Posts Tagged ‘Ultra Marathon Relay’

Usually a race report is one of the easier posts to write.

It is just a matter of taking a few moments to relive the race mentally, then transcribe those thoughts, feelings and emotions into a race recap.

It could be as short as 18 minutes of racing if we’re talking about a 5K.  38 minutes if it is a 10K race, perhaps an hour and 25 minutes for the half marathon.

The mother of all race reports – a full marathon – is just a little over three hours of memories and feelings to cycle through and attempt to capture what the experience was really like.

Well this race report is not like any that have come before it.  Not even last year’s Ragnar adventure from Wickenburg to Tempe compares as this year we stared directly into the belly of the beast and decided to take on the 199-mile challenge from Miami to Key West as an ultra team.

As an “Ultra” entry we would have just 6 runners racing around the clock this year with no time “off” as the other half of the team ran while we rested.

In fact the 6 of us “were” the other half of the team.

Runners 1 and 2 were – Me.

Runners 3 and 4 were – Steve Spiers.

Runners 5 and 6 were – Thomas Neuberger

Runners 7 and 8 were – Jenny Jowdy

Runners 9 and 10 were – Ally Speirs

Runners 11 and 12 were – Sean Brown

We had the option of running our legs individually, meaning we would be running every 6th leg of the race or “doubling up” our legs and running them two at a time.

Both options had their pros and cons.

If we decided to run singles, we would have to warm up and cool down for 6 different runs, with less down-time in between each effort.  The distances would be shorter for each run, but they would be twice as frequent.

If we decided to run “doubles” we would run consecutive two legs at a time, making the distances longer, but reducing the amount of runs to only 3.   Just 3 warm-ups and cooldowns and our portion of the race would be over.

We opted for the second scenario – as we felt we would get more time to rest and recover between efforts.  We would also have to run the individual legs at a slower pace to make sure we saved enough energy for the closing miles.  In hindsight I still feel like we made the right call, but there were a few moments out there where I certainly was questioning our sanity.

But we’re starting to get ahead of ourselves and I want to make sure we don’t miss anything.

Preparations – Supplies and Van Decorating:  On Thursday night we fought through Miami Traffic to the local Wal-Mart to stock “The Damn Van” with all of the supplies that 6 hungry, thirsty and tired runners would need for a 30 hour journey as well as the Damn Van driver John.

Bagels, peanut butter, energy bars, energy drinks, bottled water, salty foods, sweet foods, crunchy foods, Cereal, Twizzler, M&M’s, Tastycakes, paper towels, baby wipes.  Lots of baby wipes.  trash bags, another Garden Gnome for the van, paint markers – essentially everything and anything we may need to keep us hydrated, fueled up and entertained from Miami to Key West.

Stocking up at Walmart

By the time we were 40 miles from the finish line, if I never saw any of those items again it would be too soon.

Friday morning we started the process of transforming our Silver 12-passenger van into “The Damn Van”.

And of course a shout-out to Dom on the bottom right of our transportation that would take us all the way to the keys.  We were ready to go.

The Set-Up:  Our six-person “Ultra” team after submitting our projected paces to the Ragnar Staff was awarded a 1:00 p.m. Starting Time on Friday Afternoon.  The first “wave” of teams start at 5:00 a.m. on Friday morning, the final “wave” of teams start at 3:00 p.m.  Ragnar starts teams that plan on running a slower pace earlier in the morning and those teams running a faster pace later in the day.

The idea being that the faster teams will catch up to the teams ahead of them, allowing for everyone to finish at approximately the same 2-3 hour window on Saturday afternoon.  This helps organize exchange areas, volunteers, the finish line festival, Medical Staffing and all of the variables you have to account for in organizing a 199 mile point to point relay race with 517 individual entries and more than 5,000 runners.

We arrived at the starting area to attend the safety meeting, pick-up our race bibs, our slap bracelet, our caution flags to be used when we exited our van throughout the race and other odds and ends.  We also needed to show the Ragnar staff our headlamps, rear red lights and reflective vests that needed to be worn by all team members between 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. whether you were the “on” runner or not.

Safety is obviously the primary concern when an event like this is being planned.  The folks at Ragnar do a great job of providing a safe environment for the race.  They have a text message system to alert teams of any problems on the course, and will notify you if you are breaking any rules on the course.  Truly top-notch the folks at Ragnar.

We got six #157 Bibs – trimmed in Green to denote we were an ultra team in lieu of the orange-colored bibs for the 12-person teams and it was time to get ready to rumble.

