I Really Ran a Relay! I Did, I Did!

This weekend, I ran Leg 3 (6.9 miles — though the leg was supposed to be 6.7?) of the Detroit Free Press Marathon. I did the marathon relay with my good friend Greathen and three of her fellow teacher friends, one of whom happens to be Maya’s first grade teacher!

For those unfamiliar, this marathon is especially cool and unique because it’s an international one: Leg 1 goes over the bridge into Windsor, Canada, and Leg 2 runs through the tunnel back into the U.S. The race itself is super-organized, and I loved the long-sleeved New Balance (VML client!) tech shirts we got. They were the perfect throw-on after the race.

And though Saturday had been the worst rain storm I’d ever seen, by Sunday morning blue skies were breaking through the clouds. It was HOT for mid-October, and the humidity was insane. The temp probably was 70 but it felt like 90 and I immediately regretted our team T-shirts (cute as they were!). I wanted to take off my shirt to reveal my tank underneath, but my bib was pinned to my shirt and I did not want to waste any time undressing after I got going. More on that later.

For the relay, everyone (except Leg 3) gets bused to their start point along the marathon course. Since I was the only one not bused (but was worried about road closures) I left the hotel with my team and just found a spot at the Westin where I drank a little water and ate a cheese stick and a Justin’s nut butter packet for some quick energy. As I said last week, I don’t normally eat or drink before I run and was a little worried about how it would affect my stomach, but given the three hours I had to wait, it was definitely the right move. I had energy and was hydrated — both which were absolutely needed yesterday.

Naturally, doing something new meant my anxiety was through.the.roof, but it was beyond normal anxiety — it was for other reasons, too. First of all, I usually get up and run immediately — I don’t sit around for three hours doing nada. Second, usually I move to calm myself down — but I didn’t want to walk around because I’d already walked plenty getting there that morning, and needed fresh legs for the race. And third — most important — the app wasn’t working, so we couldn’t see where anyone was. We relied on team texts; after each runner finished, she sent a text to the group so we could gauge approximately when we’d hand off the belt that had our relay bib on it. But even knowing their paces, it wasn’t easy to know the timing — a lot of it was just guesstimation.

Fortunately, I had met some lovely women in the hotel lobby (one of whom works at Stryker like my husband and half my friends!), so I just left when they did to hang with the other relay runners at the corral and wait our turn. It seemed everyone around me was anxious, so I was in good company (or not?!). Most of us had run races before, but we were all new to the relay format and it was decided that no one liked this part (the start).

Thankfully, there were some funny moments that lightened the mood. Some guy named Chuck didn’t show up for his relay turn, so the volunteers started yelling, “Where’s Chuck? Who’s Chuck? Anyone know a Chuck” which led to the whole group of us — spectators and runners — yelling “CHUCCCCCK?” til he showed up and was greeted with raucous laughter. A couple in our corral was dressed like Waldo, and we saw some interesting costumes run by.

Around 9:30 I realized Greathen would be coming soon. My heart was pounding a mile a minute. I opened my Strava app, strapped on the new arm band Luis got me (he gave it to me before I left, with my fave chocolate from Trader Joe’s which finally opened in Kalamazoo last week!) and inched my way up to the front to wait for our number to be called, 9209. When I saw her coming I could see how drained she looked and realized what I was in for. It was HOT. Even just standing there, I’d been wanting to shed layers. UGH this was going to be brutal!

We did a quick exchange and I was off. I surprised myself not being AT ALL self-conscious about the exchange. That first mile, I was a beast — I ran it in 8:45, which is unheard of for me. It was a bit weird to be running on fresh legs past these marathoners who were 12.6 miles into their race at our exchange, but I tried not to be too caught up in it. By the next mile marker, I’d slowed down a bit. The wind had gone away and I was left breathing in hot, stagnant air. Fortunately, there were people cheering along the road as well as bands playing and lots of excitement to keep the adrenaline going. I had passed the first two water stations without taking any but by the third, I was feeling shaky and HOT. Bloody HOT. I took a sip, swished, and spit it out (I was afraid of cramping up) — then doused my head with the rest. I felt like a bad-ass.

