Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Great Lakes Relay

If I had to choose my favorite “moment” of the great lakes relay it was sitting on the beach – enjoying the best weather of the weekend and a few beverages - socializing with the other teams we had competed against as the remaining 84 teams came through the finish line. The lake was glistening – reflecting a cloudless sky – framed by the huge sand dune bluffs on the shore – and then a dude with a green lycra body suit that covered his entire body including his face ran out on to the beach and started dancing with random people.

It had been a long three days to get to this point. From ~4:30am, when we woke up each morning, until 3-4pm (1pm on the last day) when we finished each day – it was a continuous cycle of navigating/driving, estimating arrival times so that you had the proper amount of warm-up, finding some “privacy” in the woods, making sure you understood the directions, running your leg, warming down, getting something to eat/drink, and helping your teammates to do the same. It was no wonder that we were ready to pass out around 7pm every night.

I ran for “M-10”, the defending champions. Other than myself, M-10 had five Michigan grads, two Calvin grads and two current Michigan State guys. I think at least three of my teammates had run sub 14:30 5k’s this last spring – including a 37 year old. But, there were some other stacked teams as well. The “younger” Michigan team (named “Very Nice” – a Ron Warhurst phrase) had some studs on the current Michigan team – including Lex Williams – who apparently ran the last 5k of the Big 10 outdoor 10k in 14:10 this year. The other main competition was a team of Eastern Michigan current and alumni - including two guys who ran just over 50 minutes at the George Washington Parkway 10 miler in April.

The first day was eye opening for me. Approaching Oscoda High School – I felt like we were in the car convoy at the end of “Field of Dreams”. Before the race my best guess was that maybe 20-30 teams were in the relay – since it was mostly Michigan people and it was about 4-5 hours from civilization (aka Ann Arbor). But, to my surprise, there were 84 teams toeing the line on Friday morning at 6am – meaning that there were 240 cars (3 cars per team) carrying over 800 runners. Organized chaos is a pretty accurate way of describing what I saw on that first morning as people rushed back to their cars after the start to make their way to the correct leg.

Of these 84 teams, only two would receive trophies. One trophy is for the “open” division, which can include up to three females. The females receive a handicap – so, that a team with 7 guys and 3 girls can compete with a team with 10 guys (M-10 had 10 guys). The other division was for “mixed” which was for teams with four or more females.

Most of the legs were on the Shore-to-Shore trail which traverses the state from Lake Huron to Lake Michigan. The trail was originally designed as a horse trail. If you haven’t been to northern Michigan – there is one important feature when it comes to running – the top 6-12 inches of earth is made up of primarily sand. This meant that the constant horse traffic dug a trench about 12-18 inches wide and 2-6 inches deep. Where the sand was really bad and the brush to the sides was relatively light – it was best to hop out of the rut and run along the less sandy sides. The first two days were almost entirely on this trail – and three out of my six legs were on the trail – so I had to get rid of my Patapsco induced phobia of trails pretty quickly.

My first leg was a simple four mile loop on roads – but, even then I wasn’t quite sure I was going the right way at one point. My first turn was onto a “road” that was just two tracks with grass growing in the middle. My first leg was also a little odd in that I couldn’t see any other runners. My goal was to run “tempo” pace – but, not seeing anyone else meant I didn’t run with any real urgency.

My second leg of the first day started very differently with my teammate leading two other runners sprinting out of the woods – I instinctively attempted to put some distance on the other two by pushing hard the first few hundred meters into the woods – but, one guy was right on me. He eventually passed me and ended up gapping me by 15-20 seconds over three miles even though I was going at pretty much race effort. That’s when I realized that instead of 26 miles of tempo effort over three days – quite a bit of it would be race pace because you don’t want to be the guy who puts your team back a few minutes – as you most likely would be greeted with a comment like “what happened, did you get lost?” Sometimes guys who were about to go head-to-head against someone they knew was better they would preemptively state that they weren’t going to get lost – so, nobody should ask them when they were done.

As a team we were pretty happy – there weren’t any huge screw-ups – just a few hiccups. But, in the end the two younger teams were too strong for us after accounting for the handicap – although we ended up with the fastest overall time by ~40 seconds – which is incredibly close since the race was 270 miles long. Overall it was one of the most fun running events that I’ve participated in. It was less like a race and more like a “festival” of running. Of course the other guys were key to the whole experience – not only was everybody good – they were also a lot of fun to hang out with around the campfire.

Last Week

Monday: 7 miles
Tuesday morning: 4 miles
Tuesday afternoon: 10 miles 4X(1000m 500m) (3:12, 1:31; 3:07, 1:29 ;3:06,1:25 ;3:01,1:27) 2X200 (33.8,30.9)
Wednesday: 4 miles
Thursday: 6 miles
Friday: 15 miles GLR ~7 miles
Saturday: 16 miles GLR ~11 miles
Sunday: 13 miles GLR ~ 8 miles
Total: 75 miles

This Week:

Monday: 7 miles
Tuesday morning: 4 miles
Tuesday afternoon: 10 miles Track workout
Wednesday: 10 miles
Thursday: 11 miles possible track workout
Friday: 8.5 miles
Saturday: 18 miles

Sunday: 9 miles
Total: 75 miles


RM said...

Amazing - you're the heaviest one there!

Sounds like a fun time. I'm partially confused though, it sounds more like a stage race - do you not race through the night? That's kind of like the movie Troop Beverly Hills, the stage racing aspect.

New Chris on the Block said...

I'd be up for the track workout on Thursday. Just shoot me an email with the details. cnbelc01@louisville.edu

Ben said...

thanks ryan ; ) yea - it is more of a stage race. no racing through the night - thank goodness.

Christy said...

Sounds like a great event!

THE KRIS said...

you just had to throw that thing about the 37 year old in there didn't you.

Amy said...

Wow seems there are lots of great memories in your post.

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