Pre-Race:  Many of my teammates would not be running for several hours, so the mood was light for the most part.  As pictures were being taken and some general laughing and joking around was happening I was starting to feel the pressure of the race begin to mount.  Normally before a race I don’t spend much time talking – I spend most of it running over my race strategy in my head, thinking about my opening mile and I go for a short warm-up to make sure my legs are ready to go.

Pre-Race with Ally, Steve and Sean

Knowing that I would be covering somewhere around 36.5 miles over the next 17-18 hours made me hesitant to do too much of a warm-up, but I wanted to jog just an easy mile to calm the nerves and remind my legs what we were there for.

Joe, Jenny, Ally, Steve, Thomas and Sean (L to R)

After a couple of team photos, I snuck off for a quick quiet moment alone to tick over the legs.

The Start – Leg 1 (and 2):

They called the first runners on the teams to the starting area and I assembled with the other 10 1:00 p.m. team entries.  There were a couple of other “Ultra” teams there, but most of the runners were running with a 12-person group.

I had not decided on pace in any real way.  I thought I would just run free and easy over the first leg and then see where we were around the midpoint of this first run.  The breakdown was 5.7 miles out of Virginia Key State Park, over the causeway bridge and into Miami.  After coming through the first exchange area, I would continue on the course without stopping for another 4.4 miles to the University of Miami Campus.

Once there I would hand off to Steve Speirs and he would take off on his own adventure.

There were a couple of runners that seemed to be wanting to go out around 7:00 min./mile.  I thought that would be a good place to start and back off once we settled in a bit.  I surely wasn’t going to open up the race with 10.1 miles at under 7:00 min./mile pace knowing I still had more than a marathon remaining.

Or was I?

Run Number 1 – 1:00 p.m. Friday Afternoon:

The race director had the crowd at the start area count down from 10 and at the sound of one we were off.  We ran out of the start area and I passed my teammates on the left side of the road way, we snaked our way out of the park, crossed over to the left side of the causeway with help from a police officer and made our way toward the bridge.

First strides towards Key West

I fell into fourth position and started ticking off 800’s in my mind.  The pace felt relaxed and smooth after resting on Wednesday and just an easy 4 miles on Thursday afternoon.  All of the additional miles I had been running lately had me feeling super-strong.  At the beep I glanced down at my watch:

6:41 pace.

What in the hell was I doing.

I made an adjustment in my stride length, kept the breathing free and easy and slowed things down.  I just focused on my cadence and settled in as we approached the bridge.  None of the runners were talking up ahead of me, everyone doing their own thing, so I just stayed even and didn’t worry about looking at my wrist.

My teammates had piled into the van and as they passed along the roadway on the right they honked the horn and yelled encouragement out the windows.  Something that we would do literally 50 or more times as we made our way to Key West.

At the base of the bridge I had stayed comfortably in contact with a group of three runners ahead of me.  One very fast 12-person runner sped away from us and he was already near the top of the bridge, he had to be running something around 6:15 pace.

As the incline started to steepen, the other runners came back to me.  I wasn’t working any harder, but my pace was steady, a testament to the hundreds of hill repeat we have covered over the past year and a half.  After we sped down the other side of the bridge the course flattened out and we made a left hand turn to run along the sidewalk toward the first exchange area.

I was running with a woman named Sue O’Hara.  A 52-year old track coach at a local Catholic High School.  Sue’s Marathon PR of 2:43 was pretty darn impressive.  We talked a bit about the race, our marathon experience and how we were feeling.  As we got closer to the exchange point I mentioned that I had another 4+ miles to go after we reached it, and she looked over at my green bib.

“You’re running great, keep it going” – she told me.

In my mind I was thinking, “you are going way too fast too early you knucklehead”.  Enjoy the way these miles feel now, because you are going to pay for it later.

As we approached the exchange area a Ragnar Volunteer called out my bib number to the runners up ahead.  This is done to alert the other teammates that their runner is approaching and to have the next person in line ready to go.  As I heard them call “#157” out – my heart sank just a bit.  I wouldn’t be passing off the slap bracelet, I was just a little bit more than half-way there.

Sue stopped to hand off to her teammate who immediately fell behind me.  I was running alone and with the exception of a runner that I could see far up ahead of me, I was on my own to navigate the course all the way to the University of Miami.

I’m sure at this point you are picturing a beautiful scene.  Blue sky, Palm Trees, a runner ticking off the miles effortlessly.  Nice image.  Just not accurate.  The sun was high in the sky and my singlet was sticking to my chest, I pulled it off and all of the moisture wiped across my sunglasses, leaving wet streaks to look through.

