Friday, July 13, 2012

Testing limits, Ragnar style; Part 3

"Some running is good, more is better, and too much is just enough"- Steve Jones

Once we were on the road, I had a little time to keep obsessing thinking about how I thought I would perform in this race.  Still sore from Monday's run, I knew that the combination of running, living in a van and not getting enough sleep could sabotage any hopes I might have had of running the kinds of legs I wanted to run.  I had told my team about my injury and ongoing recovery, which some of them already knew about, and admitted my nerves about the whole weekend.  It wasn't long before I was reassured that nobody was expecting anyone to run 5 minute miles in this.  We were in this for the experience, not to win.  Everyone agreed.  This did give me a little comfort.

Still, I couldn't help but question myself as to why I was going through with this.  This race could go really well, or end badly for me.  I wavered between the two for most of the ride to Madison.  At this point, there was no turning back, literally, so I just talked myself into believing that it would all be fine.  My hip would be fine.  I would finish my three legs.  And if, for some reason, I couldn't, I knew by this time that my team would have my back and we'd band together to get the job done.  It was obvious on the ride to Madison that I was in the company of some great people who would have each other's back in any situation we might be faced with.  We were not only prepared with gear, but, prepared to help each other, support each other, and enjoy this relay to the fullest. 

This didn't stop me from being all mental about how I would do, but, at least I knew they wouldn't be leaving me on a trail in the middle of Wisconsin just because I wasn't pulling my pre-injury 8:30 miles.

At the hotel, we divided up and headed to our rooms.  After some showers, bed bug inspections, chit chat and race wardrobe comparisons, we finally got ourselves to bed.  Our start time Friday morning was 7:30.  Bright and early.

Somewhat rested, we all met in the lobby, grabbed some coffee and food from the breakfast spread, and made our way to the starting line.  The parking lot(s) at the starting line were filled with vehicles of all sizes, in various states of decoration.  Some made it obvious they were there to take the rest of us down, while some indicated that there may have been a late night leading to what ended up drawn on the van.  Part of the fun, though, was seeing what other teams had done to their vehicles to make themselves known as Ragnar runners.

We look fierce, don't we?
Being the first van, we had to bring proof that we'd prepared for overnight running and weren't going to be invisible in the dark.  After a safety briefing, exhibiting our reflective and illuminating gear, we shopped in the Ragnar Store tent, and waited for 7:30 when we would send our first runner off, not having any idea where she would be until we saw her at the first exchange.  I was a little nervous for Jo, to be honest.  If you're not familiar with Ragnar Relay, the legs are mapped out and maps and directions are printed and given to the teams.  You've got a fighting chance as long as you know left from right, and can read the directional signs set out on the course.  And as long as nobody has messed with those signs.  And if you get to the exchange where the next runner takes over, you hope that your teamnmates in the van have the same skills and find the location to meet you.

Obligatory starting line pic
Elwood: It's a hundred and six miles to Chicago, we've got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses.
Jake: Hit it.

Actually, we were 198 miles from Chicago, we had two full tanks of gas, no cigarettes, it was daylight, but yes, we did have sunglasses.

We said good bye to the other half of the team and set off to find Jo.  Well, not really, just to find the spot where we'd pick her up and drop off Carol, our second runner.  Map and directions in hand, we were off.  The first exchange went smoothly, and we realized that this whole exchange thing wasn't as complicated as we thought it would be.  Drop off a runner, drive to the exchange, exchange runners, and repeat.  Not rocket science.

Navigating between exchanges wasn't all that tough.  We all tried to keep track of how many runners we passed and how many passed us.  It was kind of fun identifying the other teams, and we quickly identified one team of women that we knew we wanted to beat, if it was possible.  There was no real reason, just that each of our runners saw them on the course, and it was a passing game between us.  You gotta  have a target, I guess, and we picked them.  So we decided to try to beat the girls in the yellow tank tops.

"It's rude to count people as you pass them. Out loud." - Adidas

I admit that I was very nervous about running my legs.  My first leg was 7.6 miles, mostly on a trail, labeled "very hard".  Josh was able to reassure me that this didn't mean the route was super hilly and filled with obstacles, but it was labeled such due to the distance.  There were only slight elevation changes, so I felt pretty good that I would be able to tackle this.  Still, I was nervous about my hip and how I would do.  At this point, though, I couldn't question myself too much, and finally it was my turn at the exchange, and Beth slapped the bracelet on my wrist and I was off.

