Race Report: Ragnar Relay – Great River

What is Ragnar, you might be wondering?  Two years ago, I didn’t have a clue.  Today, I’m a fan…a BIG fan!  Imagine spending about 30 straight hours in a van with five other people, running about 20 miles in three chunks in the blistering heat, under the light of the moon and stars in the wee hours of the night, and up and down the hills (steep hills!) of the Mississippi Valley…all while depriving yourself of any reasonable amount of sleep.  Sound like fun?  YEAH!!!!

Meet my Ragnar Relay – Great River Family from Van 2.  Somehow I’m the common thread woven through us all, even though I’d never met two of our van members and runners until the day of the event.  From left to right, there’s me,  Kristen (remember her? My pacer for my half marathon PR earlier this spring in the May snow?!), Bethany (just met her that morning!), Kathy (just met her that morning too – but she’s a two time Ironman finisher, so I was in sufficient awe.), Paula (my very intense and oh-so-lovable coworker), and Katie (my sweet, shy, tough as nails niece).

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Katie’s handoff after her Leg 8 as I started my Leg 9

We met Van 1 at Exchange 6 – we were ready to run in the blistering heat (with heat advisory to boot) on hilly gravel roads of western Wisconsin along the Mississippi River.  Paula got us started – killer hill and gravel that was tough on the feet (with the accompanying dust that was tough on the lungs).  Paula then handed off to Katie, then me, then Kristen, and finally Kathy and Bethany finished up our first set of legs by about sunset near Pepin, WI.  Every one of us had a run that challenged us.  Mine (Leg 9 Map) had a killer hill that slowed me down to begin with but then I flew down and definitely ran a negative split!  The whole way down I was praying I wouldn’t wipe out…to give you an idea of the hill (which looks like an inverted “V” on the elevation profile), my pace going up was close to 12:00/mi, whereas my pace coming down was close to 7:00/mi!

After handing off our official Ragnar slap bracelet (which is kind of a pain to run with, if you ask me) to Van 1 at Exchange 12, we got a few hours to rest.  Or to drive to Ellsworth, get extremely envious along the way of the beautiful sunset and cool evening runs the other runners in Van 1 were getting along Lake Pepin, indulge in Subway for dinner before heading to Exchange 18 at Ellsworth High School.  Here we tried to get some rest, but it was loud, we were fired up, and we had to be ready to run again by midnight…so I didn’t sleep at all (although I did lay down in the van and rest for awhile).  Then, in the middle of the stinkin’ night…under a bright moon and an amazing sky of stars, the 6 of us tackled our next leg of the Ragnar Relay.  Both Katie and I had a 9.4 mile long run in the middle of the night (I ran Leg 21 at 3am – never done that before!).  I had been stressing about running this distance in the middle of the night for months. Shaun (BRF and two-time Ragnarian) reassured me and she was right – this run was freakin awesome! River Falls to Hudson through the country with the most amazing stars!  It was nice and cool and I felt great…it’s too bad that I forgot to put my race number on and I stressed about getting caught without it and a violation for our team for the first 5.7 miles.  I kept waiting for my van to stop and check on me (we HAD been pretty good about stopping to cheer for runners at the turns to make sure our runners didn’t miss one and get lost)…but this time my van got lost!  They were following the directions for the wrong relay leg…but they found me eventually!  The runners in our van were amazingly patient, kind, and steady through the middle of the night…no one got crabby thankfully!

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Reflective vests, taillights, headlamps and a lot of open dark roads. That’s what our second set of legs looked like from Ellsworth to Hudson, WI! But the stars…the stars were so amazing that I dimmed my headlamp during my run so I could see them better!

By the time Bethany ran across the Stillwater Lift Bridge at Sunrise to hand off to Van 1 – we were ready for some rest!  I drove us from Exchange 24 (in Stillwater) to Exchange 30 (in Cottage Grove)…and there’s a rule about someone always staying awake with the driver…when I looked beside me and checked the rearview mirror, there were 5 cashed out runners and one semi-awake driver on the road at about 6:30am. We were fortunate to be able to crash at my old house in Cottage Grove (our renter was very gracious to let us use the place while she was out of town!) – showers and quiet spots to sleep make for happy runners (or at least not-so-crabby runners!).

We were at Exchange 30 in Cottage Grove by late morning – and it was a scorcher already!  Six more runs in the blistering heat and we would be DONE!!  This is where the strength, grit, and leaning on van members to help get us through that last, tough, hot run really was amazing.  My last relay leg (Leg 33) was 4.5 miles from Exchange 32 under the Wakota Bridge where Katie handed off to me to Exchange 33 at St. Croix Lutheran HS in St. Paul – never even knew there were trails along the river there before!  Although the first three miles were great, I could tell I was on my 3rd run in less than 24hrs going on 3hr sleep when the sun was beating down and somebody put a stinkin hill at the end of my leg (and it wasn’t of the downhill variety). Most of the run was along the river south of St. Paul.  Man was I happy to see Kristen at Exchange 33 and be DONE.  That last run was TOUGH!

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At that point, we just kept leapfrogging with our runners to cheer them on, offer them water, douse them with water, and cheer some more.  Kathy looked so amazingly strong during her long 6+ miles – what an inspiration!!  We met up with our Van 1 teammates right before the finish line so we could all cross together – and CELEBRATE!!

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Ragnar Relay – Great River was certainly an experience, and one of my teammates in Van 2 really said it best:

“Ragnar Relay tests not only the physical ability, but the mental/emotional capacity to handle stress under difficult situations while smiling!  Think riding in a van with 5 other woman (some you just met) for the next 30+ hours, not sleeping (or at least trying to sleep on a van seat, or floor or on the grass when others were gracious enough to take your turn at driving) eating when you had the chance, showering (well maybe if you happened to end up at a school that had showers or in our case at an actual home to sleep and shower for 3 whole hours!!!) Running during hot afternoon hours, or probably early early morning hours when it is pitch black and all you have is a headlamp to guide you (silver lining, your team driving ahead stopping on the shoulder running over with water, new blinkies or just a word of encouragement!)  Most of the athletic experiences I have had, I depend on me to get me to the finish.  This time I was dependent on the group to get us all to the finish.  Unforgettable experience.  Thank you again, Paula, Kristen, Kate, Bethany, and Kristen.  You are the best!”

(that’s from Kathy…who I didn’t even know a week ago…but am pretty darn fond of after living in a van and running about 20 miles over 30+ hours!!)

Somehow this fits into my marathon training…as a sort of unconventional long run (almost 20 miles in about 24 hours counts for something, right?).  I will get back to my training updates.  I promise you that.  I’m more than halfway through – in Week 10 of my 16 week training plan, actually.  I’m at the point where I’m starting to get worried and scared…worried that I took it too easy to heal up my Achilles and I’m not where I should be in my training…scared that this marathon is going to be staring me in the face before I’m ready for it…and I want to be oh so ready for it.  There are a lot of people who think I’m nuts because I’m training for a marathon.  I took crazy to a whole new level last weekend with Ragnar, but man…that is most definitely MY KIND OF CRAZY!!

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