I’m still having a hard time wrapping my brain around exactly what happened from 9:30 am Friday morning to 4:40 pm Saturday afternoon. As a former relay virgin, I think I can now make a blanket statement that relays are a whole new type of running animal. The no sleep, the random fueling, the mismatched mileage…it’s all very different than your standard running race.
An ultra relay though? I’m willing to bet that this takes all those things to a whole new level.
Ragnar was ridiculous in so many ways. Ridiculously fun, tiring, entertaining, hard, and inspiring. All of those emotions kind of morphed together throughout the hours of running and driving, but now that hindsight is kicking in…I can say that more than anything, this was one of the most fun things I’ve done in a while. I was out of my comfort zone in so many different respects (meeting new people, first time relaying, longest mileage in a single race by far), but it felt so good. I’ve wanted to rattle my chains this year and shake the homebody, antisocial part of me up a bit. Ragnar fit the bill perfectly, and I’m so glad I got to be included.
Instead of breaking up my Ragnar run recaps into three separate posts per standard blogger procedure, I’m going to do a 3-in-1. Mainly because I’m lazy, but also because there is a lot that happens during 35 miles of running, so I think it would suit my readership if I stick with more big picture details. Cool? Cool. Buckle up kids, this is a long one.
Run #1- 6:43 PM, 10.93 miles
As Runner #6, I was feeling pretty antsy to get out on this run. I’d been waiting all day, watching all my teammates complete their distances and runners-highing all over the place…and then there was me, chilling. I was partially thankful for this as the temps were HOT that day and I knew that an evening start would be much cooler, but still…I was restless.
Needless to say, as soon as I received that first hand off, I was off like a light and flew down the hill that kicked off my run.
This run was fine, almost completely flat, and like I said— I was so happy to be out there I would have been pleased with just about any scenery. The second portion was essentially a giant square among corn fields, which got a little boring, but I was still happy to be running. I got to see my team twice too—once when they handed off a headlamp and taillight to me and once when I got temporarily stuck at a crossing train.
I kept reminding myself the whole time that it was a run, not a race. Running too fast would only bite me in the butt the next day, and I did my best to stick to my self-proclaimed 8:30 pace.
This was also my first taste of tallying up “kills” (relay talk for other runners you pass) and—much to no one’s surprise—this was so fun! I couldn’t help but keep the number in my head, and it made the corn fields a lot more bearable.
Running into my exchange with Bethany was exciting, and it felt great to have a check mark next to my first run.
And the only thing better than being done with 1 out of 3 runs was having a footlong sub waiting for me in the car when I was done. After a day of pita chips and Picky Bars, this was heaven.
Run #2- 5:20 am, 15.46 miles
Oh man, this one took some big time pumping up. After a night of driving, 45 minutes of “sleeping” (closing my eyes), and some severe stomach issues—more on that in another post, get pumped—this run was a little nerve wracking.
BUT, the good thing about relays vs. races is that your pace is one of the least important parts. For someone who ordinarily focuses a great deal of their energy on pace, this was a treat—and I decided to just take it easy and enjoy the run. I would get the privilege of running all through Whidbey Island, and I knew going into it that it would be one of the most scenic parts of the Ragnar course. And it was COLD! Seriously, like actually chilly, which most of you can guess I was thrilled about.
Basically, as soon as I started, I was so happy. Mostly happy to be out of the car, but also happy to be doing something so insane and so hard as well. I admittedly love things that are difficult, that test your limits, and running up and down steep hills on the highways of an island at 5:30 am on zero sleep is certainly something that qualifies.
I got to see my wonderful team off and on throughout the run, both on drive-bys and once to get my water bottle filled. A lot of this run was unsupported, though, as Ragnar designates certain portions of roads as “no stop zones” for teams. So, for the most part, it was me and my thoughts and my tunes.
My absolute favorite part of this run was running over Deception Pass. Holy adrenaline!!! I’d never been to this pass before, but essentially it’s a narrow bridge that traverses over Puget Sound from Fidalgo Island to Whidbey Island, and it’s the only way to get to Whidbey by car. And although I knew I’d be running over it, I had no idea A) how beautiful it would be, and B) how HORRIFYING it would be. The sidewalk between the road and the edge of the bridge is really narrow, and it was essentially only a few loosely hanging ropes between me and the ledge. As someone who is terrified of falling off of high places, this was a bridge I would have a hard time walking over or simply standing on. You can imagine my shock/surprise/mild panic attack, then, when I bolted out onto the bridge to discover this.
But it was awesome! The fear combined with the cold wind blowing up from the water and the runner’s high I was already feeling was the perfect recipe for euphoria, and I haven’t felt a jolt of adrenaline like that in a long time.
