Monday, July 27, 2015

2015 Ragnar Northwest Passage Relay - the Ultra Version Part 1

I was nervous. Even though we were all experienced at relays, none of had done one as an ultra team (6 people instead of the standard 12 person team). It was a very different and challenging experience.

1. Less logistics! Instead of figuring out when to expect Van 1 to the major exchange at 6, I only needed to worry about getting 6 runners and their gear to the start. After that, we were a self-contained relay mission! There was no need to worry about contacting another van. Note that we were starting at the same time as the regular Orange Ogre team. That ended up being fantastic for moral support and in my case, i got water a couple of times from Van 1 on my first 12.8 mile leg. That really helped!

2. Relay roulette. Relay courses always have some changes from year to year. That was definitely the case this year and it really affected some of the distances our runners would run. Instead of a 15 mile second leg, suddenly because of a course change, that run became 18.6 miles! We kept legs as is figuring that was just part of the fun of a relay. Ultra teams have the option to run either two legs together for 3 runs total or can run 6 times. Frankly running 6 times just seems appalling to me so we chose to do the longer runs and only run the typical 3 times. We'd heard about other ultra (and even regular teams) switching up the distances a bit so everyone on the team ran about the same amount of miles. That doesn't seem right to me as the course is what the course is and that is part of the challenge. I also think the beauty of relays is that you can have a mix of runners from those who can run much longer and those who need shorter distances.

3.  More gear. I swear we had more stuff. I think the issue is that since there was no down time, we never got a chance to ever re-pack the van. We actually had a larger van than usual but from the very first moment the relay started, it was trashed beyond belief. Everyone was losing things and we by necessity became much more communal. Really, this meant having an easy going group who all got along well was crucial.

4.  Smart runners. If a runner has problems with injury in a regular team, it's not such a big deal for another runner to cover another leg. I've done that with no problems. It becomes an issue with the ultra team. I was slated for 34 total miles. That is the most miles that I have ever run in 24 hours. Could I do more if someone had an injury and could not run? yes, probably but I'd really rather not as that is at my limit. Our lead off runner had had a calf problem a couple weeks out from the start. And on his first leg, he aggravated the calf. And after the second leg, it was swollen and bruised which is a sign of a tear. We iced and wrapped the injury and had the option to sub in runners. He really wanted to finish his legs though so carefully and sensibly made it through doing just what was necessary to finish his runs. It's no big deal in a typical race if you do hurt something and need to drop out. It's a bigger deal in an ultra relay where the team is counting on you finishing your miles.

5. Smart runners repeat. It's easy to get caught up in the competition of the relay. I had a few women come up and pass me before an exchange and ask how i was doing so close to the end of the leg. Well, it wasn't the end of my leg and i was doing just fine thanks. I kept an honest pace and ran to my abilities paying attention to fueling and hydration. I didn't need to get into a pissing contest with anyone. I figured I'd be running at just over my marathon pace and that ended up being correct for me. I was too nervous to push any harder. That meant that at 9:30 pace, i got passed by quite a few guys and some women but also passed a lot of other men and women. I ran smart and really did enjoy the rock star feeling of running through an exchange. My second leg featured an 8.1 mile first leg and then a 5.6 mile second leg (13.7 miles total!). That 8.1 is a long distance in a typical relay! I came running into the exchange and handed my handheld to WC asking for a refill of water. the volunteers started calling my team number and i said that i was an ultra. "running through?" she asked and I said, "yes." At this time someone in the crowd exclaimed, "omg, she is running two legs!" and everyone started cheering. Yeah, that was awesome.

6. No down time. This was the biggest change from teh regular team. We'd originally asked a friend to drive for this team but that friend ended up getting conscripted onto the regular team. A driver would be a really excellent thing on an ultra team. Think about this. There is always one runner. One person needs to drive and one person needs to be awake to navigate and act as "safety officer" as well as support the runner. That leaves 3 people in the van trying to get ready for their next run, recover from their last run, sleep, dig through the van, eat etc. Some people do better with less sleep etc (I'm one of those) and that meant that i did do more driving, navigating and generally monitoring for runner support. It would've been great to have one other person to drive/navigate/runner support. No down time also meant that it was hard to get into the van and dig out food, or clothing or whatever.  Typically in the regular team when the other van is running is a good time to get everythign out of the van so people can grab what they need, repack a a bit and get ready for the next round of running. An ultra team doesn't have that time.

Would I do it again? Of course! Would I have said this during the relay? No! Ha! I'm really proud of how well everyone did including me. I wish i could've been better prepared but I was as prepared as I could be given the limits of training I've had in the first part of this year. I ended up running pretty much exactly what I predicted. I suffered through my first leg because of heat and wind and lucked out with better timing and thus better temps for my two other runs.

With 4 men and 2 women who were all older, we ended up being a men's masters team and we were about 45 minutes faster than I expected. Why so much faster? When I put together the spreadsheet, i really did not want to pressure anyone and kept my timing very easy. I was pretty sure we'd be faster than expected but we'd subbed in one runner who was significantly faster. Also one runner who is notoriously hard to predict ended up running way faster than predicted.

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