conditions for starting a trail run in the dark…

Fun Fact #2: Unlike other relays where you can drive along the course and cheer for your runner, a trail relay meant that once Emily started, we wouldn’t see her again until the exchange. Understandable, but still kind of a bummer.

We knew it would take about 2 hours for Emily to run her leg and only about 30 minutes to drive to the exchange, so we had a lot of waiting around to do. I drank, used the porta-potties several times, wavered over my actual race outfit (hat or no hat? These are important decisions!), and cheered on the cyclists and runners who were coming through the exchange. At this point in the race (about 12.3 miles in), everyone was still in high spirits. It was so cool to watch people come in, chat with their support crew, grab things to eat and then somewhat leisurely make their way back onto the course. Ultra running is a whole new world — and I kinda liked it!

Teamwatermelon before run

Just before Emily arrived at the aid station, the rain started to fall. I ran back to the car, put on that hat, and got ready to experience the first long trail race of my life.

Vtcheesepartystart

After starting on a tiny stretch of flat single track trail, we turned onto a dirt road and immediately started running uphill. I started off very conservatively, but since this was a long training run for me, my main goal was to run as much as possible….which I quickly realized was not the same strategy everyone else had. As soon as we started climbing that first hill, everyone around me started to walk. I don’t blame them. It was steep, they were already 12.5 miles in to what was going to be a very long day, and we were going to be gaining a lot of elevation over the next several miles. But here I was, dressed in obnoxiously bright colors, on fresh legs, powering up a hill. To say I felt a little out of place was an understatement. All the other runners around me were so nice (at least they seemed to be…who knows what they were really thinking) but I kept feeling the need to apologize. I found myself wishing that I had a huge sign on my back that said: “Don’t mind me! I’m just running the relay!!” Even our bibs were the same color as the 50 mile runners.

However – what I soon realized was that most people didn’t really care about my race strategy (or lack thereof). This wasn’t a competition in the same way that road racing is. I made jokes with other runners, started conversations when I caught people, and just started enjoying the view.

I know I babble on and on about how beautiful Vermont is, but honestly, this run was incredible. I feel like I got to see the best that VT has to offer on this course — rolling hills, quaint farm land, manicured trails, mountain views, and the vibrant colors of changing leaves. The scenery was always changing. Sometimes we’d run up a hill and I felt like I could see for miles around. Other times, I was in the middle of the forest, running on a single track trail and feeling like I was the only person on earth (which would’ve been a little creepy except for all the pink arrows pointing out the way. The Vermont 50 course was incredibly well marked). For the first two-thirds of my race, all I could think about was how lucky I was to be running.

{Side note: here is a picture of me running, just in case you need a visual. That’s me if you click “next” too!}

I didn’t look at my watch at all for the first 6ish miles. It was raining, so I kept the watch tucked under my arm sleeve and just ran by feel. I didn’t worry about trying to run fast or keep a certain pace. It was such a freeing feeling. And truth be told, I couldn’t have gone fast even if I wanted to. As you can see from the elevation chart below, the entire course was either up or down. There were no flat sections. Running up and down steep trails that got progressively muddier as the race went on in shoes that are not meant for off-road running was tough. I love my Saucony Mirages, but the bottoms are essentially flat…probably not the best choice for a day of mud.

VT50 relay leg elevation

I covered the first 6 miles in about an hour, which was pretty much what I had expected. I ran through that first aid station, and then focused on making my way down the steep descent without falling. People and bikes were flying by me on the downhill sections. Besides being a little disconcerting (most of the cyclists were very considerate but narrow trails meant that I literally had to pull over into the brush and wait for bikes to pass), it served to further highlight my inefficient race strategy. Running up the climbs and putting on the brakes down the hills was clearly not the smartest race plan I had ever followed, but as a trail newbie with inappropriate gear, I was just determined to do the best that I could.

The second hour was pretty uneventful. I took a Clif shot around mile 7, picked my way down the hills, and soaked in the beauty (and rain!) all around me. Around mile 11, I stopped at an aid station to grab some Gatorade, and accidentally picked up a cup of Mountain Dew instead. I never drink soda, yet somehow didn’t even notice that’s what I was drinking until a volunteer informed me that my cup was not actually filled with lemon lime Gatorade. Oops. The few sips I had were surprisingly refreshing, but I was nervous about how my stomach would react so traded the soda in for Gatorade. After a quick 30 seconds, I was on my way again. I figured I had about an hour of running left, and started getting excited to count down the final miles.

