So, this relay wasn’t really on my race schedule for the year. I’ve been interested in doing it for the past 4 years since they started it, but it’s a lottery to get in and I already have trouble finding teammates to do relays with me in the past, so I just haven’t even tried to get in.
Luckily, I had an internet friend turned in real life friend turned runner I coach message me and ask me if I was interested in doing the relay in her place. She got a job with GO! St. Louis, the organization who puts on the race, so she would need to work the race instead of running it. I was pumped that I had NOTHING going on that weekend and was excited to join her team!
Here’s the really fun thing about this race: none of us had ever really met in person prior to race day. I had met Abe once before at a race, but very briefly. And even though Vanda is one of my runners, we have never actually met in person before. So, essentially this was a team of perfect strangers, piled into a van for a day to run 82 miles of the Katy Trail from Creve Coeur to Hermann, Missouri.
Our day started bright + early, meeting at 5:45 to make it to the starting line before our 6:30 start time. We all piled into the van with our bags, food, and coolers and we were welcomed with open arms by our former team captain, Kristin! She was able to check us in for the race, which was kind of fun since she is the one connecting us all together. We parked, got everything we needed, and headed down to the track at Parkway North High School for Max to help us get the race started.
I ended up running into a friend’s husband I knew was running the race, who just so happened to have the same start time as us (6:30am – the first start was 4:45am…), as well as a friend from high school. They were pretty much the only 2 people I knew doing the race, so it was fun to have the same start time and get to see them throughout the race. (At least for awhile.)
We were in the non-competitive group, meaning we did not have to go in any particular order AND we could skip legs if we wanted to. Kristin was nice enough to create an awesome spreadsheet to let us pick which legs of the race we wanted to run. We all would be running 3 legs, so it was nice to figure out which legs we would be running. I am SUPER happy with the ones I chose – mostly because I knew a few of the legs because I have run them before and knew they would be outrageously hard (trail running is NOT my forte). So, I chose an easy, medium, and hard leg, looking to hit some decent mileage for the day. Turns out, I chose legs that would have me topping my mileage for the day at 15+ miles. That amount of mileage made me super nervous, but I was hoping that since it was broken up into 3 different runs, I could handle it.
My first leg was the 2nd exchange/3rd leg of the race from the Katy Trail Connector (between the Katy Trail and Creve Coeur Lake Park) to Greens Bottom along the Katy Trail. I know this route really well, having run it several times with Matt’s XC team. Very easy, very short route. I decided this would be the leg I would go all out on, since it was still fairly cool (it was HUMID though) and it was my first leg of the day. My goal was to run at tempo pace since I knew there wouldn’t be much competition on the trail, and I need someone to pass.
That first leg was easy and the 3 miles FLEW by! I was able to pass a few runners in the first mile and then I was literally out there alone. But, I was able to keep perfect tempo pace throughout the run. I felt great after – sweaty, but great!
TOTAL = 3.19 miles
TIME = 21:59
PACE = 6:54/mile
We hopped into the van pretty much as soon as I got to the exchange and headed to the next exchange zone. I think that was the one thing I just was not prepared for. I was thinking we would have a little more down time throughout the day, but pretty much as soon as we finished, we needed to get in the van and head to the next exchange zone. We would always have some time to spare once we got to the next exchange zone, but usually just enough time to get changed, eat + drink something, and WAIT.
Did I mention it was HOT? Like really, really hot. I lucked out with my legs of the relay because they weren’t terribly hard or uncovered, but no matter which leg you ran, it was hot. Our team really started struggling as we go farther into the morning and afternoon. Our times were starting to slow down and we were needing to walk more and more. Some of the legs were also REALLY hard – trails, rocks, hills, etc. Like I said, I got REALLY lucky with my legs. I had some of the higher mileage runs, but they weren’t hard, and that was HUGE for me.
I started my second leg right around noon. This one was labeled as “medium” difficulty, running from Matson to Augusta on the Katy Trail. While the leg was pretty much as flat as can be, there were definitely some open parts of the trail that were just HOT due to lack of shade. But, there were a lot more people on the trail, so I turned on some Karmin Covers Vol. 1 and just tried to pass as many people as possible. By this point in the race, some of the faster groups that started behind us were starting to catch up, so I actually got passed on this leg of the race. My competitive side HATED being passed, but I had to remind myself that today was all about me. So, my goal became keeping 7:30/mile pace and NOT WALKING. Oh, and listening to my body. The last thing I wanted was to be taken out by ambulance (which, unfortunately, a few people were that day).
TOTAL = 5.66 miles
TIME = 42:20
PACE = 7:29/mile
And just like last time, as soon as I got done, it was time to hop in the van again and head to the next exchange zone. By this point, we were about an hour behind our predicted time, but it was just so dang hot. We were getting closer and closer to the exchange cut off times with each exchange zone, but we knew the goal was to get to the finish line. I definitely think that was my biggest struggle throughout the day – NOT being competitive! Ha! It took every ounce of me to not want to just keep racing the entire time. But, it WAS fun to just get some mileage in and not worry about pace too much.
When we finally got to my last exchange, I was getting super nervous. This was not only my longest leg but supposedly my hardest leg too. It was getting later in the day (almost 5PM), but it was still hot. I told myself to just go with what felt good – if that meant having to walk a bit, I would walk.
Thankfully, my legs still felt pretty good and I was holding down 7:30 miles pretty much every mile. This was actually the leg of the race I remember the best, but I think it was because it was just a bit more exciting. Still flat + boring, but I had people to pass throughout the entire leg. That, and there was quite a bit of action on the trail, which is actually more unfortunate than anything. Two ambulances passed me on the trail and then 2 more coming the other direction. After talking to Kristin, she told us they ended up having to call helicopters to get the runner off the trail and to a hospital. It was a scary day for sure with the heat.
This was the only leg of the race where I ended up stopping for water. I found a sponge on the water table and got it fairly wet with ice water before taking off again. Slowed me down but it was well worth it. I held on to that sponge the last 2 miles of my leg and it was everything I needed to help me focus. I finished my last leg feeling strong and super happy with how I did the entire day.
TOTAL = 6.21 miles
TIME = 47:25
PACE = 7:39/mile
After that exchange, things got really exciting. We got to one more exchange and after getting back to the van, we noticed the low pressure light on. I wasn’t too worried because we were on gravel. But, sure enough, as soon as we got to the road, flat tire. We found a spot to pull over and could immediately smell the burning rubber from our blown out tire. We were able to flag down a van to take our next runner to the LAST exchange zone, called Kristin up to help us out (who called her dad to come help us out since he was volunteering not too far from there), and spent the next 30 minutes fixing our flat tire. I will be forever grateful for having males on our team for that reason! Ha! The hardest part was figuring out where the spare was (this was a rental van, of course), but once we had that, they popped the tire on and we headed toward the finish line.
We had missed that last exchange zone and our second to last runner was able to hop a ride to the finish while our last runner ran the last leg of the race. We were hoping to make it to the finish line in order to finish as a team, but unfortunately, we got there about 20 minutes after they had already finished. Boo. But, we were still able to enjoy our medals and the post-race dinner together before hopping BACK in the car to head back home.
It was a long, hard, exhausting day, but it was truly one of the most fun experiences in my life! It’s not every day 6 strangers get into a van, become instant running buddies, and get to share stories for a lifetime! I will DEFINITELY be doing this race again!