Thursday, March 10, 2011

Rouge Orleans Race Report

I am pleased to announce that "The Most Interesting Men Alive" completed their 126.2 mile journey from Baton Rouge to New Orleans last weekend.

After a 15 minute delay for a tornado warning, the race kicked off amidst unseasonably cold and rainy conditions that followed us through the night.  Our team was made up of six members - two of whom had never done anything longer than a 10K and none of whom had ever completed an Ultra Relay.  We each brought varying degrees of talent and preparation, from the Ironman veteran who did the race despite the fact that it would mean scaling back her mileage for the weekend to the youthful athlete who decided to prepare by completing only a few random 1.5 mile intervals in the preceding weeks.
Each leg of the race was of differing length (between 2.5 and 7.5 miles) and each of the six of us completed 5 legs total, all along the Mississippi River levee.  The non-running team members drove in a van from relay point to relay point along the course.  Our wave of the race started at 1:15 PM on Saturday and continued through the night.  The weather was what one would hope for to make a dramatic story, with pouring rain temperatures in the 40's and gusting headwinds above 25 mph.  I didn't say it was good weather - I said it was dramatic.

Based on our team's varied levels of experience, I estimated our pace at 10:00 miles when planning for the event.  With that in mind, we would take roughly 21 hours to make it to the finish and have a three hour buffer before missing the official cutoff at noon.  And with that in mind, everyone (especially our less experienced runners) started out fast, aiming to create a bit of a lead from which they could taper during the later hours and miles.

The interesting thing about these races is that they seem deceptively easy.  I in particular thought that a series of five 3-5 mile legs spaced an hour apart would be a fairly simple task, but the relay factor that plays into these events creates its own set of challenges.  For one, after each leg, you must hop into a van and sit (or lay - if you have room) while the other members run.  By your third leg of the relay, if you don't stretch and warm down properly, rigor-mortis sets in and your legs feel like you've done a marathon.  Another challenge is the sheer duration of the even.  By spanning over 19-24 hours the race carries the added hurdle of sleep deprivation, and the sheer exhaustion of simply being awake can take its toll.

There are ways to battle these challenges.  Sleeping between legs, getting in adequate cool downs and riding a mountain bike with your runner during one of your off legs to keep your blood moving will all help.

A race report for a 19 hour event could go on for pages, but it suffices to say that we ran.  A lot.  The paces for most slowed throughout the night and picked up a bit around sunrise.  Our Ironman carried the day, with seven minute miles during her final leg.  The young uber-athlete lamented his race preparation strategy and shuffled into the finish line with the rest of the team around 8:30 on Sunday morning.  In the end, every member met their own personal goals for the day, which led to us beating our team goal and finishing in 19:18:55, with an overall pace of 9:11/mile.

The video covers most of what the race included: a lot running, laughing, some dancing, no sleeping and some occasional semi-public urination.

For those that are interested in competing in one of these races, I offer the following lessons learned:

1. Make sure your team is all on the same page in regards to competitive goals.  Are you trying to set records or just live through the experience?

2. Get a van.  Some folks tried the event in mini-vans and SUVs.  They didn't look comfortable by the 20th leg.

3. Put a bike hitch on your van.  The bike is a great tool to spin your legs when your not running and to keep your current runner safe and motivated.  Having a bike carrier on the outside of the van will allow you to bring it along and still have plenty of room to spread out inside.

4. Pick a cool team name and get t-shirts and/or costumes (this may help in establishing lesson number 1).  It makes all the difference in the world.

5. Use the zip-lock bag trick.  Bring changes of clothes for each leg in gallon bag and throw your sweaty clothes in the sealed bag when you're done.  It helps keep the funk factor down.

6. Plan for rain.

7.  Try to sleep whenever you can.

8.  Give up - you're not going to sleep.

9. Take lots of pictures and video.  These races afford more opportunities for cool and stupid pictures than any other I can think of.

10. Lots of socks, at least two pairs of shoes.

11.  Have a clock in the van to start for each runner's leg.  Then you can know when to expect them for the next hand off based on their pace.

12. Make sure someone starts the clock.

13.  Despite even the best efforts, by the end even the most elite athletes can start to cramp up.  "The Stick" was a virtual necessity for working out knots between legs.

14.  As with all things...enjoy the ride.


  1. What a great job you and the team did! It sounds like a very exciting event and something I hope to compete in someday.


  2. I love that between steps 7 & 8 as well as 11 & 12, you KNOW there's a hilarious inside story! haha

    It's awesome to see other people doing things like this because I'm signed up for the New England Relay; incredibly similar 220 mile, 12 person relay in, of course, New England. The race is in June, so I will certainly be forwarding this post to the other 11 members of our team.

    Awesome video by the way. I'll be sure to bring my own camera along!

  3. Sounds awesome. I think a small RV would be even better. The race took place on the same date as the MS50 ultrarun or we would have had a team from Hattiesburg!

  4. Love the video! Forgot about The Stick. Can I add, make sure each van has a stick? We were sharing one between two vans. Got ugly towards the end... :) I want to do it again now!


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