By far, my favorite distance for a race is the half-marathon (13.1 miles). The half-marathon I’ve run the most times is the Pittsburgh Marathon, which is always held in early May. However, from time to time – either due to injury or scheduling conflicts – I’ve been unable to train to complete the full 13.1 miles and I’ve signed up to run a marathon relay. In my opinion, running in the relay can be just as much fun as completing a longer distance for a variety of reasons. For most marathon relays, a team of 4 or 5 runners split up to cover the full 26.2 miles of the course with each runner having a different distance to complete. For instance, in this year’s Pittsburgh Marathon the distance is broken up as follows:
Runner #1: 5.5 miles
Runner #2: 3.7 miles
Runner #3: 6.2 miles
Runner #4: 6.4 miles
Runner #5: 4.4 miles
This variety in mileage is fantastic because it allows runners with different levels of ability to participate in a major race. Whether or not your team is racing to achieve a certain time, this way of racing can be an absolute blast for a several reasons. I’m going to list my top 5.
- YOU GET TO NAME YOUR TEAM
It seems silly, but for me this may be my favorite part of the process. You can create something meaningful, ridiculous, or maybe obscure. This year, the team I’m running with consists of federal employees so I named the team “Right Said Fed”. Sadly, I’m at the age where fewer and fewer people get that reference.
- THERE IS LESS PRESSURE (AND MORE PRESSURE)
Being responsible for only one leg of the total relay distance means you don’t feel a huge burden on your shoulders. Your entire team is in it together and you are simply one part of the mechanism.
Of course, the downside of this is that everyone is counting on you to finish your leg. In fact you HAVE to finish your part or your teammate will be standing and waiting for you at the relay exchange station for a very long time. Unless of course, you have the final leg of the relay. In which case, if you don’t cross the finish line the entire team goes in the books as having not finished the race.
The pressure of having to finish is actually a good thing. We tend to press ourselves a little harder if we feel we may let somebody else down.
- NON-MARATHONERS AND NON-HALF MARATHONERS FEEL INCLUDED
There are plenty of people who simply cannot run 13.1 or 26.2 miles and never get to experience the feeling of being involved in a major marathon or half-marathon. A relay gives those runners an opportunity to be part of long distance race while staying within the bounds of their current abilities. Some marathon relays have legs shorter than 3 miles and some events also have half-marathon relays where all of the legs are shorter.
- YOU STILL GET THE SWAG
Each time I’ve participated in a relay I’ve still gotten a nice race T-shirt and a finisher’s medal. And since I wasn’t dead tired from running 13.1 or 26.2 miles, I could even lift my arms to put the medal over my head when I finished my leg.
- EACH RUNNER WILL HAVE A DIFFERENT STORY
Maybe the first runner will be talking about having to navigate the crowd for the first 2 miles. Perhaps the 3rd runner didn’t realize how steep that hill on mile 6 was going to be. Possibly, the 5th runner had to hurdle two people who got their feet tangled up while going around a curve. Every member of your team will have their own story to tell and it may seem at times that each of you ran in a completely different race.
That’s the beauty of distance running. Every city, every race, every runner, and every mile have a unique story to tell. In the past, I’ve compared the completing a marathon to writing a novel. Recently, I had the honor of contributing to a collection of short stories that involved 14 different “team members” (authors) from various walks of life.
Now I think of a relay as an anthology. Each contributor will have their own perspective to lend to a collection with one simple theme:
J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, Measure Twice, Chalk’s Outline, and other works. Hensley is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.
An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.
In the Pittsburgh Marathon, more than 18,000 people will participate. 4,500 people will attempt to cover the full 26.2 miles. Over 200 of the participants will quit, realizing it just wasn’t their day. More than 100 will get injured and require medical treatment. One man is going to be murdered. When Dr. Cyprus Keller lines up to start the race, he knows a man is going to die for one simple reason. He’s going to kill him.
And look for my short story FOUR DAYS FOREVER in the LEGACY anthology