This past weekend I finished my first marathon relay: The 24th Annual Equinox Marathon Relay. It was an incredible experience that I really wanted to share! The Equinox Marathon, Ultramarathon, and Relay (http://equinoxmarathon.org/) is consistantly ranked one of the toughest in the nation; it was ranked #9 in 2013 (http://www.weather.com/sports-rec/worlds-toughest-marathons-running-20121103?pageno=8). It was published in Runners World in April, 2013 as trails we love to run (http://www.runnersworld.com/trails-run/trails-we-love-equinox-marathon-trail?page=single). So, needless to say, I was not trained to run the entire thing, but being part of the relay was an unforgettable experience.
As I said in my previous blog, I found two awesome people, last minute, to run the relay with me. Our Marathon Relay team name was Beat the Blerch. If you don’t know about the Blerch – read the comic: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/running. We all set and met our own goals for our relay legs, I exceeded mine by quite a bit (and that included a bathroom break when the outhouses were not at the relay exchange where I anticipated they would be, but instead they were .5 miles into my leg).
So my adventure started the night before, at a busy bib pick up and spaghetti feed. I got to meet up with my relay team, meet their friends and family, some of my friends running the entire marathon, and meet some new friends. I just continue to fall more and more in love with the Fairbanks racing community! Here I am beginning to realize how NOT alone I am as a runner in Fairbanks. We discussed our game plan for the next day, the relay exchange, how would we get from here to there and our anticipated relay times.
The night before, I got snacks, water, and gear ready the night before. I always lay everything out – this is part of what I do to prepare for race day. All of my race clothes are in a nice, folded pile, and I have a checklist of everything I need for the next day. The last thing I want is to forget my gloves, chapstick, or clif shotblocks and realize it midrace or before I am about to start running.
I was up bright and early the morning of. I made myself some eggs with veggies and was out of the house to be dropped off near the starting line. The guns were going off at 8am, and I was there in time to find my tall teammate Dave and see off my leg 1 relay teammate, Andrea and my friends and wish them all luck. Off went the gun (to most people’s surprise, actually). Cheers! Cheers! They were off!
Dave, myself and my new friend Patty (who was also a leg 2 runner today) all hoped in the car and headed up to the Musk Ox farm. Patty cheered on racers out of the back window as we drove up and down the roads along the way. The morning was absolutely beautiful. I mean, beautiful. Being crisp and chilly was put on the sidelines to the amazing outlined view of the mountains, the perfect autumn colors and the energy of runners coming in and out of the trails.Did I mention it was maybe 23 degrees outside? I am glad I packed a warmer pair of socks to put on before my leg of the race.
We got to the musk ox farm and cheered on dozens of people – many we knew, most we didn’t. But we cheered them on at mile 5 of their 26.2 mile journey – or 8.4 mile relay journey – or 40 mile ultramarathon journey, giving them our love and energy to keep them strong. This is what its all about. For the first time, I got to be a supporter, a spectator.I got to be the person I loved seeing on the sidelines – cheering on everyone else. After our teammate Andrea passed, and all of our other friends came through, we headed to exchange zone 1 and made sure we knew what to do.
At the first exchange zone, we cheered on racers coming through (and we jumped up and down to keep warm), and watched for Andrea to come through. In the distance, we saw her running to the exchange zone finish line, her hair looking like a halo in the morning sun across the field (no joke – thats how we noticed her). She came through, finishing at 2:01:24.3! She high-fived Dave – and leg 2 was off! We walked around, chatting and keeping warm, as we had some time to get to the top of Ester Dome. Dave had the slightly shorter but by far the toughest leg of the race. It has single tracks, a tough uphill (and come to find out – icey) out and back and the most elevation of the entire race. Dave would be pulling a big part of the race for us! I continued to meet some awesome new people, Andrea checked on friends, and got changed to keep warm, and we headed up to Henderson to catch the shuttle bus to exchange point 2, at close to the bottom of the out and back.
It took awhile to catch the shuttle, but we got to exchange. There was snow on the way up to the shuttle and looked icey at the exchange point. The beautiful view seemed to go on forever, and I was really excited after nearly 4 hours of supporting friends and strangers running the race, I was ready to start. The panoramic view of the autumn colored leaves set up against the clear mountains were maybe the best I’ve seen since moving here. I thought to myself, “I get to look at this while I’m running? I am just so lucky.” Andrea headed back down to get to the finish line to see her husband Chris cross – he’s built like a runner and would be finishing much soon than our relay team. Andrea was busy supporting alot of people today!
