Category Archives: Ragnar

It was wonderful and it was horrible

I survived – and finished – Ragnar Wasatch Back relay 2012.  It was amazing and wonderful on one hand, and on the other it was terrible and horrible.

The amazing and wonderful came from all the things that weren’t running – with the exception of the first half of my run in the middle of the night.  Hubby and I hand-picked our van-mates after having experienced the difference between a Ragnar with new friends you get to know better and a van full of old friends.  Hubby got hurt in late January and could not train so he bowed out a couple of months before race day.  His substitution – who we met on our Vegas team last year – luckily was as cool as he is and fit in perfectly with the vibe in the van.  It was a weekend full of laughing until our abs hurt – and laughing even more when we wondered why our abs hurt so badly.  A weekend full of my favorite word (you know, the one that starts with F and ends in uck!) spoken freely from everyone and thus no need to filter from my own mouth.  A weekend full of judging.  And whores.  I could tell you more, but what happens on Ragnar stays on Ragnar.

The terrible and horrible part sums up having to run in extreme heat when I hadn’t trained properly at all.  I’m still a hormonally imbalanced mental and emotional wreck who is carrying around an extra 10-15 pounds thanks to my injury last fall and the cursed birth control I’m still stuck on.  (Seriously, what’s the deal with men getting all freaked about letting a doctor cut open their junk and sterilize them?)  My broken give-a-damn had me down to barely running the couple of weeks before race day and it all combined with the extreme heat for a perfect storm of horrible.  We had an injury in the other van and trades happening in our van to make sure we were better positioned for the right runner on the right legs.  It was hard not to be discouraged about being one of the two non-ultra runners in our van but I was in that category with one of my best friends.  We kept each others spirits up while the other four of our van-mates ran circles around us.  I like to think it was just sheer brilliance on my part that I stacked the van with the best runners I know who could get us up and over the most narly hill Ragnar has to offer anywhere but comparing yourself to others is so innate…  The fact that there was someone capable of running the last three miles of my last run rather than make me suffer in the heat and push the entire team even further behind our scheduled finish was sheer genius on my part, right?

Looking back on the whole experience I am once again amazed at what I did when, in the moment, I didn’t think I could do any of it.  I finished with my first daytime/heat/miserable run and thought ‘I’m done, let’s just go home’.  Then my night run was in a canyon where I had spotty GPS signal so I used my UN-calibrated Nike+ iPod sensor which I luckily just always have on my running shoes.  Brilliant – or so I thought until I figured out it was feeding me such inaccurate data that I’d pushed myself too hard and too fast in the beginning to have enough left to finish strong.  The first five miles were blissful – middle of the night, cold enough I could see my breath puffing out in the light of my headlamp, DOWNHILL on a canyon road, the moon rising over the mountains.  The last two miles of that run were so hard and ended with me limping into the exchange cursing with every step – literally.  I’m pretty sure I completely ruined the innocence of that volunteer I ran past.  After that, I knew there was no way I could run again and started to worry and fret about how I was going to have to walk my entire third run – the hardest of my three because it was all uphill.  But guess what, when it was time to run again after having caught maybe two hours of sleep in little cat-nap snippets, I ran!  If it hadn’t been so hot, I would have run that whole leg.  That fact still amazes me.  Maybe that’s what Ragnar is really about – pushing yourself beyond what you think you are capable of and finding that you’re capable of so much more than you thought you were.

Registration for next year’s race is already open and I promised Hubby we would not register a team for next year – which freaks me out whenever I think about it.  But never fear, we are still going to be Ragnarians.  Hubby and I decided to compromise.  We will do Wasatch Back every other year and do another somewhere else on the off-years.  Next year we’re planning on Northwest Passage in the Seattle area.  It might be my favorite race since the average temp for the area on race weekend is low 70’s – at sea level even.  Still hot but not hell-hot.  Why can’t they do a Ragnar somewhere when it’s only 50-60 degrees?   Now THAT would rock!!

Next up: fixing my give-a-damn so I can talk myself into another half marathon in the next year.  After all if you don’t have something to train for, it’s harder to keep pushing yourself past your comfort zone.

Ragnar approaches

Ragnar is a week from today.  As I look back on how different I felt this time last year it is hard not to post about it. 

Last year I was a brand new Ragnarian who had no idea what to expect who had trained hard – pushing through injury which I had no idea would impact my life so greatly a year later.  This year I breezed through logistics planning for my team with ease – thanks of course to my handy dandy spreadsheet I could re-use from last year!  I attended the Captain’s meeting last night and smiled sweetly at all the newbies furiously taking notes, because they were now the ones with no idea what lay ahead of them, and chuckled about being in their shoes last year.  Last year I had obsessed about buying the right gear weeks before, this year I haven’t even started to worry about what I need to buy except briefly in passing a couple of times.  Guess I know what I’ll be doing this weekend, huh? 

Two major things are weighing on me.  Training and temperatures.

Last year I was in great shape having just finished my first half marathon a few months prior to starting Ragnar training and averaged twenty five miles a week until race weekend.  This year, I was barely able to run a mile straight when training started because of my injury – caused of course from training so hard the year before for two Ragnars and ignoring the plantar fasciitis I had going on.  Plus, I have a two year old and what seems like a crazier schedule this year with Big Sister’s dance which impacted my training time severely.  I haven’t come close to the distances I was running last year and although I’ve been following the beginner training plan laid out by Ragnar I fear I am not prepared enough for all the running I’ll be doing on race day.  I guess we’ll see next weekend how ready I am! Hopefully I’m just being too hard on the comparison between where I was last year and hating how far back injury pushed me from there.

Last year it was unseasonably cold in Utah and there were still mountain passes covered in snow that the course had to be rerouted around.  This year it’s hot.  As in we’ve broken heat records in the past week.

(I’ve expressed my hatred of running in the heat before, right?)

Yesterday I ran three and a half miles in late afternoon heat (it was seventy degrees out I believe) and ended up with heat stroke.  About four hours post run I had the worst headache and was nauseated for hours.  Today I did some research – which means I asked a fellow outdoor enthusiast who trains in the heat – and found out both symptoms can be caused by heat stroke.  Great… the heat index is predicted to be ninety six for next weekend.  NINETY. SIX.  Two of my runs are anticipated to be in the heat of the afternoon. 

I’m trying hard not to panic.

Let the madness continue

We got into the sold out Ragnar Relay Wasatch Back!!!  Our number came up on the waiting list this week and I literally was jumping up and down when I got the phone call.  I wanted to scream but kept at least my voice composed for the angel on the other side of the line with the news I’d been waiting ever so patiently for months for.
And so it is official – training starts the first of February.  Race day mid June with a semi-new crop of fellow crazies.  I’ve already substituted two runners from the original twelve who committed and paid back in July when we got on the waiting list.  Luckily I had two people waiting in the wings for a shot at joining the party. This year Hubby and I will be in “the other” van so we can experience the entire race route.  Since Hubby is back to tip top shape and is officially one of the strong runners, we have to be in the van with the ubber-hard “Ragnar Hill”.  And this year I’m taking a leg with shorter total mileage.  I learned my lesson last year.  Hard means hard when it’s labeled as such regardless of how innocuous the elevation map makes it look.
I use Nike+ to track my running – it’s the coolest app on my iPhone – and every year they give you a rundown of the previous year.  I ran a total of five hundred miles in 2011 averaging three runs and ten miles a week.  Pretty impressive considering I haven’t run more than a couple of miles since Thanksgiving.  Compared to 2010 when I *only* ran three hundred seventeen miles I’m pretty happy with myself.
I’m slowly easing myself back into training mode.  I ran twice this week and it still amazes me to wake up in the morning without pain in my foot.  All the physical therapy and massage therapy has worked wonders and I’m so grateful it was so easily solved.  It’s insane how much you get out of practice when you stop doing cardio regularly and I’m trying not to get frustrated that I can’t just head out and easily do three to five miles at a time.  I have January to get back to where I was before I have to start hard core training.  Twenty three weeks until Ragnar.  I hope it is enough time.