The area we were running through was not exactly “picturesque”.  There was foot traffic, car traffic and around Homestead, certain drug traffic going on around me.  I was zigging and zagging through a crowded pedestrian area for the better part of a mile and a half, paying close attention to cross walks and traffic lights.

With approximately 2.5 miles to go I had to cross over US-1 by way of a pedestrian footbridge.  This meant slowing to a near stop and going up 24 stairs, running across the pedestrian walkway high above the highway, then back down 24 stairs on the other side.

Not a lot of fun in the best of circumstances, but certainly not a lot of fun 7.5 miles into a run.

Finally things looked up a bit from a traffic perspective as we neared the University of Miami Campus.  I made the final turn to the right and ran through to the exchange area where Steve Speirs was waiting for me.

Approaching British Bulldog for the Hand-off

I slapped the bracelet around his wrist and just like that Steve was off.  Run number one was in the books.

Steve Spiers taking to the course

The course measured a bit long – a total of 10.32 miles covered in 1:11:55

6:41, 7:03, 6:44, 6:59, 7:17, 7:10, 6:40, 7:18, 6:54, 6:51 and the final .31 at 6:55 pace.

First Run of Ragnar Florida Keys

My first run came in at 6:58 pace overall.  A good :15 seconds faster than I had tentatively planned.  Not the smartest thing I ever did, but there wasn’t very much I could do about it at that point.  Just change clothes, grab a Gatorade and move on to the next one.

Into the Damn Van I went.

Run Number 2 – 8:08 p.m. Friday Night:

Each of my teammates took to the course and did their thing.  Run after run, stop after stop and by 4:00 p.m. Steve, Thomas and I had completed our first runs.  It was time to get on the reflective gear and get ready for the long night ahead.

Here comes the night

It looked like I would be off until about 8:00 p.m. where I would be running a large portion of my 13.5~ mile run “off-road” along the canal road and into the Everglades.  Steve Speirs would follow-up my run with a combined 20 miles through the same area.

More than 33 miles through the swamps of Florida, in an area remote enough that Steve and I were required to sign an additional safety waiver – quite literally referred to as “The Alligator Waiver”.  I’m not sure entirely what we were agreeing to, but I do know that we spoke about the need to run in a zig-zag pattern if we were to come across one of those critters as they cannot cut and weave at all.  They can only run in a straight line.


Steve and I spoke about pace again in the van before our legs.  We both told each other we would take it easy, but I think we both knew that we were full of sh#!.  I was going to do the same thing as Steve.  I was going to run at a slightly uncomfortable pace and try to hold it steady until it was time to stop.  Pretty much the recipe at every race you run.

To me, this was the key leg of the race.  I would be able to knock out the last one if for no other reason than knowing it was the last one.

This one however was going to be rough.

Sean Brown appeared right on schedule.  The nice part about this leg was it started at the Homestead Race Track.  As Sean entered the area, they called out our number.  Sean would have to run more than a full mile around the NASCAR track before he handed over the slap bracelet.  I waited in the warm van until we heard our number called, I then was able to load up my water bottle and make a quick stop at the bathroom.

I got all that done in plenty of time for Sean to come through Pit Road and hand off to me.  Just like that I was leaving Homestead towards the Everglades.

This run started innocently enough, I ran out of Pit road, up through the tunnel that they use to bring the race cars into the track and then made a left turn onto a nice, smooth asphalt path that led out of the Raceway area.  I settled into a comfortable pace just a tick or so under 7:00 min./mile and decided I would hold on right there until we reached the canal road if I could.  That would be roughly the half-way point of my night-time run.

If the path was as rough as they said it was, I would have to slow my pace down to navigate all of the ruts and potholes.   I wanted to run some quality splits while I could and my legs felt relatively fresh.  There was very little in the way of signage over these first few miles.  I could see a faint, tiny, blinking red light up ahead – perhaps 1/2 mile or so that had to be another runner.  I just stuck to the “obvious” course and hoped that I was going in the right spot.

After a very uneventful 6-miles there was a RAGNAR RACE sign that pointed to the RIGHT with a red light flashing atop it.  I made the right turn and took a few strides off of the asphalt and onto a crushed stone path.  Things were about to get very different from here on out.

I ran on for about 1/2 mile when I noticed a second sign that instructed runners to turn LEFT.  Up ahead I saw another runner’s tail light flashing who had missed the turn.  For a split-second I doubted what I should do, but I thought the chances of him or her being lost was far greater than the sign being wrong – so I made the left turn and hoped for the best.

