As I write this, it has been about three days since the completion of the Madison to Chicago Ragnar Relay. Most of the time words flow freely when I sit down to blog, but I am struggling with this one. I have started to write twice and deleted what I composed. I am just not sure how I want to share this. How do I sum up three full days into one post? If I create a multiple part post, will it be a boring play-by-play account? A huge part of this weekend was emotion that is just very challenging to put into words. You know those experiences that you tell someone “You had to be there. You just don’t understand.”? That is what this weekend feels like to me. Unless you were a Van 2 Team Swirlgear girl, this experience can never fully be explained. That said, I will do my best to try to walk you through my part of the experience.
Day 1 (Thursday): I met the eleven girls on my team at the arrivals terminal of O’Hare airport. My team was organized by Swirlgear last fall. I had met a few of these ladies in passing at events, and chatted online with several, but they were all relative strangers. There was a definite “nervous excitement” in the air as we introduce ourselves and piled into minivans for the two (ish) hour trip up to Madison.
We checked into our hotels and got settled. At this point I began to get nervous about getting some sleep that night. I am a sometimes insomniac and know that I can function with one night of little sleep, but two is pushing it, especially when I will be physically exherting myself.
We decorated our vans, took some pictures, and went to dinner where we met another team of Swirlgear girls who organized a separate team. Bedtime arrived and thankfully I slept decently before our 7 a.m. wake-up.
Day 2 (Friday): Van 1 had to be at the starting line at 5 a.m. We did not need to be at Exchange 6 (where our first runner would take off) until 10 a.m., so we had breakfast as a team and then made a side trip to the office supply store to create “tags” for other vans (a Ragnar tradition).
We drove to Lake Mills, Wisconsin, around 9 a.m. and attended our safety briefing, got our bibs and t-shirts, and did some shopping. The excitement was building as we waited for our first runner (#7) to take off. I was runner 10, so I still had awhile before my run.
It was as we were waiting around here that I began to realize that it was getting warm. The sun was beating down and the temperature was rising in a hurry. I was beginning to be scared that we were in for an interesting day. That said, I never could have imagined just how interesting is would be!
Once our first runner was off, we began the leap frog process. For those of you unfamiliar with Ragnar, you drop off your runner at the designated exchange and then meet up again at the next exchange where that runner finishes and you send out another one. You are also your team’s “support.” This means that you are the aid station. For the most part, there are no water stops. You find a place along the route to meet your runner if they will need water or any other kind of fuel during their leg.
As my first run approached, I tried to be relaxed about it. I tried to view it as just another run. Afterall, it wasn’t a race (per se) and we weren’t expected to complete it at any sort of crazy pace. But it was getting hot. I am not a good runner in the heat. Some of my biggest race disappointments have been in the heat, and those were early morning heat – not a middle of the afternoon run.
Eventually it was go time. My leg was entirely on a limestone trail. I was excited about this aspect of it, because this is very similar to my favorite place to run at home and I find this surface much more forgiving to my foot. I settled into my run and got over any “pre-race jitters” pretty quickly. Ragnar is different than other race in that you are out there with others, but they are not necessarily right by you. You will pass some people (Ragnar speak for this is “kills”) and you will be passed, but very rarely is anyone running right by you.
About two miles into my run I started to really feel the heat. I cannot tell you how thankful I was to see my van mates around mile 3. They not only had water for me, they had stopped somewhere to buy ice which I quickly had them dump down my shirt. This helped a lot, and got me through the second half of my run. My teammates tell me that the highlight of that “stop” was the look on my face when they told me that I had a good shot to “kill” three runners ahead of me (Reminder: this means pass them! Haha!) and I, with a determined look, just responded “I KNOW!!” This leg of Ragnar was pretty uneventful for me. It was nice to get the first one out of the way and would have been an easy run if not for the heat. Despite the heat, my pace was pretty much right where I expected and after cooling down I felt like I recovered fairly well from this leg.
Van 2 all finished our first legs and headed to Chili’s to grab some real food while we still had a good amount of time before we had to run again. Chips and salsa have never looked so good in my life! I have to say that figuring out eating during Ragnar is tricky. I had packed various snacks such as peanut butter sandwiches, Mamma Chia squeeze packets, protein bars and nuts. Our van collectively had some pretzels, twizzlers, etc. The hours are filled with trying to figure out what to eat (and when to eat it) before your run and then what you need to recover. Then it is a matter of finding those small windows of time to eat a real meal. I do not like to eat much before I run, so I was trying to track my food intake on myfitnesspal to make sure that I was eating enough. We were also constantly reminding each other to drink, to add electrolytes to our drinks and asking each other when was the last time we had to pee (for those of you non-runners, this is a good indication of your hydration!).
After dinner was when things began to get interesting. We headed to the next major exchange (where van 1 would pass off to us again) and tried to rest for a little while on a gym floor. Darkness was falling and our overnight runs were looming in front of us. More importantly at this point though, one of our van mates was sick. Her “hot run” had taken it out of her and she was getting progressively worse as the evening went on. We sent our first runner off into the dark night, and then our unofficial “van captain” (Tia, who is not only a Ragnar veteran but also a Ragnar Ambassador) addressed the situation. The next hour or so is a blur now, but included texts to the Ragnar emergency number, an ambulance and then Ragnar telling us that their rules state that once a runner has received an iv they are gone from the race. So now our van of 6 was down to 5 with almost 70 miles left to be run by our van alone.
To be continued…