If you would rather check out allllll the videos I made over the weekend, you can check out the story pinned to my Instagram page *here* and *here* - this year I learned that IG caps your pinned videos to 100 per story :P Just keep in mind, the IG stories cover everything that happened between my runs. If you want the nitty gritty of the time I spent pounding pavement, this is the place to get it!
Also...if you just want to be inspired and don't really care about the ins and outs and ups and downs of the whole Ragnar thing...just go read Leg 3. That's where I wax poetic about how life changing and empowering this run felt, and it should tick that box for you.
I mean, I get it. I'm verbose, and this post is super long :P
If you've followed along for a while, you know Ragnar is a multi-day experience - all of which is unique - and I like to recap each day. I like doing so because I figure it might help other people who are considering a Ragnar relay. This post will be no different, but I'll probably leave the most intricate details out this time (long time readers will forever be grateful for that), but I've written posts on the logistics of Ragnar in the past that you can peruse:
Ragnar Chicago 2017 - Captaining/Logistics
Ragnar Chicago 2017 - Running
Ragnar Chicago 2018 - Logistics
Ragnar Chicago 2018 - Running
Ragnar (Road Relay) is a 200(ish) mile team relay. Yes, it is named after the viking. The route is a point to point - it starts in one place and ends in another. Ragnar does offer trail races that are loop courses, but this was a road race. So we ran on "roads" or paved trails. Every single one of my legs was run on the shoulder of a road and/or as close to is as possible, which was new for me this year.
This year's Ragnar took us from Muskegon to Traverse City (both in Michigan). It was darn near 200 miles travelling directly north through the state.
This year's team was made up of 9 veteran teammates and 3 newbies, all listed out below. We had four drivers - Nick returned for the pleasure, and we added Andy (Kara's husband), James (my brother) and Jose (Eli's friend).
The runners each run 3 legs, for a total of 36 legs. I've noted total distances below, as well as the "Ragnar leg" runner - this leg is considered the hardest leg of the entire course, and the runner gets an extra medal for it. Meghan had it for her first run this year!
Anyways, here's the roster for Team We're Running Again...Inconceivable!
Runner 1 - Sam 17.1 miles
Runner 2 - Kara 17.9 miles
Runner 3 - Justin 17.5 miles
Runner 4 - Meghan (Ragnar leg!) 16.5 miles
Runner 5 - Kristin 15.7 miles
Runner 6 - Dana 13.0 miles
Runner 7 - Lisa 18.3 miles
Runner 8 - Amy* 14.7 miles
Runner 9 - Christina 15.5 miles
Runner 10 - Darcia* 14.3 miles
Runner 11 - Stephen* 17.6 miles
Runner 12 - Eli (C) 16.5 miles
* = new runners
(C) = 2019 captain
The journey that is Ragnar always starts on Thursday because there's no way in hell to wrangle 12 people for a 5:00am start on a Friday morning. Plus, at least one van needs to check in near the start the night before. So together we met. Lisa (past teammate) and James (my brother, our 4th driver) met at my house and we carpooled to Eli's house in Chicago to meet up with the rest of the team. We packed up the vans and were on the road, heading for Muskegon, Michigan.
We headed straight for check in - not for check in, but for swag :P I'm not kidding, Eli gave us a choice and Lisa and I insisted on being able to buy swag right away. Because really, who cares about showing off your reflective vest and headlamp when there are SWEATSHIRTS to buy?? This ended up being a really good decision, because the next day when we got to the exchange the line to purchase swag was at least 50 people deep, and I had to bribe someone already in line to buy the hat I wished I'd bought the day before:
Anyways, I picked up a new sweatshirt, a tank top I found on clearance (for myself), and a too-large tech shirt for Ant Man because he has outgrown the onesie Sam bought for him the first year. You can check out the sweatshirt I bought in my lakeside pictures at the end!
|This shirt won't fit Ant Man for at least 2 years!|
Side note: I'm not a superstitious person, but I have a hard and fast rule that I do not wear race gear until *after* the race. So I tucked my new swag into my duffle bag under everything else, giving myself another incentive to finish the weekend strong.
