Scroll all the way down to the end of the post for the tl;dr version.
(If you’re not familiar with relays, my race report from 2015 Ragnar Cape Cod has a brief description of how they work.)
This would be my 5th relay and the 4th with team CopacaVANa – a group of mostly masters women.
The relay didn’t occur during the best time for my 2017 New York City Marathon training. With three weeks to go, it should have been my peak mileage week. Our team was short runners, so I volunteered to be Runners 10 and 11 in Van 2.
In the past, our team has been competitive in the masters women category. But this year, we were short a couple of runners and one of the women who joined our Van 1 was in her 20s, which disqualified us in the category. The van was also planning to use the “Buddy Pass”, where they would skip one of the night-time legs and have two runners run the next leg. That option would also move us to the list of unofficial team times. I went into the weekend planning to use my legs as training runs.
Strategy: Treat the two longer runs like medium-long runs and run the shorter one as a general aerobic run.
Every leg would be different. But from talking with runners friends who have done the race before, I expected a lot of hills.
Headphones were banned on the course, so I didn’t create a playlist.
Most of the team flew into Louisville from Washington, D.C. on Thursday evening. I hadn’t been assigned a seat on the flight which caused a little angst but, at the last minute, I got a seat in the very back. At the airport, we piled into our two 12-passenger vans.
After checking into the hotel, we had dinner at a nearby restaurant. I hadn’t seen some of my teammates since my last relay and couldn’t wait to catch up! For dinner, I had a loaded baked potato, some broccoli, and a few beers.
Next, we went to Walmart for pillows and blankets. I’d never been to a Walmart before and was drawn to so many interesting items! In addition to some leopard-print pajama pants to sleep in, I bought a T-Rex head!
Runner 7, Runner 12, and I drank beers and watched the Washington Nationals playoff game in the hotel lobby. We chatted with another team running the race and then went to bed after the game ended. (Sadly, the Nats lost.)
On Friday, it was mid-70s during my evening run. It cooled overnight and I was treated to temperatures in the low-50s for my early morning run on Saturday. The heat returned later that day. For my final run, the temperature was in the 80s!
2017 Bourbon Chase
Our Van 1 started at 8:30am, so they were gone before I woke up in the morning. I felt a little bad about not seeing them off.
Runner 12 and I shared a room. We started getting ready at around 8:30am. I had breakfast at our hotel – waffles, a biscuit, eggs, juice, coffee… I was famished! The race had an 80s theme, so we decorated our van with quotes from songs and movies from the era. I put most of my stuff on the bench furthest back in the van and would camp out there for most of the race. Then, we left for the first major exchange – at the Maker’s Mark Bourbon distillery.
We registered and then hung around for a few hours waiting for Van 1 to arrive. We were trying to track them using the race’s app but cell coverage was terrible and we only got intermittent updates. Walking through the grass parking lot, there were a lot of cleverly decorated vans.
Some of our runners took a tour of the distillery. The smell of yeast was thick in the air near the building and after a while, I found it nauseating. So, I walked around the grounds instead.
There was a “kitchen” behind the driver’s seat of our van with bags of snacks. While we waited, I snacked on bread with peanut butter and a banana. I also drank water and a Gatorade to stay hydrated. I bought some Sword caffeine chews from a vendor thinking I might need the boost at some point. Van 1 finished at around 1:30pm and Van 2 was on the move!
We got a little confused coming out of Maker’s Mark but corrected ourselves immediately. We drove past Runner 7 and asked if she wanted water. On our drive to the exchange, we blasted 80s music from the van and cheered on runners. We picked our runner up and on our way to the next exchange, groaned about the hills Runner 8 was going to encounter.
Runner 9 had a 7 mile leg. She predicted she would finish around 5pm. We navigated the van to Exchange 9, which was at a church. We parked and talked while we waited. I haven’t driven the van in any of my relays but this time, I moved the van about 10 feet when a neighboring vehicle moved!
As my start time grew nearer, I started getting ready for my 16 mile run. I ate a sports bar and drank more water. I only took one Sword caffeine tablet since I wasn’t sure how I would react to it.
I wanted to play music from a speaker Runner 8 had purchased but I still wasn’t getting cellphone reception so I couldn’t use Spotify. Grrr! Heading to the exchange, Runner 12 asked if I would want anything. I told her I might want water and a Crank Sport eGel. I also told them where my safety gear was in case we were under nighttime running rules by the time I reached the next exchange.
