Ragnar 2011 - Race Report

This is long over due and I'm sure I will not be able to do this race justice, but here are some rambling musings.

I had not done a race in over a year when I saw a message from my friend Kim saying she was putting together a team for a 200 mile relay race called Ragnar Relay Del Sol.  It was several months away and I thought it would be a good tool to motivate me to keep up my recently restarted running.  Kim was very clear that this was a run for fun team and that it didn't matter how fast (or slow) we were.

The plan to get my running motivation worked and I had several very good months of gradually increasing miles and faster paces. By the time race week was getting close, I decided to run another short race the weekend before Ragnar.  The Lost Dutchman 8k was a fun race and shorter than any of my legs would be for Ragnar so I wasn't worried about this hurting my ability for Ragnar.  I had a great race and was glad to be racing again.

The way this event works is that each team has 12 runners (or 6 for the ultra teams).  Each runner takes turns running a leg of the course. When the 12th runner is done, the 1st runner goes next until all runners have run their 3 legs.  Each leg is of varying difficulty and distance, runners can be assigned to the position with legs that best matches their ability and strength.  The total distance for my 3 legs was 21 miles, which is the longest leg selection.  This made sense since I have multiple marathons and an Ironman race under my belt, the longer distance legs suited me fine, even with my relatively long layoff since my last race. 

Typically, the runners are split up in 2 vans, with the first six in van #1 and the other six in van #2. The only time both vans are in the same place is at the so called "major" exchanges, the transfer from runner 6 to runner 7 and from runner 12 to runner 1.  Thursday before the race, we got together to decorate van #1 (van #2 members had a later start so they would decorate their van on Friday after we were already running.).

We had fun decorating the van and getting to know some of the other members of our team a bit better. What felt like just a few hours later, we met at the finish line to load up in van #1 before heading up to Wickenburg and the start line of the race.  We got checked in and started to get excited about the start of the race. 

From Ragnar 2011

Kim (our #1 runner) got us off to a great start and even ran the first stretch of her first leg wearing the costume.  All the start-line excitement was there, but only one of us got to start running.  I had to wait for about 2 hours before my first chance to run at about 11:30am. 

All that pent up energy and excitement made it harder than usual to control my pace for the opening miles of my first leg.  Combine that with the fact that my first leg was a net downhill and started on a slight downhill and my first 2 miles were way faster than I had planned.  It took a lot of effort to try and hold close to my goal pace the remaining 5+ miles as the road leveled out. I stayed pretty close to my goal pace overall, but was dragging by the time I got to the next exchange point.

When our 6 runners had each finished our first legs, we drove to the area where the next major exchange was to take place and stopped at an Olive Garden for some dinner. 

After dinner, we headed over to the exchange point where we took a nap while we waited for our other van and their last runner to make it so our first runner could start running again.  I also was lucky and had a friend drop off my Girl Scout cookie order (Thanks Mrs Frankie!).  Our other runner came in around 9:30pm and we started our second shift.

While we were supporting our first runner at night, we saw someone that several of us knew and cheered him on as well even as he passed our runner. (his team was one of the more competitive ones) One of our teammates said it looked like he was going the wrong way, but in the dark, we weren't sure and couldn't see where he went.  When we got to the next transition, we alerted his teammates that he might have gotten lost.  The HAM communication volunteer contacted one of the mobile units who started coordinating a search based around where we had last seen him.  Meanwhile, our runner came in and our second runner took off.  We waited for about 5 min and were starting to wonder if they were going to find our friend when he came in.  He said he ended up going about 2 miles out of his way before he realized he was off course and backtracking.

My next leg started at about 11:30pm.  This was going to be my most challenging (but shortest) leg. I am usually sound asleep by that time, so staying awake was going to be one challenge.  Another would be running in the dark since I rarely do that.  Even more fun was that part of this leg was a non-support leg that had some off-road and trail sections.  As if that was not enough, there was some uphill for the last section of the leg.  The non-support section means that my teammates could not pull over and give me water or encouragement so this leg was more like a solo training run which is less fun than a race.  I made it to transition, had a snack and laid down in the van and dozed on-and-off for the rest of the night after apologizing in advance to my teammates for my lack of cheering for the next couple hours.

The next major exchange where our van started running again was right around sunrise.  That major exchange had a free massage (donations accepted for charity).  I took advantage of the massage and my legs felt a lot better and really was feeling ready for my last run.

My last leg started around 11:30am, almost 24 hours after my first leg.  It was a little uphill (1/4 mil) and the rest of the about 7 miles was downhill.  I found my pace early in to the downhill and was running with a guy from an ultra team.  Ultra teams are usually pretty competitive folks, so I was happy to be keeping up with him. Turns out his team had lost a runner to injury early in the race and were picking up the remaining legs so they were all getting more than they had bargained for.  We held a steady 9:xx mpm pace and a couple miles to the exchange he said he was slowing down since he still had a few more legs to run and wished me luck.  I turned up the speed and felt like I was flying down the hill.  When I handed off the wrist strap to our next runner, I knew that I had not left anything in the tank and I had given it my all for that leg.

After the next major exchange, we split up with one of our runners getting a ride home from his wife and we dropped another one off at his house while the other 4 of us went to our team captains house for some pizza and beer while waiting for van #2 to close out the race.  We washed the van and took turns getting cleaned up and went over to the finish line to wait for our team so we could cross the finish line together. 

We got our finishers medals and stickers and then had our picture taken next to the Ragnar Van before standing around laughing about how much fun that had been.  Now some people are talking about doing this again next year as an ultra team and others are talking about doing another relay event somewhere different.


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