This past Saturday I participated in my very first relay race - the 20in24 Relay Challenge in Philadelphia. The race raised money for Back on My Feet, an amazing non-profit that “promotes the self-sufficiency of homeless populations by engaging them in running as a means to build confidence, strength and self-esteem.”
You can read about the race details and my original training plan here. Yes – so that was my plan…but due to a sore arch, an intense summer class, a two week vacation and then two weeks of catching up on sleep from vacation, my plan went straight out the window.
When I woke up on Saturday morning, I quickly realized how truly unprepared I was. In the month leading up to the race, I calculated that I ran less miles than I was doing that day total. I had never run in 90 degree weather…or completed two long runs in less than 8 hours (the runs on my one 2-a-day training day were about 10 hours apart and much shorter distances). I had no idea what to eat before since I was starting at 11am (I never run that late in the day). Or eat inbetween…due to my lack of 2-a-days. I had never met 3 of the 4 team members. And I hadn’t looked at the course map (I’ve run the Kelly Drive loop before, but not by myself, and only in the opposite direction). To say I was unprepared is an understatement.
But somehow, none of that mattered. Honestly, I loved the race from the moment I arrived. It was definitely the coolest and most relaxed atmosphere and crowd I’ve ever seen at a race. It reminded me of going to a concert with lawn seats, camping and a summer picnic all at once. All day long music was blasting, food and drinks were being served, and families and friends were gathered together relaxing and cheering on their team. It was also amazing to be there among the ultra marathoners (aka the Lone Rangers). The guy who set last year’s record of 146.28 miles was there to win again. Once it hit me that I’d be running alongside him and others like him, my 16.8 miles suddenly didn’t seem so bad.
The Philly Phanatic greeted us upon arrival in front of Lloyd Hall, which was the location of the starting line, the finish line, food, refreshments, bathrooms and “home” for the night to many of the 3- and 4- loop relay teams. These teams set up air mattresses and sleeping bags in order to rest between runs since they would most likely be there for the full 24 hours.
Other teams and many of the ultra-marathoners’ families set up tents on the grounds surrounding Lloyd Hall.
My own team consisted of myself, my brother, and three friends of my brother’s who thankfully joined at the last-minute when a few others dropped out. We also had a team captain who volunteered at the race and cheered us on all day. Prior to the race, most of us had only met through emails and we had only figured out the race order a few days before. So again, “unprepared” was pretty much the theme of the day.
At around 10am the first group of relay runners and Lone Rangers took off. It was HOT. As in 92 degrees and humid. Our first runner, Claire, was amazing and managed to finish in just a little over an hour.
Around 11am it was my turn. There was no passing of a baton or special sendoff – just a quick wave and I was on my own! Literally. For the first mile there wasn’t another person with a number in sight. And not looking at the course map? Not such a great idea. I had to ask about three people on bikes if I was going in the right direction!
So for the next 7.4 miles, I listened to my music, enjoyed the scenery and chatted with some other runners. It was unbearably hot, so I made sure to stop at every rest stop to drink Gatorade and pour water on myself. I also took advantage of the ice-cold towels being handed out and placed them on my neck. Throughout the loop I walked about 5 times for 30 seconds to a minute. According to my Garmin, I ran 8.53 miles (I guess I took the scenic route?) in 1:27:11 for an average pace of 10:13. I was extremely happy with this time.
When I returned, I was greeted by two of my teammates while our third runner, Carolyn, took off. This would be Greg and Jason (my brother).
Not exactly Lone Rangers yet…but maybe someday?
After my first lap, I went back to my brother’s apartment to shower, change into race outfit #2, and eat some lunch. I had half a whole wheat bagel (brought to Philly fresh from NYC by my brother’s girlfriend – thanks Marci!), with avocado, tomato and honey mustard. After eating this, in the hours before my next run, I also had half a Philly pretzel, raisins, coconut water, 1 banana, some almond butter and a date. Basically carbs + sugars + electrolytes.
I returned to the race and geared up for lap #2. This lap was both harder and easier at various points. I went back and forth between feeling amazing and completely sick. Again, the plan was to run slowly, listen to my music and take in the gorgeous views. While I was cursing the sun for the heat it was creating, it happened to make the views of the Schuylkill River gorgeous. I might be able to fall in love with running in Philly after all. It will never compare to my beloved Central Park, but it’s definitely growing on me. I finished the second loop in 1:28:20, just a minute slower than my first loop. I couldn’t believe that I had just run 17 miles in one day. I was so happy that my body felt fine and there were no injuries that I didn’t care than I had just run the slowest I’ve ever run in my life :)
Jason, on the other hand, was not so lucky. He managed to get a blister on the bottom of his foot that had to be looked at by the medical team. Next to him in the tent was a female Lone Ranger who had finished 3 loops (27+ miles) and was getting her feet wrapped up to continue on. It was great talking to her and learning what led her to running this race. Basically, she ran one marathon, loved it, and wanted to see how much further she could push herself. Pretty crazy.
Around 10:15pm, Jason took off as our final runner in the relay. He finished in about 1:16, which was amazingly a few minutes faster than his first loop.
Finally at 11:45pm, after 14 hours and 84 miles, we gathered together at bar close by and celebrated with a few drinks. There was already talk about next year’s race. We’re thinking 3 loops and a tent…
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