Soon after I left the aid station, the rain started picking up…and so did the hills. I kept trying to move forward as quickly as I could, but had to laugh when I found myself physically unable to run. All my vigor from the first two hours had faded away. My body was tired, the hills were slippery, and it was all I could do to hunch over, press on my quads, and stagger up the hills. The miles sloooooowly ticked by. I took a Hammer Gel at mile 14 and got excited that I had less than an hour left of running.

…or so I thought. At this point, I was soaking wet. My legs were numb, my shoes felt like they weighed 80 pounds each, and idiotic me had put my iPhone in the back of my hydration pack without any sort of protection. I was pretty sure that 2+ hours in the rain had destroyed it. So when I saw the next aid station around mile 16, I stopped to ask a volunteer if she had a plastic bag I could take. Thankfully she was nice enough to empty out a baggy for me. After grabbing a few watermelon slices (most refreshing aid station treat I’ve ever had!!), and securing my somehow still functioning phone, I was on my way again for the last miles.

During that last part of the race, I found myself walking more and more steep hill sections. Some of the trails were still surprisingly crowded with cyclists (they had started before the runners so I had expected not to see anymore bikes at this point), which made it tough to navigate the more narrow sections. I kept finding myself hopscotching with bikers – they would walk their bikes up steep portions of the trail, I’d pass them, and then they’d come flying by me on the downhill sections again.

The final 3 miles were some of the most challenging of my life. It wasn’t because I was out of energy or felt like I couldn’t make it to the end. In fact, I was itching to just stretch out my legs and run. But we had finally gotten to the downhill section I had been looking forward to for hours and I suddenly found myself unable to move. Hours of rain plus hundreds of bikes on narrow trails had left the course completely torn up. The mud was up to my ankles. All I could think about was not falling on my face — or causing a collision with a cyclist/runner. At this point it was hard to tell if the inclines or declines were worse. Going up, I couldn’t get any traction and kept finding myself slipping back down the hills. But going down was terrifying. There were a couple of sections where I completely lost control. I bombed down the hill, convinced I would wipe out. I have no idea how I stayed upright. Miles 17 and 18 clocked in at a blazing 12:52 and 12:43, respectively — my slowest miles of the day, despite the fact that they were mostly downhill.

After what seemed like forever, the next aid station came into sight. I ran up that final hill as fast as I could and was so excited to see Steph and Emily waiting. After a quick warning to Steph to be careful because of the mud, I handed off the invisible baton…and my race was over.

Garmin Stats:

There wasn’t any sort of official relay timing, but according to the maps/aid station mileage, my leg was 18.9 miles long.

Garmin reports: 18.62 miles in 3:14:17; average pace: 10:27 (fastest mile was a speedy 8:36 on a downhill section of mile 8. Only 7 of my miles were under a 10 minute pace)

In case you were wondering, my marathon PR is 3:18. And that’s all I’ll say about that…

Post-Race

Teamwatermelon winning

This post is ridiculously long as it is, and I’m getting about as tired of typing it as I’m sure you are of reading it. So I will wrap it up with bullet points.

  • Waiting around and not being able to see or cheer for your runner for hours is tough. Especially if it’s still raining. However, it’s made a little easier when your husband’s plans suddenly change and he’s able to come up and meet you for the post-race celebration (best part of the day).
  • We finished 3rd overall in the relay division! Which was pretty exciting, seeing as two of us were running our first long trail race ever and one of us was tapering for her 50 mile race this weekend. Sadly we did not get a prize for this victory.
  • We celebrated our finish in the best way I know — with a trip to Harpoon Brewery (see beer photo above) and then a slumber party back at Casa de Conkey filled with more beer and 3-year-old Grafton cheddar (aka cheese perfection). We practically had to kick Steph and her husband out the next day, and Evan and Koli have been depressed about losing their new best friend ever since.
  • I am already trying to figure out when we can have a #VTcheeseparty Round 2. This time, you are all invited.
  • And in terms of trail running…while I can’t say I’m motivated to go out and sign up for a 50 Miler (I have so much respect for those who completed the entire 50 miles last weekend, but I’m not quite sure that’s for me), I do want there to be more trail racing in my future. The race was grueling. Everything hurt the next day. I feel like I need to take a week off to recover. But…I sort of loved it. In a weird, “this hurts so good” kind of way. The Vermont trails haven’t seen the last of me, that’s for sure!

