Thursday, October 1, 2015

Rock the Creek Relay Race Recap

This past Sunday, my friends and I fielded three teams for the inaugural Rock the Creek Relay:

Reston Rockettes: Norma, Laura, me, Jamie, Lee, Rachel

Best Pace Scenario: Maria, Laurie, Amy, Catherine, Susan, Andrea
(photo courtesy of Laurentina Photography)

Baby Boomers: Molly, Therese, Sandra, Roz, Vee, Marian
(photo courtesy of Sandra)

What's the idea behind this race? I think their Facebook page says it best:
This is meant to be a less epic way to either introduce folks to the relay concept or just have them get together and have fun on a Sunday morning with a few friends.
That's what originally attracted me when I signed up back in January to be a team captain. I wanted to participate in a relay - get a taste of what it was all about - without committing to a whole weekend of running multiple legs on minimal sleep and no showers. This was the perfect opportunity to try it out without taking on more than I was ready for.


We were pretty low-key about planning, which is fairly unusual for me. We did decide to wear a team shirt and sparkle skirts. Jamie's sister Becca designed a cool logo for us. Everyone picked their own color shirt and sparkle skirt. Our shirts were printed by Custom Ink and we thought they did a very nice job with them.

Becca's original design. We ended up making the skirts cutouts,
 so the shirt color showed through as the skirt color.
It was still cute, and cheaper to print.

In addition to planning our outfits, we had to decide who would run which leg of the relay. All of the legs were fairly similar in distance and difficulty as far as we could tell, so this was harder than it sounds.

  • We ended up giving Rachel Leg 1 because she was the most concerned about getting lost and in Leg 1 you start with a group of people and have more of a chance of being able to follow other runners. 
  • Laura and Lee got Legs 2 and 5 because they were the longest ones and they indicated they felt up for a challenge. 
  • Jamie got Leg 6 - the last leg - because she was driving and I thought it would be nice for her to not have to jump into the driver's seat right after running. 
    • In retrospect, this was an especially tough leg to have because you had to experience everyone else's anxiety throughout the morning and not get to burn off your own anxiety until the very end. Sorry Jamie!
  • Norma and I got Legs 3 and 4 because they were the last ones left.

I printed out the van directions and the instructions for the course legs ahead of time, and put the course instructions into ziploc bags for each of us since rain was in the forecast (but it never showed up - yay).

Driving and running directions


We met in Reston at 6 am and consolidated our snacks and gear into Jamie's van. Then we hit the road and headed to Lake Needwood in Derwood, Maryland.

We had more snacks and drinks than we needed.
Which is better than having less than we needed.
(photo courtesy of Laurentina Photography)

Because we were one of the first 25 teams to register, we got some special perks such as VIP parking at Lake Needwood and special inaugural t-shirts for all our team members.

This was a really welcome perk!

Packet pickup was well-organized and we were easily able to retrieve our packet, bibs, and t-shirts. There was breakfast available - coffee, bagels, and bananas. I had half a blueberry bagel - yum! There were also bathrooms close by. The men's room was quickly overtaken by women as there were far more women than men.   

Packet pickup the morning before the race
(photo courtesy of Laurentina Photography)

Our packet included blue drawstring bags with coupons from sponsors,
our race bibs and team "snap" bracelet,
the orange race shirt and a special gray inaugural VIP shirt

The first wave of runners left at 7:30, with additional waves every 15 minutes until 9:00. We were in the 8:00 wave, so we watched the earlier waves take off and stayed warm in our sweats.

Functional and fun accessories were also a part of the pre-race preparations:

Rachel pulls on her compression socks before running
(photo courtesy of Laurentina Photography)

Best Pace Scenario had these fun wings on their shoes
(photo courtesy of Laurentina Photography)

Baby Boomers and Best Pace Scenario both
got blinged out with metallic jewelry tattoos.
Best Pace Scenario had headbands made by Catherine.
(photo courtesy of Laurentina Photography)


Rachel, Susan, and Roz started getting psyched up a few minutes before their 8:00 start time. There was lots of music and energy in the starting area and they danced around to get that nervous energy out.

