Howdy-ho, friends! Today is a holiday, so I hope you’re enjoying it doing whatever makes your little heart sing. Me, I’ll be taking an extra rest day, on account of the Ragnar Niagara relay and joining some friends for a BBQ this afternoon. I plan to do a little food prep this evening, and otherwise just enjoy a nice day off.
As you know, this weekend was the Ragnar Niagara relay, and I was part of a team of 12 women from my running group, Tribe Fitness. We ran 304km from Coburg to Niagara starting on Friday morning and to say it was an amazing experience would be an understatement. Naturally, I’ll post a more in-depth recap of how that went, but first, here is a summary of my lighter-than-usual training load leading up to the race:
39km ride: This morning’s ride was a mix of endurance and some zone 5 intervals. My legs were turning over pretty well, all things considered, and the intervals were just challenging enough.
40 minute swim No go on the swim today.
39 minutes strength: Well, #twofertuesday is over, so today’s workout was my strength routine. It felt SO strange doing this on its own. I almost always do it immediately after a run, so when I finished, I was kind of thinking, “This is it?” It wasn’t that I didn’t push myself, but I suppose I now have an association of strength work as being a post-run thing.
21km ride: Strictly a 45 minute spin in zone 2. Nothing to tax the legs, just to keep my body moving before Ragnar.
1372m swim: I looked ahead at what my swim group would be doing on Wednesday, and they had some hard efforts on the schedule. I didn’t think that was wise so close to the race, so I did a lunch swim that included some descending 100 sets with my fins. I used the pull buoy for both the warm up and cool down to save my legs.
Rest. Glorious, glorious (scheduled) rest day.
Friday –> #twoferfriday just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
9.1km run: My first leg of the Ragnar Niagara relay! I am going to recap my legs and the race in more detail below. For now, I’ll just say that it was a hilly, bug-filled run. 😉
4.7km run: My second run was actually through the Upper Beaches. So close to home, yet so far to go!
5.5km run: Third and final leg of the relay for me. This was both mentally and physically tough.
Rest. If I ever earned a rest day, it was this one!
Total Time: 5:07
On Friday morning, I set out with a group of 11 other women from Tribe Fitness to run 304km from Cobourg to Niagara Falls in the Ragnar Niagara relay. Way back in the fall, I (apparently) coaxed my run crew into registering a team for this race. A Ragnar relay has long been on my bucket list, so I was eager to check it off my bucket list.
For those unfamiliar with the concept of a Ragnar relay, it is an event that usually covers 300-ish kms, with a team of 12 (or 6, if you choose an ultra) runners tackling legs and passing off a baton (slap bracelet in this case. The ’90s are alive and well at Ragnar!). Repeat the process until all 36 legs of the course have been run.
Saying that this race requires a lot of organizing and planning logistics might be the understatement of the century. Heather and Mark did an *incredible* amount of work to make this happen for us, everything from calculating predicted paces and exchange times to booking vans to making sure we had somewhere to chill out on our breaks. We are all so grateful for everything they did to make this happen. An unforgettable weekend, for sure.
Anyway, after logging some #twofertuesday double runs to prepare, the big day was here. Bright and early at 6 a.m. on Friday, Ryan (who was one of our drivers) and I met up with our team mates from the first van to head to the start line in Cobourg for a pre-race briefing in advance of our 9 a.m. start.
To be honest, it seemed like a false start, like it wasn’t actually happening yet. I can’t quite explain it. Before we knew it, our first runner had set off on her first leg. We drove to meet her at the exchange point, and sent off our second runner (and repeated the process for each exchange). We were all a little surprised at how windy and cold it was at the start of the race. Thankfully, there was no rain in the forecast, so we had that to be thankful for. I was really hoping that it would warm up, as all of my race outfits consisted of shorts. Eep.
Leg #1 – 9.1km//52:50 (5:48/km)
I got my wish. The sun came out and I even got a little sunburn on my first leg. I had studied my legs in advance of the race, but I was not expecting my first leg to be as hilly as it was. Yikes. If I had not trained for Around the Bay this winter, I would have been toast. My initial plan was to run the first two legs easy, and turn it on for the third and final leg, if I had any gas left.
That kinda went out the window in the first few kms of my first leg. Adrenaline was pumping, and my heart rate took off big time. It became clear that my body was treating this as a race, and I better fall in line. Alrighty, then.
So, yeah. Hills for days. Rolling hills, steep hills, you name it. A few downhills, a couple of flat stretches, but for the most part, I was climbing. During this whole leg, we were also constantly running through swarms of little black flies. It was either windy, or calm with swarms of bugs. I found myself having to breathe aggressively through my mouth to avoid swallowing them. Around 6km in, I regretted my decision to start out so fast, but decided to hang on.
I was totally ready to be done when, somewhere in the 8-9km range, we got stopped for a passing train. I couldn’t decide whether I was pissed to be losing time, or relieved that I would get a little break to recover for the last push.
Once we got going again, I was relieved to settle back in and see my team waiting for me at the exchange. My legs immediately felt trashed, as if I had just crushed a long hill workout, which I guess I did. I started to worry about my remaining two legs. At least they were shorter. Yay!