After check in we headed for the dinner, then to the hotel.
|A mammoth we saw on the walk to dinner.|
...my brother (gently) shook me awake at three-freaking-forty AM. 3:40. 3.4.0.
We'd agreed to meet and leave at 4:15, and that got bumped up to 4:00. Somehow. By someone. Who I won't name. (Glares at Eli.)
But I'm not bitter that my first night away from my infant who refuses to sleep through the night got interrupted at THREE FORTY. No, I'm not. Especially not after finding out the kid slept through EVERY night while I was gone. -____-
Definitely not bitter.
So I got up and was the first person waiting for my team in the lobby at FOUR AY EM, even if I was laying on the only available couch grumbling about it ;) This was also where I met our remaining two new members - Darcia and Amy! Both were in Van 2 (my van) so it was exciting to finally meet them.
And I have to give it to Eli, he is the only captain in these three years who has gotten us to the start line on time. So perhaps there was a method to the madness.
We got to the sandy beach start and saw Sam off at 5:00.
Sam is the one on the left, handing out high fives!
We said goodbye to Van 1 and headed back to the hotel. We (Van 2) still had to make a trip to Walmart for a few things, pack up our van, and decorate before heading off to Exchange 6. We had a few hours to do all this though, and we never had to rush.
We did an AWESOME job decorating the vans too!
|Sorry these are blurry and hard to read! I had to screenshot them from the videos because I never took stills!|
|Of all the years we've done Ragnar, these are my favorite magnets!|
The Running of Ragnar - GOALS
Now seems like a good time to mention my goals for this race. The first year I ran one of these relays I was 11 weeks pregnant, so my goal was literally just to finish each leg, and I had to walk quite a bit to keep my core temperature low. So since then, my #1 goal has been:
Run the whole thing.
Four and a half months out from each of my pregnancies, this has always seemed like a great goal. But this year my training was decent, and more importantly my confidence in my postpartum ability has been STRONG. SO I felt comfortable setting some time goals too:
- 11:30/mile average on the first run (3.1 miles).
- 12-12:30 average second two (5.6 miles and 6.7 miles)
- Complete all 5 mile stretches in under 1 hour (sub 12 for 5 miles).
I am happy to report (spoiler): I crushed every one of those goals. Read on to find out how!
The Running of Ragnar
Distance: 3.1 miles/3.07 actual
Elevation: 145.4 gain/142.38 loss
At Exchange 6 (after I bought my hat), Dana (Van 1) handed off to Lisa, and Van 2 was in the game.
My first leg started at 12:30ish, and I sword fought Amy before taking off. This was a theme for our team - we did a little sword fight at every single exchange, in honor of Inigo and the Dread Pirate!
Anywho, for this first leg I was looking at 3.1 miles.
I ran on the shoulder of a road the entire time and encountered a few short but steep blind curves. I was passed by 3 people and all of them looked like strong runners so I wasn't disappointed. But I noticed something that turned out to be a trend through the whole race: People who passed me tended to slow down and walk shortly after, and then continued a run/walk until the finish - and it didn't seem like the intentional kind a la Jeff Galloway. Now, at the end of the day I almost never repassed anyone, but the fact that I was able to run run run and not stop and walk told me that I've gotten much better about pacing myself lately. And I'll take that, especially be Ragnar builds on itself. The fact that I didn't have to walk during my third leg meant way more than not having to walk during my first!
Anyways, 3.1 miles later, up more hills than down, I ran into my first finish, sword fought and handed off to Darcia:
...and checked my watch:
It was not the hardest run of my life, which I suppose is a good thing ;) It wasn't super easy though, and after not running all week it took me a while to get into the swing of things. But after a tough few weeks I was really proud to pull off such solid times, and at that point I honestly felt like it was the only run I would manage it for.
(Little did I know...!)
Darcia, Stephen, and Eli brought it home for us.
Logistic things: There was some problem with the Exchange 12 (the second major exchange where teams go from Van 2 to Van 1), and when we got there Andy and Kara warned us about it.
