|The starting line is a good place for selfies. When you're nervous. And wondering what you were possibly thinking signing up for this.|
I first heard about this phenomenon from my fast-running friend Robert, way back when I was training for my first half marathon. He was getting a team together. I couldn't believe how crazy it sounded. The organization alone blew me away. All those runners? In two big vans? Matching t-shirts? And it involves elements of camping and not sleeping, neither of which I like.
But everyone I know who had done a Ragnar LOVED IT. They raved about it and told me they were jealous I was doing it and some people even had tattoos of the little "r" Ragnar symbol.
Then, this spring, I met Debbie C., who blogs at DebRuns.com, at a trail race. We got talking while we were in line for the porta potties before the race, and she mentioned that she was forming team for the DC Ragnar. One thing led to another: I signed up with Crusers Rockin' the Relay and now - BOOM! - we're Ragnarians.
It was even better than I'd imagined it could have been.
Oh, we got up stupid early on Friday. We ogled the sunrise over western Maryland as we drove along. I tried to take some pictures from the van but they didn't do justice to the scenery.
|VAN 1, ready to race|
I was the first runner to go, and my leg was a trail-y 5.2 around Lake Habeeb. It was scenic and challenging and I managed to pass a couple of people (in Ragnar-ese, you call those "kills" and you mark them off on the side of your van. When I told people at work that today, they made horrified faces).
Each team is split into two vans. My team in Van 1 was one fast bunch of runners. For the next several hours, I was blown away at how strong these people are. Patrick had the second leg, followed by Linda with the third, then Sathy, Ravi, and Murali. Each of these people had righteous hills in their runs but they all ROCKED them and surpassed their expected paces. I felt like it was time for me to step it up.
But first it was time to find food. After everyone in our van ran their first leg, Van 2 took over the next six legs and we drove straight on to the twelfth exchange -- a small town in Maryland where my next leg would start. Fortunately, it wasn't so small that it didn't have a Chipotle.
Every sixth exchange is a big deal because both team vans come together. The twelfth exchange is at a high school, where the cross country team makes money by opening up the locker rooms and serving a spaghetti dinner. We passed on the pasta but took advantage of the showers and then sacked out in our sleeping bags to try and rest. It was too noisy for sleep but it felt good off our feet before our second round of legs.
I started my second leg at 9:00 pm, geared up in my yellow vest, headlamp, and blinky red light. You get kind of used to seeing people walking around like that all night, it's the weirdest thing.
I took off through the dark, hustling out of town (shooing li'l country boy skateboarders out of the way) and off into the highway. I have no idea what the scenery looked like -- it was CRAZY DARK. Instead, I focused on the string of other runners' lights stretched out down the road. It was not a quiet night; off in the distance you could hear what sounded like drag races going on out on the country roads. You could smell a bonfire from someplace and a skunk from someplace else.
The element of fear helped me pick up the pace on this leg. I was passed by one runner, passed six other people, and got a time that I was happy with. Then it was back in the van to catch up with Patrick, and on into the night. We six finished our legs and drove to the spot for the next switch, where we were slowed down a bit by the extraordinarily poor service at IHOP.
We got to sleep about 3:30 that morning. This exchange was in a large county park full of rolling fields. Two of our teammates sacked out in the van, and the rest of us joined the multitude of runners stretched out in the grass. I slept very comfortably under the stars (a first for me!) -- it was like a very large, very quiet, outdoor slumber party. Fortunately the rain held off until it was almost 6:00 and we were able to fuel up at a nearby Starbucks.
My final leg started a little after 7:00 am. I wasn't sure how it was going to go on only a few hours of sleep after running kind of hard - twice - the day before, but adrenaline kicked in and I was able to run the 4.2 miles in just over 38 minutes. I guess everyone else on the course was tired, too, because I passed eight of those folks.
What I did right there? That's "Bragnar."
The rest of our van, and the rest of our team, were amazing on the last leg. We ended up finishing a full hour earlier than our estimated time.
Van 1 moved on to the finish line at National Harbor and had a snack (beer) and commemorated the event (bought stuff with the Ragnar symbol on it) and ate some more, until we got the news that our final runner, Bill, was starting his last leg. Van 2 got to the finish and we all ran over the line with Bill. Actually, a little after Bill because that dude runs very fast.
And here we are in our triumph!
The day before the race, I was fairly sure this would be a one-and-done thing for me. Now I'm absolutely positive I will find another Ragnar to do ASAP. Hey, Robert, Stefanie H., Therese B., Mary R., Dusti M., Jim B., Ann Marie F., Derek and Danielle T., Will is Will -- all you encouraging people who told me to stop worrying and that I'd like it -- you guys were SO RIGHT!
The organization and positivity of the Ragnar staff and volunteers was beyond compare. They had a ton of people running the event, and they made it a party from start to finish. I could write more and more and more about it, but I could never get everything in, and you'd get tired of me trying.
I am extraordinarily grateful to Debbie C., who invited me to join up with the team, and to the whole wonderful Cruisers Rockin' the Relay team! Particularly Van 1. What a fantastic group of people! I would run with those folks anytime.
And while I did not get as Ragnar-ready as Jerri, who kept my pace going on my last leg . . .
I did run out on Sunday and commemorate the run.
It was THAT fun.