Ragnar Relay – Final Leg

You should probably click Ragnar Relay – Leg 1 and Ragnar Relay – Leg 2 before reading any further.

My last leg is only 6.6 miles but I am not excited about the cliff I have to run up at the end.  Check out this elevation map and the little treat that is waiting for me at the end. I joke with a tall blond runner that we better get grappling hooks.  She laughs and almost knocks my scrawny butt down when she slaps my back.  This must be what The Hound felt like when fighting Brienne of Tarth.  She leaves early and Team Beast’s 5th runner starts his leg ahead of me… again.

elevation

I finally start my watch on time.  I only need to run 8:30’s but I feel good and settle in at 7:45s.  I kill Team Beast’s runner about 1.5 miles in and say, “It’s so nice out, but I’m ready to be done with this.”  He laughs and says, “Damn it. You caught me on every one of my legs!”  Honestly, the only reason I talked to him was to make sure he noticed that. I can be such a jerk. I kill Brienne at mile 2.5.

I jacked up something in the ball of my foot on Leg 2.  It feels like there is a pebble under my skin and each foot strike is killing me. It’s still bothering me six months later.  At mile 4, I sit down, take my shoe off and try to massage it. Two things get me going. First, I’m scared my van is going to drive by and see me sitting on the road. I don’t need that kind of mocking. Second, I’m scared Team Beast is going to kill me as the foot has really slowed me down.

Running up Hacksaw Ridge is kind of a relief as my foot strikes are different. I wish I had a Sherpa right before Brienne of Tarth comes back from the dead and kills me with about half a mile left. I struggle, finish with an average pace of 8:23/mile and pass of the bracelet to Ryan for the last time. He’s only run 6 miles two or three times and he’s facing a 6.2 with some pretty long hills. Ryan’s been a little nervous about his last, and longest, leg.

This is a weird feeling. I am done. I can change into whatever I want and throw my third running outfit into a Zip-log bag (highly recommended odor-reducing trick). Ryan has to run and then Van 2 still has 3-4 hours left but it’s over for me. I’m done. As we drive to the exchange point, I can see that the Ragnar organizers really know what they are doing.  On our early drives, we saw between 0-2 runners.  Now we are driving by a steady stream of runners of various abilities.  When we get to the a drive-in theater for the Van Exchange point, it is crowded and there are a ton of people to meet and socialize with.  Ryan brings it home and Van 1 is done. All we have left to do is get to the finish line and run it in with Van 2 in a few hours.

cherry bowl

We decide that passing the time at a local brewery is not the smartest thing we have ever done. After one beer, we are all nodding off at 2:00 in the afternoon. We find some real food and meet our team about 100 yards from the finish line.  Pete comes around the corner and we all finish together.   I expected to finish around 100 out of 250 teams.  Somehow, a bunch of under-prepared, inexperienced, Ragnar-newbies who were in over their heads came in three hours ahead of our projected pace.  A finish time of 27 hours and thirty four minutes put us third in the Masters (old dude) division and 13th overall! Of all the races I have run, this is some of the best swag I have been given. The team medals are amazing and I love the baton for placing.

finishMedalsbaton

The next six or seven hours are actually pretty challenging.  The lack of sleep, and age, makes brewery hopping challenging and ten times tamer than it was 20 years ago but it is so much fun. I am able to have some pretty serious conversations with a couple guys I have not spoken to in 20 years.  As the night progresses, guys start dropping out and promises are made to do better about keeping in touch with the unspoken understanding that not much will change unless we see each other at Ragnar 2018.  The night ends at a brewery with people sharing their favorite part of the race. There are laughs. I talk about how cool it was to see everyone from my van at each exchange point.  Brownie talks of stepping over what he believed was a roadkill opossum until it got up and ran. The Smurf chokes me up a little as he talks about his 3AM leg.  He shares how he turned off his his music and head lamp (sorry Ragnar) before spending two miles running along Lake Michigan talking with someone whom he had recently lost. We all vow to race again next year and start trying to think of how to move up a few spots.  A 12th runner would help so Marty, Mark, and Greg don’t have to carry an extra leg.  Getting a Beast of our own wouldn’t hurt.

overtimeteam

One of my all-time favorite weekends ends and everyone goes their separate ways.  Ragnar was way more fun than I had anticipated. Truthfully, I had doubts that we would ever actually do it and kind of wanted it to fall through at various times. However, it far exceeded my expectations for fun.  I had the perfect team.  I also found it to be far less physically demanding than I expected.  With a 12-man-team, there is plenty of rest between legs.  Taking care of nutrition, bathrooms, and sleep can be a tiny bit tricky but I found the actual running to be less challenging than I expected.

