Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Market to Market Relay:Teamwork on the Trail

Let's talk for a minute about #teamwork.

Sometimes it takes an entire team to make it happen, but all of the individual components have merit. Such was the case with the Market to Market Relay this past weekend.

This was the fifth year of the M2M in Iowa (there's also one in Nebraska and Ohio). Most runners have heard of Ragnar relays, and the M2M's are a very similar event, but on a smaller scale. The teams consist of 6-8 runners, and the course is a point-to-point route along the Racoon River Valley Trail for 76 miles (starting in Jefferson and ending in Des Moines).

My team was made up of six of us from work. We've had a team the past four years...I ran the M2M in 2014 but had to miss 2015 and 2016. Our flight time wasn't until 8:15, so we opted to drive up in the morning (the earliest wave started at 6:15!). Our drive was just over two hours away, so we had the van loaded and were on the road by 5:00...and hit up a Starbucks after passing through Des Moines).
Have coffee (or chai), will run!
We arrived in Jefferson with plenty of time to walk around, get our team's "baton" (a slap bracelet that we had to pass off to each other at each of the exchange points), and snap a few group pictures under the start line canopy. I also needed to have some time time to stretch out and warm-up. Since I was designated Runner-1, I was first on deck to run.

(L-R) Ryan, Alan, Nick, myself, Kristin, and Ashley
In general, the relay teams are flighted based on the teams' submitted (cumulative) 5K times and the number of runners on each team (for example, a team of eight will usually have a faster projected finish time than a team of six because some of the runners will have much fewer individual miles to run). As a result, the later start times typically go to the "faster" teams. This isn't always the case, though, as we were put in the 8:15 flight, so we were in the company of a lot of faster people. The teams decide the order of their runners, and each runner then has their designated "place in rotation" on their bib (my bid number was 211-1...team 211, 1st runner). There are 17 total legs of the relay, and the teams are expected to run those 17 legs in rotation.

A detailed map of the 76-mile course with all of the exchange points
My first run -Stage #1
My first leg was 4.4 miles. There were about 30 people in my flight, and right outta the gate, most of them all sprang ahead of me. I was treating these M2M miles as a pseudo (long) training run (albeit broken into three segments), so I was not attempting any kind of fast pace.

The first leg was relatively flat (with a few gentle rolling inclines) and it was mostly shaded. I could smell the flowers (phlox) almost the entire way. There were numerous volunteers along the route, monitoring the road crossings. As I approached the exchange point, I could hear an announcer call my bib number (which signaled to my teammates that I was almost there). I rounded a small curve, and there was Ashley, our #2 runner, waiting alongside the trail for me, and the rest of our team was nearby as well as many other teams (awaiting their #1 runners to come in). I handed off the slap bracelet to her, she was off, and I was done. Stats: 4.4 miles in 38:47 (8:49 pace).
first leg complete...CHECK!
I hopped into our van, and we were off to the next exchange point. Some of the exchange points didn't have much time in between them, given the route we had to drive. We had a specific driving route (mostly on dirt roads) that the vehicles had to utilize. Although there were six of us, only five of us would be in the van at any given time for the duration of the relay (because there would always be one of us running), so we "stowed" one of the middle row seats to enable some extra leg room for the most recent runner. Quite often, there wasn't time for the most recent runner to properly stretch or even cool off until after we'd arrive at the next exchange point.

The orange route is for the drivers and the green route is where the runners are running
A fun idea (in my opinion) was for us to do push-ups at each exchange point while we waited for the runner to come in (and we may have been the only ones doing them). It made for a fun challenge...to not only to do the allotted 10-15 each time, but also to remember to do them.
We did push-ups at most of the exchange points while waiting...
My second run - Stage #7
It was almost noon when it was my next turn to run. The temps had risen to the low 80's, the sun was strong, but there was a pleasant breeze. I had studied the course map a bit, and noticed it was pretty much a gradual incline to the next exchange point. It also was rated as "hard" due to the distance (5.7 miles and the elevation grade), so I knew it would not be a cake walk.

Here's a close-up of the elevation chart...up, up, and up!
Even though it was less than a six-mile stretch, and I knew I'd probably be done in less than an hour, I took my handheld water bottle with me (spoiler: SMART move!). As part of my marathon training, I try to have a sip of water every mile or so (like I would do on the race course). Since there would be no water stations along the trail, I opted to bring my water along.

The trail was beautiful! Constant flowers along the route, and intermittent shade, made for a scenic journey. However, the constant incline was tough. Thankfully, it was not steep, but it seemed like it never leveled off and I certainly did not notice any declines happening. I remember looking ahead (because I could see almost an entire mile at times), and thinking the trail looked like it leveled off in the distance (near a patch of shrubs)...only to pass the patch of shrubs and see that trail merely just veered off in a slightly different direction.,... but still maintained its incline. My energy felt strong, but finally around the 4-mile mark I walked for a few seconds as I drank the warm water from my bottle (seriously, the water had gotten so warm, I couldn't tell if I was even swallowing it).

