Time: 1 p.m.
This was a fun race. And a painful one. But the pain was part of the fun.
This was the Icebreaker Indoor Marathon Team Relay, which the team I was on turned into more of a rotating interval workout than an even-legged traditional-style relay.
It was held at the Pettit National Ice Center, which has an oddly-distanced 443-meter indoor running track that loops around both a hockey rink and Olympic Speed Skating rink. Between the cold from the ice rinks, the weird track length, and also its unusual width — only 3 lanes — it makes for a unique running experience, especially in a race setting (the course is also open on a daily basis to runners hoping log some miles while avoiding snow and bad weather).
The team I ran for, Hillrunner.com, was led by my running coach Ryan and was also comprised of Gerry (a longstanding Hillrunner.com teammate) and Nikki, a running blog/internet friend who graciously agreed to run with us after my recruiting pitch.
It was a different kind of race than I’ve ever run, but more like the kind of races I wish I could run. Even though I’m older (read: not as fast as all those young bloods out there), never ran track in high school or anything, and only just started getting serious about running a couple years ago upon hitting my 30s, I somehow still tend to fancy myself more of a sprinter than a distance runner of any sort. That’s part of why I prefer the mile to any other distance — it’s the shortest distance I can find — and why I don’t really run races longer than 5K. After all, there aren’t really any adult track and field meets I can just drop in on. So aside from the few one-mile races available every year, 5Ks tend to be the shortest, most available race distance.
The relay’s race rules were incredibly flexible in terms of how each team ran. Relay teams needed a minimum of two runners, but allowed a maximum of four (most teams seemed to field four). No runner was required to run the same distance, and relay legs could be split up however evenly or unevenly each team desired. The only real requirement was that the timing chip, which was a velcro anklet, needed to be transferred from runner to runner for each lap to count. In all, each team simply needed the anklet to complete 95 laps around the track.
Prior to the race, we discussed several strategies, including each of us simply running a quarter marathon one at a time, having us each run two 3+ mile chunks, and even some other weirder variations of varying distances. We’d sort of left it up in the air because some of it hinged on how quickly we could transfer the timing anklet from person to person. None of us had run this race before, so we didn’t know which would save us more time: running longer, slower relay legs and transferring the anklet only a few times, or running shorter, much faster relay legs and transferring the anklet very frequently.
The day before the race, I emailed Ryan a spreadsheet of ideas, and he responded back mentioning a comment he saw at a post on Keep Running MKE about how a team from last year broke it up into a 2-lap (approx. 0.55 mile) per person rotation the entire duration of the race, and suggested it as an option. I’d seen that, too, and while I preferred that approach due to my abilities and how I train (in addition to typically shorter distance running, I do a lot of stair intervals for my stair races), I didn’t know if everyone else would be on board since I figured they were all more distance runners, so I wasn’t going to say anything. Also, I was mainly just there to have a good time and try out a different sort of race.
Ultimately, once everyone showed up and we picked our team “pit area” before the race, we discussed strategy options and decided we’d start with the 2-lap approach and adjust to longer distances if we felt we needed to for any reason. We didn’t, though; we stuck with it the whole race, and it seemed to work well for us. While it was hard to keep warm in race area in general, the 10- to 11-minute breaks I got between each turn were probably better for my muscles than the kind of much longer breaks I’d have gotten if we’d all been running longer distances.
In some ways, the way we split it up reminded me of competing in a multi-climb stair race, but without the stairs. And with way more intervals. But the same formula of high-intensity/break/high-intensity/break, etc.
In all, I ran 24 laps, or 12 two-lap intervals at about 3:15-3:25 minutes on to 11:00-ish minutes off. I tracked a few of my splits on my stopwatch, but not all of them — probably only a little more than half. In general, when I tracked my lap times, I seemed to average around 1:40 per lap. Some were faster, some were slower, but overall I stayed a few seconds either side of 1:40. Unfortunately, I don’t know what either of my first two intervals were; I wish I did because I think they may have been my fastest. I definitely went out too fast to start. Of the ones I did track, though, the first lap of my final interval was my fastest at 1:27. It was the end of the race, so I was trying to give it everything I had; however, for someone whose long run usually only maxes out at 7 miles, it was a little much to give at that point. I immediately paid for it as I posted a very difficult 1:45 in my final lap.
Assuming my average was 1:40 over the course of all 6.60 miles (443 meters x 24 laps), then my total running time would have been 40 minutes flat, or a 6:03/mile pace. Which is ridiculous for me for that distance. Obviously, I couldn’t sniff that doing 6.60 miles all at once — I’m usually around an easy 8:00/mile for runs of that length. But still, my mile PR is 5:27, the pace of my 5K PR is 6:30, and I ran a 6:59 pace in the 8K I did last fall. The distance I ran in this relay was longer than any of those. Even though it’s not the same, it feels pretty good. It also feels pretty good to say I ran a marathon. Even if I actually only ran a quarter of it.
* The average age of our team was nearly 20 years older than the mixed division team we finished second to — a Marquette University Running Club mixed team. And we finished less than four minutes behind them. I don’t know if that’s something to feel good about or terrible about.
* Our team dynamic was solid. Ryan and Gerry have known each other for years and have run together plenty of times. I’ve only run with them a couple times, and none of us had run with Nikki before. None of that really mattered, though — we were all pretty relaxed personalities, we all worked really hard, we all stuck to our running and anklet transferring patterns without issue, and we all had fun. Definitely a good group to run and race with!
* As hard as some of the interval stair workouts I do can be, my legs never feel as sore doing those as they did (and still do, as of the time of this post) after this race. This was a lot of distance for me to be doing as a hard-paced interval workout, and this is the sorest my legs have been in a long, LONG time. My calves, especially my right one, feel like cement. There’s also some minor occasional soreness in some of the small, hidden muscles in my quads, as well as in my foot muscles. But it’s the good kind of soreness — no pain, no injury… just a reminder that I pushed myself and worked really hard.