Race report: Great Midwest Relay

Welcome! Forums Running Forum Race report: Great Midwest Relay

This topic contains 9 replies, has 6 voices, and was last updated by  Double 11 years, 8 months ago.

  • Author
  • #6363


    Subtitle: What did I get myself into?

    Quick flashback: Memorial Day weekend, less than two weeks before the beginning of the race. I return home from a vacation and find a message from Jim Kirschbaum on my answering machine. He's on a Great Midwest Relay team that's down a man. Do I want to run? My answer: sure, why not? Who needs two weeks notice before running a 190 mile relay race from Madison through Milwaukee to Chicago? Advance notice is for wimps. 10 days before the start of the race, I verify that I can work it into the schedule and I'm in the race. I'm now a member of team Mid Race Crisis.

    I'm a sucker for team events and I hate to see a team stranded. That's my official reason for agreeing with such short notice to do it. The unofficial reason is I'm simply insane and that's all anyone needs to know.

    Friday afternoon, the team meets up at a location in Lake Mills. We gather all kinds of gear and food into one minivan and one SUV, 8 of us pile in (one would join us later), and off to Madison we go. We get to Coliseum Bar, where the race starts, and hang out for a while. I asked that, shortly before the start, one vehicle head out to the first exchange area so I could get a decent warmup in before my leg as the second runner. Pre-race crisis: the van won't start. We bum some jumper cables off another team and get the van going. First crisis averted before the race even starts. Hopefully, we have our allotment of crises out of the way now.

    I get to our exchange area and do about a half mile and some stretching for warmup (don't want to warm up too much, I have a lot of running ahead yet). Then, it's a waiting game. The thing about these relays is that you don't know when your teammate is coming. You want to be ready early enough that you are sure you don't leave your teammate waiting but that will likely mean that you'll be standing around waiting for a while. Finally, two runners are coming. My teammate is in second, only a step or two behind another team. He falls back a bit, I'm guessing to make sure we don't have any incidents with the other team during the exchange. The exchange goes smoothly and I'm off on my venture.

    The guy in the lead is pushing pretty hard right off the start. In a way, I want to get us into the lead but I don't want to get in over my head so early in this long event. I start falling back a bit as it seems like he's going out too hard and might fade, either in this leg or in a future one. Then, he drops his cell phone (one of the things all runners were required to carry at all times for safety reasons). I go by as he goes back to grab it but he's quickly back taking the lead. OK, you want it that bad this early on, it's all yours. We get up to our first turn and both of us have a bit of trouble figuring out which turn to take (it was basically a 3 way split and we had to take a hard left). I said I think it's that road and he instantly goes, running right in front of a delivery truck. I decided I didn't want to be a spot on a busy road so I waited for the truck to pass before going. Within a block or two, I caught back up to him. Then, it seemed like he was settling in to a pace that I could challenge so I took the lead and pushed it a bit. I began building up a gap. I knew a bad intersection was coming up and thought of just running with him and let the racing start after that, then I thought I might as well take a chance that I can get a gap before he gets there and maybe buy myself a little extra time if he has to wait longer for traffic. I got to the intersection just after a green light, probably about 30 seconds in the lead. Unfortunately, having just missed the green, there was no way I was getting through. Traffic was backed up at least 1-2 blocks back and I needed to cross 4 lanes of traffic. My competitor caught up to me before I had a chance to cross and we waited together, we both said something about this intersection not being all that pleasant (may have used different words) and he told me he was developing a side stitch. Once the traffic broke, we both weaved our way through the intersection and were back on our way. I quickly opened up the gap again and was running on my own the rest of the way. About all that happened after that was when an SUV was making a “look left, turn right” maneuver out of a parking lot right as I was coming through and I shouted in order to get the driver's attention. I startled her, she stopped, then she hit the horn. OK, whatever. I had the right of way and I got through without getting hit. The latter is all that really mattered to me. I handed off to complete my first leg with the team in the lead. Leg one, about 5.3 miles at about 6:00 pace, including the time waiting for traffic. Felt good but didn't feel fast. Not a great leg but what my teammates were expecting of me so I took it, hoping for more later.

