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.

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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 – 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.

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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