Okay, Run #2 is getting long. Essentially, other than the beauty of Whidbey and the scary/awesome Deception Pass experience, this run was great—hilly, long, but overall really fun. I was jazzed to finish, and it was really fun to send Bethany off on her LAST run.
Run #3- 3:31 PM, 8.55 miles
Somehow, the fatigue that I was feeling the night before/going into my second run was gone, and my body seemed to be running on a combination of nerves and excitement. I was ready to get this crazy experience over with and finish strong for our team.
My ankle/foot/right leg in general was feeling angry after my second run, so I decided to try switching to my old shoes for the third run, just to mix it up. We were running right on target with our projected times, and we’d made up some ground after being about a half an hour behind previously. I was trying to feed off of everyone’s “We’re already done!” energy as I mustered up the guts to get through my final 8.5 miles. And at that point, 8.5 sounded SO easy, relatively speaking. However, I knew there was a beast of a hill, which would test my already depleted energy stores even further.
After forgetting to start my watch for about 1/3 of a mile (dangit Robyn!), I clocked in, and immediately felt cooked. Yikes…this was going to be a long run. Everything felt heavy, and it was getting warmer by the minute (the day, otherwise, had been overcast). But now, the sun was out and threatening to drain all remnants of strength I had left.
But, I pressed on, and somehow after 2 miles or so, I started to feel great! Somehow, I was passing people fairly consistently, which I’m sure subconsciously gave my competitive self a mental boost. More than anything though, I tried to internalize that this was it…we were almost done. It felt like teamwork to a certain extent; all of us grinding it out, trying to make our respective teams proud.
So, this happy feeling lasted for a while, and my team passed by exclaiming they were going to the finish line because I was going too fast (sorry…). Around mile 4, though, shit got real.
I knew we were gradually climbing, and everyone seemed to be slowing, but at one point I looked up, and saw the most horrifying sight any runner in my position could face: the steepest, un-shaded hill I’d seen all weekend—without any end in sight. I almost laughed out loud at the sight of it, but…like the rest of the race, I had no choice but to keep moving forward. When I first saw it, I briefly thought that this would be the first time I would need to walk during the whole race, but somehow…the higher I climbed, the more resolved I was that I would keep running. I’d come this far, and ultimately it would be better to get up and over it than to let it defeat me. I was passing people the whole time, and by the good graces of runners—there were several teams along the way cheering on every runner. It was awesome, and despite how bad it hurt and how much bargaining with myself I had to do, I somehow made it up without walking once.
After that, it was all a party. I had about 2.5 miles to kick it into gear (whichever gear I had left, that is) and finish strong. There was a nice gradual downhill for a while, which I used to pass people, reclaim some energy, and get excited for the finish.
Seeing the “One Mile to Go” marker was a huge boost, and I am certain I had a smile on my face throughout that whole last mile.
Approaching the finish was one of the most memorable moments of the weekend, if not throughout my running career. Teams were lining the sidewalk, cheering, making tunnels, and generally just showing so much run love to every runner coming through.
I was elated, and as soon as I saw my team every feeling of fatigue was immediately wiped away and replaced with pride and joy. They all jumped in with me so we could cross the finish line together, and it was incredible to hear our team name accompanied by “Ultra” over the loud speaker. We’d done it! 31 hours, 10 minutes, and 59 seconds.
After a little whooping and hollering, we gathered our medals, took some photos, and set of on the long trek back to Seattle. We were ridiculously exhausted, smelly, and drained, but so happy as well. We all kind of basked in the satisfying fatigue of knowing that we’d done something great—even if it hadn’t totally registered yet.
The Blizzards in the ferry line were also one of the best ideas of the weekend/ever.
It was an incredible weekend. After 12 hours of sleep on Saturday night, a nap on Sunday, and two full nights of sleep since, I’m still tired, still sore, and still feeling the general Ragnar hangover. But it was all so worth it, and I feel like I’ve found a whole new appreciation for this sport and the people who do it through this experience.
And that’s a good thing…because I get to do it all again in less than a month 😉
And just in case your curious…I had 34 total “kills” for the weekend, 15 of which were in the final run. C’mon, you had to know I’d keep track.
Thanks Six Pack with Racks! Each and every one of you made my first relay experience one for the books.
If you’re interested in reading the incredible running done by my team, you can read recaps on their blogs (some may still be pending…):
Jessey—doesn’t have a blog, but basically she had the longest, hardest legs and kicked ass. Oh, and she’s a 2:54 marathoner, nbd.
Thanks so much ladies, you are all incredible!