I’m a Ragnarian!
This past weekend I participated in an epic running event: a relay race! I haven’t done a relay race since my track & field days, and this is arguably the most challenging running-related experience I’ve ever had. The Ragnar Relay is a national running event, which takes place is over two dozen cities across the country, starting in one city, ending 200ish miles somewhere else. The Ragnar Chicago relay started in Madison, Wisconsin, headed east to Milwaukee, south along the Chicago lakefront and finished on Montrose Beach. We ran on country and city roads, trails, sidewalk and pavement, in and out of pouring rain, through the night.
My running group (Best Foot Forward) had two teams sign up for the Ragnar this year, thus we decided to make one a competitive team, and the other slightly less competitive team. I was on the first team, with the goal to win 1st place. Here’s a longish glimpse into what it entails to run on a team of 12 amazing women, eat, run, & ride in a van with 5 others, and sleep for 1.5 hours over a period of 28ish hours.
Leg 1: My team was assigned a start at 7:45. I was in van 1, which meant runners 1-6 got the first shift, while van 2 (runners 7-12) slept in and would start in the afternoon. Runner 1 started around 7:50am. We quickly drove off to exchange 1, and I hurriedly got out of the van, slightly overdressed in the misty rain. I’m a little high maintenance when it comes to running in various weather conditions so I was a bit anxious running in the rain. Trust me, this Ragnar experience has squashed all of those anxieties! I cued up my music and started my Charity Miles app as Runner 1 slapped the bracelet on me and I took off. (My teammates and I donated our miles to Every Mother Counts – EMC – via the Charity Miles app!) I knew the route, having reviewed the app but didn’t realize it would have a few slow inclines. I knew my strong legs were trained for hills and could do the work. My van honked at me along their way to the next exchange, and it put a smile on my face. The first couple miles of the 4.5 mile leg felt choppy as I was settling into a pace, calming my nerves and dodging intersections. Around leg two I switched to a different playlist and just took off. I saw a big incline coming, and passed a few more people. Every person you pass is called a ‘kill’ in the Ragnar vernacular, and in that leg I had 10 kills (I think). The ‘one more mile’ sign put another smile on my face as I kicked into higher gear to meet my teammates! As soon as I finished, a wave of adrenaline hit me, and I FINALLY felt energized as I realized the importance of MY part of this big relay team.
How does the team work? Each team has 12 runners, and is divided into 6 runners per van. After each of our 6 runners would complete her first leg, we would have a mini break while van 2 would complete their first 6 legs. At EMC, we say that a relay race is a beautiful metaphor for the experience of childbirth. There are so many people involved in the birth of a child, from family at home, to the transportation, to the birth attendants, every single person plays a vital role into bringing that baby into the world and keeping the mother safe and healthy. We didn’t see our van 2 too often, but we were in constant communication with them, and that we were working toward the same competitive goal is the most amazing feeling. That is true teamwork and takes serious camaraderie.
Back to the race!
Leg 2: Everyone was on pace. I was getting more and more excited as we moved from one exchange to the next. Unfortunately, our anchor (runner 6) sustained a leg injury and was unable to complete her miles. (She ended up going home with her husband and her second and third legs were picked up by other teammates – that happens!). Another runner instantly jumped in to go after her, grab the slap bracelet and complete the remaining mileage to the next exchange were van 2 would begin their first legs. That was the first time the entire team of 12 got to see each other since the night before! After we handed off, van 1 headed into town for lunch (Lake Mills, WI). It was refreshing to sit, unwind, talk about our morning, and use a proper restroom. It was also the first time the 6 of us were together since the race started. After lunch we headed to the start of our second shift of running for an opportunity to rest. I pulled out my sleeping bag, laid out on the grass and enjoyed the afternoon sun with a little foam rolling.