Las Vegas – Ragnar Style

You know it’s November, right?  Which means I SHOULD be writing my novel and not recapping Ragnar.  But if I don’t do it now all the amazing things that I want to remember will fade as all memories do.  And that would suck.  So I’m taking one for all of you and will just suck it up and drink an extra cup of coffee so I can stay up later tonight to meet my writing goal after I finish this post.  Aren’t you glad I love you, my readers?
The things that make a Ragnar a Ragnar don’t ever change – you still have twelve people split between two vans who run leapfrog style taking turns running their way through two hundred miles to the finish line.  In between, there’s three runs a piece, two periods of “rest” when your van is not the one with the active runners, and lots and lots of driving.  So, I won’t regale you with the sweaty details of the parts you already know about.
What was different between Vegas and Wasatch Back?
1.  We had different van mates.
This time we were invited to join a team and I was NOT the captain.  What a refreshing change for me not to have to worry about every little detail!  Hubby and I and Steven got to ride and run with two of our friends that were in the “other” van on Wasatch Back – Carrie and Nancy – driven by Nancy’s hubby, Trent.  We rounded out the sixth with one of my brother’s friends – Austin – who fit in amazingly well.  Probably because he is as sarcastic and fun as we all are.  I’m telling you, the people in your van make all the difference in the world on the experience you will have.  If you ever do one, you want to stack your van with YOUR peeps, provided you have peeps that are crazy enough to do this race with you.
2.  The other van was full of elite runners.
Four of the six people in the other van did the same race last year as an ultra team.  Which means they are crazy enough to do the entire two hundred miles split up between only six of them instead of twelve.  Because the entire van were elite runners with sub eight minute mile paces (that is INSANELY fast for those of you non-runners) we didn’t have much down time between our running.  The first time we had about three hours.  That was just enough time to get to the next exchange point to wait for them, snarf some amazing food (tri-tips and chicken grilled to perfection with a side of delicious pasta salad) sitting on asphalt in a dark parking lot and then sacking out in the gravel between the bushes of the planter boxes of the same dark parking lot.  The second time we had about five hours in the wee hours of the morning.  Not being locals, we had to follow the course the runners were on, through winding dirt and gravel roads, to get to the next exchange to wait.  That drive ate two hours of our time up and later we learned we could have taken the interstate and a much more direct route.  If only we had known.  This is also why Steven and Austin didn’t really sleep.  Steven because he took over the driving detail when Trent started falling asleep so we didn’t all die.  I think Austin is just not used to sacking out with strangers…didn’t want to let his guard down, maybe?
3.  Fewer teams on the course.
This is a huge catch-22 for me.  Wasatch Back allows one thousand and fifty teams and sells out every single year.  That’s twenty two HUNDRED vans on the back roads between Logan and Park City.  Vegas had about four hundred fifty teams total and it really was much better.  There wasn’t as much chaos at the major exchanges.  We could adequately support our runners without fearing we wouldn’t make it to drop the next runner off in time.  All the things those people who don’t want me personally to get OFF the waiting list for Wasatch Back 2012 have said in protest when they talk about allowing more teams.  I get it now.  Fewer teams means a more laid back race for everyone.  And I really enjoyed that part of the Vegas race.
4.  The scenery sucks.
I’m sorry to anyone who thinks that dessert landscape is beautiful, because I think those people are nuts.  I had to run through desolate stretches of ugly ass scenery twice with the sun baking down on me feeling like I would shrivel up and die.  Like some dead lizard.  And no one would ever find my body.  I’m used to running in the majestic beauty of northern Utah and by comparison this totally sucked.  Not a tree in sight, no shade for miles, and dirt.  In eight six and ninety degree heat respectively.  For the record, I know why the Vegas race is where they give you double medals.  Otherwise, no one would want to do it!  Of course, there were some pretty parts – Lake Mead at the first major exchange point between vans, and the Red Rock area near the finish were both pretty.  And the one bad ass hill we had to climb had a few trees at the top with a small section where it could be called nice.  However, I did not get to run anywhere near any of those places.
5.  The jokes were a lot more funny this time around – probably because we were all so much more sleep deprived!
  • Every time one of us would do something dumb, someone would smile and reply “aw, at least you’re pretty”.  This little saying was used so often it ended up written on the window by the end.
  • Bad ass honey badgers.  If you haven’t seen the youtube video, you should.  Although it will never be as funny as we all thought it was with zero sleep when we had it playing on one of the iPhones in the middle of the night.  We picked up and repeated two lines from this little gem:  “You’re a bad-ass honey badger – you don’t give a shit!” and “I’m a tired little fuck”.  Trust me, even I thought it was less funny when I got home and had gotten a little sleep so don’t feel bad if you don’t ‘get it’.  (at least you’re pretty!)
  • Austin obsessing about how all he needed when he got done running was a banana – and me meeting him at the exchange after his hardest leg with one.
  • Strobe light effects from a high-powered mag light accompanied by cow bells out the window in the middle of the night, compliments of Trent the driver extraordinaire.
  • “You guys can take your vests off now”.  Three of us in the back seat had fallen asleep on the two hour drive from hell.  When we arrived it was daylight and we all still had our night gear on.  
  • The anonymous chalk message written on a part of the course Austin ran that said “pick up your vagina and run faster!”  It became our mantra.
  • When the girls weren’t feeling so fresh anymore, Carrie stopped and bought a little bottle of baby powder that we then used to freshen up.  Guess what – you can overdo powdering your girl parts in compression shorts… afterward, we had the insanely funny idea of calling our team the “Powder Pussies” the next time we raced.  Something tells me that name might not be allowed.
  • Relating an injury to the other van and referring to it as “I bruised my vagina”.  Oh the jokes that followed that one…  
There were so many other noteworthy things that happened in those thirty three hours that I could go on and on about:
  •  Steven saying randomly over and over, “Austin, have I said ‘thank you’ lately?” every time he thought about how he was originally assigned to the runner position Austin did.
  • Taking time to set up a tent at the last major exchange so we could all go inside, strip down and take a baby-wipe shower.  “You know you’re on Ragnar when a baby wipe shower is the highlight of your weekend.”
  • Hubby getting mad at the inconsiderate and obnoxious college-aged children who wouldn’t shut up so we could sleep on the ground around them.
  • Carrie and Nancy running all three times in the dark.
  • Steven’s sprint finish on his last run.
  • My getting the shaft and having to run TWICE in the dreaded heat – in the ugliest parts of the course to boot.
  • Watching Austin power through his TEN mile run – six of which was brutal uphill and then being stubborn to a fault when asked if he wanted/needed someone to take over and finish it for him.
  • Losing Carrie at the second major exchange after she handed off to the other van.
  • Lake Las Vegas at night is so amazingly beautiful!  We all said we wanted to come back to Vegas and stay there instead of the usual places you think of when you think Las Vegas.
  • Hubby starting the weekend saying “this is my last Ragnar”.  And then kicking ass and feeling so great at the end that he was asking when the next one is.
  • The wonders of ‘Sore No More’ cream – just don’t put it near your girl parts!
  • Nancy crying out “That’s MY girl” when a confused runner from a different team slapped her bracelet on Carrie who was waiting for Nancy to hand off to her.
  • Nancy and Carrie both running personal-best fastest times – on their THIRD runs when they were the most tired.  Both of them ran sub-nine minute miles.  A-maz-ing!
  • Nancy commenting on how fast this adorable, young girl runner was when she left the exchange significantly ahead of Nancy – and then Nancy running so fast she overtook the same girl while we all cheered her on with cowbells.  Then when Nancy passed off to Carrie, she paced the entire leg with the same girls’ husband who happened to be the same guy who offered us bananas at the first leg when Austin was obsessing about how badly he needed a banana.  See, smaller is better!
  • Wine for the women at the finish line.  The bottle we bought in a gas station and had hauled with us the whole way in the cooler.  Drank from a shared paper cup we swiped from the hotel room.  Best glass of wine ever because it was so deserved.
  • Feeling sorry for people we saw at the finish line with “only” one medal because this was their first Ragnar of the year.  Saints and Sinners medal for those of us who did Wasatch Back this year and Deuces Wild medal for those who had done at least one other one plus Vegas this year.
  • Walking through The Paris hotel casino after the race was over.  Sweaty, stinky, haggard looking while women in hoochie skirts and hooker heels made up perfectly passed by on all sides.  And not giving a shit because just being there meant we were headed to a shower and a real bed.
  • Crashing in the room and not seeing a single typical Vegas sight before hitting the road to come home the next day.  Although Steven did!
So what about my own personal experience running this time around?
The highlight of the running part for me was my night run at one in the morning.  It was chilly enough for a light jacket, I could see the Strip all lit up in the distance, and the run itself was easy and enjoyable.  Well, that is until it was longer than advertised and I had spent everything I had in me thinking I was almost done.  Luckily, Carrie had back-tracked to find me in the dark after they parked and we ran in together the last half mile.  I was hurting and spent and she kept trying to distract me by making me think about what I was going to do the minute we got done and what drink we were going to celebrate our finish with.  I don’t know if I ever even answered her, but just having to think about it in my head and knowing she was right there with me kept me pushing to the end.  She’s my favorite little ferret.
The lowest part for me was when I had to admit I couldn’t finish my last run.  I’d been ignoring a pretty significant running injury for months (ha, still am!) and after the end of my second run I knew the third was going to be brutal.  Luckily, it was going to be one hundred percent downhill.  Not a single foot of elevation increase according to the race maps.  I started out feeling great and pounding the miles out.  About two miles into my six mile run it wasn’t downhill anymore.  And uphill aggravates my injury worse – plantar fasciitis – as it pulls the tendon on the bottom of my foot in a bad way.  I was still in good spirits and made a deal with myself and my burning foot:  walk the distance between every other barrel cone and run the rest.  That worked for about a mile and then I could barely walk and had to stop at every barrel to stretch my calves just so I could walk to the next one.  Every step sent sharp pains shooting up from my foot and I literally thought I was going to die.  No more running for this girl.  Not that day.  So I walked – and cried – and cried harder as each person passed me – until I could see my van appear over the next rolling hill.  Nancy was walking toward me and as I came within earshot she asked if I was all right.  I told her ‘No’ and cried harder as she took off running back toward the van.  My amazing Hubby – who already knew it was too bloody hot out and too much rolling hills for me to handle – had already suited up and warmed up and was ready to go.  He crossed the two-lane highway, hugged and kissed me and let me cry on his shoulder for a second and then finished my last mile and did his six.  The fact that this is my lowest point and most likely made his Ragnar all at the same time is only a little ironic.  Almost as ironic as knowing he was unable to finish his last leg on the Wasatch Back and had trained super hard for Vegas so as not to repeat it.  He was certainly my hero that day.  
After, we talked about how this Ragnar was Blood, Sweat and Tears.  Hubby had bled when he banged his leg on the tailgate at some point, we were ALL sweaty and stinky, and I had cried like a baby… In the end, we all decided that Ragnar is really about being with friends for thirty six hours straight.  The running  part is just a reason to make the time and do it.
Here’s hoping we get a spot for Wasatch Back in 2012.  And if not, we’ll find another one to do instead!