I waited as Dave finished the out and back. I watched for other friends as they went out to conquer the battle of the Dome, but didn’t see anyone (apparently – they were all up on the Dome while I was waiting and did my exchange). I waited and waited in the cold, and finally, I saw Dave in the distance, coming down the hill to the exchange zone. I quickly took off my second layer of pants and coat, handed them to Dave and high-fived him – both as a congrats for his awesome job in finishing under 2 hours (1:59:38.2) and to take on my leg. Off I went! Down the hill and back up .5 miles to the Chute (this is where I had to use the outhouse and lost some time – I thought it was at the exchange zone so I could have been prepared!).
The Chute is .3 miles and seems like it’s 3 miles long. It is practically a 90 degree angle drop (I’d say I’m exaggerating – but if you have to go down it, you’d say it is too). It was thankfully mostly dry – no snow, no ice, not much mud. It was late enough in the race to not have alot of traffic of other racers. I did better than I anticipated down it. It’s hard to keep focus down the Chute because the view out ahead of it is incredible, but if you are busy looking out at the mountains, you aren’t looking at what you’re doing. That’s not a good combo. Once you come off the Chute, it’s the beautiful Alder trail, which happened to be covered in leaves still (I mean, it is Fall here, afterall) and now, also covered with a light layer of snow – which was double trouble covering the tree roots and rocks.
Let me stop here and share with you that last weekend, I ran most of leg 3 to prep for this race, and fell right around this part of the trail, tripping on a tree root I couldn’t see. According to my friend, when she turned around, I looked like superman flying, except I was sliding across the then-muddy ground. Both hands fully extended. I only suffered some scraps and hurt pride, and I was thankful it was her with me. So, I was a little nervous here. Luckily, I got through without a hitch. The rest of the leg was smooth sailing. I felt strong on the paved roads because of my training on paved trails for my half marathon next month. I tried to pace myself, but found myself stronger on the downhills than I ever have been before. Raceday brings out the best in me – strength from places deep down inside. Plus, my body thrives in this cold weather. Two miles in, my hands were already hot and I took off my gloves. I am not one for hot weather – I am a little furnace as it is.
Around mile 5 is the powerline mile. It was luckily not muddy, snowy or slippery. However, it was the part I had to power through. This was the part I kept thinking, I have to pull through, I am part of a team that’s depending on me to bring up the rear. I missed my water pack on this killer hill – knowing I had a mile before the last water station, and I missed my running buddy April, who got me up and over this hill last week. But I knew she’d be pushing me and telling me to get through it. And thats what I did. I passed a group of people (including someone dressed like Sasquash) with cookies and beer. It wasn’t the water I wanted, but people cheering me on was encouraging. Then I came to the last water station before the finish and there was my teammate Dave! Cheering me on! It was the last bit of encouragement I needed to get me through! I downed some water, poweraid, and a small piece of orange and kept on.
Like I had just taken magic beans, I was able to pick up my pace and power on. Like many people do, I picked someone a little faster than me, and kept with her. I did that until we crossed into the UAF trails, and went up the short but straining hill. I knew I’d have one more hill to conquer after this, but hadn’t been on it yet. I had no idea how long it was and after 8.5 miles, it felt like a lifetime. But I did it, and wouldn’t let myself stop because I knew after I got over it, it was all downhill on my favorite paved hill where I know I am strong – The Beat Bethoven Hill as well call it. I came down the hill and straight to the University, to round the corner to the finish There were strangers cheering me, my teammate Andrea and my boyfriend. We finished strong! I had run my 9.5 mile (approx) leg at 1:41:44.4 and our team finished at 5:42:46.8!
Running this relay was a whole new experience for me! I discovered many new friends, got to cheer on my friends throughout the race and feel what it’s like to be a supporter and spectator, and feel what it’s like to be part of a racing TEAM. It was a very powerful experience for me. I encourage any runner out there who hasn’t – to be part of a relay. For the Fairbanks running community, the Equinox is a staple and I feel so blessed to now understand what it’s all about and to have been part of it!