By 5:45 pm it was time to get dressed and get moving again. Runner 1 was getting ready to go and it was a short leg so I had to be ready to run as soon as she took off. My second leg was another 4.5 miles, and I came in under my expected time again, and faster than my morning run, which was also coincidentally 4.5 miles. I was feeling so good on that run, so solid, and I had 15 kills! (I had 16, but then a guy I passed ended up passing me). My teammates told me I looked very strong coming into that finish, which is always nice to hear! I handed off the bracelet to runner 3 and we jumped in the car, time for me to get refreshed, and we drove to the next exchange. We had our exchanges down to a science! The team would greet the finishing runner at the chute and ask what she needed. I headed to the back row of the Suburban to change and clean up. We tended to rely upon baby and athletic wipes (Shower Pill!) and removed our wet clothing into sealed bags, which kept our car smelling fresh!
Leg 3: After runner 5 finished came through, our second set of legs was complete. (Van 2 would pick up our injured runner 6’s leg, which meant it was our turn to rest). We met up with the rest of our team and our other team at what was a rather large exchange location, where there was an indoor sleeping option (with sleeping bags of course). It was close to 10pm and our van decided to quickly inhale Jimmy Johns and drive to ‘tent city’ to sleep in the van or on the beach. A teammate and I opted to sleep in a tent on the beach of Racine. Easily one of the most exhilarating experiences of Ragnar overall! We “slept” from roughly 11:30p-1am. It was really hard to wake up but once we all got going, the energy started to flow again. We felt sluggish on our semi digested sandwiches, and whatever shuteye we could get. I rejoiced in the simple fact that I could lay down horizontally for a bit. This was probably the second lowest moment for me during the entire race – the first being the first 2 miles of leg 1 – as I was exhausted, extremely anxious to run my third leg, and sleep deprived. How could I possibly run fast feeling this way? The pace calculator gave me 1 hour to run my 6.33 legs (we are still wondering who or what the pace calculator does to determine expected finish times). I told my team I was going to take it a little easy and I’d try to run an 8:45 average. I got dressed, headlamp on, butt light on, and a light mist started. No big deal, I told myself, as it didn’t really impact my vision in any way, and it was somewhat refreshing. Around 3am, runner 1 came into the finish, I got the bracelet and took off into the darkness.
The MRK (Milwaukee-Racine-Kenosha) trail is very much like running on the path in Salt Creek, a trail I run on frequently. I am sure it is just as gorgeous but given that I only had visibility with the headlamp, there wasn’t much to admire at that hour. I dialed into a quick pace right away and tuned into my thoughts (normally I tune out). It was during this run I realized how incredible this entire experience has been thus far, how ridiculous it sounds that I’m traveling by foot from Madison to Chicago, and how a lot of my running fears have been conquered. I am always afraid of falling while running, and here I’m running in the dark and cannot see anything but what is ahead of me. I’m so programmed to running in the morning, and here I clocked an 8:14 average for 4.5 miles at 6:30pm. One after another my fears and hesitations were being smashed, and that encouragement plus my teammates constant motivation kept fueling me through my race. Back to my night run. When MapMyRun told me I was at mile 3, I quickly texted my team to say I was finishing ahead of schedule. After the trail part of the race ended, I ran on a road and some sidewalk. I don’t know exactly where it was, but I made one turn and suddenly I saw the city lights of Chicago ahead of me! I ran along the lake for about a quarter mile gazing at my city, with tears of joy and a big smile on my face. I took my headphones out and absorbed the sounds of the waves and birds chirping (who knew birds are up at 3:30am!?) As soon as I saw the ‘one more mile’ post, I firmed up my pace and focused on a strong finish. I averaged an 8:23 pace and it was easily my most favorite run ever. Period.
What have I learned from this experience? I am reminded that we make up excuses and stories about why we can’t and won’t do certain things outside of our comfort zone. But we NEED to. I do one crazy thing every year to keep challenging my fears and set higher goals. Back in August of last year, I decided this would be it for 2015. Running this race through all sorts of nature also reminded me of how small my daily issues, problems, and fears are, as compared to this big, beautiful world, and how much exploring I need to do! Be a renegade and get out of your head!
Oh in case you were wondering, the preliminary results are in: we won 1st place in our division (all women team). Stay tuned for the final results!
(One of ) The Fast Girls Your Mother Warned You About.