@surgeoninkicks and I are at one of our major trauma meetings at the moment. Here is our shoe collection for the event which requests a beach casual vibe in 34-55 degree weather and cold conference rooms, brief shopping/site seeing excursions, and the requisite evening cocktail receptions.
Before I go onto to multiple posts about the bonding and the beast mode and the best trail mix ever, I will simply recap my role in this relay race with all the bells and whistles of my Nike Running App, Fitbit Charge HR, and Ragnar materials along with a fashion play by play brought to you by my obsession with Athleta.
For those who don’t know, the Ragnar Relay Series is a series of overnight relay races in cool places across the country where teams of 6-12 runners run various legs from one point to another covering about 200 miles in about 2 days. Historically, the non-running teammates follow along in a rented van that also doubles as a hotel room for most teams. With a few half marathons under my belt since I ran for the first time in 2011 (2 miles at 14+min/mile), I thought it was time to mix it up. So when a Facebook friend asked for a couple of more teammates for her Ragnar Cape Cod Relay team I was intrigued and felt up to the challenge.
My husband and I essentially joined a team of strangers, hence our not-so-original team name “Never Get in a Van with Strangers,” nicknamed #StrangersInAVan for race weekend social media shenanigans.
We all met for the first time about about three months before race weekend. We picked our legs based on known abilities and desire. With a 12 person team, we were each destined to run 3 legs each. I was in van#2, runner#9. I was scheduled to run a 3.2 mile easy run, a 5.6 mile hard run, and a 7.3 mile very hard run. I was concerned by the incremental increase in difficulty as time passed but the ninth spot was a good fit for me with other spots being better for others in my van.
A few days prior to race weekend, my final leg was increased to 9 miles. Ugh. With just 7 on the docket, I hadn’t run more than 6 miles since the Disney Half Marathon in January. But, it was what it was and I was in. All in. And so it began. My first ever relay race.
On race weekend, van#1 started in Hull, MA at 7am. Using the Race Pace Calculator, we needed to arrive at the first major exchange at Duxbury Beach by 10:30. My first leg began in Plymouth MA. Here’s how it went.
I ran in my Athleta Be Free Knickers and a mesh run top from last season. As with all the runs to follow I ran in my Newton Fates, RoadID sneaker pouch, Asics Kayano running socks, Under Armour Braided head band (discontinued as far as I can tell), Shock Absorber run bra and Nike sweat band (really any sweat band will do). Since it was daylight I also work my Nike Running sunglasses (Nordstrom Rack purchase from ages ago-but they never slip or fog and haven’t been damaged in multiple trips). It was warm inland where I started so I did not wear a jacket (I had brought along 3 Athleta running jackets for contingencies) and unfortunately this ended up being a really chilly run for me as I approached the ocean. I never warmed up and I think the cold made me run faster than I every have before for this quick run which sadly had little in the way of a view but had plenty of horse poo to assault the senses along the way.
After van#2’s first round of runs, we stopped for dinner and a quick rest before our overnight runs began. I curled up in the fetal position resting my head on my husband’s shoulder as he leaned against the window. In this gloriously comfortable position I got about 45 minutes of restless sleep. Then we were off to van#2’s second round of runs. Mine began in Yarmouth MA. Here’s how it went.
This was my overnight run. I have run in the dark before to prep for Ragnar but never truly in the middle of the night. The light and reflective gear made it impossible to garner an action shot but I ran in my Athleta Be Free tights and Stripe reflective, waterproof running jacket. The mist was heavy that night and it kept me dry. My Amphipod Xinglet reflective harness, Petzl Tikka+ headlamp, and Nathan strobe light met Ragnar code and totally did the job during a really, really, dark run. About a mile in a lovely young woman named Lindsay came up beside me. “I hope you don’t mind me shadowing you?” she asked. “I am really nervous in the dark.” I didn’t mind at all and we ran the remaining 4+ miles nearly side by side. It was reassuring when there were animal sounds by the roadside. I will say, though, that this stretch of run had one of the most generous side walks ever and that was appreciated.
When our second round of runs were over the sun was rising. We were at a critical decision point. We were close enough (an hour round trip) to our overnight cottage rental in Truro to refresh with a proper shower or we could try to catch 2-3 hours of sleep at our next exchange point in Eastham MA. As a trauma surgeon who often must function at a high level of performance for 36-40 hours in a row, I know that a shower is equal to at least 4 hours of sleep so I chose the shower. We all met up again at the exchange point in Eastham as van#2 began its final set of runs with my personal anchor run to begin in Wellfleet MA. Here’s how it went.