The canal road started to narrow, perhaps only 8-10 feet wide at this point and littered with ruts and potholes.  I found myself zig-zagging back and forth looking for smooth footing, but every so often I would misstep and get knocked off stride.  I stopped worrying about my pace and started worrying about making it through the end of this double-leg healthy.

Later I would learn that several runners took a tumble over this section, cut hands and knees – it was definitely treacherous.

I hit the exchange area and powered right on through.  Just 4.7 miles left until it would be time to hand off to Steve.

For this stretch the road was a good bit wider and the runners would be sharing the canal road with the team vans.  As each van approached their headlights would illuminate the road which was helpful, but as they passed they kicked up an enormous amount of dust, that would cloud your vision through your headlamp.

Mile after mile I kept looking for our van to pass me by, and as I got closer to the exchange area I started to get very nervous.  The vans could only drive 10-15 miles an hour through this section so as not to disturb the runners.  I began to wonder if Steve would be waiting for me or not at the exchange.

With a mile to go I stepped into a rut and turned my left ankle.  It wasn’t too bad I thought as I caught myself before I really came down hard on it.  Less than 20 strides later, I turned it again.  Son of a @$#%!  It seems like that is always the way it goes after you misstep, you always have another one on that same foot within a few hundred meters.  With less than 1/2 mile to go I was thinking about the fact that I still had not seen the Damn Van pass me by and I did it again.

I stepped right onto a loose stone in the middle of my foot and it spun out and turned my left ankle for the third time in less than a mile.

Up ahead I could see the bright temporary lights of the exchange area and I knew I was almost there.  Just then, with less than 2/10 of a mile to go the Damn Van passed me on my left.  As I pulled into the parking lot I could see the side door of the van open up and Steve hopped out ready to run before the Damn Van had even stopped moving.

I slapped the bracelet around his wrist and just like that Steve was off.  Run number two was done.

The course measured a bit long again – a total of 13.72 miles covered in 1:38:08.

6:57, 6:58, 7:03, 7:01, 7:01, 6:55, 7:01, 7:10, 7:07, 7:15, 7:22, 7:21, 7:30 and the final .72 at 7:27 pace.

Run Number 2 Ragnar Florida Keys

My ankle was a bit sore, but all in all covering that run in 7:09 pace was pretty solid.  I walked over to the EMS person and got a quick snap ice bag to put on my ankle and hopped back into The Damn Van.  Time for yet another bagel with peanut butter, more Gatorade, a power bar and a few handfuls of Peanut Butter Captain Crunch.

Dinner of Champions.  I washed that down with some more Gatorade and a Turkey Sandwich that the guys picked up for me while I was running.  I was trying to keep track mentally of my calories in vs. my calories out – but I felt like I was losing that battle. 

Rehydrating before my final run in the morning was going to be important as the sun was sure to be shining and it was going to be a hot one on Saturday running across the 7-mile bridge.

Run Number 3 – 7:58 a.m. Saturday Morning:  We continued on through the night as Steve, Thomas, Jenny and Ally took to the course.

Jenny had a bit of a mishap as when she was crossing an intersection a car waved her through.  Behind that car was a Ragnar sign that was instructing runners to turn left.  She never saw it.

She ran one mile down the road before turning back, knowing that she must have missed a turn.  She ended up running an extra 2-miles, turning our 199 mile adventure into 201.  It’s all part of the deal with an overnight relay.

The sun was up now as Sean took off for his second run.  The temperature was rising quickly as was the sun off to the East or Left side of the course, slightly behind the runners as we were headed due South along the side of US-1.  I debated what to wear for this leg, whether I should run shirtless or with a singlet, but I decided that I would put on my Brooks Marathon Maniacs Singlet to keep a little bit of sun off of me.

I had a short 3-mile opening segment, then I would run through exchange 26 and straight into a 9.1 mile stretch that took us up and over the 7-mile bridge.  The first three miles were going to be fast, flat and smooth.  At this point in the race we had caught up to a ton of teams and I was passing runners just about every 1,600 meters.  Runners were tired and beat-up, but as many were only running 3-miles at this point as part of a 12-person team, people were “racing” this section.

Again I settled on a pace right around 7:00 min./mile – and decided to go with it until I could no longer hold it together.  Over the past two hours my legs which around midnight were protesting even stepping down out of the Damn Van had started to come around and get with the program.

I hit the left half of the roadway and started reeling in the runners in front of me one by one.

6:57, 6:58, 7:03 as we passed the Ragnar staffer who said into his walkie-talkie – “Runner 157”, he looked at me and said, keep pushing man, you are almost there …. I smiled at him and said, “I don’t get to stop until the next one ….”