    Life is a whirlwind… hold on tight!

    I’m forcing myself to take a break from the whirlwind of life I’m currently caught up in.  I didn’t realize the 30-day blog challenge would result in me missing writing here every day but it did and I feel like I’ve abandoned my poor blog.  You know what they say, it only takes twenty one days to create a habit and clearly I’ve developed the habit of writing every day.  Success!

    Last week was a frenzy of planning and execution to celebrate Big Sister turning ten years old.  We had three days of celebration in a row between our little family, her friend party and extended family party.  We survived and I didn’t have much time to get hung up on how fast the last decade has flown by.  Seriously, I have a ten year old?

    Immediately I was thrust into planning mode for the next big thing happening just days later…

    Tomorrow Hubby and I leave for Las Vegas to run our second Ragnar Relay of this year.  I know I have been running all summer but at the same time I fear I haven’t trained enough.  I guess we’ll see on Friday and Saturday how well I’m prepared this time around.  The first time I did everything by the book and by the numbers – meaning I followed the twenty week training program faithfully.  Was it beginners nervousness or my stressing about having to run twenty plus miles in two days that motivated me?  Could have been a little bit of both.  Now, I’m a seasoned Ragnar alumni who knows what to expect, have WAY easier runs on tap AND get to run mostly downhill – for real, this time – AND at half the elevation than I normally train in.  So, I’m less stressed and haven’t been running the kinds of mileage I probably should have been since my longest run is *only* six miles.  The classification of each of my runs are moderate, easy and moderate – compared to hard, very hard and hard last time.  Either I’m a genius not to have been stressing all summer or I’ve set myself up for failure like an idiot.  Honestly I fear it could go either way.  I’m looking forward to a van full of people I know well and love and seeing a side of Vegas I’ve never seen before.  Regardless of how I run, I know it will be a blast.  Hubby and I are viewing it as a four-day mini vacation with a little bit of running thrown in and are looking forward to spending some quality time together while our girls spend a party weekend with their fabulous nanny.

    When we return, I’ll again only have two or three days to prepare for the next big thing:  Halloween – my favorite day of the year.  We have a neighborhood party with the kids, an adults-only party, a family party AND the school festivities all on tap BEFORE the actual trick-or-treating.  I’m still sad I am not going to be running the Halloween Half with several of my friends and loved ones but there’s always next year.  When I look at how crazy the last half of October is it is probably for the best that I threw in the towel on squeezing a half marathon into the mix.

    And there will be no rest before the next big thing:

    The day after Halloween, I’m embarking on my fourth National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) where I will *finally* emerge at the end of November with not only a win but a completed first draft of a novel.  Technically I’m still working on the same novel I started back in 2008 but the only thing the same about it has been the title and basic premise.  Now I have a plot structure outline, a synopsis, character studies, etc. and will hit the ground running on November 1st.  I’m so much more hopeful this time around than any of the previous attempts I’ve made to write this damn novel.  My intention is to blog along the way so you all can see the process but I’m not promising it will happen more than sporadically.  I’ll be writing a novel – fifty thousand words – in thirty days after all!

    This glimpse into my life, which lately has been even more frantic than usual, has been brought to you by Folgers coffee – the only thing really keeping me going and awake most days.  Ironically, the thing I should have been doing the most this week in preparation for Ragnar is resting and getting lots of good sleep and I’m quite certain I’ll be exhausted when we hit the road in the morning.  At least I can sleep in a moving car without getting sick…

    So, is it just me or has life been on a fast track lately for anyone else?

    Living in denial

    I hate it when people say I can’t so something.  Most of my teen years were spent proving that just because you told me I can’t, I’ll show you I can.  It hasn’t much changed in adulthood.  There are merely less instances of it now that I no longer live with my parents who were the ones most often telling me I couldn’t.  But what happens when it isn’t a person who tells me I can’t?

    After Ragnar (and it’s intense training so I didn’t die during it) were over in June, I went back to just running for the love of running.  And it was great.  Then a friend put together a team for the Ragnar in Las Vegas and invited me and Hubby to join.  I had to go back to training hard AND acclimating to running in the heat, which I still hate but can actually do now.  The only saving grace is that I have much less mileage and mostly downhill to run on this one so it didn’t require as much training.  Plus, I knew I’d done Ragnar once this year so no sweat doing another one, right?  At that point all thoughts of doing anything else competitive for the year were abandoned and we proclaimed 2011 as the year of Ragnar.  To try and do anything else might just make me hate running.

