Running the Fall 50 Relay

The 14th annual Fall 50 running event took place Oct. 26 and welcomed more than 2,000 runners to the starting line in Gills Rock. Runners ran in relay teams of three to five people, in pairs or as individuals, aiming to complete a 50.5-mile route down the bay side of the peninsula to the finish line in Sturgeon Bay’s Sunset Park. 

Last year, I ran it for the first time, joining a team that was short a runner so I could experience what the buzz was all about. Unfortunately, we got the worst weather in the history of the event. We spent the day running in various degrees of rain, sleet, snow and whipping winds that ushered in frigid temperatures. But, despite the many wet layers and challenges, I still enjoyed the run and learned that the team camaraderie and infectious, fun-loving spirit of the event was no match for less-than-ideal conditions. 

The silver lining was that I knew the chances of 2019 having better weather were very good, and I was also armed with the knowledge of experience so that I could approach the event fully prepared for a day of running, team support and post-run revelry. 

Securing a Team

This year I formed my own team. The group relay sells out within hours when registration opens in early April, so you have to be ready to commit, then recruit teammates – which was not as easy as I’d anticipated. Apparently, running 50.5 miles does seem rather daunting (and perhaps a bit masochistic) to those unfamiliar with race founder Sean Ryan’s fun-first approach. 

A Fall 50 runner passes through Ephraim about 16 miles into the run. Photo by Myles Dannhausen Jr.

How Running the Relay Works

Relay teams must determine how to assign runners to the course’s 10 legs, which range from 3 miles to 7.2 miles, with many of the early legs featuring an abundance of hills. With a maximum of five team members, most teams assign two legs to each runner. You can draw straws, play to each runner’s strengths or weaknesses, or just assign an order. My team strategized to assign the harder legs to our stronger runners and the shorter, easier legs to our weaker runners. 

Team Transport Logistics

After leg assignments were decided, the other very important part of the planning was the transportation and support vehicle. Now, you can go very minimal with this side of the operation, but after experiencing the weather extremes of 2018, I chose to overprepare to ensure comfort during the day-long event. 

That meant having 1) a trusted vehicle that was spacious enough to comfortably fit all of the runners, sweaty gear and all; 2) a variety of snacks and hydrating liquids; and 3) additional items to enhance comfort and a positive mindset. These could include an energizing playlist, noisemakers for cheering, blankets and additional comfortable layers when not running, a first-aid kit and comfortable post-race attire or festive costumes. (There are prizes for the best team costumes!)

The Handoffs

This takes a bit of planning as well. You want to have a rough estimate of when each runner will arrive at his or her handoff location so that you know when your next runner must be ready to start. This requires some time management from the team and driver. We learned the earlier legs require more travel time between handoff points because runners and teams were still congested, making traffic navigation a slower process. 

Runners pound the pavement through the brilliant fall colors on Skyline Road in Peninsula State Park. Photo by Myles Dannhausen Jr.

Crossing the Finish Line

The best way to finish is with all team members running the final yards together, so we readied ourselves to fall in stride to cross the finish line as a team, collect our medals, take team photos and celebrate!

The After-Party!

After all that hard work, you bet we were ready to revel in the glory of our achievement, and the Fall 50’s after-party is the best post-race party I’ve ever experienced. The two giant tents are big enough to shield all the runners from the elements, and the party provides unlimited access to pizza, beer and wine. Pizza – available in many varieties, including gluten-free – came from Sonny’s Pizzeria in Sturgeon Bay. Beer came from some awesome breweries that offered thirsty runners 18 tap options. A DJ blasted tunes as runners accumulated, awards were announced, and a throng of hilariously costumed finishers packed the dance floor until 8 pm.

It was another memorable year – this time with clear skies and milder weather, which allowed for a much more comfortable experience than in 2018. I’m already looking forward to what 2020 will bring!

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