Man: That guy did Ragnar!
Woman: What's Ragnar?
Man: I've heard about it. You have to be crazy to do it
and so on . . .
I smiled a little, tugged my sweat stained Ragnar technical T away from my chest to cool down a bit, and walked slowly back to the car. I was tired after this simple day-after three-miler with fairly sore quads but otherwise alert and happy.
Was this crazy?
No, not especially. On the scale of 1 to 10 of crazy running a 187-mile relay with 11 of your closest friends, or casual acquaintances, or total strangers as the case may be runs maybe a 3. There are crazier things I can think of—Base jumping seems like a good candidate for an 8 or a 9.
- 222 teams
- roughly 426 (possibly as much as 444) highly (or snidely) innuendo decorated vans pulling on and off the roads in the 187 miles from Blaine to Langley
- contents of said vans spilling out in snoozing bunches every once in a while on stretches of grass and the inside of school gymnasiums
- 426 rolling running frat parties
- XXX numbers of volunteers monitoring all the runners, ensuring course safety, serving food, and shivering in the cold
- an alternative universe in which external happenings recede crazily into the background
- the intensity of forming relationships and bonds in the compressed environment of the task and the van knowing that in the end there would be a little awkward and bittersweet farewell (Facebook to the rescue!)
and you'll have a sense of this Ragnar Northwest thing.
This was my second time running and in the weeks before I was rethinking my participation. Was I trained enough? Could I go faster than my standard shuffle? Did I really want to spend all this time in the close confines of a van with people I barely knew? Would I be able to hold up my end of things and make a positive contribution to the team's effort? Questions, questions, and doubts but as the day came nearer and we got our van and leg assignments I started getting more and more excited (and nervous), so much so that sleeping and working in the days immediately before became a challenge. I went into this relay already with a sleep deficit.
I think one of the most difficult things was meeting all the new people who I would be running with. GVB, our captain and chief organizer, are colleagues at The Learning Factory and I knewCap'n Ron but everyone else? Walked into the living room of GVB's Shack the night before and met SP, poet and GVB's Grad School buddy, chose water over the proffered beer and whiled away an evening in pleasant conversation before sleeping just below the surface of consciousness. Up at 5:00 at the sound of a coffee grinder and grunt of surprise from SP. Gawd that coffee was tasty (what was it GVB?), kind of like rocket fuel. We were on the road just before 6 to pick up the rest of the runners in Van 1. Van 1 is a red VW Eurovan nicknamed "SuperVan" and it easily though messily held K, B, E, and Cap'n Ron.
Picture this, one guy in his 50's another rapidly moving towards 40, and me in my mid-40's packed into a van with three 20-something women. Could have been awkward but it wasn't. B gets the credit for this by setting the scatological and sexual innuendo tone very early on. Hilarity reigned. And why not? In SuperVan's confined spaces filled with sweaty running-related detritus we were going to become intimate strangers over the next two days. It really was nice because we were able to begin getting to know each other a welcome addition to the excitement. Finding a common ground on contextual jokes was particularly amusing (who hasn't heard of "Better Off Dead"?). Everyone was excited.
Quick stop in Marysville for petroleum distillate and more coffee (note: GVB, compared to theHarbucks swill I got there your coffee wins hands down) and up to Blaine we went.
We all got geared up and while I was walking around looking at stuff the rest of the crew borrowed van decorating supplies. SuperVan was marked up by the time I returned. Our 10:00 start time approaching we accompanied GVB to the starting area and saw the introduction of the teams. There were all kinds of teams including a group of folks dressed as cavemen and women. I just don't get the costumed running thing actually. We were going to be in full sun in temps going into the 80's over the course of the day. Why would you wear fake animal skins, wigs, etc.? I know, I know, it is fun and creates team spirit and identity but still . . .
GVB was lead runner, following by yours truly, K, B, E, and then Cap'n Ron. As runner 2 I had a 6.2-mile leg followed by 3.5 and a 3.2 mile legs to look forward to.
GVB took off on his first run, a rather boring, exposed, and flat run and we jumped intoSuperVan to get to the next exchange. We stopped to cheer him on and get him some water. It was hot! Runners who had started earlier were going by looking toasted. One guy, dressed in all black, asked for water and complained that he had not seen his team all day (the day had just started!!!). He looked awful. "How much further?" croaked another runner. Pretty soon GVBcame by and we gave him water, jumped back into SuperVan and started going towards the exchange.