    And then one of my favorite cousins-in-law convinced me to do another half marathon since her sister was making her do it. It’s the same half I did last year so I knew exactly what to expect with the course.  And, it is a week after Las Vegas Ragnar so I could do a half marathon training program – with a few tweaks – and train for both at the same time.  No sweat!

    Now we are less than three weeks from that half marathon race day.  Next week is Ragnar.  I  need to taper off in preparation for Ragnar race day which means no super long run this weekend.  Last week I mapped out a ten-mile route and limped through only six of them when my calf cramped up and I couldn’t stretch it out.  (Hydration, hydration!  You cannot slack on it when you are a runner!)  Yesterday my training plan called for a twelve-mile run but I hadn’t yet done ten so I mapped out a little easier route and attempted the ten again instead.  And I made it seven before giving into the temptation to skip the last little loop and turning toward home.  At that point I was pushing myself to run and not walk because of the pain in my foot from my nemesis, plantar fasciitis.

    I’m facing a sad reality that I may not be capable of running a half marathon no matter how much I want to or how much I’ve been training for it.  I have yet to do multiple runs in the same day to really be ready for this Ragnar AND I can’t push my poor foot further than eight miles without excruciating pain.  My sister – who constantly amazes me with her powers of perception – told me yesterday that I should have been dealing with my “injury” for months instead of living in denial.  Case in point – I can’t even call my plantar fasciitis an injury without quotation marks.

    So, it is with much consternation and reluctance that I declare – officially now – 2011 as the year of Ragnar and only Ragnar.  If I can get my “injury” under control I’ll try for another half next year just to prove I can do it.  And I’ll take small comfort from knowing I’m achieving something just as significant.  By doing two Ragnars in the same year, I will earn two medals when we cross the finish line in Las Vegas next week.  And that “Saints and Sinners” medal will be awesome!

    Ragnar Wasatch Back 2011 – Part 3

    It took us more than an hour to drive directly to the major exchange at the Oakley Rodeo Grounds where we would take the baton from Van Two in the morning.  It was a cluster trying to get out of the East Canyon State Park because they were routing people down and around to wind through the campgrounds instead of letting us get directly back up onto the road.  By the time we got there, we were so exhausted and ready for sleep.  We parked in the far corner of the parking lot in front of what looked like a grassy area we could lay down and sleep on.  We hiked across the vast parking lot to stand in line for the Honey Buckets… again… and nearly froze to death.  It was one AM at this point and we had been up for nearly twenty four hours.  And I’d run fifteen miles!

    When I got back to the car, shivering, I told Hubby there was no way I was going to sleep outside in our light sleeping bags we had packed.  Maybe if we had sub-zero rated bags it would be a different story.  So, we climbed back into the car and tried to sleep.  Steven, who is over six feet tall, headed out with his fleece blanket to attempt to sleep lying down on the ground instead of folded into a seat.  Sean headed to the free hot chocolate tent where we assumed he was hooking up with chicks, being the available bachelor of the group, and we didn’t see him for several hours.  The rest of us tried to curl up with pillows jammed between the window and side of our necks so we could ward off the crick in the neck you get from sleeping with your head on your own shoulder.  Well, everyone except my sister who couldn’t find her pillow.  Being the awesome wife I am and knowing how hard this situation was going to be on Hubby who has a ruptured disk in his lower back, I let him recline the seat in front of me so he could kind of stretch out.  Which meant I was crammed in between his seat and mine with little room to maneuver…

    A while later, Sean crawled back into the car who, it turns out, had not been picking up chicks but had gone out to the grass and laid down to sleep – without even a blanket.  No wonder that didn’t last long!  So now we have my sister in the driver seat, minus her pillow; Hubby in the passenger seat, reclined; me crammed behind Hubby in a seat that didn’t recline, Sean in the other non-reclining seat behind my sister, and Jose and Jaclyn sharing the back seat feet-pointed-toward-each-other style.  A couple of tossing and turning hours later at about three am, the overhead light went on with Steven at the door.  I’ll never forget what he said in his apologetic voice… “Sorry guys, but I can’t feel my feet.  I need to get back in.”  So, Jaclyn – who weighed all of about ninety pounds – climbed into the very back and laid on top of all our bags and coolers, etc.  Now Jose and Steven are in the back and we all try and go back to sleep.  Well, first I snap some photos to prove it is possible to sleep seven adults in one Ford Excursion.  The same photos that exposed Jose as the pillow thief he is since once they were posted to Facebook my sister screamed “That’s my pillow!!  No wonder I couldn’t find it and no wonder it stunk when I got it home!!”

    About four o’clock I was so cold, even with my sleeping bag on top of me like a blanket, that I whispered to my sister to turn the car on so we could get warm.  Which she promptly obliged, probably because she hadn’t been warm since we left the hotel Friday morning.  We ran the heater until it was so hot in there I thought I would vomit (which according to her was not nearly long enough) and then I realized I was hungry.  Like my stomach was growling.  Guess who hadn’t eaten after her second run and who had an empty tank with nothing left to fuel another run in a couple of hours.  Yes, the same girl who still can’t run on either an empty or a full stomach.  Luckily someone had passed the reusable grocery back toward the front and I had the makings of PB&J within reach.  I made me a sandwich and ate some grapes from the fruit cooler between the seats with the aid of my headlamp – which I never actually used for running but was required to have – without disturbing the rest of my van-mates.

    After I was done eating I realized it was coming up on about four thirty and if the other van had either made up time or was on schedule still, we were going to need to be ready to run in just over an hour.  I sent Melissa a text to check in and found they had fallen even further behind.  They estimated they wouldn’t be done and ready to pass off to us until about eight o’clock.  Elated, I switched my alarm clock on my phone to much later and fell back to sleep, kind of.

    The alarm clock went off at six forty five and everyone groaned since if I was up and needing to change my clothes, everyone had to be up so we could unload the car to get my bag out.  They were offering breakfast of pancakes, eggs and sausage that we took advantage of.  I changed out of the clothes I had spent the last thirty hours in and wiped down with some baby wipes – since there were no showers available.  You never think that a wipe down with baby wipes is going to cut it until you’re in a situation where it does and then you’re grateful to have them.  The downside of the morning was when my sister was in line for the Honey Buckets and the pump truck arrived to pump them out, and she was downwind.  It was disgusting enough that she had almost made her way to the front of the line and still stepped out of it to escape the stink.  I will say that overall the Honey Buckets themselves were never disgusting and the race team did a fabulous job coordinating the servicing to accommodate fourteen thousand runners using them constantly.

    By the time we had all cleaned ourselves up, the sun was shining, mocking us with the inviting field of grass we could have slept on had we had the appropriate gear.  We headed for the exchange to wait for Van Two.  We had about half an hour of hanging out with the girls from the other van hearing about their overnight runs and van antics and the fact that they had not had any sleep yet while we waited for Melissa to arrive.  I was so nervous and didn’t think I had anymore running in me.  I had rolled out with TheStick (which every runner must have we all decided that weekend) but I hadn’t stretched much after my last run because it was too cold outside to do it before we hit the sack.  I worried that I’d beaten my body to it’s limit and it would rebel.  I feared I’d take the baton and have to walk the whole length of my last four mile run.

    I didn’t need to be nervous, though.  Melissa arrived, told me she had fallen on her face, and sent me on my way with the baton.  I had psyched myself up, swore I would not humiliate myself by walking out of the exchange no matter what and surprisingly ran the first mile and a half straight.  Then I hit some rolling hills and did more walk/run intervals telling my concerned van-mates that I was fine and was just going to take it easy.  I had plenty of water and I would see them at the exchange since it was a short little run of four point one miles.

    When I hit two miles according to my GPS I celebrated that I was halfway there and kept telling myself that even though I could see the course ahead of me and knew it was uphill the remainder of the way that I could do it.  After all, I only had to go one more mile and then I’d see that beautiful and much loved marker that proclaimed “one mile to go”.  I was on the home stretch!

