Saturday, June 12, 2010

The "Epic" Madison-Chicago 200 Relay Report

Friday, June 11 - Saturday, June 12, 2010
Madison, WI - Chicago, IL

This race was a little crazy, but TONS of fun. Our team consisted of 11 people. Full teams were 12 people, so we were a person short. Ultra teams consisted of 6 people. A full team would have each runner running 3 different legs over the course of 2 days. (36 legs total.) Since we were short and one of our runners had to leave after 2 legs, that left 4 legs at the very end that were unaccounted for. I got nominated to run one of them, so I would be running 4 different times during this relay. Relay legs ranged anywhere from about 3-9 miles.

The weather:
Hot, muggy, and scattered thunderstorms were forecasted.

Essential items packed:
Multiple changes of running clothes, 2 pairs of shoes, 5 pairs of socks, wet wipes, deodorant, rain jacket, visor/hat, sandals, Garmin, iPod shuffle, Nathan handheld, pillow, sleeping bag, cell phone, etc.

Trail mix, potato chips, bagels, gummy bears, granola bars, apples, and copious amounts of bananas, gatorade and water.

Race morning:
Woke up at 5am and took the last shower I'd have for a while. Ate scrambled eggs, a bagel, and fruit for breakfast knowing that this might be the last real thing I'd eat until much later in the day. Our team was scheduled to start at 8am. (Teams started anytime from 6:30am to 4:00pm, depending on quickly they planned on finishing.) Since I was in van 1, I had to be at the start line. Van 2 would meet up with us later after all 6 of us were done running - we figured sometime after lunch. The starting line was at the Sheraton hotel in Madison, WI. We met at a team member's house and loaded up our van and took off for the Sheraton. When we arrived, we had to get our safety gear checked in, pick up our numbers, t-shirts, etc. There was also a mandatory safety meeting we had to attend before we could start. The safety meeting went over all the rules, including ways you could get DQed. If you got three "violations", you were automatically DQed. Violations consisted of not wearing safety gear, running on the wrong side of the road, not using crosswalks, etc. We were told to text in violations of other teams if we saw anything, but I can't imagine anyone really did.

The runners in our van before we started.

Starting line at the Sheraton

Waiting for runners to start.

There goes our first runner in the red t-shirt.

The back of our van.
Legs 1-6 (Madison, WI to Lake Mills, WI. 8am - 1pm):Our first runner lined up at the starting line with the other 8am starters. The announcer read the names of all the teams that would be starting and gave a 3-2-1 and they were off! We cheered and told our runner that'd we see her in about 5 miles. We gathered everyone up and hopped in the van. We found our runner a couple times on the course, honked at her, and arrived at the first transfer area with plenty of time to spare. This race is a lot of waiting and driving when you're not running. Finally runner 1 shows up and we have an awkward transfer of the wristband to runner 2. We got better at this as the race went along. We got in the van again and headed over to the next transfer area to wait for runner 2 to get in to transfer to the next runner. (Can you sense a pattern here?) Repeat this for runners 3, 4, and 5. I was runner 6, so I would always be the last person to run in my van, and always the person who would handoff the wristband to the runner from the other van.

Leg 6, my leg, was advertised as the least shady section of the Glacial Drumlin Trail. This couldn't have been more true. The weather had pretty much cooperated all morning - it was warm, but cloudy. However, as soon as I started my leg the sun came out. I have concluded that ever since the great heat wave of the Madison Marathon, I've been cursed. I had to run in hot weather for this entire relay.
The trail that I ran on was mostly through open fields. It was very pretty. Mile 1 went off without a hitch, but soon I started overheating. After that, I took a walk break every mile. I got passed very early on by two speedy people, but otherwise didn't see anyone. Finally I made it to the next transfer area to hand off to runner 7.

My Leg: 5.6 miles in 1:00:45 for an average pace of 10:53.

The first awkward exchange happens.

Our fastest runner finishes his first leg.

Waiting at a transfer area for runner 4 to come in.

Here he comes, ready to hand over the wristband!