Finally, I spotted the volunteer on the trail (who then relayed my bib number to the announcer around the curve), and I knew I was almost there. I spotted my team, and then I saw Ashley waiting for me to hand off the bracelet....and all was well in my world again.
second leg...DONE!
This leg of the relay was really tough...the constant incline, the heat of the day, and the distance all contributed to a mentally challenging quest to the exchange point. My splits showed I was progressively slowing down (9:18/9:21/9:49/10:19/ 9:57/ 6:43 (the final .7 mile). Stats: 5.7 miles in 55:32 (9:44 pace).
How I pulled off a sub-10-minute pace was nothing short of a miracle
So, onward! Next on the agenda? Trouble-shooting. While I was running my second leg, one of our team members (Kristin) hadn't been feeling so well. She was questioning whether she'd be able to run her next leg, or even finish out the day with us. Upon consulting the rule book (yes, there's a lengthy book of rules with every possible solution to any possible situation). It said, due to injury or sickness, the runners would be allowed to switch their rotation to compensate for a runner who wasn't able to run. We made the command decision for Kristin to skip her next leg (which would be Stage#10), and myself, Alan, and Nick could each run a leg prior to our originally "scheduled" leg, and Ryan (who was in rotation to only run two legs) could take the final leg (Stage#17) at the end of the day. That still left Kristin's final leg (Stage#16) up in the air....if she was feeling better, she said she'd attempt it...if not, one of us could take it. #problemsolved

A rather unique aspect to this event (and I assume other relay events as well) is that each team is self-supported. We have to provide our own food, fuel, and hydration. There are numerous volunteers along the route (monitoring road crossings), but there are no aid stations. There is plenty of time to eat, re-hydrate, stretch and relax in between the exchange points (especially while the runners are running some of the longer legs of the route).
You've heard of Legs Up the Wall? I give you "Legs Up the Van"
...or play on the playground equipment
Amazingly, my sweaty bum did NOT stick to the hot slide

My third run - Stage #12
With the slight change of our rotation, I now had Stage #12 to tackle (instead of #13). I actually had run this leg in 2014, so I was familiar with it. I knew it would be fairly flat, but also very straight and very boring. By now, the relay course had left the woodland, and was on a paved bike path that ran parallel to Highway 6.

The temps were still pretty warm (it was around 4:00) when I grabbed the bracelet from Ryan. I had 4.7 miles to run... due east, with no shade cover, but with a nice crosswind to keep me somewhat cooled off. I had my water bottle with me as well.

The tough part of this leg wasn't the elevation, but the flatness of it. I could, literally, see every runner ahead of me for the next 2.5-3 miles. I don't especially enjoy curvy routes that constantly keep me guessing where I am, but I really dread being stuck on long, straight ones because it feels like I'm not making any progress and the scenery doesn't seem to change. Ugh.
The map does not lie...the route (in green) was very straight
Although I didn't really feel tired, mentally I was about ready to checkout. It was somewhere in the third mile  that I decided to walk for a few minutes while I drank my water. I had been playing leap-frog with another gal, and she caught up to me and asked if I was doing run/walk intervals. I laughed...and said, "well, at the moment, YES! This part of the course is so tough!" We chatted for a few minutes and ran together for a while before she had to walk again, but she urged me to go on ahead of her. A short while later, as I was walking (again, LOL), another gal started chatting with me, and asked if I'd run with her. She was coming back from injury and was feeling tired as well. We ran together for a little ways, before she needed to stop. She encouraged me to keep going, so I forged on ahead. And wouldn't you know it? About a half mile later, as I was walking (yet again), another runner pulled over and walked with me (there was a lot of walking along that stretch of the route, just saying). Finally, we veered around the one (and only!) short curve around a parking lot and we could hear the announcer and see the exchange point. And, just like that, I did my best (fatigued) sprint and handed off the bracelet. And I was done! Stats : 4.66 miles in 48:09 (10:20 pace).

To say I was a sweaty mess (and, again, out of water) would be an understatement. But I was done! We had a little extra time to get to the next exchange point (while Nick ran his 5.8 miles), so I took a few minutes to wipe down with some baby wipes before climbing back into the van.

I also grabbed more water, took off the shoes and socks, and foam-rolled to my heart's content at the next exchange point while we waited for Nick to come in. It felt so good to be done!

Kristin was able to rally back, and ran her final leg. We waited near the finish line and ran the final .2 miles in with Ryan ...finishing in 11:35:59...about 10 minutes under our projected finish time!