Frustration Breeds Madness

Or how a year filled with injury led me to sign up for a crazy back-to-back week of racing…

Those of you who have been reading my blog for awhile already know — this has not been my year for running. In fact, I’m pretty sure you’re tired of hearing about it. But it’s bound to happen sometimes. I accept that running is a cycle — when you’ve been doing this sport long enough, you’re going to have some great highs and some really low lows…lows that can last for the better part of a year. Doesn’t always make it easy to get through them, but it is something every runner should be prepared for. It comes with the territory.

The good news is that I feel like I’m finally starting to climb my way up. Yes, my runs aren’t all amazing, but at least I’m able to do them. I’m back in training and (like to think I’m) getting stronger every day.

ec_lc_procompression

I’ve been trying to take things one day — one run — at a time. Focusing on slowly building up my strength for NYCM, and not doing anything too crazy…or anything that could leave me injured again. And for the most part, I think I’ve done pretty well. No crazy increases in mileage, taking my time before signing up for races, taking rest days when I need it, and spending way too much time with my foam roller.

But I have to admit, even cautious, “play it safe” runners can only take so much. No matter how smart of a runner you think you are, all that frustration is bound to build up…and can result in some crazy decision making.

I think you all know where this is going… The Ragnar Ultra Relay team has been announced. And I’m on it – despite the fact that New York City Marathon is less than a week before (NYCM is on Sunday, November 4th; the relay goes Fri – Sat Nov 9 – 10).

I have never done anything like this before. Even Evan thinks I’ve lost my mind. Normally, the week after a marathon is reserved for doing absolutely nothing besides sitting on my butt and watching trashy TV. I need that time to recover — both physically and mentally. I know the last thing my body will feel like doing is running 30+ miles over the course of a weekend, all while being cramped in a big white van.

But here’s the thing…after so many months of frustration, I need a challenge. I’m craving it. Running a marathon isn’t easy, of course, but I won’t be running NYCM for time. This isn’t going to be a PR race for me. So in the absence of a time goal, why not create a distance one?

My NYCM + Ragnar double will be the greatest number of miles I have ever raced within a 7 day period. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little afraid about how my body will hold up. Or sort of intimidated by the fact that my crazy teammates are gunning for the overall female win.

But I just kept thinking to myself — if not now, when? I have done nine 200-mile relays. Ragnar will be my 10th and my first ever Ultra…something I’ve been wanting to do ever since I ran my very first relay in 2009. On top of that, I have an awesome team of runners to do it with. Both SR and Sarah OUaL have already done posts introducing the team, so I’ll just give you the list of rock stars (you can go to their blogs if you want to read more).

Can’t argue with the rock star status of this line up:

I was tempted from the moment Emily first offered me a spot on the team (you all know I have a hard time saying no to a relay). And as soon as she mentioned that we’d also have the support of two awesome companies, the deal was sealed. I really don’t think I’d have the confidence to attempt this double without bringing out the big guns in terms of recovery: Pro Compression and Compex.

I’m already a big fan of compression socks (I basically live in them after long runs and during the height of marathon training), and these babies come in both bright pink and green – team watermelon perfection.

Even Mom{ontherun} is a fan…

testingoutproExcuse our cankles…so hot

Compex will help take the race prep/recovery to a whole new level. I haven’t actually gotten to test it out yet, but word on the street is that this little electrostimulation device can improve endurance and speed up recovery. Sounds good to me! I can’t wait to try it out (and will report back after I do!).

And then…as if all that wasn’t enough to convince me, I just kept thinking about my dad. I want to actually write a post about this, but my dad – a runner that I have looked up to my entire life – is now struggling just to walk. Bad genetics combined with an awful knee surgery resulted in the bones of his knee fusing together, leaving him unable to run. To make matters worse, he just discovered that he has both a torn meniscus and an aneurysm in his other “good” knee.

My dad will be going into his first of two surgeries on October 4th. He will have a month of recovery before going under the knife again — this time for a procedure that will keep him off his feet and in rehab for at least 2 additional months. It has been so hard to watch this man who loved running more than anyone I have ever met struggle. First – through giving up running and now, through the inability to be active at all. I know that he would give anything to be able to run just one mile without pain.

grafton inn_laurenanddad

So Dad — in November, I will be running for you. Each step that I take will be dedicated to those steps you want to run, but can’t. When I’m feeling tired or in pain I will not give up. I know that I have been given a great gift. I’d do anything to give that gift back to you. Since I can’t, I hope this is the next best thing.

