Monday, September 24, 2012

Ragnar Relay Race Report

BREAKING NEWS UPDATE (9/24): We won the open mixed category!!! GO FISH!!! (results)
BREAKING NEWS UPDATE (9/25): Ragnar made a mistake in the original results -- we did not win, but we did get second place! (updated results)

Once upon a time, (i.e. on Saturday afternoon) a group of 12 very stinky, sore, and semi-delirious exhausted runners crossed a finish line after running 197 miles over the course of 24 hours. How did they get there? Well let me tell you...

Our Ragnar Relay team (“Go Fish”) was made of a random assortment of loosely connected individuals (friends of friends of friends of co-workers, etc.). Some of the team members were good runners (i.e. SpeedyKate), some were experienced relay runners (I've done a couple myself), some were other kinds of impressive athletes, and at least one person was doing her first running event ever!

On Friday morning we rented big black Secret Service-esque SUVs and drove to the starting line in Cumberland, Maryland.

The Ragnar Relay course is made up of 36 legs of varying distances and degrees of difficulty, and each team has 12 runners. Two vehicles alternate running/supporting and resting. I was the last runner in Van 1, which meant that the five others in my van ran their legs, then I did mine and passed off the team slap-bracelet (our "baton") to SpeedyKate, who was the first runner in Van 2. Each vehicle operates pretty much independently -- the only times I saw SpeedyKate were as she started her runs.

At the beginning of this venture I didn't know anyone in my van (we were all assigned legs by the team captain, who I also didn't know). But after spending approximately 30 hours together with minimal sleeping, some running, and a lot of very close very smelly togetherness I can tell you that we are now all FRIENDS and luckily they were super-fun. 

Over 300 teams participated in this 2-day o'crazy. We started towards the end of the staggered (by projected time) start -- not until 12 noon on Friday. As the sixth runner, I didn't start my first leg until around 4 pm. I got in the team spirit, got kind of excited (ooh! running! team sports! yay!), and raced it. The 6-mile “very hard” rated route had some uphills, and a lot of very steep downhills (net elevation change of -675 feet).  

On the Western Maryland front, I think we can all agree to forget "Fatti Maschii Parole Femine" (which is Italian for "Strong deeds, gentle words") -- the state's motto should be "freaking hillier than expected" (which is Ragnar runner for "WHAT THE WHAT!?!").

I only saw and passed (i.e. “killed”) one person, but finished in 38:48, about 6:28 pace. 

As Van 2 took over, my van drove to the next major exchange at a high school. Sleeping bags filled with napping runners were randomly dispersed throughout the grass, and after a shower in the high school locker room (ick, but at the same time, so good), and a pasta dinner from the cafeteria (again, ick, but at the same time, so good), we lay down to try to get some rest before it was time to run again. 

After a couple hours of downtime, part 2 commenced! Van 2 had logged an impressive "kill count" by the time they reached us and were clearly ready for some food and showers themselves. Our first glowing-vest-clad runner took off into the night around 10 pm ('s all kind of a blur) and we started the whole operation again. 

The nighttime legs were kind of surreal. It was completely dark (head lamps necessary), and the roads were empty except for the assorted runners plodding along the shoulder.

My second leg started around 1:30 am. It was only 3.5 miles, but was incredibly hilly and difficult. I only saw/killed three runners along the way -- the rest of it I was allllllll alone. I went into a bit of a headlamp-lighted nighttime trance, with late night noises (crickets, other bugs, who knows what else…) echoing in my ears, and absolutely nothing but darkness in front of me. Every time I looked up my headlamp illuminated one very steep hill ahead. But once I peaked my personal mountain at about 2.5 miles, it was all downhill from there. I flew through the night (mostly because my quads no longer had the strength/ability to brake), praying that I wouldn’t lose control and tumble all the way to the bottom. 

After 28:20 of absolute quiet besides the sound of my own heavy breathing, the exchange area was completely overwhelming. Luckily SpeedyKate was there waiting, jumping up and down and cheering me to the end. I passed off the bracelet, shouted a GO KATE GO! and wandered off into the crowds (lost-face out in full force) to find the rest of my van. 

Something very strange happens when it's the middle of the night and you've been running on and off for many hours. Basically, things stop needing to make sense and everything is funny. Did you just cheer for that random runner in a Jamaican accent? Is it 2am? Are we at a dairy? Did I just run the most difficult 3.5 miles up-and-down of my life and then eat two scoops of ice cream? Maybe...

Our van drove ahead to the next major exchange to catch a few much-needed z's while Van 2 took over. We passed out on another random grassy field under the stars. It was the best 2-hour sleep ever -- that is, until we had to get up, and felt the full force of our achievements in the form of a lactic-acid takeover of our legs. Aaarrrggguuuhhhhh.  

At about 7:30 we started all over again on our last legs of the race. Most peoples’ last runs were relatively short -- 4 to 5 miles -- I however, had an 8.5 mile final run. The preceding day's extreme hills had definitely caught up to me and my legs felt tight and dead. Again? Running? REALLY? Ok...

But the weather continued to be perfect and the course through Rock Creek Park and along the Capital Crescent Trail was very nice. Over the 61 minutes the run took me, I killed a whopping 20 Ragnar runners, so I finished exhausted but rather pleased with myself. I was also incredibly pleased to be done. 

(The best thing about this picture is NOT me and SpeedyKate.)

We drove (i.e. David drove because he is awesome) to the finish line at National Harbor, and on the way finished off some of our many many snacks (we were well-equipped with Wheat Thins, bagels, string cheese, peanut butter, nutella, and Swedish Fish -- that's a healthy diet, right?).

At around 1:30 pm Van 2's final runner made his way around the corner to the finish and we all crossed the line together in a delirious screaming mass of celebration. We hung out at National Harbor for a bit, basking in the glow of our awesomeness. (I know, I know, in the grand scheme of things we're not THAT impressive...but at the same time, I think any team that finishes one of these things without any drama/anyone getting hurt, dying, and/or plucked from the course by midnight cornfield bandits,* is pretty freaking awesome!)

Saturday night and Sunday (and today, for that matter), SpeedKate and I both feel like we just ran a marathon (which she can say from experience) and/or got hit by a truck. Stairs are NOT my friend, nor is the quad engagement required to sit down. I have been foam rolling to the point of tears and am hoping that things calm down soon. 

But to Go Fish's credit, a series of text messages and emails have already begun, averring our commitment to do one of these crazy races together again -- maybe Hood to Coast next year? 

Now IF ONLY RAGNAR COULD POST THE RESULTS I would tell you for certain how awesome we really are...

*Some might argue that "plucking" is an unreasonable fear; however, I say that until you are all alone, half-way up an ungodly hill, in the middle of nowhere Maryland, at some time o'clock long after midnight, you are in no position to judge.