Wednesday, 20 August 2014

RAGNAR, 200 Miles of Underestimation.

It's been a while since I have posted.  It has been a busy summer.  This past July, a team of 6 of us answered the challenge of The Northwest Passage RAGNAR.  The RAGNAR Relay Race Series is a 200 mile, 12 person, 2 day/1 night relay.  (  There are 15 of them around the United States.  The Northwest Passage RAGNAR, started just across the border in Blaine, WA.  This had been on my bucket list for a very long time and wanted to get a team together.

I started asking my running friends who was up for joining the team.  I soon found that wrangling 11 other people would be difficult.  I read on the website that you could run the relay as an Ultra Team, 6 people, instead of 12.  Now THAT was a challenge.  I quickly found 5 people who were as crazy..... I mean who were up for the challenge.

Running as an Ultra team came with it's own set of challenges.  When you run a RAGNAR with 12, you have 2 vans.  Van 1 has runners 1 through 6 in it.  This Van does legs 1-6, 13-18, and 25-30.  While this van runs, Van 2 rests.  And Van 1 rests, when Van 2 is doing the other legs (36 in total).  Each runner runs a total of 3 legs each.  With a team of 6, each of us did 6 legs and had only one van.

I cannot speak for the whole team, but many of us thought "Oh with 6 people, I run , then get a rest while the other 5 are running. No problem!"  Let the underestimation begin.  With the exception of myself, everyone on the team was fast.  So when we dropped one runner off at a relay point, we had just enough time to let the runner coming off their leg cool down and change before we had to race to the next relay point.  I think they were thankful to have me on the team so they could rest up while I took my sweet time.

Like I said before, I cannot speak for the whole team.  So this entry will primarily focus on my legs and experiences.

We joined as an Ultra Team under out team name TNT.  We all (started out) wearing our Team in Training gear and we decorated the vehicle (which we all still called a 'van' even though it isn't) accordingly.

We got the start line, checked in, and were pumped.  Alanna (a fellow Goofy Challenge finisher) started us off!

After Alanna, was Sean, and then me.  My first leg was 8.2 miles.  It was my longest leg of my 6 and it was hot.  I started my run just like any other.  Find a pace that felt good and keep with it.  I will be the first to admit, I did not train as hard as I should have.  But this first run felt good.  I told myself that the next run would better.  I would be all warmed up and loose.  I passed the sign that said "1 Mile to Relay"  That was the longest mile I had ever ran!  There was no way that was just one mile!  I get the to relay point and other teams are cheering.  But my team was not there.  I looked around dazed then called them.  The maps were a bit confusing.  If it was leg number 3, then they relay point was relay point 3.  Even though it was the start of leg 4.  It helps if you think of the start line as relay point 0.  Luckily relay point 4 (which was where they were) was not too far away.  This mistake would happen again.

 My next leg was 6 miles.  A 10K.  No problem!!  The course had strict safety guidelines.  Between 8pm and 6am all runners had to wear a headlamp, a reflective vest, and a blinking red tail light. It was not quite 8pm, but I would be on the course when that time hit.  The leg took me along side Lake Samish and there was a nice cool breeze coming off of it.  I decided that since it was a 10k, I would not do my normal 10-1 interval.  I ended up pushing myself a bit too hard.  I still took walk breaks, but only about 2 or 3.  I wanted to make up for lost time on my 8.2 miler. We had started out keeping track of each person time for each leg, but soon (once the sun went down) we were all too tired to keep writing them down.

I was listening to my "Running Mix" (mostly cheesy 80s rock songs) and began to sing Bon Jovi.  Another runner passed me laughing.  I just smiled and said "Don't tell anyone I was singing to Bon Jovi!"  He ran on and I sang on.  I reached the '1 mile to go marker' and thought I was almost there.  Those signs lied.  There was no way that was 1 mile!!  3 at least!!

After leg 9, I was not feeling well.  I could not explain why.  I just knew I felt.... off.  Others on the team were feeling he same way.  We blamed it on food and lack of rest.  Leg 15 was 6.7 miles.  My night run.  I cannot remember what time I started, but it was close to midnight.  I remember starting out listening to music, then deciding to turn it off.  It was so quiet, but really nice to run to.  The leg started out though Mount Vernon, WA. It was a little town that kind of reminded me of where I grew up in Mount Vernon, IN.  Once outside the town, it reminded me more of where I grew up.  Corn fields, farm houses, a highway off in the distance, and at one point a train stirred up some coyotes, just like at home.  During this leg, my legs decided to stop working.  Every time I tried to run, I just could not do it. I could walk though.  So I told myself "If you cannot run slow, then you are going to walk fast!!"  And that is what I did.