As I went past him he said, “Oh man, that sucks.”

I didn’t pay him too much attention, but in a few miles, I would find out he was right.

I had two more miles of flat road as we approached the 7-mile bridge.  I ticked off those two miles in identical 7:01’s.

They had shifted the race to the right shoulder of the road after the exchange area so we could run along a bike path approaching the bridge.  The only issue was that they wanted us to run on the LEFT side of the 7-mile bridge against traffic for safety.  As we approached the bridge we went down a small hill to the bottom of a railway tie staircase.

We had to run up the stairs, over the pedestrian walkway to the other side of US-1.  We then had to come down another set of railroad tie steps and run back NORTH toward the direction we had just come from for 2/10 of a mile and then loop up another set of stairs and finally onto the left side of the bridge.


Any rhythm I had to that point was lost trying to navigate the obstacle course, my pace over that mile was 7:55.

As I powered up to get on the bridge a young runner heard me coming and looked over his shoulder.  He said to me, “How in the world are you looking so strong this late?”  He looked at the bib pinned to my shorts and saw the green outline.  “And you’re an ultra runner?  Jesus.”

I forced a smile and said, “I’m just trying to keep it together, I’m not sure how much longer this is going to last.” and away I went.

Mile 7 of this leg was nice, smooth and flat and I was able to drop back down again to that comfortable zone.  7:01 for mile 7.

The roadway gradually started to climb as we approached what would be the large apex of the bridge which looked like it was a good 2-miles in the distance.  I was starting to heat up, my singlet was sticking to my chest, my legs dripping with sweat down into my socks.  I hit my Gatorade bottle on my hip a couple of times to try to get some more electrolytes in me, but with just over 4 miles left, I was starting to show a few cracks.

Shot of the 7-mile bridge apex

Miles 8,9 and 10 came in at 7:10, 7:07, 7:15 and we were finally at the climb to the top.  There were runners walking now, a lot of them, just trying to hang in there and get to their last exchange.  Oddly, seeing other runners struggling made me feel like I was still in decent shape.  Sure I was tired, my feet hurt, but there was a sense of having come so far already, it wasn’t time to give in now.

I took a few strides and realized that this is exactly the same way I feel in the final 3-4 miles of a marathon.

I continued up the bridge with a 7:22 mile at number 11 and a 7:21 at mile 12.

Less than 2 miles to go and I would be done.  My legs started to really fight me at this point and I just decided to run smooth to the end.

7:30 over mile 14 and a final .72 miles at 7:27 pace.

I saw my friend Steve waiting for the slap bracelet and I sent him off on his way.

Run Number 3 Ragnar Florida Keys

For me, Ragnar Florida Keys was in the books from a running perspective.  Now it was time to root home the team and start refueling and recovering.

Final Legs:  Steve, Thomas, Jenny, Ally and Sean all ran strong through to the finish.  The sun was beating down and it was getting awfully hot out there.  I was very impressed with the way all of our runners kept it together and kept pushing.  Sean had one of the longer final runs of 10 miles.

I met him at the mid-point of his run with a second water bottle that he poured over his head – drenched head to toe, running hard, 5 more miles to the finish line.  All I could do is smile as he passed me by.  He was a frickin’ warrior.  So proud of him.

We drove the Damn Van to the hotel at the finish area, got back into our “previously worn” sweaty singlets and waited for them to call our number.

At just a few ticks before 4:00 p.m., Thomas yelled to me, “Here he come’s let’s go!” – and we all hopped back onto the course to run the last 1/10 of a mile with Sean as we crossed the finish line as a group.

Team Where's The Damn Van Finishing - 27:01:50

Team Time – 27 Hours, 1 minute, 50 seconds.  8th place among the Men’s Ultra Teams (teams need 3 female runners to qualify for mixed, we only had 2), and what appears to be 31st place overall out of more than 500 entries.

The road goes on forever and the party never ends - Robert Earl Keen

Pretty darn impressive for a 6-person ultra entry.

My final totals were 36.59 miles run in 4:20:25 – 7:07 pace.

5 Years earlier I ran my first marathon in 3:58:08 in Philadelphia – 9:05 pace.

Kinda like Ragnar Florida Keys – What a long strange trip it’s been.

Steve, Thomas, Jenny, Ally, Sean and John (our driver) – thanks for the amazing adventure – I can’t think of any 6 people on earth I’d rather be stuck in a stinky, smelly, hot, cramped van full of sweaty clothes and perishable items with for 199 miles … you guys are the greatest!