After all of our van finished their first legs, we had a few hours to kill while van #2 set out on their first legs. We were not far from Oshawa at this point, so we grabbed lunch at Kelsey’s as a group and ducked into Mark’s parents’ house for the quickest of naps. I was still wired at this point, and had trouble sleeping, so a 30 minute cat nap was all I got. Better than nothing, I guess.
Leg #2 – 4.7km//24:20 (5:13/km)
By this time, we were back in Toronto, and my second leg was at around 9 p.m., and going through the Upper Beaches. I was quite close to home, in fact. At this point, Ryan took a break from driving to run my second leg with me. Even though I had run hard that morning, I knew that this would be my only chance to get in a speedy run. I expected to be legitimately tired by my third leg the next morning, so I decided to start at a speedy pace and see how far a nice downhill and having Ryan as a pacer would take me.
Turns out, it took me far! It was a hard run, but almost all downhill and I actually felt really great! Maybe adrenaline? Whatever it was, it felt fantastic. We only got stopped at one light, which helped. Ryan was a fantastic pacer. He encouraged me every step of the way, and asked how the pace was early on. Once he was satisfied that I wasn’t in distress, he didn’t let up, which I’m so thankful for.
Perhaps the best part of this run was that had this been a road race (and 300m longer, of course), I would have gotten a 5k PB! Once again, a confirmation that my running is heading back in the right direction. I handed off the slap bracelet to the very speedy Kim B., and hopped in the van to recover. I was completely spent, and glad I pushed myself when I had the chance.
As I was checking off my leg on the van window, I noticed this on our back windshield. It was then that I started to get a little emotional, and it was nothing but gratitude for my team, our support crew, and Ryan from there on out.
Once Heather finished up the second set of legs for our van, we hopped in the van and headed to Hamilton to have a quick nap at Heather’s dad’s place before meeting the van for the final round. Once again, a quick sleep (about 1.5 hours this time for me), but enough to recharge.
Leg #3 – 5.5km//31:24 (5:44/km)
As predicted, I was running on fumes by the time my third leg rolled around. Luckily, Ryan was also going to run this one with me to ensure I stayed upright. I felt so very tired from the first step, and couldn’t wait for the leg to be finished. The thing with a relay is that, you never quite contemplate quitting, as you might do on your own, because there is a group of people waiting for you and counting on you to give 100%.
My third and final leg went through Grimsby and I got to see parts of the IronGirl course and the Grimsby Half Marathon course. I haven’t run either, and Ryan distracted me with stories of his first Try-a-Tri in Grimsby on this course. I was grateful to have somewhere to focus my mind, and when I handed off that bracelet, I was both relieved and amazed that I had managed to nail all three of my legs. My originally projected pace was 5:56/km for all of my legs, so it was a big confidence booster to have run all three of them faster than predicted.
After I finished, we cheered the rest of our runners, and handed off to van #2 for the last push to Niagara Falls. We all waited together at the final exchange to send Anna off on the last leg up the Escarpment and through a gaggle of tourists to finish on the Falls. Watching her come in was absolutely surreal. As other teams did, we joined her and did a collective run to the finish as a team.
Oof. I actually got teary as we crossed the finish. As I mentioned above, the planning and organization that it took to pull this off was incredible. We had four amazing drivers (all significant others of team members) who shuttled us around, did coffee and food runs, took on pacing duties, ensured that we had photos to remember this weekend, and just generally supported us in whatever we needed. We are so very lucky to be surrounded by the best support network, and I know I’m speaking for the entire team when I say that we truly appreciated everything they did for us this weekend.
In addition, Nuun Canada kept us hydrated and New Balance Canada gave us matching tank tops to race in. It was very generous of them, and we are very grateful for their support!
There was a point earlier in the winter when I wondered what I had gotten myself into. Dare I say that I even dreaded the thought of running this race? Well, I did. I worried that my plantar fasciitis would flare again, and that I would be unable to run. I worried that the relay itself would cause my plantar fasciitis to flare, and that it would wreck my triathlon training season. There really isn’t much one can do to prepare, expect run doubles, which I did once per week as my triathlon training schedule allowed.
Did I feel prepared going in? Not really. Much in the way that you never actually feel prepared for your first triathlon, your first marathon, your first race, in general, I guess. I was heading into the unknown and unsure of how my body would react.
I was immediately sore upon finishing my third leg, and knew it would be a rough couple of days. Upon getting home, I made sure to stretch and foam roll. It was incredibly painful, and I have been having a little pain in the centre of my leg below my kneecap, off and on. I took rest days Sunday and again today, and won’t run again until Thursday, so hopefully that gives my body time to reset. PK has recommended that I get a massage, so I may have to look into that, even though it will be painful as hell.
So, that’s that. I’ve checked this off my bucket list. I went in thinking I would do “one and done,” but I can’t say that I would turn down the opportunity to run another relay if it came up. The good definitely outweighed the bad. It was worth every minute of sleep I lost, and every painful step down the stairs that has followed in the last couple of days.
I know I’ve flooded my social media with updates on the race over the weekend, and I wanted to say thank you to everyone who followed along and sent us good vibes. It was great to know we were being cheered on!
Did anyone else run Ragnar this weekend? Or any other Ragnar race? How did your training go last week?