Wow, it is hard to believe it has been almost two weeks since Ragnar Relay Great River! I have “written” this blog in my head a handful of times but just haven’t had the time to sit at a computer.
This experience was both similar and completely different than my Chicago Ragnar experience. There aren’t nearly as many exciting moments or horror stories of lost or sick runners to share. I was not nearly as nervous about the actual event this time, but I was a little bit insecure that I knew no one. We had a small amount of online conversation prior to the weekend, but I went into this experience with eleven complete strangers. They turned out to be a phenomenal group of people!
I flew up to Minneapolis on Thursday morning and headed to the Mall of America. The MOA is a guilty pleasure for me and we go up there about once a year. I somehow managed to not buy a thing while there. This probably mostly had to do with the lack of luggage space I had available, but come on – Athleta and Lululemon in the same corridor? Our team captain, Aurora, met me at the mall mid-afternoon and we went to pick up the rental vans. We met another teammate, Lee, at the rental place and this is where my eyes were opened to the fun we had in store for the weekend. This team is called the “Assorted Nuts” and it is very fitting (in the best possible way!). I must say that Lee is clearly the “head nut.” So much fun, although he might have scared me just a tiny bit with his talk of pulling runners off the course if they walked. Coming off my little setback a couple weeks prior I had a small amount of injury fear in the back of my mind even though I went into the weekend feeling good.
After retrieving our huge vans (a nice “treat” after doing Chicago in a minivan), we met up with a few other Nuts and set out for the 2(ish) hour drive to Winona, MN, where the race would start. Aurora lives there and very graciously invited this total stranger to crash at her house the night before. The drive to Winona, and dinner stop along the way, were fun and I started to relax that these people were good people and it was going to be a fun weekend.
Friday morning was a 6 a.m. wake-up call for an 8 a.m. start. The Nuts do Ragnar in a somewhat unique way. The typical Ragnar way is that van 1 and van 2 travel mostly separately. I have been in van 2 for both of my Ragnar experiences and whereas in Chicago we didn’t go to the start and we didn’t see van 1 until the first major exchange, this time both vans cruised the course cheering our runners on. Sometimes we stopped together; sometimes separately, but it made for amazing course support when you were that runner out there! It was also great because while I think you always have the strongest bond with your own van mates, you got to know people in both vans and really feel like a team. This team was insanely fun. Think lots of cowbells and a megaphone for each van.
Lee even had a portable music player so we could blast some music while waiting for our runner. If you hadn’t gathered this already, our team quickly became quite memorable at the exchanges!
Van 2 had to check in at Exchange 6 and go through our safety briefing, get our numbers, t-shirts, etc. I even ran into some friends at this exchange which is much harder to do at Ragnar than you would think due to staggered start times, different paces, etc. Kris, Steph and I first met at Disney Marathon Weekend last January (Steph and I got to bond on the sidelines while we were both injured…). We are all fellow Swirlgear ambassadors even though none of us had on our Swirlgear when we met up (clearly we didn’t plan quite well enough!). It was fun to catch up with them for a little bit before they had to move on with their runner.
My first run wasn’t until almost 5 p.m. I must say that one of the highlights of doing Ragnar for me has been becoming a more adaptable runner. I was anxious to run just because as a runner you always want to get out there, but I was not completely freaked out about running at “weird” times. Our entire team was hitting paces spot on which made it easy to predict when you would run and plan accordingly when you wanted to eat and complete any pre-run preparation such as my foot “stretching” exercises. It was very hot and humid (at one point shortly before my run Ragnar stated the heat index was 107 degrees), so everyone was very good about drinking consistently. We actually all held up to the heat surprisingly well. My first run was a blast. I thought this Ragnar was much more scenic than Chicago, but this could be in part because Chicago is closer to home so the areas were more familiar to me. My first run was mostly country roads. This wasn’t actually from my leg, but gives you an idea what I was running in.
One of the most fun parts of that leg was that this was when we “caught up” to Kris & Steph’s team. They were out there to cheer their runner on and made me feel like I had two teams cheering me on for that leg. Amazing support! (It was also an added bonus that they had some sort of water device they sprayed me with. Thanks, guys!) The only “bad” part of that leg was the last half mile or so. It was dirt road and really dusty with all the vans crawling past to the next exchange. To add insult to injury, this was where I hit my steepest hill of the entire race. My teammates kindly gave me one of the flattest set of legs, but clearly Minnesota’s idea of flat and mine are not the same. That first hill kicked my butt. I vowed at that moment that I was going to come home and start training hills again so I never have to feel like that again. I have to say I could not have been happier to see Seth at the end of that hot, dusty finish! (Ok, maybe I was just as happy the next morning after my final leg…)
Once we finished our first set of runs, we decided to keep following van 1 for awhile. The original plan was to sleep at this point, but it was still kind of early and none of us really felt like we would get actual sleep. We had more fun following our team and catching this amazing sunset.
