Articles for April 2015

Running the Rouge-Orleans Ultra

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When I first moved to Baton Rouge approximately 2.5 years ago, I quickly became part of the running community. I I joined local running clubs (Happy’s, Varsity, Northgate, Forge Trails and Ales, etc), and ran in numerous races. But there was one challange that really piqued my interest; running the Rouge-Orleans Ultra, a race that spans 126.2 miles of the levee between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and takes place during Mardi Gras. I first heard about the race in 2013, after it had already been run that year, and immediately made plans to run in 2014. Unfortunately, due to zoning and permit issues, the race was canceled in 2014. So 2015 was going to be the year.

This race can be run as a number of ways: a solo run, a 3 person relay team, or a 6 person relay team. I thought the 6 person route was probably in my best interest, and quickly found 5 other semi-crazy people to join me. We were also lucky enough to find another semi-crazy person, who was up for the challenge of driving us however long it would take us to complete the race.

Based on predicted finish times, the race starts on February 13th or 14th, and ends on the 15th. The solo runners began their journey on the evening of February 13th. The next morning, many of the 3 person relays and some of the 6 person teams started. Finally, the last of the 6 person relay teams were to start at 1pm on the 14th. This is when we, the Krewe of Silenus, were to begin.

Our team met that morning at 10am to pack up Tequila (our vehicle), and decorate her. Because it was Valentine’s Day, we brought lots of appropriate candy and treats!

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There were definitely shenanigans to be had, right from the start.

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After we were completely packed and ready to go, we headed to the USS Kidd, where the race begins. We took a couple pre race pictures, chatted with members of the other teams (the majority of us knowing each other), answered a couple of quick questions from the race director, and with little fanfare, our first runners took off, right at 1pm.

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For the 6 person teams, each member runs 5 shifts, at varying distances, for a total of between 19 and 22 miles. Our first runner’s first leg was approximately 4 miles, so as soon as she took off, we hopped into the truck, and made our way down to the exchange spot further down the levee.

For that first exchange, and most of the other daylight handoffs, each team’s runners were fairly close to each other, so each exchange point consisted of a parade of vans, buses, and trucks parked along the levee. Each team cheered on the incoming runners, regardless of which person belonged to which team.

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After that first exchange, I can’t say anything particularly unique happened. One person ran their leg, met the rest of us at the next exchange point, the next runner took off, we all got back in the truck, and went to the next exchange point. There were no designated bathroom areas, so we were left to fend for ourselves. Occasionally, we found a lone porta-potty on the side of the road, which was met with far more enthusiasm than any porta-potty deserves. While in the truck, we mostly ate to keep up our energy (sandwiches, Clif Shots and Blocks, electrolyte supplements, salt tablets), stayed hydrated, massaged sore muscles, and tried to get a nap in whenever we could (which was next to impossible). There was also lots of laughing, joking, and words of motivation. And we of course had to “stay hydrated” while waiting for our racers at the exchange points (bottom right).

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Although it was hot during the early part of the race, the wind soon picked up, which cooled things off, but definitely created some resistance for running along the levee. Then night approached, and it got very foggy. We heard rumors of a ghost woman that seems to appear on one specific leg of the race. It just so happened our smallest team member was set to run then, and we gave her a bit of a hard time about trying to avoid the ghost…we found out later there were no sightings this year. It got so dark, all you could see of your teammates were bobbing headlamps (see bottom left). Luckily, we had brought along a bike so those interested could have someone bike along them during the night runs (bottom right, our driver hanging out on our well-lit bike).

 

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I have to say, this is the point where we were getting reallllly tired. We’d been together since 10am, we’d each run 10 plus miles already, it was dark out, we hadn’t eaten “real” food in hours, and trying to sleep in a truck with 6 people (and all their gear) in it is really tough. Fluctuating body temperatures were difficult to deal with as well. I ran most of my shifts in shorts and a t-shirt, but open completing my miles, would start to chill very quickly. Layering in the car was definitely key. As soon as I’d hop in the car, I’d throw on my TASC WOW Fitted Capri Pants, my TASC Performance V Long Sleeve Shirt, my super warm (yet light) The North Face Thermoball Full Zip Jacket, and either my Backpacker Beanie or Smartwool Beanie. I never removed my Smartwool PHD Run Light Micro Socks or my Salomon SpeedCross 3 Shoes, for fear that I would never put them back on.  Even with all the challenges the night presented, with each others support, we really pushed through.

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One way we had decided to motivate ourselves was through a checklist we’d drawn on the car. Next to each of our names, we’d put 5 boxes (one for each run shift), so that we could check off each leg we ran. There was something so satisfying about seeing those check marks next to our names. And marking off that last box….pure joy! You can probably see it in our faces….

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Around 6:30 am, just as the sun was coming up, and a little over 17 hours after we’d started, our last runner crossed the finish line. Because of the distance that had increased between teams over time, there were few people at the finish line, mostly a couple of race personnel and family members waiting for their loved ones to finish. We were handed medals, and then made our way to the tables of food and drink! We chatted with some of the other teams, and learned that our team had placed second overall in the coed 6 person relay. Although there was no physical prize for second place, knowing that we’d done so well (and finished over 2 hours ahead of our predicted time), was satisfying enough.

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We spent a little more time resting, and then, after quick goodbyes to the other teams, said our goodbyes to each other as some of us headed to the Mardi Gras festivities in NOLA, others headed back home to Baton Rouge, and I made my way to the airport for a conference in Orlando.

As I mentioned a number of times, there was little fanfare to this race. Because it covers such a long distance, there aren’t going to be crowds of people to cheer you on, there won’t be a big ceremony at the finish. But, those early moments in the race, when all the teams were still close to each other, were the best. To see everyone cheering on each runner, really reiterates what the running community is about: encouragement, acceptance, and kindness. If I had the opportunity to do it again, I absolutely would, as would most of my other teammates. From one of my teammates: “I just want to say that it was truly one of the best experiences ever. Especially speaking from the point of view of a girl who has never been camping or spent time outdoors. I was so impressed at how well we all worked together to push each other through the run. If I could do it all over again, I definitely would…but obviously not any time soon!” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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A huge and special thanks to The Backpacker Baton Rouge for their support: our shirts were a hit, and we definitely couldn’t have made it through the race without the nutritional supplements provided.

In the end, this was definitely a race I was happy to check off my bucket list!!