Rachel, Susan, and Roz at the start

After the first leg took off, we got in our van and navigated to the first transition area. That pattern repeated throughout the relay - watch for our current runner, transition the bracelet, watch the next runner take off, and head to the van and the next transition area.

Several of our runners had Garmins and we used the Garmin Connect app to send live tracking GPS information to the email of someone in the van. That enabled us to pull up live data showing us where our runner was, how far she had run, and what pace she was going. It was really helpful to have that information available!

Laura transitions the bracelet to me at Transition Area #2
(photo courtesy of Rachel)

Waiting at the transition areas was one of the most fun parts of the relay, especially since we had three teams. Hanging out and chatting with each other was fun, relaxing, and distracting for those still worried about running.

Hanging out at Transition Area #4

What were we worried about? The primary concerns involved getting lost or getting hurt. And there is that common concern that you aren't going fast enough, that you will let your team down. Although none of our teams were in this for time so that last one shouldn't have been an issue, but many of us still have a tendency to think that way. I knew I was the slowest runner on my team. I also knew my team didn't care. But I was still very aware of it and wanted to run as fast as I could for them.

The thing I was the most nervous about was getting lost. Although I had the printed race directions, there was a giant paragraph that was really confusing. However, I had a secret weapon! The race organizers made GPX files of the race legs available. I downloaded a free app called GPS Hiker and imported my course leg into it. While I was running, I could glance at my phone and see my blue GPS dot moving along the course and know that I was where I was supposed to be. There were also signs along the course and some volunteers at particularly tricky locations. But I highly recommend using a GPX file if you are lucky enough to have access to one!

The GPS Hiker screen before I started my leg.
Green dot = start, Red dot = finish, Blue dot = me
My blue dot moved along the blue line while I ran

Running my leg was a very solitary experience. I was running Leg 3, so no one else really started at the same time as I started. There were a couple of runners who passed me early on in my 4.6 mile leg, but I was mainly by myself for much of it, which was weird. I knew it would be different than a road race where you are surrounded by people, but I was still surprised to be so alone. One of the cool things on my leg, however, was seeing people who were running Leg 4, which was the reverse of my leg. Almost everyone I passed smiled or said good job/run or even gave me a high five. That was really awesome and made me feel like I was part of a special group. 

The course was mostly along the Rock Creek Parkway bike path.
It was really pretty out there.


Coming back to the start area, which was also the finish line, was fun. There was a party with lots of music, food, some contests, and an announcer alerting us when a runner was coming in to the finish and what team they were from. Poor Jamie - not only did she have to wait until the end to run, but then she had to run up a hill and across the finish line with a whole lot of people watching her! If we do this again next year, I vow to let Jamie pick whatever leg she wants. 

We hung out for a while, enjoyed bbq chicken sandwiches, coleslaw, and fruit. The camaraderie of the crowd was fun and it was really well organized. I would definitely do this event or a similar one again. And I am definitely not interested in running a longer, more technical relay any time soon. This one was just right for me.

Enjoying the post-race spread
(photo courtesy of Laurentina Photography)

We did it!

We got a fun surprise the day after the relay - the official Rockettes favorited our team photo on Twitter. It felt like a  cool stamp of approval for our relay efforts, and a nice way to cap off the fun experience!


  1. So pleased to see my photo up there, blinged out with my metallic tattoos and headband! I was a lucky runner, since my friend Molly from the Baby Boomer Babes started Leg 4 just before me, so we got to run together the whole way! It made the relay much more fun than it would have been. I am not much of a solo runner. This was a fun way to try the relay format, but like Kim, I am not really interested in the long relays. It was fun to share the experience with Kim's team, my team, and two others from Reston!