After I got home from the Colonial 200, I was showing my husband pictures and explaining how it worked. And he asked, “Why is this fun again?” The two people who have read this blog might be wondering the same. After all, I’ve done a lot of bitching in this space about the self-imposed craziness of doing three relays in six weeks. Here is my best shot at explaining it.
Runners are awesome, and a relay is a 24+ hour running festival. The runners encourage and cheer for each other. They celebrate together. At Ragnar trail relays, the race sets up a “village” where all of the runners hang out, watch movies on a big outdoor screen and make s’mores.
You get the race environment with less of the pressure. When I race a certain distance, I am ALWAYS thinking about a time goal. Even when I pretend I’m not. And I’m disappointed if I don’t get there. In a relay, although I of course want to do well for my team, the pressure is lessened, mostly because I’m running non-standard distances. I still get to cross a finish line and get a medal and shirt without worrying about setting a new X distance PR.
You feel like a total badass. What is more hard core than charging through the woods or on a deserted country road at 3:00 a.m.? Yes it can be scary, but aren’t most things worth doing at least a little scary?
It turns a solo sport into a team sport. Running can be a lonely business. You are competing by yourself and, for most of us recreational runners, racing against yourself. In a relay, my teammate’s awesome run directly benefits me, so I feel like I just had an awesome run.
You make new friends. Want to get to know someone well? Try spending 36 hours in close quarters with him or her. For my second trail relay, my team included three people I had never met before. One was a Seventh Day Adventist pastor, to whom I admitted that everything I knew about his religion came from Mrs. Kim on Gilmore Girls. (Sometimes it’s easier to just put your ignorance out there.) Getting to know them was a big part of the fun. And of course it helped to make my already close friendships even closer.
It’s fun to talk about afterward. This morning, one of my teammates and I were talking about how, during her overnight 9 mile leg in the middle of nowhere, we did not see a single person. At the time it was happening, it was kind of terrifying (especially for my friend who was running). But now, it’s a good story (see earlier point about feeling like a badass).
Convinced? It’s not for everybody. But if you think it might be for you, then give it a shot, if only to say “never again.”
Monday: Big fat nothing. I was planning to do strength, but I was tired and cranky and headachy and just not feeling it at all.
Tuesday: 4 easy miles, average pace 10:33, average HR 141. My goal was to spend no more than 5 minutes in Zone 3 (or higher), and per Garmin I was in Zone 3 for 6:45. Close but no cigar. Once again I got wrapped up in conversation with someone and paid more attention to the conversation than my heart rate.
Wednesday: 5 easy miles, average pace 11:36, average HR 141. My heart rate went crazy on this run. Not sure exactly what was up, it could have been that it was warmer and more humid, or it could have been that I tightened up my HR strap since it kept sliding down. But at any rate I went quite a bit slower and still had 13:39 in Zone 3, well over my goal of no more than 5 minutes. Oops.
Thursday: Squeezed in a few strength exercises, but mostly rest/relay preparation.
Friday and Saturday: Colonial 200 relay.
Sunday: More rest. I chaperoned my 7-year-old’s Girl Scout horseback riding trip, so I did a lot of leading horses around. But no real exercise.
Goals for this week: All easy miles (still shooting for no more than 5 minutes above Zone 2) except for one day of hill repeats. Do a solo long run in preparation for running on my own in the upcoming relays.
Holy shit that was hard. And fun. And exhausting. And smelly. And hard. And fun. Did I mention fun?
We went about this race in the “traditional” fashion, for the most part. The original plan was to have two vans, six runners per van. Van 1 runners would run legs 1-6 while Van 2 rested. Then Van 2 runners would run legs 7-12 while Van 2 rested. And rinse repeat until all 36 legs were complete. This method gives each van a two 5-6 hour breaks to sleep, eat, rest, rejuvenate. Or at least to do those things as well as you can while living out of a van.
It didn’t quite work out that way. We still went with the two vans. But we had two runners in Van 1 be unable to run, which required some creativity. One of the hurt runners had relatively short legs, so we had other runners cover her legs. Because she was supposed to be Runner 6, it was relatively easy to have her legs covered by someone in Van 1 or Van 2; if the latter, Van 2 just started one leg early. We found a runner to take the place of the other missing runner, but this runner couldn’t stay with the van because of child care issues. So she drove back and forth, meeting Van 1 at the exchanges so she could run her legs. She was a total rock star and unquestionably saved our butts by being willing to do this at the last minute. But it also made the logistics a bit more complicated.
