Two summers ago, a friend of mine invited me to run a relay race. 200 miles between 12 friends through the beautiful high Oregon desert? Sure, sounds great! I’ll definitely run Cascade Lakes Relay with you. Fast forward to the actual race. 3 of the 12 had dropped out. Now it’s 200 miles between 9 people. I end up running 4 legs too quickly for 28.2 miles total, hurting myself, and taking a week off from running amidst a marathon training cycle. So when I see a tweet like this:
I think long and hard about how I hurt myself back in August 2011. In case you are terrible at math, November 4th, 2013 was 8 days ago. It was a Monday.
On Tuesday, Megan from nuun emailed me with details about the race.
On Wednesday, Megan got back to me assuring me the team of 11 women was okay having a smelly boy tag along. I asked them if they were axe murderers or kidnappers. They claimed they weren’t so I bought a plane ticket to Las Vegas.
On Thursday, I told you all about this adventure and then hopped on a plane to Vegas. Late that evening, my teammates found me in the lobby of the Luxor by screaming as loud as they could, “MATT! WHERE ARE YOU???” It was then I knew this adventure would be excellent.
On Friday, I was running.
How are we going to recap 187 miles through the Vegas desert, mostly in the dark? Let’s start with some general reflections on the race experience then talk about my legs for those that care (because that part will be borinnnngggg).
First off, I felt a bit weird going into a relay sponsored by two companies (nuun and Pro Compression) whose products I had never tried. I’m super picky about both compressions socks and nutrition. So I was all like, “Well, if I hate them, I just won’t talk about them in my recap.” And here I am, talking about them in my recap.
nuun always seemed like a weird product for me: as a marathon runner turned long-course triathlete, I’m trying to shove ever more calories into my body. A drink with no calories seems totally unreasonable. But you know what, nuun tastes pretty freaking good and there are enough flavors that you never get that ohmygod I canNOT put this in my mouth again feeling. I’m still poking around for my favorite flavor, but it has found a place in my routine already. I got home from a recovery run last night, drank a glass of my current recovery drink, a glass of chocolate milk (insert all the self-loathing here), and, wouldn’t you know it, a glass of nuun. It’s refreshing and replaces electrolytes. What’s not to like? Go buy some for 20% off and (currently) free shipping with the code ragnarvegas.
As for compression socks, my single requirement for a successful experience is that when I put them on, some of my nagging lower-body soreness/injuries magically disappear. Pro Compression passed this test easily. Plus they handily win the “badass sock” competition. Get ’em for 40% with free shipping (so like really really cheap for a good pair of compression socks) with the code nuunpc.
Back to the race. Man oh man, I had never run on a sponsored relay team before. nuun has a reputation for having out-of-hand fun relay teams, but I verified that this was a good idea with a few friends who had run with them before. And they did not disappoint. In fact, by bringing Pro Compression on as a co-sponsor, they knocked this one out of the park. The socks we got were not only fantastic compression socks, they quickly became the more coveted items on the internet:
Anyway, I know 99.99% of the internet hates the inside-relay-team-joke, so I’m going to avoid story time (even though we had some good stories, right Zoe?!). We’re going to bullet point some reactions I had to this experience:
- It definitely says something about the running community that nuun can recruit 11 people off the internet and I enjoy hanging with every single one of them. Nicole, Kelsey, Sandy, Caroline, Zoe, Vanessa, Hyla, Sara, Brie, Jenny, and Brennan were all incredibly people with incredible stories. It was an honor to spend 27 hours and 57 minutes with them.
- That being said, I’ve been extremely fortunate to run my last two relays with a group of people who were all friends before the start of the race. I’m used to a situation to where we cheer each other on not just because we have a common goal, but because we have somewhat of a common life. If you ever get a chance to run a relay like that, run don’t walk to that experience. Going from that to part of a team where no one really knew each other beforehand was a little disappointing. There were some things that I think would have better fostered inter-van camaraderie—everyone being at the start line when Nicole started Leg 1, having a strongly suggested pre-race dinner/beer meet-up, etc. etc. Van 1 and Van 2 individually became inseparable friends, but the inter-van love took a long time to develop. I didn’t even know Vanessa has basically the craziest life story of all time until Saturday night after we were done running! I wanted to get to know Van 1 so much more than I ended up knowing them. But I guess that’s what the next relay is for, right nuun/Pro Compression?!
- I came to a strange realization when showering after the end of the race: my van didn’t smell. Like at all. 6 sweaty humans in a van for almost 28 hours. And no stench. This, my friends, is a perk of running with women.
- I saw a port-o-potty after it was aflame. I also set my own person record for port-o-potty use during a relay. DP would have been VERY proud.
- I think I might have OD’d on nuun. This is likely the explanation for why I, the only male on the team, had to pee twice as frequently as the woman who was three freaking months pregnant.
- Oh on that topic, Brie is one of the biggest badasses I’ve ever met. She ran three months pregnant, with far less complaining than I did. Well that last one isn’t that impressive, but she definitely was like “nbd I’ll just go crush these miles lugging a second human with me.”