2017 Bourbon Chase – Legs 10 and 11. 16 miles. [Log Details].
Leg 10 started at a church in Pottsville and finished in the town of Perryville. Leg 11 finished outside of Danville.
I started Leg 10 at 5:11pm. I didn’t study the legs at all but knew together they were about 16 miles. I knew it would be hilly, though. And, it was hot! My running log recorded 75 degrees! But, I was thankful that it would cool down as the sun set.
The course started on a highway. I ran along the shoulder, which was wide enough to feel safely away from cars but the rumble strips meant I had to watch my footing. I started out fast – 7:50 to 8:10 pace!
The landscape was beautiful! Acres and acres of farms with horses and cows grazing.
To stay hydrated, I drank Gatorade every 15 minutes. I’d slow to a fast walk and down a few gulps. Running without music, I found myself focusing on my drink breaks. I’d see how far into the 15 minutes I was and then pick a point in the distance where I thought my next break would come.
About an hour later and 7 miles into the run, I approached a town. Suddenly, I saw my teammates! They were waiting for me before the exchange. It took me by surprise because I wasn’t expecting to see them so soon. Runner 12 handed me my vest with blinky lights. Runner 9 asked if I wanted a cup of ice water but I wanted a water bottle to carry. I took off in a rush, but Runner 12 called me back for my headlamp. She also asked if I wanted my Crank Sport eGel but I didn’t.
I spent the first half mile of Leg 11 running and fiddling with my Amphipod Xinglet and bib. I don’t wear the vest often and couldn’t figure out the straps. I also thought I should switch my bib from Runner 10 to Runner 11. In retrospect, I should have just stopped so I wouldn’t have expended so much energy. Between that and the rolling hills, my pace slowed to about 8:20 to 8:30 pace.
A quarter mile into Mile 13, the course turned left. The next mile was very hilly but after a right turn, the course flattened out. As I neared the exchange, there were two runners ahead of me. The male yelled, “I hear you back there!” I guess I was breathing pretty heavy. I asked them how long this leg was and the woman replied “8.6”. By then, I was barely running under 9:00 pace and couldn’t pass them. I heard a lot of cheering as I entered the chute at the exchange, which was heart-warming. The crowd seemed to know I was running an ultra.
Overall pace: 8:29. Kills: ~34/Killed: ~3.
We drove to the next major exchange in the town of Danville. Runner 12 finished at around 8pm and she met us for “dinner” at a small restaurant. I had tomato soup, grilled cheese, a small Naked Juice, and a hot chocolate. It was a little rich, but it was what I wanted at the time.
The next major exchange was a resort. My teammates got outside the van and talked with another team that had hammocks tied to trees and a television! It seemed like my teammates were having a lot of fun and I wanted to join in but I knew I needed some rest. I couldn’t find my Nathan Zephyr Fire 300 flashlight so I could find what I needed in the dark, but the Amphipod Swift-Clip Cap Light that I got in an Runner’s World Box worked just as well! I put on an eye mask and earplugs, and tried to sleep. In the end, I think I got about two hours before hearing movement in the van.
At around 1:30am, Van 1 came in and we were ready to start running again. We dropped off Runner 8 without a hitch. Since I had more rest than my other van-mates, I offered to navigate while Runner 7 drove and Runner 8 ran. At some point, the driver noticed we weren’t see any other runners or vans. Oh no! We were lost! How did that happen?
We turned around and tried to figure out where we went wrong. We hadn’t gone that far. The directions in the Guidebook didn’t have an address for the exchange, though, so we weren’t sure where we should go. To add insult to injury, the book said it was hard to get lost!
We backtracked until we saw runners and decided to drive towards where they were coming from. We got to an exchange and asked other runners and volunteers which one it was. But no one seemed to know! One guy kept yelling, “89!” at us which we guessed was his team number. It was funny but we were also feeling anxious about our predicament.
The van continued following runners coming into that exchange. I felt terrible about getting us lost but I thought we were close to my exchange and I thought Runner 9 would finish her leg around around 3:45am – about 2o minutes away. Runner 12 took over navigation while I went to the back of the van to get ready for my legs.
