Truth: a 200-mile relay is a fun weekend with some (a lot of) running in it. It’s not a running weekend with some fun in it. It’s an adventure, not a race. It can feel like a test but is really more of a lesson – a lesson spiced with laughter and exhaustion. Often, it’s a few lessons:
My thoughts as I finished my third leg of the Tuna Run 200 mile relay, last weekend: maybe I need an inspirational animal that is not an elephant (see recent post, segment about Ganesha ). I felt so heavy-footed, especially during my first run.
In the last mile of my third run, a slender, speedy male gazelle bounded past me, pausing briefly to turn to me with a friendly “nice run! Almost done!” I decided that his energetic stride would be a good attitude and speed adjustment, and couldn’t be so hard to emulate. In fact, in my mind it was similar to the stride I had just a few years ago, before marathon training shuffle-ized my gait. So finished up my 18 or so miles of the relay with that stride. It effectively picked up my pace and attitude! On Sunday my calves were more sore than usual but it was worth it. Maybe a leaping monkey mantra is what I need? Jai Hanuman! Dance on that pavement. Vanquish! FLY!
Not a good idea. But still a good idea.
As I went into this weekend, I had mixed but still positive feelings. The last remnants of a head cold were still pestering my throat, so I was annoyed in general. I was also feeling like I have the relay experience so dialed that it’s not very adventurous any more. It has parameters that have some flexibility but I find comfort in their structure. As this was relay two for this year, I was also having old-person/beat-up-athlete ideas like, “maybe staying up all night & putting unnecessary stresses on most body parts and also brain is something I should opt –or grow– out of?”
And yet I was still desiring to repeat this mostly-familiar experience. This would be in a relatively new part of the country for me, with different race organizers. The adventure would be in seeing if I can handle more barking, questionably restrained animal life, drivers who feel that a foot of clearance between a passenger-side mirror going 60 MPH and my right shoulder is a comfortable distance, and another hilarious but highly stimulating weekend with college friends. Also: the possibility of good food was real: we were headed to North Carolina: southern and full of barbecue. There will certainly be a lot of laughs and of course some running, which I love as long as it’s not 95 degrees out and there isn’t much ice underfoot.
Now that the weekend is a few days past, I’ve mostly caught up on sleep and have just a few sore parts and more warm-fuzzy feeling about relays:
Screw it, just eat something
Synching up my body’s 3-meals-a-day digestive cycle with what I believed to be proper race fueling was a delicate dance, involving these moves: I had to get up with the team at 6am, but wouldn’t run until 4pm. I would need something after my first run to intelligently recover but also something to properly (helps me run, doesn’t give me the runs or the opposite of the runs) fuel for the next run at 2am. I would repeat this all for an 8:30am run on very tired legs. It’s somewhat nerve-wracking but after too much trail mix on my last relay, it couldn’t help but pay a lot of attention to my food intake.
Plus, there was the wild card of an out-of-state relay: we could not fill up a cooler with healthy/whole food! We actually needed to sample the local food experiences, be they “snacks” at bourbon tasting rooms, strange regional fast food chains or famous barbecue joints. It’s tough! And yet: while I wasn’t blasting away any pace or distance PRs, I wasn’t sick (my cough abated just in time) and didn’t get injured or humiliated, and feel ok with my performance. Learned: Not sure. Eat what you’re hungry for.
It’s more important to relax than it is to sleep
I’ve gotten better at training my mind and body to relax, in the last year or two. In my August relay, I saw some of this success, but without this visualization: I found effective method in emulating an octopus, almost melting into the ocean floor (I hope you see the inspiration in this clip, around :31) or into a coral pocket, to camouflage itself! In coral or on the ocean floor is in a way an accurate description of the places in which a relay runner discovers herself, when the van’s rest period happens. The back of the van is more coral-like (very pokey seat belt fixtures), yet a curbside grass patch or middle-aisle of a church is a little more like an ocean floor. For “sleep two” I found a spot on burgundy carpet, amid a collection of breathing/snoring sleeping bags, strewn about among the pews and altar like sea cucumbers re-deposited into aquarium touch-tank sand.
