a blog about running fast with style
Hood to Coast is this week! And I’ll be back at the hood and the coast for my 8th time. So in case someone like me talked you into this little adventure here are 10 things to keep in mind…
Let’s just get the pace/leg talk out-of-the-way.
1. No one expects you to run your 10k PR for every leg
Take a big deep breath and please, please stop stressing over pace. Htc’s fancy math has calculated your race pace at about 15k pace (or at least it did last year). Haven’t run a 15k lately (or ever) check out McMillian Running’s Pace calculator for help.
If you’ve never run a relay before I usually recommend that you try to average your half marathon (21k) pace knowing that it will most likely unfold this way:
Leg 1- So excited and ran way too fast. Oops.
Leg 2- Half marathon pace. Nailed it.
Leg 3- This feels like half marathon pace, why am I running so slow. My Garmin must be broken.
If you’ve run a few relays before or are a more experience runner you can substitute out half marathon pace for 15k pace, but you get the idea.
Along the same lines don’t freak out if you’re not running as fast as you think you should or as someone predicted. I’ve had relays where I’ve killed pace and blown pace. The good news is if you find yourself running the later you’ve got 11 teammates there helping out. If that’s still not enough to calm you down remember we’re all runners and we are too busy obsessing over our own times to think about yours. So relax.
2. Your leg is not harder than mine
I know htc ranks legs as far as difficulty/mileage and I know you have like a 5000 foot elevation gain/loss on your leg but at the end of the day everyone is running really hard for lots of miles up and down mountains, through the heat of the day, darkness of night and over varied terrain in the middle of the nowhere.
So stop comparing legs and enjoy the race!
Okay, now that pace/leg talk is out-of-the-way some very practical tips!
3. Warm-up and cool down! (Ugh, I sound like my high school track coach)
Now lets clarify a little, when I say warm-up and cool down I’m not talking about your normal 20 minutes plus of warm-up and cool down for a track workout.
The warm-up: Lots of people prefer using the first mile of their leg as a warm-up. In theory this is awesome. In reality you’re leaving an exchange zone with your teammates cheering along with a crowd of your new relay besties. Before you know it you look down at your watch and you are on 5k PR pace. I don’t know about you but that’s not how I run a warm-up.
To keep it simple I usually just jog to the porta potty or do some active/dynamic stretching (I like this routine). The idea is to get blood flowing to your hips and legs (much-needed after van sitting).
The cool down:
More important (and often overlooked) is the cool down.
In the age of compression gear, rolling sticks/foams and gadgets it’s easy to skip this one. But nothing beats a nice 8-10 minute shuffle jog. Trust me your legs will thank you when you start your next leg 4-5 hours later.
Please keep it to a shuffle and note that if you don’t have time to do it right after your leg you can easily do it at the next exchange.
4. Eating: You gots to eat
Nutrition rules don’t disappear with relaying. You still need to get some carbs and protein in ya 30-60 minutes after you run. And you still need to get a meal in 3-4 hours before ya run. Light snaking is encouraged 1-2 hours before you run.
The post run is easy if you grab a bar or something like Ensure or chocolate milk (if you have a cooler).
The pre run is tricky depending on the time of day you run. It can be hard eating a meal in the middle of the night and it can be hard to predict when your next leg is. Look at your legs in advance so you have an idea of when you need to eat. If you know you can’t stop make sure you’ve packed food (see post on what to pack for food recommendations).
Along the lines of eating don’t forget to drink. We all know hydrating before is important for performance but it’s just as important after for recovery.
5. Don’t freak out over sleep (or lack of it)
True story, in my 11 relays I may have slept for a combined 5 hours and I’m a girl who can’t function without 8 hours of sleep every night.
Now I know you haven’t pulled an all nighter since college but don’t let that scare you. I go into a relay expecting not to sleep: if I do get some shuteye bonus but if not nbd. Adrenaline has this crazy effect on the body and you will still run fine if you don’t sleep (I mean it might hurt, but you will survive).
Now I don’t expect to sleep but that doesn’t mean I don’t try. If you’re lucky enough to have a big van and can stretch out in your own seat do it. If not it’s a good idea to get out of the van and into your sleeping bag. Letting your legs stretch out can be life changing in a relay.
When sleeping, remember these two important rules: 1) set an alarm and 2) know where you teammates are sleeping. If not everyone at the major exchange will know you by name.
