A story of going from being a non-runner to planning for a marathon in three years...

Monday, June 13, 2011

Madison to Chicago Ragnar Relay Race Report

One team. Two vans. Two drivers. Twelve runners. Three relay legs each. 30 hours. 197 miles total.

I don't even know where to begin. How about a recap on how this whole thing works?

Each van has six runners in it. We are numbered 1 through 12. Van 1 has runners 1 to 6 and Van 2 has runners 6-12. Runner #1 starts and runs his or her assigned distance. Van 1 drives ahead and meets her at the end of her leg where she hands off the baton (or slap bracelet) to Runner #2. Runner #2 runs and the van drives ahead. Repeat. Van 2 picks up when Runner #6 finishes his leg and hands off to Runner #7. And so on. Each person runs three times. The vans meet up three times throughout the relay and then again at the finish.

We had a team name.

I was in Van 2 as Runner #11.

Our van was packed with bags of extra running clothes, gear, and food. Essentially we were living out of a van for two days.

Van 1 started our team off at 10:30 AM on Friday morning and we met them at the first major exchange point outside Madison, Wisconsin around 3:30 PM on Friday afternoon where Runner #6 handed off to the first runner from our van.

And then we were off! Drive ahead to the next exchange point and wait. At this point we were still pretty giddy. Using the walkie-talkies to communicate from the back of the van to the front. Making stupid jokes. Playing music on our iPhones. Enjoying the scenery as we drove from place to place.

I started my first leg around 7:30 PM on Friday. 5.8 miles along the Glacier Drumlin trail in Wisconsin.

Starting my first leg

Coming in to the exchange point at the end of my first leg

My goal for all three of my legs was to run 9 minute miles. Fueled by pretzels, bagels and Clif bars I managed to hit a 9:00 minute average exactly for my first leg. Awesome. The trail was lovely and it was cool enough that the mosquitoes weren't out in force. The rain stayed away too. Perfect.

After Runner #12 finished his first leg it was off to our first major rest area. We drove 30 minutes to a high school outside Milwaukee where we ate dinner at 10:30 PM and then tried to sleep in a darkened high school gym. Well, I actually did get about an hour or more of sleep but I think I'm the only one who did. Who knew I could sleep on the hardwood of a basketball court?

At 1:00 AM we were back up to get ready to send off Runner #7 for his second leg. Van 1 reported that running in the pitch blackness of the Wisconsin countryside was scary and unnerving. Great. It had also started to get foggy and misty outside. And cold!

Unfortunately sleep deprivation was starting to catch up with us and we made some navigation errors that cost us some time and left one of our runners stranded at an exchange point for 10-15 minutes! He was pretty chilled by the time we pulled up.

My second leg started at 4:00 AM. 4 miles through the country roads outside Racine, Wisconsin. No streetlamps. No traffic. Just me and my headlamp running through the mist with the occasional glimpse of a blinking LED of another runner up ahead. I busted out that 4 miles with a slightly sub-9:00 pace and was thrilled to get back into the van. The run felt good, though. Amazingly good for the amount of sleep and the time of day.

After we handed back off to Van 1 it was time to grab some pancakes and some more sleep in Zion, IL. Well, pancakes were had but sleep was in short supply. Unlike the indoor sleeping area at the high school earlier this time we were left to sleep outside in the cold or in the van. As someone who only sleeps well when fully horizontal this posed some challenges. Still, I managed about another 40 minutes.

We sent off Runner #7 on his last leg around 10:00 AM and then drove to McDonald's to get Jason some "real" food. Did I mention that Jason drove our van the entire time?

He's amazing.

Runner #7 handed off his baton at the end of his final leg to Runner #8 in exchange for some McDonald's in one of the more amusing runner exchanges of the relay.

The YMCA at that particular exchange point was kind enough to let runners in to take showers. I didn't take advantage of that particular perk but some of the guys in our van did. Amazingly our van never reeked of B.O. even though Runner #12 informed us that his shorts smelled horrible. We turned him down we he asked, "Does anyone want to smell my shorts?"

By now we were back on familiar turf. Waukegan, Lake Forest, Highland Park. I started my final run in Glencoe around 2:15 PM and ran 8.2 miles along a bike path and through Kenilworth and Evanston.

I'd been dreading this run. 8.2 miles? 9:00 minute pace? After very little sleep, crappy food, and sitting in van all day?

The running gods were shining on me, though. The weather stayed cool. The sun barely came out. And I decided to take 1 minute walk breaks every two miles. My legs felt amazing. Not tired at all. When I would look down at my Garmin I would see a sub-9:00 pace. Seriously? In the end, even with my walk breaks, I averaged a 9:09 pace and felt GREAT. I had such an amazing runner's high. I had finished all my legs. They'd all gone well. And now all that was left was to drive into the city and meet the rest of our team and our last runner at Montrose Beach.

When we found the rest of our team who had patiently waited 6 hours for us to get there (I think they went out for a loooooong lunch) we started swapping stories. Then, suddenly, we looked up the path. Is that our last runner? No. Yes? No. YES!

As he ran past we all joined him and ran across the finish line. We started at 10:30 AM on Friday. We finished at 4:30 PM on Saturday. 30 hours later.

Much like running a marathon (or, really, any hard race) there are times when you wonder why you're doing such a crazy thing. When you're so tired you could cry you wonder what you'll tell people when they ask why you signed up for this. You tell yourself you'll never do this again.

And then you look back on it and remember the feeling of crossing the finish line as a team. You remember laughing about stupid stuff and getting lost and being thrilled when you find out someone brought Rice Krispie treats. You think about how awesome it felt to run so well in the middle of the night. You giggle at all the funny team names and van decorations. You start thinking about what you'd do differently next time.

Will there be a next time? Let's take inventory:

Total miles run personally - 18
Sore body parts - Quads, right foot/ankle
Mosquito bites - 0
Sunburns - Nose (slightly)
Hours slept on Saturday night - 13
Bragging rights - Unlimited

If someone asked me to do this again, I think I would. The thing is, it would be a different experience every time. And while, yes, it's about the running, it's also about cheering for your teammates and amazing yourself at what your body can do when you ask it.

Legs 1 & 2
Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago by snmnstrz21 at Garmin Connect - Details

Leg 3
Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago by snmnstrz21 at Garmin Connect - Details