Another monkey wrench was thrown into our plans when the race announced that because of the extreme heat expected, it was going to require the runners to double up on routes so that everyone would finish by noon on Saturday. We figured out that the best way to do this was for Van 1 and Van 2 to run their third legs simultaneously, and then meet up at the finish. But this meant that Van 2 did not get any break between the second and third legs. This also meant (a) even less sleep than normal; and (b) significantly shortened recovery time.
In short, between the weather and being down a runner, the situation was far from ideal. But our team was AMAZING. Everyone embraced the sucky weather situation and churned out mile after mile without complaint.
How It Went Down
The night before the race started, we all went out to dinner and then stayed in a hotel that was about 10 minutes before the start.
We had a 6 am start time, so at about 5:15 am we all went to the start to check in, get our safety briefing and cheer for our first runner as she crossed the starting line. After that, Van 1 went to work while Van 2 went back to the hotel for a leisurely breakfast. As Runner 7, I was in Van 2. In retrospect, we should have gone back to sleep, because that was the only real rest we got after we started.
After each runner started, the Van she was in would see her on her way, and then drive to a spot a couple of miles into the route. There they would wait for her, cheer her on, offer water and fuel, and then drive either to the next waiting spot or to the next exchange, where the next runner would get ready to go. And so on.
Van 2 finally got to work around 11 a.m. And it was HOT. Well over 80 degrees in full-on sun. We stopped several times for each runner, dumping cold water over her head and ice in her bra.
Because of the doubling up on legs, Van 2 only got one five-hour break after the first leg, and then remained active until the finish. We used that break to eat a real dinner and to re-fill on gas, ice and water. There was no time to pull off the road for everyone to sleep, so instead whoever wasn’t running grabbed an hour or two of sleep in the van as she could. We were definitely a sleep-deprived bunch.
Despite the lack of sleep and real food, the runner who started each leg was always able to finish it under her own power. No injuries or other disasters (although we came frighteningly close to a disaster when a certain nameless person almost got the van stuck in a ditch on the side of the road in the middle of the night).
I struggled. A lot.
I went in knowing that in these weather conditions I was not even going to try to push my pace very much. But I NEVER felt like I got to a place where I felt comfortable. Each step felt like a struggle. I walked way more than I care to admit.
It was a good reminder of just how humbling running can be. I’ve been running a ton of miles, including several back-to-back runs, so I went into this race feeling well-trained and maybe a bit cocky. I do know a major factor in how I felt was the weather. These were the first truly hot days of the year, and the fact that they happened on a tough course running at odd hours on little rest and questionable fuel was probably a recipe for disaster. With two more relays coming up, I’m not really sure what I should do differently, except pray for better weather.
As far as details, my first leg was 4.5 miles. I left a little after noon, the sun was of course high in the sky and the temperature (per Garmin data) was between 86-91 degrees. Average pace 10:29/mile, 299 feet of elevation gain. No heart rate data; I didn’t bother with my HR monitor for any of these runs.
Second leg was 4.85 miles with 207 feet of elevation gain. I took off on this leg a little after 11 p.m., so it was dark and a bit cooler, between 73-86 degrees per Garmin data. Average pace 10:58/mile.
Third leg ended up being 8.4 miles, although I went the wrong way for about 0.3 miles in the beginning. This leg was even more of a struggle. I started a little after 6 am and the humidity was insane. The dew point was 75 degrees, which is in the “adjust goals or consider not going at all” range. I had to play mental games to keep moving. Run to the next tree; run four minutes and then walk one; run until the van passes me so my team doesn’t see me walking. I somehow got through the miles at an 11:23 average pace.
The strange thing is that as crappy as I felt while I was running, I felt fine almost immediately after. So whatever was plaguing me during my runs didn’t hang out for very long.
Even with the doubling up, we were able to time it so that we all ran into the finish together in our Rosie the Riveter costumes.
And we were just so glad to be DONE. By the time we finished around 11:30 a.m., it was already over 90 degrees and very humid. We stuck around at the finish line long enough for a few pictures and to enjoy the tacos the race provided, but we couldn’t wait to get back in the air conditioned van and then home.
General Thoughts on the Race
The adjustments they made to account for the heat were really smart. We were so thankful to be finished before noon on Saturday and glad the race gave us the flexibility to make that happen.
The T-shirts and medals were both really good quality.
LOVED these route tattoos, which the race provided for every single route on the course. The course was still reasonably well marked but having those tattoos was super handy and reassuring, especially given how few people were on the course.
