Tales of Running: My First Relay

Yesterday, I participated in my first relay race; The Mill Cities Relay, which pulls together racing clubs from all over Massachusetts, New Hampshire and elsewhere for a 28.9 mile race in 5 legs.  I actually had a great time and scored a personal best in terms of my distance and time.

Mill Cities Relay icon on a magnet
After the 30K I did in September which was hosted by the North Shore Striders, I decided to join the running club.  I hadn't heard much from them since joining and hoped by spring that I would make it to their practices and trainings that they run. However, just before Thanksgiving, I got an email asking if I wanted to join a relay team for the club at The Mill Cities Relay.  I figured why not.  It would give me a chance to do something with the club, meet some other people in the club, and nudge me to do another race in December since I need nudging to run in the cold.  They have me a list of the lengths for the legs of the race; several were 4-5 miles, one was 9.5 miles, and a 2.8 (or so).  I said that I could do the 4-5 milers no problem but if they needed someone to do the 9.5 miles I could, but I don't think I'd be a good choice given that I'm generally slow and haven't actually ran that distance in a while (since my half-marathon in early October).  I had done a handful of 4-6 mile runs and was having trouble getting into the mindset to do something longer.

Unfortunately, I pulled the short straw (or would that be the long straw) and was given the 9.5 mile leg to run.  I was ok with this but felt bad cause I was likely to hurt the team's overall timing.  They didn't mind, so I was set to go.

Anxiously Waiting

Sunday morning came and I was a bit apprehensive.  The weather was drab; cloudy, misty and in the forties.  For some runners, running in the cold is a great experience.  While I don't hate the cold, it takes a bit for me to warm up to it.  The biggest hurdle I contend with is that I wear barefoot shoes.  These are not conducive to colder and wetter weather--it's practically an invitation to frostbite.  When I got there (about 1 hour earlier than the hand off--because I'm always early), it was probably in the high thirties.  I stayed in my car with the heat on occasionally.  Every time I stepped out, I ran back in.  I was smart in this race; it was the first I ran in layers.  I had two long-sleeve tech shirts on, spandex pants, shorts, gloves, and earmuffs.  I figured if I couldn't keep my feet warm, I would make sure everything else was kept sufficiently warm.  I also know from previous runs in the cold that it usually takes until mile two or three for my feet to feel fully normal, having worked through the numbness and such.
Lance Eaton's running number for the Mill Cities Relay

Sitting in the car watching the hand offs, I also got a bit intimidated by some of the runners.  Granted, these were the fastest running groups, but looking at the competition of 9.5 mile runners--some almost stripped bare and leg muscles that looked like chiseled rocks, I certainly felt less competent than previously acknowledged.

Soon enough my group leader showed up, gave me my number and introduced me to other people within the North Shore Striders.  She was very nice and welcoming, which was reassuring as were the others that met.  It made for a warmer start to the race.  Soon enough, my switch-off person was coming down the runway and I was being handed the baton to take off.  I started off at a decent clip and tried to keep steady throughout the race (which I surprisingly did).

On My Way

The route itself was by far the most beautiful run I've done.  Much of the run was along the Merrimack River and country roads or at least lightly trafficked roads.   For large stretches of the 9.5 miles, I was running along a river with the various buildings and scenery beyond lightly faded by a decent fog.  I wish I had brought a camera--except that it would have killed my time.  Given that long stretched of the run I was by myself, it was quite serene and enjoyable.  It most likely added in some way to my success as I continued to enjoy the landscape which distracted me from focusing on my watch or on any creeping coldness (at least early on--by mile 3, I felt quite warm).  I breezed through the miles, really only checking my watch about once every mile and less so towards the end.

Timing for the race
I've never been much of a fan of team-based sports.  I get why they are important and I get their purposes, but in my experience as a kid, they were largely negative places.  Most know that I played sports like football and baseball not of my own choice but out of coercion from my parents.  Thus the experience was disappointing and distasteful (as have sports been for much of my life).  But this was a sports team experience that I rather enjoyed.  The fact that others' success was in part dependent on me certainly kept me running at a quicker pace than I might otherwise if it was just for me.  That I entered it voluntarily and was welcomed by peers of all different levels, made it all the more enjoyable.

The final results of the race showed that our team (Dial 911--luckily, we didn't have to!) didn't win, but we did have fun.  I was excited by doing a personal best on a race at a distance I hadn't run in a while.   At the race's end, I didn't feel as exhausted as I have before and given my energy levels, I could definitely go a couple more miles.   I also think I'm likely to do some more relay runs in the future and participate more with the running club.

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