But first, pictures.
|Les Mis reference!!!|
Now back to your regularly scheduled blog post.
Nearly all runners were stopping about 1/10th of a mile before the exchange to wait for the exchange to "open". They were on their way to tell Eli to wait so he would avoid a time penalty for our team.
You see, Ragnar has some kind of formula using 10k times that it uses to assign start times to teams and to give your team a pace schedule so you can anticipate how long each of your runners will be on the course. You can "fool" the formula by assigning yourself a slower 10k pace to get an earlier start (and therefore finish earlier). The point of time penalties is to discourage such meddling with times, and to make sure no team gets to the finish before it's set up/open.
After talking to Andy and Kara we were able to go and park and once we did we found out more. We were told that any runner who came in before 3:30 would be held for 30 minutes as a penalty for being too fast(?). The fact that this mistake affected so many teams makes it pretty clear the organizers messed up the timing of the exchange's opening. So all of the teams were sending someone to meet their runner and tell them to STOP RUNNING and WAIT so their team would avoid a time penalty. Once they officially "opened" the exchange, about 50 runners immediately poured in to pass the baton to their waiting teammate.
We ended up waiting about 15 minutes for Eli to finish and see off , and once he did we set our sights on food! Because runners run for two things: That sweet feeling of accomplishment, and eating to replenish what was burned off. This time around we chose barbecue! We stopped at a place called The Q Smokehouse, and it was FIRE. I had the brisket with mac and cheese and corn bread (recommended by a local who was in line with us). We all got different things and had nibbles of each other's food and it was all fantastic. I highly recommended if you're ever in Ludington, MI!
It was down pouring by the time we left, so we drove straight to the next exchange where there were showers and indoor sleeping. About half of us stayed in the van and half went in to shower/sleep. The first year I did Ragnar I showered at the overnight exchange because it was after my second leg...but last year and this year I didn't bother. Baby wipes it was! I did sneak in to brush my teeth and hair at one point, but that was the extent of my grooming and hygiene care.
When the time finally came, Lisa got ready and we hopped out of the van to go wait at the exchange. I did not envy her...it was chilly and had started raining enough to be uncomfortable. Yuck. And then we got the news.
Lightning struck close enough that the organizers decided that for everyone's safety the leg had to be cancelled. Instead of starting her leg, Lisa/Runner 7 was handed a card that was "timestamped" for an hour later (I think ours said 10:25pm). Everyone was instructed to drive to the next exchange, and the next runner (8) would resume running at the time indicated on the card. This delay was meant to make up for the time Runner 7 would have been on course.
Except Lisa really wanted to run her leg. So we shuffled things around a bit. This year Ragnar instituted a "Buddy Run" program where one runner could skip their night leg to run with another person on the team if you didn't want to run alone at night. If a Buddy Pass was utilized, the team would take a time delay card for the skipped leg (a la the Rain Delay). Darcia and Amy didn't want to run alone, so the plan all along was that Amy (Runner 8) would skip her leg and run with Darcia (Runner 10) instead.
With this in mind, our plan morphed. Lisa would run Amy's leg rather than it being skipped entirely,.
So we drove to the next exchange, hung around for a while, and at 10:20ish we headed over to the run in/out, card in (Lisa's) hand. She gave it to the volunteers at 10:23 and asked if she could start, and got a big fat NO. So we waited those two extra minutes haha.
Lisa took off and we bounced on over to the exchange I would start at - there was no lot to park in, so we pulled to the side of the road and I hopped out to hit the porta potty and chill for a minute before starting. I did so, Lisa ran in, and I got started on Run #2.
Distance: 5.70 miles/5.71 actual
Elevation: 63.34 gain/42.21 loss
Right away I noticed that my heart rate monitor wasn't working. My watch showed that it was picking up signal, but it wasn't transmitting my actual heart rate to the device, and the field just showed "--". I'm used to running by heart rate, so this bummed me out. I spent a few minutes during that first mile trying to get it to catch my heart rate but it became obvious it wasn't going to. So I gave up, and went with perceived effort. I knew this leg was pretty much flat, even though it was labelled "Hard" by Ragnar.
