ilanarama: me, The Other Half, Moab UT 2009 (marathon)
[personal profile] ilanarama
This past weekend (well, Friday and Saturday) I participated in my very first long-distance overnight team relay. These races have become quite popular, and now there is one nearly every week in a different part of the US. I was invited to join a group of friends from an online running forum (some who I'd met in person before, most of whom I hadn't) to run Reach the Beach, a 201-mile relay across New Hampshire from Bretton Woods ski resort to Hampton Beach.

This would be the sixth year for Team Chocolate Mile, a term which refers to, shall we say, a runner failing to reach the porta-potty in time. (Raunchy and humorous team names are a tradition at these races. Others I saw included "Reach the Bathroom", "Testicular Fortitude", "Fuster Clucks", and "E. Norma Snockers".) This year Team Chocolate Mile fielded teams in two divisions, a 12-person "Full Size" and 6-person "Fun Size" team.

logo magnet to slap on other vans

(The first picture is the logo that appears on our team shirts, though we didn't make any this year; the second is the small magnet that we slapped onto other teams' vans, which again is apparently a tradition at this race.)

The way this race works is that the course is divided into 36 legs, so with a 12-person team, each person runs three legs; the team is further divided across two vans, so those in the first van run the first six legs, then drive to the start of leg 13 to rest while the runners in the second van run legs 7-12. Runner 12 hands off the 'baton' (actually a reflective slap-bracelet) to runner 1, and the whole procedure repeats for legs 13-18, and so on. A 6-person (ultra) team does the same thing, only each person runs six legs and doesn't get any rest other than what they can grab in the van while someone else is running. Needless to say, I volunteered for the regular team, considering that each ultra-team member would run in ~20 hours more than I have run for any one week in the past three months!

Each team (out of over 500!) is assigned a starting time in waves according to the time estimate each person has given for their current 10K pace, in reverse order so that the slowest teams started at 6 a.m. and the fastest teams at 3:30pm. Our ultra team started at 11:15, so we all cheered Annie, their first runner, as she took off; our first runner on the 'full size' team, Ron, took off at noon along with the first runner from nine other teams. The first leg was completely ridiculous, basically straight up the ski resort hill and then straight back down, with the first exchange only fifty yards or so from the start, so the atmosphere at the base was like a huge party, with teams hanging out waiting for their runner and cheering everyone who ran by. The second leg was a loop along the Nordic trails that ended on the other side of the parking lot, so after cheering as Ron handed off to Aimee, we all walked over there to cheer the exchange from Aimee to Sully, then headed back to our van to drive to the next transition.

start at Bretton Woods
The start, taken by Dave (a runner on our ultra team) who also took the photo of the finish at the bottom.

I was runner #6, the last runner in our van. My first leg was the longest of the whole relay, 10.9 miles along a scarily-busy state highway, and though the elevation chart shows that it's net downhill there were some evil uphills. It was also in the hottest part of the afternoon - I took the hand-off at 2:20pm - and ugh, running in 80°F is freaking miserable. There was some shade during the middle third of the leg, which improved things immensely, but the last several miles were in direct sun which was seriously hellish. I carried my hand-held water bottle with a weak Gatorade-and-water mix, and I had arranged with my team that they would stop to give me water somewhere around mile 6, but still, ugh.

By the time our team started, the separation between waves had increased from fifteen minutes to half an hour, and the runners in our wave had spread out during the five legs before mine. As a result, I saw only one other runner, a tall bearded guy in the distance ahead of me, who I very slowly gained on and finally passed shortly before getting my extra water from the van. (Most teams had arranged to support their runners on this leg, and so I saw lots of team vans, all of whom cheered me on and a few of whom even offered me water.)

Finally I arrived at the transition area to hand off to Kate, our next runner. She was the first runner of the second van, so all twelve people on our team were there. As it happened, that day was my birthday, and my teammates had organized everyone waiting at the transition area - maybe forty people - to sing "Happy Birthday" as I ran in! It was awesome! Then I collapsed on the grass with a bottle of water.

