A week ago at this time, I was trying to rest up some, in a mustachioed van, before I started running my second leg of the Ragnar Madison-Chicago 200 mile (approximate) Relay through a very dark, very starry sky somewhere in rural Wisconsin. Now, with my legs propped up, horrible TV on in the background for noise, and from the comfort of my in-laws’ home the night before *another* race weekend, I can finally catch my breath and tell you all about last weekend’s running adventure.
You might recall that I did Ragnar 2012 with a bunch of perfect strangers and that my only “connection” on the team I met for the first time as we were loading up our suburbans for the trek north. This year’s Ragnar stranger round-up was a little less awkward. Of the nine other people on my team, I had only met two others once before in real life (having run with Mere for about 11 miles out in Barrington in February and later that morning, meeting AB in the Barrington High School parking lot for about 30 seconds), yet when AB posted on twitter that she wanted a female “competitive” runner to fill-out her Ragnar team, I told her I was in… and then asked what “competitive” meant.
Anyway, our 10-person team of awesome carried on the legacy that is the San Diego Yogging Club, a team that has been around, in some iteration, for at least the past five years, even predating #ragnarchi to its predecessor race (whose name I can’t recall… MC 200, perhaps?). Some of the teammates had been part of the SDYC family for a few years, and the rest of us were new to the Channel 4 newsteam. (And if you don’t get the references, watch Anchorman again, and it’ll all come flooding back. Promise).
Come Friday afternoon, after a fun night with Colin, Justin, Casey, and later, Chris and Tim, and a morning fire drill at the hotel, the rest of the SDYC, AB, Meredith, Scot, and Liane, and we got to the start, took some awesome pictures, and sent off Meredith as our lead runner. This year’s weather was approximately a million times better than that of 2012, though during the daytime on Friday, it was still a bit steamy… but again, in comparison, nothing.
Being in van 1 this year meant that after the start, we had to hustle over to our exchanges quickly, especially since our team was pretty swift. My first leg was my shortest, just shy of 3 miles, and once I got my pace under control (after going out too quickly and then, randomly, having to stop to tie my shoe), it was a fine run, just a bit boring (country roads) and warm (it was around 3, I think). Best pic ever of me running came from this shot that AB scored of me handing off the “baton” to Casey (or, me almost running the poor guy over. Holy brakes, batman!).
We had a good amount of downtime between our first and second legs, so after we did the hand-off to van 2, we ventured to get real food (Noodles & Co.), wherein AB set an amazing PR in fashion.
Our second legs weren’t until after dark, which meant that it was time to break out all the required safety gear–a reflective vest, a headlamp, and a tail light–and not think too much about the fact that we were all running essentially in near-pitch-darkness, in a rural area, on a path through a forest preserve/trail area, where there are bears that can smell the menstruation. My leg didn’t start until close to midnight, and didn’t finish until after midnight, so I guess I can now disingenuously say that I have run overnight before. As with 2012, though, this overnight leg was my favorite (and fastest) one, no doubt thanks to the cooler temperatures and the novelty of running under a dark and starry sky.
We didn’t have a huge gap of time between legs 2-3 like we did between legs 1-2, and before we knew it, we were off and running again. My third leg started as the sun was rising, around 5am, through some country roads, and by then, we were finally beginning to catch-up to, and pass, other runners and teams who had begun several hours before us. Though we were competitive, we weren’t really into making a public declaration of announcing how many “kills” we had (though some of us did try to keep track). Really, it was just fun to be able to run in the presence of other runners because for most of our/my earlier legs, we were the only ones out there for most of our miles. About two miles into my four mile leg here, I could begin to feel that my stomach was getting wonky, and I contemplated pulling over to take care of business in someone’s woods (yard?) or just seeing what would happen if I waited.
Suffice it to say that I’m glad my run was only 4 miles long and that the GI distress didn’t set in until I was more than halfway done.
Between legs 3 and 4 marked the beginning of some nasty GI thing I had going on, perhaps due to the frequency of running in 12 hours, the mileage I had accrued by then (10 seems to be the lucky number for my GI to kick in and give me a ‘fuck you’), or because of what I was eating (lots of simple carbs and sugars) in relation to when I was running (probably too much, too soon). At any rate, I was still able to keep up a sub-8 average on my leg 3, closer to my 10k pace (but still a little slower), so despite the beginning of some GI catastrophe, I was happy, and beginning to get tired. My longest run (6 miles) was waiting for me on what I thought was my final leg.
We finally had a healthy amount of downtime between legs 3 and 4, so we got over to a Denny’s in Gurnee, (in Illinois by this point), and tried not to pass out. Some of us were more successful than others.
