By Amanda Witucki, Team Stranger Danger
This past weekend I completed my first-ever overnight relay race from Diamond Lake to Bend, Oregon for #CLR2014. Words are hard to come by when describing this experience, but I’m going to try!
Crossing the finish line with my team for the Cascade Lakes Relay was such a rewarding moment after all of the hard work we put in. The blood, sweat, and yes even some tears, couldn’t have formed a better end-product. We were tired. We were sore. We were hot. We were hungry (& thirsty!). Mostly, we were eager to finish the last leg of 216+ miles together as a team. With this being my first long-distance relay, I sighed in relief, but was soon overcome with pride and joy. I did it. I traveled 2,500 miles from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and ran 21 miles. We did it. As part of the awesome team Stranger Danger, we ran 216 miles in thirty-one hours (3rd place in our division!)
It was tough preparing for the race and even tougher competing. Events like these not only push your physical stamina, but your mental toughness too. I’m glad it didn’t rain, but the heat was exhausting and I didn’t even have to run in the worst of it. My goal the whole time was really to “pace myself.” As a competitor, you always want to play your hardest and run your fastest, but with a relay you really have to have the mentality that “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
I recently ran in my fourth half-marathon so I felt I was in good running condition. In the weeks leading up to the race, I had started to run twice a day to prepare for CLR. That definitely helped my physical stamina throughout the relay. The only issue I had was adjusting to the elevation. Many of my runs in Wisconsin are around 1,000 feet above sea level – nothing even close to the 5,200 I experienced in Oregon! Breathing was a little tough for that first leg, but I was fine for two and three. The real challenge was to believe in myself that I could finish in a respectable time.
The mental part of the race is challenging but if you’re part of a fun-loving, supportive team like I was then it’s easy to overcome and enjoy the event, especially if those on your team have experience with relays like this. The folks at CLR also put a lot of hard work in helping teams and individuals prepare for the race so you should lean on them for race tips as well.
Besides the initial gasps for air in leg one, I enjoyed that run the most. The trail around Diamond Lake was gorgeous, although I was only able to take a few photos while running. For a first-timer like myself, I had such an adrenaline rush running with others in costumes and really taking in the moment of what I was about to embark on. After that run, which I finished at my desired 9 min/mile pace, it was so neat to see all the other teams, their costumes, and their vans decorated. Of course, my team’s van was one of the best out there! We were honorary H2O Ambassadors, held American Idol auditions, and gave out free candy, kittens, and sweaty hugs…among other things. It was also exciting to cheer on my teammates as they ran in our first round, and other participants throughout the day.
All of the action was also tiring. I knew I wasn’t going to sleep much, but I definitely thought I’d get more than a 20-minute snooze that afternoon and a one-hour nap overnight. But again, the adrenaline pulls you through and with all the excitement going on, you just don’t want to miss out on the experiences and I was glad I didn’t for my first relay race. My advice here would be to rest up the week before you race, not only limit your workouts/runs, but also catch up on sleep.
Another important thing to do the week before and during an event like this is to be aware of the food/drinks you put into your body. Contrary to popular belief, you shouldn’t eat a tub of spaghetti the night before a race! Increase your carbs 3-8 days before and make sure you drink enough water. A good rule of thumb is to drink half your weight in ounces (so a 150-lb person should drink 75 ounces of water per day). *disclaimer* I’m no doctor, but have performed well using these benchmarks in the past. Remember, everyone has a different body type, composition, and needs. The other thing to remember for food before and during the race is that it should be similar to what you’ve been eating. Don’t try new foods that your stomach and body isn’t used to.
Personally, my second run was the toughest since we ran at night and on a dirt road. The bugs, dust, and dark weren’t pretty, but they were manageable. Remember to study the course maps before competing in a relay race.
Knowing certain points along your trail help you maintain pace and know when you can push ahead before that last mile marker. Seeing the “1 Mile To Go” sign was definitely a highlight of the event, especially as I finished my last leg. I could smell the next exchange point, which would be my last. Again, for a first-time relay runner, that feeling was amazing! I had never run more than 15 miles in 24 hours, so to run 21 competitively was a great accomplishment and one that I’m so proud of. I must say that my team really made this experience what it was. To spend that much time tired, hot, and hungry in a van together can test your patience, but the right mix of teammates makes all the difference.
CLR 2014 ended in beautiful River Bend Park. While temps were still near 100 degrees, the stage was set for our team to cross the finish line. We were all ready for it too. Friends, food, and the post-race party were waiting for us. And it was a great way to unwind and celebrate together after our big accomplishment.
For me, that was just the beginning of my post-race party. Along with friends, new and old, I spent the next few days eating and drinking my way through Oregon and up to Washington where I did some kayaking in the San Juan Islands. While maybe not the best things to put my body through after a long-distance relay race, it sure was fun. Back home in Wisconsin I’ve already had my post-race massage at my favorite place Elements. Few people know how much massages before and after races help the body and mind! I’ll also be starting a new running regime after taking this week off. You may not believe it, because I told everyone I was going to decrease mileage after this race, but you get the urge to run again right away, even with sore legs. Maybe it was the massage that changed my mind…
Moving forward, I still have a 5K this month, an 8K in September, and a 15K in October. I’m tempted to run another half-marathon in November and then finish out the year with a fun, holiday 5K in December. No matter which races I choose to complete my goal of one each month this year, I know that they’ll each challenge me in their own way. And each race will continue to provide me with a great sense of accomplishment, just as #CLR2014 did!
Amanda is a runner and sports enthusiast from Wisconsin. In her free time she’s an online marketing professional who is also earning her MBA. When not training for a race or cheering on her favorite teams (Packers, Brewers, & Badgers), she’s spending time with her friends and family, probably enjoying a beer. She plays beach volleyball and even some broomball during the winter months. Amanda also has a passion for live music and is an international traveler.