    Over the next few legs, we extended our lead to a fairly decent margin but nothing in this type of race is comfortable. By the end of our final runner's first leg, that margin was gone and we were basically in a dead heat for second. Our lead runner then ran his second leg against two people who were only running their first legs (12 person teams). He held steady on the team that was in first but the team that was in a dead heat on us made a big move. I began my second leg running in the dark on the Glacial Drumlin trail only seeing a faint flashing light as a sign of the runner ahead of me.

    In my second leg, I decided I wanted to make this a close one again so I set off harder than intended, hoping to chase down one or both of the teams ahead of me. Unfortunately, I was still also running against two guys who had not yet run and they must have been pretty good runners also because they maintained their lead pretty comfortably. The only other runner I saw on this was someone from an earlier start time who I passed with no issue. That doesn't mean the leg was without incident, though. Even with the headlamp offering some light to guide my way, I couldn't always see the terrain real well. At a few points, I was worried that I might not see a hole, step in it, and hurt myself pretty badly. Fortunately, that never happened. However, I crossed over a few bridges and a few roads. On the first bridge, I didn't realize that it was slightly higher than the trail and I stumbled a bit when my foot hit the ground earlier than I had expected. After that, I high stepped my way on to every bridge to make sure that didn't happen again. Crossing the final road, I didn't realize how cambered it was and I again stumbled when my foot hit the ground earlier than expected. That time, I was very close to going down. I had the thought, how great would that be to come into the exchange all bloodied up? Other than that, it was just pretty neat running through the trail in the dark, seeing the fireflies and feeling like I was in total solitude. Of course, the whole time, I knew I wasn't in solitude and I was pushing as hard as I could to gain on the teams in front of me. Afterward, I was pretty frustrated and concerned that I had pushed as hard as I did and didn't gain anything. The final result was I believe around 34-35 minutes for 6.2 miles, not bad for someone who had recently run a 34:48 10k. However, how am I going to bounce back from this to race 7.5 miles in only a few hours?

    The next break was somewhat productive. Four of us managed to get an hour or so of downtime which may not have been a lot of rest but was enough to at least refresh us some. Then, back to the races. Not a lot happening until the leg before me. As I was warming up, I heard a few people who were coming in (not just teams ahead of us but also earlier starters were were starting to catch quite regularly) saying the course directions were not very clear on the previous leg. I didn't think much of it until I saw that a team member in the van was on the phone and, listening in, I quickly realized that our runner was off course. Mid-race crisis #1. We got him back heading the right direction, went out to check on him, then I started my warmup again. As my teammate was coming into the finish, he was in a dead heat with another runner. He got in and I got started first.

