This weekend, I put my recovery to the ultimate test with a cumulative 28.6 miles of running across Cape Cod within 20 hours.
I ran Ragnar Cape Cod with five other ladies from my running team as one of just four all-female ultra teams. For the uninitiated, a Ragnar ultra team is a team of six people, whereas a regular team is a team of 12. Both regular and ultra teams cover the same distance, but with fewer people, each individual member of an ultra team runs more miles than runners for a regular team.
Spoiler alert: it went well, not only for me, but for my entire team.
But from the beginning….
On Thursday, at around noon, I got a call from Budget informing me that the 12-passenger van that I reserved in January (!), was not going to be available for pick up that afternoon, as planned. Given that the van is a pretty crucial component of an overnight relay event, naturally, panic ensued.
I spent a good portion of the afternoon on the phone with Budget, telling them they had to figure out a solution, because a van not being available simply wasn’t acceptable. They were frustratingly slow to respond and time was short, so I was also frantically looking for other options, and I found one. Avis had a van available…at Newark International Airport.
The location wasn’t ideal, as it would add an extra 90 minutes of driving in both direction, but at least it was a van, and it was cheap (about $200 less than our original reservation). I jumped on it, cancelling my Budget reservation. I had to leave the office at about 3:45 p.m. to make this all work, but at least I knew it would work.
Once I got the van, the drive up itself was relatively uneventful. I picked up the rest of my team, the Dancing Whippets, in Stamford (where some of the team was grocery shopping for the weekend), and we stopped somewhere in Connecticut along the way for some dinner at Panera. We got into our hotel just before midnight, which was later than we would have liked, but not too bad.
We were slotted with a 10 a.m. start time, a little earlier than we would have liked, but not too bad. We left the hotel at around 7:45 a.m., stopped at a local grocery store for some ice and other minor odds and ends, and headed to the start.
We ended up getting there just around 9 a.m., a little later than we hoped, after a failed attempt to find a Dunkin Donuts (shocking, given the number of Dunkins in Massachusetts). After a quick check-in and safety briefing, and some team pictures, our first runner was on her way!
After seeing her off, we headed across the street to Dunkin for some caffeine. Amazingly, that turned out to be our only caffeine stop of the whole race.
Since I was coming back from an injury, my teammates graciously let me have one of the shorter legs, even though two of my teammates had just run the Boston Marathon a couple weeks prior, and weren’t in top form either.
A Ragnar is a roughly 200-mile relay race divided into 36 legs. For a regular team, that is three legs per runner. For an ultra team, it is six. An ultra team has a bit of flexibility in decided how to divide up the work. They can either run six legs, or run three legs, combining two legs at a time into one longer leg. We decided on the later, as it would require fewer wardrobe changes and just be overall less hectic.
My first leg combined the first legs of runners 5 and 6, thus combining a 5.4 mile leg and a 4.2 mile leg to give me a first leg of 9.6 miles. My second leg combined legs 17 and 18 for a total of 10.7 miles, and my third leg combined legs 31 and 32 for 8.6 miles. This was going to be interesting, given the fact that my longest run since I began my recovery was only 9 miles, which I ran the prior Saturday.
All in all, I’m proud of how I did. Here are my splits (the leg lengths ended up varying from what Ragnar published):
My first leg was just 30 seconds shy of my 15K PR, which is pretty crazy (granted, my 15K PR pace is the same as my Half PR pace). I felt so good to be out there. Perhaps that was because I was feeling cooped up while waiting for my turn to run, or perhaps it was just the thrill of running in a race again for the first time in six months. Whatever it is, I ran well and felt great. In hindsight though, I went out too hard for the first leg of a three-leg race!
The second one was my night leg. I started running at 10:10 p.m., and the roads I ran on for the most part lacked street lights. I really don’t do well in that situation. I don’t feel sure of my footing, and I’m always afraid I’m going to hit some hidden pothole and roll my ankle. I know I have a tendency to run slower in the dark (even though I feel like I’m going fast), so I made a conscious effort to run faster. Still, I only managed a 7:52 pace, and it didn’t feel easy. I was definitely feeling the effects of my (too) strong first leg. I was also feeling the effects of eating too many Swedish Fish. Oops.
By my third leg, my body was a bit of a mess. My knees were killing me from my night leg. I’m not sure what I do to my stride in the dark, but whatever it is, my knees were not a fan. And my body was just tight all over. I was the principal driver, so that definitely doesn’t help keep me loose. On top of that, I had only gotten about 90 minutes of shuteye by the time I was supposed to start my final leg at around 7:30 a.m.
Going into my third leg, I was just hoping to keep my pace under 9 minutes/mile given how I was feeling, particularly in my knees. I managed that, with an 8:24 first mile, and then two things happened. First, my knees loosened up, so they didn’t hurt as much, and second, I got passed for the first time in the race!
I’m a competitive person (sometimes to a fault), so that really got me and spurred me to pick up the pace. On top of that, I figured the faster I ran the leg, the sooner I’d be done and I could just relax (and eat whatever I wanted!). I was so proud of myself for finishing that leg at the same pace per mile as my second leg, even if the final leg was 2.2 miles shorter. Still, that leg was hilly, and the down hills really wrecked my knees!
By the time I had run my leg, it was clear that my team was well ahead of the time we had projected for ourselves, and that finishing in less than 26 hours was a real possibility! That definitely helped motivate us all through the final legs. And we pulled it off, we finished in 25 hours and 53 minutes, an average pace of about 8:05-8:11 minutes/mile, depending on what total course distance you go by.
That time was good for first place female ultra, but that isn’t saying much given that there were only four female ultra teams. But it was also good for 1st out of all 49 all-female teams and 10th out of all 55 ultra teams!
And throughout the race, we had more than 230 kills! In Ragnar parlance, that means that we passed (netting out the few teams that passes us) more than 230 teams. A lot of teams track that on the side of their vans, and we had the most, as far as I saw.
At the end of the relay, I wasn’t feeling so hot. My knees hurt and I was utterly exhausted. But a solid nights’ sleep can do wonders, and by Sunday morning, the team consensus was that we can’t wait to do it again. Next time, we’ll target sub-24 hours. (Perhaps in Chicago? Where there are no hills…)
Three days out, my knees feel fine, and my only really lingering sore spot is my right calf, which I’m pretty sure is a mess because of all the driving! My feet are so small, and the van so big, that to drive I had to hover my foot over the pedals the same time, as my feet weren’t big enough to push them while my heel rested on the ground.
I still have a long way to go in strengthening my quads (the source of my knee pain?) and regaining more of my aerobic fitness, but this weekend was encouraging.
This week, I start my first ever short race training segment! I have just five weeks until a 10K and seven weeks until a 5 mile race.