2018 Michigan Ragnar – Leg 2

Continuing from https://theaccidentalselfie.com/2018/11/04/2018-michigan-ragnar-leg-1/

My sense of direction sucks. It’s embarrassing but it is what it is.  I was nervous about getting lost last year.  Most of the legs have multiple turns on back roads and I was not sure how well marked the course was so I would write the turns on my arm with a Sharpie.  As it turns out, Ragnar marks their course incredibly well. Even on the desolate, lonely legs things are pretty clear.  When you see a blue Ragnar sign with an arrow, you turn to where the arrow points.   Easy.  I’m also running the exact same legs as last year, so I’m fine. No Sharpies in 2018.

My leg is only 3.2 miles long and the last mile is all downhill.  I’ve set a goal of getting the last mile done in under six minutes.  It’s an easy course. Up and down a couple hills, turn right, go down a hill, turn left and done.  It’s a bit after 9:00PM so I have my reflective vest on, the mandatory blinker is flashing on my back and I turn my head lamp on.  I watch quite a few runners make the exchange ahead of me and try to figure out how many of them I can track down.  Marty tags me in and I get out fast.

I only have a quarter mile down when my van zips by to meet me at the exchange point.  Marty must have finished and jumped right into the van.  About 3/4 of a mile in, I reach the top of a hill, see the arrow pointing and take my right turn. I feel so much more fresh than I did at this turn last year.  As I look ahead I see no flashing lights ahead of me to run down. It’s so much easier chasing people down but this is going to be all about self-discipline as it may be a bit before I catch anyone. I take a deep breath and try to pick up speed.

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Night Running

A quarter of a mile down, I see a vehicle approaching. There’s always traffic, but this vehicle is slowing down.  As I get closer I see it’s a van.  Obviously a Ragnar team’s van is stopping right beside me. I am not amused.  There are a lot of teams that play around a lot and have a good time.  I do not mind that, but when I’m racing, I do not want any of that.  If they are gonna blast an air horn at me, throw glitter at me or something equally as stupid, I am going to be seriously pissed off.   A door slides open and I see my teammates. Mark yells, “Turn Around!”  I stop and am baffled.  “Seriously!  You are off course. Turn around!” Quickly I find out that I have somehow made my turn too early. A quick debate reveals that none of us know if I’m allowed to get in the van to be driven back to where I went of course or if I have to run back. Rather than risk a DQ, I turn around and  run back.  I’ve added a half-mile to my run and probably cost my team four minutes.

As I get back on course I see the sign I followed was for “Overflow parking.” Fortunately, my van had made the exact same wrong turn!  If they had not made the wrong turn, I have no idea how far I would have run before realizing I was off course. Probably a mile, then figuring it out, then a mile back. Disaster.  Or, if I had been 60 seconds slower, I would have missed my van making their own correction. The window of time for my team to happen upon me was actually very small. Later, I  would find out that after they realized they had screwed up, they were hustling to make it back when they saw a headlamp approaching.  Someone said, “At least we aren’t the only team making this mistake. We gotta let this idiot know he’s off-course.”  They didn’t know it was me until they had stopped.

I spend the next three miles switching between freaking out about the time I cost and being grateful that my teammates had made the same mistake at almost the same time. Things could have been so much worse.  My pacing is all messed up as I try to make up time while managing my panic.  I know I only have one more leg after this and I try to burn everything I have. No sense in saving anything.  However, I am just too distracted to really bear down.  I do not even try to break six on the last mile.  Too much of a mess.  Truth be told, I can also feel Father Time creating extra weight on me.  It feels like the jerk is skeeching behind me with a parachute. I do manage five kills and I finish with a decent time. I’m actually pretty close to what I did last year. (https://theaccidentalselfie.com/2018/02/17/ragnar-relay-leg-2/)

After Moby finishes his leg, we drive ahead and try to steal some sleep while Van 2 takes over.  Basically, we are parked in a giant infield with tons of other vans trying to snag a bit of sleep between 11:30 PM and 3:00 A.M.  As a recovered insomniac, sleep and I do not always get along.  Curled up in a borrowed sleeping bag, in a bucket seat in a min-van, in a lit-up infield is not exactly in my sleep wheelhouse.

