Monday, October 12, 2009

Ragnar Relay Race Report

Team Wile E Coyotes at the finish.
I am standing second to the right

The Ragnar Relay was simultaneously the strangest and one of the best events I've ever done.

It was strange simply because it was something I'd never done, and, until it was happening, I could not picture spending 24+ hours in a van with five other people, three of whom I'd never even met until the morning of!


Yeah, just a little.

It was one of the best events I have done because of the team cameraderie. Hands down I've never been part of a team like that and had no idea it could be so much fun!

Let's back up a couple of months, to a date that was days before the Utah Half Iron. I sat down for lunch with my friend Phil, feeling pretty darn good about my current state of fitness. Sure I had my struggles training for Utah but the important thing was I had made it! I had made it to taper and was ready to race!

So, Phil was a great mentor to me back in my lawyering days and I've always sort of looked up to him, professionally and personally. As we caught up on what's been going on in our lives and our work he asks me if I would be interested in participating in this 24 hour running relay with 11 other people on a team with two vans of six people each.

Um . . . . what now.

I should mention Phil is a runner, and a good one at that. He has been running for I don't know how many years, has done a few marathons, the best of which was at Big Sur where he posted a PR and felt the best he had ever felt running a marathon. I sort of envied that Phil ran back in my stressed out couch potato lawyer days, well before I got into triathlon. But certainly at that time running was not EVER something I would take up myself. NO Freaking. Way. I just envied that he had the drive and passion to train for something and be active and stay healthy.

Phil for his part has seemed intrigued by my triathlon trajectory, remarking that day at lunch that I must be in phenomenal shape. To which I replied YES, yes I am!

So I agreed, totally on a whim to be part of team Wile E. Coyotes.

Then I did the Utah Half Ironman.

Then I felt I needed a BREAK and so revised my fall schedule to ax my other "A" race, the B2B half ironman.

Then, the Ragnar commitment started to feel like a monkey on my back that I didn't think I could get rid of. Or get out of. Or get the motivation back to train for.

Then, a few days before Ragnar a team member dropped out and someone stepped in to replace her. Was it too late for me to drop out??

Throughout this whole then - type dialogue I became annoyed at myself for thinking of dropping out, for not training as much as I should have and for worrying that my pace would be too slow.

You may be wondering: Is this the attitude that one should go into an event like this with?



Underneath all the claptrap talk in my head I knew that I would totally come through for myself, for the team, and that there was no question that I had the fitness to pull it off! So I blew off those annoying voices in my head the best I could and determined that I was, indeed, Ready for Ragnar.

And yes. Yes I was.

This event for me was almost too awesome for words. But I will describe it anyway!

The Series of Boondoggles That Happened Before The Race Start

I should mention that, not only did I agree to be in a van with five guys for 24+ hours (three of whom I had never met, one that I barely knew, and Phil), but I had volunteered the use of our diesel Suburban to be our van -- VAN #2.

I mention that it's diesel because otherwise we would never own a vehicle this large -- totally fits our sporting lifestyle though. I'm just sayin.'

So, VAN #2 had to be at the first van exchange point by 1:40pm. I should mention that it was SO NICE to not have to get up at the butt crack of stupid to participate in this event. VAN #1 took the first leg, showed up at the starting line in the Valley of Fire at 9:30am, and that was that. They were taking care of things!

Warning -- Cursing Ahead

I get in the Suburban around 9:30am or so and the rat bastard won't start. Dead battery.




Glenn is gone, I am livid, what to do.

I called Andy, VAN#2 teammate (the one I had met before but barely knew) who lives in Boulder City to come over and jump it. He does. It starts. Crisis averted. Not much time lost.


Follow Andy to his place to get his stuff as I was giving him a ride to our rendezvous point at Green Valley Ranch, the Original Pancake House to be specific.

We are about halfway to Green Valley Ranch when this happens:

Andy: OH fuck!!!!!!!!

Stef: What???????

Andy: I forgot my fucking running shoes!!!


(I seriously thought he was kidding)

Andy: NO

Stef: WHAT? You seriously forgot your running shoes?

Andy: I seriously forgot my running shoes!

Stef Thinks: NOONE is going to remember the Suburban incident now. YES! Score.

We turn around and go back to Boulder City. By this time I can picture Phil starting to stress out. I feel badly for him but really there's not much I can do.

Andy and I get to Green Valley Ranch a full hour late!!! Thank goodness we built in so much lead time! Phil had ordered for us so we wolfed down breakfast!

As it was we arrived at the van exchange point in the gorgeous Valley of Fire about 20 minutes before we needed to be there. This, in my opinion as the first runner out of VAN#2, was perfect timing. I had enough time to hit the porta pottie, double check all my stuff was in order, and do a quick little warm up before Susan came in to hand off to me!!

