Monday, May 22, 2017

Joplin Memorial Marathon Relay

Way back in 2009 my friend Sara and I were training together for spring marathons. She suggested we run a 2-person marathon relay at an event one of her friends would be running as her first 5k. I would run the first 4 miles of the relay alone, we'd run the middle 18 together, and then she'd run the final 4 alone. That way we'd still get to run together, we'd both get our long runs in, and we'd have water stops on the course. I had an awesome race and had so much fun. I loved being in a race without the pressure of trying to run a certain time and just having fun. We ended up finishing 2nd in the relay division and I've talked about running a marathon relay with my family as a 5-person team ever since. My parents live about 45 minutes away from Joplin, Missouri which was hit by an F5 tornado back in 2011. We've always wanted to run the Joplin Memorial Marathon and this year they opened up a marathon relay category. When I got the e-mail I brought it up to my family and everyone was in, even with a 6:30 am start time! 
A picture mom took of me and Thomas before the race.
Balloon release before the start to honor those who lost their lives in the tornado.
The relay legs were 10k, 5k, 12k, 10k, and 5k. We decided Thomas would run the first 10k leg, mom would run the first 5k leg, I'd run the 12k leg, Jeremy would run the 2nd 10k leg, and dad would run the last leg. With the length of time it would take for us to reach the 4th and 5th legs, we decided Thomas, mom, and I would head to the race early and Jeremy and dad would come later with Ty and the kids if the kids were up and ready. We got up at 5:00 and left the house by 5:30 which gave us plenty of time to get there, park, and head to the start with one last porta potty break. The kids ended up waking up at 6:00 and were more than ready when it was time for them to leave at 7:30. Thomas, mom, and I enjoyed chatting on our drive. As we walked up to the race start the announcer was talking about the tornado and the 161 people who lost their lives during it. He went on to talk about the effect it had on the community and how everyone rallied around the town and helped them come back from the devastation. My mom's cousin had been in her apartment's tornado shelter during the storm and watched as the building was lifted from the ground around them and then dropped back down. We went and drove around to help and to see the damage and it was immense. All those memories were flooding back and I had tears in my eyes as the gun was shot for the start. Mom and I watched Thomas start and then headed to the relay buses to ride to our relay leg start area.
Race start picture, Thomas is in navy blue to the left of the picture.
Thomas at mile 2.
Thomas at mile 6.
I made it to my start with over an hour before mom would be handing off to me. I made friends with a group of people running my same leg and we chatted until the first runners started to come through. There was an early 4:30 am start for those people who would need longer than the cut-off time to finish and we cheered for them as they came through. Then it was the first half-marathon runner and then I looked and saw one of my college cross country teammates, Kevin, and freaked out cheering for him and we high fived. The people around me pointed out that he was in the marathon and that's when I realized he was winning the marathon by a huge margin. I was so excited and pumped up. I knew it was going to be hard to hold back to the progressive tempo plan my coach had mapped out for me. He wanted me to start with an 8:30 mile then drop to 8:15, 8:00, 7:50, 7:40, 7:30, 7:20, and then kick it in, finishing the last 0.6 no faster than 6:30 pace. I was trying to count the number of relays that came through before mom got to me but I got really excited and I know I missed a few. I counted 7 but I think there were a few I didn't see when I was taking off my sweats. Thomas rode the bus and ended up making it to my relay leg about 5 minutes before mom came through. We got to talk and he said his leg of the relay had been a bit short at just over 6 miles and had a few really big hills in it.
Mom heading toward me for the hand off.

I got so excited when I saw mom turn the corner. She was easy to find not just because I can recognize her form, but also because she was wearing all green. She yelled something to me and I was so excited I took off when she handed the timing band off to me. I wrapped it around my arm and velcroed it as I ran. I hadn't put much thought into our relay order, I just knew mom didn't want to run the last leg so I randomly put people in at the distances they requested. It worked out really well for me because I had lots of people to run with since we were further back in the pack and I was passing people during the entire nearly 8 miles. I went through the first mile in 7:39 and was a pretty surprised I had been so much under the 8:30 I was supposed to have run. I just got so excited and felt good. I slowed down the 2nd mile and figured if I was at 8:00 instead of 8:15 that would be okay since my first mile had been fast. Well, I went through mile 2 in 7:49. At that point I decided since I was feeling so strong and this pace was feeling comfortable there was no sense in slowling drastically, especially since I had heard from people who had run the preview course that my leg would be the hilliest. I didn't want to slow down and then not hit pace my last few miles due to hills so I just kept plugging along.
Carter waiting at the exchange zone to see me hand off to Uncie J.

