Saturday, September 29, 2012

Ragnar 2012, 197 miles, MD to DC

A week later and I've regained full use of my legs!  The details aren't as fresh in my mind anymore, but this was the first spare minute I could find to give everyone an update on how my Ragnar experience went. Before I dive in, feel free to go HERE for the full selection of photos. We were lucky enough to have multiple people snapping pics along the way.

I overslept a bit Friday morning, so ended up a bit rushed to finish packing and then go pick up one of my teammates, Garry. Made it to Takoma on time and met up with the rest of my van-mates. We tossed all the gear and people into the van and were on the road to the first major exchange. I hadn't met two of my van-mates until that morning, as we'd suffered some injuries in the final weeks before the race and  were forced to find last minute replacements. Everyone seemed to hit it off right away and we were all excited and nervous that the day had finally come.

None of us had done a Ragnar Relay before, and had no idea what to expect. Arriving at the first major exchange, there were vans as far as the eye could see. We weren't sure how many teams were participating but found out it was close to 300. We checked in with Ragnar staff, sat through an obligatory safety briefing, and then began the wait for our Van 1 friends to arrive. We snapped a quick group photo of Van 2, ready to go.
Van 1 was burning up the miles, blowing our projections out of the water. We got word that they were minutes away and Laura lined up in the chute to start Van 2's journey back to DC. We couldn't have asked for better weather, but the course itself was pretty unforgiving. Laura and Christine in particular battled some serious hills.  Van 2 chugged right along, also ahead of schedule.  We leap-frogged our runners, making frequent stops to cheer them on and provide any fuel they needed. It was really cool to see how many other teams were out there with us, working towards the same goal and having a blast doing it. Everyone we met along the way was incredibly friendly.

With Laura, Christine, and Garry done, it was my turn to go. Leg 1 for me was 5.7 miles, my longest of the 3. Because of the time of day I'd be running, I was required to wear a blinking tail light, headlight, and reflective vest. How hot do I look?
The leg was very flat, for which I was grateful, but it was one of several legs that was unsupported by the van. That means no cheering, no fuel, nothing. The leg took place almost entirely on a paved trail similar to the W&OD. It ran along the highway, which made the air a bit clogged with exhaust. There were very few runners out on the trail and I felt pretty lonely. I could see a long ways down the trail but the end didn't seem to be getting any closer. I wasn't hitting the pace I'd hope for and was becoming discouraged. Typical me.

I closed in on the exchange point with all the energy I could muster and handed off to Mike, my first leg complete. My van-mates were there with high fives and lots of positive reinforcement but that didn't stop me from having a cry about how slow I was. There wasn't anything I could do about it, but hoped I could make up for it in some way on my second leg.

We cycled through all of Van 2's runners and handed off to Van 1, some time around 10 or 11 pm. We had around 3 hours before our next legs began and grabbed a quick bite at a local spaghetti dinner before heading to the next major exchange. By the time we arrived and parked with the throng of vans we were all desperate for a nap. I sprawled out on one of the van seats and tried to rest. It felt like I had just closed my eyes when it was already time for us to run again. At this point it was around 1:30 am.

Laura took the road and we were off again. As best as I can recall, my second leg started around 4 am. The temperature had dropped significantly and a gentle fog had rolled in.  This leg was 3.6 miles and had van support, hooray! The first mile wove through a small housing development before going back onto the main road. There was nothing out there besides cornfields and the sound of my footfalls. The headlamp provided the only source of light, but it wasn't scary. In fact, it was quite peaceful. The landscape was beautiful, the moon was bright, and I was feeling strong. I passed several runners along the way, putting our team further ahead. Rolling into the exchange, leg 1 was no longer weighing on me and I handed off to Mike and hopped back into the van, all smiles.

Fueling during the course of this relay is one of the biggest hurdles. What to eat, how much, and at what time felt like a total crapshoot. I needed to give myself time to digest before the next leg and therefore not eat too much, but at the same time consume enough calories to stay energized. We had a decent selection of food in the van, but by the time we were done I was so sick of peanut butter, bagels, Luna bars, and gels. All running food in general, honestly.