Ultimately, I am a very blessed man.  I have been blessed with a family that not only lets me take a weekend for Ragnar, but encourages it. I am blessed to be able to financially run Ragnar. It’s not cheap. Entrance fees, food, travel, post-race lodging, gas and various other expenses make Ragnar a very real financial commitment.  I am blessed with health and a body that can drive all over northern Michigan while running 16-17 miles.  I am blessed that over twenty years ago I spent some time running around a campus with a bunch of guys wearing Greek letters. Everyone went their separate ways, but two decades later we were able to re-connect, plan out, and commit to a pretty intense race and I felt like we had never really missed a beat. For two days, I felt like it had only been a couple months since I had seen everyone and I am extremely grateful for those relationships.  I am a very blessed man.

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Ragnar Relay – Leg 2

If you haven’t read Ragnar Relay – Leg 1, you’re not going to have a clue what I’m talking about.

I forgot to start my watch again.  I am also regretting buying the cheapest headlamp I could find. It’s 11:00 PM, pitch black, and I’m running on some really chewed up roads. It’s only a 3.5 mile leg, but I have to run with my head tilted down so my cheap light will show the uneven terrain.  I am in the middle of nowhere.  In fact, I hear coyotes yapping and see several deer, opossums, and what I can only assume are Sasquatch by the road. My entire run consists of following the stupid white road line, glancing at my watch, and quick glances up to search for flashing red lights.  Ragnar requires that runners wear reflective gear and a flashing light on your back for the night runs.  It’s hard to judge distance, but each flashing light is a runner I want to track down.

For the second time, I “kill” Team Beast’s runner.  The guys on our team have talked about not seeing another runner for their entire legs but I know we have made up some serious time as I get 7 kills on this leg.  There are a lot more people around now.  I finish my leg having averaged 7:04/mile and am gassed. I pass off the bracelet to Ryan and start to search for the rest of my team.  It’s pitch black, everyone is wearing headlamps and quite frankly I’m pretty light-headed and dizzy after that leg.  All I can see, is a bunch of headlamps glaring at me and I accidentally wander into the woods until I can get my bearings.  I suddenly know what ET must have felt like at the beginning of his movie. I get mocked.

night

However, this is what I love about my team.   We have seen runners from so many other teams finish and say, “Where’s my next guy?” Some have had to go knock on van windows to get their next runner.  We never spoke about it, but everyone from our van met our runner a the end of every leg and saw the next guy off.  It didn’t matter if you were running the next leg or not. Everyone was there. Every time.

After Ryan again finishes his leg quicker than expected, we get the real Ragnar experience.  We drive an hour up the road, park in the middle of a racetrack with a hundred other vans and try to sleep from 1:00AM to 5:00AM while Van 2 runs the graveyard shift.  Almost every other team has rented massive vans. We are cheap and piled into our minivans and now I kind of regret it.  Everyone tries to play Tetris with their seats, keeps the van running for heat and tries to sleep in a weird position. It’s not comfortable, but what do you expect from a bunch of under-trained, inexperienced Ragnar newbies who are over their heads?

Van

I never sleep well in situations like this and end up getting 40 minutes. Part of it is that I was slow to recline my seat and got stuck in a miserable position. Part of is that other teams are coming in later than us and are socializing by the vans.  The bigger factor is that I am in a van with four other guys.  All of us have between seven and 14 miles on our legs and have been eating bad combinations of protein shakes, Gatorade, PBJ, trail mixes, jerky, etc.  The result is a symphony of flatulence on par with the campfire scene from Blazing Saddles.  It’s not a bunch of immature guys giggling away. In fact, everyone is asleep while they are dropping bombs.  It’s actually kind of amusing and I just smile as I track Van 2’s progress via texts.  However, the music of these four hours makes me vow to never run a co-ed Ragnar.

Sleep

It’s still dark when Craig takes off to start our Van 1’s last series of legs. Craig, Mark, and Marty picked up an extra leg and the following week we would learn that Craig had run four legs, totaling over 20 miles, on a bad stress fracture in his tibia.