    I looked down at my GPS and saw that I had gone three point nine miles, which meant I had a mere three tenths of a mile to go, and looked up to see… the “one mile to go” marker which was not welcome HERE and had become a taunt rather than a beloved sight.  What the fuck are you talking about one mile to go?  I KNOW this leg was only four point one miles!  It must be a joke, right?!  Only it wasn’t… turns out the leg was actually four point nine, in other words a five mile leg, not the four I was expecting.  That last mile began to drag out and my body – which I had been making deals with all morning to please just get me to that last exchange – started to scream in agony.  My right foot started shooting weird pain from my arch down to my toes which I started worrying was some kind of injury; I could no longer muster the energy for even a short run interval between the walking and I was putting us seriously behind in our times.

    I rounded the last corner and could see the exchange ahead of me.  With the last ounce of will I had left I started running and as I got within fifty yards I screamed – at the top of my lungs with both arms held high, “I’M FUCKING DONE!”  Did I care that my language probably offended half the people standing around?  Not in the least…  And I even had someone yell it back at me as I passed saying she thought she was the only one who felt that way.  With jubilant screams and relief proceeding me, I saw my Hubby step up to take the baton from me for the last time.  The running part of my Ragnar was over!

    I stretched my poor calves and feet a bit and heard that the talk in the van had been along the lines of “why doesn’t she let someone else take the last leg if she’s hurting that much?”  Which my wise sister proclaimed, accurately, I would never do because I was stubborn and had said I’d do it and by god would.  We loaded into the van to catch up with Hubby who only had three miles to go.  He ended up tweaking his knee not even a mile in and couldn’t run anymore.  He had to walk most of his third leg and hated every minute of it and most especially those minutes that included someone passing him.  I hated seeing his disappointment of not finishing strong but reminded him that he barely trained for this event and should be proud that he did as well as he did on the first two legs and even had the ability to walk the last one.

    Everyone else had short and easy legs except Steven who had been dreading his hardest and longest third run.  It was over eight miles up another mountain highway pass behind Jordanelle.  It was also a leg of no van support so we waved him goodbye from the exchange and toiled a bit to let Hubby and I stretch and relax a little before we made our way to the next exchange.  Steven kicked ass doing what he calls construction intervals – run to a cone, walk to a cone.  Then we watched Jacklyn sprint down into Heber Valley like a shot running about six and a half minute miles.  Not bad for a mountain biker who doesn’t run outside very often!  She made up time for both Hubby and I and then Sean and Jose had quick and easy runs and we arrived in Heber to trade off one last time to Van Two at about one o’clock.

    After the last exchange, we stretched out on the grass and again pulled out the cooler and food.  We were so ravenous!  Jose’s family – who weren’t going to see him for two weeks between business travel and Ragnar weekend – came and met us and Jose and Sean went home with them after we snapped some “OMG We did it” photos.  (Deserters!)

    We packed the car one last time, two people short, and headed for Park City High School and the finish line.  We parked, used the Honey Buckets… again, walked forever to get to the stadium and then hung out for hours waiting for the team finish.  We browsed through the very picked over merchandise tent, wandered past all the other vendor tents, scoped out the food and copped a squat at a table.  Steven’s family and Jaclyn’s husband arrived and we got to tell our first recap of the weekend and relive the adventure we were still on.  After some more food, we ended up in the end zone of the football field so we could have an easy reference point to tell Van Two where to meet us when they arrived.  Since Steven’s wife is a close friend, I chatted while my sister and Hubby fell asleep on the astro-turf.

    Then Van Two arrived and at last we were all together.  Mina, the nurse practitioner and all around kick ass woman, took one look at Hubby’s knee and promptly escorted him to the first aid tent for an exam and an ice pack.  Turns out he had overused and irritated his knee and needed Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation but had not torn his ACL again which is always his first fear.  We made our way to the team holding area and began the stretch of waiting for them to announce our number over the PA so we could go onto the track and run with Melissa the last tenth of a mile to the finish line together.  It was fun catching each other up on what each van had been up to.  Mina disappeared and turns out had gone down the trail to meet Melissa and run in with her since this had been a no van support leg the whole way for her.

    Finally they announced team 1048, Run Piggies Run and Melissa and Mina ran up onto the track and we all sprinted for the finish together… until I screamed “slow down” so we wouldn’t leave my poor Hubby behind.  We crossed at just past eight thirty PM.  There were tons of smiles and lots of pictures snapped as we crossed as a team – well, minus the deserters who went home early.  We were quickly herded to the adjoining tents to receive our medals and other finish line goodies and then to pose for official team finish photos in our medals.  Two free pizzas from Little Caesars were snarfed down and poor Melissa tried to process it all while overwhelmed that she had just finished her long and very difficult run while we all rested and waited in anticipation.

    Our official time was one hundred ninety two miles in thirty eight hours, five minutes and nine seconds.  The winners did it in about eighteen hours, but we were not the last team to finish which is all that mattered.  The only thing that mattered was that we DID finish!

    We all walked together to the cars to hand out the official shirts that I’d been carrying around in Van One all weekend.  Steven, Jaclyn and Mina went home with their families who came to watch the team finish.  And the rest of us all climbed back into the stinky vans to make our way home after group hugs galore and talk about doing it all again.

    I don’t know if, after all of this, I have successfully expressed how amazing this weekend was.  It was the most grueling and rewarding thing I have ever done.  At times I hated it, at times I wanted to smack van-mates when my sleep deprived bitchy side was showing.  But at the same time I loved every minute of the experience and I can’t wait to do it again!  Ragnar Vegas?  Ragnar Napa?  Anyone?  The funniest thing is that registration for 2012 Wasatch Back is already open exclusively for those who did it this year.  So I’m already back to planning and logistics mode for next year.  If you’re interested in being on the 2012 team, let me know!

    My most relished moment overall was applying the badge of honor to the rear window of my car: the coveted Ragnar sticker.  As Steven said, it makes it that much more impressive knowing that you don’t get it when you check in, you can’t buy it anywhere, you only get it when you finish.  In other words, it is earned!  Yes, the medal is nice and includes a bottle opener but it doesn’t have anything on the sticker!

    Ragnar Wasatch Back 2011 – Part 2

    We arrived at Snow Basin, the second major exchange where we would eventually meet up with the runner from Van Two and get the baton back to kick off our second set of runs, at about two o’clock.  We didn’t have much down time since the first set of legs for Van Two were all fairly short and they only had about five hours of running.  Plus we’d hung out in Eden for a while already.  We hiked from the lower parking lot to the lodge, stood in line for the Honey Buckets with the masses, and hiked back to the car.  We had planned ahead to have real food with us and pulled the cooler out for pasta salad and grilled chicken.  It was nice to lay down on the ground and stretch our legs.  We even ended up being sucked into the merchandise tent to get our Ragnar gear – hoodies, shirts and beanies.

    At this point in the day it wasn’t much different than a day of training; I’d already done several days run in the morning and run at night.  And this was the leg I was super excited for – my downhill leg.  We checked in with the other team to see if they were on track for their run schedule, which they were, and relaxed for a bit.  Steven was the smartest of us who wandered off with his blanket to find a shaded spot to try and get some sleep.  The rest of us laughed and gossiped and talked about our next set of legs.

    At about quarter till five o’clock we packed our gear up and got ready to head for the exchange point.  This meant it was time for me to get nervous with anticipation again and start checking and double checking all my gear.  I failed to mention that on my first leg my iPod decided to quit about a mile in.  It doesn’t like cold temperatures as much as I do apparently.  I’d charged it in the car and strapped it onto my arm hoping it wouldn’t fail me this time since I had a two hour run ahead of me.  Garmin on my wrist, check.  Heart rate monitor and Nike+ Sportband on the other, check.  I filled up my water bottle to strap to my back, loaded up with my Gu for pre-run and mid-run fueling and prepped my recovery shake with water in my blender ball.  I sprayed down with sunscreen and was ready.

