As my Subaru clawed its way up 13th Lake Road to Garnet Hill, the car thermometer stayed put at zero. A frosty welcome for Hudson United Race Team’s (HURT) Mega Relay.
HURT, the host club, calls it mega because it’s a six-hour race. Unlike a traditional relay, each team member skis multiple shifts, so I call it an endurance relay race.
Teams for the Mega Relay can run from three to eight persons and be all male, all-female, or mixed gender. The teams that ski the most laps in six hours win. Laps are weighted based on the competitor’s age. If you’re 16-44, one lap is a lap. Those older and younger are credited with 1.5 or 2 laps depending on age.
From 10 AM until 4 PM, you keep tagging off to another person on your team. If you’re still out on course at 4 PM, that last lap doesn’t count.
The race course was overall rolling, with a good climb at the start, a couple of short grunt climbs, and a lot of rolling terrain. While overall it’s not a killer race course, when you ski two laps you’re climbing from the lowest point of the course past the stadium, and up to the high point. That’s 59 meters in one chunk and the bulk of the elevation gain.
Last year, I blew myself out going too hard on my first two shifts, and crawled through two more. I didn’t want to repeat that experience.
Today, I teamed up with two other members of Peru Nordic for the race. With four people on our team, we planned to ski two laps on each shift.
Through my first shift, I kept checking my heart rate and it was higher than I wanted – the same numbers that got me in trouble last year. I focused on skiing light and smooth, and not trying to be a hero on that 59-meter climb.
By the end of the day, I skied 28 kilometers over four shifts. If there had been time, I felt good enough that I could have skied another lap at the end of the day. When I compared my heart rate data to last year, my average and high heart rates were similar for each shift. I figure that this year, I skied smoother and more relaxed.
I believe this format is more difficult than skiing a straight up 30 km race because you’ve got 70 to 80 minutes between shifts where you’re cooling off and stiffening up.
How do you prepare for an endurance relay race? Obviously you need adequate cardiovascular and strength training. Pacing is key, if you treat each shift as its own race, you’ll pay in the end.
But just as important today is recovery: what you do between shifts. For each shift, I changed into a dry top, and dried my hat, gloves, and buff by the lodge’s woodstove. If hat and gloves weren’t dry, I swapped them out for fresh ones. I even had dry clothes to change into for the 15 minute ride back to the hostel.
During your downtime, you also need to do whatever you can do to stay limber. The lodge was overflowing with racers waiting for their next shift, an assortment of potluck offerings contributed by various clubs, and everyone’s dunnage. Inside, it was too crowded to stretch comprehensively, but I managed some deep squats and lateral squats. Anticipating my teammate Betsy coming in to tag, I got outside for 10 minutes of easy skiing to warm up.
For nutrition, I made sure to drink plenty of water and eat something after every shift. And even with temperatures in the single digits, you’re losing water and you need to replace it with water or an energy drink. Drinking more water than an energy drink seemed to work today. And while you don’t need to eat a big meal between shifts, you’ll definitely benefit from consuming some protein and some carbohydrates. Try to avoid too many of the sweets – cookies, muffins and etc – that can show up at these events, and you’ll avoid a sugar crash.
All in all, I had a good race. All my shifts were within 20 seconds of the same time – think even splits – and I had energy to go for an easy ski the next day. Do you want to learn more about preparing for endurance races? Whether it’s the training or logistical preparation, contact me!