Friday, August 26, 2011

Ragnar Relays: 2011 Race Report

I have heard about the Ragnar Relays for a while, but I guess the idea of the race didn't seem to appeal to me. 12 people in two vans taking turns running throughout the day and night just didn't seem like something that I wanted to do. So when a friend asked if I'd want to be on his team I was a bit reluctant but figured I'd give it a try. Everyone that I've talked to that has run it has had a great experience. Plus, this was no ordinary Ragnar team this was going to be an Ultra team of only four guys.

The Team: UltraRagnasty Fab 4
Jordan, Edward, Greg and Andrew

Even though I was coming off an injury I felt that I was recovered enough to run this race pretty hard, even though I have not really done anything like this before. Sure I have ran ultras before, 50 and 100 mile races but this would be different. For starters this is all on pavement so it should be faster and quite a bit easier on the feet. Second, because of the way that our team was going to split all of the race legs up I figured I'd get 2-5 hours of rest in between each leg. This means I could probably give almost a full effort on each leg, anywhere from 8-14 miles. Us being a four man team we were advised to have each runner do a double leg each time.

For more info on what are the Ragnar Relays check out this Video

The team made our way down to Winona, MN for the start of the race. We had a noon start time and got checked in and everything set in Ed's suburban which we had loaded up with all of our gear and a coffin sized cooler. We started out with about 25 other teams in our group and various waves of runners would start throughout the day a total of nearly 300 teams, mostly 12 person teams.

Course Map:

View Great River Ragnar Relay in a larger map

Starting in the middle of the day made things difficult especially since the majority of the roads that we were running on at this point in the course were freshly tared. Temps were in the mid 80s to low 90's through most of the day. We started out a bit slower than we thought and ended up alternating each leg of the race instead of doing doubles. This seemed to work a lot better, it was just too hot out for us to be running 10+ miles at a time all day.

Andrew would start us off, mustache and all.

Each runner would take off and the rest of us would drive ahead in the suburban a few miles and stop and wait for the runner to pass and make sure he had enough water, food ect... This system seemed to work pretty well, other than the fact that we were always moving, therefore sleep was tough to come by. I think I managed to get about 20 mins of sleep broken up into several 3-5 minute naps. This was probably our biggest downfall.

Greg Swapping Water Bottle with Me.

Since our running schedule was a bit off from the start I ended up taking the second leg of the course at around 1:30p. I wasn't supposed to run until 6pm so this was a bit earlier that what I thought, but no big deal. The way I look at it I'm getting the best value for my money. The first leg went well but it was hotter than I thought. I think the temps were in the mid to high 80's. The heat reflected off of the black top and was like running in a sauna that had a bad oil smell. There was not much wind either and no shade on this part of the course. Luckily my team stopped ahead of my every 1-2 miles so that I could exchange my water bottle and get a gel or whatever I needed.

Ed looking strong early on.

A fun game that Greg told us about called Road Kill, that many of the other teams would play throughout the race. The way it works is that whenever you pass a runner on the course it counts as a kill. Many team keep track of their kills on their vans. I had 3 confirmed kills on my first legs.

We went on rotating each leg for a while and we were actually starting to catch a lot of the other teams. Some of them, rightfully so, were going really slow in the heat of the day and all of us seemed to be able to hold a pretty steady pace, even in the heat. I actually like running in the heat, so I was able to catch quite a few runners. Especially on my second legs, which was a fairly flat 8 mile stretch. Held a pretty solid pace of 6:41 minute miles this leg, 5 confirmed kills.

Me during the second leg.

quick exchange of water bottles and I'm off again.

Greg still in good spirits, he's only run one leg at this point though.

This was a hot leg, glad to be done.

As you can tell I'm not impressed with Greg Greek God like body.

I was feeling pretty good and we were really starting to settle into a nice system. It was still pretty hot out when Andrew, Greg and Edward took their second legs and it was just starting to cool down when it was time for my third leg. Edward was nice enough to save this leg for me. It was about a 6 mile leg but had one monster of a hill on it. Luckily I was still feeling good from the last leg and had a few hours to rest in the suburban before I was up again. I decided I was going to run this one pretty hard because I figured that by this point runners were going to start to slow down a bit, especially on the hill. I was right, 8 confirmed kills. I even managed to hold a sub 7min mile pace throughout this leg, the down hill part helped out a lot.

Me on the massive hill.

Feeling cocky after that last leg and showing off the new Tattoo.

After I got done with this leg the temps started to cool a bit and we started running double legs. This was nice because it meant more recovery time in between. With only three of us in the suburban we had plenty of room. Even so, I think that we over packed a bit but having run several ultras now I always try to make sure that anything that I need out there I have. As far as food went I ate mostly potato chips, salted nut rolls, gels and shot blocks. Because we were still running fairly often I didn't want to eat anything too substantial until I knew I had a long break.
Greg about to start his first night-time leg. He looks pretty excited.

Next up was my first double leg, it was around 8:30pm so the temps were starting to get cooler and the sun was starting to go down. I had about a 3 hour break since my last run so I was feeling pretty good and the upcoming legs were not too difficult from an elevation standpoint. This would be just under 13 miles total starting from the town of Pepin and ending in Maiden Rock. I was alone for almost all of this leg as we were starting to spread out quite a bit now, I did manage to catch a few runners and kept a solid pace throughout the whole leg, 7:25 min miles. The last mile felt really good as I was coming into town and I ripped off a 6:17 pace.

I had a nice 6 hour break after the last leg, this meant plenty of time to lay down in the back of the suburban and relax. I changed shoes and Ed's wife, sister and Andrew's girlfriend brought us dinner, Spaghetti and a Hawaiian pizza. Soooo good! I had about 4 pieces of pizza, snacked on some potato chips, rehydrate and relaxed the best I could. I didn't really get any sleep, I tried laying down for a while but I was ampped up from the recent run and because we were always moving it was a bit difficult to get any sleep. I think I got in one or two 5 minute naps, but I was surprisingly not that tired yet.

Ed, Andrew and Greg took turns running through most of the night. We were now all doing double legs and all going at a good pace. We kept up with several other teams that we seemed to run into at each exchange. We would pass them, then they would pass us and so on. It was great to get a chance to talk to some of the other teams and other runners. This is definitely the most social race I've ever run, as it was sort of a party/social atmosphere the whole way. Things got interesting as the night went on, our team started to get tired but we kept plugging away. There was plenty of entertainment however, as the running and lack of sleep does interesting things to people and as the night went on you could tell the exhaustion and long hours without sleep were taking its toll on some of the teams.

5 minute nap before heading out again.

Sometime around 5:30am it was my turn to head out again. I had a good 6 hours of rest but I was starting to feel a bit groggy. I didn't really sleep other than a few 5 minute cat naps and with such a long stretch of down time I was starting to shutdown, so I didn't really know how this leg would go. I did chug a 1/2 cup of coffee right before heading out, so this could either help or severely hurt. Ed, ran into the exchange area and handed off the baton and I was off. I actually felt pretty good, my stomach was a bit tight from the coffee but other than that I was feeling good. I had another double leg made up of a 3.7 mile leg and a 4.8 mile leg so it wasn't too long. The sun had start started to rise and it was nice and cool out, temps around 60 degree with little wind, almost ideal conditions.

Did I mention I was feeling good? This first part was just over a 5k distance and as I guessed many of the runners that were assigned to this leg treated it like a 5k, which means they ran it fast. I was cruising along at a 6:50 pace when I could hear another runner coming up behind me fast. I thought to myself, now I know he is only running 3.7 miles and I have to run 8 but this would be great marathon training if I could answer his surge. For elite marathoner (way faster than me) there are a lot of surges throughout the race when someone pushes the pace in hopes of losing the runners they are with. So I thought I'd keep him right behind me for as long as I could no matter what pace he ran. He was fast, he pushed the pace down to 5:30 minute pace for a short stretch, but I stayed in front of him and after about a mile and a half he backed off. We leveled out at around a 6:30 pace and he eventually passed me with about a quarter mile left. As he passed me I told him, "It's about time you passed me" he replayed with a laugh and suggested we finish the leg together. I tried to keep up but he was pushing a 6 min pace for the last half mile and I couldn't hold it. As I passed though the exchange area I saw him along the side, looking pretty winded, I ran straight through the shoot and said, "Nice job" he replied back "Are you an ultra team?" I shouted back, "Yep!" and as I faded away from him I did manage to hear him say. "Holy Sh*t!" Totally worth it, though I paid for going so fast later in the race.

