Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ragnar memories and impressions

It's hard to figure out how to start a Ragnar race recap.  It is a race which has changed me in ways which I am still discovering, further cemented my love of running and the challenges which come with it, and comes with the hugely added bonus of a multitude of crazy, funny and amazing new friends.  I was so lucky to stumble into an amazing team of runners and their friends who had been planning and talking about this race since New Years and who happened to have a space open up on their team.  Yes, we are the RVA Pitbulls!
We're really an Ultra team, but the van decorator may have had a few drinks
 Before getting to the race, more about my team of misfits.  Hector, Kimberly, Brittany, Eric, Matt and Justin.

So happy to have only 4.5 miles left.
Hector - Mister enthusiastic.  I could say he's got the Latin zest for life, but that fails to capture Hector's enthusiasm and excitement.  He started the trek with wine and celebration, decorating our team van, sending out Facebook status updates about how jazzed he was for the race, texting during his runs to let us know of his latest kill (passing another runner on the course).  Hector takes life and sucks the marrow out of its bones and shares the love with everyone.  And even when things got difficult out on the course, he was still able to manage to get the rest of us cranked up for the next leg.

Kimberly at leg 30
She's still smiling after almost 26 miles.
Kimberly - Kimberly is hard to describe in a pithy phrase.  People who I talked to and mentioned that I was running with Kimberly described her as a "running fanatic" (she runs even when injured) and "sports bra girl" (I think she runs that way for comfort, but she's got abs that I envy, even if they might not look right on me).  But she is also kind, loves animals, is a vegetarian, and super supportive of her teammates.  Still tough to describe in one phrase.

Almost there.  The final leg still to go.
Brittany - Quiet speed demon.  Brittany was another last minute addition to the team.  The rest of the team knew her, but I didn't get to meet Brittany before the day we left.  She is friendly, happy, works as a lobbyist, so she's obviously good with people, and she can run like the wind without seeming to try.  She qualified for the Boston Marathon on her first try (I think it was her first), and she cruised up hills like no one's business.

Eric - Mister consistent.  Eric is a self-deprecating, funny guy who undersells himself.  He's a strong, consistent runner and powered over the early hilly/mountainous sections of the course with a steady pace.  What he lacks in speed, he makes up in sheer grit and doesn't seem to trust us when we tell him how amazing he did.

Matt - Mister competitive.  Matt is fast and relished each and every kill.  He ran people down, even passing them in the final few feet of their section.  He was a huge asset to the team and kept us going and on pace.

and Justin - Driver and booster extraordinaire.  Justin handled the difficult task of getting the team between relay points and keeping us laughing and our spirits high.  Consistently assuring us that we would be taking home the Ragnar Cup, he would keep track of our start times, expected arrival of the current runner, and managed to stay awake the whole 36 hours while driving.


The actual running of Ragnar was fun and exhausting.  Potentially the perfect combination of the two.  Each run, while challenging, was not insurmountable.  Without doing a complete play by play, my race sections were REALLY hard.  Or at least, hard on me with a lot of uphill climbs.. just look at the pictures of the elevation changes.

This was the elevation diagram for the entire course.

I was Runner #2 -

Leg #2 - 6.3 Miles

I started a little after 11 a.m. as Kimberly finished her 4.4 mile trail run around Lake Habeeb in Rocky Gap State Park.  My leg started with a 2 mile climb followed by 4.3 miles of steep descents.  I started out strong with my iPod and external speaker blaring "Who Let the Dogs Out!".  We are the RVA Pitbulls, after all!  Once the song was over, since I rarely run with music any more, I slipped the iPod back into the pouch on my running belt and cruised up the hill.  Two miles.. oh those first two miles.  I'm generally strong on uphill segments and pushed to keep my times manageable.  The team had planned on a 9 min/mile pace for me, and I didn't want to disappoint on my first leg.  The downhill section was fast.  So fast, in fact, that I worried about shin splints.  If you've never had them, you don't want them.  And if you've had them, you know why I was worried.  Trying to keep a manageable stress on the shins and knees while running just over a 7 min/mile downhill meant my quads were burning by the end.  The burning of my quads and my fear of shin splints were big factors in subsequent legs and this was just the first little hill of the course.  I say little, because Eric had the next leg which looked like this:

Notice the description of difficulty.
You've got to be kidding me!

I didn't know it at the time, but that's my next leg in the background.
Leg #8 - 6.8 Miles - What the Hill?

So, what we'd like you to do is run down that hill
and then over that mountain in the back.  Sound good?  Okay, go!

Fortunately after my first leg, I had a few hours of rest while the rest of the team rocked their segments.  But at approximately 4 p.m., I was back on deck.  This section is the second most difficult leg of the course (at least according to the race directors.)   This section started off with a steep plunge down into a little valley along the freeway and then began a steady moderate climb through 3 miles.  Then, the downhill segment continues for 3 1/2 miles.  This was the section where I was sure I was going to let my team down.  Try as I might, I couldn't continually run up the hill.  I knew that this was only my 2nd leg, and when I finished, I would have completed just over a third of my mileage for the whole course.  While I managed a respectable pace over the first 2 miles, the final climb dropped me to a 12 min/mile average.  To catch up to a 9 min/mile pace, I'd have to fly down the mountain, which is difficult to do on already burning quads and feeling the pounding of your feet on the pavement.  At various points I was hitting a sub-7 min/mile and hanging on to a 7:30 pace for a good section.  At the end of the leg, I arrived at the van to the sight of Hector warming up the spaghetti and meatball sauce he had prepared before the race.  Never before has food looked so good.  After passing the slap bracelet baton to Eric, we all piled into the van and headed to the next exchange to eat!

