Adirondacks Ragnar Relay

Smiling during my first leg

Smiling during my first leg

3 weeks until the Baystate Marathon

5 weeks until the Randolph Ramble 10k

7 weeks until the Hamsterwheel 6-hour Trail Race

10 weeks until the TARC Fells Winter Ultra 32-miler

17 weeks until the Miami Marathon

The whole team!

The whole team!

This weekend has been the best weekend of my life (excluding my wedding of course!). I ran the Adirondack Ragnar Relay with the Strong Hearts Vegan Power Team. The race itself is a roughly 200-mile overnight relay race starting in Saratoga Springs, NY and ending in Lake Placid. It's a road course that runs through the hills and beautiful scenery of the Adirondack Mountains. The Strong Hearts Vegan Power team had 3 teams, 12 runners each plus two driver, therefore 42 vegans total representing at the race. The teams were divided into a A-team, B-team and C-team, with the A-team consisting of elite athletes who are competitive, super fast runners. I was on the B-team Van 2, of which I knew the captain but no one else. As someone who considers themself to be an introvert, it was a little scary and intimating to meet so many new people, but thankfully it all worked out great!

Team B Van 2

Team B Van 2

The night before the race a group of us from the Boston area stayed in Albany at a runner from C-Team's apartment. I slept for a total of less than an hour. Wide awake all night with excitement and a lot of nerves. Having just run two races recently, one the week before and another a week before that, I was really nervous about not being able to give it my all and have the outcome that was expected of me. We had given our 10K and half-marathon paces so predictions could be made about how long it would take for us to complete each leg (everyone does 3 legs over the course of the 200-miles). All I could think about was possibly letting my teammates down because I overbooked myself with races this month, and didn't give myself time to recover. I had also spent a lot more time on the trails versus the road, and it had been a long time since I've really pushed myself on the roads before. I got a little worried about what would happen to my body after a few miles on the hilly roads of the Adirondacks!

Peter and I representin' sponsors and Joel's sweet van design.

Peter and I representin' sponsors and Joel's sweet van design.

After a sleepless night, we gathered everyone into their perspective vans and set off to the starting line. Since I was in Van 2, we had until Van 1 finished all their legs before starting. It was nice to be able to get some food and relax, but my stomach was in knots while waiting. We met Van 1 at the first big exchange as their last runner was finishing up, who happen to come in way faster than predicted. Thats when the nerves really started to kick in and all I could think of was "oh shit! it's almost time!". I was runner 10, so two teammates from my van ran before I did. During one of the exchanges before it was my turn, I had a potty break in the woods behind an abandoned home. I somehow brushed up against a burdock plant. My back (and some unmentionable areas) was covered in tiny fibers that were painful and super itchy. I tried my hardest to get rid of it with baby wipes, but it didn't help. I sucked it up and went over to meet my van-mate, Lia Belardo, to start running. Seeing her come around the corner, my nerves went away and I was just excited to get started. I past two runners right at the start. I didn't feel like I was going that fast but my Garmin read "7:44" for the first mile. My thoughts at the time were that I was going way too fast as my predicted pace was 8:30-8:50 per mile, and that I was going to burn out quickly, but then I just sort of said, screw it and kept going. There was no other runners in sight and the course is only marked where there is a turn, so it was really hard not to think that I was going the wrong way. When I saw my teammates pulled over to cheer me on, it was the best feeling ever and pure motivation to keep running as fast as I could whether or not I thought it was the smart thing to do. Turning around the corner and seeing my teammate, Joel Capolongo, standing there ready to go felt awesome and I sprinted towards him. I ended up finishing the 4.5 miles in 36:30 with a pace of 8:01 per mile, which was almost a 5k personal record and was by far the fastest 4 miles I had ever run. At that point I knew it was game on, and I was excited to get back out there again!

First exchange with Lia, taking off!

First exchange with Lia, taking off!

First exchange with Joel

First exchange with Joel

Much deserved dinner at Lake George, gotta pose for the sponsors!

Much deserved dinner at Lake George, gotta pose for the sponsors!

