What could possibly be more fun than a van full of six sweaty guys, staying up all night, and running over 35 miles in three legs over a span of 18 hours? If you said, "lots," you obviously haven't experienced the joy of a Ragnar Relay ultra team.
There are several Ragnar Relays throughout the country and we happened to be running the "Great River Relay" from Winona, Minnesota, through the backroads of rural Wisconsin, and somehow ending in the metropolis of Minneapolis. Most teams have twelve runners, but since we were an "ultra" team we had six--Seth, Dan, Tim, Paul, Eric, and I. We all ran three times in legs of 7 to 16 miles from 4 PM on Friday until about 4:30 PM on Sunday.
I was a little nervous for this race--not only was there a lot more to keep track of than a normal race, there would also be people depending on me to run good times. Our team was made up of members of MN Running Wild--our running club that also had three other teams participating in Ragnar. The MN Running Ultra Wild men's team that we started with and our team, MN Running Ultra Wilder, did some friendly smack talking beforehand, but after the first three legs of the race it was apparent that we weren't going to be able to stay with them. It's funny that even though we weren't totally out of their league, over 195ish miles even a small difference in pace adds up in a hurry. In fact, the other Running Wild team ended up taking 2nd in the ultra division and they were only one second per mile slower than the team that won--a difference of six minutes spread out over the whole relay.
I was the first runner and started with another runner named Nate from MN Running Ultra Wild. We had 13.9 miles through Winona and into Wisconsin to cover and it was warm, pretty humid, and there was very little shade. The other ultra team, Scheel's, was also running.
Nate and I ran together until the first exchange. We did a little chatting but mostly in spurts--we were working pretty hard. At the first exchange the regular teams handed off and Nate, the Scheel's runner, and I kept going for another 7 miles. At that point Nate and I were about a minute behind the Scheel's runner. I asked Nate how he was doing and he said he was going to back off the pace a little and I should go ahead. I did, hoping to catch the Scheel's runner. I was cruising pretty well and with about 2.5 miles left I saw the Scheel's runner had stopped to stretch. I passed him a little after that and though the heat started to get to me a little at that point I was able to finish strong.
I handed off to Tim and he too had a pretty tough leg--it was still very warm and humid. When Tim finished we were still pretty close with the Scheel's and MN Running Ultra Wild, but the third runner's for both those teams were crazy fast--especially considering we had our fastest runner, Dan, running our third leg. When Dan finished he had one of the funniest comments of the weekend: "Do they know they have over 20 more miles to run tonight and tomorrow? 'Cuz they do."
Paul, Seth, and Eric wrapped up our first legs, all of them running great at that point. It was pretty lonely on the roads from then until morning--we had the latest start time and with the two ultra teams pulling away from us we were running alone in the middle of the night in rural Wisconsin.
My second leg started at about 12:30 AM. It was the toughest leg I did--not only was it in the middle of the night it also had a long hill and I had no one to run with. Also on this leg, disaster struck. Three miles into the 14.6 miles I heard some sort of loud sound in the forest--probably some sort of bird. I shined my flashlight into the woods to see if I could see this bird that was likely to come out and chomp my face if I didn't preemptively blind it with my flashlight. As I was shining my light into the trees, searching for whatever woodland creature that was making the strange and threatening noises, the road began to turn right. I was running on the left shoulder and failed to notice the turning of the road. I stepped off the shoulder and began to stumble. My left hand was free and caught the guardrail. My right hand, encumbered by a flashlight, uselessly flopped to the side as I brilliantly braced myself on the guardrail with my forearm. My momentum slid me along the rail making a nice cut across my forearm.
I recovered from the slip--luckily I hadn't lost my balance enough to fall over completely so my legs were fine. I wasted some time checking my cut with my flashlight--it was bloody but it didn't look too bad. I thought about stopping at the next exchange but decided it would waste too much time. My teammates handed me some Gatorade at the exchange and I plowed forward--bloody arm and all.
When I finished my leg Seth--by far the most energetic runner on our team--looked at my arm. "I never go to the doctor," he said, "but I think you need stitches." An ice cream shop that was open--probably for Ragnar--gave us some alcohol wipes and a cup of water. I poured the water on my arm and scrubbed the cut out with the alcohol. Fortunately the arm was pretty numb and I must've had some adrenaline flowing because it didn't hurt too bad.
Paul had a first aid kit in the car and I was able to bandage my arm up well enough for the time being. There obviously wasn't time to get stitches until we'd finished running 130 or so more miles. At that point Tim was running what I thought looked like one of the toughest legs of the race. Pitch black, no one to run with, and a wicked steep, long, winding hill. But he didn't complain and ran a great leg.
Paul also had an awesome second leg. He was a major trooper having been kept up almost the whole night before with a sick kid. I can't imagine coming into an all-night relay already sleep deprived.
Our sleep in our fifteen passenger van was sporadic. I don't imagine anyone got great sleep--I was laying down for at least 5 or 6 hours total but I don't think I ever slept more than 20 minutes in a row. Seth, on the other hand, took a 15 minute nap. That's it. He took the award for Energizer Bunny. Not only was he not crabby he also had some awesome runs doing over 30 miles at an average pace of 7:09 per mile.
By morning we had started to catch up to some of the other teams--it was fun to not be the last team to hit the exchanges and to get to see some of the creative costumes and van decorations. The Double D's, or, Double Divas, were a fun bunch that were handing out head bands. A couple of our team members including, myself included, got some pretty stylish bands.
We also ran into the Minnesota Running Wild Women's team--they were looking pretty good at that point--especially considering Junal had yacked all over the place after the leg she'd just ran.
Everyone's last leg was challenging but we all got through it. The only one that didn't seem too worked over was Eric. He ran the anchor leg so fast we weren't even ready for him and missed our chance to run together across the finish line. In the end we finished in just over 24 1/2 hours with an average pace of 7:33 per mile. We were the third ultra team behind Scheel's and MN Running Wild and 17th overall.
I had a great time and afterward we shared our beer and pizza and talked about possibly doing the race again next year. All the guys ran tough and were fun to be around and if things worked out I would definitely do this race with them again.
After cleaning out our van Laura and I went to Urgent Care to have my arm looked at. The nurse said they would have stitched it but it had been too long since I cut it open and they don't like to risk sewing up a wound that has bacteria in it. She cleaned it out and pinched it together with Steri-strips as best she could and sent us on our way.
Laura had a busy weekend as well. Besides taking my to Urgent Care she volunteered at Ragnar and ran a 1/2 Marathon. Along with getting to see some friends there she also set a 5 minute PR! The weather was great and I knew that after running two very hot 1/2 marathons and getting some great coaching from yours truly she would crack that 2 hour barrier--and she did, with a 1:57.
Next up for us is Twin Cities Marathon weekend. Laura's running the full marathon and I'm running the 10 mile. Should be a good time!
MN Running Ultra Wilder before the our 4 PM start:
Off we go!
First leg... done:
Dan ready for his first leg in his sweet night gear:
Dan, Tim, and I cheering on Seth:
Us three were done at this point:
I got a picture with a cute volunteer:
Success! Our finishing photo:
Trip to Urgent Care:
Laura (in purple) smoking to the finish of 13.1 Minneapolis:
Laura and a friend from college who was running for Team World Vision:
Laura with our friend and her pacer, Juli: