Monday, September 15, 2014

DC Ragnar Race Report

I was fortunate enough to do the DC Ragnar this past weekend, and now I am finding it hard to pare down the experience enough to write a reasonable blog post. So much incredibleness packed into two days!

The starting line is a good place for selfies. When you're nervous. And wondering what you were possibly thinking signing up for this.
In a nutshell, a Ragnar Relay is a team of 12 people (some superheroes have smaller teams) that runs a 36-leg relay race from point A to point B that's about 200 miles away. Everyone on the team runs three legs. While one runner is doing his or her leg, a team van goes to meet them at the other end and drop off the next runner.

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
Once we got to Rocky Gap State Park, we were checked off on our night running equipment (reflective vests, headlamps, blinky lights for our backs), collected more necessary gear (safety flags) and our swag (shirts), and had a quick safety briefing. There was no coffee at the start.

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.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Bring It On, September

Wow, it's fall and you'd hardly know it! The last two days, I have savored the end of my end-of-the-summer vacation and have slept in. Unfortunately, that naughty behavior is rewarded with hot and sweaty conditions outside. No lie, it was so hot this morning a couple of golden retrievers on their morning walk made it up a neighborhood hill faster than I did.

But last week, ah, last week we were visiting Jim's parents on Cape Cod, so as usual, I enjoyed a lovely run in cooler temperatures and I took a mess of pictures. Here you go . . .

This is my inlaws' neighbors' mailbox, all landscaped and looking F-A-N-C-Y.


And here is one of my favorite running routes, East Bay Road.



That road takes you to (wait for it . . .) East Bay and Dowses Beach.

It was low tide. A little smelly. Still pretty.



I was the only person at the beach that morning. The only one! Usually there's at least a fisherman on the pier but I had it all to myself.


This swaggy house gets to look at that view every day. Plus that heron.

That's Phinneys Bay right there, if you want to be precise about your Cape Cod bay facts.

On my way back to the house I took a stop at West Bay (Osterville is known as the town on five bays and they don't lie).



And made it back to enjoy some coffee with Jim and his dad, Jim.


It's the All-James-Reynolds table!
September is a big deal because finally, the fall racing season is getting going and it's time to see if all those summer runs in the heat are going to pay off. First up, DC Ragnar in two weeks! (gulp!)


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Leesburg 20K Race Report


My face is not included in this selfie because it was (a) salty, (b) red from the heat of the day, and (c) covered with Gu from an exploding Gu-packet incident I'd rather not talk about.
On kind of a whim, I decided to do the Potomac River Running Leesburg 20K race today. I'd never done it before because for the past couple of years I'd been either caught up in fall marathon training (or injured while trying to do fall marathon training), and was too uptight to work a race into the mix. Since I'm not training for a fall marathon this year, I can now be all loose and pop into a race. Besides, I know that PRR puts on great events and that there would be a lot of fun people out there.

"Pop" is not necessarily an accurate word, because Leesburg is almost an hour away. I ended up getting to the porta-potty lines later than I would have liked and thus, this was the first race I've done where I dashed up to the start well after the pack had left. I was not alone in my tardiness, and the announcers were like, "20K runners, just go ahead, get on in there over that starting line," not making a big deal of it at all. And it's kind of fun chasing the pack ("Wait for me, guys!").

The race starts in the old town part of Leesburg (and it's old, y'all -- established in 1722!). It's been awhile since I had been out there, and I was really impressed with how pretty it is and how very easy it was to get around and find parking. I parked a short walk from the start line, made my way to the porta- potties, had a nice chat with the woman in line in front of me, hustled to the start (as you know), and we were off.

After a quick loop around a local school, the course quickly turned on to the Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail, a former train right-of-way that was taken over and made into a really great resource for walkers, runners, and bikers (usually all at the same time). I have spent much time on the trail, but not out Leesburg way, so this was yet another reason to give this race a go.