We are all tired, and frankly kind of cold, as we wait in some random field for Craig to finish but everyone in my van is having so much fun that it does not really matter.  There is literally a rooster crowing as Marty starts his final leg.  Whereas we were the only ones at our first few exchange points, this one is crowded. We get to talk to teams that started significantly ahead of us. Some teams have dropped out. A few have picked up injuries or are slower than expected. We are just excited to have other teams around.

morning

Actually we are more excited that there are actually lines for the porta-potties. Sorry. This is the ugly side of Ragnar.  When you start in the last wave and quickly drop to last place, that means that 250 teams of 12 people have all been through those things before you arrive. Paint your own picture. If there are lines, that means there have not been as many people through.  Ragnar tip: Pack your own roll of TP.  You won’t regret it. Sorry.

Exchange ptteam

At 9:30 AM, I am standing at the start line for my last leg. It is warm. The sun is shining and I am completely relaxed.  I usually run angry. I tend to let my mind wander to things that bother me, people who have wronged me, or my frustrations and then run them out. It’s kind of my own weird running therapy.  However, this morning I have had way too much fun.  I have spent the past 21 hours with great friends and with guys I have not spoke to in two decades.  I can find nothing to piss me off and quite frankly do not even try.  I am looking forward to finishing this last 6.6 miles of Leg 29 and being done.

Our experienced runners have come through right at their predicted times or a little faster. Our less experienced guys have killed it and far exceeded expectations. The weather has been perfect. With little rain, we have been able to stretch our legs at the checkpoints instead of huddling inside a van. There have been very few glitches. Somehow, we are far ahead of our predicted finish.  I am expected to run this at around 8:45/mile which should be pretty easy. I feel like I have done my job with my first two legs and decide to just enjoy this one.

Team Beast’s Leg 29 runner takes off a few minutes before me.  Whoever their Beast is, must be really fast because this is the third time their runner has started ahead of me. But, he’s not that far ahead.  He’s mine…..

Final leg to follow

 

Ragnar Relay – Leg 1

How did I end up standing at the starting line next to a man wearing nothing but running shoes and a tuxedo Speedo? I got here because I let ten of my Hope College fraternity brothers talk me into running the Ragnar Relay.  Ragnar is a 200ish mile relay from Muskegon, MI to Traverse City, MI. Basically there are two vans.  The five guys in Van 1 run legs will run the first six legs (ranging from 3-9 mile/each) before letting the six guys in Van 2 run the next six legs.  We will continue  to trade off until we all have run 3-4 legs each over the next 30 hours. Thirty six legs totaling about 200 miles.

start line
We were not smart. The first wave of teams started at 6:00 A.M. We put in an unrealistically fast prediction time and were placed in the last wave.  We are starting at noon with the elite teams. About 240 teams have head starts on us that range from 1-6 hours. We should not be here. A few of us are pretty serious runners.  However, about half of us are casual, at best, runners. A couple just started two months ago. Sips was a last minute replacement. I don’t think we are ready for this. The team next to us has run a half-dozen Ragnars and  is doing group stretching, sipping protein drinks while rolling their legs out with contraptions that look like a cross between a medieval torture device and an elaborate sex toy.  I’m leaning against our van eating a PBJ and trying to swing a last minute fantasy football trade.  We are way out of our league. There are going to be a lot of lonely miles. We are predicted to finish around 6:00 tomorrow night (30 hours total) but  I am actually worried that we may miss the post-race party which only runs from until 7PM.

Craig takes the first four mile leg and the rest of us drive to the first checkpoint.  Tuxedo Speedo blazes through first.  The third runner through starts puking in the bushes. Kinda early for that.  His teammates mock him. Craig is the sixth guy from our wave through and passes off our bracelet to Mark.  We had a last-minute drop, so Mark has to run the next two legs for a total of 13 miles. I talk to the last runner to finish Leg 1.  He is not worried because their “Beast” has leg 3. Over the next day I discover that most teams have a “Beast.” That’s their ace runner who everyone knows will make up their time.  The Beast reels teams in and saves time.  I am feeling pretty low as we pile in the van and head to the next exchange. We don’t have a Beast.