45 days until New York City Marathon. 50 days until Ragnar Las Vegas.

Let’s do this thing!

Hood to Coast Relay: the Miles

So now that every other blogger has recapped their Hood to Coast race experience, I figured it’s time to add mine to the mix. You know, just when you were getting sick of hearing about it and saying secret little prayers that the madness was over…

But really, since there has been so much said already, I will try to stick to just talking about the race from my perspective. To read more about the overall Hood to Coast experience, Katie has been collecting posts here.

And to see more from Team Night Van 1, check out the blogs of my vanmates. Many of them do a much better job of recapping the entire experience than I have (particularly this super long, super detail-oriented post from Robyn…I mean, she pretty much says it all right there…)

I had the pleasure of spending over 24 hours in a van with these ladies:

The Start

My van of 6 left Seattle around 8:00 am last Friday morning to make the long trek out to Oregon for the start. Ten bathroom stops, seven “Call Me Maybes,” and countless snacks later, we finally made it to the starting area at Timberline Lodge.

Team Night Van 1The ladies of Team Night Van 1 plus our fearless driver Mason

I feel a little bad that I lucky enough to get Van 1 again this year, only because the start of Hood to Coast is amazing. Seriously – it’s one of the best reasons for doing the race in the first place. The drive up to Mt. Hood is beautiful, the energy of the teams at the start area is infectious, and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, like starting a race with this beauty in the background.

HTC 2012 start

HTC start_jumping

 

After some team photos (where Jocelyn and I apparently couldn’t contain our love for each other) and some Nuun-tattoo applying, Team Night was ready to start.

HTC 2012 Van 1s startJocelyn and I look like we’re on a date…or maybe I was just holding on for dear life.

At 2:15 PST, Caroline led us down the mountain and the relay had begun!

HTC Caroline start

Leg 2 – 5.67 miles “Hard”  (Run #1)  3:15 pm

Going into HTC, my first leg was the one I dreaded the most. Even though it seems like nothing in comparison to the first leg of the race, it’s still rated hard for its steep descent. And the fact that my knee still isn’t the biggest fan of downhill running didn’t inspire all that much confidence going into this first run.

Fun with elevation charts. From my Garmin data:

Leg 1 Elevation

From HTC Relay:

IMG 1159Thankfully the hill was not QUITE as extreme as this makes it look. Otherwise I would’ve just rolled the whole way down.

It all depends on your scale…..

Anyway….I also knew that this leg boasted amazing views and that it was likely that I would never again have a run quite like it for the rest of my life. So right before Caroline came cruising into the exchange I made a vow to myself – fast or slow, I was going to soak up every second and just enjoy the ride.

HTC Runner 2 Leg 1 start

Not even half a mile in, I knew the run was going to be amazing. Months of not racing and 3 days of excitment leading up to Hood to Coast filled my legs with energy, and I took off. The first two miles clocked in at just over 6 minutes. I felt amazing! I had been waiting for months to feel this way about running again and I wanted it to last forever.

I have never had great leg speed. In high school, the fastest mile I ever ran was 5:59 — not exactly a stellar time for a varsity track athlete. Despite training times that indicated I could do it, I didn’t break the 20 minute barrier for a 5K until a year ago. Fast running and I just don’t understand each other. And so I find myself drawn to the longer distances simply because I can hold a decently quick pace for a long period of time.

But on that magical first leg of Hood to Coast, I finally experienced what it felt like to fly. I leaned into that downhill and I pushed forward, never allowing myself just to coast. As my pace dipped below 6:00 minutes at the start of the 3rd mile, I knew that it was on. I was running faster than I would’ve been if the leg had been flat, but I was also working. My lungs were heaving, my legs were churning, and it was all I could do to keep them turning over – faster, faster, faster.

I rounded a corner and was struck by the most beautiful views I had ever seen during a race (honestly the only time I’ve ever wished I was running with a camera). It sounds so cheesy, but at that moment I was filled with an overwhelming sense of joy. I forgot about my knee and just RAN. One sub-6 minute mile followed another as I cruised down that hill, faster than I’ve ever run in my life. I wished I could bottle that feeling up and hold onto it forever.

