Race Recap: Mushroom Cap Half Marathon Relay

Disclaimer: I received free entry to the Mushroom Cap Half Marathon race as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!

NAME: Mushroom Cap 1/2 Marathon, Relay and Charity 1 Miler
LOCATION: Kennett Square, PA
YEARS IN EXISTENCE: 4
NUMBER OF RUNNERS IN 2019: 469 individual runners and 107 relay teams

The Mushroom Cap 1/2 Marathon Relay is a race I’m not soon to forget! I love when BibRave partners with local races and being from New Jersey, when I saw the opportunity to run in Kennett Square, PA I was excited to jump on board.

There was no expo for this race but there were two packet pickups earlier in the week. The Sunday before the race was at a running store and the night before the race at the start location.

I think this race and its runners would benefit by offering a morning of the race packet pickup. I know it was a little difficult for some to coordinate with the times. Thankfully I was able to grab a friend’s bib who wasn’t able to make it to either of the times offered by showing a copy of her identification.

The swag was a long-sleeved quarter zip shirt (that has thumb holes and a small key pocket). We had the option of a dark blue or this powder blue above. It’s very comfortable and I like it much more than the standard race shirt.

It was a chilly 31 degrees on race day. I woke up before my 5am alarm, anxious to hop in my car and drive about an hour to Kennett Square.

Arriving with plenty of time to spare (as is my way), I sat in my warm and toasty car as long as possible. On the ride there, I drove part of the course. Hello hills!

I was nervous about the course, but overall I knew that I could trust in my distance training.

Mullet Crew – Party in the Back! Katie, Rachel, and me

Before the race I was able to meet up with friends and there’s always comfort in being with people you know and love. Rachel, Katie, and I questioned our sanity multiple times as we stood together, shivering.

Fellow BibRave Pro, Ken (of KenStandsonThings) joined us as in the race village; the was area set up with tents, tables, and portapotties. We timed it so we wouldn’t have to wait too long in the cold and made sure that Rachel had time to get on the relay shuttle bus and head to the exchange area.

The start and end point of the race was The Creamery. It was previously the Eastern Condensed Milk Company. In 2016 the current owners opened it after revitalization as a pop-up beer garden and community space. Really awesome spot!

Katie and I placed ourselves near the 3:00 pacer. During my training runs I’ve been keeping anywhere from a 11:30-13:30 pace using 1:1 intervals. Most of my training runs are flat though so I wasn’t sure how this I’d fare. I figured as long as I kept the 3:00 pacer in sight, I was doing okay. I wasn’t aiming to be a hero, I just wanted to get to the relay exchange in a decent time.

A few minutes after 8am, we started to run. Immediately Rachel texted and said she wasn’t getting the messages from the tracking app, RaceJoy. Rather than continually have it open on my phone Rachel, Katie (who was running the entire 1/2, bless her legs) and I decided that we’d occasionally text to check in.

Looking back at our text messages is amusing! There was a lot of cursing going on!

Katie and I stuck together for the first two miles. There was a killer hill in mile one and that set the tone for the rest of the race. Rather than getting too much in my head I decided that I’d take it easy on the uphills and cruise the downhills. Thankfully the roads were closed for the entire event and the runners were able to spread out.

Katie peeled off to use a portapotty as we turned into a neighborhood section of the race and instructed that I go on (up a large hill, I’m sure you’re shocked to hear). This portion was an out and back area, full of ups and down.

The aid stations of this race are phenomenal. Hosted by local groups and businesses, they were well stocked. I didn’t take advantage of them because I just wanted to keep moving and get to Rachel.

Around the 4 mile mark I passed the 3:00 hour pacer and according to the app, I was on pace to get to Rachel in 1:26 for 6.6 miles.

This hill had a hill on top of it. Yay.

This hill greeted me in mile 5. Once I hit the gravel, I knew I wasn’t far from the exchange. I was more than ready to be done and when I saw the signs telling the relay runners to stay to the right, I happy obliged.

Rachel was waiting for me in the exchange area and helped me take the timing chip off my ankle and transferred it to hers. Before she left on the second half of her journey I thought I should impart some words of wisdom. But apparently, it came out like this.

Mer grabbed my arm and with terror in her eyes, said something like “The hills. It’s so hard. The hills…..Don’t even try to run them. Just walk the hills and run down…” then she hugged me and yelled “good luck” as I ran away.

Whoops?

I was so busy giving Rachel this amazing pep talk I forgot two very important things:

  1. to shut off my watch
  2. to look at the medal

It wasn’t until I was comfortably seated on the bus that I realized/did both! I chatted with the folks I was seated near and we all lamented the hills.

Once we arrived back at The Creamery I stood near the finish line and cheered for a bit. I was able to meet back up with Ken and see lots of people from my local running group. I even got to meet Instagram friend, Alexis (beer_runner85)!