This was my unexpectedly long run. It was hot. The elevation was a bitch. I was on just 45 min of sleep but at least I was clean when I took off in my Athleta Maze Be Free knicker and Forerunner Tee (discontinued as far as I can tell). I wore my Brooks ventilated running cap (a TJ Maxx purchase from long ago) over my Under Armour headband to keep my head cool. I was a mess after this run. It was long, hot, and uphill. I was lucky that the van could stop at multiple points along the way to give me water and cheer me on.
As you can glean by the stats on my distance, pace, and heart rate, things got harder for me as time, distance, and elevation simultaneously increased. My heart was clearly working hard, at points clocking in at 170 bpm. You will also see that the Nike Running App running on my phone’s GPS, the Fitbit Charge HR app running on an accelerometer on my wrist, and the Ragnar maps are pretty good fidelity for a novice leisure athlete like myself in terms of mileage and route for each of my Ragnar legs. In the end, despite the challenges, I felt like a beast when it was all over and I know my teammates did too.
It was a great weekend for me running wise. I was lucky enough to be in Chicago for work on the same weekend that two of my good friends had decided to run races entirely separate from my travel plans. Having missed the Baystate Half Marathon in October–the race that first sparked an interest in becoming more committed to running and that later inspired this blog’s first post, I was excited to hit the pavement in the Windy City with these besties. Unfortunately, they had each signed up for different races.
Luckily though, Chicago is basically entirely flat (save for the occasional manmade slope of an overpass or on-ramp). And, both races were on the long side for me but short of 13.1 so presumably physiologically doable for my body. So, I decided to do both which seemed just crazy enough that my trusty running partner/spouse decided to join me for the weekend.
We have a soft spot in our hearts for Chicago where we spent 8 years while I was training to be surgeon. Both of our children were born here. And, though I never ran while I lived here, my first every ten mile run in October 2012 happened along the lakeshore trail. My pace was 11:59. I had started running just14 months earlier (with a nearly 14min/mile for just two miles) and had never run more than 6 miles before my plane landing in Chicago on September 27, 2012 (on a whim inspired by husband who running his second Baystate Half, a childhood friend who was running her first, and my just released call schedule that indicated I would be neither post-call or on-call on race day I had signed up for my first half less than 24 hours prior to that first lake shore trail long run).
Back to this past weekend. Sadly (for me), @surgeoninkicks is quite a bit faster than me; so, even though she was my original inspiration to sign up for the second race (having already signed up for the first to join my college roommate on a run) I did not get to run with her and she is thus absent from race day photos. Here are the before shots.
So I felt ready with fond memories, good company, great views, and no hills to conquer Chicago’s Perfect 10 (mile) and the Hot Chocolate 15K. The Perfect 10 started at Navy Pier and was a small, easily navigatable crowd that would celebrate post-run with beer and the usual freebie snacks (think powerbars, goo, go-gurt) while the Hot Chocolate started at Grant Park and was a total zoo with corrals A through T but the masses would celebrate post run with a fairly unique hot chocolate (duh!) and fondue experience with freebies more suited for dipping in chocolate (think pretzels and rice krispie treats). Both races supported good causes, Gateway for Cancer Research for the former and the local Ronald McDonald House Charities for the latter. Both had timing chips in the bib but only Hot Chocolate had live tracking.
The routes for each according to my Nike Run App (and how I did) are below:
It was blustery and overcast both mornings with the recorded temperature between 37-40F and wind gusts up to 20mph making it feel closer to 25-30F according to my Accuweather App. Brrrrrrrr. I crossed the starting line just before 8am both days. The sun came out during the last mile of the Perfect 10 and never during the Hot Chocolate.