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Trying to get some sleep

To make matters worse, Mark and I both start sniffling and coughing within thirty minutes.  Truth be told, all Ragnarians become raging hypochondriacs in the weeks leading up to the race.  In addition to worrying about wasting your training, the fact is that if you really get sick, the team is highly unlikely to be able to find a replacement runner who is free for that weekend, is in good enough shape to compete, and is dumb enough to want to participate.  The last month before the race was a torrent of texts from everyone freaking out about every sniffle. As a school employee I lamented working in the germ warfare research facilities that are public education while the doctors on the team sent texts such as “My sick patient coughed into my mouth!  I’m screwed!” And now Mark and I are hacking away after our second leg.  While we lament our crappy luck, Mark eventually says, “Hey, you borrowed that sleeping bag from Ryan.  Does he own cats?”  Sure enough, I notice that I am trying to sleep in cat fur. Obviously Mark and I are both allergic.  The sleeping bag gets buried, we are miraculously healed and Mark falls asleep.

The rest of my night of night is pretty much tossing and turning.  I get 10-15 minutes of sleep, but I expected that and can deal with it. I track Van 2’s runners and have quick conversations with whoever wakes up for a bit.  I realize I have not heard much from Moby in the back seat. I turn around to see how he is doing.  Moby is in a yoga pose wearing only underwear and a bandanna. It’s 2:00 A.M.  It’s 40 degrees. I am not surprised at all.  Sometimes you do not ask questions.

Van 2 starts texting that we need to get ready.  Craig starts our last series of legs somewhere between 3:30 and 4:00 A.M.  I only have a 6.6 mile leg with a monster hill ahead of me and I’ll be done.  Some of the exchange points are cold.  The wind whipping at some of the beach exchange points is particularly brutal.  I am not loving that blowing sand is giving my PBJ and rather unsatisfying crunch.

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Starting last series of legs

Still, I am having a blast.  I have not seen some of these guys since Ragnar 2017. Before that, it had been 20 years since I had last seen some of them. It has not been uncomfortable at all.

Dawn is just breaking as I stand in the starting chute for my last Ragnar leg.  It’s cold but at least the sun is rising.  I do not need the stupid headlamp at all, but Ragnar rules say I have to have one on until a certain time and, let’s be honest, I’m a rule follower.  For the last time, Marty tags me in and I start my last leg.  This is the leg I have been waiting for and I feel like I have something to prove on this one.

I’ll write that up later

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2018 Michigan Ragnar Leg 1

When you complete a high-intensity race that you have trained months for, you find yourself wanting to talk about it for months.  Unfortunately, most people are only willing to listen to a few minutes and you can not really blame them.  I have a blog, so I can just put everything up here instead of making my wife suffer through yet another Ragnar story.

Once again, my team of 11 former fraternity brothers committed to run the Michigan Ragnar Relay.  In short, it is a 200ish mile relay race from Muskegon, MI to Traverse City, MI that will take about 27-29 hours for us to finish. Each person will run 3-4 legs totaling 13-24 miles each.  The guys in my Van will run legs 1-6 before Van 2 runs the next six legs and the vans will continue to rotate until the 36 legs are complete. Last year we were under-prepared, a weird combo of experienced runners and guys who just started running, and had not idea what to expect.  Somehow, we ended up finishing 13th out of 240ish teams and 3rd in the Masters Division. This year, people have committed to training and we know what to expect.  CLICK THIS to read about last year and learn more about the race.

As I drive to meet my team, I reflect on how much better trained I am. Last year, I was dealing with an injury and recovering from a nasty virus that practically eliminated my training.  This year I am more prepared. Well, maybe prepared isn’t the word I am looking for because 45 minutes into my drive to meet my teammates I realize that I left my sleeping bag at home. I make panicked phone calls to the guys who live closer to our rally point. Fortunately, I catch Ryan before he leaves and he throws in an extra sleeping bag for me.