I truly hate pictures of myself,
especially from the back
I had not updated my playlist, but had a decent arsenal of music to get me through the miles.  I had a bottle of water and a snippet of the directions for my route, and tried my best.  I felt really good starting out.  My directions were way wrong from the start, but I have the good fortune of being able to read the directional signs, and also saw two runners ahead of me and followed them.  I'm not a follower, per se, but when left in the middle of Wisconsin with only one way home, I had to do what I had to do to make it to the exchange where my ride would (hopefully) be waiting.

Once I got myself on the trail and started to feel the groove, I came upon a nice couple of guys who were running about the same pace as myself.  We got to chatting a bit, I took their picture, and learned that one of the guys had just been run over by a car while on his bike the week before.  His injury was merely a sore and swollen ankle, but, holy heck!  The other guy had some sort of hip thing going on, but looking at these two guys running, they were having so much fun just running, and running together, taking pictures of each other along the way, it really lifted my spirits and made me realize that this event is about having fun, and that's when I shifted my focus to fun, instead of obsessing over my form, my hip, and what I would do if I couldn't continue.  I purged those thoughts.  For the most part.

After those guys smoked me, I ended up coming upon a guy and pacing with him for quite a while.  It helps so much to have someone to run with who is going at the same pace.  I am less apt to want to slow down or even walk.  He was going at a perfect pace for me, and we hung for about a mile or better.  

At the water stop, I took a water and walked with it so I could drink it and not end up wearing it.  It was hot enough to warrant pouring it over my head, but, that wasn't what I wanted, I needed to hydrate my body from the inside.  It was hot, and the Ragnar powers that be were already bombarding us with messages to support our runners and reminders for everyone to respect the heat, hydrate, and hydrate some more.  Unfortunately, the guy I was pacing with drank and got going again before I did, and I never could catch up to him.  Drat.

From the trail, we entered a little downtown area of some town in Wisconsin, and I navigated my way along this main road, across the street, along the sidewalk, and finally made it to the exchange where I handed over the bracelet to Natasha, and tried to catch my breath.

My teammates were wonderful.  They were there ready with encouraging words, making sure I was OK, and helping me out of my shoes and taking whatever I needed them to take off my hands.  We had some time to kill before having to load up in the van and get to the next exchange, which allowed me time to stretch and rest a minute.

I also had time for this:

After taking pictures and getting settled in the van, we headed out to find Natasha, where we would then send Phil out on the longest individual leg of the relay, putting him out in the heat and blazing sun for nearly 11 miles.  At about 11AM.  On the way to collect Natasha, we mapped out where we would meet up with Phil to give him more water and assist him however he needed us to.

I did not envy Phil.  This had to be the most miserable stretch of a run one could have had to do.  There was little shade, there were some decent inclines, and it was looooong.  Each time we met Phil, he was quite specific about when we should meet him next, how much water to pour into his bottle, and what color Gatorade he wanted when he was finished.  It became a nice little joke that we carried with us the rest of the race.  Note: if you ever support Phil, make sure he doesn't get red Gatorade, and you only fill his water bottle 1/4 full.

Phil was runner six, so when he was done, so was our van for at least a few hours as we handed things off to van two.  After briefly greeting the other half of our team and letting Phil regroup after his grueling run, we went in search of food.  Our search landed us at Hi-Way Harry's.  The name of this eatery does not immediately bring to mind waterfalls, mahogany accents, and cloth napkins, does it?

After enjoying a nice meal, we decided to just get to the major exchange where we'd greet van two and send Jo off into the unknown once again.

These major exchanges look more like refugee camps than stops along a running race.  Sleepless, sweaty, tired runners trying their best to find a comfortable place to rest.  Or, making a video.  It was them.  The girls in the yellow tank tops.  And by now, that song was a major ear worm that we couldn't seem to shake.  These girls didn't help matters, and we watched with great disdain as they cranked that song and danced and smiled.  We were hot.  We were tired.  We were sick of the song.  We were not smiling.  We were trying to beat them.  We sneered in their direction and made fun of their cheeleder-y dancing.  Then we moved on.  And we exchanged runners.

And the adventure continued...