Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ragnar Relay - much delayed report and some other stuff

Well, now I know something about a Ragnar event ;->

Last Wednesday night it finally dawned on me that this was a RACE. In other words, I was supposed to run hard for every leg ;-> Lost a little sleep over that! Thursday night it was time to finalize packing for the trip. Double(and triple)checked that I had my headlamp, inhaler, shoes, extra clothes, socks, and wool hat (laugh now - but it came in handy). Then went grocery shopping for food that I thought might be appealing midway through the event. Friday morning I repacked and then I got the call. "We are on our way, a little early... see you in Hastings!"

My sister J and her two kids (E and X - my sailing buddies)loaded me up and gave me a ride to our meeting point. I knew Leslie and Sam from Duluth (excellent running buddies and I credit them with my increased speed this past year) but had never met the rest of the team. Arrived at the Hastings Super America and met Megan K., Jill, Margot, and Sarah. Then it was into the Suburban and off to Winona to meet up with the rest of the team: Jess, Tien-Tien, Megan D., Mel and Andrea. I have not been in the southeastern part of Minnesota since... well, I am not really sure. Junior high, maybe? I had forgotten what a beautiful - and hilly- area it is.

We arrived at Levee Park with time to spare, which is a good thing as there were vehicles to decorate, runners and their gear to sort into the proper vehicles, and race check-into accomplish before our start time of 3:00 pm. Being runner #7 I was in "Van 2" with Megan K., Megan D., Jess, Mel, and Sarah. All women I did not know before that day, but enjoyed learning more about as the race progressed.

Also met up with Wayne and Mark (Wayne directed me to food - Thanks!). Their team (St. Paul Running Company) was starting at the same time as ours.

Margot - our first runner, during team introductions

And they are off!

Once the race started, Van 1 headed out to their first exchange point and Van 2 set off to find parking for one of the runner's vehicles and then on to the first major exchange in Modena, Wi. This is where I would run my first leg - 6.3 miles.

Now, knowing elevation charts can be deceiving I was not too worried about that hill. Ignorance is bliss! By the time I reached the last little plateau (with teams cheering me on and telling me I was almost at the top) I was calling it a "son of b****". I made it almost to the top before shifting to a walk. But ah, the downhill! That was fun! By then it was getting quite dark and I was finding out how little illumination my head lamp provided. Rather than wear it on my head (had tried it out and decided it was going to annoy me) I wore it around my chest. This also provided a handy place to attach the blinking red 'butt' light we had to wear in addition to a reflective vest (on the next leg, following a team mates method, I would move the headlamp down to my waist - less slippage there). Made it into Exchange 7 in 53:42 (a PR I just realized - Tofte Trek was 56:36), passed off the baton and proceeded to wander around a bit to cool off. Then it was into the van and off to the next exchange. I shed the wet upper layers at this point and hung them from hangers on the back of the van in the vain hope my running bra would dry out before the next leg - not to be, good thing I had two! Also learned that hangers and clothing will stay on a vehicle for quite some time while you drive (forgot to bring them in the van at the next exchange - they were discovered when we stopped for gas)!

Our van reached Exchange 12 (Stockholm, Wi) near midnight and my eyes were drooping. We picked up Runner 12 (Sarah), cheered on Runner 1 (Margot) and headed to the next major exchange in Prescott, Wi. The plan was to get a few hours of sleep and then we would be up and heading out again.

Knowing I am a slow mover when I first wake up I set my alarm (and Jess set hers and I am sure others did as well) for 3:30 am. I figured this would give me an hour to wake up, eat a little something, wander around and take care of necessities. We had arranged for Van 1 to call when their Number 5 runner (Leslie) started, this would give us plenty of time to prepare before Number 6 (Sam) started. Sam had a longish and hilly leg and we thought we had a good estimate for when she was due in.

I was just starting to get my last layer off, thinking I had another 10 - 15 minutes when we heard "123". Panic! That was our teams' number and I was a block from the exchange! Jess helped me get my sweats the rest of the way off and it was a mad dash to the exchange. I didn't beat Sam by much, had enough time to look up, see Wayne (who came to see me off, or maybe it was his Runner 7 he was there for?) and then it was a slap of the bracelet (what we used for a baton) and I was off on my second leg.