We did decide at some point to head up to the next major exchange and at least rest for a couple hours before we ran again. I don’t think any of us actually slept, but we hung out at a high school, had real bathrooms and those of us who weren’t running for a long time (runners 10, 11, 12) rested for an hour or so in the van.
Cheering on our runners during the second legs was probably some of the most fun we had. If you have not done a Ragnar it is hard to explain. You are in desperate need of sleep, consuming a steady stream of sugar and pretty much almost delirious. (Yes, I promise you this is fun.) During nighttime hours you have to stay quiet, but several of our stopping points were literally in the middle of nowhere (i.e. no one to bother with noise), so we started playing music by iPhone and having mini dance parties while waiting for our runner. (We may have also been singing despite the fact that we all have self-proclaimed horrible singing voices!)
My second leg was run around 3am. Every time I was due to run we managed to get a little bit lost on the way to the exchange making it a bit rushed and stressful. Each member of our team was designated with a “super power.” Marty’s super power was his navigational skills. Unfortunately, he ran right before me leading to our travel challenges! To make it even more hectic, he is fast which left us very minimal time to get to the exchange. I may (or may not) have gone a little overboard with my light-up accessories for my nighttime run. Ragnar requires a safety vest, a headlamp and a tail light. I had two tail lights, two knuckle lights, a headlamp, a light up visor, a blinking safety vest and an arm band. This is a terrible picture, but you can get the idea — I am the one that looks like a Christmas tree while Marty looks much more normal at this 3 a.m. exchange!
I must say that I did not regret the lights. Throughout the race we were passing people left and right. The exchanges started to get less and less crowded and we realized at some point that we had passed a lot of teams. While this is a “good” thing in terms of running some solid paces as a team (and it meant the porta-potties started to be clean because we were some of the first people seeing them!), it meant that by my 3 a.m. run there was no one out there. I ran through a small downtown area (no clue what town) and then was on very rural, dark roads. I was very thankful for my van support as I only saw one other runner the entire time. I passed her around mile two and was then completely alone. My overnight run for Chicago Ragnar was also pretty isolated and middle-of-the-night, so oddly this really didn’t bother me that much. I had fun out there despite the constant gradual incline beating up my quads.
Once I finished, Seth completed the final run for our van for the night. As a side note, Seth had a marker board that he used to create unique signs for each one of us. You may recall me being afraid of running into a bear, so this was one of my signs.
We headed to the next major exchange to get some sleep prior to our third (and final) legs. This was probably the biggest difference between this experience and my first Ragnar experience. I set up my sleeping bag on the football field and actually slept. What a great concept, right? For several reasons sleep did not really happen at my first Ragnar. Even though it was only a few hours, it was amazing how much better I felt. It was easier to face the day with some sleep, and I feel like my overall recovery in the days following was much better than after Chicago.
My final leg was brutal. It was my longest leg and it was hot. The early morning hours offered wonderful cloud cover which burned off almost as soon as my run started. The incline changes were small, but fairly constant (read: small but rolling hills). While again, I’m sure this would have been nothing for someone used to running hills, it was a challenge for me. I managed to hang on for about 3.5 miles, but eventually had to walk a little bit. In my mind I knew that when we have our most challenging run days at boot camp we get 60 seconds recovery. So it made sense to me that I could do anything with 60 seconds to recover. I struggled to keep up 4 minutes running with 1 minute recovery (walking briskly) for the remaining miles, but did miss my goal pace on this leg. (I was ahead of pace on my other two legs though, so overall not off pace.) I couldn’t help but feel bad that I was “holding up” my team at this point.
Once the final exchange was made, we hurried to the finish line. We saw Seth just before 1 p.m. and all jumped in to run the last .10 (or so) together as a team. We collected our medals (Marty & I got an extra “double medal” for having done both Chicago and Great River) and hung around the finish line party for an hour or so.
It occurred to me several days after this event that I never got an individual picture of me with my medals. Then it hit me that I really don’t care. This event was a TEAM run. We worked as a team. Everyone supported one another, encouraged each other, and somehow was there loudly cheering with cowbells just when you needed them most. I never heard a negative word spoken about a fellow Nut.
Several of these Nuts have run together for years, but every year they have added new members to the team to replace those that have moved on. I am grateful to all my Nuts — Aurora, Lee, Mark, Tom, Missy (not the local co-blogger one!), Erin, Mona, Seth, Mike, Marty and last (but definitely not least!) Sarah — for taking me in on your amazing team! I hope to run with some of these Nuts again!