As for “Where’s the Damn Van?!” – we’ll be back before you know it – coming soon to a race near you.

It’s 6:30 a.m. here in the Keys as I am waiting for my flight to Atlanta and then another home to Austin, TX.

Bits and pieces of the last 36 hours are starting to work their way back to the forefront of this tired runner’s mind and body.

10.3, 13.5, 12.5 mile runs at 1:00 p.m. Friday, 9:00 p.m. Friday night and the final legs at 8:30 a.m. Saturday morning.  All totaled about a little less than a marathon and a half run over a 19-hour period.  Going into the event I thought that running as a 6-person ultra-team rather than the 12-person two-van team that we had last year would be slightly more difficult from a running perspective

An 8-mile leg vs. a 12-mile leg isn’t really that big a deal I told myself.  But of course as most things are in life.  You don’t know what you don’t know until you experience it for yourself.

A full race report will come in the next few days when all of the thoughts and memories of an amazing 199 mile adventure from Miami to Key West make their way all the way back from the recesses of this tired runners mind.

There was the first bridge to crest coming out of the starting area that didn’t show up on thee course map.  The crowded sidewalk I ran navigating foot traffic, vehicular traffic and even what I’m certain was “drug” traffic in one of the not-so beautiful parts of downtown Miami over my first legs of the race.

There was the rocky, pothole filled canal road in the dark of night through the Everglades that required my signing of an “alligator waiver” prior to starting the race.  Seriously.

There would then be the final run, slightly less than a half-marathon in length up and over the 7-mile bridge with the bright Florida sun beating down on the concrete and Gulf  of Mexico sending heat and temperatures from warming to the start of the run to toasty in the middle to downright deadening by the last few miles.

All in all the running was good, 6:58, 7:07 and 7:09 were my overall paces for my three runs, the company was even better and last night I had one of the top-10 beers that I have ever drank in my life, shortly after perhaps my number one shower.

The Team covered the 199-mile course in 27 hours and 21 seconds.  In truth we ran 201 miiles as one of our runners went on an extended adventure on one of the overnight legs, but you’ll have to read the race report for those details.

It was not Allligator related, but it still makes for a great story – afterall, if it was easy – everybody would do it.

Steve, Ally, Jenny, Thomas, Sean and our driver John – thanks for the memories – you guys are the greatest.  I can’t say I’m looking forward to my next training run on Tuesday morning preparing for Boston, but I am looking forward to the next Ragnar in 2013.

I think we need a couple more runners next time though.  And less Alligators.

With New Year’s Day falling on a Sunday this year, the local Resolution Run 5K at St. Phillips Methodist Church was moved to 2:00 p.m. so it would not interfere with Sunday services. The late start time and the need for me to log a long run of 18-20 miles on Sunday conspired to make me unable to participate in this year’s race. We will be back in 2013 for sure as I hated to miss such a great event and one that sets the tone so well for the coming year of training and racing – but I won’t have long to wait to lace up my shoes and race in the new year.

In just a few minutes, I leave for Miami, Florida to race again with my “Where’s the Damn Van?!” teammates in the Ragnar Team Relay Race. This is the same group of crazies that I raced with last February from Wickenburg, AZ to Tempe as part of a 12-person, 2 Van, 200 mile race.

A video recap of last year’s oddessy is here

This year we are entered as an “ultra” team, meaning that there will only be 6 runners on our team, each running 6 legs instead of 3 as we cover the 199 mile course from Miami, FL to the Florida Keys. The format for the race is the same as one runner puts on the slap band bracelet and heads out onto the course for their leg, while the remaining 5 teammates climb into the van and drive ahead to the next exchange area.

The next runner gets ready and as his/her teammate approaches, the team number is called out by a race volunteer. The slap band is exchanged and the next runner is off. After a short cool down, the runner who just completed their leg hops into the team van and the process is repeated all over again. Over and over and over. There are a total of 36 legs to the race – all of various distances which allow runners of different endurance levels and different abilities to compete with a team. In our case, as an ultra-team of six runners, we will run essentially two legs instead of one every time we take to the course.

I will be running out of the number 1 slot, meaning my assigned legs are:

Leg 1: 5.7 Miles, Leg 2: 4.4 Miles = 10.1 Miles Total

Leg 13: 8.8 Miles, Leg 14: 4.7 Miles = 13.5 Miles Total

Leg 25: 3.0 Miles, Leg 26: 9.1 Miles = 12.1 Miles

Total Total Mileage: 35.7 Miles

Based on the predicted pace of my teammates I should be running at 1:00 p.m., 11:30 p.m. on Friday starting my final leg at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday morning. Our team should complete the 199 mile course in 24-25 hours putting us at the finish line sometime shortly after lunchtime on Saturday.

