Saturday I took advantage of St. Patrick’s Day and jumped into my first race since RTB last fall. The hiatus wasn’t kind. Here’s where I should note that I haven’t been taking my own advice. Several weeks ago I praised the magic of tempo runs for RTB training, yet I haven’t done any. I’m also a firm believer in a steady diet of strides, but haven’t run one in weeks.
So I jumped into the race cold-turkey. And it hurt. But perhaps it wasn’t entirely inappropriate prep for RTB. I ran the first mile about 30 seconds too fast and the last mile about 30 seconds too slow. A couple more races, mixed in with some of those overdue tempo runs, and hopefully when my first relay leg begins, I’ll have some idea what the heck I’m doing out there on the roads. With two months left until RTB, there’s still plenty of time to get used to judging my pace, and getting accustomed to running hard.
On Saturday I had the motivation of hundreds of shamrock-clad runners around me. But I know that won’t be the case in the relay. That might be the harshest reality of RTB—those lonely roads. The first leg of the race usually feels relatively easy, though there’s always an early sense of panic about whether it’s too fast or slow. You’re rested, the sun’s still up, and hopefully it’ll feel like one of those tempo runs. The second leg tends to feel like a race effort. Your legs are a little tired, but you’re closer to being done and a little more willing to push the pace. Of course, it’s probably dark out, and all you can see ahead of you on the road are the flashing lights on other runners’ backs. And then there’s the third leg. That one always hurts. There’s no avoiding that reality. Your muscles rebel, you keep checking your watch and thinking those seconds just aren’t ticking by as fast as normal. In a good year, it feels like you’re finishing a half marathon. In a bad year, it’s like those final, interminable miles of a marathon. I don’t know about you, but my mind wanders, and I have to find ways to focus it on the task of getting to the transition area ASAP.
There’s no better way to maintain your motivation through all of those lonely miles on the road than by focusing on catching one team after another. With RTB’s staggered, seeded starting system, there are slower teams out on the road somewhere in front of you. Lock onto their backs and try to gradually work your way up to them. At night, lock onto those flashing lights ahead in the distance.
Some teams take this time-honored relay tradition pretty seriously, tallying their road kills on the sides of their vans. If that’s your thing, great. But even if it isn’t, use those other teams as motivation to keep yourself running strong. You’ll appreciate them more and more with each leg. And if you’ve done the hard work beforehand—busting the rust with some tempo runs and hard race efforts—you’ll be surprised how many people you catch.