We had underestimated where we were in the course and saw the exchange as we rounded the corner from where we had parked. D'OH!!! Hurriedly readying myself, water bottle andGarmin, I practically vaulted out of the still moving SuperVan as cries of "86 Your Runner IS IN!" assaulted my ears. Ran down a ditch and into the exchange. I think GVB had not stopped by the time I reached him, at least I hope so, got the slap bracelet that was our baton, and jetted out of the exchange and onto the course. After a quarter mile or so I realized that myGarmin had not acquired its birds and had to restart it but I was running in the 8's, faster than I had been training for except during the track workouts. I pushed into the long, fully exposed three miles of rolling hills towards the water with a rather stiff breeze. Got passed by an Ultra and encouraged by a guy belonging to the "Total Domination" team on several occasions. Rounded the corner for the next 3 miles along Birch Bay to the cheers of Ramblin Wreck (my team). Got passed on this part of the course by someone who knew me from AR but whom, I regret to say, I recognized but did not remember very well. I will call her "Acquaintance". Pleasant though hard running along the Bay. I was feeling strong and taking advantage of whatever shade I could find. Pretty soon I could see and hear the exchange and caught Acquaintance because she seemed to have some difficulty. Handed off the "baton" to K who went off in a blur and began the business of recovering before heading off to the next exchange.
K had a very hard leg, one that I remembered from 2008. 8 miles of rolling exposed hills. We also could not support our runner with water on this leg (there were water stations) because of the traffic. She looked like she was running so well, and fast, that we took off to the next exchange. I took a lot of pictures of other teams and runners while waiting. One guy was wearing different shoes (one black and one white) and I wondered why. One of the cavemen came in, handed off, went behind the bushes, and puked his guts out to the general hilarity of his team mates who duly photographed the moment. Somewhere out there on the Interweb there are pictures of a fur-clad homo sapiens sapiens yakking in the bushes next to the shipping offices for Ocean Kayak. Blech! I mean, Ah, Err, funny!
K came in hot (both speedily and otherwise) but with a smile on her face and a "That was hard!" on her lips passed off to B who went off on her leg.
As ever, we jumped into the van and went off to support our runner. As ever, as ever . . .
Took our first break in Bellingham after we had handed off to Van Halen. A nice nap in a sunny park along the waterfront. Runners were going through and we cheered them on as they went. Saw American Flag Speedo Guy going through too dressed in a speedo, American flag bandana, and (if I remember correctly) a neon-green cape. He scared some kids and some adults too. :-P
Van Halen was full of really fast movers and I do mean fast. Not sure of their timing but it was a good thing we bestirred ourselves to get to the next main exchange because they blasted through their legs. Mistake avoided thanks to the wonder that is text messaging.
Just before 8 PM I was up for my second run, a generally downhill course towards the east. It was incredibly pretty evening. The sky was beginning to dim down and turning a light shade of purple. The moon was incredible. It was still hot though and I was working very hard. My lovely team mates yelled at me to run faster as they went by in SuperVan and I playfully flipped them off while smiling. At least I think I was smiling. GVB reports that I look so very serious when I run.
I picked off a runner almost immediately and then started chasing two more about .5 miles ahead of me. I am a pretty good downhiller and can move on the flats when I want to and was able to close with them and then to pass them. Didn't look back afterwards and concentrated on increasing leg turnover. Pushed very hard. As I got closer to the exchange I heard "86! Your runner is in!" and though "Oh No! Not again!" but K came out of the crowd and into the exchange, I sped up to 7:20 pace, handed off and peeled out of the exchange. I had run faster than my team expected! Cool!
Off to the next exchange to change and to see that Van 2 had put us much further ahead. Didn't recognize any of the teams at this exchange. Team Louisiana (a USN team from the submarine Louisiana) would be around us for the rest of the time. I changed into my next set of running clothes and put on bug repellent to the sound of the Black Eyed Peas "I Gotta Feeling" that someone was playing very loudly on their car stereo. Now I like this song, it is peppy and so on but it is also overplayed and, well, I just hate autotune. So as we excited the exchange I askedGVB to put on some appropriately competing music. His choice? Very cool! The Lonely Island'sNatalie's Rap. Aw Yeah!
At this point I have to say something about the volunteers. They were amazing. Two in particular stood out to me. Vuvuzela Gorilla Guy and Early Morning Barista Woman.