If you don’t care about what I wore or the gear I used, skip the next paragraph
Preparing for the weather gearwise was a real challenge for me. I had a hard time judging how warm I would get once I really got going but was afraid of being so cold that my joints would stiffen up. I had packed a range from fully fleeced leggings to vented running tights to capris for the bottoms and from a fully fleeced half zip to regular half zip (both with thumb holes to keep the wrists covered) with unvented and vented long sleeves and tanks to go under. For the Perfect 10, I went with my new Athleta Sting Be Free running tights which have convenient pockets along with the standard rear zip pouch along with one of my many Adidas Perfect Rib tanks and the Nike Element half zip. My legs seemed fine on for the Perfect 10 but my arms got cold though my core seemed fine. So for Hot Chocolate I kept the bottom the same with just a Nike Hyperwarm half zip over my sports bra (my Shock Absorber Run Bra is worthy of it’s own blog post [coming soon]) Both days I wore I had a fleeced earwarmer head band from Reebok (now discontinued), North Face e-tip running gloves (perfect for starting the app to coincide with actually going past the starting line despite my deep corrals), and Nike wristbands (to wipe the snot from the wind and cold more so than any sweat). And, finally, per my usual MO I ran with my Nike shades (despite the lack of sun the shades protected my eyeballs from the blistering wind that had my non-shaded companions shedding tears) and Yurbuds (since earphones were allowed and my runtastic mix propels me during runs). Currently, I am running in my Newton Distance Us (4 lug model; if you don’t know what I mean by lugs, please click on the link).
Ok, resume reading non-fashion conscious or non-gear geek runners
The Perfect 10 course was almost exclusively along the Lake except for a little jaunt under a bridge where the Lake meets the river (due to construction) and a quick loop through Grant Park. The Hot Chocolate, however, started through the City’s underground. While Chicago’s urban plan in the heart of downtown involves a series of duplicate roadways for trucks to get to skyscraper loading docks without marring the main city streets is genius in my opinion, these streets hardly make for an inspiring vista for a runner trying to get some momentum and motivation. Then, after some weaving through the city center, we headed down Michigan Avenue and back up the MLK Blvd where there is some architectural interest until finally ending up back by the Lake but only after running through the bowels of the McCormick Place Convention Center where the lighting is intended for cars with headlights rather than runners running after sunrise.
Both course led to me getting sentimental about the first home that my husband and I ever purchased and the homes where our children spent their first years. We ran by the school where my husband used to take my daughter for Music Together. We ran by the church where one of my best friends got married. We ran by countless signs for the commercial real estate firm by which my husband was once named Employee of the Year (just weeks before he would once again have to give up his career aspirations so that I could pursue mine). I mourned the loss of being able to listen to Lollapallooza from my deck, bike to the Lincoln Park Zoo along the lake or walk to the Field Museum. I freaked out (again!) by the weird headless Agora sculptures at the corner of Michigan and Roosevelt.Embed from Getty Images
The memories are deep for me in that part of the city along both routes and running past it all was bittersweet. After all my weekend of running was brought to you by one set of grandparents taking my son on an adventure to Hershey PA and another facilitating my daughter’s Indian dance performance for the Hindu New Year, Diwali. So if I still lived in this city with the buildings reaching the clouds and the inspiring lake front running path, I would have a lot less flexibility to run literally and run off whenever work or kid-free leisure called. But at least I can still smile after the occasional tourist run, or two.
I used to think I could never be a runner but yesterday I ran my 4th half marathon. I didn’t place in my age group and my official race pace was a slow and steady 11:16/mi but I am still a proud runner. I wish I hadn’t been such a doubter for so long. So, here are a 13.1 things I wish someone had told me when I thought I could never do this.
1) You never feel good until mile 2-3, so don’t give up. I promise you, you will feel invincible by the time you hit the halfway point whether it is mile 2.5 of a five-miler or mile 6.5 of a half. Bottle that feeling and take it with you during the first few miles of every run, long or short. That’s what got me started yesterday and kept me going as the heat went up and the muscles started aching as I hit the midpoint of the figure-of-8 loop at mile 7.
2) But even if that feeling propels you to hit the road, the trail, or the treadmill day after day, you cannot be a runner unless you build up your core. For me, I have done this with pilates (mostly Stott reformer) and Pure Barre (whenever I get the chance). A strong core will help your stride and prevent injuries. My choice of core training also works on the intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of the hips, thighs, and butt all of which make for a stronger, more efficient runner.
3) Modern life is filled with distractions; running allows you to be alone with your thoughts. People ask me how I find time to write the occasional blog post with my hectic schedule. Honestly, I mentally compose many of them on my runs just like I often compose specific aims for my research or household to-do-lists while running.