I counted the relays I passed when I could get a glimpse of their armbands but it was impossible to know whether they were in our co-ed division or not. Miles 3-7 were 7:40, 7:38, 7:33, 7:49, and 7:32. You can tell where the biggest hill during the race was, it was in mile 6 of my leg which was mile 15 of the marathon. I had done the math wrong in my head and was thinking I would hand-off to Jeremy around mile 15. It wasn't until I passed the mile 15 mark and was confused how that could be when I was only at 5 miles into my leg when I realized I would pass off around mile 17. I ran through the leg 5 exchange and dad wasn't there yet so I was hoping that meant he was with Jeremy at his exchange. I was a little worried they wouldn't make it in time and I wouldn't have anyone to hand off to. I was feeling strong and was really enjoying myself. The weather was perfect, overcast with a slight drizzle off and on. That huge hill at mile 6 got me and I started to feel a bit tired. I started thinking things over and remembered Thomas said his leg was short and started to wonder if that meant mine would be a little bit long (it was). I kept telling myself to pass as many relays as I could and then I'd pass off to a strong anchor. I knew Jeremy would run an awesome 10k and dad is probably the most consistent 5k runner I know always running around 24 minutes. When I hit mile 7 I told myself less than a mile to go and I got really excited. Somewhere in the last miles of my run I saw Kevin go by going in the opposite direction and cheered for him. I also saw the dad of a friend of mine who was running his first marathon and cheered for him as well. I also passed the female winning the marathon.

When I caught site of the relay exchange balloon arch ahead I could see that I got to run downhill to the finish and I was so excited. It was such an awesome downhill finish and I just let loose, although I did check my watch to make sure I didn't dip under 6:30 pace. I figured since I had totally not followed coach's plan for the race that was the least I could do. I heard mom cheering for me and I just couldn't stop smiling. Then I saw Jeremy step down by the timing mat to prepare for the hand off and I was flooded with a rush of emotions. I started thinking about how freaking lucky I was to be here running this race with my family and handing off to my brother who shouldn't even be alive and was not only alive, but anchoring our relay with the fastest leg! I'm not sure how I kept from crying. I think I channeled all that energy into smiling because I have a giant smile in all the hand-off pictures. I'm a bit of a tank when I get going and struggle to stop so I nearly ran Jeremy over and the look on his face in some of the pictures is hilarious! I saw Ty holding Elise so I ran over to him and then everyone else came over. Thomas and I were talking about how much fun the race was and Thomas was pretty pumped that I had passed 5 relays and we looked to be in 4th place. I found out that Thomas had run his leg in 48:02 and mom had run hers in 35:05. Those times were both on the lower end of the times I had guesstimated and I had run well under my projected time which I had come up with based on the splits coach gave me. My leg ended up being a bit long at 7.74 rather than 7.6. I ran the last 0.74 in 6:52 pace. My average for my leg of the race was 7:36 pace.
I loved that my mom got a picture of Ty taking a picture of me!
Jeremy's face here cracks me up. I think he expected me to slow down a little for the hand off.