The police support on parts of the course during the overnight legs was great. During my under five mile night leg, I probably had an officer pass me with lights flashing at least 20 times. It was noticeable enough to the locals to the point that someone stopped me to ask what the heck was going on.
I never thought I would complain that a well-run race with good swag was too small. But this race was. Only 23 teams ran the full 200-mile relay. And because the teams were all doubling up in some fashion, those 23 teams were very spread out. It made the course feel lonely and sparse and a little frightening at times, especially during the middle-of-the-night legs. My understanding is that this race has been far bigger in the past, and it was small this year because it conflicted with the Richmond Ragnar Trail relay the same weekend. Given the lousy turnout, I expect that next year this race will either be moved or canceled altogether.
The race did not use an accurate method for predicting finish times. When participants registered, they were asked to put in their 10K road time. The race spreadsheets then assume that the person will run every single mile at her 10K road time. Which is ridiculous. For reference, my 10K road PR pace is 9:20. I put 10:00 as my 10K pace, which felt fairly conservative for me. At this race, between the hills and the heat, I think I averaged 11 minute miles. But even in ideal conditions I wasn’t going to run 17.5 miles at all hours of the day and night at my true 10K pace. At the end of the day it probably didn’t matter too much because we had to double up anyway. But it still bugged me.
At the risk of sounding like a whiny brat, the course was a little TOO hard. The hills were steep and plentiful. In a relay situation where you are already challenging your sleep-deprived body in all kinds of ways, it felt like a little much.
I hesitate to write this because it feels hypercritical. But because of the doubling up, we got to several parts of the race before they were ready for us. We arrived at one major exchange at a church to find no volunteers and no bathrooms (the bathrooms were inside the church, which was locked). We came through at least two other exchanges with no volunteers. At least one of our runners ran 9 miles in the dark with zero police support. I know this was a last minute change, which is why it feels nitpicky to bring it up.
I’m so glad I did this. And I’m also so glad it’s over.
Monday: Mini strength-training. Hit my goal of doing 20 push-ups on my toes in a row!
Tuesday: 5 miles. Had planned to run easy but decided mid-run (after falling back behind the others I was running with) that I wanted to do a faster finish run. One of my many issues with not having a training plan! Splits were 10:34, 10:03 (lots of downhill in this mile), 10:33, 10:41, 9:07. Average pace 10:12, average HR 143 (last mile was around 150).
Wednesday: 4 solo, easy miles. I had to leave early for a work appointment so I couldn’t run with my usual group. Wasn’t too sad about it because it was raining and everyone bailed anyway. Average pace 10:42, average HR 141.
Thursday: Mixed intervals workout. This workout starts with a 10 minute warmup, then moves through intervals in Zone 5 (90 seconds), Zone 4 (5 minutes) and Zone 3 (10 minutes), with two minute recoveries in between. This workout went surprisingly well. My Zone 5 intervals were 7:53 and 8:56 (second was uphill the whole way); Zone 4 were 8:38 and 8:56, and Zone 3 was 9:11. This was faster than the last time I did this workout more than a month ago, despite the fact that I really haven’t been doing much speed work. I attribute at least some of the improvement to the fact that I lost 5-ish pounds since the last time I did the workout.
Friday: Strength and cross-training. The strength part felt really hard for some reason. Whereas earlier in the week I did 20 push-ups in a row on my toes, it was tough to do 10. I got everything done, and then I laid on my mat for a few quiet minutes. Then I did 30 minutes on the bike at a 16.8 mph average pace.
Saturday: I had planned to run 5 miles on Saturday and 8 on Sunday, but the weather was looking iffy for Sunday so I did 8 on Saturday. It was a hilly route (especially at the very end) and it was much more humid than I’m used to. Average pace 10:22, average HR 141. The average HR is deceptive though; I spent almost 50 minutes in Zone 3 (145+) when I intended to spend zero minutes in Zone 3. This has been happening on many of my “easy” runs lately and I definitely need to work on it.
Sunday: The weather was fine so I did the 8 miles I had planned anyway. Average pace 10:20, average HR 142. This time I only had about 20 minutes in Zone 3, which is still 20 too many.
Summary: 30 miles, hit my goals of two strength training sessions, an interval workout and 20 push-ups on my toes in a row. This week is different because I have the Colonial 200 relay coming up. The distance I am covering shouldn’t be too difficult, but it is supposed to be crazy hot and humid this weekend and I’m definitely not acclimated to that yet.
