This past weekend I found myself on a team of 10 kick-ass girls from Michigan ready to run as hard as we could for 3 days covering 278 miles of scenic northern Michigan. It was 2012 Great Lakes Relay time! We came to run hard, to have fun, and to make a statement that fast women runners could contend at this annual race which normally is dominated by collegiate/post collegiate male or co-ed teams. We were called The Gingerbread Girls and we were ready to prove that no one would catch us if we brought our A game.
As a rookie at GLR I was not sure what to expect, but be sure I was intimidated and my primary goal was to run the best I could. There has only been one fast all girls team in recent history at GLR and I knew our team’s organizers wanted that to change. GLR offers time handicaps to try and even out the competition. If you are an all male team of 20 and 30 somethings you would get no handicap. Add a female to the mix and as long as she covers at least 24 miles you get a small handicap, same goes for any additional women. Then there are handicaps for having masters and grand masters on the team. The Gingerbread Girls, an all-women team with one master and two grand masters had a handicap of 0.871. We expected to be in the top 5 with our handicap. With our bright pink shirts and our obvious speed many teams on the course were rooting for the Gingerbread Girls and a few teams were keeping a wary eye on us to try and stay ahead.
- The logistics of a relay race like this are intense and it takes not only a fast team, but a well-organized one to do well at an event like this. We were on our game and managed to make minimal mistakes. I was very glad we had GLR vets in charge! These women did a fantastic job choosing legs for everyone, organizing travel, sleeping, and eating arrangements as well as recruiting the best team possible. With several GLR rookies it was pretty amazing that we had so few problems, only losing about 10 minutes due to a few wrong turns. Perhaps an all girls team has some perks those men didn’t think of? And despite being an efficient, fast machine of runners, we all managed to have tons of fun.
As highly competitive women it was obvious at the start that each of us had personal goals and no one wanted to be the weakest link, but as the days and legs tallied up the tension of proving oneself eased and the team camaraderie rose. We were in this together and we wanted to place as high as possible. It was great to see the young rookies take more ownership of the team as each day progressed, and to see them helping more with logistics and non-running duties once they started to figure out the GLR daily routine. As the days went forward it wasn’t uncommon to hear “war stories” going on from other teams and clear personality conflicts were testing many runners patience. I am happy to say Gingerbread Girls had a fantastic blend of fast women and personalities that made for a great team!
The Daily Routine:
Each day started around 4 AM with a wake up call and a trip to our respective starting lines. Throughout the day we would find ourselves driving, navigating, running, snacking, and waiting between each leg of the relay. With 100 miles the first two days and 77 the last this made for long days traversing around Northern Michigan, with 6 am race starts and dinnertime finishes. After our final runner crossed the finish we would celebrate, have a beer, and head back to the sleeping quarters. We would have dinner and eat and then finally on the border of passing out we’d have our team meeting going over the next day.
We kicked off the relay with a bang putting our two Olympic Trials marathoners on the 1st and 3rd legs. Our young trail stud tackled leg 2, and our 4th leg captain hammered us into the top 10 for the day so far. By half way through the day with each gal tackling a leg we were actually up on the first team with our handicap. It was obvious we weren’t just there to stealthily climb our way to the top. We were there to compete and teams were starting to notice this team of all women runners.
On the 2nd and 3rd mornings the runners at the first leg received a sheet detailing the results of the previous day. We found out after the first morning that we were in 2nd place. Though the second day brought tougher terrain, crazier weather (heat, sun, and then crazy lighting and torrential pouring), and all on tired legs the Gingerbread Girls held on to second place.
Team Meat Train in 3rd was having none of it and on day three they upped their stud runners distance in an attempt to pass us and try to take down M-10, the team in 1st, who now had a 24 minute lead on us. We all hammered our legs. I was feeling the pressure to really bring it home on my only and last leg of the race. With 3.5 miles on the beach to finish out my 6 miles I thankfully put up a good performance and the Gingerbread girls just barely held onto second after Meat Train put up an amazing third day (running faster than first place M-10 for the day by 4 minutes) closing to within just 39 seconds.
Overall our team of fast ladies ended up in 2nd place with the handicap. Without the handicap we were the 10th team with an average pace of 6:56 based on time amongst all the open and mixed teams. This is super bad ass considering we had two females over 50 and many of our younger runners have never done anything like this. While there were a few legs out there with possibilities for fast miles this course is mostly tough and that average pace is sick for 10 women running 25+ miles over the course of three days on minimal sleep. The top team averaged 5:57 pace.
I sincerely recommend the GLR experience. It was a great way to spend a weekend doing what I love and a great reminder that there are all forms of racing fun to be had. It was great to be on a team again if only for a weekend and I wish all these girls the best of luck in this years running adventures ahead! Though our legs may be trashed, our drivers cars may never smell the same again, and our minds may not be focused at work on Monday, this was an amazing time. I am so proud of our group of gals who ran so hard and proved that women can tackle an event like GLR and kick ass in the process without the help of men. What an amazing weekend full of beautiful scenery, fun times, and hard running. I’m guessing next years Gingerbread Girls will be even more stacked and that spots on the team will be in demand. Think you have what it takes?
Have you run the GLR? Have another favorite relay race you recommend? Do you think it was fair that our team of girls had a handicap to beat those Meat Train boys?