Holy bananas, how long has it been since we had a race recap up in here? Since May, the last race I did, actually. After a pretty packed running schedule last year, I decided to take this year much easier. I really did it because I was nervous that wedding planning would be so time consuming (hint: it’s really not). How fortuitous of me, though, because after the Twin Cities 100% Irish for a Day 10 Mile and the Fargo Half, I had created for myself quite a monster injury by ignoring all of the warning signs of plantar fasciitis (and a sprained ankle). I was able to safely take some time off to heal that foot and instead put in just a gazillion miles on the bike commuting to and from work. Several weeks before Ragnar, I had a bit of an “ohmygod I have to train for this moment” and put in some practice runs leading up to this past weekend.
What is Ragnar?
Really stupid. A relay event with 12 runners, 2 vans, 200 miles to run. Day. Night. Hot. Cold. Rain.
Here, their video sums it nicely:
There are teams and costumes, van paint and “kills” (runners you pass on the course). It is an insane amount of fun. It is zero amounts of sleep.
Basic Info for Great River Relay 2013
Start: Winona, Minnesota
End: Minneapolis, Minnesota
My Team: Lumberjack Heroes (#103)
My Runner Position: Runner 12, “The Caboose”
Team Start: 8AM Friday, August 16
Team Finish: 4:26PM Saturday, August 17
Let’s all take a moment to give Runner 11, Andrea, some mega props on this. If you look to the right hand side of that map, you will see that the exchange between her leg and mine was a “soft exchange.” Instead of a set location with a staffed exchange chute, we were instructed to just park somewhere along this 1.5 mile stretch of road (in the boonies, by a llama farm) and do a hand off. Andrea was a total trooper and ran an extra 0.5 miles (which might sound like not a lot, but dudes, when you are running Ragnar, every tenth of a mile you have to travel makes an impact) to meet me right where the course turns north. Who has 2 thumbs and 2 sore legs and loves Andrea for doing this? THIS kid.
My experience on this leg can be summed up in some pretty basic thoughts:
- Gravel roads: no bueno.
- (Look at the elevation chart under the map) A 2 mile uphill from 2.5 to 4.5 miles: no bueno.
- A two mile downhill: Wheeeeeee! I went down this hill pell-mell and this is where I logged 3 of 4 roadkills for that leg. Others be careful running down that hill, but not this lady.
The gravel definitely rocked me (see what I did there?!) and I was swiftly reminded that what my Minneapolitan, lake-circling leggies think is a hill is like pocket change compared to the hills in southern Minnesota/Wisconsin.
We drove on to the next major exchange (#18) in Ellsworth, Wisconsin where Van 1 would meet us after they finished their 2nd legs and tried to catch a little sleep on their high school football field. Turns out, you can’t sleep on their football field and a perfectly polite volunteer told us we would have to move– 30 minutes into a pretty solid sleep which is a sacred amount in Ragnar. I have not disliked a nice person so much in a very long time.
Admittedly, by the time it was time to start my second run, I was already feeling a little less than awesome. Stiffness had definitely started to set in to my quads and hammies and (excuse this TMI) something serious had happened to a butt muscle. I got started around 5:15ish AM and was psyched for a great sunrise run in Stillwater. Of course, the sun was rising behind me, so I didn’t really feel it, but still. Friends, sunrise is magic and to greet a new day on your feet is a blessing and then some.
That early downhill (see elevation chart under map) was a doozy and it was not possible to go pell-mell down this one. Took a little roadside bunny path to the lift bridge, crossed it happily, and entered downtown Stillwater. Where I promptly ran into traffic and just gave the oncoming driver some bitchface, put my hand out, and said, “You just STOP. I’m running here.” Not my finest moment as a self-proclaimed Captain Safety.
After that, the fun really began. If you know anything about the cute city of Stillwater, you know that the downtown is right along the Saint Croix River and the rest of the city is up a huge hill. If you are going to get out of Stillwater, you must go up that hill. It’s like that kids song… “Can’t go ’round it. Can’t go under it. Can’t go through it. Must go over it.”
Thoughts along the last mile+ of Leg 24:
- Wow. I can really feel that elevation change in my legs. Like, wow.
- I wonder how far this goes? I should have checked the course map before I got out of the van.
- Man, this is not easy.
- I do not feel good.
- (Upon turning a corner) WE’RE STILL GOING UPHILL?!
- Another (non-Ragnar) runner (going DOWNHILL) passes and says, “Nice morning for a run, eh?” Yeah, screw you, asshole.
- The “One Mile To Go” appears. I nearly vomit in excitement.
- I can see the exchange and that there is an ever-so-slight downhill into the exchange. Feels like a slap in the face (and that one butt cheek that has pestered me ALL the way to the top of
- Remind myself that there is no shame in never becoming a mountain climber.
Seriously, 5 days later, I have no nice things to say about Stillwater even though I generally think it is a great little city. I think I have a little PTSD still…
Drove to Park Cottage Grove High School to “sleep” on a gym floor. When I woke up and realized there was free coffee, I made a pretty direct line to that area (now sort of limping/walking like a cowboy without his horse). Volunteer tastes tests the coffee and says, “I don’t know if it is very strong.” Lady could have served me dissolved potting soil and I would have accepted it.
We cheered on Van 1 as they completed their final legs and then around noon our van started the final push to the finish. It was hot and our team had to work hard and some people put up some pretty darn impressive times– super cool!
I had nothing left. Nothing. I was tired, I was hungry, it was hot, and the very first GI symptoms* were starting to hit me on the first mile of this leg. It felt long and hot and lonely. There was a water stop that sort of helped, but my mental/emotional state for these 4+ miles took me somewhere else completely. A very not pleasant place. Also challenging: no “One Mile To Go” sign. Throughout Ragnar, there are not regular mile markers (for obvious reasons- the thing is 200+ miles long!) but there is always a “One Mile To Go” sign when there is… well, one mile to go. I kept waiting to see that sign and it never came. It’s hard to guage your effort/the need for a final push without that. Bummer.
First I heard the finish line, then I finally saw it. Runners along the finish chute were so encouraging and that really made a huge difference. Right at the end I saw the rest of the Lumberjack Heroes and we crossed the finish line together. Excellente.
If I had written this blog post on Sunday,
I would have had to dig out from the milkshake cup, pizza box, and trail mix canister I destroyed I would have said “never again.” I was in quite a bit of pain, could hardly do stairs, and thought my butt would never be the same again. And there are a few things I am willing to mess with, but my butt isn’t one of them. However, a few days out, and with most pain gone save for a bit of residual hip tightness, I can say that I had an awesome time and would totally do it again.
Just like we learned so many lessons after doing it the first time in 2009, I learned a lot this time too. I would train better and more specifically next time, and pay more attention to times of day I might expect to run. I rarely run mid-afternoon in the summer because it is too hot. Then I had to run mid-afternoon at Ragnar and it was… too hot. The 3 Ps right there: Piss Poor Planning.
Team running is hard for me. It challenges me mentally/emotionally quite a bit. A lot of what I love about running is the “me-ness” of it. At Ragnar, you might be running alone but you aren’t really alone– your team is cheering you on and depending on you. This is both awesome and awful and I really enjoy that challenge of making myself remember that each run is still for me.
Looking forward to my first post-Ragnar jog (say that with the soft j sound– yawg) as early as tonight or as late as Saturday morning. It is fun to be challenged in so many ways, do something really different, and come out the other side and say, “I still really love this.”
Happy trails, adventurers.
*Runners are no stranger to GI issues, particularly over long distances or difficult training regimens. Let’s not go into details, yes?