Ok, it's taken me a while
to put this baby together, but here it is. Sorry if it seems a
bit rambling, and sorry for the lack of pictures. Heading out of the house, my camera was the one thing I forgot to take along.
First of all, why
do a relay? Well, that's a good question. I think long
distance relays are kind of becoming the thing to do in the running
world - at least around here. In Wisconsin alone, you have
access to a couple of big events: the Fall 50 Relay in Door County
and the Ragnar Relay series (Madison to Chicago, Winona to
Minneapolis), just to name a few. If there is nothing
appealing to you about riding in a car for eight to 24 hours with a
bunch of stinky, sweaty, tired runners, then consider this: how often
are you a part of a TEAM?
I think, bottom line, that is what is
appealing about doing a relay - at least for me. Running is
such a solo sport. You might belong to a club or train with a group.
But when it comes right down to it, running is about my time,
my pace, my splits, my race. Runners don't often get that
feeling of camaraderie that comes with being a part of a team.
Relays are the one place (or race) where you can do that.
In any case, that is why I like doing
them. I like working together as a team towards one goal - to
finish an event. I like everything from choosing a team name
and dressing up (if that's how you roll), to packing for the event
and decorating the car. I like riding around together and
spending the day talking. I LOVE stopping and cheering on my
teammates, and - of course - I love the running.
So, last year when I heard that there
was a new relay coming to town - Run Away to the Bay
(put on by Run Away Shoes
) - I knew I had
to do it. Unfortunately for me, my mysterious shin injury got
in the way. I never signed up a team; I turned down offers to
join other teams. I thought I was out of luck. Then, as luck
would have it, though, at the very last minute, a friend of mine
needed someone to fill in for a runner who was unable to make it. By
then, my leg was feeling pretty good, and I was able to say yes.
And, I am glad I did.
The bottom line on Run Away to the Bay
is that it is a race put on by runners for runners. What does
that mean? It means, anything that would normally irritate you
in a race isn't there, because a runner set it up. This was a
well thought out event. It's still in its infancy, if you will,
so there is room for tweaking. But, the basic structure is in
place and this will go from a fun first-time event to a FUN GREAT
race in the future.
So, where does it go? Adapted
from their website:
The relay begins in Menomonee Park in
Oshkosh, Wisconsin, winds its way through the towns of Neenah and
Menasha, utilizing portions of the Fox Cities Marathon course, before
merging with Midway Rd/Schmidt Rd and heading towards Kaukauna. It
then traces a part of the rural countryside of Calumet County before
entering the Fox River Trail just north of Forest Junction. The
course follows the trail for close to fifteen miles before popping
out at the DePere Boat Landing on the Fox River. Runners then
cross the river and join up with a portion of the Green Bay Marathon
course. The finish line and post-race party are at The Bar on
Holmgren Way, only a short drive from the fabled Lambeau Field.
There are ten legs in the relay, with
the shortest one being three miles and the longest at close to eight.
As with all relays, you are expected to have one runner run a
leg, while the rest of your team piles into a car and drives to the
next exchange point. Teams could consist of two to six runners,
and you could mix up the legs any way you wanted. At the
exchange point, runners are swapped out and the day goes on.
Gatorade, water and restrooms were provided at each exchange
point. At Exchange #5, at the halfway point, there was chicken
noodle soup, broth, and bagels for refreshment. Volunteers at all the
exchanges and along the course were friendly and helpful.
There were some scenic routes along
Lake Winnebago's shore and along the Fox River Trail, and into parks
and through nice neighborhoods. There were also some
not-so-scenic ones on bigger roads and through more industrial areas.
Regardless of where you were running, though, the course was
well marked, and signage was everywhere.
Instead of passing a baton or slapping
on a snap bracelet, Run Away to the Bay provided Nathan safety vests
to wear. Teams were expected to pin their race number to the
vest and then just pass the vest back and forth. Although I realize
these were provided for safety reasons, the vests were a little hard
to pass between runners. Some teams were a little more on the
ball than we were, though, as we saw teams who had TWO vests, so they
could prep runner #2 before runner #1 got to the exchange. When
runner #1 arrived, they basically just had to congratulate the one,
wish luck to the other, and they were on their way. Next year,
if the vests are used again, this would be my strategy as well.
Coming in as a last-minute replacement
for my team, I would have been happy running the three- and four-mile
legs originally assigned to me. As it was, however, soon after
coming on board, I was asked if I could swap legs with another team
member who had broken a toe a couple of weeks earlier. (She was
still running, just not as long.) I said sure, and that is how
I ended up with legs 1 and 10 (eleven miles) for the race. That's
not unprecedented for me. I once ran legs 1 and 9 of the Fall
50. However, I found it amusing - as the outsider coming into
this team - that I somehow got what I consider the honor legs -
starting things off and finishing them up.
So, to race day....
