Race: Rouge Orleans Ultra Marathon Relay
Date: February 11 – 12, 2012
Place: Mississippi River Levee from Baton Rouge to New Orleans
Total time: Team started at 8:00 a.m. Saturday; finished around 10:55 a.m. Sunday
Maybe it was the runner’s high from hitting a new distance PR, maybe it was because it was the first day of a new year, maybe it was because the girl looking for teammates is really cool and just had a baby and I thought if she could do it, so could I… so I found myself doing something I never before considered.
On New Year’s Day 2012, I committed to a 6-woman ultra marathon relay team. This is how it started – a call for teammates from @KatieRUNSthis…
The next thing I knew, I was on the team, along with @ErinParker (Erin Parker Skinner), @RunningWithSass (Heather Montgomery), @KristynKG (Kristyn Gunter) and @Jmacha (Jenn Macha). Within a day, we had sent more than 100 emails to each other. That number easily multiplied more than 10 times by the time February 11 rolled around.
Some background: 2012 marked the second year of Rouge Orleans. Solo runners and teams of two, three or six run 126.2 miles on top of the Mississippi River levee. Staggered start times range from 8:00 p.m. on Friday night to 1:00 p.m. on Saturday afternoon; the goal is get all runners across the finish line in New Orleans’ Audubon Park within a few hours of each other on Sunday morning/early afternoon. My team, Girls on the Geaux, was one of three all-female, 6-person teams. From what I could tell, most of the teams were co-ed or all guys. Six-person was definitely the popular number, but quite a few 2 and 3 man teams filled out the ranks. About 40-50 solo runners started the race; 25 finished.
With the help from some awesome sponsors (more on the them later), Girls on the Geaux went into the race with all our costs covered, some kickass donated gear, snazzy team shirts and lots of support.
Friday, February 10, the team gathered at my house to pack and decorate the van. Six women in one 12 passenger van seems reasonable, right? We filled that baby up! From the mountain bike that we would use to pace each other during night legs to a box of food, ice chests, boxes of bottled water, paper towels, baby wipes, individual gear, foam roller and more, the van was quickly stuffed.
Rain on Friday night meant decorating would have to wait until the start of the race Saturday morning. We gathered at the USS Kidd, a decommissioned battleship that now serves as a museum in downtown Baton Rouge. Our 8:00 a.m. start time was quickly approaching.
To keep with our team’s theme (matching running skirts and ponytails), we decked out the van in the same and named her Rapunzel. Then we used shoe polish to made it clear exactly what our janky decorations were, as well as broadcast to the world our Twitter handles. Colorful van decorations turned out to be one of the things we cluelessly did right; Rapunzel the van was so easy to spot at each relay exchange.
Say hi to our team in our cute skirts from Running Skirts, one of our awesome sponsors! We had to ditch our sweatshirts to take this pic. It was cold and windy at the start, about 40 degrees and drizzly! Little did we realize that this would be a harbinger for much, much worse to come.
At exactly 8:00 a.m., the race started with a bang! Literally. The boom from the Kidd’s cannon made jump and issue my first f-bomb of the race (video below). Kristyn took off for our first four mile leg. Our lineup looked like this: Kristyn -> Erin -> Heather -> Me -> Katie -> and Jenn on anchor.
I had the second longest total lengths, with legs of 5.6 miles, 2.7 miles, 5.1 miles, 3.3 miles and a final leg of 6.5 miles. I was so scared of that final leg. That’s a long way to run on no sleep and tired legs.
The first two rounds, which consisted of legs 1-12, were by far the easiest. We were all in great moods. The sun came out less than an hour after we started and all was good. We made a few key mistakes in this time, though, including not eating enough and not having Katie’s husband bring her inhaler to her. She realized she left it at home after her first leg. By all accounts, our first four legs went off without a hitch.
I received a handoff from Heather and taking off on my first 5.6 mile leg at 10:24 a.m. I quickly encountered problems. Two miles of the levee was covered in a giant black bag filled with dirt. The bag was easily as tall as I am and I had two choices – run on the River Road side in the grass or run on the river side on concrete. I picked grass over the fear of falling in the water (note: the river doesn’t actually meet the levee, but the “borrow pit” frequently fills with overflow or rain water). Running on the grass on about a 30 degree slant was awful and the bag stretched on as far as I could see. Before the bags ended, I developed a blister, could feel my hips and calves tightening from running in such an awkward stance and had to walk for long stretches.
After I got past all TWO MILES of bag, my run turned beautiful. This was definitely parts of Louisiana I have never seen before and the view was incredible. River on the right and farm land on the left… Blue skies as far as I could see. The weather was perfect – slightly cool, building to about 60 degrees and clear. I completed my 5.61 mile leg in 1:07:50, averaging right at 12:00/mile.
From there, Katie took off on her first leg and Jenn followed. Round One of Rouge Orleans was in the books.
Part 2 to come….