Leg # 14 - 4.5 Miles

Such a beautiful sight.
Only 4.5 miles and relatively flat.
The third leg, which came between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. at night was a relatively moderate and level run with a moderate hill at the end. By this time though, it was getting late, and the run was through the countryside with certain sections carrying a strong odor of skunk.  While running from the smell increased my speed, I was rapidly getting tired.  I pushed through the final leg up into town (the first "city" running of the entire trip for me) cursing the final little rise before the exchange point.  At that point, I was ready to get some shuteye before my next difficult leg.

Leg #20 - 6.9 Miles

At 3 a.m.?
Do I really want to do this?
The fourth leg was from 3 a.m. - 4 a.m. and involved a few miles of flat running followed by a 300 foot climb over a 1/2 mile, 1 1/2 miles of rolling hills, and a downhill plummet for 2 1/2 miles to finish.  At the exchange before we started, we had caught up to the Richmond Nutz 2 team which hard started at 7:30 that morning.  There I met Henry, originally from South Africa, who knew many of the same runners I did, and we chatted for much of the race.  Henry, however, was on his second leg, and I was on my fourth.  The legs were already feeling it.  When we got to the steep incline at mile 2 1/2, I walked.  Henry opted to join me.  But when we got to the top, Henry was met by his teammate Hugo, who ran with him part of the way.  While I was able to catch up on the downhill segment at the end, when the final flat section of the course came up, I could no longer feel my right leg and had to watch Henry slowly pull ahead.  Realizing that I hadn't eaten for a number of hours and had not eaten lunch, I realized that I was probably running out of energy, so I encouraged my team to eat up to ensure they didn't run out of reserves.  At this point, at last, I think I may have managed to get 45 minutes of sleep while Eric ran his next leg.

Around dawn of Saturday.  So pretty, and still miles and miles to go before we sleep.

Leg #26 - 2.8 Miles

While I don't think I will ever complain any more about a 3 mile run, I can't begin to describe how glad I was to see this leg of the race.  Not only did it mean I was almost finished, but it was so blessed short.  The fifth leg was a short morning jaunt of 2.8 miles, primarily downhill.  In fact, despite my exhaustion, I was so glad to have such a short leg that I flew down the hill.  Meanwhile, my team did a quick trip to Burger King to pick up some breakfast.  Of course, I only found that out when I arrived to find no Eric to pass the slap bracelet to.  Out came the phone, quick text to Hector, and a few minutes later, I got to hop back into the van.  But they didn't know what I wanted to eat, so no food for me (yet!).  I got some about 50 minutes later.  A foot long Subway sandwich which I polished off, along with a diet Coke and half a bag of chips.  Oh, but real food never tasted so divine!

Leg #32 - 6.9 Miles

Don't let that elevation map fool you.
That's a brutally steep climb at mile 5.
My final leg was 6.9 miles, the first 5 of which would normally be relatively easy, gentle downhill and flat trails followed by a half mile of an almost vertical climb followed by another 1 1/2 miles of steep rolling hills.  Instead, it started out as a bit of a nice run at a decent pace with a guy training for his first marathon (Philadelphia) who happened to see me moseying along and ran with me for a while.  At this point, I was already over marathon distance and every mile was a struggle.  Eventually, I needed to walk, the guy ran on his way and I worked at trying to pick off some slower runners and add to our team's kill tally.  The climb up from Chain Bridge was a brutal hike which I death-marched through followed by some punishing downhill stretches where I felt like my legs were going to shatter and stress fracture at a sedate 9 min/mile pace.  Eventually I turned the last corner after a final steep climb and collapsed wearily into the van!

Can you tell I'm happy to be done?

My legs were sore, the quads tender to the touch, and getting into and out of the van was difficult at the end. But we were so excited to see Hector finishing the last stretch.  We ran in together, arms held high, and collected our Ragnar medals with a beautiful orange ULTRA RUNNER ribbon attached.

This is what Ultra looks like!

 I have never been so glad to be done running for a while than I was at the end of that last leg.  A total of almost 35 miles.  Our team finished the entire 197 miles (with an additional 3 miles added due to being lost on portions of the course) in 31 hours and 16 minutes.  We took 2nd in our division and might have even taken first had we not added the additional miles.  We also had many more kills than you can see in the picture below.  Eventually, we were just too tired to stand and draw them on the side of the van.

 And to top everything off, my beautiful wife and daughters greeted me at the finish line and were also able to see me start my last leg of the race.

Not every runner can be married to such a hottie!

K2 trying to pretend she is Christopher Columbus.

No comments: