Monday, October 7, 2013


Almost an annual race for me has been the Ragnar Relay.  My first was several years ago, the DC race.  I "trained" for it by jogging up to a whole 3 miles per "training session" and a lot on a treadmill or small loops in the apartment complex I lived in.  I destroyed my knees by starting off with a 9 mile leg.  Instant pain ensued.  I borrowed knee braces to crawl through the second and third legs and was utterly miserable.  But it was a blast!  It was the hardest thing I'd done up to that point and I felt like I'd accomplished something pretty cool, covering 200 miles with a team of 11 other people that have become friends and repeat "Ragnarios."

That was in about 2008 or 2009.  I took a few off then did the PA race in 2011, and DC last year where we passed all but 32 of the other teams.  This year we started in a later wave of teams and were expecting to have another epic race passing hundreds of other teams over the next day.  I'd been nursing my shin splint still like a baby but I was feeling OK but a little nervous about it ruining my runs.  Our team was down 2 people to 10 due to injury and a deployment in Afghanistan.  We were still good to go.
Stretching our at the start point in Cumberland, MD
Exchange #1.  Lake trail to the paved roads.
On the fire roads waiting for one of our runners to offer water

We're a team of creatures of habit I guess, we usually stick to our van assignments each year.  I like being part of van 1, I'm anxious to get started and happy to be done before van 2 and drinking a beer when they finish up.  Same thing this year but with a littttttle anxiety about how my left leg would feel.  We had a few runners picking up slack of our missing teammates and these guys are beasts.  We had pretty quick legs on 1 through 4, I took the baton (slap bracelet) for leg 5 and bolted with a lot of adrenaline.  In that first 1/4 mile, I felt awesome, no pain, a ton of energy and I had a runner 100 yards ahead of me to catch.

I had a real comfortable and quick turnover at the start, something I realized I couldn't hold for long and could end me early if I kept it up.  I backed off and still ticked off a sub-7 minute mile which is really quick for me and kept the guy ahead of me in my sights.  A pretty nasty hill was on this leg and I was pretty confident that even with my recent lack of training, I'd have no problem.  Wrong.  By halfway, I was already run-walking.  I'd hoped that my quick start scared the runner ahead of me and he went out too hard too but he was gone.  I did manage to catch a different runner and get bogged down with a cramp right after the peak of the hill.  And I really hate running downhill.

I still felt pretty good, finished strong and pain free.  Passed the baton, hopped in the van to exchange 6 to meet up with van 2 and hand off the running responsibility for about 5 hrs to them.  Glad to be back in the air conditioned van, too as it was uncomfortably hot with the heat index approaching 99.  We were glad that our next legs would be well into the night... at least we'd thought.

Looking forward to our break we headed away from the course to find some good food.  10 miles after leaving the exchange point, we got some lousy news.  Van 2 died.  The van wouldn't start and their first runner was about to be stranded.  We formulated a good strategy to head back to see what we can do to get them running and continue racing.  Runner 7 was on the course.  Runner 8 hitched a ride to exchage #7 with another team, and we were hoping between several engineers, we could fix the problem.  No dice.  About to surrender, we came up with one last plan; go on with 8 runners and finish the race.  My rental van would seat 7 runners, the 8th man was always the current runner.  We'd have no opportunity to stop and sleep, we'd have to figure out grabbing food and it would kinda suck but it would also be awesome to do a 180 and crush the challenge.

Most were in but I considered that a "no" vote would really outweigh the rest because it was going to be difficult to do.  It was all or nothing at that point and we had a teammate decide, while we were set to go on at exchange #8, that it was too much.  Kinda deflating early end to a Ragnar.  I dropped everyone off in Baltimore where they went out and drank and I drove another 1.5 hrs back home to PA where I faceplanted in bed next to Kristen and got up early in the morning and ran a "revenge" ragnar leg out on the trails.

Try to justify it but DNF is a DNF.  No one on our team was responsible for it, things happen and fuel pumps die.  It's happened to me twice with cars.  But the turn of events left us with 2 choices: everyone's in to finish the race, or we're out.  We're fortunate that no injuries sidelined our team, which I take a little solace in but also to DNF due to no physical problems is kinda tough.

Next year, we're going to sign up a few teams for the Appalachians Ragnar Trail race.  Possibly a few ultra teams.  It happens to be during a full moon which will hopefully be clear.  Ow owwwwwww!!!

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