Sometimes opportunities present themselves at very unexpected times and if you want it you just need to go for it. This explains how I got caught up running in a relay from Los Angeles to Las Vegas with 9 other strangers!
When I first found out that Strava was putting together a team I was very interested but I had to make sure the timing would work with my big goal spring marathon. When I saw the Speed Project was 4 weeks after the Little Rock Marathon I thought why not apply? I figured it was a long shot but I’ve always wanted to run in a relay and this one looked one of a kind. How could I not try?
I found out a few days before the Little Rock Marathon that I made the team and I was thrilled!! But I couldn’t really think about it yet though because my focus was a sub 3 in Little Rock. When everything came together in Little Rock I was very thankful and felt on top of the world. I had a jam packed racing schedule and was feeling good. Six days after my marathon I ran in a 2-mile race which went great but later that night something felt off. Over the next week or so I tried running a few times but it wasn’t good. I went to physical therapy and saw an orthopedic PA who took an X-ray. Everything looked good which was very encouraging. I had tweaked something behind the knee and my leg just needed some downtime to recover. My coach recommended taking more time off running and I reluctantly agreed. It was hard to rest and skip several runs but it was necessary. Marathon recovery is different for everyone and my body just needed more time.
Two days before I was scheduled to fly out to Los Angeles I went on a test run and everything felt 100%! I knew I wasn’t in the best shape after 4+ weeks of a few short runs and a lot of rest but I was so thankful and happy to be running. Was this the best time to run in a relay? Probably not but I wanted to try. When would I have another opportunity like this? If my knee ever felt off I was prepared to stop. My team knew I had been struggling with my recovery but they encouraged me to come and do what I could do. I’m so glad they did!
New Balance sponsored our team and they went all out!! Strava shipped a big box full of running goodies to me and it was like Christmas morning! The box contained running shoes, socks, racing kit with singlet and shorts, t-shirt, and Goodr sunglasses. When we all arrived in LA they gave us more clothes (tights, singlets, shorts, jacket) and a hat. This kind of thing has never happened to me before so it was overwhelming and exciting all at once. Thank you New Balance!!
From the moment I arrived in Los Angeles I was busy! First, I met Paul who was the coordinator from Strava. Then I met a few of my teammates at the hotel restaurant including my roommate Ang. After lunch Ang and I did our interviews. Our team had two professional videographers and a photographer who were going to be riding along in a van filming and making some sort of running documentary of the entire journey. After our interviews we changed for the official Speed Project meeting where we would also be taking some team pictures.
The meeting wasn’t too far from our hotel and I’ve never seen anything like it. All the teams were meeting up there and their RVs were parked and ready to go. Teams ranged from 6-10 runners. There were 38 teams from all over the world (including 20 different countries). Teams were decorating their RV and loading supplies.
Lots of team race pics!! All team pic photo credit: john_doenut_foto
The race meeting was short and confirmed what I already knew- that this was going to be an experience like no other. All the teams started at the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles and it would be 340 miles until we reached the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign. The race itself was unsanctioned and unsupported. Sections of the course would be run through traffic, on dirt, gravel, sand, in the desert- you name it. There would be no arrows or race signs along the way pointing which way to go. We had a map with instructions on different sections but there were no official checkpoints. No rules.
After the meeting we had an early dinner and went over our game plan.
We had 10 runners, 4 crew, and 2 RVs. I was runner #4 in Van #1. I hoped my knee would not be an issue but I really didn’t have much confidence in it. I figured it would be fine for my first leg but what about the others? After dinner we went back to our hotel to get ready. It was strange to think that we would not be coming back. I think every other time I’ve raced I’ve returned to where I was before the race started. Not this time. We were checking out of LA Friday morning and when we eventually stopped running we would be in Las Vegas.
Friday got off to a very EARLY start. We had to leave our hotel by 3 am so we were up by 2:20. The race started at 4 am from the Santa Monica Pier. Imagine about 35-40 RVs all trying to park on a street in downtown Los Angeles at the same time…
Runners 1-3 went one at a time roughly covering 6 miles each. As each one left I got a little more nervous. When I started my leg we were still in the Los Angeles area. It was just after 6 am and it was dark outside.
Since I’d never done anything like this and I was going into it after some time off running I didn’t know what to expect. I started conservative (slightly slower than marathon pace) so it was more of a steady state effort.
Around mile 3 a runner came up along-side me. He was right around my pace so I decided to stay with him. I learned he was on a team from Mexico and this was their first TSP race (The Speed Project). That was my first and last time to run with a competitor in the entire race. In a race of this distance things tend to spread out quickly.
Between my first and second leg I had about 6 hours to recover. Leg #2 started around 1:30 in the afternoon and temps were in the 80’s. I stayed focused and carried my water which I drank / poured over myself every time my watch beeped on the mile. Halfway through I wondered if my knee was going to start hurting. It didn’t. It felt great!
Recovery and eating was a big part of our time between legs in the RV. We had all kinds of random goodies: tortillas, turkey, cheese, peanut butter and jelly, veggie burgers, cereal, chips, and lots of snacks. We were all drinking a lot of water because we knew Death Valley was coming. Each RV also had its own set of NormaTec recovery boots. This was awesome!! Between runs we would just go in the back and suit up!