We are the only ones there. Two-hundred-forty-nine teams have passed checkpoint 3. The volunteers are packing up and are stating that they can go home as soon as the last team gets through. That’s us.  Dead last. Two-hundred-forty-nine teams stretched out over 200 miles and we are last.  The organizer asks if we are having fun. I explain that we are but that we were placed in the wrong wave. Instead of racing with other runners and hanging out with other teams at the checkpoints, we are doomed to 180 more miles of empty roads and being the last one at each checkpoint.  He explains that the teams starting two hours ahead of us are averaging 10:30 miles and that we should do the math.  My team is made up of nerds. The 11 frat rats now total 2 MDs, 3 PhDs, a S.Psy.S, and 5-6 Masters degrees.  Of course we are going to do the math.

We should average 8:30/miles. That means we should start catching the 10 AM starters in about 60 miles.  Suddenly, and for the first time, I feel like running is actually a team game. Even if I don’t see anyone on my leg, I can cut some serious time off a team way down the road. I may never see that team, but maybe The Smurf from Van 2 will catch that person tonight at midnight.  Now, I’m excited.

Mark finishes and comments that he forgot to turn his watch on for the first mile. I mock him.  Marty takes off for his 9 miler and I know I am going to be up next. We drive up the road before needing to double back to scour the weeds for Mark’s lost phone. I feel terrible for him as we give up the search and pile back in the van. I am then amazed to see that his phone has been on the hood of the car and managed to stay there for about a mile of driving. What are the chances?

Standing in the chute for my first leg, I realize that Marty may have made our first kill.  “Kills” are Ragnar for “teams passed.” Some teams mark their kills on the windows of their van.  At least that’s what I hear. It’s not like we have seen anyone. Marty hands me the bracelet and I take off for my 6.8 mile leg.  At this distance, I always try to go too fast for the first half mile. I like to burn the adrenaline off and then settle into a fast pace. It’s easier for me than trying to build up.  I also refuse to check my watch for the first half-mile. I know that I am supposed to run 7:30 miles. I’ve been sick. My training has sucked. I have little faith.

Leg 1

About half a mile in, I check my watch. I regret mocking Mark and decide not to tell him that I forgot to start it. I discover that I took that first half mile way too fast and settle in.  I can see two teams ahead of me. I am going to get a couple kills. One is from the team I spoke with earlier. Marty and I have erased the lead his Beast got. I get my two kills. As I run along the lake and weave through neighborhoods, it is clear that I am not going to see another team. It is so tempting to take my foot off the gas, but I keep reminding myself that any time I can save will pay off somewhere. If I push harder here, maybe Greco will catch one more team on his 2:00 AM leg.

I finish my run with 7:20 miles. I am really fired up.  My run should have knocked about 21 minutes off the 10AM starters and even more off the teams that started earlier. I hand off to Ryan and watch him leave. This is Ryan’s first real race. I am very excited for him and also concerned. He only has 4 miles this leg, so he should be fine.

My Van drives to the first exchange point and meets the guys from Van 2. We have some time to catch up.  A few of these guys I have literally not seen in 20 years. Pete flew in from Phoenix. I  have not spoken to Steiner since I walked off campus.  Amazingly, the conversation is still easy. There is mostly talk of the race and a growing sense of excitement. Van 1 came in significantly ahead of our predicted time. Most of the teams have already left, but not all of them. The teams that leave while we wait for Ryan are not that far ahead of us.  There are still 30 legs left and the night runs to deal with, but we are having a blast.

Exchange 2     Exchange 1

Ryan comes in faster than expected and Steiner starts Van 2’s legs. We have a lot of time to kill as Van 2 runs the next 30ish miles. My next leg should be start around 11:30 PM. It’s time to eat, keep stretched, and enjoy a break.

Leg 2 to follow….

 

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So Your Wife’s a Runner – What to Expect

So, the New Year has started and improved fitness is probably on a lot of resolution lists.  Running is a popular form of fitness and I am guessing more than a few of you have wives, girlfriends, or significant others who have resolved to start running, run a 5K, half-marathon, or marathon.  As a long time husband of a runner, let me tell you what to expect.

1. Sorry guys. It ain’t happening.

We have all seen what the men and women on the cover of running magazines look like.  A quick flip through the magazines will also turn up phrases such as: Improved muscle tone, increased self-esteem, weight loss, more at peace, increased energy, etc.  When one plugs those variables and pictures into any basic Dude-Calculator, we can clearly see that Running = More sex. It seems pretty clear and we all rush out to buy shoes, Gu, and anything else that will support her resolution.