Thomas and I jogged a cool down over to the 4th relay exchange where Jeremy would pass off to dad and everyone else drove over. It ended up being a little over a mile away so it worked perfectly. We saw Kevin go by again during our cool down. Jeremy ran his leg in 46:50 on quite the hilly portion of the course. We saw the relay in front of us exchange from a man to a woman so we knew they were co-ed. The girl took off pretty slow and I told Thomas it was too bad she had such a big lead on dad otherwise he'd be able to catch her. Once Jeremy came into view we all started cheering wildly and I noticed his form was looking more back to normal and less the jerky movement it has been since his accident. He handed off to dad and dad shot off for his leg. We all piled into the van and headed to the finish line. We were standing close to the finish and mom decided to head farther out. Both the kids decided they wanted to go with her so we followed them. In the race information it said the relay members could join with their finisher and all cross the finish line together. We decided not to because we were worried we'd get in the way of marathon finishers but as dad neared there was no one around him and I was still super excited so I took off running with him and yelled for Jeremy who joined in with us. The announcer said we were a 3-person relay which we thought was funny. We picked up the extra medals for mom and Thomas and then met them outside the finishing area.
Jeremy handing off to dad.

Dad finishing out the last 5k of the relay.
Me and Jeremy running to the finish with dad.
Me, dad, and Jeremy crossing the finish line.
Shortly after that we saw the relay team that had been one place ahead of us finish. I asked dad if he had passed her and he had no idea. It turned out we were the 3rd place co-ed relay going into dad's leg with the 2nd place relay having a 2 minute lead on us, dad killed it running a 23:31 5k and finished 2 minutes ahead of that relay! And he didn't even know he'd passed her! We kept telling him he was a heck of an anchor leg! Thomas and I both agreed that this marathon relay was one of the most fun races we have ever done. Getting to run the relay as a family just made it such an awesome experience and being able to place 2nd was pretty awesome as well! We finished with a combined time of 3:32:14 which was an average pace of 8:06. I had estimated we'd finish around 3:31 and hadn't even known how hilly the course was so I was really pumped with my ability to estimate everyone's finishing times, especially Thomas who has never run a 10k before! After the race I looked at the online course map which had an elevation chart (the ones in our race packets didn't). The marathon course had 710 feet of elevation gain. The awards were taking forever because there was an issue with the results. Finally they let us go ahead and pick up our awards based on the print out we'd been given at the results tent. When we were driving home I checked the results and saw why they couldn't give awards out yet, our relay time was listed as mom's time in the marathon and showed she had won the race! They got it fixed pretty quickly but luckily I had taken a screen shot before they fixed it because we thought it was so funny! 

All of us in our race shirts.

The mixed up results. I had to take a screen shot to save!
I had always wanted to run a marathon relay because I thought it would be fun but I had no idea how much fun it would actually be. We had such a blast! I think this race was the perfect place to do a relay at too because it was a smaller race and we didn't have to deal too much with crowding. Plus the course was very spectator friendly which made it wonderful for hitting up multiple relay exchanges. Since Ty came with the kids I was able to watch Jeremy and dad's exchange before heading to the finish line. I had figured after my leg I'd just hitch a ride on a bus to the finish to see dad, but I lucked out and got to jog to Jeremy and dad's exchange and then Ty drove us to the finish. Thomas was immediately talking about running another relay and was saying it was probably tied with the Run to the Lights 5k at Silver Dollar City for his favorite race he's ever run. Now that is saying a lot! We may just have to make this relay an annual tradition!
This picture shows how much fun we had!


  1. You all are too cute! Loved reading about this -- it sounds so fun! Great results fluke with your mom winning the marathon for a bit too. And you are too kind with the Hogeye story -- that was really you running almost the whole thing and then me limping in injured (would have been more fun had I actually done the 22 also)! You guys should look at Run for the Ranch in Springfield on December 30 - it has a 4-person marathon relay (each person runs 6.55 miles).

    1. Oh, that's awesome! I've been contemplating attempting a December marathon more to run a PR than to try to run to my full potential. That would be a good one since it's so flat but the 8 laps might get old! I ran the half a long time ago and didn't mind 4 loops. Maybe my family could do the relay and I could run the marathon. We normally run the Race into the New Year so they may prefer that.

    2. That all sounds perfect if your family is interested in lieu of the Race into the New year! I will be there for sure helping out with the race (and maybe running the half for fun but we'll see). I'd love to cheer for you, and if you run the marathon I'd jump in and run some of it with you too! There is a chance it will be on a different course this year -- still TBA -- but if so I've been advocating for fewer turns!

    3. That sounds awesome! I'll let you know what we decide!