- nuun tattoos are very difficult to get off.
- #keepittight is one of the most fun hashtags I’ve come across.
- I am so happy I got to run a relay this year. Huge huge thanks to nuun/Pro Compression for putting this team together and making us feel like celebrities out there. Though being male, I likely won’t have this opportunity again for quite some time, I will personally yell at each and every one of you women if you don’t try to run a relay with them. I wanted to give Megan and Zoe a billion hugs after the race for all they did, but decided I didn’t really want to get slapped/arrested or anything.
- On to the running recap…
Friday, 6:30PM, Leg 8: 6.6mi, -530ft, 39:40 (6:00 min/mi)
Gear: Oiselle Distance shorts, t-shirt, Pro Compression socks, Adidas Adios, reflective vest, headlamp
Race guide said this was 6.6mi downhill on paved roads. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t paved. This was almost entirely on a gravel shoulder or on some of the worst gravel trails I’ve ever run on. In the dark. With no street lights. Only blinding car headlights. At one point a volunteer was advising, “Stay right! Stay right!” I didn’t have time to get right, but I did have enough time to look down and see a 3 foot drop where the trail was washed out. Yum!
Anyway, it was a fun leg. A high school runner started maybe a minute in front of me. I took off after him quickly (read: my first mile was 5:20). I latched onto him after about 1.5 miles and we kept making little moves to try to break each other. On the trails, we weren’t really going that quickly, so it was mostly just a game of chicken (as in who was willing to risk injury to win). Finally we got to sidewalks for the last mile at which point I took off for the victory. Anytime I beat a high schooler in his post-cross country season form, I’m happy.
Fun fact: my 10k PR is (embarrassingly) 37:08. According to Strava, I ran a 37:07 10k during this leg. I’ll take it! PR CITY! But it did make my butt hurt. A lot.
Saturday, 2:03AM, Leg 20: 3.1mi, -300ft, 17:21 (5:33 min/mi)
Oh man I was chomping at the bit for this leg pre-race. Even though I’ve done speed work exactly once since May, could I top my 16:35 5K PR because of the elevation profile alone?? Well, my pre-race excitement turned into in-race “Can I even run?” as I felt abysmal after my first leg. I’d been feeling a bit sick all week last week and had been waiting for the other shoe to drop. And drop it did after my first leg. I felt super feverish, couldn’t stop shivering no matter how hot the van was (and boy did it get hot in there) or how many layers I put on. My head was killing me and I wanted to vomit at every exchange.
I pounded nuun like it was my job hoping it would have some sort of anti-sickness properties, picked at a dinner of over-dressed chicken Caesar salad at Applebee’s (my first Applebee’s experience!), and drank a ginger ale (which Captain Ron [yes we had a Captain Ron] asked the waitress to instill with healing properties). It made my chills subside somehow, though I still didn’t feel great. But how often do you get a downhill 5K? Never? Okay, let’s do this.
I came out of the exchange hard, hitting the mile in 5:20 (again). It was in the high 40s and I was sweating my (barely covered) ass off, cursing my decision to wear arm warmers. At the halfway point, I slowed a bit as I passed two runners with a surprising amount of 2AM oncoming traffic to avoid. Came through the 2 mile mark just under 11 minutes. Not a stellar second mile, but if I’m finally loose and if close around 5:10, I still could PR. Just keep it together!
Yeah, I didn’t keep it together. The cold air combined with my first hard effort in almost a year set my lungs on fire. The nagging injuries in my right thigh popped up a bit more prominently. And I mentally gave up. I’m not a short-distance guy. I have no fast-twitch muscle fibers. Why do I have to try to PR here? It’s 2 in the fucking morning. Just jog it in. In other news, I hate my brain.
Well third mile was ~5:45 and I finished the 5K in 17:21. Hey, it’s my nighttime 5K PR. PR CITY!!!
Saturday, 11:42AM, Leg 32: 7.65mi, 633ft, 53:09 (6:57 min/mi)
Gear: Oiselle Stride short, singlet, Pro Compression socks, Adidas Adios, handheld bottle
A run in daylight?!? Oh my god that sounds amazing. Wait, the sun is so strong it feels like it’s actually burning a hole through my body? Oh that’s less fun. First half of this run was a mind fuck. You’re running up this gradual incline on a dead-straight paved bike path, staring directly at the left-hand turn you have to make, but it doesn’t appear to be getting closer. And at noon, I was running south directly at the sun. I actually thought my teammates would find me melted on the side of the trail.
I made it to the turn and the gradual incline turned into some of the steepest rolling terrain I’ve run. Each kicker seemed steeper than the next. And it was gruesome out there. I passed 30 runners and over half of them were walking. My teammates told me horror stories of people limping into the exchange. I knew I wasn’t going to set the trail on fire with my total lack of running in the past month and the way my butt/thigh felt after my second run, so I just set my pace to “grind with a smile.”
I think I earned my pizza and beer.