There is no question that the popularity of long distance relay races has increased in recent years, in large part due to the Ragnar Relay series. The possibility of running in one of these multi-stage events has always been in the back of my mind, but the timing and location has never made it a possibility. However, with this increased popularity, other races have been popping up around the country. One such event is the Market to Market Relay series. It started with a relay from Omaha to Lincoln, Nebraska (78 miles), and added a second race in Iowa this year. That’s where I come in.
My amazing group of running friends in Team Vardo was quick to jump on the opportunity to participate in the first Iowa Market to Market relay, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to give relay races a shot. I knew I would enjoy the company, but I was uncertain of the race experience itself. I’ve been pushing myself towards longer and longer distances, and away from more speed work, so the relay represented just the opposite. However, the race and the experience far exceeded my expectations and ended up being the canvas for some amazing memories!
Our team, the “Speedy Streakers”, had been exchanging messages for several months in preparation for the race, and when the day rolled around to finally embark on our journey, we were raring to go! The race started in Jefferson, IA, and ended in Des Moines, IA. As luck would have it, one of our teammates’ parents happened to live in Jefferson, so we drove down Friday night to stay with them, and relax a bit before the race the next day. Her parents were amazing hosts, fed us a delicious dinner (and breakfast), and gave us a great place to sleep. I’m definitely a fan of waking up and being less than a mile form the starting line of a race 🙂
The race itself was extremely well-organized. Teams of 6, 7, or 8 started in waves, accordingly to anticipated finish time, and faster teams started later. We comprised a mixed gender team of 7, and didn’t think of ourselves as terribly fast, but still ended up being slotted in wave 6 with an 8:30AM start time. This meant being able to sleep in a bit more, which was also very nice! We made our way down to the starting line to meet up with the two other Vardo teams, and see them off for their 7:30AM start time. The air was brisk, and the wind was whipping, but the sun was out so we had no major complaints. Luckily, the wind was blowing from the northwest, so we enjoyed a tailwind for almost the entire relay!
The relay itself was broken into 17 stages, for a total of 75 miles. I ended up running the 1st, 8th, and 15th stages, and I was happy to start things off. My adrenaline was pumping at the start, as it is for most races, and I made every attempt to calm myself down so I wouldn’t start out too fast! Based on my most recent training, I was anticipating running around 8:00 minute miles. The first leg was a 4.8 mile segment, so I knew I could push myself a bit more. I took off with the others in our wave, with the rest of the team hopping in the van to race to the next checkpoint. I knew I started out a bit fast, but when I hit the one mile mark and looked down to see 6:54, I realized just how much I had been pushing. I haven’t been doing much speed work yet this season (although I am going to be starting soon, and have made the new shoe purchase- more to come later!), but I figured I’d push it as hard as I could and see what happened. I flew into the first checkpoint and handed off the chip timer to my teammate, and when I stopped my watch, I saw that I had averaged 7:16/mile over those 4.8 miles. Certainly fast than I had expected from myself!
Throughout the day, each stage transitioned really quickly, and everyone on our team was going fast enough that we just barely made it to most of the checkpoints before we needed to make the handoff. As a result, there was very little downtime, and everyone spent the day pretty fired up. We had packed plenty of snacks and water/Gatorade, but the energy and pace of the day meant we didn’t consume nearly what we should have by the day’s end! The quick pace of everything, and the time we spent hoping in and out of the van made for some great conversations and plenty of great running memories.
By the time I was due to run again at stage 8, we had almost caught up to the other Vardo teams, which meant we would start seeing them more at the checkpoints. It was great to be able to spend the day with so many friends, in addition to all the new friends and crazy runners we met along the way! My second leg was a bit longer at 5.8 miles, so I figured I had better take it a bit slower at first. However, my legs clearly had other plans as I clocked my first mile at 6:46! I was still feeling great, so I kept pushing it. With the wind at my back, I felt like I had leveled up in an old Nintendo video game as the miles kept flying by amidst the beautiful Greenbelt Trail. Despite a deceptive hill in the final half mile, I ran into the checkpoint with plenty of energy. I ran my second leg at a 7:12/mile pace. I’m pretty sure these were two of the fastest runs I had ever ticked off and it felt wonderful.
We kept on jumping from stage to stage, only getting a bit lost once 🙂 By the time my last leg rolled around, everyone was beginning to feel a bit tired, but our energy was still high. This was my shortest leg, at 4.2 miles, and I was determined to leave it all out on the course. By this point, we were getting close to downtown Des Moines, so we started to see more pedestrian traffic along the trail. This last leg proved to be my most unusual run of the day. After a mile or so (which I hit at 6:46), I ran past a wedding in progress at a public park. I’m guessing they didn’t realize there would be a relay race going on behind them, and it took quite a bit of self-control for me not to yell out “Congratulations!” as I was passing 🙂 Then, after another mile or so, I saw a few young boys up on the right. I didn’t think much of it and didn’t notice what they were doing until I got closer and saw one of them winding kite string in his hand. Before I could react, I felt the kite string clothesline me like a giant spider web wrapping itself around my neck! Instinctively, I pulled it off by yanking hard on the string, and ripped the kite right out of the tree without stopping. I probably could have felt a bit bad for ruining the kite, but they really should have known better considering how much traffic that part of the trail was getting. I started to slow up a bit, but still managed to pull into my final exchange with a 7:31/mile pace.
After we made the final exchange, we met up with our anchor runner to run across the finish line together near Principle Park in Des Moines. We crossed the finish line in a little over 9 hours, and ended up averaging 7:29/mile as a team over the entire 75 mile course. We had far exceeded all of our expectations and ended up placing 23rd overall, out of 211 teams. After 9 hours of running from point to point, the after party in downtown Des Moines made for a great way to round out the night. Beer always seems to taste better after running, doesn’t it? All-in-all, my first relay experience was a fabulous one, and we are already planning for our next relay experience!