Vuvuzela Gorilla Guy was directing traffic into the exchange area dressed, you guessed it, as a gorilla and blowing a vuvuzela which he had bought for 5 dollars in honor of the World Cup and which he was hoping to get full value from on this evening. How the neighbors at this park felt about this instrument later on in the evening I don't know but it was sure funny at the time.
Early Morning Barista Woman? I'll talk about her later.
After handing off to Van 2 we headed for some sleep at Deception Pass State Park. Though I had been eating constantly I was also hungry and took the time to fuel up some more. Decided NOT to eat my second Subway sandwich because the cooler was now a warmer and smelling a bit funky. So was SuperVan come to think of it.
Deception Pass State Park looked as if it had been invaded by giant multi-colored caterpillars. Sleeping bag clad runners were strewn about the grass everywhere and pretty soon I was likewise. GVB had his phone and was expecting a text on Van Halen's progress about 4 or 5 in the morning. I heard the text come in at about 2:15 AM, Van Halen's runners were half-way through their legs. Time to get up and get ready.
Do you know how hard it is to find your team in the dark when they are all wrapped up in sleeping bags and distributed all around the place? Not easy. As I was walking around someone else shone a light at me and said "Jeremy is that you?" All this stumbling around was pretty funny.
GVB and I went up to the exchange and waited for SP to come in. He did, looking all sweaty and tired. Now the thing to know about SP is that he is a prankster. As he came in he pantsed GVBand GVB had to adjust everything before he could run. Funny stuff.
It was pretty dark out and kind of chilly but the right kind of chilly that is most conducive to running. We were all festooned in the required safety gear (front and rear lights and reflective vests) which made the drive to the next exchange an amusing tour of reflecto-runners. Sleepyreflecto-runners.
Waiting for GVB to come in I realized how far ahead Van Halen had put us. How? The portapotties were basically unused. I was pretty nervous. This was third leg and I wasn't sure what kind of speed I would have in me. Everything felt good though, unlike 2008 when my right hamstring was so messed up that I could not straighten my leg. Spent some time talking with Early Morning Barista Woman. She had been up all night and would be on shift for another two hours before going to work. I asked what she did and she said she was a barista. I made some lame joke about that being the right job to have after a night like this and she laughed as she checked out my lights. That was dedication right there. Thanks!
GVB came up the hill and passed off to me just before 4:00 AM and I went up and up on my last leg. One of the USS Louisiana runners came up behind me and was chatting with his support van. They were talking about how many kills he had and he said "I am about to get number 16." Yep, I was kill number 16. He passed me and disappeared into the distance. There was one other person ahead of him as well but all I could see were the blinking tail lights. Now, I was keeping track of how many people I passed but it sure felt odd to be described as a kill. Civilian sensibilities?
I ran as hard as I could and averaged about 8:30. It was so quiet. The moon was still up and the beginnings of the dawn was manifesting itself. I saw an owl go by but was concentrating too hard to notice much else. Handed off after 26 minutes or so and my relay was done.
Fast forward to the Finish Line.
We went to breakfast at the Freeland Cafe, inhaled an omelette with hash browns and toast, and was still hungry before heading into Langley and the finish line.
They were still getting set up. K and I set up her badminton set to play while were waiting (her birthday present) and then went to exchange t-shirts, shop the Ragnar store, and otherwise wait. A few teams were trickling including runningshoes.com and alwaysrunning.com (the team I ran with in 2008). The live band was warming up. The finish line announcer was doing some announcing and playing music so loudly so as to drown out the live band. We waited. It was hot. Text came in that SP was on his last leg, the anchor leg and we should expect him. So we moved out to the road so we could see him and then run in. We saw him, drenched and done in by climbing in the heat. He turned the corner and we ran in with him.
Fifth Team Across the Line (I think).
Our time (according to B) was 25 hours and 5 minutes. Wow!
Before the race I was thinking "Do I want to do this?" and "This will be the last time." but this was such a good experience and I feel invigorated, in love with running again. A feeling that I haven't had since Eugene and I am actually looking forward to the Cougar 13 next month.
I hated to say goodbye to the denizens of SuperVan. Let me just say that it was a special joy to share this experience with them all and let writers more eloquent than I put that feeling into words. Look to GVB's column in this coming month's issue of Northwest Runner for that.
And yes, I am thinking of Ragnar next year too.
Dying to know the official results.
Comeon Ragnar! :-P