I heard that down in the keys, every hour is happy hour – I expect our post-race carbohydrate recovery to start shortly after we come through the chute. This is indeed a race, but it is falling in the middle of Boston Training – something that I for one moment am not losing sight of.

The difference between running relaxed and smooth at 7:30-7:35 min./mile pace and pushing it to 7:00’s is about 15 minutes total in a 25 hour race. Simply put, it’s not smart for me to go out there and really try to hammer double-digit length runs every 6-7 hours. I am going to lock in to a comfortable pace and just cruise – using this Ragnar event as an endurance and stamina workout on the way to Boston. After easy running on Monday and Tuesday – I will be taking off completely from running this week on Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday – letting my 35.7 miles in Florida push our weekly mileage to just 54 miles – a 10-12 mile reduction from the previous two weeks of training.

Then it will be back to “normal” – whatever that means nowadays as we prepare for The Texas Half Marathon on January 28th – our first in a series of three half-marathons, one each month, on the way to Boston. I am going to let it all hang out on January 28th, just as I will at the Austin Half Marathon in February and the Shamrock Half in Virginia Beach in March.

Those three races are going to go a long way in predicting our abilities in Boston this April and whether or not we will be setting our sights on a sub 3 hour attempt or just continuing to move the needle closer to that mark and settle in around 3:05-3:06 after our 3:08:09 effort in New York this November. Big gains at this point are challenging – dropping 7-8 minutes off of a marathon time, which is what I did from Austin to New York was one thing.

Doing it again 6 months later is something else entirely. That would mean I would have shaved off 15 minutes from my marathon PR in 14 months. Starting from a 3:15:01, that is a tall order, but one that I feel we have a legitimate shot at should the remainder of this training cycle go the way it has been going to this point.

Last Tuesday night’s second run of the day was an 8.3 mile tempo run that I completed at 6:25 pace. That run came just 11 hours after 7 miles in the morning at 7:11 pace. We are certainly running strong and fast right now – something that I know I will need to continue to improve on to hold on to that 6:52 pace that we need to break three hours late in the race at Boston. We were able to do so in New York through mile 20 until the last of the bridges took their toll on us.

Boston sets up very differently with the tough climbing between miles 16 and 21, then it is a downhill 5 miles to the finish on Boyleston Street. If we make it up and over heartbreak hill on pace with just 5 miles remaining – we have a real shot in Boston. The next 15 weeks will all be about preparing for those 5 miles.

This week? It comes as a perfect time as training for a marathon is hard. It is physically demanding, which everyone knows – but it is also mentally draining. 109 workouts make up my Boston Training plan. It is tough to “get up” for 109 runs. This opportunity to run with my good friends Thomas, Sean, Jenny, Ally and Steve in sunny Florida to the Keys and take in some amazing sights (One of my legs will take me across the 7-mile bridge) will be as restorative mentally as it will be physically exhausting.

Running over 35 miles in less than 18 hours is not supposed to be easy – add in the van, little to no sleep, poor nutrition – I’m not sure Twizzler and Gatorade is going to cut it this year – and you have a pretty tough physical test. But spending time with the team that I haven’t seen in more than 10 months is going to make it all worth it. Make sure you come back on Monday for a race report – it will certainly be epic.

You can also follow us on Twitter throughout the race at: @TheDamnVan @Joe_RunforDom Below are the various legs that I will be running and the accompanying maps courtesy of the RAGNAR Relay Site. The start times are estimates based on the pace that my teammates and I will be running.

Leg Number One – Start Time 1:00 p.m. Friday

Leg Number Two – Start Time 1:50 p.m. Friday

Leg Number Thirteen – Start Time 11:30 p.m. Friday

Leg Number Fourteen – Start Time 12:45 a.m. Saturday

Leg Number Twenty-Five – Start Time 7:00 a.m. Saturday

Final Leg – Start Time 7:25 a.m. Saturday

Next year Steve Speirs and I are talking about running this as a two-man team – 100 miles each.

Just kidding Dawn.

Wanted to make sure you were still out there reading and paying attention … Seriously, it’s three-man team.

Just kidding.

Much has been said and written about the end of the marathon.

It is described as exhilarating, life-affirming and thrilling.

It can be humbling, emotionally draining and crushing.

Runners talk a lot about what it feels like after they finish the race.

How it was worth all the blood, sweat and tears to fight to that finish line and earn that finisher’s medal.