I'm much better at racing than at time-trialing, that is, I run faster when I am chasing other runners or trying to avoid being passed, but I was still able to maintain a pretty good pace on this leg:
Time	Distance	Split pace	Avg. HR 	Max. HR 	Elev. chg.
00:08:04.12	1	08:04.12	150 (76%)	158 (82%)	-110
00:16:28.17	2	08:24.04	158 (82%)	163 (86%)	-46
00:25:00.17	3	08:32.00	161 (85%)	166 (89%)	-38
00:33:25.84	4	08:25.67	163 (87%)	167 (90%)	-65
00:41:43.44	5	08:17.60	163 (87%)	170 (93%)	-57
00:49:59.25	6	08:15.80	165 (89%)	170 (93%)	-62
00:58:06.29	7	08:07.04	167 (91%)	172 (95%)	-42
01:06:16.66	8	08:10.37	169 (92%)	174 (96%)	-52
01:14:36.27	9	08:19.60	170 (93%)	174 (97%)	-36
01:23:27.59	10	08:51.32	171 (94%)	178 (100%)	-18
01:32:13.60	10.95	09:11.26	172 (95%)	176 (98%)	-11

Note that the percentages of heart rate reserve are a little misleading because 178 is my max HR at my usual running elevation of ~6600; my max at sea level (and near there) is higher. Also, my last split includes maybe 30 seconds lying on the ground drinking water and catching my breath before I remembered to shut off my Garmin! Average pace was 8:23, which I'm quite happy with.

With the end of my leg, our van was off until the six people in van 2 ran their legs. We drove to a restaurant the group called Joseph's Spaghetti Shed just in time for its 4:30pm opening, and had an excellent dinner and some beers to wash it down. (Clearly this place was well-known, as there were several other RtB teams at other tables!) Then we drove to transition area #12, where Kim, the last runner from the second van, would hand off to Ron for his second leg.

This transition area was a middle school, where the kids were selling food and drinks to raise money for a class trip. We got hot drinks and went out on the lawn to watch the runners coming in; by now it was dark, and runners were wearing the race-required headlamps, safety vests, and blinking lights, so it was quite colorful. We were in touch with the other van by group text message, and knew Kim wouldn't be coming in for a couple of hours yet, and I was kind of tired, so I went to the van to doze a little and get away from the conversation (which was wonderful, but still, I was ready for some alone time). I returned to the lawn in time to greet my van 2 teammates and watch the hand-off to Ron...and then we were off again.

The nighttime legs were quite a bit different from the daytime ones. During the day, we could easily identify our runner as we drove by in the van, and would hoot and holler and cheer; at night, we could only see who it was when we were very close, and anyway, we were supposed to be quiet in residential areas at night, so we just waved out the window instead of cheering. The route now wound through neighborhoods on narrow roads, and whichever of our runners was taking his turn at the wheel (we had two, who traded off) had to be extra cautious. These legs were also fairly hilly - but at least it wasn't hot! The humidity was still pretty bad, though, and each of our runners came in completely soaked in sweat.

It was well after midnight when we arrived at the transition area where I would start my second leg, leg #18. I was glad I'd gotten an hour of rest earlier! I drank a little tea, hit the bathroom, put my headlamp and blinky vest on, then went to hang out at the transition and wait for Andy, the guy with the leg ahead of mine. Runners came in and passed their batons to their teammates - or at least, that was how it was supposed to go. Since it was dark and nobody could see their teammates other than as flashing lights, sometimes the leg 12 runner wasn't ready, and everyone at the transition area would start calling out the team name or the runner name ("Jerome! Jerome! Get your ass over here!") until Jerome shamefacedly ran to the start, grabbed the baton, and took off running.

Fortunately for us, Andy had two very distinctive blinky vests, one of which he loaned out to those of us who didn't have our own, and one of which he was wearing. We could see the red blinking V from far enough away that I was ready when he came in to the transition, and I took off 1:38am.

Running at night was a mostly-new experience for me, as the only other time I had done so was a Christmas-lights run in town with my club. Dark rural roads were a whole different adventure. My segment had a lot of streetlights in the first half, which was good because I had opted for my lightweight headlamp instead of my bright headlamp. But after that, all I could see were the blinking lights of other runners ahead of me, and the blinding headlights of oncoming cars (my least favorite part of the whole thing).

At least there were a lot more runners around me now. I was catching up to the slower runners who had started much earlier, while the fast guys who had started later were catching me. The relay term for passing someone is a "kill"; I killed five runners (including Jerome!) and was killed by three. I was almost passed by one more, but just as I noticed the headlamp light coming over my shoulder, we started going up the last long hill, and he couldn't keep up with me on the uphill.