Aside: I doubt that Andy will ever live down forgetting his running shoes. While I feel that I may have played a small role in that by calling him hysterically practically ordering him to my house to jump the Suburban, still . . . . an experienced runner forgetting running shoes . . . it really doesn't add up no matter how you look at it.

And, Now, for the Race!

For those who have never done one of these relays (and none of us had), Ragnar Las Vegas was 171 miles of running from the Valley of Fire to the Red Rock Casino. There were 200 teams of 12, with each team having two vans.

Start times were staggered and were based on paces inputted into the Ragnar website by each runner.

So VAN#1 started, each person in that van ran one leg, then they handed off to VAN#2 where each of us ran one leg. Repeat this three times, and you have the 171 miles.

Our team captain, Susan, was the last runner out of VAN#2. I had met Susan (I guess I really had met everyone once at the team meeting but I don't count that really cause all we did there was talk a few details and then leave) once and we had gotten to know each other over email a bit. So I was glad that I was taking the hand off from her.

She ran up, looking strong, popped the metallic wrist band thingie on my wrist, and I was off like a shot!!!

Okay, I was off!

Okay, I started.

First Leg: 5.5 Miles -- Vally of Fire

Lingering worries about my pace died off within the first few steps when I realized that, truly, everyone was running their own pace out there. My pace was what it was and I accepted it.

THERE was a monkey off my back in a hurry. YAY.

So this leg was labeled "moderately hard" which was accurate. There were a few hills. It was pretty warm.

There was barely any shoulder in the road but thankfully most of the traffic out there was race related so I felt reasonably safe.

I adopted a run/walk plan in places where the hills felt a bit overwhelming. Used my watch to time water and to decide when to have a gel.

Overall it felt GREAT to be out there running and participating in a huge event WITH a team. Speaking of my team, VAN#2 stopped at least twice along the leg to cheer me on and ask if I needed anything. I didn't. My water bottle and gel flask were plenty for the distance but I loved that they were out there supporting me.

We quickly developed a strategy about support which involved asking each runner before they left how much support they wanted between handoffs. How many miles? What will you want? This worked very well.

As I neared the hand off I had some moments of uncertainty because I forgot the guy's name who I was handing off to.

Did I mention that I did not know these guys at all (except Phil) before that day??? Crazy? Yes. Very!!! For some reason I now find this hilarious.

Approaching the hand off point . . .

Stef Thinks
: Oh crap! I can't remember who I'm handing off to. Do I even remember what he looks like??? That's debatable. HOW AM I GOING TO KNOW . . . . . HOW!

Fortunately he was standing there waiting for me. When he stepped forward and put his arm out, I knew . . . . . DOMINICK!!!! It was Dominick. And the other guys in the van were Chad, Jake, Andy and Phil. It only took a few hours for me to sort them out.

The Subsequent HOURS Between Stef's Leg 1 and Leg 2

Dominick's leg was 8.5 miles and very hilly. So there was plenty of time to sit around, relax, and eat.

I had brought three different running outfits, a large towel, my bathrobe, pillow and some assorted other comforts from home. After we drove out about three miles to wait for Dominick, I slipped the towel around my waist and deftly changed into my lightweight sweatpants. Changed from my running top (sports bra made modesty unnecessary) to my World's Toughest Athlete Silverman shirt and I was basically set. Brushed my hair. Put the headband on. Yup, didn't want to look too messy and haggard after only my first run!!!!

Then there was a lot of waiting watching other runners go by, snacking and chatting. Everyone was high energy and excited. It was fun. I walked around a bit, did some very light stretching. I was pleased with my first run leg because it was more or less on schedule (okay I lost a couple of minutes).

Jake ran next, then Chad, then Phil, then Andy.

Phil and Andy were by far the two strongest runners in our van. To "see" them tackles those hills in the inky darkness that enveloped the Valley of Fire in the evening hours was very inspiring.

I use "see" in quotes because after the sun went down all you could see was the lights from the runner's headlamps. Phil and Andy both had sizable legs to run, 7.8 and 8.7 miles respectively. It was quite funny watching Jake and Chad on the side of the road with water, saying "Phil??" every time a runner came up.

As it was, Phil nearly blew right by them. He was listening to his music so loudly that he didn't hear them calling his name.

As for Andy, he told us later that all the support vans started to look the same in the dark. He thought Jake and Chad and Dominick were just supporters chatting with him on the course and as a result nearly ran by till he realized who they were!! That was more hilarious in person than it looks here but I had to get it down.

We had a lot of fun out there during those first six legs!