There I go, off on my first leg. Happy to be running after waiting for so long.

I stopped and took a picture of the trail that I was running on with my cell phone.

A couple miles later on the same trail.

Here I come in from my leg. I don't look happy. I was hot!
Legs 7-11 (Lake Mills, WI to Dousman, WI. 1pm - 5pm):While the other van was out running these legs, we had our first rest period. We went to Subway. I snagged a bathroom, wiped myself down with wet wipes and changed. Ate a footlong veggie sub and sunchips – besides breakfast, this would be my only real meal of the day. After we relaxed a bit in the A/C, we headed to transfer area 11, which is where we would meet up with the other van. We had a few hours to spare, so we laid out our sleeping bags in the shade and tried to rest. It was still hot in the shade and no one really slept. You'd start to drift off and feel an ant crawling on your leg. It was just nice to have some downtime though.

Transfer area 11

Resting at the transfer area.

Our whole team resting at the transfer area, minus the girl who was out running her leg.

And here she comes running in!

Legs 12 - 17 (Dousman, WI to West Allis, WI. 5pm - 10:45pm)  Let the night running begin! Weather was still hot, but at least it wasn’t raining. We’d begun to recognize other vans and people at this point. Camaraderie definitely increased as the race went on. We had to break out the safety gear from “dusk until dawn”. We had a big conversation about what dusk exactly meant. Safety gear consisted of a reflective vest, two blinking lights, and a head lamp. No gear, no running. Our runners were still feeling good at this point. We had a couple of pretty fast people in our van.

Leg 17 was my leg. It was through West Allis, which is basically Milwaukee. I had been hoping that it would cool down by 10pm, but no. SportTracks says the temperature was still 82 degrees. Yikes. I suited up in the safety gear and started my night leg. Time for some urban running! I was feeling pretty good, although the heat was oppressive. I had to stop a few stop lights, which I welcomed. I had a short conversation with a car that wanted to know what in the world I was doing. People’s reactions were pretty funny. I heard a guy on a cell phone saying, “There’s some sort of marathon going on right now.” I also almost got run over by a (drunk?) kid on a bicycle. He was swerving on the sidewalk and started yelling as he got toward me. All I caught was, “something something MARATHON!” as I jumped out of the way of being hit. Somewhere in the middle of all this, I started running with another girl from the relay who was going at my pace. We didn’t talk much, but it was comforting to run next to someone since it was dark out and I had no idea where exactly I was. So THANK YOU random girl for running with me.

My leg: 3.7 miles in 38:33 for an average pace of 10:27.

Safety gear is coming out!

As you can see, the back of the van was a little cluttered.

Sporting the attractive vests!

Happy to be running at night?

One of our runners transfering to me so I can start my night leg.

Coming in from my night leg with the girl that ran with me.

Legs 18 – 22 (West Allis, WI to Caledonia, WI. 10:45pm – 3:45am) Van 2 gets to run again. I was very happy to not be running during these hours. We were lucky that one of the runners in our van had a mother who lived in Milwaukee. We zipped over to her house for some rest and A/C. We “slept” from about 12am to 2:15am. I drifted on and off, but it just felt good to be laying on a couch in the dark. Honestly, the low point of the entire relay was that 2:15am phone call from the other van saying that we needed to get up. We ate some fruit that the runner’s mom cut up for us (she was amazing letting us use her house and giving us food) and were back on the road to head to the transfer area North of Racine.

Legs 23 – 28 (Caledonia, WI to Kenosha, WI. 3:45am – 9:00am.)
It felt kind of surreal to be up and driving around at 4am. There’s literally no one out at this point in the day. I felt bad for our first runner, who took off into the darkness and fog. As we waited around between runner 1 and runner 2, dawn broke. It was going to be a cloudy day, so unfortunately there was really no sunrise. Ate a bagel a couple of hours before my run. Leg 28 was my leg. This was an area that I knew well. It goes along Lake Michigan in downtown Kenosha. I knew it would be very scenic and pretty flat. My BFF parent’s live in the area, so they came out to see me run which was really nice of them. I was starting to feel pretty darn tired at this point. My legs were doing okay, but I felt an overall fatigue settle in. It was beautiful running along Lake Michigan, but I didn’t really appreciate it. I’d love to go back there and run again while I have more energy.