Ed was up again and I felt revitalized after that run. I could tell that my quads had worked pretty hard that leg though, I would definitely pay for it towards the end of the race. As I returned to the suburban I was informed that there was a formidable smell that had mysteriously formed while I was out running. Now, the suburban had not smelled "good" for hours, however, this was a new odor that seemed to take on a life of its own. We could not really determine if it was any particular item(s) as there were a number of bags of sweating running clothes, shoes and half eaten food, but this was a near crippling odor. Best compared to perhaps the bottom of an old football locker of the kid who never brought his football pads home to wash, but this was so much worse than that. Let's just say Ed's suburban may never be the same.

With some renewed spirit and day light we kept running on. We continued to alternate legs and at this point we were all starting to slow down and some of the faster teams that started behind us were catching up. As mid morning approach you could tell that we had shifted into Finish mode. We all had been up for over 24 hours with no one really getting any significant sleep and it was starting to show. Our last few legs each everyone was trying to just keep moving and finish. My quads were shot and kept me at a slow run/jog probably around a 9-10min pace, my watch died. Andrew actually had some of his best legs towards the end of the race, but he was the only one that seemed to be holding up well.

As we neared the eastern suburbs it started to heat up again and everyone was dragging. The last few legs for everyone were slow and tough. There were a lot of long hills near Stillwater and just east of St. Paul were we lost a lot of places but we didn't really care. When I was finally finished with my last leg my quads were completely shot, I was tired and I'm sure I didn't smell the greatest. I know our suburban still smelled pretty bad, but I was done and it was a great feeling. Ed had one more leg left then Greg and Andrew would split up the last four legs.

Ed handed the baton off to Andrew just outside of downtown St. Paul and he was done for the day. Andrew had a strong leg through downtown St. Paul and handed off to Greg who ran along the river until the Hidden Falls Park where he handed to Andrew for his last leg. He crossed the river into Minneapolis were he would pass the baton for the last time and it was Greg's turn to bring us home.

Waiting for Greg at just before the Finish line.

We all gathered at the East River Flats south of the U of M Campus were the finish awaited, along with beer and pizza. As Greg approached we joined him for the last few feet of the race to the finish line. It was a great feeling and almost seemed to go by too fast, but it was an awesome feeling to be done and hear our team get announced by the race director.

Crossing the Finish!

Done at Last!

Satisfaction was a mere 196 miles away.

After crossing the finish line we got our medals and free pizza and beer and relaxed and basked our glory. We were tired, smelly and hadn't showered in way too long but felt great.

Many thanks to the Ragnar organizers and staff they did a fantastic job, to all of the volunteers, especially our volunteers Edward's Mom, Dad and his GF. Also to Alicia(Ed's wife) Sarah (Ed and Andy's sister) and Andrew's GF who brought us food in the middle of the night. Your help was invaluable in making this a great event.

Finisher Metal, doubles as a bottle opener!

Personally this was one of the most memorable races that I have run. It was certainly a lot tougher than I thought, but I had a far better time than I ever thought I would. The race was very well organized, the course was great and it was an amazing time spending 30+ hours with Ed, Andy and Greg in a smelly suburban. We meet a lot of other great people along the way and had a blast. I will definitely be back next year, hopefully as a member of the UltraRagnasty Fab 4 part Deux.

See you on the other side...

1 comment:

  1. Words cannot describe the odor in my truck that morning.