All the while, I was in contact with Rachel and Katie via text. They informed me that they were the last ones on the course and had a line of police cars following them. Once I knew where they were on the course, Ken and I headed into The Creamery to warm up and grab our complimentary beer. We had the choice of an Ale or IPA and there was a great band entertaining the masses!

We also had the chance to meet the Mushroom Cap Half’s social media director – it’s always fun to meet the face behind the Instagram account!

I heard from Rachel that they were nearing the finish line so I headed back to claim my spot just past the timing mats. Sure enough, I could see them about a quarter mile away, with their police escorts behind them!

I was hooting and hollering and telling everyone at the finish their names so they could cheer as well. I’m pretty sure everyone thought I was crazy and they’d be right. I was so happy to see my Mullet Crew!

Party in the back!

Please note that while the course limit was 3:30, they were the last ones to cross at 3:11. We were so PROUD. There’s two ways you can look at being DFL and I think we were all very happy that things shook out the way that they did.

Because we were very last relay team to cross the line, we got a PRIZE. We were awarded mushrooms and a $50 gift card to Sovana Bistro! That was a really nice surprise.

All in all, the race was incredible. Great communication, awesome aid stations, loved being a part of a relay team, and the afterparty was amazing!

The only complaint I have? THOSE HILLS. Again, not in any way, shape, or form a shock. Just very, very difficult!

Thanks to BibRave and Mushroom Cap for the great opportunity to check this one out! If you’re looking for a challenge, be sure to put this on your bucket list.

Next up for me is a local 5k (William T. Nace Tin Man) and the Rothman 8k during Philadelphia Marathon Weekend. What’s on your race agenda?

That Time I Ran Ragnar Northwest Passage

Last weekend I traveled to the great Northwest to run 196 miles with 11 awesome old and new friends.  I had some really hard runs but felt very satisfied with how I performed.  I brought along my Skoras and my ninja sword and thoroughly enjoyed running in misty weather.  Here are the highlights from our adventure!

That Time We Unleashed Our Ninja Skillz at the Start Line

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That Time the Girls Were Photo Bombed by One of Our Own

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That Time We Encouraged Random People with a Smack on the Behind

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That Time We Took All the Selfies

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That Time We Recreated Things That Happened at Previous Ragnars

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That Time Ian Got All the Sleep

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That Time I Tried to Draw on All the Faces

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That Time We All Jumped

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That Time We All Wanted to be Like Robert

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The Original

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That Time We Ran 196 Miles in 30 Hours

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Relay! It will be fun!

Guess what time it is?  I’ll give you a hint.  It starts with an R and ends with AGNAR!  That’s right, boys and girls, Ragnar Northwest Passage is just around the corner and in just one short month, I’ll be trekking up north again to participate in the relay series in Napa.  I know what you’re thinking: This chick can’t possibly be writing another post about Ragnar.  I mean, what is she, like an ambassador or something?

Actually, yes, I am.

But rest assure!  This is not a Ragnar post.  Relay, it’s not.  (Hehe)

I’ve participated in many Rag- I mean, relay races and I’ve realized over the years that there is a specific recipe for putting together a successful relay team.  Relay racing requires tons of, ahem, leg work, in order to produce a smooth racing experience for all.  When I first started putting these teams together I made lots of mistakes.  But I had an incredible mentor who answered all my questions and told me all the tricks.  So that’s what I’m here to do today, my friends.  Help me, help you relay!

Get Yo Peeps in Line

First things first, you need runners.  Recruit, recruit, recruit!  Almost everyone knows someone who races nowadays. Luckily, Facebook is making it easier and easier to find runners.  You know all those annoying gym updates?  Call them out!  Oh, you ran 5 miles on the treadmill today at the gym?  Have I got a race for you!  I’ve used all types of social media to find runners for my teams, I even know someone who used dating sites to find runners.  How’s that for a first date?  Sometimes the best teammates are the people you’ve never met before.  Eventually, you’ll have an entire network of relay runners that you can call upon to fill a team.  And this video will be really hilarious…

After you’ve gotten people to agree to it, make them pay.  Always, always get their registration ahead of time.  Many people will commit, but these races are freaking expensive!  I always require the registration fee to hold a spot on the team.  Give them a deadline.  If they don’t pay, they don’t play.  Allow yourself plenty of time to find replacements.

The infamous "Friendship Contract"

The infamous “Friendship Contract”

The Early Bird Gets a Great Deal

Most races give a discount if you register early.  Relay races are no different.  If you can do so financially, register your team even if you haven’t filled all the spots before the price goes up.  Take advantage of those discounts.  Some races partner with different vendors, hotels, car rental places, custom t-shirt printers, and offer discounts if you book with those facilities.  Secure your before/after race lodging and vans far in advance.  Most companies will just require a credit card number to hold the reservation, but won’t charge until the deed is done.  Don’t wait until the last minute, because those facilities fill up quick.  Order your t-shirts/costumes early so you don’t have to rush deliver.  Take advantage of cutting costs where ever you can and make sure all your teammates have an idea of what their share of the cost is going to be.