6. Be a good teammate
It’s really easy to get wrapped-up in your own legs and forget that you are in fact sharing this experience with 11 other people. Easy ways to be a good teammate are:
1). Cheer for you teammate as they finish/start their leg. This is a big one. It’s easy to do at the start but by leg 2 it’s dark your tired and dang it’s hard to crawl out of the back of the van. But don’t give in! I know you can pull yourself out of the warm cocoon/van so do it and give your teammate some much-needed high fives, fist pounds and love. There’s nothing like running your heart out and having your peeps there at the end to celebrate.
2). Offer support during your teammates leg (if the course allows for it- your van packet will let you know which legs you can do this on). It’s really tempting to jump in the van and drive to the next exchange but if you can stop along the way to cheer and offer water do it. It can feel pretty lonely on mile 3 running straight-up hill and then out of nowhere your van is there to help you out. Helpful hint, have your driver keep track of the mileage when you drive to the next exchange so you know how many miles your teammate has run.
3). Keep your area clean! Okay so I sort of fail at this one a lot, but if you’re in my van please know I’m trying. For some reason my bag seems to vomit its contents out during a relay but I really do try my best to keep my mess under control. Along the lines of keeping track of your stuff make sure you not only have a trash bag but that you use it (please note the van floor does not equal trash bag).
7. Remember your headlamp will light up whatever you’re looking at
This includes but is not limited to the following:
-The road: very important while running in the dark. If it’s dusty and dark (I’m looking at you leg 8 & 9) your headlamp will only light up the dust so be careful!
-Your driver: turn your headlamp off while in the van so you don’t accidentally blind your driver.
-Other runners- when talking to other runners at the exchange if their face is well illuminated you are most likely blinding them, point your beam down. If I see you at an exchange I will most likely blind you with my headlamp. My apologizes ahead of time, I’m not very good with this suggestion.
-The porta potty: Great when you step into the little dark box but be warned, no one wants to aluminate the deep dark abyss that is the pot part of the potty, so please adjust you beam accordingly. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
8. Directions? Which way’s west? It’s not as easy as following the van/runner in front of you
Runners know where you are running and drivers know where you are driving. I know we’re all heading west to the beach but there are twists and turns along the way. Htc is not well-marked and there should be volunteers out but sometimes tire factories catch on fire and they have to pull volunteers from your leg to reroute the leg ahead of you and if you don’t know where you are going it could be ugly… I mean or so I’ve heard.
If you are directionally challenged htc’s handbook has a sheet with little cut outs for each leg that tell you were to go, so take it along. I know a lot of people run with phones but there are several points on the course without cell services so study up.
The same is true for driving. It’s tempting to follow the van ahead of you but are you really willing to trust a van you’ve never met? Also at the larger exchanges you might end up following the wrong van (like you’re van 1 following someone’s van 2).
So study your maps and don’t lose the directions. Finally be sure to download the latest drivers guide and leg info before the race, sometimes they make last-minute changes.
9. Be ware of post relay implosion
You made it to the beach! And now for some reason (I don’t know maybe the lack of sleep, three crazy legs of running and calorie depletion) your emotional IQ is at an all time low. And if you managed to avoid van drama this is where it can strike.
So be on the lookout! And on your best behavior! The relay doesn’t end until you say goodbye! Keep being a good vanmate/teammate and for goodness sake enjoy the beach and some beers!
10. Be flexible and have fun
This is the golden rule or relaying and maybe the most important thing to keep in mind while relaying.
I’m not talking about the touch your toes flexibility (you are a distance runner after all). What I mean by flexile is remember you signed up for an adventure race, not a 10k or half marathon where they close streets down for you and have water stations every 1.9 miles.
There’s and element of unpredictability and adventure in a relay so if your van breaks down and you have to hitch a ride to every exchange, or your runner gets injured and two runners have to run 4 legs, or your team goes to the wrong exchange, or you miss an exchange, or you’re stuck in traffic, or if you’re the very last team on the course and the volunteers are shutting things down around you embrace it: this my friends is what relay dreams are made of! And yep, I’ve experienced all of the above and it’s what keeps me coming back.
You have to have sense of humor about relaying and remember what you’re doing! You’re living in a van for 24+ hours and running down a mountain, through the city, over the countryside, through the middle of nowhere and finally, over a coastal range to the beautiful Pacific Ocean for fun!
So good luck! Have fun! And I’ll see ya at the beach!