I love the feeling when you finish a race. You see the finish line and get that burst of energy…and everything you have gets left on the pavement as you sprint on ahead to claim your victory (whether personal or overall). You cross the timing mat, you break the tape, you get there. The feeling of release, relief, and accomplishment on the other side of the finish line is fantastic…the joy and sense of satisfaction with the fruits of your effort simply palpable. Then you get to relax, have some water, have a banana, and chat with other runners…

Unless you’re a genius like I was the weekend before last.

Then you get to say a quick “thank you, goodbye” to the race director, wave to your friend that ran the race too, and shoot off across town to run the relay that your 5 friends have all been at for an hour and a half…

Today’s article will pick up where part one ended – after I crossed the finish 4th overall at the Herring Run Classic 5K. Please, learn from my carelessness…unless you WANT a weekend like I had. Then go for it I guess.

OK, so…wait, what?

Yeah…for those who didn’t read “A Lesson In Double-Booking Pt. 1” – first off…you should read that, but the short version is…I accidentally double-booked myself for races on Saturday, April 26th. I registered for the Herring Run Classic 5K (bib to the right) which I THOUGHT was April 19th, and the 26.2 Challenge (team marathon relay, bib above) which was on April 26th. As it turns out…I was wrong about the date for the 5K (it was the 26th too!)… Fortunately, the relay began at 9 am and the 5K at 10…and the starting lines were an 8 minute drive apart in Plymouth, MA…so I could make it work if I ran a late leg in the relay…

Which is exactly where we’re picking up now.

So…I crossed the finish at the 5K. Elation, joy, hurrahs, handshaking with the 3 guys that beat me, my buddy that came in 2 places behind me, and the guy I edged out at the 2 mile marker. The joy of the moment, however, was predestined to be short-lived – after allowing myself but a moment of reverie it was time to head  back across town to the staging area/starting line of the 26.2 Challenge Team Relay.

26.2 Challenge?

The 26.2 Challenge is a 6 man Team Relay over a total distance of 26.2 miles (marathon distance). It was put on by 26.2 Productions – this race is their thing…it’s what they do. This year they’re putting on a 26.2 Challenge in Plymouth (MA), Newburyport (MA), and Philadelphia (PA). The one we participated in, as you are aware, is the Plymouth event. The starting line, finish line, and team festival area was in Cordage Park Plaza…a little off the beaten path in Plymouth, MA. The Race Director Steve is a REALLY nice guy – very helpful, personable and approachable. He actually found me and came up to say hi as he spotted me leaving the registration tent. Great way to start the day.

I arrived shortly after our 4th man began his leg of the relay. The first three runners had all done really well in their leg (R to L – Terrence, JP, and Jesse). I talked with them and with Jimmy (the guy to my right) and decided I’d do the next leg, making Jimmy the anchor.

What’s the “anchor”?

In athletics, the final leg of a relay is typically referred to as the “anchor”. It is usually reserved for the fastest or most experienced member of the team. This person is the one who is responsible for making up ground/catching the leader or preserving the lead the team already has and widening the gap to ensure victory. Typically, you put your slowest man right before the anchor, who then comes in and smokes everyone. Needless to say…this described me and Jimmy perfectly. hah.

I took every moment I had to stretch, refuel and rehydrate. I had done this before, and I knew how to prepare and ensure success. The Fool’s Dual Challenge was still fresh in my mind – a 5K at 8 AM and a half-marathon at 9…If I could manage that, surely I could do a 5K then a 4.37 mile relay leg. Just a few key differences though…

In the Fool’s Dual Challenge I made a point to go slow in the 5K – my goal was to get a decent time in the half-marathon and, frankly, to finish. I ended up doing so well I placed 3rd in my age group for combined time! This day, however, my goal was not to finish. My goal was to compete. I knew I’d have a shot at a podium finish in the Herring Run Classic 5K given the small field. I knew my team had a shot in the relay considering how fast the other 5 guys are. Also…it’s a team effort – nothing but my absolute best effort would suffice. That said, refueling, re-hydrating, stretching, and using my Tiger Tail (review to come) were all critical. Once that was complete…it was time…

My Experience in the 26.2 Challenge –  

As I reached a point where I felt adequately prepared, I got ready to head to the starting line. We all knew about how long we expected each other to take, so I knew about when to be primed and ready. As we came within minutes of when we expected our 4th man to round the corner, I got my music playing, had Runkeeper ready and waiting, and kept my eye out. Others on my team spotted him first (in the maroon long-sleeve shirt, pic to the right) and I stepped up to the starting line, finger poised over Runkeeper’s “start” button. The team was fired up. I was amped. The crowd was cheering each finisher as they came in. As my teammate Alex crossed the finish line next to me I shot off like a rocket.

