A huge thanks to Reebok and Ragnar for making this weekend possible through accommodations, travel, race entry and gear.
My third overnight relay is in the books, and it went better than I ever could have imagined.
Other times that I’ve run a relay, I’ve been training for another race or just in better running shape than I currently am. I’m trying to get back into better running shape, but I’m certainly not there yet, so I was nervous about how this race would go, especially after a year of racing fails last year.
But off to Tennessee I went anyway, hoping and praying that this race would restore and renew the running confidence and love that faltered last year.
I arrived in Chattanooga Thursday afternoon excited and nervous for the weekend ahead. I worked for most of the afternoon (god bless the ability to occasionally work remotely) before taking a little walk downtown to see Chattanooga. We had a team dinner that night at The Public House and I was relieved that everyone was feeling similar to me — excited but definitely apprehensive.
And Friday morning…we were off to the race(s)! We’d been registered as “Team Reebok 2” but we obviously needed a more creative/fun name than that. We stood staring at our van during our decorating session looking for inspiration and finally came up with Team Float-rida (the shoes we were running in, more on that later, were the Reebok Float Rides), which was ripe for puns.
Pink and green dots not my doing but I can get behind them!
When I agreed to do the race, I’d asked for legs on the shorter side, but several days before the race, Reebok emailed me to ask if I would maybe be willing to switch with Sam, who was coming back from an injury. “Yeah, sure,” I said, always down for a challenge.
Hey Theodora? Maybe next time you think you’re down for a challenge, maybe check out the elevation profiles of your legs. I ended up being Runner 7, which meant I was the first runner in the second van. If you’ve never run a relay — one van runs while the other rests/drives to the next exchange and vice versa. This meant we had time to grab some lunch before we started and also that much of the afternoon didn’t feel like we were running a race…because we were just driving and hanging out. We had lunch at the first exchange, where Runner 6 from Van 1 would hand off to me and Van 1 would go chill. We had sort of a while there, but it went faster than I thought as we sat in the grass and hung out and ate.
A note on eating: I have a sensitive stomach to begin with, so eating makes me very nervous on these things. How do I eat enough and the right things so that I don’t have A Situation to contend with? For lunch, I had a veggie burger + some roasted potatoes, and I felt FINE. (Whew.)
Before I knew it, it was time to run! I’d looked at the map of my leg and the elevation profile in the van, and, shit. It was 5.7 miles and rated HARD. Awesome way to start.
Um, by rated hard, it meant rated effing impossible. The first mile or so was relatively flat, and I thought maybe they’d mislabeled the leg. My van drove past me to cheer, and I was happy they saw me when I was strong. Because I turned one corner and then holy shit, I was climbing a mountain, basically. It started off relatively gradual, and I still struggled, but then it just kept getting steeper and steeper.
I had to figure out a strategy that would allow me to feel like I finished as strong as I could without beating myself up too much. No easy feat. I did a lot of reasoning with myself about walking: was I being smart or a wuss if I walked? I knew that I wasn’t in great shape and didn’t want to risk injury by pushing myself too hard, but I also didn’t want to sell myself short. I decided I’d run as much as I possibly could but if my heart rate felt too high (my Apple Watch shows it, but I really wanted to go by feel), then I’d back off/walk a bit more. I started off strong in the low 9s for pace but ended with an 11-something overall pace…after an 1100-foot climb (and starting at ~700-800 foot elevation. For the record, NYC is at sea level.)
FINALLY, the road leveled off some and I could see the exchange in the distance. I stopped looking at my watch and ran it in strong.
…and then I got to run twice more after that. Cool life. I was a little nervous for my second leg since it also was fairly hilly, but nothing could be that bad, right?! (Right?!) The second leg would be an overnight one, and I knew adrenaline would get me through.
We stopped for dinner at an Italian place in ___, and I decided to go for the spaghetti and meatballs. Relatively innocuous, right? Wrong. When it came out, I knew it would upset my stomach. The color just…wasn’t right. But I was hungry and the selection of other things that would potentially not bother my stomach was slim.
But! It was carb-y enough to lull me into a sleepy state, and I was thrilled at the prospect of some van sleep. I’m not always the greatest sleeper, so anything that can help is appreciated. Also, it’s amazing to me that pasta is something that can both put you in a carb coma and give you energy. Basically, pasta is magical. (My mom is Italian and I’m from NJ, so I was probably born believing this.)
Here’s where we had our only major snafu: we were supposed to drive to exchange 18 but somehow one of our navigators looked at the sheet and thought we were headed to exchange 24, so we drove about half an hour out of our way and parked there for a while before we realized (when Van 1’s description of where they were at the exchange didn’t jibe with ours.) We doubled back, knowing we were going to be late on the hand-off.
I felt like I *should* just jump out and start running since we were late and decided to forego a bathroom stop. When I hopped out of the van, ready to run, one of my teammates asked if I needed some time to stretch. “Nah, I’m good.”