My third leg didn’t begin until Friday night around 8:45. This was by far the scariest portion of the race for me. This segment ran into Barstow, California and our RV was scheduled to dump the toilet waste during this time so they were not going to be able to check on me. This was a 6 mile unsupported RV stretch. If the RV wasn’t back in time by mile 6 I could wait or start the next leg and go 2.5 more miles before the next road turn. One of our videographers offered to run with me so I wouldn’t be alone and he had his phone on him so I left mine in the RV. I wore my reflective vest and we were both carrying flashlights. Right around 2 miles he said he needed to stop due to stomach issues. (He had just had a big sandwich.) I should have stopped with him but it was a race and I figured the RV would pick him up on the way to getting me so I decided to keep running. My mistake!!
As I got closer and closer to mile 6 I was looking for the auto store but I didn’t see it. It was dark and I was shining my flashlight at every building on the right side of the road. Where was it? Should I turn around and run back or should I just head to the mile 8.5 pick-up? I decided to keep moving forward. As I was running the situation got more and more scary. What if they weren’t at the 8.5 mile pick-up? How would I get a hold of my team to pick me up? I didn’t have a phone since I left Billy and even if I borrowed someone’s phone I didn’t know any of their numbers. It was not a good situation at all. Around mile 8.5 I knew I had to stop. I didn’t see any RV and there were a couple guys standing on the corner where I was supposed to turn but they looked like they were in the middle of something I didn’t want to get involved with- this was around 10:00 on a Friday night in downtown Barstow. There was no way I was going to wait for the RV on that street corner. Long story short I borrowed someone’s phone to call my husband and he was able to log into my contacts to get my numbers. Then I called my RV driver and they met me outside a well lit diner. There was a little more drama involved that I won’t get into but I learned a very valuable lesson! It was definitely my fault I didn’t have my own phone and I’m just so thankful my husband saved the day- even from across the country.
Once I was safely back on the RV it took me a while to calm down emotionally from the whole Barstow incident. The whole situation scared John, my teammates, and especially myself. Our van had planned to run back to back legs 1-5, 1-5 so we could take a big 8-9 hour break from 3-9 am. I was supposed to run another leg around 1 am but was in no way mentally prepared to attempt it. At this point we had been up for nearly 24 hours and the fatigue was getting to us all. I started to get ready for bed and I heard my team figuring out how to divide up the rest of the runs before RV 2 took over. There was a 3 mile stretch I could take that the RV would be able to follow alongside because the road was not busy. I decided I didn’t want to end the night with the Barstow incident so I put on some running shoes and headed out. The RV drove alongside and encouraged me as I ran. This run was about getting back in the game and ending the night on a positive note. I don’t usually run in my glasses but when it’s 2am you do what you need to do!
Once I finished I laid down in the back of the RV and tried to get some rest. Thankfully we had a few hours break and I was able to get a a little sleep.
Saturday morning I woke up and our RV was at the last big gas station/ rest stop area outside the Death Valley stretch. We were able to brush our teeth and my roommate and I each got a breakfast burrito and a coffee from the Taco Bell / gas station.
My first run of the day was around 11 am and it was well over 80 degrees in Death Valley. We were planning to run 1-3 mile stretches each depending on elevation. My stretch was all uphill. I’d hoped I could make it 2 miles but by mile 1 I knew that would be pushing it unless I slowed down a lot which I didn’t want to do. We had a hand signal system worked out with our RV driver and she was stopping every half mile so I stopped around 1.5 miles.
Since we were only running 1-2 miles each at this point we were running every 1-2 hours. It was hot and pace really depended on elevation. My next run was only 1 mile and once again all uphill.
My next run finally had some downhill and I made it 2 miles. I had another break and before I knew it I was up again. I focused on knocking out another 2 miles.
Sometime in the afternoon we entered Nevada.
Then we started the 1 mile repeat portion. It was about a 37 mile stretch to the outskirts of Vegas.
We each took one mile so we could keep up our pace and basically ran 1 mile repeats with roughly a 1 hour recovery between sets.
At any other time this would seem ridiculously easy but after getting about 3-4 hours sleep for 3 consecutive nights and running almost 30 miles this was actually pretty challenging. I ended up with 4 sets of the 1 mile repeats and pace varied with elevation.
Once we saw the Vegas lights we knew we were in the home stretch.
During the mile repeat portion one of the guys teams past us. They were running half mile repeats at this point and we couldn’t keep up with their paces. We later learned the winning van was running quarter mile repeats on the last stretch so they basically had a 5 min recovery. Since there are no rules in this relay you can really divide it however you want. I love the different strategies involved and I think this makes this relay even more unique.
About 2 miles before the finish we all got out of the RV and ran in together. I really can’t explain what it was like to run this last stretch together. The excitement was contagious and even though we were physically and mentally exhausted we all had a sudden burst of energy. Finishing this 41 hour journey was an amazing experience and then it was time to celebrate!
The bonds and friendships you make on a road trip race relay are truly one of a kind. In total I ran 36 miles but left with over 340 miles of memories. I will never forget my Speed Project experience and I’m so thankful I was able to be a part of the Strava Women’s Team. I started this journey with 9 strangers (not to mention the crew) and left with many new running friends.
So thankful for this opportunity and everyone who made it possible for me to go. Huge thanks to my husband for holding down the fort so I could pursue this unforgettable journey.