Sunset with the team at Lake George

Sunset with the team at Lake George

My second leg wasn't until 3am. When my van had some downtime, I made sure to stuff my face full of all the delicious food we got from the Co-ops as well as the stuff we got from sponsors. I tried to sleep a little outside the van, and then inside the van, but no matter where I was, I was surrounded by other teams that were not aware of the importance of getting some shut eye. When our van was back in action, I took a different approach to preparing for my next leg. Instead of resting, I drank as much gas station hot coffee as possible, and filled my belly with Clif Shot Bloks and Gu's from Jessica Carroll, van-mate and worker for Gu Energy Gels. I was SO ready for my next run. I love running in the dark and was well caffeinated by now. With music blaring in my headphones, and my night gear locked and loaded, I waited patiently for Lia to return. This particular leg was my longest and hilliest, with 800ft of elevation gain in 8.3 miles. Thank god for hill-training and trail running! When Lia finished, I took off. The first downhill I flew past a runner but then he returned the favor by passing me on the next uphill. That didn't sit well with me, so I picked up the pace, this time not only passing him but making sure he was far out of sight behind me. Running through the Adirondacks at night with a huge full moon and star covered sky was amazing. Seeing all these headlamps lining the road behind you and in front of you was just so cool. Knowing that everytime I passed another runner, they would see the back of my shirt which read "Vegan for my health, for the earth, but most of all for the animals" was motivation to catch up to every single light ahead I saw. I tried to be polite as I passed someone and say "hello" or "keep it up", something along those lines, but I'm sure I had a big grin on my face. I finished those 8.3 miles in 1:07:59 at a 8:14 per mile pace, setting a new 1-mile, 5k and 10k personal record, and passing 14 runners total! 

Ready for round 2!

Ready for round 2!

After my second leg, I was able to get some sleep, probably an hour, back in the van. It was tough to sleep after having such a runner's high and I was still really itchy and uncomfortable from the burdock plant. I had my fingers crossed that I wouldn't wake up feeling super sore from running my hardest up and down hills, but I got out of the van the next morning feeling good to go. I did however have to make a trip over to First Aid because of an awful blister that started before race day, which was continuing to grow and take on its own personality at this point. The EMT wrapped it in moleskin and bandages, and pretty much just said good luck with that! When it was time for my last leg, I was so excited about the night before, that I wasn't too worried about pace or total time, as I felt I had already done well. It was also really hot and even though I only had to run about 5 miles, the last two miles were pretty much all uphill. I ate a big breakfast (which was easy to do in Team B van 2!) and re-caffeinated myself with cold brew coffee concentrate I was drinking straight up and some more energy gels. By the time Lia was finishing up, I was full of excitement again. I took off running, again not thinking I was going that fast but then my watch was showing "7:46; 7:36" for the first couple of miles. I decided to just keep it up and run as hard as I could until finishing. When I saw Joel up ahead, my emotions started to overwhelm me, and I actually started to tear up. I'm not sure if I was crying because I was so happy to be done, or if it was just knowing that I set another new 5k personal record therefore completing the whole 17.6 miles way faster than I had known I could do. As someone who has had a rough life and has really struggled with self-identity and self-worth, especially since transitioning to a vegan lifestyle and not really knowing any other vegans, finishing that last leg was a huge moment for me. I am a vegan athlete, an animal advocate through running, and am way more capable than I give myself credit for, and this weekend proved that. I finished the 4.8 miles in 38:29 at a pace of 8:08 per mile.

The results of running 45 miles a week, and then racing through the Adirondacks

The results of running 45 miles a week, and then racing through the Adirondacks

Before my last leg, so happy, proud and excited to be there.

Before my last leg, so happy, proud and excited to be there.

Before joining the Strong Hearts Vegan Power team, I hardly knew any other vegans, especially vegan runners, at least not personally. Now I can say that I have 40+ vegan friends. Even though I really only talked about my experience, EVERYONE in my van and on the team did an amazing job and I am so proud of what we accomplished together. I won MVP for the B-Team, but my biggest win really was finding myself. I feel way more confident and have a little more love for me. I am ready for what is up ahead and am counting down the days until the Cape Cod Ragnar when I can do this all over again!

Congratulations to the A-Team who came in 1st for the mixed division out of 175 teams, and second overall out of 246 teams. Amazing! You guys are such an inspiration, and keep me motivated to work harder to be a faster and stronger runner! I also want to shout out to my captain, Dana Portnoy, for not only being an awesome captain, but a great friend. You've been so encouraging and supportive, and I am so lucky to know you! Lastly, to everyone in my van, each of you has this amazing story of where you come from and why you were there this weekend. I had a blast being stuck in a van with you guys for 30+ hours! You made me feel so welcomed and everyone killed it out there!

Samantha Belanger1 Comment