A girl passed me and said "Oh am I glad to see a guy running this leg. This is scarey!!"
I just replied "Safer than in a city.  It reminds me of when I was a kid"
"Well I have my pepper spray just in case"

I laughed so hard inside and wanted to know where she was from that the wilderness at night scared her.  But she was far ahead now and I didn't want to shout in the middle of the night.

A little while later, a van pulled up beside me.  It was a race official.  She asked if I could use some company.  So for the next hour I trucked on while chatting with a very nice lady about all the races we each had done.  We approached a farm house around 1.15am and there was a couple at the end of the driveway clapping and cheering for me.  I asked them what team they were there to cheer for. They told me that they lived there and cheer for every team, every year.  I thanked them and made a mental note to write about them in this blog.  It was 1.15am. they should have been in bed, but instead they were out cheering on strangers.  It was one of the best moments of the entire race. 1 mile to go.  I knew better. Those signs are liars!

After that leg, I crawled into the back seat of the 'van' and slept. I woke up about sunrise during another runners exchange.  I needed to stretch.  My legs were extremely stiff and sleeping in the back seat did not help.  My next leg was only 2.7 miles long.  I was still dreading it.  But, I was tired and told Dave (the runner who was driving at the time) the wrong exchange number (not on purpose).  Sean called us and asked up where we were.  I apologized and Sean said "Well it's just about 5k.  I'll go ahead and run it for you."  Sean's next leg was 3 miles, so I agreed to run that one for him in exchange.

So then I was up for leg 26 (Sean's leg).  It was 3.0 miles long, then I had my leg (27) at 2.4 miles long.  I stared out running but this leg has a pretty good incline and I soon lost steam.  It was though the downtown of Oak Harbor and I had to wait for traffic lights and run on sidewalks.  Not ideal.  When I got to the exchange I thought to myself  "This is halfway."  Then I saw Dave running towards me.  He asked me if I wanted Sean to do my 2.4 mile leg.  They all knew I was not doing well.  I told him only if Sean waned to.  I could do it, but could use the rest.  Sean said he wanted to do it and that in the end, it would not have added too much to his total mileage. So I let Sean do leg 27.

Finally! Leg 33!  My last leg. One last 6.8 mile run and I was done with this horrible, horrible race.  Leg 33 was labeled at "very hard" and was very hilly.  It was all though a wooded area so it was not out in the sun.  I told myself I would walk the uphills and run the downhills.  I did not need to conserve any strength for any future legs, but had very little to begin with on this leg.  So, I walked up the hills and ran down them.

When I run, I do not heal strike.  I run on the balls of my feet, but as I get tired it slowly slips into a mid-foot strike.  When running the down-hills, I noticed that I was heel striking.  It didn't matter.  I had to finish.  If heel striking was all I could do, then that was all I could do.  Suddenly, a man passed me and said,

"I never told anyone about Bon Jovi"  I laughed and continued running.

Toward the end of the leg, it was all down hill.  I am talking at least a 45 degree grade for about 1.2 miles.  I sprinted them.  As I was coming down one of the hills, I saw the spotter.  This person radios ahead to the exchange to let them know what team is approaching the exchange. I kept sprinting down the hill.  I saw Alanna for brief moment.  She saw me, realized I was coming in fast, and went back to warn Tara that I was almost there.  I beat Tara to the exchange, but it didn't matter.  I was done!  About 31 miles over the course of 2 days and one night and I was spent. This was the only time that the '1 mile to go' signs had been accurate.

We had to hurry to the next exchange because it was a bit of a drive and Tara did not have far to run (and she is fast).  Once we got there I noticed it was a harbor (Holmes Harbor).  I took my shoes off and waded about knee deep in the freezing cold water.  It felt amazing!!!

A few legs and exchanges later, we got to the finish line.  We all hobbled our way to the line up to meet Dave so we could all cross together.  After we crossed, we got our medals.  Sean said it best when he said "I've never had to work so hard for a medal."  We got some team photos, some swag, some merchandise, then it was off to pizza and beer!!!!

Finish time: 31:49:11
14th in our Ultra Division
29th overall Ultra Team

During dinner, all we could talk about was "Well if we do it again we should ...."  Or "Oh that is something to keep in mind in case we do this again!"  Here we were. In pain. Barely able to move, and all we could talk about was the possibility of doing it again.  These are my type of runners.  Not only are they all TNT alum (with causes of their own), not only are they a blast to be around (even in a smelly van for 2 days and a night), they are the kind of people who see a challenge and want to do it. Over and over.

My kind of people.

Despite the pain.  Despite the agony.  Despite the underestimation.  It was a great weekend and I look forward to doing it again.

Next up.... Disneyland Dumbo Dare. 10k on Saturday, Half on Sunday.

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