    Or so I thought…

    I stood at the exchange for a long time waiting for Melissa – the last runner from Van Two.  I couldn’t blame her, she was running up the steep canyon road and she had told us she’d have to walk parts of it.  I couldn’t have done it and there’s no shame in walking.  The exchange was crazy and the volunteers were clearly not very adjusted to what they were doing – I suspected it was shift change.  The runners were all lined up and craning necks to try and watch who was rounding the corner to see if it was their team mate or not.  The more we craned our necks, the more the volunteers told us to step back.  All the other exchanges had people who were radioing ahead from a half mile out when each runner would pass and they would announce the team number for those waiting.  Well, not this exchange.  Finally I saw her turn the corner running like a trooper.  Apparently my Hubby, always the jokester, yelled “way to go, Melissa!  Just one more mile!”  Melissa didn’t miss a beat and promptly flipped him the bird and the crowd roared with laughter.  The fact that I missed this exchange completely, even standing right there, tells you how distracted I was and focused on my run.  Hubby was laughing about it later and I had no idea what he was talking about.

    And then I had taken the baton, slapped it around my wrist and headed off… On a journey into Hell.

    The description of my leg was something like ‘depart exchange 12 via utility road behind the lodge, turn right onto Snow Basin Road… blah blah blah… DOWN the canyon into Ogden Valley’.  The reality of that utility road was nothing that I had planned for.  It didn’t just go quaintly behind the lodge that was right there, it went half a mile up the ski hill behind the lodge and was rocky as hell.  I couldn’t run it without twisting my ankle so it was more like a hike – a slow hike up a fifteen percent incline.  I was super dejected when I realized it was a ski lift I was running next to and the road just kept going up.  Finally, after what seemed like miles, the road turned back down the hill and my heart and lungs got a little breather – not to mention my legs.  The worst part was the bugs – that kept hitting me in the face and sticking to the sweat there.  And, of course, there was no van support on this section so I couldn’t even tell anyone I needed the bug spray, which was buried in my bag in the back of the van anyway.  I was miserable and had eight miles left to go.

    And then I hit the snow…

    Yes, SNOW!  I had to climb three steps up onto the top of a large section of snow and run across the top of it.  Trust me, I looked and there was no way around that snowbank that completely covered a section of the utility road.  It was slushy snow – a pile which had been there for a while, cold, then melted, then cold again. I slipped and sloshed around in the ankle-deep slush on top literally cursing with each step thinking about how miserable this run would be if I had wet shoes or wet socks or both.

    Once past the snow, I hit the road and was finally back to van-support.  I had a section of uphill which I figured was my last and settled in for walk/run intervals to get to the top.  Running is such a mental sport and I kept telling myself that I could do it and focused on the downhill reward after this little uphill section since then I would be heading back down to hook up to the main canyon highway from the little detour into the ski resort exchange point.  Not long after I hit the road I saw the blessed – and now recognizable thanks to our decorating efforts – back of my van.  I yelled at the top of my lungs “bug spray!” and hoped my sister who was hanging out the open driver’s window could understand what I was screaming.  She did and luckily had some which was more handy than mine and didn’t require an unpacking of the van to get to.  I stopped to get sprayed down, glad for the little rest after the uphill, and headed out again – still excited.

    And man was that downhill ever fun!  Seven percent downgrade – hell yes!  Except it didn’t last as long as I thought and about two more miles down when I hit the main highway I was back to uphill… and it was a long and steady slight uphill grade which is my least favorite.  I’d rather have a super tough but short uphill that I can psych myself up about and push through.  This was torture.  And on top of that, we were now in an area of main highway and the support people in my van couldn’t get out and cross the road to me if I needed anything.  I’d already drank most of my water I was carrying, was feeling the late day heat and knew I’d need more.  Since it was a long non-van support leg, there were water stations and at the first one they let me refill my water bottle and I grabbed some Powerade.  About that time my calf started cramping up because I hadn’t stretched as much as I should have between runs.  I yelled to the van across the highway that I needed a banana and Steven chucked one across the road.  I’m a total girl so I didn’t catch it and it landed at my feet, broken open and smashed on one end.  I ate most of it and tossed the biodegradable remains over the side of the cliff and pushed on hoping my dancing nanny who had told me the trick of eating a banana to get rid of cramps was right.  Guess what, she was!

    The rest of the leg translated much differently in reality than what I had envisioned based on the graphic on the leg map.  It was more rolling hills with a general trend downward.  So not what I had been looking forward to in the form of constant downhill! Guess I should have trained for uphill just a bit more than I had…

    At the halfway point I was a wreck.  I had pushed my body to lengths it had never been pushed before and I was approaching – and would exceed – the most mileage I had ever run in a twelve hour period.  Not even my half marathon mileage was this long.  My feet were hurting, my plantar fasciitis that I’d been babying for a week of rest prior to race day was flaring and shooting pain up my heel with every step.  But I kept going because there was no way this race that I’d been dreaming about for years and training for months for was going to beat me.  And then I could see the end and the last stretch of downhill waiting and knew I just needed to make it the last three miles and I could rest.  I had hit a point that I needed to be by myself to struggle on my own and didn’t want my van-mates to see it so I waved them on to the next exchange so Hubby could get ready for his run.  I took some more Powerade from the last water station and settled in for the longest stretch of road I have ever run…

    As I crested the last section of slight uphill with about two miles left to go, I looked up and saw the most beautiful view of the Ogden valley opening up below me.  The sun – which was almost setting to my right – bounced off the green hills surrounding me with surreal light.  And then our song from our wedding started playing on the iPod in my ears which thankfully hadn’t quit on me this time.  I started crying, it hit me so hard.  And I’m not going to lie, I cried those last two miles almost nonstop while people continued to pass me and yell “good job” counting me as the roadkill I felt like.  This was also the point I had officially sweat off all the bug spray because the bugs returned and started sticking to the sweat on my face again.  Bugs are so gross!

    As I came into view of the exchange I tried to pull myself together, still trudging along and telling myself I felt this way because I had just run fifteen miles in the space of twelve hours – FIFTEEN – and that I was amazing for living through it and still be running.  I was able to stop the tears and focus on getting to the exchange point, looking frantically for my Honey who had changed his shirt while I was running.  When he stepped up from the line of runners waiting at the exchange and I finally saw him I lost it again, slapped the baton on him and wished him luck.  As he ran off looking strong I promptly broke down like a baby while my team stepped up to congratulate me.  Luckily my friend Steven offered his shoulder to cry on for a moment while I composed myself.  I’m sure it was awkward for him but I appreciated it so much.  Then I saw my sister, though, and I lost it again.  Thank god she was there for me to hug, cry with and to snap me back to reality.  She told me how amazing it was that I had just done something that no one else she knows could have done, reminded me I HAD done it and it was over, and that I needed to pull myself together.  Just the right combination of bitchy and supportive I needed.  I stretched a tiny bit and jumped into the van because Hubby’s leg was only three miles and we couldn’t let him beat us to the exchange while I had an emotional fit.  I put my big girl panties back on, mixed up my recovery shake and drank it while basking in what I had just accomplished.  The irony that the leg I had most looked forward to during training was the one I hated the most was not lost on me.  And, we were now forty minutes behind our estimated pace times between me and Melissa having to walk parts of the canyon.

    We leap-frogged through the rest of the runners who all now had to wear their reflective gear because we’d entered the official night time running hours:  reflective vest, head lamp and butt light all required. Everyone between me and Jose had their easy legs with short and flat mileage paralleling the highway running through the valley I’d just gotten us into and I envied every single one of them.

    By the time Jose headed out on his final run it was full dark and this was his hardest and longest leg heading up to East Canyon State Park.  A combination of no one paying attention to what time he actually left the exchange, several of us needing to stand in line for the Honey Buckets… again… and him running either faster or slower than his published pace, we lost him.  It was surreal how every single runner from the back looked exactly the same with the exception of being able to tell which version of reflective vest they had – the vest kind or the Y-suspender kind.  We went ahead of where we thought he should be and stopped to wait.  Then panicked after sitting there long enough that we swore he should have passed by already and worrying that he’d already passed that spot while we dallied at the exchange.  So we moved a couple of miles ahead passing what we estimated was the entire section of the runners who had just run past us at the last place and then some hoping to catch up to him.  We did this three more times without ever being able to pick him out and decided we better head to the exchange assuming at this point he would beat us there.

    Except when we got there, he wasn’t there and I got worried.  Yes, he was carrying his own water and he was a strong runner who said he didn’t need anything from us when he headed out but we’d agreed we’d meet him at the halfway mark of his eight mile run to check on him.  And instead we’d lost him among the other runners and ultimately abandoned him.  We settled in at the exchange with Nancy, the first runner from Van Two, and waited in the freezing night air.  And by freezing I mean freezing, literally.  Sub forty degree temps are fabulous to run in, not so fun to stand around in with only a hoodie…

    Finally we heard them announce our team number and saw Jose come down the last stretch and into the illumination of the lights.  Relief!  We wished Nancy and Van Two luck as they were off to run all through the rest of the night and we headed to the car to get warm, apologizing to Jose for losing him as we went.

    We headed out from the exchange all very excited for some much anticipated rest we had ahead of us.  As we read the directions from the race magazine about where we could go and hang out to have indoor sleeping accommodations and showers (for a price, of course) and then realized it would mean a thirty mile backtrack in the morning to get to the exchange which they recommended we get to early, we all decided it would be best to maximize the time we had to sleep and go straight to the real exchange instead of the alternate hang out location.  So, we bee-lined it straight to Oakley to sleep and run again the next morning.

    Ragnar Wasatch Back 2011 – Part 1

    What an amazing weekend… What an endurance test… What an accomplishment…

    WE DID IT!!  Our entire team finished the 191 grueling miles together and had the experience of a lifetime.  I’m still all jumbled up in my thoughts and trying to wrap my mind around how to relay everything that transpired effectively.  How do you explain to people how spending thirty eight hours in a car together, with five other stinky runners, driving slowly across half the state can be fun?  But oh my god was it ever fun!!

    I made a list of things to do differently next time (yes, there’s definitely going to be a next time!)
    1) take a backpack, not your purse, Terra *sheesh*
    2) pack even lighter – I didn’t use half the stuff I brought because my bag was buried in the back the whole time.  Which will also be solved with a backpack to put my essentials in and have handy.
    3) we need a unique lighting option to differentiate OUR runners at night, even in Van 1
    4) we don’t need as much food next time
    5) don’t do three graveyard on-call shifts the week leading up to Ragnar

    The week leading up to the race I was a total stress ball but when it came to actual race day I was relaxed and ready to experience Ragnar.  Thursday was filled with last minute preparations – like getting the house restocked with groceries so my poor kids who were staying home with the nanny for the weekend could eat.  Everyone in my van, “Van One”, met at my house that evening to drive the two hours to Logan where the race started.  We met the one person none of us knew at the hotel when we checked in and headed for the restaurant for dinner.  We picked an Italian place so we could all “carb-load”.  Kind of a joke among runners to eat a big meal the night before when in reality, if you were really carb-loading the correct way, it happens over a couple of weeks and is way intense.  By the time we got done with dinner and back to the hotel to hit the sack it was after eleven o’clock PM.  With our start time of six-thirty the next morning we decided we needed to rendezvous around the coffee pot in the lobby by four-forty five.  Considering I was the first runner, I can’t run on an empty stomach AND I can’t run on a full stomach I had to be up at about  three-forty five to eat my meal replacement, get dressed and repacked and ready to head out.  Yikes, that is NOT a lot of sleep and it was going to bite me in the ass later considering I’d worked the graveyard on-call shift the two nights in a row previous and had gotten very little sleep.

    The weather gods were smiling down on me personally when the morning brought almost freezing temperatures.  It’s no secret that I hate the heat and my favorite temperature to run in is forty.  Being the first runner out of the gate and it being under forty when we headed out from the hotel brought me such joy.  We made our way – after my sister and I reloaded the car while everyone else sipped coffee – to the start where we had to stand in line to check in to get our race bibs…  Then another line to get our safety flags…  Then another line to get our safety briefing done… No wonder they tell you to arrive an hour and a half before your scheduled start time!  Luckily there was a huge merchandise tent that was warm.  I’m sure it was on purpose since it was a superb marketing ploy.

    Then they were calling the runners for the 6:30 start time to line up.  The start was on the Utah State University campus track and then out the stadium from there to wind our way through quaint farming communities and over three mountain passes toward our finish line.  About fifty teams start together so the track was full but not overflowing.  Teams start all day in order to keep the course manageable with the fourteen THOUSAND runners who participated.  I was so nervous and so excited standing there among all the other runners doing the “runner one” spot.  When they said “GO” we all took off and for once I didn’t sprint off the start but stuck to my pace.  Which also meant by the time we came to the first corner to put us out onto the roads of Logan I was well in last place.  The motto is: “further, not faster” and I kept telling myself that it didn’t matter how fast I went just as long as I could go the distance.  Especially since I had the longest total mileage of anyone on the team.  The morning was so beautiful and I had such an amazing run those first seven miles.  My van-mates, led my my sister the best driver on the planet, stopped every couple of miles to make sure I didn’t need anything and to give me more cow bells.  (If you haven’t seen the SNL skit about more cow bells you must google it and watch it!)

    One of the funnest parts of running Ragnar is watching all the crazy vans drive by and seeing how they have been decorated with team names and themes.  I realized that we were in serious need of van decorating since ours had none at that point.  We didn’t want to get up earlier or stay up later to do it and figured we’d have plenty of time during the race.  Not only are the van decorations and sayings painted on the windows entertaining to see, it makes your van more distinguishable among the hundreds that pass by on each leg.  So, note to self: must get at least our team name on the windows after I’m done running.  Luckily we’d tracked down some car markers the night before.

    Only one thing marred that first run and it was a personal annoyance that plagued me the entire race… being road kill.  Some hard core Ragnar runners have started the tradition of counting their kills through the race.  In Ragnar-speak a roadkill is when you pass up another runner.  I’m sure if you’re the one doing the passing and there are very few people to count it is fun and exhilarating.  When you are the slowest runner on that leg and EVERYONE passes you and says “good job” as they run by it feels more demeaning than encouraging.  I was thankful to those who passed by me in silence and stayed out of my head remembering that I was only responsible for running my pace on my legs, not anyone else’s, and we’d still finish on time.  We were in it to Finish, not in it to win it after all.  I ran the seven miles in exactly the time I estimated it would take me for my average 10K pace and felt amazing.  That was the leg I had been most worried about since it included a lot of rolling hills.  I like it flat and downhill, I’m not gonna lie!

    At the end of my run I handed off to my sexy husband who was waiting at the exchange and he headed out on his first leg of six miles.  He killed everyone who had just killed me AND got his picture taken by a photographer for one of the local papers which was featured on their website the next day.  He ran so fast that by the time I’d cooled down and we loaded into the van to leap-frog ahead of him and be ready with water, he’d passed the point he told us he’d want us at.  So, we just kept driving until we found him and pulled over to give him some water.  Not too shabby for a guy who had his ACL replaced two and a half years ago and did very little training for the actual running part of Ragnar.