And it was beautiful! The course was fairly flat, the scenery was bucolic and most of the race was shady. This was a good thing, because the unseasonably cool temperatures we'd been enjoying around here were a thing of the past and it was about 80 degrees at the end of the race.

There were bikers who rode along the road you see here and cheer for the runners. I have never seen bikers and runners be as friendly toward each other as they were at this race today.

The water stops were well-manned by local high school cross-country runners who were delightful and energetic. It was so warm, though, I was glad I brought my water belt and only supplemented at the water stops.

Much of the course was out and back, which I liked because you could look at the oncoming runners to try to spot your friends and also cheer at the fast folks who were in the lead. The only negative was that the trail got a little narrow at a few points, with runners going each way and with a few bikes thrown into the mix. But there were few enough runners that navigating was, by and large, very manageable.

Pretty sweet scenery, no?
The last little bit of the race was out in the sun, and I greatly appreciated the guy who sat up on the porch of his townhouse blaring Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" and cheering and waving. Hats off to you, sir.

After the race, I ran into Debbie, Bill, Murali, and Ravi, who make up 1/3 of the Ragnar team I will be running with next month! I had not known they would be there, so it was a great treat to see them. I am very pumped to run 200 miles with these folks:

LOOK OUT DC RAGNAR!!!
There was plenty of food (fruit, bagels, Gatorade, water, juices, and sodas) after the run, compliments of Harris Teeter. And it was an easy drive home. I was able to put the top down on my car to cool off and had so many endorphins going that I rolled into my neighborhood singing along to A Taste of Honey's classic, "Boogie Oogie Oogie," at the top of my lungs, likely leading passers by to wonder why that poor lady was wailing. 

Come on, you know you want to sing along: 




Friday, August 1, 2014

Quitter

Every Thursday, my highly motivated friend Melanie P. sends out an email to get a group of us fired up for Saturday's long run. This lady is training for the Chicago Marathon in early October, so her mileage is starting to creep up there. That pack is looking at 16 miles this week.

And I'm going to be running with them, but regarding that 16-er, nope. I decided last week that I was done with that distance and done with marathons.

It was a question that had been lurking for awhile. Part of it was when my podiatrist asked what I was trying to accomplish by running long distances (after yet another flare up of plantar faciitis) and not-so-gently prodded me to consider more spin classes instead. Or maybe it was yet another article about how repeated long distance training can lead to arterial nonsense (here's an example). Or that getting up at dark o'clock so I can do my run before the kids and Jim are rolling has been making me super tired at work.

It's really all of that, I believe. But it boils down to time. Someone posted one of those arterial news pieces up on Facebook, and one commenter pointed out that if she was going to die running, at least she'd die doing something that she loved to do. And I realized, hey, I don't love marathons. At least not after about mile 15. If I was going to see those pearly gates open up, I don't want it to happen when I'm in pain and feel like I need to poop.

All these things had been rattling around in my mind, and I was getting ready for my long run last Saturday, planning to think them all out while I was out there. But then I realized that I didn't need a long run to sort myself out and I got online and switched my November marathon to the half and then I went back to bed. Four marathons is enough.

I'm a little bummed about it. At one time, I thought it sure would be neat to get into Boston (I'd need a 3:55 for that one!) or even beat Oprah's marathon time. (I'm only 2 minutes away from Oprah -- who knows, maybe I'll yet do another long race so I can get it.) But on the other hand, I've got one teenager who is going to college next year, and one who's starting high school. I'm biased, but they are GREAT kids. I don't want to miss out on any of their stuff while I'm recovering from a 3 hour training run, even though I recognize the irony that at this age, they don't want to hang out with me that much.

So I'm jumping off the hamster wheel, sticking to halfs, and leaving the big races to the big dogs. I'd rather do it when I want to than when I have to.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Saturday's Run Recap: Shout Out to Swim Moms (and Dads)!

I braved the humidity and hills for Saturday's long run. It was another 11 miler on the schedule, and this time I took a route through Fairfax that includes a lot of elevation change. Then the route takes me back through my neighborhood, where there were unexpected treats.