HTC Runner 2 Leg 1_runningshotI know it looks like I am in pain but I assure you this is my happy face

All too quickly, I cruised into the exchange. My face hurt from smiling so much.

Garmin stats: 5.4 miles in 31:57. Average pace of 5:55.

Hands down the best relay leg in the history of relay legs. Thank you, long downhill for giving me one for the record books.

(Side note: the official mileage of this leg is listed as 5.67 miles. Since Garmins are never completely accurate, on a regular run, I’m sure they’re even more off on one with such a significant elevation loss. So can we just go with the HTC mileage? (Also 5.67 miles in 31:57 means a 5:38 average pace, so there’s that…)

Leg 1 done

Fueling Up

After Robyn brought it in for our team and Sweaty Em took over for Van 2, we hung around the exchange with the other teams for awhile. Since we had started before anyone else, our team didn’t actually get to hang out with the other vans like Team Morning and Team Noon did. So it was good to see everyone again at the major exchange.

Unfortunately, whether it was because I waited too long to eat between legs or because nerves about how my legs were going to hold up during the next one were settling in, it was at this point that my stomach/intestines started to revolt. We already had 2 girls down with stomach issues, and I was afraid I’d be the next.

To calm my nervous stomach and fuel up for Leg #2, Van 1 rolled in to a fancy, beautiful pizza place in the middle of the cutest little town.

On our way to dinner, @ : "oh this is where people get shot!" Sounds promising #nuunhtc

….or not. But they had carbs and could get them to me fast. Which, as we were quickly moving within the 3-hours-before-my–next-run mark, was pretty much my only requirement.

After filling up on mainly plain breadsticks (fuel of champions), we were off in search of coffee. Five minutes later, I heard the most depressing news of the trip so far – Starbucks was out of coffee.

Starbucks is out of coffee. Should've stuck to espresso soup cc @ #htcflashbacks #HTCRelay #nuunhtc

Flashbacks of my frantic search for caffeine around a closed-down Portland last year were running through my mind. As much as I love caffeine, espresso soup was a little too potent for my stomach (see story here). Fortunately, the baristas took pity on our group of tired, smelly HTC runners and brewed us a fresh pot. Crisis averted.

Leg 14 – 6.08 miles “Medium”  (Run #2)  12:16 am

My second run was theoretically my easiest: 6.08 relatively flat miles through a relatively boring area. Despite the easier rating and a fresh dose of caffeine, I just didn’t have it in me for this one. I don’t know if my problem was mental or my lack of training/endurance was just starting to show, but the leg just felt hard. I tried to pump myself up with all sorts of positive thoughts: “But this is Hood to Coast! It’s exciting!!” and “At least there aren’t any big uphills and the temperature is nice!” but it wasn’t working.

Leg 2 ElevationAn unremarkable elevation profile for an equally unremarkable run

All I could focus on was the annoying beeping coming from my nearly-dead Garmin, my tired legs, and the noxious smell of a skunk that seemed to linger over the entire 6 miles. 43 loooooong minutes later, and it was finally my turn to hand off the slap bracelet again.

Strong winds. Dead Garmin. Tight legs. Skunk-scented. Just a few of the many joys of Leg 2 #nuunhtc #HTCRelay

That about sums it up

Garmin stats: 6.09 miles in 43:15 (7:06 average*)

*Looking back, my time wasn’t really all that bad. I just felt like I was crawling. Although I would’ve loved to complete that leg with sub-7 minute miles, the reality is that I was still running faster than I had any business to.

{Side note: I did not know this before taking off, but Caroline had a very bad experience on her night leg. I am both grateful that she is okay and also relieved that I actually didn’t know about it before I ran. With the exception of a few runners I passed early on, I was alone the entire time – I’m sure I would have been very nervous. I typically love the night relay legs because of how peaceful they are, but I do really hope that HTC Management increases the security through this area of Portland.}

 

RecoveryRelay recovery

Leg 26 – 5.96 miles “Hard”  (Run #3)  10:02 am

After another long wait at the van transition spot and what seemed like an endless drive to the next major exchange area (complete with some awful HTC traffic — apparently the whole thing about it being a one-time-only disaster last year was a lie), we finally reached the next transition — in time for about 45 minutes of sleep.

