Thursday, August 18, 2011

Team Effort: 100 on 100 Relay

This past weekend, I joined my friends Mark and Marty in Vermont for the 100 on 100 relay.  Both are Captains in the US Army and are currently stationed at West Point (USMA) teaching combatives and PT, and are both fantastic runners having run for the West Point Marathon Team and South Dakota CC and T+F teams, respectively.   Hence our team name...Running Commando.



Just an upfront warning, only part of this race is in trails/gravel roads.  But it is an ultra (divided up into sections), and as a team we crushed it, so hopefully it will make interesting reading…

The 100 on 100 relay starts on ~3 miles of trail in Stowe, Vermont and follows the drop-dead gorgeous highway 100 for 100 miles south up and over Killington and down to Ludlow, VT.  So it was a great chance to see Vermont and get some fast gravel and road miles in. angles The course really runs through all Vermont has to offer from small towns and farms, to mountains and lakes, skirting the Green Mountain National Forest. 

107 teams, made up of either 6 or 3 people had a handicapped start from 5:45a-10:15a and were all slated to finish in the 8:30-11p window.  We were the only ultra (3 person) team at the starting line at the 10:15a final start window, and our first runner Mark toed the line with some very fast 6-man teams (all these teams ended up going sub-7 minute pace for the 100 miles as a team, and the 6-man team winners took it with 6:22 min/mi pace).

What we didn’t realize is the challenge we would be undertaking for the first ~40 some miles of the race, as our goal pace maintaining of 7:00 min/mile pace would leave us running alone, with no one in site on our legs until we caught up to the earlier starters.

The race legs (18 of them) are divided into 5-8 mile sections, with a transition area at the end of each leg with a handoff window (we had a reflective wristband as our baton).  So, upon finishing your leg you have ~15 min to recover, hydrate, fuel, and then get in the car and navigate with the other team member to the next transition area for the hand off.

Luckily, having 2 soldiers and 1 A-type nerd meant our logistics were keyed in.  We had calculated times beforehand for our leg completion, kept track of our pacing by start and finish time, and had mapped out the route and driving directions on an old-fashioned road atlas.   In addition, I’ll mention some other keys to success that we lucked into, as I know there are others in CAT doing relays in these next months and (hopefully) some the advice applies to ultrarunning which we frequently approach as a “team” on our group runs and races.  Top 10:

Personal:
1. Think about your needs and what you need to re-cover/hydrate/fuel during the current leg.  You only have a certain amount of time when you will be the center of your teammate’s attention and then its off to the next transition area so use it wisely.
2. Only focus on the current leg, and do not calculate your overall completion.
3. Metering out your effort means keeping an extremely consistent pace for your legs, so that your body "knows" only how to run at a certain pace.  The pace of my legs only varied between 6:40-7:10, and my 36th mile was run at 6:30 pace.   As a team, our variation was almost nil and we kept it dialed in.
4. Visualize and prepare for your legs before the race and take quick notes on the leg and your strategy so you will know what you want to do e.g. “Slow uphill 2.5 miles, then hammer the downhill.” =7:40 first two miles followed by sub-7 downhill miles to bring your average to 7.
5. Ease into each leg, you will make up the time as you loosen up again and as you near the transition area.

Team:
6. You cannot plan enough and talk about your plan for pacing, when to meet up, if a runner wants aid, where you will do this on the course, etc.  Constant communication is critical.
7. Be honest and open about your current state – both mental and physical.  We honestly appraised both of these frequently and it allowed us to stay on target and keyed into each other’s current state, especially as the day wore on.
8. Stay positive.  All the time.  If someone gets lost or has a bad leg, don’t dwell and don’t allow them to focus on it – start getting focused on the next leg. 
9. Distract yourself with caring – you get one leg to recover, and then you are caring for your teammate’s needs.  If you commit yourself to this, you will distract yourself and ensure your team’s success while distracting you from your cramps/pains/tightness.
10. Get excited.  Energy is contagious.

We hit a really rough patch for all of us, with a very serious climbing leg (Mark), exposed lonely bit (Marty), and two bookended runs of 8 and 7 with very little rest between (me) but we rallied through the lows and "loneliness" on course, and then began passing teams that had started earlier.  Our energy started rising exponentially as we passed more and more teams on our legs beginning after 3-4p and we started crushing the legs.  It flew by, interrupted only by Marty and I getting leeches on our feet after a welcome soak in a lake and changing into my Dorothy costume for the Killington climb leg (photos pending).  



We finished in Ludlow, Vermont at the Okemo Resort 11 hours and 50 minutes after we began, thus averaged 7:10 pace for the distance.  We won the ultra division, and had a blast.

A great race, and a fantastic team effort.
-Mike