4) Running with you significant other is a great alternative to high calorie, sedentary date night. Though we often run together listening to our playlists or podcasts, that time we spend together, just the two of us out there, whether or not there is conversation involved, allows us to bond and stay fit.
5) Running is a great way to make new friends and stay connected with old ones. I have made new friends and mentors running while travelling for work. The race I ran yesterday has been a way to connect with my best friend from residency at least once a year in person and even more frequently has we text or phone each other on how the training is coming along. (Different specialties, different cities, surgeon schedules = little if any chance to see each other but planning a race together is a great solution, and has the added bonus of not letting our surgeon schedules be an excuse not to take care of ourselves.)
6) There is no such thing as a runner’s body. Look at yourself in the mirror. Think you’re not a runner because of your size or your shape. WRONG. Yesterday, I ran alongside, in front of, and behind other 5’3″ women who easily weighed 100lbs more than more or 40-50lbs less than me. There were men and women of all shapes and sizes. From the kind of bodybuilder physique that one would think is incompatible with running to the tall, lean supposedly quintessential runner’s body, to (and this encompassed just about everyone there above age 30 I would venture to guess) the love handles, spare tires, muffin tops, touching thighs, beer guts, and saggy arms that are a reality of middle-aged life no matter how much we run.
7) Even if it won’t transform your body, running has health benefits that you may not have thought of. Running outdoors means more VitD conversion. That alone with improve your energy levels but then there are also the endorphins that both improve energy levels and mental well-being whether you activate their secretion outdoors or on a treadmill. And (though it may gross out some of my readers) a little bit of long-run colon ischemia is a decent remedy for constipation (except when there are port-a-potties involved–eeeeww, now that grosses me out). Weekly long runs while training for a long race is what I think of as the Runner’s Cleanse–who needs kale shakes!
8) Running outside brings opportunities to glimpse the world from another perspective. There is so much architecture, so much greenery, so much wildlife that you would miss if you weren’t a runner. Yesterday, as we approached mile 10, I made eye contact with a gigantic brown bear just 4 feet away from me. As I ran by (and boy does a bear siting make you run faster!) (s)he padded across the course behind me. There were plenty more vistas of bucolic farmland and beautiful (though potentially fear-provoking) animals along the Iron Horse Half course in lovely central CT yesterday.
9) On a related note, running outside makes you feel outdoorsy even if your are not. I mean, come on, I stared deep into the eyes of a giant bear and lived to tell about it. Need I say more?!
10) If you have a shoe thing (like I do), being a runner gives you a whole other category of shoes to covet. Yesterday I ran in my Newtons. Super cute pink and neon yellow…wait yes of course the lugs…awesome lugs for an easy forefoot motion made for my PR for a half. (You shouldn’t buy running shoes for aesthetics and colors but I won’t lie I sometimes do and it’s what started this running thing for me in the first place).
11) Long run days and race days are perfect justification to eat with reckless abandon. My pre-race farm to table meal with my fellow runners was one of the best meals I have ever had. In my quest to be healthy, I am often limiting how much I can indulge at these types of places. Sharing an appetizer (or skipping them altogether) or splitting an entree and definitely passing on dessert. But, on the night before a race you have have an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert and, as I did, have ice cream for lunch two days in a row.
12) With running, especially for slow, unathletic types like myself, the only competition is yourself. You set the goal (pace, distance, runs per week, etc). You achieve that and “Yah! You’ve won.” There’s no score, no one upmanship, there’s only you to improve. Yesterday, I was hoping to finish under 11:05 but a mile 4 port-a-potty break and some heat and fatigue on the back half slowed me down. Still, I was 3 sec/mile faster than my last half pace so yah!, I won. Go me!
13) Signing up for races is a great motivator, especially if you can make a weekend of it. If you are not a natural athlete (like me) and if exercising (not matter how much you blog or tweet about it) still feels like a chore, signing up for a race gives you reason to keep getting out there to train. And, if you sign up for an out of town race, book a room at an inn, find childcare for the weekend, etc. I promise you you will not just skip the race because you are not ready. You will make sure that you are ready because, quite honestly, that post-race feeling (see 13.1) and the chance to hit an amazing farm to table bistro that you might not otherwise be able to enjoy are totally worth it.
13.1) Running 13.1 miles will totally make you feel like a badass no matter how slow you ran, or how low in your age group you ranked.