After driving a few minutes down a narrow road into a isolated neighborhood, we realized we were really off course! Runner 9 texted us asking if she should continue running and we told her, Yes! We turned around and a short while later, arrived at another exchange. We asked which one it was and again, no one knew! The volunteer said something like, “I’m just here waving this wand.” I was so sure it was the right exchange that I rushed out of the van ready to run and calling our runner’s name. Soon, I realized we were still another exchange away! We got in the van and continued driving upstream.
This road was even narrower than the roads we were on before. Though technically two lanes, it was really a wide one lane road. And the other Van 2s were driving in the opposite direction! We leapfrogged and shared the road for over a mile or two, making slow and harrowing progress. Other drivers were annoyed with us but we had no choice. There wasn’t a place to turn around! And if we did, how would we get our runner? I felt so bad for our driver. There were only inches between our van and the oncoming cars on one side, and a drop off into a ditch on the other side. And, she was doing this AT NIGHT! Runner 12 grew up in a rural area and was helpful with navigating. At one point, a woman who lived on the road joined us in our journey against the stream of vans.
Finally, our rattled driver pulled over next to a small driveway and we waited for our runner. I think we were all relieved. When Runner 9 arrived she asked, “What happened?” and pointed out it was a straight shot! We exchanged the bracelet and I took off. She ran about 3 miles of Leg 22 – an extra hour of running! She and I share my epic Ragnar run-down, so I felt she would forgive me.
2017 Bourbon Chase – Partial Leg 22 and Leg 23. 6.1 miles. [Log Details].
Leg 22 started in Salvisa and finished at the Bluegrass Parkway. Leg 23 finished at the Four Roses Distillery.
I started the run at 4:49am but I took off hard! I think I wanted some redemption for getting lost by making up time.
Having driven up the road, the terrain felt familiar. I realized we had driven through both of my legs – “89” guy was Exchange 23 and “I’m just waving this wand” guy was Exchange 22. The road wasn’t as hilly as my first set of legs but instead of a shoulder, I was running as far left on the road as I could. Van 2s drove by on their way to the next exchange – some passing closer than others. It was so narrow that I thought, “I can’t believe we drove the van up this road!”
I jumped out of the van so quickly that I didn’t take water. It was cool out, though, so I didn’t think I’d need it.
After two miles, I saw the bright lights of the exchange. The volunteer announced my number but I told her, “I’m running through.” I felt angry and started running even harder. It was pitch dark and I felt a sense of calm washed over me. Channeling my track and field days, I treated the flashlight like a baton and kept my pace steady and rhythmic. Occasionally, I would cast light forward to spot the next runner or crest of a hill. I glanced at my Garmin and saw I was running about 8:00 pace!
Around 4.5 miles into the run, I got to the stop sign we drove by earlier. I thought, “I know I take a right here.” There were more hills on this section of road and I knew the finish to the Four Roses Bourbon distillery would be uphill, too. I was running hard but it felt almost effortless. And, I was streaming past runners who were struggling with the hills. As I was climbing the final incline to the distillery, I heard my name. A few steps later, I saw Runner 12 walking to the exchange! Still focused on running a fast time, I passed her and then realized there would be no one there to meet me! I stopped and as she caught up to me, I took some of her stuff and we jogged to the start together.
Overall pace: 7:56. Kills=~21. Killed=0.
After the run, I met up with my teammates who were walking up the hill. There were bourbon balls and I joked with Runner 7 about them helping to settle her nerves. I still felt terrible.
I completed that run a little after 5:30am. Back in the van, I laid down for a while. We drove quickly to the Wild Turkey Bourbon distillery and waited for Runner 12 to finish. She came in at around 7am and a few minutes later, we were driving to the next major exchange as the sun started coming up.
The next major exchange was at a huge parking lot off of Interstate 64. We realized the person directing vans into the space was the race director. We told him about how we got lost and suggested adding addresses for the exchanges in the Guidebook. We also told him how much we were enjoying the event.
Our driver parked and at around 8am, the entire van finally settled down to sleep. I think I got another two hours of shut-eye before I could tell most of the team was up. I put my T-Rex head on and chased my teammate to the port-a-potty line. We went for breakfast at a Cracker Barrel. I’d never been to one of those either! I had eggs, grits, and toast. It was nice being at a table sharing a meal with everyone.