My leg: 4.25 miles in 44: 58 for a 10:41 average pace. 


The transfer to me in Kenosha.

Here I go on my third leg.

Running along Lake Michigan. Very pretty.

Bringing it home on this leg!

Probably talking about my leg.
Legs 29 – 32 (Kenosha, WI to North Chicago, IL. 9:00am – 3:20pm) Van 2 will be completing their final legs. They were down to 4 people and we were down to 5. One runner in their van had to be back in Madison for something or other and the person from our van had to get back to Chicago for her grad school graduation. The five of us who were left grabbed some breakfast in a diner in Kenosha. I had my first real meal since lunch yesterday. Strawberry waffles with a side of hash browns. Yum. We then headed for Illinois to meet the other van.

This where things started to go wrong #1: We made it to a transfer area (a YMCA in Waugekan, IL) only to have it start raining. We caught some lightning in the sky and was told that the race was red flagged until further notice. That meant that the runners out there would keep running until they got to their destination, but no one could start again until the lightning passed. We lost about an hour from the rain delay, but eventually people were let back out onto the roads.

People waiting around due to the rain delay.

This where things started to go wrong #2: The last runner from van 2 had a long leg – I think I was almost 9 miles. She was also running through a sketchy area. (She told us that there were bullet holes in the buildings that she ran by.) Both our van and van 2 were waiting for her to come in so our van could get to our final legs and finish this thing. We waited. And waited. And waited some more. No runner. We were starting to get really worried. She showed up about 20-25 minutes off schedule. Turns out she and a couple other people got lost and some firefighters had to help them get going in the right direction again. We were just thankful that she made it and was okay!

Now's a good time to show off funny team names/vans:

Legs 33 – 36 (North Chicago, IL to Chicago, IL. 3:20pm – 7:15pm) We were going to make it! We needed to be to the finish line by 8:00pm and we knew we were cutting it a little close with the rain delay and lost runner.

Leg 34, my final leg. I took off through Highland Park, IL. It’s a pretty ritzy area of Chicagoland, so I felt fairly safe. It was done mostly on a bike path, which was a mix of mud and gravel. Since it had rained at some point in that area, I got a little dirty. I was tired at this point. My legs were a little sore, but my lungs cooperated for the first time this whole relay. I felt good until about mile 3 or 4 and then I started to crash. Took some walk breaks. Got really confused about where I was and had to stop and look at my map. Finally the bike path ended and I knew I only had a half a mile left. Saw a girl in front of me and made her my rabbit. I sprinted toward the end and passed her. I was DONE!

My leg: 5.75 miles in 1:04:07 for an average 11:12 pace.

Happy to be manning up and running an extra leg for the team!

Finishing up my fourth leg and handing off to our second to last runner!

Waiting in the rain to cheer on our second to last runner.

The final hand off!

We had only two runners left at this point. We were starting to get excited. The second to last runner did amazing – it even rained on him. However, our very last runner KILLED that last leg. He’s fast (BQed) so he really brought it home. We were waiting for him at the finish area so we could all run in together as a team. People were really supportive and cheering when a team finished. It was great.

200 miles, 11 people, 35 hours, 2 hours of sleep, dozens of bottles of Gatorade and an unidentified numbers of bananas later…WE DID IT!

Waiting around at the finish line for our last runner to come in.

Running in to the finish line!

Getting our medals.

The whole team done, minus the two people that had to leave early.

Overall thoughts:This was truly an awesome experience. I’d definitely do it again and recommend that other runners give a relay a shot if they’re interested. Things WILL go wrong, signs will be missing, you’ll stink and not have showered in days, you’ll feel lost and confused sometimes, but it’s one of the coolest atmospheres I’ve ever experienced. Runners are truly great people.

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