It was the last day of swim meets for the local pools. My run took me past the Commonwealth Swim Club, which was hosting a meet and therefore had all the grills warming up by the time I rolled by at about 8:00. As I was drifting by on that delicious smell, I happened to see a caravan of cars headed my way. It was the A-team for another neighborhood pool, Lakeview, heading out to an away meet. Some of the members of this intimidating crew are super awesome runners from my neighborhood, so I got a couple of encouraging honks as they rolled by. This helped me get up and around the last four miles of the run with a smile on my face.

Our kids are not big swimmers, so after a few years on swim team, they moved on to other things. Saturday reminded me of the mountains of respect I have for all the swim team parents, getting up early every Saturday and sweating it out at the long and often thunder-plagued Monday night meets. And that's just for starters! I know plenty of moms and dads who get their li'l fish to extra practices at crazy hours, just so junior can reach a goal. They volunteer, they hang out for hours of practices, they spend big $$ on suits and gear, and they're giving their kids a gift of a lifetime of great exercise habits. My hat's off to those swim folks.

Especially when they honk at me on their way to dominate another team.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

In Praise of an Early Morning Run

Yesterday was a little bit of a milestone: I broke down and pulled out my headlamp for my morning run.

Believe it or not, it's getting to be pretty dark at 5:00 am, particularly if it's cloudy. After a few runs last week where it just felt Super Dark, I thought I'd be safe and bring out the lamp.

Usually it's a winter thing, so it made my forehead sweat a whole lot. And I had enough light to take it off after two miles. But I was still glad I had it.

With it being so Virginia-hot here the last week, I have appreciated early morning running more than ever. I like to get feet on the ground at five (and usually end up getting out the door shortly after five), and once you're out there, it's all good.

You know that if there is going to be any cool breeze to be had that day, you're going to get it.

You can smell the soap, showers, and odd cigarette that go along with people starting their day.

You can wave at the Washington Post delivery guy and the folks who drive the Metrobus route to the Pentagon (they often wave back and sometimes honk!). You can also call out a hearty "Good morning!" to the sleepy commuters, which surprises them quite a bit.

You can mix up your training surfaces by running across the grassy strip between the sidewalk and the curb.

If you're lucky, you can hear the sweet, sweet song of a sprinkler a few front yards ahead. There is something about the smell of that cool hose water as it sprays down a neighbor's lawn (and your legs).

You feel a little kinship with the other crazies out there with you early in the morning.

You come home to the promise of hot coffee, a hot shower, and if God is smiling on you, a husband who has unloaded the dishwasher.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Oh, Hey, It's Summer!

Yesterday was my first official long run of the fall training season and I was happy to spend it with these people:

That's Melanie, Robert, and Linda, some of my favorite running people. Actually just some of my favorite people, period.
Melanie is training for the Chicago Marathon in October, and she, Robert, and Linda were going 13 miles. I only had an 8 miler on my schedule but decided to add a couple so as to hang out for an extra couple of minutes. And I like to support Melanie, too, but am not as tough as Linda and Robert.

We started in the Reston, VA, area on the Washington and Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail. Heading east for 5 miles on that thing gets you almost all of the way to Vienna, and I was lucky enough to see some Vienna-ites (or are they Viennese if we're talking about the Vienna in VA?). Joel H., who runs fast, ran by, and my cousin Megan, who also runs fast, happened to be biking fast yesterday. I see Megan almost every time I go run out there and really need to figure out a way to run with her.

Did I mention that it was hot out there? I mean, HAWT! Steaming, people. Muggy, too. It took it out of me; really, I don't know how those other three kept it up for that last three miles. Here's how we looked at the end.



But on the bright side, I gave blood yesterday afternoon, which prompted me to be very conscientious about re-hydrating. Maybe because of that, I feel just fine today. And on my new plan today is a rest day. Amen to that.