(Note: I originally posted this on Reddit a while ago. link)
Just finished my first race (and relay) ever yesterday. After reading some very good and helpful race reports here I thought I'd give back the knowledge I earned. Here goes.
Mountain to valley is a long distance (215km) relay race taking place for the 8th year straight, from the mountains of the Galilee to the Yizrael Valley. There are 24 segments, and teams can consist of 4, 6 or 8 runners (running 6, 4 or 3 segments respectively). It's a huge event (~8,000 participants, in about 1000 teams) and probably one of the major running events in Israel. Here's an outline of the race route
Our team was of 8 runners, and we signed up for the competitive race meaning we couldn't swap runners and each runner committed to his 3 segments ahead of time. I was initially assigned to be runner number 5, which had the easiest segments - mostly flat, 8-10km segments. A few days before the race I switched with runner number 4 which was slightly injured, and so the difficulty level increased quite a bit. The second segment for my new number 4 position is the longest in the race.
I'm 33 y/o male, and this was my first race ever. Before that I was running about 10-15km in 2-3 runs every week. Friends suggested I join and I impulsively agreed without thinking about it too much. From that point on I would often regret that decision and that I got myself into such a huge, probably painful, commitment. However, I didn't want to ruin it for my team... so had no choice but to do it.
So with all that, my objective for this race was to complete my segments without causing myself irreversible injuries.
I signed up to the race in December, so had quite a lot of time to prepare myself comprehensively. I failed to do so :) Perhaps it would've been better to have less time, because eventually when it was just two weeks before the race I didn't feel ready at all.
I did run much more during the last 6 months. The last few weeks before the race I was running about 35 weekly km in 3-4 runs and generally having a blast, but there were several things I knew I should have but didn't train for:
I only once tried running twice in the same day - for most of my runs I had at least 24 hours of recovery.
Living in the very flat Tel Aviv, I did almost no hill or trail training. Just the flat beach walkway.
Running in warmer temperatures. I always run in the early morning or after sunset, so the sun wasn't that much of a factor.
This kind of race requires a lot of planning ahead. 8 people need to be ready at the right time at the right place to pick up the torch (well, not really a torch, just an electronic chip). They need to be transported from and to the right stations, have somewhere to rest and something to eat, etc. This required careful planning with several huge spreadsheets, and on race day - lots of driving and communication. I can't imagine how it could be organised without smartphones.
And now, for some actual running:
This segment seems pretty flat easy on paper, but there were two challenges -
I needed to conserve energy for my next segments.
It was crazy hot - about 32c (90f).
The main issue was that I felt like I'm melting. I was really happy I drank tons of water since the morning and that I was lucky to get a short segment for daytime. Adrenaline was high (my first race kilometers ever!) and my decision to run with my GPS watch showing my pace was a good one - I had to slow myself down all the time to run at a sustainable pace. After just 31 minutes of running I still felt quite fresh and ready for the next segment.
After spending the day resting on the beach of the Sea of Galilee, eating tons of pasta salad and dates, and drinking many liters of water, I thought I was ready for the second, scary, segment. It started with a huge very steep hill inside the town of Ilabun. The town kids were really happy about the race and exchanged hi-fives with the runners so that was nice and kept my mind busy for a while. I couldn't keep up the pace uphill and even slowed to a walk a couple of times to catch my breath but it eventually ended.
After that hill came a very long and flat 12km segment. I did feel ok initially but after a couple of km headwind picked up, and I felt like I ate and drank too much. I became quite sick and almost had to throw up. That really slowed me down and I ran at a pace of 6:00min/km for the remainder of the segment. Sun was setting which was a great sight but also meant it was time to start running with a head torch which is a bit more challenging.
This was a really difficult segment as expected, but for different reasons. Lesson learned - not to eat too much and to define a point in time at least 3 hours before the run, from which I don't eat anything. Worst case scenario I can take some fuel with me, but it's better to be a bit hungry than to be sick.
After the previous nightmare segment I was really worried about this one. I didn't eat too much because I was still pretty sick, and only lied down to rest for like 30 minutes after already a pretty long day. However - it was my last segment so I felt free to spend all energy I had remaining.
Surprisingly - this segment was tons of fun. Running was easy, most of the way was downhill. Scenery was beautiful - in the woods, with the full moon overhead and with the view of the valley in front of me. Up until now my team had really good results so that was also very motivating. I ran pretty fast (5:13min/km) and had a great time. I felt like I could continue for at least 5 more kms without any problem. This segment was definitely worth all the pain and I got to the exchange station with a huge smile.
Done! My team finished in position 91 out of 293 teams in the 8-men competitive category which we're pretty happy with. Some points I've learned for next time:
Thanks for reading all of this! I'll be happy to answer any questions.