Spoiler alert: I should have stopped for a port-a-potty…
I took off, again apprehensive about the hills to come and also about running in the dark. This leg was about 5.5 miles, and the first ~2 miles were relatively flat and along a little highway lined with chain establishments. About 1.5 miles in, my I felt like I needed a bathroom and immediately, and I started panicking. I stopped in a gas station and a check cashing store (yup) and was told by one there was no public bathroom and by the other that they’d just cleaned the bathroom. (As I walked out of the check cashing store, I caught a glimpse of myself in the window and realized just how crazy I looked: reflective vest, blinky light on my back, headlamp on my forehead and knee-high American flag compression socks.)
At this point I decided that my only choice was to just run a little slower and hope for the best and depend on some woods if I really had to.
I also wondered how the hell I’d gotten to the point in my life where I thought running at midnight through Tennessee while a van trailed me was something to do for fun…
After about 2 miles, I started encountering small, gradual hills, and got a bit nervous. What was to come? I’m not sure if the Ragnar folks intentionally plan it this way, but on all three of my legs, it seemed like I turned a corner (physically, although I guess literally too) and started climbing. And this leg was no different. It started with gradual hills on the highway, but then I turned off into a residential area and all of a sudden it was pitch black and hilly. BRING IT ON. (JK, I was pretty nervous about the dark at this point.) I put my head down so I could see as much as possible and told myself the faster I ran, the faster I’d be done.
When I began seeing a lot of lights and vans turning, I knew the end was up ahead, and I was ECSTATIC! To be done…but also for a restroom, let’s be honest. I ran it in and basically ran straight to the port-a-potty. I got back into the van, completely endorphin wasted after a leg that wasn’t impossible. I finished around 1am, and I dozed on and off as we drove to the stops for the rest of the runners in the car. When Dorothy, our #12 was done, we drove back to Exchange 24 and parked to sleep. Our van was me and Dorothy, two editors and two Reebok people who drove/navigated/were angels the entire time. When we got to the exchange, around 4am, our Reebok people jumped out of the van to sleep in the grass, leaving each of us with an entire row of the van to sleep in.
If you have ever run a relay, you understand that this is basically living in the lap of luxury. Though I’m a terrible sleeper, I curled up and slept like a baby for a good ~3 hours. (Again, if you have run a relay, you understand how amazing this is.) I woke up at 7am panicked that I was going to miss the exchange and leave poor Kalie from Reebok waiting…again. Turns out I had until about 8:30 before I began and I was fine.
This last leg was marked easy, and as I took off, I felt a little bittersweet — I’d enjoyed the relay so much that I was a little sad it was coming to an end…but also happy to put the physical part behind me, let’s be real. I took off wearing shorts, a tee and a hat (since I forgot sunscreen and in my old age, I’m attempting to protect my skin) …and promptly lost the hat no farther than .25 miles in in a headwind. Sometimes the phrase “hold on to your hats” is literal, people. I decided to pump myself up with the same playlist my friends and I listen to before going out in the Hamptons since apparently getting pumped for a late night out and running 3.5 miles is the same thing?! Whatever, it made me smile to hear these songs that are associated with a crapton of fun while I was participating in a pretty epic experience.
The last leg was mostly downhill or flat, but at one point when I started seeing a hill, I was like OH GOOD GOD NO.
Dorothy had said something about envisioning that she’s gathering energy from people as she passes them, and I decided to think that as I passed a few people. Most of the last ~1.5 miles was a gradual downhill, and to finish feeling like I was flying was amazing. This leg was also really pretty — it ran through Franklin, which seems like a lovely upscale town.
Before I knew it, I was DONE! I even hit an 8:23 pace on the last ~.5…hello 8:00s, where have you been?
Oh and also I found my future husband.
Watching everyone else’s legs once *I* was done was so much fun. I even saw a dinosaur 😉
Beer: EARNED. I went with the Asgard Wheat Ale at the finish festival. I’m not always a wheat beer girl but this hit the spot.
So about the shoes: I only had the chance to run in them once before the trip, but they were PERFECT the entire time — no blisters or any trouble. I’ll be honest that I’d never thought of Reebok as a running brand. CrossFit, other things, sure, but not running. These shoes are lightweight, but still cushiony (hi, felt like I was running on clouds) and supportive. The drop is about average — 8mm — and the knit construction is PRETTY. I’ve worn these to work as athleisure, too. Running-wise, I personally wouldn’t use them for a marathon distance/long, long marathon training runs, but I feel like there’s enough support in them to run up to about a half-marathon.
A big part of the reason I went on this trip was to restore my running confidence, and I’m happy to say it’s on its way back! My paces aren’t where they used to be. Maybe they’ll come back; maybe they won’t. I’m getting back into the game for my mental health and that feeling of accomplishment. If those paces come back, GREAT, but I’m just running for my sanity, really.
Why do you run? Do you like relays?