Tuesday, July 23, 2013

On the Run: Great Lakes Relay 2013

This weekend I had the honor of running with The World's Most Interesting Team for The Great Lakes Relay (GLR).  (You can read more about GLR and how I got on the team in my last post.)  When I say I had the honor, I truly mean that.  I couldn't have asked for a better team.  And captain.  We all got along well together, were fiercely competitive, laughed a lot, and above all had fun.  And to see my teammates racing as hard as they do is something that I strive to do.  I was among the elite.  

There are two categories for GLR - open and mixed.  The World's Most Interesting Team was a mixed team, made up of 6 men - Brad, Derek, Scot, Brian, Dave, John - and 4 women - Mikelle, Mary Beth, Kim, and myself.  We also had Mike along for support, which was super helpful, especially when one of our vehicles broke down!

GLR certainly isn't for everyone.  Hell, I can hardly believe I did it!  6 races in 3 days.  6 HARD races.  Up at 4 a.m.  Rain, sun, bugs, dirt, mud.  Pooping in the woods.  Although, pooping in the woods is way better than many port-a-potty situations I've been in!  haha!

I'll do my best to recap my experience at GLR.  I can't share everything with you, however, because what happens at GLR stays at GLR!  (wink wink)


Breakfast - Quaker oatmeal cups

Snacks - bananas (3/day), Clif Mojo Bars (1/day), Clif Builder Bars (1/day), apples (1/day)

Dinner - quinoa salad, garden salad, Larabar (Thursday), Subway veggie sub, Baked Lays, Larabar (Friday and Saturday), Black Bean and Portabella Burger, fries (Sunday at North Point Brewing Co. in Traverse City)

Day 1

My first leg of the relay almost started out very badly.  We got to my leg, I got ready, warmed up, and then we were just hanging out.  We had an ETA on Kim coming in but then I sort of lost track of time.  I should have been at the exchange waiting but I wasn't.  All a sudden, Mary Beth saw Kim coming down the way.  OMG!  I ran!  I ran to the exchange, turned my Garmin on to find satellites, and turned around just as Kim got there.  And I was off!  Phew, that was way too close!  Rookie mistake.

My first leg was straightforward and relatively easy until the the last mile or so.  That's when I hit a gravel road with some steep grades.  It was a good challenge, though, and a great leg to start the day.

I first ran at 7:15 a.m.  It was already hot and humid and only getting worse.  It started to storm on and off later in the day and the humidity was unbearable.  Steam was rising off the roads.  Temps were in the 80's.  The sun came back out and baked us some more.  Everyone was miserable.  At no point was it good running weather by any stretch of the imagination.

My second leg of the day was around 1:00.  The heat and humidity definitely slowed me down.  As did the muddy roads after all the rain.  And some hills.  I'm not gonna lie.  It was rough.  Thankfully I had vehicle support on this leg, which meant that one of our SUVs could drive the leg with me.  My teammates would stop every 1/2 mile or so to offer water and cheer me on.  At the end I couldn't stomach anything but having water poured over my back felt great!  (My time and pace are estimates on Leg A-12 because I forgot to stop my Garmin and had to estimate based on my mile splits.  I think I was delirious from the heat!)

Leg A-4
  • Distance - 5.1 miles
  • Time - 37:01
  • Pace - 7:10 min/mile

Leg A-12
  • Distance - 4.45 miles
  • Time - 32:30 (est.)
  • Pace - 7:18 min/mile (est.)

Day 2

Almost all the legs on Day 2 were on the Shore to Shore Trail.  This was the hardest and most stressful day of the GLR.  At least for me.  I woke up with knots in my stomach and was more anxious for my legs than for any race I'd ever run.  Maybe by now I'd finally realized what I'd gotten myself into!

Staying on the trail isn't as easy as it sounds.  It is marked with blue dots that you need to constantly look for.  If you go too long without seeing a blue dot, you better back up and find one.  Even though you run with your directions, there are lots of places where it looks like the trail splits.  Sometimes there's a blue arrow pointing you in the right direction.  Usually there isn't. 

Aside from the "blue dot" mantra going through your brain, there's the trail itself.  It's narrow as all get-up.  Basically a mountain bike trail that at some places would be too tight to place both feet side by side.  Not that I could even see my feet during my first run of the day.  The trail was overgrown with brush so I was running blind (and of course I wasn't wearing my glasses so I was doubly blind!).  I could feel rocks and branches underfoot.  Sometimes I had to jump over branches.  At one point I had to climb a log that was blocking my path.  I got a wicked nasty cut on my thigh from a raspberry bramble and lots of little scratches on my ankles and shins.  The woods are brutal!

So on Day 2, I had to slow down and run smart, figuring it was better to have a slower pace than end up with a twisted ankle and be out for the rest of the race.  Or go tearing though the woods and get lost.  I did well on my first leg.  I didn't fall or get lost.  I hesitated in the clearing before seeing the trail-head, but I didn't lose too much time.