At around 12:30pm, our Van 1 Runner 6 finished!
Our van got lost again heading out of the parking lot but we corrected it quickly. We were in horse country now! It was another hot day. We threw water out of the van for Runner 7 to pick up. When she reached exchange 31, she seemed thrilled to be done. Our Runner 12 ran in Runner 8 at Exchange 32 – the Headley-Whitney Museum.
As we pulled into Exchange 34, we got an email about checking in for our flight home. We all upgraded our seats to avoid any complications. We took some pictures, including Runner 9 and I goofing around a little at our final exchange.
2017 Bourbon Chase – Legs 34 and 35. 10.7 miles. [Log Details].
Leg 34 started at a horse farm on Falcon Wood Way and and finished at Legacy Park in Lexington. Leg 35 finished in the park around the Griffin Gate Golf Club.
I started this run at 3:55pm. It was hot! My training log recorded 81 degrees. I broke the rules and listened to music with headphones. We were already disqualified and I wanted a distraction from the heat and my fatigue. I went with the same tactic I ran my first run and slowed to a walk every 15 minutes to take in fluid.
The first mile was pretty exposed and I thought it was going to be a brutal afternoon. But after crossing the interstate 64, the road was more shaded. The course was straight for almost 3 miles. I passed quite a few runners on the way. Just before 4 miles in, I noticed a train was coming through!
Luckily, the train didn’t stop me for long. Another mile on the highway and I crossed a major road. It seemed a little dangerous. There’s was a police officer in a car but he wasn’t there to stop traffic. The landscape changed and I was in a residential neighborhood. At Mile 6, I turned right into Legacy Park.
Our Runner 12 was waiting for me at the exchange. I put my hand out to high-five her and the next thing I knew, she put a water bottle and a Crank Sport in my hand! I ran with the two water bottles in my hands for a while but managed to stuff the gel in my pocket.
The course was mostly uphill – not a steep grade but just enough to notice. There were several people walking and I realized some of my “kills” might have been visitors to the park.
I handed off the bracelet to Runner 12 at my final exchange. I was spent but felt good about my effort.
Overall pace: 8:38. Kills=~24. Killed=0.
We made it back to the van by 5:30pm. I changed into our team shirt so we would all match as we ran our teammate into the finish line. We parked the van at the hotel and rushed to the finish line and ran with Runner 12 through the chute!
We finish in 33 hours, 57 minutes, and 34 seconds (10:03 pace). All things considered, it was a good time! But since we were disqualified, we didn’t place in any of the categories.
We got our medals and headed to the finish line area. It was very festive! There was a band playing 80s music and bourbon tastings. I’m not good with hard alcohol so I went with Kentucky Ale instead (only to find out it was 8% alcohol!)
We had dinner at a local restaurant and then went back to the hotel for a drink. We ran into one of the members of the team we watched the Nationals game with before the race! Back in the room, I slept like a rock that night.
Runner 12 and I packed quickly the next morning. Somehow, I managed to fit the T-Rex head in my bag! We flew back home at noon on Sunday. Our upgrades hadn’t gone through because the airline flew a bigger plane but we all got seat assignments when we checked-in for the flight.
This was the largest relay I’ve done. I enjoyed interacting with the other runners and teams. This might be the last time our team runs a relay, so that made the race bittersweet. We might take a trip to Las Vegas next year instead. My only complaint was the scarce driving directions for the vans.
As far as my training, I was happy with the effort I put into my legs. I was sore in a good way after the race was over. My schedule called for a 22 miler that weekend, but I was too tired to run that far on Monday. I ran close to 33 miles total over the weekend and hoped that was enough. I started my taper for the 2017 New York City Marathon after the race!
I had a great time running through rural Kentucky at the 2017 Bourbon Chase. Going in, I knew our team would be disqualified so I ran the race as hard workouts rather than all-out efforts. I was Runner 10 and 11. For my first run on Friday evening, I ran 16 miles at 8:29 pace in 75 degree weather. We got dangerously lost on Friday night. Early Saturday morning, I ran 6.1 miles at 7:56 pace in cool 50 degree temperatures. On Saturday afternoon, I ran 10.7 miles in 8:38 pace in 80 degrees. I ran 32 miles for the relay and 93 miles for the week!