Running My First 26.2 Relay : The Struggles and the Triumphs
Updated: Aug 17
It's been a few years since I've run a road race and a few weeks ago, on July 24th, I relayed with my sister to complete just over 14 miles total for my 3 legs. I think it's been roughly three years since I ran a race, maybe longer. This race was my first time back on the roads since my mother passed 2 years ago. It was definitely an emotional day.
As I drove that morning to meet my sister at her house I felt excitement, nerves, heartbreak, and a little fear. I wondered if I'd trained enough, if my emotions would get the best of me, and if I'd perform the way I wanted to. But, I was also excited to be sharing this day with my sister and to finally be back out there racing. I couldn't wait to cheer her on at each exchange spot and to again, run a relay. I ran track in high school and the 4x110 relay was my favorite event. Being part of a team, the excitement of the exchanges, and the cheering as your team took off to kick some serious ass. This experience was a dream to share with my sister. We had talked many times with our mother about running a relay race together. I wished we could have run with her , but she was definitely with us in spirit. I carried her ashes with me in my pocket through the whole race. There were times I felt her with me in the moments of struggle when I wanted to give up and stop and felt I couldn't go any further. I heard her voice say "Keep going you've got this".
The race started at the Backyard Brewery where my sister took the first leg. We were excited
to find out Ali Feller was there announcing. She is one of our favorite pod casters to listen to on the topic of running. If you enjoy listening to running podcasts definitely check her out at Ali On The Run. When they announced for the first leg to take off, watching my sister start her first leg got me a bit teary. I was so excited to be joining her for the challenge. Once she took off for her 2.5 miles my aunt and I hopped in her car, she was our driver for the day, and we were off to the next checkpoint. I felt the excitement and the nerves building. We arrived at the Long Blue Cat Brewery where I got ready for my first leg, which was leg two of the relay. We were tracking Amy on an app that Millennium Running had set up and she was holding a great pace. She was moving a bit fast, but was running strong. As she got closer to our checkpoint I got my apps ready on my phone so I had my timer and my audio in my ear. My Aunt said she was getting close so I got in the exchange zone and then I saw her coming around the corner. She was hauling ass and looked so strong, I was so proud. As she came in I knelt down and switched over the ankle timer. I told her "Awesome job", we high fived, and she said "Go! Go!" and off I went. I felt strong, the adrenaline was pumping, and I felt my nerves settling. I thought to myself, don't go too fast, you've got a little over 14 miles today. Pace yourself. I struggle with this often. My excitement gets the best of me and I always go out too fast...a downfall of having been a sprinter in my younger days. I was off for 2.8 miles to the Pipe Dream Brewery for the next exchange. I wanted to stay between 9 and 10 minutes per mile knowing what I was facing that day and not wanting to over exert myself in the beginning. I knew my excitement got the best of me when I ran my first mile in 8 min 30 seconds. I knew then I had to slow down a bit. My next mile was around a 9 min pace, so I did a little better. My third mile I finished in 10 minutes which was not bad considering there was a hill at the end. This leg was on paved road and a paved rail trail. It was a fairly easier leg of the race. While I was running I had many emotions rushing over me. Thinking of my Mom, how I've trained and hoping it was enough, wondering "can I do this?". It's the longest distance I've ever run. The first two miles are always the toughest for me trying to get into my groove and into the "zone". I need to get my breathing steady and calm my nerves. I started feeling good as I got towards the second mile, which made this leg a bit tough because it was short and I was almost done at this point. As I neared the end of this leg and towards the finish I started to pick up my pace. I wanted a strong finish as I handed off to Amy. I came into the coral and there she was waiting and ready to go. We switched off the ankle timer and I cheered her on as she headed off. This was her 2nd leg, the 3rd leg of the relay, and her longest most difficult one. She was running 6.5 miles with sections of paved road, paved rail trails, and dirt road. She kept an average pace of 9 min and 46 seconds. We tracked her as she ran her leg and we headed to the next check point, Kelsen Brewery.
We arrived at the brewery and had a bit of time to wait where this was her longest leg. They had picnic tables to sit at and I decided to tape up my shins since I could feel my right leg tightening up a bit. I had previously taped my knee since it had been bothering me, but I knew I needed more shin support. I had forgotten scissors so luckily my aunt had some fingernail clippers I was able to use to cut my KT tape. Once taped up I stretched, had some water, and a picky bar to get some energy in me and got ready for the exchange. A few people had come up to me noticing that I was part of one of the few 2 person teams that day. They shared positive words of encouragement and support. My aunt shared that Amy was getting close so I headed over to the start line. I was getting excited to run again and headed into the exchange zone. I looked up and saw her running around the corner and into the coral. When she got to me she said "Ugh, that was hard. I had to walk" I looked at her and said "That's okay, you did great." She patted me on the back and said "Go!"