The day of the race dawned cool and
clear. I drove over to my friend's house, where we all piled
into her minivan to make the 20 or so minute ride down to the start.
Once there, it was fun to run into other friends and chat with
everyone as we got ready. The start was pretty low-key with
coffee brewing and music playing. One of the runners in our leg
did a great job singing the national anthem before it was time to don
the vest and toe the start line.
There were four waves for the relay
event, starting at 7 am, 8 am, 9 am, and 10 am, respectively. This
is so teams with different paces can all participate and hopefully
finish up around the same time. Because our team started at 8
am, I had it somehow in my mind that everyone would be running around
a 9-minute mile. Yeah, not so much. When the horn
sounded, the crowd took off, and I felt like I was left in the dust.
Looking at my watch, I could see I was running 7:30, which - as
anyone who knows me knows - I cannot maintain for any length of time.
Soon, the bulk of the pack started pulling away. Too bad,
too, because as it turns out, I did a very decent (for me) 8:15 for
the first mile, and I ended up averaging 8:46 for the 5 miles.
While the day had started out cool, the
air felt humid and I found it hard to breathe for much of that first
leg. By the time I came into the exchange point, the sun was
starting to peek out and the promise that the weather forecasters had
made of 75-degree weather was about to be fulfilled. After
making the exchange with our second runner, we all hopped in the car
and drove to the next exchange, which was located at a local watering hole. There I made use of
the restroom to completely change out of my sweaty running clothes
into drier versions of same. If I am going to have to sit out
eight legs, I am not going to do it sitting in my own sweat. The
second exchange offered beer tastings of Miller64, one of the
sponsors of the race. I am not a huge fan and it was a little early
for me, but a lot of folks were bellying up to the table for that
Various tastings were a nice touch at
the Run Away to the Bay. Aside from the beer tasting, there was
also a chocolate tasting provided by Wilmars Chocolates in Appleton
and wine tasting at the Ledgestone Winery (one of the exchange points
on the Fox River Trail). Now, those I was happy to partake in -
and they were both delicious in their own right. Raffles were
there to be entered as well.... My favorite was the win a free bar of
customized chocolate once a month for a year! Of course, the
free month of yoga or the gift card to a local running store would
have been great, too.
Taking part in a relay that lasts over
eight hours long, you would think it would be a long, perhaps even
boring day, but it isn't. I am always surprised at how fast the
day goes by. Dropping runners off, picking them up, cheering
your team on, cheering other teams on, talking with folks along the
way: that all goes a long way towards keeping me entertained, and
really the day becomes a blur.
By the time I got to my last leg at
Leg 10, I was kind of ready to be sedentary. It's hard to get all pumped up when you
- Already run five miles earlier in the day
- Been driving
- Been cheering people on all day
- Not eaten very well
- Had two samples of wine not an hour before, and
- Are sweating it
out in 75-degree weather
That all being said, though, that is
what makes a relay FUN and CHALLENGING
So, with the day drawing to a close and
the promise of the finish line ahead, I accepted the sweaty, much
worn yellow vest from my friend and trotted off towards the bridge
that would take me over the Fox River and towards The Bar. Green
Day pounding in my ears, fresh Gatorade in my handheld, I felt pretty
good. For about a mile. Then I crash landed on the Planet
It was H O T.
I mean, we've had a warm winter,
but nothing can prepare you for that first day of really hot weather.
Granted, looking back we all keep telling ourselves that at
least it wasn't Boston hot. But, seriously, at the time, you
couldn't convince me of that. The last leg could not boast a
lot of shade, and pretty soon I had drained my Gatorade. It
wasn't too long until I took my first walk break. Then I took
another. And another. Each time I did, I watched my
average pace drop 10 seconds. Ah well. Not much you could
do but put the head down and get through it. A huge contrast to
leg 1, but what are you going to do? That's the joy of the
relay, whose motto should really be Suck it Up, Buttercup; It's Time to
Take One for the Team. Well, a slow one. Cause it wasn't
going fast. At least not for me at that point. I
apologize to all the cars and teams that drove by and cheerfully
cheered me on. I didn't mean to just half-heartedly wave and
grunt at you. Next time, I promise I will do better. In
the meantime, to the finish....
Yay! Finish Line. Done.
Get my medal. Dump water on head. Enjoy a quick beer. Take a photo. Get in line for
post-race massage. Grab some food. Grab some water.
Already feeling better. The post-race party didn't last
long for my team. We were all whipped. However, it looked
like a fun party. The DJ was a riot. The music was
grooving. The beer was flowing. And, everyone was in a great mood. It's fun to
celebrate a team accomplishment with other teams.
So, to wrap it up, our team finished in 8:26:08 - not a bad endeavor. And, more importantly, it was a fun day. Run Away to
the Bay was a good event. Would I do it again? Yes. Would
I recommend it to other people? Sure. Will it ever be as
popular as some of the other relays? Only time will tell, but with some tweaks here and
there, then yeah - I think it could be.