We probably hung out at this exchange for at least a couple hours on Saturday morning, which gave us plenty of time to try to relax, stretch, rest, and fantasize about almost being done. The most I had slept was about 90 minutes, and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to sleep any longer, but I was feeling pretty well overall: just tired. And probably sleepy. I didn’t want to think that my hardest leg was probably ahead of me, since it was my last one AND the longest, but it was *only* 6 miles… as I told myself…
Before I knew it, and after several (a lot… like, a lot a lot) rounds of GI “fuck you”-ing, I was off on my penultimate jaunt… penultimate because in the time that I was waiting to start, Chris, another (super incredibly holyshit fast) Yogger got injured on his leg and wasn’t able to do his final leg from Glencoe-Evanston. I told him/the SDYC that I’d be up for covering for him, since my total mileage on the relay was originally only around 16 and change. Fortunately, I knew before I started leg 4 that I still had another 5 miles after my North Chicago-Lake Forest run, so I could try to plan and pace myself accordingly.
I worked in Lake Forest for my first two years post-college and was familiar with the area, which made it kinda cool to be running through it years later (sidenote: I started this whole marathoning jig when I was working at Lake Forest in 2007, so to be back here, in the same year that I’m going to be running my 20th marathon this fall, made it kinda cool and nostalgic). I felt pretty ok on this run, but the lack of sleep was definitely beginning to show. I really didn’t want to throw down any 8 minute+ miles, because I hadn’t yet, and fortunately, I was able to hang on. Having an impromptu water stop from my van was also pretty badass and way unexpected. 🙂
After my fourth leg, I had about an hour to recoup before getting shuffled over to Van 2 to get ready to do my final final leg from Glencoe-Evanston, which was my final leg last year, coincidentally. A good runnerd friend of mine, David, lives in the Glencoe/Evanston area, so he managed to squeak over and say hi before I had to get back to van 2 and get ready to run again. David saw me after my final leg last year in Evanston, so it was cool to repeat that new-found tradition this year as well 🙂
I knew leg 5, through Evanston, would be challenging because of the mileage (just under 5 miles, but putting me over 21 for the relay), but also because the route is damn confusing, based on my experiences there last year. To be safe, I actually tore the running directions out of the Ragnar handbook, so I’d always know where to turn, and despite my best intentions, I *still* managed to somehow botch things.
There were always runners ahead of me, until one time, there weren’t.
I kept going, following the instructions I had, until things began not seeming right, and no one was in front of me, and the only guy who was behind me told me he was just following me.
Well, at the end of the day, I cut-off about .9 of the 4.9 mile course, but my new buddy got me on the right direction. This was my only leg of the entire relay where I threw down a couple 8-minute+ miles thanks to fatigue (of course) but also due to getting stopped by stoplights and cars (drag). I couldn’t believe I had messed up my final route of the relay, even though I FREAKING HAD THE DIRECTIONS WITH ME AND WAS FOLLOWING THEM, but I later learned that there was some construction (or something) on the course that made following the directions unwise. Ah well.
Once we all got to Montrose Ave beach, we had just a few minutes to spare before our fearless and crazyfast captain Yogger, Colin, came barrelling in. Unlike last year, it was badass to have our entire team there, ready and stoked (though very, very tired) to take the obligatory post-race pictures, get the free beers and pizzas, and try not to fall asleep standing or sitting up.
It was a big deal.
This year’s relay was a really fun and positive experience. Since it was just over a month after Eugene, I didn’t really do anything in the way of training specifically for it; I just tried to maintain a base of 35 mpw, but in the absence of any formal or super-structured speedwork. Should I do this (or another) relay in the future, I’d definitely want to include some sort of structured speed as part of my training; I didn’t this time around just because I was in Eugene recovery (read: no speed allowed) for a self-imposed 4 solid weeks. It was a really awesome experience though, and we even fared pretty well as a team: 33rd/448 teams, 13th in our division. Not bad.
Post-relay, I’ve been feeling well, just tired, and I think it took my body a good couple days to get caught up on sleep and to begin feeling normal again. My quads were pretty fatigued on Saturday afternoon and Sunday, but I was able to casually run again on Monday and Tuesday of this week without consequence (besides more GI issues… eff off, digestive system). It’s funny; in the recent past, I have felt less tired after a marathon than after a relay. I would run marathons way more frequently than I would run relays. I think the combination of sleep deprivation, trying to run at pace, and figuring out nutrition (and ensuring my GI system doesn’t implode) puts way more stressors on my body than just running at MP for 26.2 miles in the confines of <4 consecutive hours.
…but maybe that’s just me.
Next up for me is a 15k tomorrow morning in Rockford, wherein my only goal is to have a new PR by the morning’s end, only because my only other 15k was when I raced at about 16 weeks pregnant. I’ve still got a few more weeks before I’ll commence training for Chicago and NYC, so until then, it’ll just be more fun running and racing (after the 15k, but before marathon training begins [I think] is a 10k).