So this week my goal is to do truly easy runs, with no more than 5 minutes per run in Zone 3. This likely means I’ll be running by myself. But I will have plenty of girl time with the relay this weekend so some solo miles won’t be the worst thing in the world. No specific time goals for the relay. Would just like to finish my miles feeling as strong as I can given the weather.
Earlier this year, I was in a frustrating place with nutrition and weight loss. I was eating healthfully and tracking everything. I was running higher, more consistent mileage than I had ever run before. But I was not losing weight. I even gained a few pounds. I was doing everything “right,” why was the scale still going up?
I identified a few potential culprits. One was age. I’m riding the tail end of my 30s and my metabolism is slowing down. Even with all of my activity, I am not burning calories the way I used to. Along those lines, I have been running consistently for a couple of years now, and my body has gotten fairly accustomed to and efficient at running. So I am burning fewer calories per mile. And even though I tracked my meals, I wasn’t terribly vigilant about weighing and measuring my food. I am sure I had some portion creep happening.
I needed to do something different. A friend had been doing an intermittent fasting diet where she ate very low calorie (500-700 calories per day) for two days a week and then ate whatever she wanted (within reason) the other days. That had been a great tool for her to lose and then maintain a very healthy weight. I knew 500-700 calories a day was not realistic for me, even for only two days a week. But I did try having two much-lower calorie days during the week. “Sadness days,” if you will.
Lose It, the calorie tracking app that I use, calculated that I burn just over 2000 calories on a typical day. On days that I run, I burn anywhere from 2400-3000 calories. I decided to eat 1300-1400 calories on Sadness Days, which is about 500-600 calories less than I was eating on a typical day. This would give me a significant calorie deficit without starving. On the other five days of the week, I made sure I stayed within my daily calories, keeping around a total calorie deficit of at least 500 calories (including exercise calories).
I started this about a month ago. I have lost about 8 pounds, after not losing any weight for months. I have a few theories about why that happened too.
The first and most important is that it was a CHANGE. My body had gotten comfortable with my regular intake and activity level, so having those low calorie days shocked it into doing something different.
Second, it showed me that it was okay to be hungry. After a lifetime of dieting, I have a lot of anxiety about food. I am ALWAYS thinking about where my next meal is coming from and if I have enough provisions to make it until then. This approach has shown me that even though hunger is not an awesome feeling, I can handle it and don’t need to be afraid of it.
Third, I am eating fewer overall calories. That is partially because of the increased deficit on Sadness Days, and partially because I feel satisfied with fewer calories on non-Sadness Days.
Don’t get me wrong, it is not easy. I spent one Sadness night dreaming about cupcakes, and then woke up pissed off that I couldn’t really have them. I have to plan my Sadness Days carefully to (a) limit calories and (b) reduce temptation. But as of now it seems to be working, and I think it’s been at least a little bit good for me.
WARNING: This is a crabby post. I think/hope I will be much more cheerful about these races once I actually start doing them. But right now I’m in planning hell with none of the fun.
I bit off a bit more than I could chew this spring. I’m getting ready to participate in three separate 200-mile road relays in under two months.
The first is the Colonial 200 relay, which goes from Charlottesville to Jamestown, Virginia. This one is at least close to home. No extra-long car trips or airplanes to contend with. I’m doing this race with an all-female team, mostly from Richmond.
The second is Ragnar Cape Cod. This race allocates entries based on a lottery system, and my team was lucky enough to get in. It starts in Hull, Massachusetts and ends in (where else) Cape Cod. My team for this race is a mix of my usual Richmond crew, my friend Nisha who lives in Massachusetts, and a few Ragnar friends who are coming in from Minnesota. The scariest part of this race is that I’m the captain for this team.
The third, and my most challenging, is Ragnar Pennsylvania. It starts in Lancaster and ends in the Poconos. Which are mountains. Which I will have to run up. My friend Jen is the captain of this team, and until a few weeks ago I didn’t know any of my other teammates. But at the Cherry Blossom 10-miler I was able to meet three more teammates.
So let’s talk about relay prep. It’s kind of a pain in the ass. Why? So many reasons.
There are so many shared expenses for a relay. First, one person has to register the entire team and then get reimbursed separately by each runner for his/her share. That’s a lot of hassle and coordination, and you inevitably have to hunt down one or two people for payment. And meanwhile the captain is floating the registration fee for everybody. But that’s just the beginning. Other shared expenses include hotel (depending on how far you’re going, will usually need to stay somewhere the night before the race and possibly the night after), van rental and gas. For Cape Cod, the expenses were pretty high, and I felt guilty about asking people for all that money (even though I was hardly pocketing it).