First Break -- Colville Bay, the Hacienda, and Andy's House

The second van exchange took place at Colville Bay. Andy came in, handed off and we went to look for food. Turns out the event had run out of pasta and was only serving burgers. Um, no thanks.

We drove into Boulder City and went to the Hacienda Hotel and Casino. By this time the tiredness had set in. Big time. Plus Phil and Andy were sore having just come off their ass kicking hilly runs.

So after wolfing down breakfast (steak and eggs for me) at the Hacienda we decided to go to Andy's place and crash. We were now firmly in uncharted waters as I had no idea what to expect from my next run, scheduled for 1:30am.

6.3 miles. Straight uphill. On the River Mountains Loop Trail. In the inky blackness.

Thinking about that was pretty daunting so I picked a spot on Andy's living room floor, put my pillow and robe down and crashed.

Then Phil came along and told me to take the couch.

Stef Thinks: Phil must be fucking delirious if he thinks I'm getting up when I've already made the effort to lie down here. I'm beat I need sleep now or I think I might die.

Stef Says: You take the couch, I'm good here.

Phil took the couch.

Five minutes later someones fucking alarm went off. Okay it was more like an hour and change but you get my drift.

I start to worry about my run. I start to think how fucking ridiculous this all is and maybe I can sneak away and go home. Andy doesn't live that far from me I can walk it. My stomach is annoyed at the steak and eggs from earlier. What to do???

Keep my mouth shut.



Second Leg -- 6.3 miles from Boulder Beach to Pacifica -- straight UPhill

We go down to Boulder Beach, meet our VAN#1 team mates and wait for Susan to get in. Ah the site of so many triathlon starts! At least we are at the Water Safety Center instead of all the way down by the water.

Translation: I don't have to worry about running up that long ass hill that we always have to bike up from transition! WOOT!

I'm starting to feel better about this. This run is in my backyard, my territory, on a trail I've biked up many many times. This could be okay.

By the time Susan gets in I'm feeling okay! As I take the wristband and start to run I am enveloped by the darkness with nothing but my head lamp. It gives the illusion that there is a moon out but in reality there is no moon. Last week was the full moon.

This was the best run I've had all season. Simply and without question. It was strong, steady, slow, strong, and steady. Running up that winding trail I felt so good that I actually started to like (even love) running again.

I found a pace that I could maintain without pissing off my stomach. The steak and eggs from two hours earlier were sitting fine but I didn't want any gels. Sipped water in very small quantities very often. I had energy. I had time to be grateful. For everything I have and everything I'm able to do.

The air was perfect. Cool and still with a the occasional gentle breeze. The trail was free from vehicular traffic. It was just me and the other runners. I almost didn't want this run to end. But in the end, I did! By the time I reached the top I was tired and only two happy to hand the wrist band over to Dominick.

It took me quite a long time to get up that hill but that time was some of the most significant of the season for me. Imagine if I had weaseled out of the event. Or not shown up and fully committed to getting this run done. I would have missed it.

We hit a convenience store when Dominick was running and I got a chocolate milk. It was delicious. After that I didn't want, and didn't eat, anything for quite some time. And I paid for it when I bonked awhile later.

Didn't want to leave the van, huddled in my robe, slept sitting up, my stomach threatened to get nauseous and I wanted nothing to do with the snacks we had in the van. They all sucked.

Meanwhile there was a horrible accident on the course where a runner was hit and killed. We heard rumblings about it while waiting for Phil. Phil and those running near him were diverted about a mile and a half off course because of it.

I wasn't sure what to believe of the rumblings since they were unsubstantiated, but we received an email from Ragnar earlier today confirming that a runner was killed by a vehicle and the driver had been arrested under suspicion of drunk driving, leaving the scene and resisting an officer. I bawled like a baby reading that this morning.

Second Break -- back at Green Valley Ranch

Our second set of legs ended up with Andy running a little over two miles uphill. I don't think he was expecting it to be uphill.

So at 6am we were again at the Original Pancake House and I'm praying to get my appetite back or things would get really ugly for me. Fortunately plain oatmeal with a bit of cream and some raisins did the trick. Yes!

We went to Jake's house to crash. Two more hours on the floor and I'm feeling pretty good, and very hungry! Only 4.2 miles stand between me and my end of season break. I can DO this!

Since my appetite is back I snack on some things from the van. The exhaustion sets in again and I wonder if I can do this last run. Sure I can. Really? I'm SO hungry and tired right now.

We arrive at the third exchange point at 10am. VAN#1 has had some difficulties. Someone had problems with nausea and Susan is struggling a bit with her last run. No problem at all. I've been there so many times myself (fortunately not so much with nausea but I'm no stranger to struggling toward the end of a race). I sit down to wait.

