The Christmas Relays are miserable. Everyone knows it. And, yet, everyone still does them every year. I raced the relays again this past weekend, for probably the fourth or fifth time.
It’s hard to explain why it’s so miserable. It’s supposed to be a fun holiday relay race, but there’s something about it that’s slow and long and uphill both ways and it’s mid-December, so everyone’s out of shape in mid-December. It just hurts. Steve did the race for the first time this year — we did it with another couple — and I tried to explain why it sucks. “It’s only 4.5 miles,” he asked, “What’s so bad about that?” Yeah, but it’s a mysteriously slow, terrible 4.55 miles.
After he finished, he basically had to admit that it is mysteriously awful.
Still. It’s the only $18 race where the field will be evenly split between people in costume and Olympic hopefuls. It’s a classic. You have to do it at least once.
The Expo and Goodies
This is a running race classic. That means you better not expect the same kind of scene as at the super-fancy big marathons. There was a brunch truck this year that you could buy food from. And, there are always a few Gatorade containers with water in them. The big new perk in 2014 was the beer tent: everyone got two free beers from 21st Amendment. (I even got three. Don’t ask.) And, they were good beers. Since you have all this time to kill while you wait for the other runners in your relay to finish their 4.55-mile leg, the beer was a nice touch. Who cares that it’s 9:30 a.m.?
The other cool feature is that you can opt to pay less and not get a t-shirt with your entry — which is a nice option if you have too many t-shirts. Winners get mugs.
The course is what makes the race so miserable. Allegedly, all you have to do is a run a 4.55-mile loop around Lake Merced, but there’s something about that loop that is all uphill.
Actually, it starts out slightly downhill, so you go too fast and blow up. Everyone does. It can not be avoided. Then, it’s all false flat up — just a small enough incline that you don’t notice it; all you notice is that you’re going a lot slower and it’s a lot harder. And, the run is all on sidewalk around the lake, which can get sort of annoying, especially as you dodge dogwalkers and Sunday morning joggers.
The first year I did it, we all wore costumes (see above) and I went out hard — really hard. Within a couple minutes I was overheating and wheezing. Since I was the last runner in our foursome and the field gets really spread out over the full 18 miles, there weren’t many runners around me. I was sprinting down a sidewalk by myself, in a very non-breathable leotard, weaving through walkers, and I looked over at the cars driving down the busy road next to the park and realized that this whole thing must look ridiculous to the drivers.
The Organizational Details
It’s a four-person relay, with each person running one 4.55-mile lap around the lake. Being the Bay Area, there will be lots of disgustingly fast relays. There will be one women’s relay made up of Olympians and future Olympians. Then, there will be another ten women’s relays that all still average under six minute mile pace. Be prepared for this.
Also, be prepared for spending a lot of time hanging out. It’s usually cold and it’s often raining, so two hours standing around in a parking lot may not sound like the most fun idea ever. (This is why the beer tent was such a nice addition this year.) If you go first or second, then you’ll be done and can hang out — extra bonus: if you go first or second, then you’ll probably have more people around you to run with too.