Book early!  You don't want to be stuck in the dreaded minivan!

Book early! You don’t want to be stuck in the dreaded minivan!

Train

Training for a relay race is really no different from training for any long distance race. It’s important to keep in mind that you may be running in different climates, elevations, terrains, and clothing than you’re used to. It’s also important to keep in mind that you will be running on very little sleep and during the middle of the night in the dark.  Running with a headlamp is awkward.  So is running in a ninja mask or fish nets.  Practice!  Try to simulate these changes in your training runs.  I like to run this mountain circuit by my house because it incorporates many of the changes I could encounter in my relay runs.  Sometimes, the runs have already been mapped on programs like MapMyRun or Strava. Check it out on Google Maps. If you’re racing close to home, go to the streets you’ll be running.  I’ve found that incorporating other strength training activities, like weights and core work, into my training regime will increase my stamina and endurance.   And if all else fails, search for a relay training schedule  online and follow it!  Ragnar provides this Training Guide on their site.

Boxing is one of my non-running training exercises!

Boxing is one of my non-running training exercises!

Communicate

I send out many detailed emails during the months leading up to a relay race.  It’s important that everyone’s on the same page.  As a captain, I find it’s easier to come up with a plan and ask for input rather than asking for input then coming up with the plan.  It’s easier to make allowances once you have a base.  Facebook groups or group emails are a great way to get all the information to everyone efficiently.  It also allows for an open dialogue so everyone feels they have a voice in the team.

Initially, I make sure that everyone is aware of the costs and that the registration is non-refundable.  Injury happens!  And sometimes just days before the race.  At that point, your team just needs an able body and you might be willing to make allowances for costs to get someone to run.  In this case, it would be up to the injured teammate to get the registration money directly from the replacement runner.  I split all the costs between the teammates equally…van, food, shirts, gas, hotels…etc.  I do one big Costco shopping trip and give each van a stock of supplies.  This is what works for me.  Come up with a policy for handling costs and then implement it.  The important part is to make sure everyone is aware of your policy before anything happens.  You don’t want to lose friends because of cost issues but you don’t want to fund everyone’s race either.

Assigning legs and runner positions is also important to communicate early in the game.  I ask for each teammate to give me their top 3 choices and then I assign positions based on pace and preference.  I make it clear that you might not get the position you want, but that everything is carefully calculated and assigned for a reason.  Usually, I have no problem accommodating within those top 3 choices.

Lastly, logistics and travel plans!  Many times, runners are traveling from out of state and will need a place to stay before or after the race.  Have this discussion early so people can travel together or room together, if possible.  Some people prefer to do things on their own, which is fine too, just make sure you have that discussion so everyone is aware of what to expect.

Slumber Parties with new friends are the best!

Slumber Parties with new friends are the best!

Calculate

The pacing calculator will be your best friend.  I print out all the maps for the race and calculate the projected times for running based on the individual runners pace and distance of their run.  Not good at math? Relax!  Ragnar has a pacing calculator that does this for you!  Before I figured this out, I made my own Excel spreadsheet that is now highly unnecessary.  Remember to allow for elevation, weather, and fatigue in the later runs.  Encourage each runner to be very honest about their 10k pace.  If one runner is off by just one minute, it throws the projections off by hours.  The projections are so incredibly important in making sure your next runner is ready to take off when your active runner comes into that exchange.  Nothing’s worse than getting to the exchange after running your heart out and not having your team there to support you.  It has happened to us all at one time or another…the van gets lost, there’s traffic, someone needs a Starbucks…those projections help you make conservative decisions when it comes to how you spend your travel/down time.   So what will you do with those extra minutes…

Checking the time!  Are we on pace?

Checking the time! Are we on pace?

Support Your Runners

Many times during the race it will be up to the team to support the active runner.  This could be with water, Gatorade, GU, first aid, messages on the sidewalk with chalk, music, bullhorn shenanigans, cowbell, scissors for cutting off pants…whatever your runner needs, it’s the teams job to get it to them.  This is a team effort and knowing that your team has most definitely got your back is a huge reassurance.  Seeing my teammates on the side of the road ready to give me water and a cheer literally MAKES me keep running. Bask in the cowbell!  Throw your arms up in victory when you hear that honk!  And make sure that you offer that to all the other runners out on the course.  That unity is the most satisfying aspect of a relay race.  Complete strangers will offer you, without hesitation, a hug or a cold towel or a granola bar, and it will be the best damn granola bar of your life.

Just make sure to pass on the kindness to the next runner.

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Are you considering a relay?  Any specific questions or concerns?  Ask in the comments and I’ll set your relay fears at ease!