There is a team of girls screaming, cheering and generally being super obnoxious. I stare at them with hate in my eyes. Hidden behind my sunglasses of course.

Phil approaches me and asks, in a completely smart ass way, if I'm mad that our team mates are not cheering for me like that. I look over at the guys, sitting there waiting, looking as tired as I feel, and start chuckling.

Um NO. I prefer the sullen silence of just wanting to be DONE thank you very much. Then I stole a sip of his coffee. Took the cup right out of his hand.

The obnoxious girls brought their runner in and both of their vans left the premises. I started to feel better. LOL!!!!

Third Leg -- 4.2 miles on fairly flat terrain -- pretty warm out

Susan got in and finished strong! I started on a blissful sloping downhill. Got a good rhythm going quickly and nursed a GU for the first few minutes. Didn't take the whole thing at once as I normally do cause I just wasn't sure how my stomach would react. It ended up fine. I really do have an iron stomach most of the time. GRATEFUL for that!

My run quickly devolved into run/walk. It seemed to take forFUCKINGever.

There were these posts in the road and I would run for two of those, walk for one. No watch this time. I did NOT want to know how long this run would take me. With less than a mile to go this woman passed me and for some reason this really pissed me off! Nothing I could do though. At least not then. One day so many people will not be passing me. One day I will pass some people.

But not this day.

With the hand off point in sight I see Phil come running out to meet me.

Stef Thinks: Do I look that bad? Like I'm struggling that much? How long have I been out here?

Stef Thinks Again: Shut up! There is nothing wrong with your team mate wanting to encourage you. Get the fuck over yourself!

Phil said later that he was concerned I might have run out of water. He says he hates it when that happens to him.

I was so happy to be done but had zero energy to celebrate it right then. So I sat in the van and smiled a lot. Drank. Ate snacks. Felt good for Dominick that soon he would be done too. Then Jake. Then Chad. Then Phil. Then Andy. What a TEAM!!!!

It was so much fun seeing everyone finish his last leg. Phil gave it all he had. It was obvious he was so DONE!!! This inspires me to work on pushing harder. Cause if I really do want to get faster that's what will need to be done.

The Finish -- 29:50

Phil and I missed running into the finish line with Andy and the rest of the team because of a stupid boondoggle with the Suburban door. My first instinct was to just go insane and kick the door in as hard as I could. Instead I called Glenn and he talked us through it.

It was long, it was hard, but most of all it was FUN!

We all agreed we would to it again.

And I totally would!

OH and here are my workouts for the next three weeks:

END OF SEASON BREAK. Complete rest for deep recovery & recharge until November 1st. No structured activities.

You can bet your ASS I'm following these instructions to the letter!!!!!!!!!



Misty said...

Holy cow. I would need a valium just to through the pre-race shenanigans.

Molly said...

Great job! What an awesome report! I love your commentary from along the way (and the glee about the forgotten shoes LOL). So glad you took a risk and had such fun!

Unknown said...

What an experience.

Too bad it's a bit clouded by the death of a runner on the course. :-(

I've had nightmares about forgetting my shoes. LOL.

Stefanie said...

Congrats on an awesome run/race. It wounds like a great time.

Wes said...

Stef, you are too funny. LOL... You go from no f-bombs to nine in one post :-) ROFL... You had me cracking up....

That sounds like so much fun and gives a whole new meaning to the term "endurance".

I share your feelings about our runner that was killed. *sigh* I will hug my family today.

Nicely done, Stef! Enjoy your downtime. The future is full of possibilities :-)

KodaFit said...

Awesome report Stef! It's really hard to convey the camaraderie you have during a race like this in a simple report.

I'm going to have to blog about Red Rock sometime... We started our race off with me getting our van stuck in the mud, and it took 3 trucks to pull us out... I was known as Crazy Mud Bogger for the remainder of the race... Good Times!!

Enjoy the down time!

Looking forward to Silverman in a couple of weeks!

ShirleyPerly said...

I've only read one Ragnar race report before and I must say that this one puts that one to shame!!

Really does sound like a fun event. I've never done a team event of any kind yet and must consider doing one in the future. Congrats on completing all your legs of the relay and thanks for the very well written account of the event. I only wish that one runner hadn't gotten killed by that stupid DUI driver :-(

Kevin said...

Sounds like a great experience. We get a new relay in GA next year and I am hoping to be a part of it

Alisa said...

They have this relay in OR too. I would really like to do a relay like this sometime. Looks like it was lots of fun despite some of the "issues" along the way.

Enjoy your well deserved rest until Nov. 1! Then, I'm excited to hear what's on your plate next.