If you've never done a relay race, you're pretty much missing out on one of the silliest things you can do. It's silly, and you get 5 or 11 other people to do it with you. You run 196 miles together, usually 15 to 30 miles each, in just over 24 hours. And you do it while depriving yourself of sleep. Just. Plain. Crazy. But it's fun!
I would try to describe this for you, but no words can adequately explain the relay experience. It's an excuse to break all the rules.
Rule 1: Recover properly from a hard effort before giving another hard effort.
You gotta break that one or you're not giving your teammates what they deserve from you. Give your best effort for 10.9 miles. Then, 7 hours later give your best effort for 11.2 miles. Then, 5 hours later give your best effort for 12.7 miles. While your best may get progressively slower, give your teammates your best.
Rule 2: Eat well to fuel and recover from a run.
Reese cups, peanut m&ms, Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies, cookies, PB&J (okay, that's not so bad), chips, and a Clif bar or two thrown in just to give the appearance of balanced health in convenient ready to eat packages. Midway through, you're badly craving a cheeseburger or a pizza or a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit. Better yet, a cheeseburger pizza with bacon and a biscuit crust. And oddly enough, you don't want dessert when you're done with the cheeseburger pizza.
Rule 3: Sleep plenty.
How are you gonna sleep while the van is in motion and everybody is talking about directions and where the next exchange is and who's running next?
Rule 4: Warm up and cool down properly.
Yeah. There simply isn't time. You get to the next exchange just in time for your runner to get there. And you're really guessing about when he'll get there. You don't want to be out warming up when he gets to the exchange. If you warm up too early you'll get stiff again waiting. And cool down? You don't want to run after you're done with your leg and your teammates are all... "Let's get goin to the next exchange." Run hard from cold. Get in the van and get stiff. Repeat. Repeat.
Having said all of that, it's insanely gross and fun. Dudes stink anyway. But now think about this van we were in... Dudes were running hard and getting sweaty. Then, we'd get right into the van, change clothes and shoes and leave the nasty smelling shoes in the van floor. Then we'd compound that odor by having 6 dudes do the same thing. Then, we'd eat junk food which creates its own set of different odors. Now, don't shower and only use port-a-johns for 24 hours. GROSS! You gotta try this. It's so much fun.
Now... How did we do? We ran 196 miles in 24 hours, 2 minutes, and 51 seconds. That was good enough for first place ultra team and third overall. Yep. That's right. We won that. And second place was over two hours behind us, so it wasn't even close. We had people at the finish line saying... "You guys were an ultra team? And you're finished already? You started later than we did!" Yep. That's right. We're bad. And we're sore, too. :)
Here's my quick rundown of my legs on this adventure.
Leg 1: 10.9 miles
This was an extreme downhill leg. I had a net loss of 1140 feet over the first 6 miles. That was some of the most fun running I've ever done! I had to climb about 180 feet in the first mile which slowed my overall pace down, but then I let it fly on the downhills. Then, I got disoriented with about two miles to go. I didn't see any other runners or any course markings and panicked and thought I had missed a turn. So, I turned around and walked a bit. Then, I ran. Then I saw other runners so I turned around and ran like mad to the end! Even with that diversion, I averaged 6:20 pace for 10.9 miles. I only passed 3 people during this leg.
Leg 2: 11.2 miles
This leg started at 10:00 PM and the first thing I saw after getting started was a couple of dogs to chase me. Nice. But they backed off because the road was busy and cars were coming, thankfully! Running at night is neat because you see the blinking butt lights ahead and you just go and try to pick them off. Pass. Next. Pass. Next. Pass. It's pretty motivating to pass people like that. I was able to reach 6 people during this leg with the concentration coming toward the end. There was one guy who was trying to hold me off at the end. I wanted to ask him... "Are you on an ultra team?" But I didn't. That seemed... not nice. So I told him that I was very tired and he'd probably hold me off. He ran faster and I stayed with him. Then he faded and I kept going and put about 10 seconds between us. I was kinda glad that he did that because I would have mailed in that leg without his motivation.
Leg 3: 12.7 miles at 4:40 AM
Still running in the dark for this one. And fog... Man, it was foggy. I was so sore from the downhills and the fast running of the previous two legs. I really just wanted to keep a sub-8 pace. Anything faster would be gravy. Given that I wasn't warmed up, I just started at about a 7:45 pace to shake my legs out. Up ahead, I could see a light that I wasn't gaining on very quickly. So, I tried a little harder to gain on him. When I did, I didn't blow by. I was toast and not feeling it on this run. I asked him if he wanted to work together for a bit, and he did. We ran pretty much 7:00 miles for about 4 miles before he faded. That was very nice to have some company. I just tried to hold on to that pace for as long as I could. The last section was uphill and my pace slowed way too much. I averaged about 7:30 for this leg. Very disappointing, but it was all I had given the sleep deprivation. Really, I'm convinced that the sleep deprivation contributes more to poor performance than the previous hard efforts. The good news... Even with that slow pace I was able to pick off 35 runners on this leg! Too fun!
Do a relay some time. It's an experience.