When they do, what they are really talking about however is those moments immediately after the marathon.  Very few speak of the first time they try to step up onto a curb.  The first time they bend over to untie their race shoes or heaven forbid, the first time they actually try to walk down a flight of stairs without turning around and going down backwards one step at a time.

Those are the real moments of post-marathon “glory”.  When a runner who would not allow anything to stand in their way for well over three hours of racing can now hardly shuffle down the hall to the bathroom.  Oddly, after my most difficult race, in the most difficult of race conditions, on the toughest marathon course I have ever run, I am the least sore that I have ever been after racing 26.2 miles.

Now keep in mind “least sore” does not mean the same thing as “not sore”.  Oh, I’m sore.  My calves are tight, my quads are still feeling the burn of all that hill racing and the outside of my hips are tender.  But all things considered.  I feel like a million dollars.

On Monday I took the day off of work and did my best to start the recovery process.  I took Landry to school in the morning, had a 60 minute massage, walked up and down the aisle of the grocery store, using my cart as a “walker”, took Kayla for her afternoon walk and then cooked a nice dinner for Dawn.

I am taking the stairs forwards and feeling pretty darn good actually.

On Tuesday morning I hopped on the tri-bike in the garage and spun on the trainer for 30 minutes.  Just a short 9 miles, but it felt good to get the blood flowing back to my legs after stiffening up overnight.

Another bike ride on Wednesday morning lasting 45 minutes and I’m just about ready for my first trial run post-race.

It’s a good thing too as you might remember that it is race week again.  Yep, on Friday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. MST, I will be standing on the street in Wickenburg, AZ underneath a starting banner with a Bib Number pinned to my shorts and a timing baton wrapped around my wrist.

I will be running the first leg of our team’s 12 person 200 Mile Ultra-Marathon relay from Wickenburg to Tempe.

8.3 miles in the Arizona Sun, followed by a 7 mile leg roughly 9 hours later, after my 11 teammates run their respective first legs.  Then I will have a short 3.5 miles to cover as my final leg sometime around 6:00 a.m. Saturday morning.

This will be my first time running a relay race, and my first ultra-marathon experience.  The total distance for Ragnar Del Sol is just a hair under 200 miles.

If you’re going to jump in, you might as well do it with both feet I suppose.

Truthfully it is more about “who” I am running with than “what” I am running.

Our team “Where’s the Damn Van?!” which you can follow on twitter throughout the race at:!/thedamnvan

Our team is comprised of 12 fantastic runners from around the United States:

Our team Captain Jenny Jowdy from St. Louis, MO, Husband and wife Kim and Michael Miller from Scottsdale, Steve Spiers from Va Beach, Sean Brown from Cincinnatti, Nina Atlee from the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex, Eddie Rodriguez from Houston, Thomas Neuberger from Baltimore, Dan Corredor, Carol Tichio and Andrew Meir from the Phoenix area and yours truly from Austin, TX.

Our team is divided into two 6-person groups.  Each group will be spending the better part of a day straight in their respective 15-passenger van, hopping out, running their assigned leg through the Arizona desert, and then hopping back into the waiting van moving on to the next exchange area.

We have to run our legs in the assigned order.  So being the “first runner” I will run legs, 1, 13 and 25 of the assigned 36 legs.  Covering 18.8 miles total in what looks like it will be 16 or 17 hours.  Not quite another marathon, but I’m sure it is going to feel like it by the time that last leg is in the books Saturday morning.

People ask me often if I ever get bored running.

Valid question I suppose if you are not a runner as from the outside looking in I’m sure it must seem like a monotonous activity.  But the truth is that there is another challenge waiting right around the corner.  Whether it is racing, training, exploring a new city in the wee hours of the morning or in this case, strapping a headlamp to your head and running through the desert with 11 of your closest friends.

So tomorrow morning I leave on a new adventure.  I will be getting on the airplane here in Austin with my carry-on bag full of three pairs of running shoes, shorts, tights, singlets, long-sleeved running shirts, a headlamp, a lighted reflected vest, hats, gloves, body glide, socks, runderwear, power bars, some toiletries and not a damn clue what to expect.

All packed up and ready to roll

I don’t know how fast I’ll run, if my legs will loosen up from all this soreness or if it will even matter.  All I know is like every mile I’ve run since my good friend passed away last August.  I’m going to make every single one of them count.

I ask you.  Does any of that sound boring?

Didn’t think so.

Please follow us at:!/thedamnvan

I’d love to hear from you while we are out there, and oh yeah, they’ll be another race report coming after the weekend.  You won’t want to miss this one.