After somehow peeling myself out of the van, I tried to walk around and stretch out my legs a bit. I choked down a few sips of the most awful coffee I’ve ever tasted, gave up, and devoured a Smooth Caffeinator Picky Bar instead (first time trying it and I was a huge fan!).  Word of warning to all future HTC-er’s: the coffee at Exchange #24 (in Mist, Oregon) tastes like poison. Save yourself and just donate a couple of dollars instead. You’ll thank me later.

team night power arch_caroline.jpegPower arch for Caroline’s last leg! (Please excuse my indecency)

At this point, my legs were so cramped from being curled up in the front seat of the van after running nearly 13 miles that I swore my hamstrings were about to snap in half. I tried to do a little warm up while I waited for Caroline, but nothing seemed to work. I got in the exchange zone and said a quick prayer that things would loosen up as soon as I started running.

HTC Exchange 25Caroline finishing up her final leg and me desperately trying to find satellites

And magically, they did. I don’t know if it was the perfect temperature, the picturesque Oregon country-side, or just a general excitement that I spent the entire weekend racing (after so many months on the sidelines), but I felt surprisingly fresh. The entire run was beautiful. Mountain views, rolling hills, farmland, and green everywhere I looked. It reminded me of being back home in Vermont. Despite the leg’s “hard” ranking, it felt so much easier than the one I’d done hours before and I easily clicked off three sub-7 minute miles to begin the leg.

HTC Runner 2 Leg 3

Unfortunately, my lack of endurance and a particularly cruel hill located late in the run eventually caught up to me. I started mentally struggling halfway into mile 4 and let my pace drop a little bit. Once I gave myself permission to relax, it just got worse. I came up to the dreaded long hill in the 5th mile and found myself struggling to keep my pace below 8:00. I tried my best to keep the HTC-cursing to a minimum and instead let myself get sucked back into the beauty of my surroundings as I slogged my way up to the top (but really, that last hill is just awful and man did it feel a lot harder than it looked on that elevation chart!).

Team Night Power ArchPower arch for extra energy

I finally reached the top of my last climb of Hood to Coast and was rewarded with a long, beautiful downhill .75 miles into the finish. It was glorious!

final leg checkSad the run was over, but so excited to be done

Garmin stats: 5.73 miles (my watch started late on this one) in 40:04 (6:59 average).

The Finish

lbsusan htcSusan and I before her final leg

This is already disgustingly long, so let’s just say that eventually Team Night made it to the finish, and with it the finish line celebration!! But the end of our relay wasn’t without its drama – which included an awful running injury and a scare when a bunch of runners, including Kelsey (our Leg 12 runner), were directed the wrong way and ended up far off course. But I will let those girls tell you their stories in their own words.

Needless to say, when our entire team was finally reunited at the finish there was a great celebration. Running through that finish line felt so good. We had survived the 2012 Hood to Coast Relay!

nuun ladies finishNuun ladies (from all 3 teams) at the finish

I spent the rest of the night drinking beer, eating greasy pizza, and staying up far too late for someone who had just run 17 miles on 45 minutes of sleep. And then my crazy body bounded out of bed far too early the next morning.  Four slow, hurts-so-good recovery miles with Robyn and Emily during which we re-hashed the relay brought my total West Coast mileage up to 30 AND (more significantly) marked the very first time since before the injury that I ran 6 days in one week. There was some celebrating in {ontherun}land in honor of that!

Overall Thoughts on Runner #2

I thought I loved my legs last year, but I just don’t think I knew what I was missing! I would definitely run in the #2 position again if I ever had the opportunity. With the exception of the boring middle leg (which, let’s be honest, is in the dark so your surroundings don’t really matter so much), I absolutely loved the runs that I had. The first leg was an incredible experience that I would recommend to anyone. The third — filled with rolling hills and amazing scenery to keep the run interesting. That downhil run into the beautiful exchange area will be burned into my memory forever.

watermelon beerCelebrating a successful Hood to Coast Relay with Watermelon Beer. So perfect for #teamwatermelon 

Thank you Nuun for the opportunity to be a part of this amazing weekend, and for taking such great care of us during the relay. And thank you to all the members of AfterNuun Delight Team Night Van 1 for being the inspiring, fun, wonderful people that you are. You made this relay one to remember and I am so thankful that I got to share it with all of you. You are already so very missed.

Van 1 love

*Many of these pictures were taken by Caroline. Thank you so much for sharing them with all of us!!

Next Page »