Ragnar Ultra Relay- The good, the bad, and the ugly

Such an original title, no?

Oh well…it is very appropriate in describing how this post details what went well and what did not go so well this past weekend.

Something that went well: tattoo application.

Something that went well: tattoo application.

Overall, I would give the race and my experience two big thumbs up. The memories I know will stick are all the happy ones, and that’s really what’s important in the grand scheme.

However, there were certain dark points this past weekend, some of which could have been avoided, some of which were inevitable. At any rate, I thought I’d give you a look at the behind-the-scenes footage, besides elevation charts and mileage.

And a fair warning, there’s a lot of honestly coming up, some of which might be an over-share. But, my hope is that perhaps some of my experience can help others in their own relay experiences, and sometimes that requires getting a little bit nitty-gritty. And let’s be real…modesty doesn’t really exist in a running relay, especially in an ultra. So, sorry I’m not sorry I guess.

The Good

The thing that surprised me the most on this adventure was that the running actually was—dare I say—the easiest part? Well, not necessarily that it was easy, because it certainly took a lot out of us. But much to my surprise…I felt the best all weekend when I was out on my runs.

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I attribute this to a few things:

1) Fresh air—after sitting in the van for hours, it felt really good to spend time outside.

2) Moving! I would get restless sitting for so long. And, as runners, I think we both consciously and subconsciously get jealous when we’re witnessing others running. Basically, it really just felt good to do what we came for—to run.

3) Endorphins, runner’s high, etc.—when you’re desperate for energy, even these physiologically-created sources do wonders for a person in a depleted state. I felt much more awake after my runs than I did while chilling in the van.

For example, after my 5:30 am hilly 15.5 miler, I got in the van, exclaimed I felt “so great!” and everyone in the van said that positivity wasn’t allowed because they were all grumpy (okay, it was mostly a joke). But, just goes to show that while I was definitely as exhausted as all of them, running really helped offer a boost.

The Bad

Don't I look like I'm having  fun?

Don’t I look like I’m having fun?

In my opinion, the hardest part of Ragnar/an ultra relay is the lack of sleep. I’m a runner who really loves her sleep; I try and get as much as I can, and I can almost always attribute a bad run to being sleep deprived. That said, I knew running 35 miles on “van sleeping” would be interesting.

I think I underestimated just how little sleep there would be…and by little, I mean “none.” I was definitely warned about this, but I figured a half hour nap here and there was bound to happen.

Nope, nada. The best we could all hope for was a few minutes of eyes closed and feet up. I did manage to do this for a little while around 3 am, and it was definitely helpful, but obviously it didn’t make up for a full night without sleep.

To make matters worse, on Thursday night before Ragnar, I think I slept 5 hours or so as prep and race excitement got the better of my normal in-bed-by-9 schedule.

The most zombie-esque point of the race was between 11 pm- 4 am or so. I felt foggy, cranky, and my head hurt from being awake for so long. Luckily, as stated above, my early morning run woke me up and gave me enough energy to crank through the rest of the day. It’s weird how that works; it’s like your body forgets you haven’t slept and somehow generates enough energy to keep going.

Of course, this would end immediately after crossing the finish line. We were all zonked on the drive back to Seattle, and while it’s a petty thing to be upset about…I feel like the fatigue takes away a little bit from the glory of finishing. It took until the next day for me to really internalize just how awesome the race was, and I’m certain it was because I was too tired to process it beforehand. I guess this is the same thing that happens after a marathon, and it’s kind of like wanting your cake and eating it too. But, you know, it would be nice to actually feel up for a beer with your team after the race, right? I don’t think that’s too whiny.

But, of course, the fatigue is all part of the experience and makes the craziness of running 200 miles all the more crazy. I have a feeling 50 and 100 ultrarunners would be laughing in my face right now.

The Ugly

So those stomach issues I’ve been mentioning over the last couple of months? Yea, so, turns out…digestive diseases really, really, really don’t like straight-through-the-night relay races. And in fact, they will punish you cruelly for thinking that you can take them on one.

Basically, from about 9 pm through 5 am, I couldn’t stop using the bathroom. Thank goodness there were so many port-a-potties everywhere, because at every stop we came to I would need to beeline for those life-saving Honey Buckets. And once I’d be done, more often than not, I’d have to turn around and go right back in.

It sucked. And while stomach issues seemed to be a theme for our van, I think that my colitis just had a raging fit and amplified to uncontrollable levels. I think it also didn’t help that I was so hydrated (something that tends to fuel my issues). It was a catch-22; I needed to stay hydrated because of all the running and all the “going,” but it was one of the causes of all my ailments. I also really wanted to try and drink more coffee for the aforementioned fatigue, but I couldn’t handle anything that would be a diuretic.

Fortunately, things seemed to calm down after my second run (and thankfully nothing went wrong during the run), but this was definitely the worst part of Ragnar for me. I’m going to try and figure out exactly what fueled it (besides the off-hours and the excess water) before Spokane to Sandpoint so I can try to avoid these issues a little bit.

But ultimately? The good parts far outweighed any of the less-than-stellar parts. I’d do again in a heartbeat (and obviously I will be doing it again…:) ) and I think that some experiences need to have a little grit and grime in them to really bring to light the awesome parts. Running down that finishing chute probably wouldn’t have felt as good if I didn’t suffer a little bit to get there.

Just like running in day-to-day life, it’s the bad runs that make the good ones that much better, and I think it’s the tough parts of Ragnar that make the whole experience so memorable. And hey…if you can’t bond with people while having uncontrollable bathroom issues, when can you, right?

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What do you think are the BEST and WORST parts about relay races?

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3 thoughts on “Ragnar Ultra Relay- The good, the bad, and the ugly

  1. Tasha @ Healthy Diva

    The worst parts for me are definitely the no sleep factor because I require at a minimum 8 hours of sleep every night. I remember after Hood to Coast a couple of years ago just being so tired on my 3rd leg that I felt sick. I think my excitement/giddiness at Ragnar helped subside some of that, but 2 hours of “sleep” was not ideal for me.

    The best parts are the memories and fun. Those really do outweigh anything negative.

    Reply
  2. Leslie @ TriathleteTreats

    Great job!! You guys kicked ass!! I didn’t meet u but I talked to u a bit at exchange 26(when I met Lauren).
    By far the hardest thing is the lack of sleep. We got some sleep here and there. The second hardest thing was eating. When to eat, what to eat, how much to eat! I agree with you that the running is the easy part!!
    The best parts are the memories and the stories of the weekend!!

    Reply

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