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A special swag item is the coveted pint glass each runner receives at the finish line!
One of the perks to working for a signage company is the elaborate vinyl chart we made to put on our window. A lot of the team vans had painted windows, but our vinyl chart was pretty cool! And, after several miles on dirt roads, it was dirty! Props to the lone paper towel that had stayed in place ALL day through numerous "wipings."

And, although the relay had ended, we all did our push-ups for one final hurrah at the after party. 

The final set of push-ups! (my total count came in around 130...we didn't do them at every exchange point) 
Overall, I think the Market to Market Relay (more info HERE) is a very well-organized event! A lot of details, planning, and volunteers go into making everything come together on relay day. The swag is nice...the shirts are tech fabric, the pint glasses are good quality, and each team receives a big tote bag with all of the maps, rule books, and plenty of M2M decals and tattoos for the group. They even included a roll of toilet paper (because the porta-pots get a lot of use, and the TP tends to run out towards the end of the day)!

The graphic on the shirt is actually silver (though  it looks white in the pic)
So, there you have it! Have you ever done a relay-type of event like this?  Would you do push-ups at your exchange points?

I'm linking with Suzie and Rachel and Debbie and Lora for the Running Coaches' Corner

And with Nicole and Annmarie and Jen for the Wild Wednesday Workout


  1. Sounds like fun! Ive never done a relay but have thought about doing Ragnar since there is one pretty close. I think it would be tough to pace well for this type of race!

    1. It was tough to pace for this! That first leg (4.4 miles) in the still-cool morning air along a mostly shaded course...I really could have ran that harder, but I knew I also had another 10+ miles to do later and didn't know how the day would play out.

  2. Awesome! I LOVED running Ragnar--still a total race highlight for me!

  3. This sounds fun! I'd rather do this kind of relay than a Ragnar--I just don't think I'd do well staying up all night. But your idea of fun is different than mine--pushups?

    1. I think Ragnar would be manageable since you'd have a lot of time in between your individual legs....but I thrive on limited slumber LOL

  4. This does look very similar to a Ragnar. It's such a fun way to bond with friends in a new way. Looks like you had so much fun. I need to find out about those car decals you have on the back. Would love to get one for Ragnar

    1. Our company (ASI Signage) is a local franchise....there's probably one in your area (or a similar sign company who could do something similar).

  5. Your Vinyl chart was amazing! There are a few relays in my area that i'd like to run this year but they aren't as intense as this one. Each runner only does one leg. Kudos to all of you!

    1. This was a lot of fun! We were lucky to have nice weather (even though it got warm, it wasn't humid). WE had some intermittent rain when I ran it in 2014 ;-(

  6. I've never done a relay race but this looks like so much fun! It's such a great bonding experience and I would love to do a relay race one day.

    1. This was a total blast of fun! It does make for a long day, though, because even when there's a good 2-3 hours between your running legs, there's constant action getting to the exchange points

  7. What a fun event! I've always thought the relays that go overnight would be WAY too much for me to handle (I NEED sleep) but I like that this was just a super long day! Seems like a lot of fun and your sign was super cool. :-)

    1. Yes, it was super fun, but it was a super long day LOL

  8. We have something very similar around here called the Seneca 7 which is 77 miles along a lake. I really want to do it some day, seems like it would be fun!

  9. Haha. Love the beer checkmark and the pushups :)

  10. It sounds like this was a blast with your team! Great work, guys!

  11. So fun! I love relays, although I have never done a road relay where we had to being a car or vehicle. I love the addition of the pushups at the exchange points. Congratulations on a relay well run!

    1. It has kind of an Amazing Race type of atmosphere...lots of non-stop action

  12. I've run a couple of Ragnars and loved every minute! Never had anyone suggest doing pushups though!

  13. This is so crazy! And fun! I want to do a relay so bad. One of these days!!

  14. Ragnar have gotten so popular that it's nice to see a smaller scale relay race. How fun it was to do it with your co-workers! And I like that you added the challenge of push-ups in between the legs!

    1. Thanks! The push-ups added a fun twist to all the activity (and some upper body work!)

  15. That sounds like such a fun adventure! and it is pretty cool that your team is made up of work folks, that is very nice! Of course I am NOT a fan of all those pushups you like to do- LOL! but you all looked like you had tons of fun! I have a marathon 2 person relay this fall and this will be my first actual relay- looking forward to it. Great recap!

  16. What fun! I've been invited to join a Ragnar team in Florida in November. Not sure if I can stay awake, but I'm sure it would be a blast!

  17. This looks awesome! I have always wanted to do a relay, maybe it will be in my future. I didn't realize there were so many rules though...