    Even though I started pretty hard, I was very quickly passed. I decided before the race that, with this leg at 7.5 miles and my final leg being only 3.1 miles, this would be an opportunity to roll the dice with solid potential reward and little potential risk. Well, this was my chance to roll the dice. Time for a little head to head competition. I had to push pretty hard to do so but I stayed with him. I decided I'd stay with him for as long as I could, although I had doubts about making it very far into this lengthy leg without falling apart. He seemed to surge a few times, probably trying to drop me. I'd drop back a step or two but I refused to lose contact. I'd pull up to him a couple of times and he'd surge to remain in front. Finally, I pulled up alongside him and he didn't surge. Was this a sign of weakness? I threw in a little something more and took the lead on him. Time to apply the pressure. I threw everything I had at him and, eventually, broke him to build up a little gap. Then, I nearly committed mid-race crisis #2. While the course directions stated turn left at 15th Ave (on the east side), the course map showed us turning left at 15th St (on the west side) and I was focusing on the map. I knew we had to be getting close to 15th. As we approached a street where I couldn't clearly see the sign, I thought it was 15th St, so I was turning left as I looked back at my competitor and asked if that was the right turn. He said he didn't think so and continued straight. Now, what do I do? Well, I figured better to be lost with the competition than lost on my own so I back tracked and was now running behind him again after building up a fairly decent lead. The lead is gone, I'm unsure of the direction we're going, and I did all that work trying to break him for nothing. Well, all I can do now is regain contact. I did that, even making an attempt to pass that he shut down pretty quickly. He again threw in some surges and did gap me by a couple of steps a couple different times but I always managed to bring him back in. Then, as he seemed to let up a bit, I decided to make another attempt at a pass. I got ahead again but, this time, I couldn't break him. He was doing the same thing following me as I was following him. I'd get a couple of steps on him, then he'd close the gap. No matter what I did, I couldn't break him. Then, with about a mile to go, it was his turn to pass and make a move. I tried everything I could to go with him but I just couldn't. I was broken. It would have been easy to pack it in at that point but I remembered my teammates. The closer I could keep it, the better chance my teammates had to pass the other team in a later leg. So I did everything I could to remain as close as possible. I did keep it reasonably close, though I did lose some ground. In the end, I covered that 7.5 miles again in around 6:40-6:50 pace. Again, I was finishing a leg wondering how on earth I would be able to run another leg. I know the last leg is only a 5k but I just ran two legs of 10k and 7.5 miles at a pace that I would normally consider good for a single 10k race.

    We took off to the next exchange location, I crawled out of the van and attempted a cooldown. I think I ended up going about 200 yards and I think it took me about 5 minutes to cover that distance. I could normally walk faster than I “ran” that cooldown. A lot of stretching later, I felt remotely better but I had just run two legs so hard that even my arms hurt. I haven't experienced that kind of soreness since I was doubling at conference meets in college – and I still had to run a 5k in only a few hours. After a couple more legs, we again jumped ahead a bit to get a couple of hours of rest. After resting right into the morning sunshine, I crawled out of the van and could barely even walk. I didn't even remember this much soreness after a marathon and I still had to run one more leg. This was not good. A lot of walking around and working out the muscles had me feeling better but not good. Then, mid-race crisis #2. Another teammate got off course so our starts are going to be delayed. Obviously, not a good thing but at least it's more time to prepare. Once we were back off and running, I went up to start my warmup. Interesting warmup to say the least. I probably only ran about 200-300 yards very slowly but did a lot of stretching and a handful of strides, the first all-out at about 8:00 pace, then gradually improving until I felt about as well as could be expected. As my teammate approached, I saw that we were in a dead heat with another team again. As he handed off to me, he said something about we're still in a battle. Well, I could see that and I was going to do everything I could to win my portion of the battle.

    I took off as hard as I could go and surprised myself with my initial pace. Now, could I hold it the whole way? Well, only one way to find out. I kept pushing, knowing I had to give my teammates as much cushion as possible in this short leg with Ted Shue and Bruce Holmes yet to run for the other team. As I made what I knew would be the second to last turn, I poured it on with everything I had, which was probably just enough to maintain my pace. As I neared the final turn, I saw a couple of people standing over there, which I knew meant that was it. I knew I was close to being finally finished. I rounded the turn and attempted to turn on whatever of the afterburners I could find. When I did, I felt a twinge in my right calf and I knew I was on the verge so I backed off just a touch. I came in as hard as my body would allow, handed off, and it was all over. In a 5k leg, I somehow managed to extend our lead over the next team from a handful of seconds to 2:30. After building up that cushion, I knew I was done. I truly left everything on the course and there was no way I could have possibly gotten anything else out of my body. If I would have needed to be called upon for an injury replacement, I don't know what I would have done. Fortunately, I wasn't needed for any such thing.

