It’s 7:45 AM and I’m about to start my third, and final, leg. This leg killed me last year. My foot injury had flared up and pretty much broke me down. It was a miserable leg and the final climb was torture. Ever since I had found out that I was running the same legs as last year, I have had this one in mind. It is a 6.6 mile leg. Take note of that cliff at the end. That’s a 220 foot gain over less than a mile. That sucks. I am extra annoyed that is pretty light out but I still have to wear the stupid head-lamp per Ragnar rules.
I decide that there is nothing left after this leg and so I am going to leave nothing in the tank. I settle into a comfortable face. A mile in, I notice my van is pulled off to the side. I panic. There is no way I am off course again! I’ve run this leg before. There are other runners by me and it is broad daylight. There is no possible way, I screwed this up like I did during my second leg. I’m relieved to find that they guys just wanted to get a few pictures and I haven’t blown it.
After 5.5 miles, I have 11 kills banked, am cruising along and I know the climb is waiting. I know that I am about to go downhill into a valley, over a river, and then start to climb. As I start my downhill, I see the mountain looming as sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti. This time, I can see a lot of people struggling up the hill. And they are all walking. As I cross the river, several fisherman stop, point to the top and call out, “Hurry boy, it’s waiting there for you!”
Everything is right this time, I am able to keep a steady pace. No stopping this time, no matter what. No walking. My legs are burning but I am able to add 10 kills to my body count on the hill. I finally finish the last climb, thank my Sherpa, toss off my oxygen mask and see one final guy struggling ahead of me. Knowing, that I will be done after this, I ignore my screaming legs and sprint it in. I fall about 3 steps short of getting my 22nd kill of the leg but am OK with it. I’ve spent everything I have and am glad to be done. I am excited that Marty is able to get a few pics of me trying to track the last guy down. I am more excited that I also knocked three full minutes off my time from last year. All that’s left now is to meet Van 2 for one more exchange and then my Van can wait at the finish line. My part is done. I think.
At the van exchange point, a bald eagle circles above us and we find out that JD in Van 2 is done. JD’s had IT Band issues. Somehow, he gutted out 2 legs totaling 12 miles but is a “no-go” for his final 3.5 mile leg. IT Band problems are extremely painful and I’m impressed that he logged 12 miles. After some discussion, and rule reviews, it’s determined that I am going to be the replacement runner and will pick up my fourth leg. I am plenty sore but the worst part of it is that everyone else in my van is done. While we drive to my next exchange point, they stop off and get good coffee and food. Not protein bars and PBJ’s, but real food. I have also been without coffee for about 27 hours now and the smell of their dark roasts is killing me.
Truth be told, my fourth leg ends up being pretty uneventful. My legs definitely feel even the smaller climbs and make me regret my final sprint. At the three mile mark, a runner is standing in the road. I stop to check on her and she begins to complain, “My husband told me this was a three mile leg. I don’t see no &*!** exchange point. I’m not running another step and am texting his ass to come get me.” She has a lot more to say, but I do not wait around to hear it. I can only assume this is one of the teams that had a five hour head start on us.
I total eight more kills and think I may have a shot at number nine, but I just don’t have it in me to try to reel him in. When I pass off the slap-bracelet for the last time, I truly know that I have nothing left. My Ragnar is done and so am I. I must admit to being proud of the fact that my fourth, unplanned, leg was run at about 6 seconds/mile faster than my very first leg.
Van 1 checks into our AirBnB and then heads to the finish line to meet Van 2 and our final runner. We finish in a bit over 27 hours. About a 30 minute improvement over our first try Unfortunately, we will really have no idea of how we finished until tomorrow. There are just too many teams stretched out over those 200ish miles to get a result until much later.
I am extremely proud of our team. The experienced runners kept their times, or improved a bit, but I am most proud of the guys who had not been running for years. They spent 2018 training their butts off. They looked physically different than a year ago and shaved off giant chunks of time. The training text-threads from all over the country, and the race itself, have been amazing. Unfortunately, this year the finish line is freezing. We take our pictures, eat some quick food and decide to abandon the Ragnar after-party and go out on our own.
The well-oiled, disciplined machine that trained for a year, coordinated the race and completed it in under 28 hours suddenly is unable to coordinate anything beyond the first brewery stop. Long wandering conversations eventually lead to an agreement to meet somewhere but only half the team ever makes it there. People get confused about who is driving and who is walking. Some guys decide to make a couple stops on the way. I have no idea what happens to a few of the guys, but I don’t see them again at all. That kinda stuff happens and its actually pretty funny. Somehow, seven of the eleven sleep-deprived, exhausted guys end up at a final brewery and piece together the evening and the whereabouts of everyone. After recounting our favorite parts of the race (mine was shaving over 30 seconds/mile off that stupid third leg) everyone makes it back safely.
The next morning, Van 1 starts the trek back home. About forty minutes into the return trip we get a text from the Ragnar organizers. We are getting gold batons this year! We have finished first in the Master’s (over 40 but still sexy) division. I believe we finished around 17th out of about 250ish overall. I’m quietly relieved that my little detour on Leg 2 didn’t cost us anything. That has been in the back of my head for a long time
Sometimes, I struggle to see the good things in life. I can get too focused on the ugliness of the world and the things, or people, that I do not have. The Ragnar weekend always forces me to see how blessed I am. I wrote about how blessed I am last year so I will not re-hash that, but I am extremely grateful that I can be included in a group of guys who can rally together to do a Ragnar relay over two decades after we left campus. It amazes me.
There is one fact that reminds me how much I love the company of my Ragnar teammates and how, even after all these years, I know that I am with the right people. No conflict. No drama. Just people I genuinely enjoy. When you consider the drive to the starting line, the race itself, and the drive home, I spent about 32 hours in a van with the four other Van 1 guys. We never once turned on the radio.