I headed off for my 3.5 mile leg. I was happy I taped my shins because I could already feel
the difference. They felt better, didn't feel sore or tight. My quads and hamstrings felt a bit tight due to sitting and waiting. I knew it was going to take a bit for them to loosen up and get back into the groove. I had already felt calmer and less anxious heading out on this leg of the race. This leg was all paved road. The sun was starting to get hot and the sweat was dripping down my face. The course brought us down a highway and turned down a side street and down a slight hill. As I headed down the side road we were in the blazing sun. The other runners passing me on the other side of the road were in shade under trees. I yelled over to a runner and said "You have shade, you're lucky!" He just chuckled, probably because he knew I'd be there soon enough. As I got to the end of the street I saw that we turned around some cones and headed back the other way. I was now in the shade under the trees and it felt so good! I was feeling in the zone. My Peloton audio in my ear guiding me through my miles and my tracker helping keep me at a good pace. My first two miles I kept a steady pace. I wasn't going too fast and felt I was holding strong. My first mile I completed in 9:54, my second mile at 10:16, and my third mile at 10:19. As we came around the bend towards the brewery there was no trees. I could see the finish line marker and it seemed so far away. It was up a slight incline and my legs were feeling tired and my breathing was increasing as the temperatures started to climb. I stopped for a minute, placed my hands on my knees, and took a few deep breaths. I heard my Mom say quietly in my ear "You've got this. Amy is right up there waiting for you. Go!" I picked up my head, took a deep breath and put one foot in front of the other. As I crept closer to the finish line I could hear the announcers and the other runners cheering us on. I picked up my pace determined to finish this leg strong. I saw her there waiting. We switched the ankle tracker, I patted her on her back, and said "You've got this, your last one and you're done!" And off she went.
My aunt walked over to me and made sure I had a drink. She asked how I was doing, and I told her good. I said I felt okay on that leg, but I was worried about my next one because it was 8 miles and a more difficult course. She decided she'd go get the car and turn on the air conditioning so I could cool down and we'd head to the next stop because Amy only has 3 miles to run. I sat on the curb to catch my breath and drink my Body Armour, although it was warm so I only had a small sip. Once she pulled around with the car I hopped in and off we went. The AC felt great. Heading to our next exchange zone took longer then expected due to traffic. Amy was running at a good pace and we were a bit nervous we wouldn't get there in time. She was running a steady 9:30 and we had already been 10 minutes in the car.
We finally arrived at the Rockingham Brewery Company. I headed over to the exchange point because my aunt said Amy wasn't too far away due to the traffic we got stuck in. As I was walking over I heard the announcer saying a runner arrived and his teammate wasn't there.I could see the runner looking around bewildered and finally around the corner came his teammate running. He said "We got stuck in traffic! I just got here!" I quickly ran to the bathroom before my 8 miles. I then headed to the exchange point, got my headphones on, and my running apps loaded to go. As I started to try to stretch there was Amy coming around the bend of the street down the shoot. I was cheering her on and she sprinted to her final finish. I was so beyond proud of her and fought back a few tears. I gathered my emotions, reminded myself the toughest is ahead of me and I got this. As she crossed the finish line I knelt down and removed the ankle chip and put it on myself. Amy yelled "Go!" and off I went. Like the previous two legs, I felt some fatigue already setting inA . The stopping and driving in the car caused my legs to tighten a bit and I didn't have enough time to stretch out and warm back up. I had my water with me because the heat was increasing at this time in the day and I was getting over heated, so I figured I would deal with carrying it. Next time I will definitely have a camelback to hydrate. I had my GU Gel in my pocket as well for mid way through this leg.