Once Van 2 cycled through its runners again and handed off to Van 1, we drove to a teammate's house for breakfast and another nap.  An hour or so later it was time to wake up and prepare to race our final legs. The sun was out and it was heating up fast. We were all limping around, feeling the effects of not being able to stretch our legs out at all in the van. Run, sit, repeat. I was a little nervous about my final leg, 4.4 miles on the Mt Vernon trail. I've run this section of trail countless times but my body was not in great condition. Garry flew into the exchange in Rosslyn and I was off for the final time.

My quads were screaming from the first step and I knew this leg was going to be rough. The trail is pretty flat but lacked shade. There was also no van support, so I was on my own again.  Running into a headwind as the sun beat down, my pace quickly faltered. There were countless runners and bikers on the trail, but very few were relay participants so I felt pretty isolated. I had a full handheld of water with me but it didn't last long. Surprisingly, Ragnar did not have a water station along the route and I began to get anxious. At this point, walk breaks were very frequent.

As I was passing Gravely Point I caught a break when a course martial on a bike rode past and asked how I was doing. I told her I was out of water and she pulled a fresh bottle out of her pack and filled my handheld. Lifesaver! I had one mile to go and I felt determined to dig deep and finish strong. I was significantly off pace and keeping my team waiting, for which I felt really bad. With about 400 meters to go I was surprised by our van driver on the trail. He'd come out to meet me, bright me water, and run me in to the exchange. I was really grateful for the company and he kept me at a good pace as I closed in on my final handoff.

Being done felt so good. Our van still had 2 legs left before we reached the finish line at National Harbor, but I was done. AMEN. We piled into the van once more and headed for one more exchange and then the finish line. Our Van 1 teammates were waiting for us about 100 yards from the finish line and we were surrounded by cheering spectators and other teams waiting for their last runner to being it home. We threw on our matching team shirts as our final runner approached and ran together as a team to the finish line.  Everyone was so hyped up! Crossing the line as a team was perfect, as was knowing we'd blown our projected finish time out of the water. Thanks to the collective efforts of some seriously fast teammates, we were done almost two hours early.

After several team photos with our awesome medals, it was time to grab a place to sit and take it all in. Each van was provided with a free pizza and every runner got a free beer. The pizza was gone in seconds, nothing had tasted as good for over a day now. After sitting for about 20 minutes, the real effects of the relay began to sink in. A collective decision was quickly made to hightail it back to the van and go home. We had to drive back to Takoma to empty the van and claim our cars from the driver's house. I was not looking forward to the drive back to Arlington.

As expected, traffic downtown was miserable and it took over 45 minutes before I pulled in to my apartment parking lot. Exhaustion was in full effect and I dropped all my gear just inside the front door and made a beeline for the couch. Luckily, dinner was ready and waiting for me, as was a hot shower. Friday seemed so long ago, time was incredibly distorted thanks to lack of sleep. I was out cold by 9:30 pm (thank you Advil PM) and slept for 14 hours. Getting out of bed and moving around on Sunday was very difficult but totally worth it.

I had an incredible time and would absolutely do it again. My van mates and I started as acquiantances and finished as friends. Talk of future runs together were suggested over email in the days following and I don't doubt that something will come together.  To bring this long post to a close, I'll give you our final results. We came in 42 out of almost 300 teams overall, and claimed 2nd in our division, a huge surprise! Our total time was 28:50:43, with an 8:44 pace. I am incredibly proud of how well we performed, even if I was the slowest one on the team.

I've rested the entire week, and now it is time to refocus. There are still at least 2 more races in the next two months and I want to capitalize on my seemingly healthy legs. I have more to say on the subject, but I'll save it for another post. If you hung in this long, thank you! Ragnar 2013, anybody???

Thursday, September 20, 2012


The post I wanted to have here didn't come together in time, so what I'm doing instead is letting you all know that the Ragnar Relay starts tomorrow in Cumberland, Maryland. I'm on team Shoe Believers and we are so pumped to rock this race.  I'll be tweeting along the way, so if you don't follow me already please do @ImTheMarigold.

Wish us all luck, see you on the other side!