You know why it was hard? Because I ran for 4.5 miles straight down the same country road, in the dark, then made ONE right turn and ran straight for then next 1.5(ish) miles until the exchange. It was boring as hell, dark as f*ck, and there were cars coming at me the whole time. That's what made it hard...the mental game.
|I wasn't lying about those two straight lines I ran in. So. Boring.|
Reason to have designated (non-running) drivers...Somewhere around mile 3 my cheer squad showed up for moral support, and it gave me an extra kick to keep going. I have to say, this is a perk of having multiple drivers. My brother James and Eli's friend Jose were our drivers this year. James did pretty much all of the driving, but he and Jose did an amazing job of mapping out where we were going to stop to support each runner along the way, and Jose (at least) got out of that van for every single cheer squad stop. They took all of that mental effort out of our hands, and it left us to worry about getting to and through each run. It's one of the reasons I will ALWAYS recommend having at least 1 driver, 2 if you can manage it! So mad props to James and Jose!
Other than that, it was a fairly boring run. Straight lines, a bit foggy, I saw some fun roadkill (possum, snake, raccoon), and learned that you can't trust other runners to know which side of the road to run on! :P When we made that right turn, the runner in front of me was running "with" traffic, and I made a comment about crossing over and she was like, "No, I'm gonna run here." I stayed behind her for a minute, then realized the stretch we were on was part of the "out" for Runner 10's leg, so I moved to the other side of the road to run "against" traffic (as I should have from the start).
I brought it in, handed off to a waiting Darcia and Amy, we hopped in the van and were off again.
I did, however, determine that I really missed these two goofball run-buddies:
|Good ol' Smokes and Zo! I missed them so much on my night leg (but not when I passed the roadkill, because they would have tried to eat it).|
I fully admit...post Leg 2 is the point in Ragnar when I start to get annoyed with everything. Perhaps it's because that's the point when I've been up way longer than normal, but my ability to handle other people drops after I've been awake for 8 hours, never mind 24 :P Combined with this was the fact that, at the time, I was still breastfeeding and had to fit in pumping randomly. I had decided to use Ragnar weekend to start weaning, so I was actually trying not to pump a lot...and knowing I had to pump while in a van full of people and sitting in front of a giant, see through window made it pretty easy to postpone doing so!
All of this to say by the time all of our runners were back in the van (Amy and Darcia, then Stephen, then Eli), I was ready for any kind of nap the Ragnar gods would bestow upon me, and I knew the need for coffee and breakfast would follow close of the heels of said nap.
Even though I have no memory of it, James got us to the next major exchange and we all dozed until the sun began to creep up. At some point I blearily stumbled out of the van into the chilly morning air in search of (non-existent) coffee, and after alerting the rest of my teammates to the fact that a) no coffee existed and b) the food truck they'd contracted with for breakfast wasn't open yet, we all decided to drive to a nearby town for breakfast instead.
I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the place we stopped at, but they had this bear, so that was a win:
On the drive back to the exchange we all commented on how hilly it was, and agreed that Dana (who would be running in to hand off to us) did not have a fun run ahead of her, but would be a beast just for crossing that finish. Seriously, some of the hills were so steep we thought we would roll BACKWARDS!
(Read this! This is the really fun one where I get philosophically delusional because it's when all of the fatigue and emotion *really* hit me!)
Distance: 6.70 miles/6.73 actual
Elevation: 346.63(!) gain/-167.12 loss
With some hard-won, back-seat-of-the-van sleep, a solid breakfast, multiple cups of coffee, and Nuun coursing through my veins, I was ready to tackle my last leg.
My last leg. My longest leg. My hardest leg.
I was nervous.
I'd made sure to run an 8 miler during my training (pushed the stroller for 5 miles of it!) so that I would be prepared for *this* run. I ran a 10k on one of the hottest and most humid days for the summer. All for this run.