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Rally Point before race

After the team meets up, my van goes to the start line and the Van 2 guys go to kill some time before driving to the exchange point after Leg 6.  Last year, we started in the last wave at noon.  It took us almost ten hours of lonely running before we started catching teams. This year, we get a 10:30 start and will be around more teams much earlier.

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Van 1 Runners at Start Line

Van 1 is going to run the exact same legs as last year.  The only difference is that Ryan changed to Van 2 and Moby joined us.  I have known Moby for years and am fine with the swap.  He will be fun. Unfortunately, I am wrong and Moby shatters the peace at Exchange #1.  Blood is spilled.  Sitting in the back of the van, Moby blatantly states the filled donuts are absolutely disgusting and makes gagging noises. I vault over the seats and begin to give Moby the worst beating he has had since college.  Fortunately, Mark and Marty are able to drag me off of him before I turn him into a puddle of jelly-filling.  I have known Moby for over 20 years and had no idea that I was friends with an Anti-Donite.

Exchange
Starting the 5th Leg

Order is finally restored and I get ready to run Leg 5 which is a relatively flat 6.0 miles. Marty tags me in and has set me up for an easy kill.  You record a “kill” when you pass a team.  Marty reeled a team in and I am able to get my first kill in only about 50M.  The first five miles of my run are pretty uneventful.  Last year I was so nervous about my health, what Ragnar was going to be like, and my injury that I barely remember this leg.  At best, this leg is vaguely familiar.   What I do remember learning is that Ragnar is not quite as physically grueling as one would expect.  I will get about 7-8 hours of rest before my next leg and with only 3 legs to run, there is not much point in holding back, so I push it.

With about a mile left I have set a pretty fast pace and am paying for it. I have four kills and there is one more in my sight. She has a pretty good lead and keeps glancing back at me.  She knows I am hunting and does not want to tell her teammates that she got killed. She is not fading as fast as I had hoped and I really have to push. The last half-mile is just enough uphill to hurt. When reaches it, she give me one last glance, smiles and starts to sprint the hill. My lungs are burning but I finally kill her at the top of the hill with about 50M left and sprint it in just to make sure.

As I tag Moby in, I feel my stomach rolling from that last mile and duck into the bushes to donate my lunch back to the land.  Mark quickly snaps the picture below and sends out a group text stating, “It’s like we are back in college!”  I hate my friends.  After I recover, the woman I was chasing walks by and says, “At least I made you work for that kill.”  I reply, “You made me puke for it.”  She yells “Yes!” pumps her fist and high-fives me. Runners are weird.

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Ultimately, I shaved 33 seconds off of what I ran this leg in last year. It is not a ton, but let’s be honest.  Once you turn fortsexty years old, any time you do not get slower is a win.

Van 1 drives to the van exchange point to meet Moby and tag in the Van 2 runners.  Most of the exchange points are in parking lots, parks, or overlooks but the Van Exchanges (every 6th leg) are bigger, have music, vendors and a lot more life.  Last year when we hit the first van exchange point we were one of the last ten teams to arrive. Nobody was there and the volunteers were breaking everything down.  With the earlier start time, there are actually a ton of people there and everyone is having a good time.  Marty is mostly excited that we are actually seeing hand-sanitizer in the Porta-Potties.  When you start in the last wave and spend hours trying to catch 240 teams of twelve runners, you encounter a lot of Portas that are in dire need of attention.  Not the case this year.

Perhaps the biggest difference comes as Moby finishes for Van 1.  Last year, the volunteers were tearing things down and it was empty.  This year, the DJ calls out, “Team 141’s runner is coming in and this guy is flying!” After Moby finishes, the DJ yells at me, “Hey, what wave did you start in?”  When I tell him that we started at 10:30, he gets back on the microphone and announces, “Keep an eye out for these guys! Check their finish tomorrow!  They are fast.”  Yup…last year was fun but things are going so much better this year.  We still have about 170ish miles and probably 22-24 hours of racing left, but it is a good start.

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Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, sky and outdoorCheck back later to read about Van 1’s second set of legs. Teaser.. it involves night running, a potentially major error and 2:00 AM yoga.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 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.

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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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