Tuna Run Details
In case you’re interested, here’s a review of Tuna Run, a 200-mile relay race:
- It started in Raleigh and ended Atlantic Beach, North Carolina.
- It’s held in October. Weather wise, this translated into a 75 degree high, medium humidity; lows were in the high 40s. So, good weather for running in shorts but pants and a sweatshirt were needed for warmth in the night hours of the event, when not running.
- This event is independent from the Ragnar Relay race series.
- It was smaller: there were less than 100 teams. If you’re familiar with how big Ragnar races have gotten lately (421 teams at the Great River version, last August), this seems a little daunting. We wondered, “is something wrong with this event, that no one does it? Is it on single-lane country roads where we might get run over or attacked by yetis (or the southern equivalent?” Smaller roads sounds great for running from a scenery and noise standpoint It isn’t so appealing for the night running part of the relay, when you want the safe and constant support of your van throughout your run.
- However, the smaller size of this event didn’t mean that we felt more alone on the course: teams started from 6 to 10am, rather than from 6am to 3pm. I’d say the density/frequency of runners encountered on the course was similar to what I experienced this year on RRGR.
- We were a little surprised to find ourselves assigned a 7am start. We had predicted a 30-hour finish time, putting us at the finish area around 4pm if we started at a more reasonable-sounding start time of 10am. And, most of us were flying in from elsewhere in the country and some were bound to arrive very late, the prior evening. However, it was nice to not be running in potentially hot afternoon weather twice. We also enjoyed getting to the finish line more than mere minutes before the party closed down. 7am start was a great plan. The seared tuna (and barbecue fixins, and cold beer) was very good!
- Some differences in the ground rules, compared to Ragnar: at night we had to wear an additional “blinkie” light on the front of our body (in addition to reflective vest, headlamp and rear blinkie). From 12pm to 5pm the runner had to carry water. No flags were distributed, to allow for highly-visible street-crossing at exchanges. For all legs, we had to wear shirts in a very bright color, or wear a reflective vest. We didn’t experience much enforcement of these rules, but then again, we didn’t test them. Our custom-made team shirts were exceptionally bright and lately, exceptionally-bright (in “dayglo” or neon shades) has been in fashion for running wear, so we were kitted up appropriately. Also, our team t-shirt from 2 years ago was bright yellow, and several of us wore it.
- One big difference was: fewer porta-potties. Sometimes, none. As a runner, this is an alarming realization as you pull in for the first few of 18+ stops your van will make over the 2-day voyage. However! We soon learned that every single exchange (at least on van two’s route) had actual bathroom access – because every building at which an exchange was positioned was open and peopled with volunteers that were, from what we could determine, affiliated with the building. This included churches, a gathering (AA) hall, a private hog smoking operation (Barbecue! Late at night! Dudes in lawn chairs just hanging out), a Civitan ball field … maybe a school or two as well.
- Everyone –racers, volunteers, servers at restaurants– was so friendly! This isn’t in stark contrast to most other relays (6 in Minnesota, one in Kentucky and one in New Hampshire) I’ve done, but the “hi, how are you?” frequency and warmth was much stronger. Maybe it was all the church ladies? I’m thinking it was a southern thing, but our increasing proximity to beach as the relay progressed was certainly a factor in my feelings of happiness, so maybe it had effects on other people as well.
- One other suggestion the race organizers had for us, which I didn’t realize until it was all over: have your runner carry a cell phone. This was in case the runner gets lost (or possibly has an altercation with the local wild/canine life). Humorously, it was darn near impossible to get lost, as the on-route signage was good and we also received temporary tattoos with directions for each leg.I skipped carrying a phone. Luckily, I never needed it, aside from missing a great photo op or two. However! Witness the singular beauty of a van-supported relay: if your runner has an urgent need for a fresh pair of shoes (say, due to a sudden and godawful blister), you can deliver them – presuming said pair of shoes is not a pair of crocs and is in the luggage contained in the van. Note: It’s also helpful in this situation to have a sister and nurse with good blister-wrangling skills in the van, too.
We had a fine time in North Carolina, last weekend. I’m glad we did it. Maybe I’ll do another. Sleep is only overrated if you don’t have a sinus infection, right?