On my second leg I thought I got off the trail.  I was running really well when I came to a road.  My directions didn't say I would come to a road so I panicked.  I backtracked 0.1 mile to check for a blue dot to confirm I was on track.  Then I retraced my steps, crossed the road, and saw a blue dot.  I was so mad for doubting myself and costing my team an extra 0.2 mile.  Plus it shook my confidence for the remainder of that leg.  And you can see it in my pace.  I didn't get lost but I still felt like I screwed up.  And this was one of the easy legs!  I was relieved to be done running for the day, especially since it meant the end of the trails.  I love trail running for the beauty and adventure but the stress was killing me!

Leg B-5
  • Distance - 5.7 miles
  • Time - 47:15
  • Pace - 8:04 min/mile

Leg B-15
  • Distance - 3.6 miles
  • Time - 32:53
  • Pace - 8:22 min/mile

Day 3

I was happy to have shorter legs on Day 3; however, I knew that shorter didn't mean easier.  Not in the GLR.  I was going to have to give it my all, down to my very last race.

My last two legs were both on the road but not like any roads I'm used to running.  They were sandy, dusty, rocky, and bumpy.  It was a challenge to find good footing.  I had cars driving by dusting me even more.  Hardly pleasant.  But on the upside, both routes were straight shots so there was no chance of getting lost!

I ran my ass off on those last two legs.  Straight up sprints to the finish.  The last one in particular.  I was exhausted.  I was starving.  I couldn't breath.  But I pushed to the end.  And it felt amazing to have finished GLR!

Leg C-8
  • Distance - 2.9 miles
  • Time -20:53
  • Pace - 7:12 min/mile

Leg C-16
  • Distance - 2.5 miles
  • Time - 17:59
  • Pace - 7:08 min/mile 

The BIG Finish and Results

The race ended at Empire Beach near Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes.  The whole team was there to see Scot finish the Glory Leg and some of the team ran him in.  I took a picture and cheered him on.  It was incredible to be a part of it all! 

Our team came in 4th, just 13 seconds ahead of the 5th place team.  Talk about close!  But we did it!  And we all got sweet ceramic steins because we placed in the top 5.  

Everybody partied on the beach with pizza and drinks.  Some people went in the lake but it was too cold for me.  We took a lot of great pics and just hung out with our teammates and the other teams that we'd seen along the way at all the exchanges.  We went to the awards ceremony and then before I knew it, it was time to say out good-byes.  Just days before, these 9 people were complete strangers to me.  After 3 straight days of living and running together, we were leaving as friends.  I had so many mixed feelings going into GLR but it turned out to be the best racing experience of my life.  I would do it again in a heartbeat, especially with this team.  Run thirsty, my friends!

The World's Most Interesting Team


  1. I love the part about your teammates being complete strangers before the race. And afterwards finding it hard to say good-bye! Great post. Great runs.

  2. Sounds like a great event! I ran the 2013 TN Ragnar and about to do AR's Outback in the Ozarks next week. I'm hooked on relay events! :) Where do you find the legs for each runner on the GLR website (I couldn't find it)? Do you sleep overnight or is it like Ragnar where you are either running or in the van?

    1. The legs are provided to the team captains several weeks prior to the event and he/she (or a committee of team members) decide who will run each leg based on the talent of each runner and the published difficulty of the leg. There is a lot of strategy in this since the team must get its vehicles and runners to the exchange points as quickly and as efficiently as possible while running the course as quickly as possible and making sure its team can eat, find gas stations in the Michigan "outback", and give each runner the maximum time to "rest" between runs. Vehicles are prohibited from many of the trails which require vehicle detours to get to the next exchange point. At the end of each day the teams camp (the GLR organizing committee makes arrangements at high-schools for camping and showers), or many teams reserve motel rooms while some use their family's summer cabin. Some teams eat granola bars all weekend while others find restaurants. Some teams keep expenses relatively low by camping and bringing their own food while others check into hotels rent RV's and eat at restaurants. Everyone must run at least 24 miles over three days. The slower teams are allowed to "run concurrently" meaning that the teams splits up while (for example) four runners are finishing up legs 11-14, the other six drive ahead to leg 15 and run to the finish at leg 20. The split teams MUST record their start and finish times which will be added for their overall time on course. Teams averaging 10 and 12 minute miles (sandy trails and hills slow runners down significantly), are allowed to run concurrently so as not to finish too late into the evening. Many first time teams get the logistics mixed up but, then again, that is part of the fun.

    2. Very well explained - thanks! Better than I could have done. Our captain had things all worked out with the help of other team members who were also experienced with the event. Definitely a lot of strategy involved! We stayed with our captain's family the first night and in a centrally-located hotel the 2nd and 3rd nights. We ate lots of bananas, granola bars, and PB-filled pretzels! The first leg starts at 6am each morning and runs until finished. You bounce back and forth among your different vehicles with different team members throughout the day and see lots of familiar faces of other teams throughout the weekend. Its an amazing event! Not sure I'm ready for one of those run though the night, sleep in the van events yet! haha.