I noticed a lot of the marathoners walking — doing a combo of walk/run — but I kept going. I had a goal in mind: to finish! Once we got to this beautiful old neighborhood called Indian Village, families were stationed in their front yards handing out water, Gatorade, beer, cheers … it was amazing and I smiled so hard at their energy and efforts. It definitely kept me going. I shook “paws” with a guy’s dog, and saw a girl off to the side puking her guts out — which, I’ve learned, isn’t uncommon.

My legs were feeling good, though, so I just kept on trucking, trying to keep to sub 10-minute pace, which I did for those first three miles. Sadly, I got slower the more tired and hotter I got. The last mile was the hardest — we ran right into incredibly strong head-winds as we ran towards the next group which would go across another bridge to Belle Isle. It felt like I was running against a wall. My legs felt like lead by the time I got to Maya’s teacher and did the belt hand-off.

And then I was done. I started to happy cry, and it was a bizarre sensation because you finish this exciting thing, but there’s no one there cheering you on at the finish since it’s not an area with supporters — it’s a relay exchange area where everyone is anxiously awaiting their turn. That was the only part that was a little bit of a let-down/anticlimactic. You do get your medal when you finish, so that was cool — the medals are pretty sweet! — but there’s no big fanfare. You just pass off and you’re done!

I texted Luis and my family to tell them it was over, drank four glasses of water, put on the blue race shirt, and got on the bus to meet my teammates who had finished already. I was mentally and physically drained. But it was done.

We met up with Maya’s teacher and watched our last teammate run through the finish line. Then we took a group pic and headed back to the hotel to pack up and go. It was a whirlwind weekend, but it was a blast. A couple observations I made:

  • I loved seeing the fruits of my labor. I hit 5 PRs (personal records) including fastest mile, fastest 2 mile, and fastest 10K. All the training has paid dividends. It’s been a lot of effort, but running has become something I genuinely enjoy again. And, it’s a free sport!
  • The running community is amazing. I loved being part of it, and hearing everyone’s stories. Some had done halves or 10Ks the 5K, but none had done the relay before. Cheering on runners as they handed off was a ton of fun, and just being around so many positive people was delightful. So much energy, so much support. Truly remarkable–I get why people fall in love with races. It’s not just about the actual run itself; it’s the overall sense of belonging. It’s super-cool.
  • I had absolutely NO body image issues yesterday. Just body love. Normally I run in pitch black so I don’t care about what I look like, anyway. But even in broad daylight, I kept thanking my body for what it was doing — for its strength and stamina. I was proud of this heavier-than-I’d-like frame because no matter my size or weight, it is kick-ass strong. I also noticed and appreciated — not for the first time, but for the first time I really took it in —  that runners come in all shapes and sizes.
  • I realized I like goals, and I want to train for a half after my 15K training is done. I know physically I can do it — I just need to mentally do it. I already bought some winter running gear and will do my damndest to keep this momentum going (barring illness or injury–hopefully neither!). Also a reason to aim for a half (or another 10K) is that I prefer the solid start time — I didn’t like not knowing when I’d be starting. That said, I may consider this race again if I had the bridge portion (Leg 1). Instead, I had the longest stretch and it was also “the most boring” according to those locals who knew the course. I found it to be fun, but see what they mean, too!
  • But I have ZERO desire to try for a marathon, even if I end up loving a half. It was abundantly clear to me yesterday that, although I admire the hell out of the marathoners and have several friends I adore who run them, I don’t personally want to join that club — I don’t have the desire to put in that level of training and think a half is a nice goal to reach for that won’t be too grueling (compared to a full).

All in all, I am glad I did it. I made some great friends and had a fun time doing something I now actually like. And now I have less than three weeks to finish training for this 15K, so after a day of recovery, I’ll be back at the track tomorrow morning before the sun wakes up. Get ‘er done!

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3 thoughts on “I Really Ran a Relay! I Did, I Did!

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