As I hit the first mile I was feeling good. This final 8 miles started off running up a hill and behind a building to a small dirt road. Then onto the paved rail trail for the majority of the 8 miles. The rail trail was a bit monotonous and not my favorite part of the race. It was a straight run and all paved with trees lining the way. The humidity continued to creep up along with the temperature. I had drank the remainder of my water by mile 3 and used a little to cool off. I was holding about a 10:30 pace. By this time I had run 9 miles over the course of the day and the mental games were starting. I was doubting myself as I was feeling fatigued. I then remembered I had my gel and drank some to help boost my energy and wet my mouth. I passed some people as they were walking in support of a charity, all wearing the same shirts. A few shared some words of encouragement. I I had a few runners pass me, which started to play more with me mentally. I hit mile four and saw a water stop ahead of me. I was so relieved! I took a cup of water to sip on and swish in my mouth and dumped one over my head to cool off. I continued along, pushing myself to get closer and closer to the finish line. I was now starting to get to the end of the rail trail and onto main roads. A woman helping runners cross the intersection said "3.5 miles left!" I thought, okay I've got this. I've run this far many times. I kept pushing my legs through the fatigue and kept talking myself out of self doubt. I continued to hold a steady 10 min pace through these next few miles. I was now running down streets and passed cars. Cones were marking our path. I ran about another mile and a gentlemen helping runners cross the street said "Just another 3.5 miles to go!" and I looked and him and said "What?" He said "3.5 more miles" and I stopped and turned towards him and said "The woman about a mile back just said that!" And I shook my head and started running again feeling a bit frustrated. I looked ahead and there was a hill in front of me. "Shit!" I said out loud and the man running next to me laughed and said "no kidding". I thought to myself "do your best and if you have to walk that's okay. You have about 2.5 miles left to go" So I ran as far as I could and walked the rest. As I got to the end of the main road and down the hill we turned into a neighborhood. I was happy to start having some shade from the trees and run passed houses instead of cars and traffic lights. At this point I was feeling exhausted and defeated. I wasn't sure if I could keep going. I had to run and walk because my legs were about to give out. I was the closest I've ever been to wanting to quit. I felt even more frustrated as my running app told me I was now running a 12 min mile. My mind kept telling me I couldn't do it and I fought back telling myself "just put one foot in front of the other. You can get to the finish line" I was feeling so frustrated because I had trained for months and was truly struggling. Amy had done so well and I felt like I was letting her down. I had another woman running near me and she was also jogging and walking. We started chatting a little bit back and forth. She agreed that the heat was awful and she was having a hard time too. It made me feel a little better. I desperately needed water at this point and wished they had another water stop. I had only brought 1 gel with me and knew I had another in the car and was so mad I didn't take it. I really needed to replenish my electrolytes and energy. "Just one foot in front of the other, just one foot in front of the other" I kept telling myself. By now I was wondering how much further I had. I was at roughly 8 miles according to my running app. So as I jogged I pulled up google maps and put in the brewery. It was just up the road. I was almost there! I started to pick up my pace and ran a few hundred yards when I had to walk again. "Come on!" I yelled out loud. "What the hell". My lungs were aching, my legs felt like bricks, and I held back tears. Then as I came around the corner I could hear the music. I heard my Mom's voice in my head. "A little further Chrissy, you can do it. You're almost there" This was the furthest I'd ever run before. I had hit over 13 miles by this point. "Move your feet, even if you walk, just get to that finish line." I pushed myself harder then I'd ever pushed myself. As I came up over the last hill I saw my sister standing by the finish line. I squealed out loud and waved. Tears started to fill my eyes and I got this instant burst of energy and felt something push me. I started sprinting to her with energy that came out of nowhere. My feet felt like they were floating and moving with little effort. I'm not sure where it came from. It's as if my Mom was pushing me from behind. I crossed the street and grabbed her hand. Together, hand in hand we ran through the final shoot to the finish line. As we crossed under the archway we raised our hands in the air, over our heads, and Amy cheered at the top of her lungs. I left every last bit of energy on that course that day.
As I crossed the finish line I felt so many emotions. I had never been so close to wanting to quit, even running the half marathons I have in the past. The heat really got to me and I wasn't as prepared as I should have been with water or my gel packs. But I did it. I crossed the finish line. I didn't give up. I pushed through all the self doubt, the voices in my head to just stop, and the temptation to call someone to come get me. I felt relief when I saw Amy waiting for me and felt so much pride when I held her hand and crossed the finish line. Throughout the day we had many people telling us how amazing it was that we were a two person team. That we were strong and impressed them that we were each running a half marathon. I rant the furthest road race I have ever done that day, but I still felt like an imposter. I felt like everyone praising me didn't know how much I struggled. They didn't know I wanted to quit. I have to keep reminding myself that even though I felt like giving up I didn't and I kept going. Running teaches you so many life lessons. You come so close to the brink of quitting but keep pushing yourself. You face so much self doubt and have to talk yourself through it just like challenges you face day to day throughout your life. You have to push yourself up hills along the way and at then get to coast down them to only face another hill. You feel excitement, fear, pride, struggles, aches, pains, fatigue, and joy throughout your journey. This race was filled with it all. Just like life, we at times face the journey alone and feel like we can't get through it, but then, as you come up over those hills, and around that bend to the clearing you'll have someone there, cheering you on, and helping you cross that finish line willing to hold your hand along the way. Sister, remember...when things get hard just put one foot in front of the other and keep looking towards the finish line. Know you have others that are cheering you on and waiting for you to reach your goal.