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).
|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 #1My 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!|
|The orange route is for the drivers and the green route is where the runners are running|
|We did push-ups at most of the exchange points while waiting...|
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!|
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.
|How I pulled off a sub-10-minute pace was nothing short of a miracle|
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"|
|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|
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!
|A special swag item is the coveted pint glass each runner receives at the finish line!|
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)|
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