Assigning legs. It’s like a puzzle. You have 12 runners. Certain runners want/need to be in a van with certain runners. Certain runners don’t want to be in a van with certain runners. Some runners want lots of miles, some runners want light mileage, but on my teams pretty much everyone wants more miles. Some runners say they want lots of miles but then get hurt and need fewer miles. And then when you think you have everything organized just perfectly, the race changes something.
Finding replacement teammates. When you have 12 runners on a team, all of whom have bodies, families, work obligations, etc., someone is going to have to drop out. Sometimes multiple someones. This can happen months before the race (better), or on the eve of the race (way worse). These races are a significant investment of time and money, so finding replacements is not as easy as it sounds.
Team names/themes/costumes. I’m sure this is the fun part for some people. Not me. I don’t have a creative bone in my body. Plus, it’s pretty damn hard to get 12 people to agree on this sort of thing, and then ask them to spend money on it. I appreciate the desire to have it. I just suck at doing it.
Worrying about your teammates. When I get ready for a typical race, I only have to worry about myself. And boy do I worry. Is my training going well? Will I be ready to take on the distance? Will I get hurt? For a relay, I have 11 other people to worry about. It’s a lot for my poor overstressed brain. Granted, it’s not like my teams are going to be competitive so I should just let this go. Easier said than done.
I’m posting this now in part to vent my frustration, and in part as a reminder to stop and think before I ever sign up for a bunch of relays again. I think that one relay per year will be my max going forward. That is as much as my calendar, my wallet and my sanity can handle. I will just have to be sure to make it a good one.
Monday: Not a damn thing. I had planned to do some strength training, but this was when the toothache from hell (resulting in an emergency root canal on Tuesday) really took hold.
Tuesday: Felt like crap in the morning, then felt like a million dollars after my root canal and a long nap. Got in an easy 3 miles in 80 plus degree heat in the afternoon. Average pace 11:03, average HR 142.
Wednesday: Did not get home from the Passover Seder until 1 a.m. so I skipped my early morning run. Did a mini strength training session in the morning while waiting for the kids to wake up, and then squeezed in an easy two mile run in the afternoon. Average pace 10:47, average HR 140.
Thursday: Hill repeats! Managed 7 repeats this time (last week was 6). My first one was my fastest once again, but my pace did not trail off nearly as much as I did last week. Pace for the repeats was 8:17, 8:36, 8:59, 8:36, 8:49, 8:40, 8:32. Total miles 4.1, average pace 10:13, average HR 145.
Friday: Mini strength training session and 30 minutes on the stationary bike. I did the “cardio challenge” program and the bike said I did 9 miles, but I did not feel like I was pedaling at an 18mph pace. Gym equipment calibration fail most likely.
Saturday: Five miles, average pace 9:28/mile, average HR 149. I planned to make this an easy run but ended up calling it an accidental tempo run. Mile 4 (which had some downhill) was 8:55, and I can count on my hands the number of times I have run a mile under 9 minutes. It was a perfect morning for running, I was feeling good and I had not done any speed work all week, so I think my legs were just ready to push a bit. Some girls who are typically a good bit faster were out with us, and chasing them kept me motivated.
Sunday: 10 tough miles. It was HOT, around 80 degrees when we finished, and my body just isn’t used to that. But given the heat I’m proud of how I held it together. No walking or stopping except for traffic, at the SAG, and for a quick selfie with local legend Alan the Raptor, who was handing out Easter eggs with little dinosaurs inside. Average pace 10:39, average HR 140.
In the afternoon we took the family to a local state park where we did a 2.4 mile hike. Lots of stopping for pictures and inspection of woodland creatures, but by the time we were done my legs were completely dead.
Total mileage 24.1, one-cross-training workout (bike), two strength training sessions, plus 2.4 miles hiking.
I’m really happy with how this week turned out. I am a creature of habit and I don’t like having monkey wrenches thrown in my routine. I had some big ones this week but I still managed to have a solid training week. Met my goals of two strength training sessions and hill repeats. Although I still have plenty of work to do, my performance on the hill repeats was much stronger this week.
Goals for next week: Stick with at least two strength training sessions, and try to manage 20 push-ups in a row on my toes (until now I’ve maxed out around 16). Fit in at least one interval workout, probably Thursday.