I was so ready to crush it.

The course was great!

As I’ve come to expect from many races (especially those in coastal towns)…this course was beautiful. We were along the streets of Plymouth, went along a rail trail, popped out by the waterfront, and then looped back around to the rail trail. The course was pretty flat, pretty fast, and a lot of fun. The rail trail was a bit narrow, and the gravel had become a weird almost muddy mix…but it was easily overcome by simply keeping an eye out. The course was well-marked when out on the streets and it was damn near impossible to get lost. This was another non-standard distance…4.37ish miles…but it’s easy to figure out why when you consider it’s a marathon team relay consisting of 6 people (26.2 / 6?). While out on the course…I learned a valuable lesson that helped me earn a great achievement –

Relays are a different animal entirely…

I’ve run road races before…but this was my first team relay. I learned very quickly how different relays are from normal road races. I’m sure track meet style relays are different…but in this relay…it was so spread out that you were really running your own race. When I started, nobody else did. As I made my way out along the course there were lots of runners…but I had absolutely no idea how I stacked up against them. I had no idea if they were the 5th leg like me…or maybe the 3rd or 4th leg…or maybe even the 6th leg! I had no way to gauge myself against others…so I was left with only one option – go as hard as I can for my teammates. In the end, that’s what it came down to – my team. My team is what encouraged me to keep running when I wanted to walk. My team is what encouraged me to pick it up when I felt myself slacking and slowing down. Four of my teammates had already given their all and run hard in their leg…I couldn’t let their efforts go to waste. One of my teammates was ready and waiting to seal the deal and carry us to victory…I couldn’t keep him waiting and make his job harder.

So I ran. Hard. 

As I came back in to Cordage Park Plaza I knew the finish was close (and so was Jimmy)…so I kicked on the afterburners, gave it everything I had, and rocketed on towards the finish. As I crossed, Jimmy took off like a rocket and the final leg had begun. I ended up finishing in 33:19 – a Personal Record pace of 7:38 /mile…that beat my previous best pace by 2 seconds per mile! I couldn’t believe it…not only was this race over a mile longer than my previous best pace (Tavern to Tavern 5K 2013)…but I had already run a race before this one. Guess I was warmed up!

The anchor did his job well

We all went inside for a celebratory (free) beer, and a little over 20 minutes later we started looking for our anchor Jimmy. He finished in 25:07 – a 5:46 pace and a good enough leg to earn him 4th place overall individual runner! We had to get a timing issue fixed, and as a result we found out a little early that we were the 2nd place All-Male team! Once the full results were in, we found out that not only were we the 2nd place All-Male team (there were 7 team divisions) but we were also the 6th place overall team out of 87! We only missed 5th by about 3 minutes, but we were THRILLED with our performance! It was nice to walk away with a medal when, honestly, we hadn’t really gone in with any expectations of greatness. We were a rag-tag bunch of guys thrown together into a team when I, on a whim, asked one buddy if he was up for it. Nice how things work out.

Final/Overall Impressions?

This race was a ton of fun and a great first experience with a team relay. I would do this race again in a heartbeat, and I absolutely plan on it next year. It was such a different experience, a totally different feel in the race festival area, and I love the team aspect of things – it gave me a whole new sense of motivation that I simply don’t think I can replicate in a solo race. If you have an opportunity to run a team relay, go for it. If you live anywhere near Plymouth, MA…run this race next year! 

Oh, and honestly…I don’t think running a 5K before this relay hurt me. I DO wonder how I would’ve done had I not participated in the 5K…but I’m glad this happened. Next year I’ll probably plan to not run anything else that day…and be a little more careful when registering for races. I very well could have been faced with a decision of having to choose…and that’s no fun.

Then it was time to shoot out to Amherst, MA for an event with my college fraternity and…oh wait…I had another 5K the next morning…Good Lord…it never ends…

More on that next time.