Note that this says 3.0 easy. Also note the instructions: "Runners must stop at traffic light if red". I got a red light - at 4:30ish a.m. I stopped, and waited. There was no way to get the light to change. Another runner came up at this point, we both waited a little and then decided to go (there was absolutely no traffic). He took off (nicknamed him 'gazelle') and I ran alone into the night thinking all the while "it is only 3 miles, push the pace. It's flat, keep pushing it" and once I turned the corner (at 1.9 miles according to the map) wondering when I would see the "one mile to go marker". It never appeared! I kept running hard but was starting to feel like this was the longest 3 miles of my life. And then the lights of exchange 19 appeared. Yippee!!! Ran in, slapped the bracelet into Megan's hand and headed to the van for the next drive. (Leg 2: 24:34, including stop time at the light). Megan had a nasty little valley on her route, deep enough to drop cell phone coverage (was on the phone giving an update to Mr. Wildknits who was awake and heading out on Lake Superior to pick herring).

By now we were seeing the glow of sunrise and by the time we reached the next exchange point it was getting fairly light, though you can't tell it from this picture:

Then it is back into the van and on to the next exchange. I tried to get pictures and video but failed miserably - should really read the manual! I did manage to get pictures of Mel (Runner 11) coming into Exchange 23 and handing off to Sarah (Runner 12)

Sarah had the leg into Stillwater (cool lift bridge)

and another major exchange, where she handed off to Runner 1 and Van 1 took over for the next few hours.

It was here I had been hoping to score a couple of cups of coffee. The Ragnar folks had some, but I admit to being a bit of a snob and won't put artificial creamer in my coffee, nor can I handle it straight up (especially bad coffee). Downed a small cup of hot chocolate and it was into the van in search of a coffee shop on our way to our next meeting point. Didn't find the coffee shop and we headed out, thinking we would spot one somewhere in our travels (never happened but I learned I can survive, and run, without coffee ;-> ).

By now we were catching up to a lot of teams (the Relay started at 7:30 am the previous day, with teams heading out every 30 - 60 minutes up until 4:00 pm) and it was fun to check out the van decorations and chat with other teams.

The day was heating up (by my standards at least), my stomach was 'off' and I spent most of my time pacing back and forth to the bathrooms, filling water bottles and drinking (there had been a lack of water on the course) and generally trying to get psyched up for - and memorize the directions of - this last leg. According to the course map it was a "moderate" 6.2 miles. I obviously did not pay enough attention to the elevation chart as I was totally unprepared for the hills. I had asked that the team stop along the way with water as I didn't want to carry a belt but was concerned about the distance and the heat. They chose the PERFECT spot - at the top of the big hill around 2.5 miles. This team knows how to run a water stop! Megan met me with the water bottle - yelled encouragement and the rest of the crew was down the road a bit yelling and ready to take the bottle when I was done. Way to go team!

This was a hard section for me and I had to battle a lot of negative thinking. I felt like I was crawling along, was pretty sure I would never do a relay again, had severe doubts about running an ultra if 15 miles was killing me, and really wondered why I thought I was a runner (hint - this type of thinking usually means I have not taken in enough calories and my blood sugar is tanking). I was walking a lot of hills, hoping to have enough left over to run into the exchange with some semblance of a brisk pace.

I alternated all the negative thoughts with reminders to myself that: I was probably running faster then I thought if I felt this crappy; it was a hilly section and hot; this was the third - and final - leg; I was doing just fine and I had (finally) passed other runners (two to be exact). I eyed some fountains along the way with envy (Could I swim in them? Would it totally wreck my teams time?).

I was so happy to see the volunteers that call in the runners numbers a block or so from the exchange - this meant I was nearly done. And I had enough left to pick it up a little bit into the exchange point for my hand-off to Megan. Whoo hoo!! I was done! Time to mix up some Recoverite, hop into the van and eventually change into some dryer clothes while cheering on the rest of our vans runners on our way to Boom Island and the finish line.

By now the course was getting crowded as more and more teams overlapped on their way to the finish. Parking near Boom Island was crowded and I wondered how we would ever connect with the rest of the team in a sea of white shirts. But we found each other (and my sister and her family found us) and we waited for Sarah to come in. The plan was for the whole team to run into the finish line together.

We were close behind another team (much to my sister's dismay as she was trying to capture pictures of us and the other team 'got in the way') as we crossed under the banners. And trying to assemble 12 sleep deprived runners in one spot for a team photo may be like herding cats. Good job J for getting these photos!

Pretty soon it was time to say good-bye to the team as I was heading back with my sister to her place. We went back to the vans, sorted out our stuff and exchanged hugs.

By now my stomach had recovered and I was starving!! My first request was food (I couldn't seem to find any at the race finish) and my sister, her family, J and M (son and his girlfriend) discussed nearby options that were kid friendly. Ended up at Brasa Minneapolis, an excellent choice. I proceeded to make up for the past 24 hours of missed meals and topped it off with a Surly Furious. Bliss!