    We repeated the cool-down-the-incoming-runner-and-leapfrog-ahead-to-support-the-current-runner dance through the other four runners in the van.  It was so interesting to watch how each person’s demeanor would change as they became the runner on deck and would start their own mental preparations.  Some would get quiet, some would get giddy and some just didn’t sweat it but strapped on their bib number and was ready to go.  Steven called himself the grumpy runner because he doesn’t actually love the running part of running.  He retreated into his headphones in search of his zen place and ran very focused, not needing much support from us in the van at all.  Jaclyn we soon found was our secret weapon and could run so fast.  She was almost all done with her first run before we even caught up with her.  Sean had a tough climb up Avon pass but enjoyed it so much he was posing for pictures as we passed him by.  Jose screamed downhill on the other side of the pass and also posed for pictures – road killing along the way.

    We arrived at the first major exchange in Eden about one o’clock PM to find massive amounts of team vans.  A major exchange is where both vans from your team – and every other team – are there together because one van is handing off to the other van.  You can imagine the chaos!  We were parked in some poor farmer’s field who I am personally grateful is someone who supports Ragnar and let us be there.  We split up with half of us heading for the lines to use the Honey Buckets (aka, road construction porta-potty) and the rest searching for Van Two before they headed out to support Nancy as she took the exchange from Jose.  By some miracle we were parked in the same general area as them and saw them as they were heading out.  We passed on the other half of the cowbells, gushed about how much fun we were having and wished them as much luck on their legs.

    With the baton now with Van Two, we had about five hours of down time before we had to be at the next major exchange and ready for our next set of runs.  We hung out there for a bit to see what booths they had and what free food there was, which was not much since they had chips and salsa but had run out of salsa.  The free samples of frozen yogurt were a hit and the jewelry that enticed me turned out to be kind of cheesy and overpriced.  So, we all stood in line for the Honey Buckets – something that became one of the main activities of the weekend as Steven pointed out – and then headed back to the car.  We took the time then to put our team name “Run, Piggies, Run” on the back window of the Excursion and put each runner’s name on the side windows with three check-boxes to mark our progress along the way.  Van decorating complete, we headed for Snow Basin to wait for Van Two to get done and pass the baton back to us.

    *** I’ve decided to publish the race recap in three parts or else it will be ages before anyone hears how it all went!  Stay tuned for the next installment that will cover the second leg of our journey! ***

    Ragnar Recap – Pre Race

    What the hell is Ragnar?  I realized that just because people have been hearing me talk (and blog and tweet and Facebook) about Ragnar for a year that doesn’t mean people know what it is or what I am about to embark on.  In a nutshell, it is a relay race from Logan to Park City, UT: one hundred ninety one miles, run by twelve runners over a forty eight hour period.  The twelve runners are split into two vans and each runner runs three different times.  Each leg of the relay is assigned so if I’m runner one (which I just so happen to be), I run legs one, thirteen and twenty five.  The motto of the race is: Run, Drive, Sleep, Repeat.  The original race of the Ragnar Relay Series is the Wasatch Back here in Utah but they have them all over the country now.  So you know it has to be fun, right?

    It’s amazing to me that Ragnar is actually here.  I started talking about doing a Ragnar Relay years ago.  The first year, I wasn’t ready as a runner to even run the distance of one of the legs but it sounded so fun I said “next year” and vowed to train hard.  Then I got pregnant and missed the next year.  The following year I didn’t think I’d have enough time to recover from childbirth and train for Ragnar in five months so I said “next year” yet again.

    “Next year” arrived last summer – the summer of 2010.  My adorable running fool of a cousin starts talking about Ragnar at the yearly family reunion every summer because she has just finished a few months before. Last year was only different in one way: I was finally capable (and ready and willing) to join in the fun.  So we decided to get a team together.  Between the two of us we were sure we could find ten other runners if each of us focused on filling a van with our fellow running buddies.  Since both of our husbands are also runners, that left only four people for each of us to find and get committed.  Registration is in August so we had a couple of months.

    Early August arrived and I had my runners but she had complications – namely of the conflict variety.  See, she’s done this several years and is a very strong runner having done a full marathon last year.  There was a team at her work and they really wanted her – and they had a lot of money and sponsors which we wouldn’t have which I admit would have been super enticing for me.  She also did not want to be a team captain – adamantly did not want to be the captain.  I assured her I didn’t feel bad that she wanted to join the team at work with all her friends (and sponsors!) and said I’d just get my own team together.

    I should have listened to her vehement objection to being the captain but what did I know then?

    So, I talked to everyone I know and all of their friends and put together a team of twelve committed runners who had paid me their portion of the team registration and even got in before the early registration (aka discount period) was over.  Two days before regular registration even began, our team “Run Piggies Run” had a team number and a spot in the Wasatch Back 2011.  They allow 1050 teams and we were team number 1048.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The race sold out two days before early registration was over.  It got me all excited that we got in and I started planning and thinking about logistics.

    And then the one person who hadn’t paid me but assured me they would backed out and I was already trying to find someone else to take their place.  Luckily, one of my running friend’s team from the previous year didn’t get registered in time so she was available and filled the spot quickly.  That was the beginning of a string of substitutions that resulted in five of the twelve original team members replaced since then.  We had one drop out due to injury, one got a super exciting internship for the summer in D.C., one had a conflict with scouting and one had a sister who got married and had the nerve to schedule her wedding on Ragnar weekend.  Oh, and my friend who ran last year who’s team didn’t get in?  They registered wait list and got in a few weeks ago.  Luckily I have three neighbors I successfully talked into joining the insanity and my good friend Diyeana talked her sister in law and new boss into last minute substitutions.  The craziest part for me is that I have still not even met two of my teammates – one of which will be in my van for a thirty six hour stinkfest.

    Since August I have exercised my project management skills so much that I should have been getting paid to do it.  Twelve adults who live all over the place with crazy schedules were assembled for planning meetings twice and every logistical possibility planned for.  Countless emails were exchanged keeping us all on the same page and preparing all of us for our very first Ragnar (with the exception of one who did Ragnar Vegas last October and who I couldn’t have done it without.)  All this while I was doing all the other insane things I always do AND running twenty miles a week on average for the past twenty weeks.  And all of the planning and training culminates tomorrow as we embark on our Ragnar journey.

    On top of all our team logistics we’ve had record late snowfall in Utah and it was only today, two days before race day, that we got the official word that the roads on the two passes through the mountains had been cleared of snow and would be drivable.  As much stress as I’ve had coordinating my little team of twelve could you imagine having to work out logistics for the entire race?  Think about it – one thousand fifty teams of twelve runners and you’re talking over twelve thousand runners.  Hubby and I drove parts of the course over Memorial Day and if nothing else I’m looking forward to running through some beautiful country.  Thank god we didn’t have to add more mileage to anyone’s runs to go around the mountain passes that were still closed due to snow!

    We leave tomorrow evening to drive the two hours to where the race starts to hopefully get some sleep at a hotel so we can be at the starting line by 5:00AM on Friday morning. I’m the first runner out of the gate at 6:30 AM with a 6.9 mile run.  Approximately twelve hours later, I have my second run of 8.3 miles down one of the canyon passes.  My third run is my “easy” one at just over 4 miles of mostly flat terrain.  My total mileage is twenty miles in thirty six hours.  Still sounds daunting even to me when I add the miles together but I’ve been training hard and I know I can do them split up into the three different runs with no sweat.

    Did you hear me just now sounding all positive and shit?  I hope you bought it because really I’m scared shitless that I’ll have to walk that last four miles or that I’ll get so stiff riding around in the van that I won’t be able to run either of the subsequent runs.  But, I’m not letting myself stress about it because regardless of how it happens I am excited to experience it and have a blast.  I even talked my sister into being our support driver and I’m really looking forward to spending the time with her – although I don’t think she’s quite as excited to endure what can only be termed a sweaty stink-fest.  When one of the top things on any list of what to bring is a towel to sit on “so the stink doesn’t go into the seats” followed closely with the tip to pack your clothes in large Ziploc bags so you can “zip up the stink” you have to expect the worst, right?

    I’m heading off to bed now… wish me luck and watch my tweets for updates along the way.  Of course I’ll recap post-race as well – if I live through it, that is!