When I started out I was absolutely convinced that it would be awful. Even without my heart rate monitor I could tell that my heart rate skyrocketed immediately. I was afraid it was a bad sign. So I took stock. My pace was slow. I was running on gravel. My legs felt awkward. I was in a forest preserve but could see I'd be leaving it soon. That was a good sign, because I'd be running on the road, and all the awkwardness would hopefully shake off with some pavement and a bit of distance under my feet.
And it did.
I was running and I was doing pretty well, even as I went up and down each hill. I wasn't sure I could maintain the pace I was holding for my entire run, so I gave myself permission to walk once I made it through the first half. But the first half went by and I realized I didn't need to walk. It was no longer even a consideration. Because somewhere around that halfway point I realized that the faster I ran - and if I ran - the sooner we'd all be done. The more sleep we'd all get, the sooner we could leave the next day, and that - if I RAN - I would get back to my boys faster.
And I wanted to tell them I did my best to get back to them as soon as I could.
Looking back I realize this was some pretty bogus logic, but when we're doing hard things our brains are fantastic at tricking us into logic that makes no sense. It's "runner's logic"!
You see, that morning when we met the other van at the exchange I got a chance to catch up with my friend Meghan. Meghan and her husband are foster parents, and I asked her about something that I really thought she'd have a happy answer about. But she didn't. A few weeks before they got some really awful news, and she said all of the emotion that had built up in those few weeks just poured out of her when she was running the Ragnar Leg. She said that it was such a *hard* run...until she realized it was no where near as hard as everything else they'd been through. And that every time she thought "this is too hard" she pushed through anyways, because running is the easy part. Even when it's hard.
And that was it. That was the switch that flipped 3 miles in. That's what running is about. That's what the hard runs are about. No matter what, no hard run is EVER as hard as the actual, really truly hard things we go through in life. And running is there to save us from those things.
That last leg was something else. 6.7 miles of lead legs. Of elevation. Of convincing my body to keep running, to not give up, and not to walk. 6.7 miles of telling my body that every step I ran was one step closer to being done and to texting Anthony and the boys that I'd done it.
Ragnar is endurance running. It is fatigue running. It is testing physical and mental limits over a long period of time. And for me it was once again proof that I can do hard things. That perseverance and discipline and training mean something.
Sometimes you get to the point where you have to trust that your body can do it without you telling it to because you have the training behind you. You have to turn on the auto pilot and go, and you have to fight the voice in your head that's trying to bargain with you. That's the real hill to climb.
I climbed those hills. And as I rounded a curve on what I knew was the last big hill I had to make it over I saw the ever recognizable blue "One Mile To Go" sign on the side of the road:
And I heard a thumping bass coming from the farm house to my right. "What the...?" I thought. And then, as I got closer, I realized the owner of the house had dragged his stereo system out onto his front porch and was blasting "Eye of the Tiger" on repeat for all of the runners.
I let out a laugh and a "WHOOP" and screamed "YOU ARE MY FAVORITE PERSON!!!" and he started clapping for me.
It felt awesome. Ragnar - love the locals and they'll love you back!! (Michigan by far has the best locals of my Ragnars so far!)
That last mile was cake, and I ate it all up. I was on pace to come in sub-12 on every mile, sub 1:00 on all 5 mile stretches, and I'd done it all less than 5 months after having my second baby. I was flying high, and I flew it in. I left it all out there, no regrets, no should-haves, could-haves, would-haves.
I killed it.
And I took a bow.
Walking back to the car with Eli and Jose I interrupted Eli in the middle of a sentence and said, "I can't believe it. My pace was sub 12. I'm amazing!"
I'd done it.
I won't bore you with all of the post race - months of sleep deprivation and the rigor of the race really set in once we were done. I actually got really annoyed that evening and it was pretty obvious I should have gone straight to bed and not tried to be social, but I ignored my instinct and tried to tough it out. Lesson learned! Instead, enjoy these pictures! I think they speak for themselves...
|Back row, left to right: Justin, Dana, Amy, Darcia, Meghan, Lisa, Stephen|
Front row, left to right: Sam, Kristin, Kara, Me
And with that - at 21.5 weeks postpartum - Ragnar #3 was in the books.