Did I mention there was an uphill? Because there was an uphill. Like, the whole second half of my 5.8 miles except for a bit at the very end:
Time	Distance	Split pace	Avg. HR	  Max. HR	Elev. chg.
08:00.03	1	08:00.03	149 (74%)	163 (86%)	-37
15:49.38	2	07:49.35	161 (85%)	164 (88%)	-21
24:06.94	3	08:17.55	163 (87%)	166 (89%)	69
32:30.65	4	08:23.72	162 (86%)	165 (88%)	89
41:37.53	5	09:06.88	164 (88%)	167 (90%)	167
47:19.11	5.76	07:31.05	165 (88%)	170 (93%)	-81

My average pace was 8:02, which again I was pleased with, especially considering the hill and the fact that I was running at more or less 2am.

Needless to say, when I finished at something short of 2:30am, I was completely wiped. I piled into the van and Sully drove us to the #24 transition area, which was a state park. We pulled in close to our ultra team's van; they had sent us a message earlier that one of their runners had had hamstring trouble and decided she couldn't finish, and the rest of them had opted to drop out at this halfway mark rather than continue without her (which would mean extra running for three of them). An area was set up with tents to sleep in, first come first serve, but it was totally filled. Andy had a tarp and sleeping bag and sacked out in a field, and the rest of us stretched out in the van and tried to sleep for a few hours while the van 2 runners did their second legs. I don't remember sleeping at all, but then I opened my eyes and it was getting light and people were talking, so I must have dozed a bit. When we got the text message that Kim was underway, Ron put his running clothes and shoes on, and we all went down to the transition area.

It was expected to get hot again, so we envied Ron his leg in the cool foggy morning. At the #26 transition, I got some breakfast from the fire station benefit table: $5 got me coffee, yogurt, pancakes, and sausage. Our runners handed off the baton to each other. We drove in the van. I felt kind of woozy - I think we all did!

Finally, just before noon, it was time for my last leg, only 3.1 miles and downhill-to-flat. It was something like 80°F again, but at least I didn't have as far to run as I did the first time. I grabbed the baton from Andy, slapped it around my wrist, and took off. I passed seven runners and was passed by four - the last at the very end, a younger woman zooming by, her blonde ponytail flapping. It was a faster 5K than the one I ran in April despite having already run nearly 17 miles already in the past 24 hours, but at 24:12 and a 7:43 average pace it was still nowhere near my usual time for the distance:
Time	Distance	Split pace	Avg. HR 	Max. HR	Elev. chg.
07:52.65	1	07:52.64	151 (77%)	185 (106%)	-48
15:25.35	2	07:32.70	171 (94%)	184 (106%)	-31
23:13.14	3	07:47.79	172 (95%)	185 (106%)	7
24:11.91	3.14	07:04.67	171 (94%)	176 (98%)	0

I felt that this was decently paced and as fast as I could possibly have run, considering everything, and the consistent HR suggests to me it was a solid effort.

As soon as I recovered, we drove to the finish at Hampton Beach. The finish area had a burrito bar and a beer tent, so we loaded up on recovery fuel and joined our ultra team, who were already there, to wait for our second van to finish the final six legs. Finally we got the text that Kim had started the final leg, and so we went down to the beach so that we could join her to run the last hundred yards or so to the finish line, where we all got medals.

last stretch

(As of this writing, we don't appear in the official results - there might have been a mix-up with our ultra team dropping out - so I can't give our final team time for running the entire course. We finished in something between 27.5 and 28 hours, which should put us in about 65th to 70th place out of around 500 teams that finished. I think we placed 2/5 in the "mixed submaster" (at least 6/12 women and everybody over 30) division, though that's a bit deceptive because the "mixed open" division (all ages including under 30) is 185 teams, and we'd be about 15th.)

Overall, this was a great experience, though I can't see myself doing this kind of race multiple times a year, like some of the people on our team. I'm not a fan of sleep deprivation, and the busy roads of this race course were not that pleasant to run on. The team aspect was a lot of fun, though sometimes my introverted side just wanted more quiet alone time than I could get in a van with five other rowdy people. The race organization was fantastic, and the van organization was fantastic as well - I have to say, it was definitely a plus that I was doing it with a team that had the logistics pretty well wired. And it surprised me that I was able to run pretty darn hard (for me) under these tough conditions. In conclusion:



ilanarama: me, The Other Half, Moab UT 2009 (Default)

August 2017

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My running PRs:

5K: 21:03 (downhill) 21:43 (loop)
10K: 43:06 (downhill)
10M: 1:12:59
13.1M: 1:35:55
26.2M: 3:23:31

You can reach me by email at heyheyilana @


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