    The team ended up battling with the Northwestern Mutual team, the team with Ted and Bruce, for most of the rest of the way, initially stretching the lead beyond the 2:30 that it was at the end of my leg, then losing all of the lead and more when Ted and Bruce took the course. In the end, I don't know our overall place yet as the official results don't seem to be posted yet but we did win the men's sub masters category (everyone 30 or older) and we all left it all on the course (or on various streets near the course). I did strongly suggest a name change, as the team name seems to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    This was a fun event and one I'd like to at least consider doing again next year. I'd like to see the team get together again, possibly with a few roster additions or changes as the circumstances require, and avenge the problems encountered this year. I do think this is a team, even with no roster changes, with real potential. We simply gave away around an hour and still managed to do well. If we can get more familiar with the course and correct those issues, we wouldn't have to run any better than we did this year to do quite well there.

  • #23114



    Thanks for such an awesome report.  That was very entertaining and I was pulling for you and your team.  Sounds like you did everything in your being to put your team in the best position your could.  I know you are a very experience, competitive runner, but the effort you gave in this race, has to give you a “proud” feeling of yourself.  Congratulations,  Kevin

  • #23115


    Kevin, thanks. I do feel real good about how I ran. I truly don't think I could have run any better and I can't ask for anything more than that. I also think my teammates ran very well as a whole. Had there not been the navigation issues, I truly think we would have been looking at our team result and saying we couldn't have done better. That's something I think we can be proud of. Even through the adversity, we all ran as well as we could.

  • #23116


    Wow, that was a great race report (and race)! You have a flare for writting exciting, detailed and inspiring race reports. Congradulations on a well run race.


  • #23117


    Wow Ryan,
    Great relay – and report.  Your competitive drive really shines through. If your already planning next year's team, you must have enjoyed it. 🙂
    Thanks for sharing, and congrats.
    Still sore? 😉

  • #23118


    Randy and Corina, thanks. Glad my verbosity is appreciated…at least by some. 😉

    Corina, believe it or not, I am kind of hoping I can fit next year's running into the schedule and that can only mean that I did enjoy it. I'd already rule it out in favor of Walleye Run, a fun event that isn't nearly as grueling, if I didn't.

    I was a bit surprised by this but the soreness didn't last that long. I didn't feel good at all Sunday so I skipped running on that one day and did a bunch of yard work to get the blood flowing instead. By Monday, I was running 9 miles with only moderate soreness at the start and, by the end, I averaged just a bit over 6:30 pace for the whole run.

  • #23119


    OK, confession time. I lied on a few things (I think I got the distances of legs 1 and 2 backwards for one thing). The team captain sent a very detailed analysis of the race. I got one or two leg distances wrong but I think I was pretty much on with the paces. Here's how my legs broke down (I believe times are estimates but should be quite close).

    [pre]Leg   Distance   Start time Running time Pace per mile
    1     6.29 miles 4:30:00PM  37:30*       5:57.7*
    2     5.74 miles 9:51:12PM  32:52        5:43.6
    3     7.50 miles 2:05:38AM  43:32        5:48.3
    4     3.10 miles 8:12:56AM  17:30        5:38.7
    Total 22.63 miles           2:11:24      5:48.4[/pre]

    *Time and pace do not take into account time waiting to cross Highway 51. Running time was probably around 1 minute faster and pace would then need to be adjusted accordingly to take the wait into account.

    The scary thing is I'm looking at this and thinking of where I can improve. I guess I really do want to run this thing again.

  • #23120


    cripes ryan…that was only 6K short of a marathon…at 5:48 average pace!  nice work!

  • #23121


    Thanks Jerry. There were a few breaks in there, though. Of course, I'm not sure how beneficial piling into a van for a few hours between each run was.

  • #23122


    Fascinating.  You wrote it like I had imagined it.  I was to be apart of this the first couple years, but the teams were never realized for various reasons.  To have the chance to compete for the overall win must have been a real motivator.  Thanks for the good read.


You must be logged in to reply to this topic.