Puttered around a bit on Sunday morning, visited with my Mom and then headed to Murphy - Hanrehan for a run. I had decided to run the north side trails to get a better feel for what Surph the Murph might be like. I kept hearing about hills but had not really experienced anything all that steep on my previous outing in the park. Well, I found them! Ran for an hour on the trails leading away from the park headquarters. Some of these trails are only open August to November and they are steep!! Got in a little under 6 miles the best I could tell on a warm, humid day.

Was welcomed back to my sisters, and sent on my way, with chocolate cake and ice cream (god bless 5 yr olds that want to throw a party). Picked Sam up at her sister's in the St. Paul area and headed north. When we left the Cities it was in the 80's, we arrived in Duluth to mid - 60's. Gotta love Lake Superior!

Results: Copper Country Running Club aka Team MegaHz aka 123 - 12th overall and FIRST in our division (female, open, regular)!.

It has been a quiet running week since then. Mowed the lawn Monday (if you have ever seen my place you know this is a hill workout in disguise); biked to and from work on Tuesday (including a rather speedy uphill ride home as I tried to beat the sunset), ran 5k on Wednesday and then nothing until Friday evening when I joined a friend for his "24 hours at Hartley" run. Jim had planned on running the Superior 100 but couldn't and decided to set up a 24 hour run instead. I had received the message Tuesday night and thought it could be a good way to get my long run in while supporting a friend.

Joined him at 5:00pm and ran until a bit after 10:00pm (5 loops @ 4.2 miles each = 21 miles for me). Jim had a great route mapped out, leaving his house (aka the aid station) and entering Hartley through a side trail, then it was on to the guardrail loop and then into the pine forest and up onto Rock Knob before descending and getting on the SHT over to the swamp loop, back to the pine forest and out to his place. He would alternate directions each lap (clockwise vs counter clockwise). We were joined by another runner for a little over a lap and then it was just the two of us. By 8:00pm we needed our headlamps. The trail was all single-track and rooty and rocky in fine trail running tradition. It was also quite muddy and slick as it had been raining and or misting since the previous night.

The clouds broke just in time for the sky to be lit up by the last rays of the setting sun and we got to see the stars and moon emerge on my final laps. I briefly toyed with staying out for a sixth lap but decided as this was the longest run since the Half Voyageur maybe I should take it easy. Jim was incredible! His longest run to date had been 50 miles (Voyageur). I was there when he hit the 50 mile mark Friday night and he continued to run another 17 miles with me and was still kicking my butt on the down hills at that point. It was an honor to run with him! And it was a confidence booster for me! I am feeling much more confident that I will be ready for my first Ultra (Wild Duluth 50K) this October.


Mark H. said...

Great race report. It was nice to meet you and thanks again for getting Wayne on my team! It's so much easier running with a full team.

My first beer after the race was also a Surly Furious! Nice choice.

Good luck at the Wild Duluth 50K.

SteveQ said...

If you can't find good coffee in Stillwater, you aren't trying very hard. My favorite spot (within a block of your route, I think) is called Grumpy Steve's.


Jim in Big lake said...

Great job !

You will do fine at the 50K, enjoy !

Jean said...

Wow, what an excellent report, and congratulations to you and your team! That was quite a journey. Way to go!

Mmmmm....Surly Furious! Good stuff! :)

wildknits said...

You are right Steve - we did not try very hard - blame it on sleep deprivation and a 'drive' to get to the next major exchange and relax. And a shop called Grumpy Steve's - I couldn't have resisted if I knew! ;->

Thanks Jim! By the time I drove north I was talking about "if I did another Ragnar..." and after Friday I am much more confident - finished thinking about doing more.

Thanks also Jean! It was a journey.... definitely learned a lot about myself on the way. Need to find a source of Surly up north (have had it in GM). Funny - they call it a "hoppy" beer, usually not my favorite but... yummmm.

Just back from the State Fair, had only one bite of a food on a stick, no deep fried candy bars. Stuck to falafel, shakes a few bites of a noodle dish and some roasted corn on the cob. I know... boring!

Wayne said...

Nice job with the race and the report... your team was smokin'! I think our team did great but we weren't fast enough to keep up... which was a bummer since the course was so empty for so long. And I think it's crazy that your clothes stayed on the van while you were driving around. :)

wildknits said...

I had to be okay with running alone at night in a deserted part of the country side as that was my reality - especially on the 2nd leg. I read too many mysteries and watch too much Law & Order so, needless to say, I had to banish thoughts of opportunistic psychos from my head ;->

Good thing the world is essentially a good place (and there were random team vans driving down the road at odd times).

Wayne - I think you were the one who thought it would be funny to see a van hung with clothes cruising down the road! Guess you should have been following us (then you could have warned me sooner!).