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Workout Wednesday

My Best Running Race
 

April 2012

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relay_400x300.jpg

Passing the baton...err the timing chip

Relay runners team up

Relay running is picking up speed across the country. Perks can include jaw-dropping scenery, a chance to run with others for a charitable cause, or a shake-up of your routine. You’ll be running a section of a race as member of a team—but that’s just part of the picture. Relays can be half marathons where each runner does 5K or less, or extreme events like the Canadian Death Race where teams face five gruelling 19-38K legs. Relay options in races like Hamilton’s Around the Bay 30K are popular road runs, while scenic highway races such as the 276.33K Cabot Trail Relay or trail runs like the Squamish 50 let you explore without doing the whole distance.

iRun with my team

Bridget Mallon organized a team of eight men and women for the 2011 Winterman Marathon Relay in Ottawa after watching her brother-in-law race in New York City. “I came home and felt so inspired by his marathon,” she says, “and joked that I could say I’d run a marathon if I did the relay. It was also a reason to keep running through the winter.” Despite a race day temperature of -15, Team Mallon came in third in the Relay Mixed 8. “None of us had ever run a relay,” recalls Mallon; “everybody had a great time.”

Susan Briggs and Alida Kvellestad formed a team of 10 women for the 2012 Kananaskis 100 Mile Relay Race. Briggs says that after completing 10 solo half marathons in 2011, “I thought the next goal had to put the fun back into running.” The K-100 was nearby, with “doable” distances of 9.4-18.6K, through a 2206-metre-high mountain pass and the stunning Kananaskis Valley.

One of the runners Briggs called on was Cori Nicholls. “I’ve never done a relay before,” says Nicholls, “so the thought of working as a team was a little daunting, but so far it’s proving to be a really positive experience.”

Blair Shunk has run relays since 1988, when he first ran the Jasper to Banff Relay. “I did it once and I was hooked,” he says. He’s now race director for the reorganized Banff Jasper Relay, but still runs it. He’s also done the Canadian Death Race relay, the K-100 and others. “It’s a really unique experience, just because of the camaraderie,” he says.

There’s a relay for everyone

Some, like the 100k Rum Runners Relay from Halifax to Lunenburg, put the emphasis on fun, while others, like Alberta’s Sinister 7 Ultra and Relay, offer rugged terrain and endurance challenges galore. If supporting a good cause is your thing, you have dozens of relays to choose from, like the Canadian Cancer Society Relay for Life, the Sears Great Canadian Run Relay to End Kids’ Cancer or the Cst. Bruce Hadley Relay Run for Heart.

Once you’ve chosen a relay, you’ll need to find a team, train for and run it. Here’s how:

Use your networks

To build a team, ask fellow runners, friends and family. Many races host online forums for runners to find teams or teams to put a call out for runners.

Briggs says it took just six days to find her 10 team members. “I thought it would probably take us several months,” she says. “There’s definitely a lot of interest out there.”

Plan for contingencies

Mallon had to scramble to find replacement team members when several realized the race was on a holiday weekend. She had substitutes, “but they couldn’t run either.” She managed to find enough runners, just days before the race.

Check in advance whether your race allows substitutions or one runner to do more than one leg.

Play to team members’ strengths

Teams need to decide who will run which leg, but team organizers might not have a good sense of everyone’s strengths. Briggs asked team members for their first, second and third choices, and tried to match their abilities to race segments. Mallon says people’s availability was also a consideration.

Maximize the team experience

Ultimately, teamwork is what makes relays different from solo races. “The team is depending on you,” observes Shunk. “You want to make sure you do your best on that day.” Mallon notes that friendly competition among teammates helped everyone do well.

It’s inevitable that team members will train on their own for the most part, but Mallon doesn’t think that’s a problem, since most are preparing for other races anyway. Still, she suggests, “If you can organize a team training run just for fun, I think that’s great for team building.”

Briggs’ team is spread across southern and central Alberta and B.C., so she’s set up a Facebook group for people to keep in touch, and looking for opportunities to get them together. Not everyone on Mallon’s team knew each other, so Mallon had to be at every exchange between runners, which kept her busy on race day.

Captain that team

Team captains need to register the team, arrange logistics and support vehicles, and communicate with members. As well, says Briggs, “I’m making sure that I’m touching base with everybody, keeping them excited and motivated.”

But don’t lose sight of the fun in the midst of organizing. Shunk advises, “Don’t be overwhelmed by the commitment. It all sort of falls into place once you get out there.”

Rich returns

“If you’re used to doing one kind of race, try a relay,” suggests Mallon. “Because racing can be a solo endeavour, it’s nice to do something as a team.”

“Relays are the biggest team-building experience,” says Shunk. “It’s the most uplifting experience because your team members are out there cheering you on.” That’s a plus for Briggs: “I haven’t run anything with this difficulty rating before. But part of me just thinks that with that support group there, I’m just going to motor through it.” She adds, “A relay is a really good way to share that love of the sport with other people.” “In the end, it’s all a matter of just having fun, meeting new people,” says Nicholls, “and doing something really healthy for my daughters, showing them that being active doesn’t have to be a chore.”

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