However, the man-algorithm does account for one variable. The Long Run. For non-runners, most training programs have you run mid-week with your longest run being on Saturday.  Familiarize yourself with the following phrases, “Not tonight, I have a Long Run tomorrow,” “Not today, I had my Long Run this morning, ” “Not today. This is a recovery day from my Long Run,” and “Not tonight, I had to carb-load for my Long Run.” The Long Run is the Runner’s headache. Be forewarned.

2. Women run in packs

I consider myself a runner but train exclusively by myself. My wife finds it physically impossible to run without her pack. For some reason, it is virtually impossible for her to run outside of a neon-colored herd.

Apparently, in order for the runner-pack’s complex social hierarchy to work properly, the pack must also congregate outside of running.  Run-group coffee, brunches, girls-nights, races and drinks are integral to the pack’s functioning.  My wife attends more Run-group events without running shoes on than with them (See #1).  The pack also directly contributes to….

3. The Time Warp

Once again, Man-Math fails us. When I walk out the door I say, “Jazmine, I’m going to run 8 miles at about 8:00/mile.  I’ll be back in about 65 minutes and then I’ll take Ben to soccer.”

When Jazmine walks out the door, I hear, “We are going to run 4 miles at 10:00/mile.  I’ll be back in 4 hours. Don’t forget Ben’s soccer.”  The math does not add up to most men. However, we fail to factor in the pack-factor.  Runs also include pre-run coffee chats, brunches after,  got-caught-up-chatting-in-the-parking-lots,” or, worst of all, “I decided to stop into Target on the way home.”  When she steps out the door for a run, time becomes fuzzy and can not be measured by the usual instruments. Do not even try. The Time Warp simply can not be quantified.”  They say dogs have no sense of time and whether you leave for an hour or a week, it feels the same to them. The Runner Time Warp is pretty much the same.  It may also explain why The Long Run occurs once/week but can be mentioned seven days per week.

4. Gifts 

This Christmas, Jazmine said the words every husband wants to hear, “I want you to buy me underwear for Christmas.”  Of course I will.  In fact , I have several interesting options bookmarked on my phone as we speak.  Let’s talk about this!

We were on different wave-lengths. While I clearly was forgetting Point #1, my wife was showing me what underwear runners want for Christmas. Apparently, extra-warm, moisture-wicking, wind resistant (huh?), winter running underwear is a thing. And that thing is a mere $40. And it comes in beige. And I bought it.

Your gift list will forever now contain phrases such as: Gore-tex, hydrating, refueling, blister-preventing, safety, carbs, warm, functional, and orthopedics.

5. You Will Never Sleep

Allow me to circle back to the Long Run and the Pack.  As the gazelle needs its herd to bound across the African Savanna at daybreak, so too will your wife need her pack to Long Run at the crack of dawn. The gazelle is highly motivated every morning. Something about the threat of a lion eating them tends to get them moving.  The Long Run Pack’s commitment level varies from member to member and does not equal that of the gazelle.

As a result, between the hours of 5:00 and 6:00 AM on Saturday you will be awoken to the sound of her phone exploding with texts from the Pack. “Little Bronn has a cold. I’m out.” “My IT band is sore, I’m out.” “I’m not 100% sure where I am, I’m out.” “Yeah, there is no lion chasing us. My bed’s warm. I’m out.” I have made Jazmine change her text ringer to crickets chirping, so I can pretend that each text is the sound of a lazy gazelle getting picked off by a lion somewhere.

6. Finally, She Will Have Much More Fun than You.

In my experience, my female friends tend to enjoy running more than we do. My personal opinion is that  this is because women tend to generally be better human-beings than we are. I have been running about five years.  I have made zero friends through running. When I train, I do it solo, start with the thought of “Let’s get this over with” and come in exhausted.  I do not meet people at races as I am there to see how fast I can go, beat as many people as I can, get my swag and then go home.

On the other hand, my wife has an entire new network of running friends. She enjoys her training runs and seeing her friends.  She is smiling and laughing at all races. She spends time socializing and meeting new people after her races. Most of her friends are the same.

So, your wife’s a runner. What can you expect. Ultimately, you can expect that she is going to meet people, have a good time and will generally enjoy the experience. And you will enjoy watching it.

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