I was invited for a second time to join a group of guys who have made running Ragnar Relay events a tradition for 10 years. My first experience with these guys was for Ragnar's Reach the Beach event two years ago. That event was a "WOW" experience for me and worthy of a repeat.
For those of you that aren't familiar with a Ragnar Relay event, it goes something like this:
- You get 12 running buddies that are comfortable enough with each other to tolerate the close confines of a stinky van for 24+ hours.
- Divvy up the running assignments into 36 legs according to the segments laid out by Ragnar.
- Start runner #1 at the appointed time (it's a wave start so that most teams finish around the same time).
- Runner #2 takes over from runner #1 at a designated transition point, and so on until the last runner crosses the finish line.
- Each runner will do 3 legs of varying distance (each leg in this particular event ranged from 2 to 9 miles) approximately 8 to 11 hours apart.
- You run during the day, night, in the rain, fog, hot, cold, whatever, until the team finishes.
- You rest (kind of) while riding in the van from one transition zone to the next, and if you are lucky, you might be able to grab a couple hours of sleep on the grass somewhere or on a school gym floor.
- It is a test of endurance, patience, camaraderie, and a very high tolerance to port-a-potties. For what it's worth, the incentive to run fast is that the closer you are to the front of the pack, the cleaner the bathroom facilities are!
So that's the set up... Here's how it went:
Van 1 with 6 guys left our rental house in Lake Placid (near the finish line) at 4:30AM to drive down to Saratoga Springs. They had a 2+ hour drive (in the pouring rain) in order to make a 7:15 AM start for their first runner.
Van 2 (the cool van - but not because I was in it), got to sleep in and left Lake Placid around 8 AM, to transition with Van 1's 6th runner. I took the baton (actually a "wrist baton") from Jon at around 10:30AM somewhere north of Saratoga Springs and took off for a rolly 7.8 miles.
The picture below was taken somewhere near mile 6.5 of my first leg. The photographer was talking to me, but I couldn't hear a word he said, so I just smiled and waved...
|Ironman Dan about to clobber a young buck|
And so on we went until we arrived at Lake George, where we transitioned the running
|Back Street BBQ|
After dinner we took off to the next Van Exchange Point (where Van 1 would hand off to us) and stopped at a Walmart along the way for supplies (water, gatorade, peanut butter, bread, junk food, pillows and sleeping bags). Oh - and Tums... one of our guys was brave enough to have the baked bean soup stewed in pork rind back at Back Street BBQ, and he was not feeling so good.... no wonder. But he survived. We then found a spot at the school that was being used as Van Exchange Point to lay out in the dew covered grass for a bit of rest before our next shift. I was up next for the first night run of our shift.
Speaking of vans, some teams rent large 15 passenger vans with lots of room. Our team rents mini-vans (easier to drive and to maneuver around these country roads), but somewhat cramped for space. This is a pic of the back cargo area where we would store a cooler and bags for 6 guys. And of course every time you needed to get something from your bag (dry or warmer clothes) your bag was ALWAYS the bag on the bottom... The inside was just as cramped, although we usually "just" had 5 guys in there (one runner running...), and you can see that the designated stinky seat has the obligatory towel. What you can't see is all the crap and garbage that is strewn throughout the van... :-) The downside to the mini vans is that there is absolutely no way to stretch your legs out (think of cramps) without putting your feet into someone... But it is an adventure!
Regarding night time runs, Ragnar required us to have reflective vests, a headlamp, a blinky light in front and one on our back. I don't believe that was enough given some of the traffic that runners had to deal with. On some roads there was not much of a shoulder to run on and on curves cars and trucks would come roaring by. I didn't hear that any bad things happened, but I know that there were close calls. I think that the next time I run a Ragnar at night I'll be lit up like a Christmas Tree.
On another little side note, the routes were marked "ok" by Ragnar, but they could have been better marked, especially at night considering that the route was literally in the woods and there is nothing for miles... and I do mean nothing. One of the guys in Van 1 mentioned that he became concerned at one point as he couldn't see any runners ahead or behind him and began to worry that he had missed a turn. Only when he happened to come across an unattended water table with Ragnar symbols did he feel confident that he wasn't blazing his own trail. This situation is actually made worse by the lack of cell signal across a lot of the course - if you get lost you can't call for help! Our van had to guide a runner back to the route after she got confused about a turn - it's dark, no street lights, few cars - who knows where she would have wound up. But remember again, this is supposed to be an adventure.
By the time our (Van 2's) rotation was over, it was around 2AM and cold (low 50's/high 40's?) and we headed straight to the next Van Exchange Point (again a school). This time, 4 of us opted to see if we could nap inside the school itself instead of battling the wet and cold grass or trying to sleep in the van. It turned out that $3 each got us a spot of the gym floor. Bargain! We walk into the darkened gym and there are perhaps 10 or 15 people spread out along the wall. We pick a spot under the volleyball nets in the middle. Lay down, set an alarm for 5AM, and I'm asleep almost instantly. At the appointed hour my phone is buzzing and I look around to find myself surrounded by other runners - the gym is packed. So packed that I have to carefully thread my way in between the sleeping bodies that are literally inches apart to get to the door.
One of the complications/challenges that we had was that as we made our way through the Adirondacks was that cell service was minimal at best. And we needed a cell signal in order to communicate with each van so that runners would be ready at the designated transition point. During our short nap time, Van 1 was in the "dead zone". But from previous messages we were aware that they were running early (we were beating our anticipated times like crazy) and we had a reasonable guess as to when Jon, the guy I would take over from, would come running into the transition zone.
The next 5 legs that Van 2 had were all brutal - all hilly, all going up. Bruce had an almost 400 ft consistent vertical climb over less than a 2 mile stretch right out of the gate, a rolly couple of miles, finishing with another ridiculous climb. In Van 1, Daniel had a 700 ft climb in 2 miles that was so tough that runners for that leg received a special medal! By the way, after reaching the peak, Daniel had a 700 ft drop in a bit over half a mile - that would have destroyed my quads. Tough guys, they are. Richard finished the race off for us with a 7.6 anchor leg that was super hilly and going up all the time (remember we're making our way to Lake Placid... ski country, so it's all up, not much down). You can see from the elevation chart just how challenging this thing was.
The awesome news is that we finished in 28 hrs, 6 min 12 seconds, putting us 52nd in a field of 277. From the group picture at the finish line you can tell how thrilled we were to be done! The winning team finished in 21:58:06, a blistering average pace of 6:48 min/mile. In addition, since we were mostly a gang of over 50 year-olds, we were 2nd in the Masters division. We missed first place in the Masters by a team called The Fast, the Slow, and the Ugly by 4 hrs and 26 minutes. Oh well.
But the even more awesome news is what this group of guys does for fund raising. Since they started running relay events 10 years ago, they have been fund raising for the American Cancer Society. This year this group raised over $60,000. Over the last 10 years, the group has surpassed $500,000 for the ACS. Totally awesome.
Once again, this was an incredible experience, so different than the road races that I am more accustomed to. It required a lot of organization, mostly on the part of our team captain Jerry, who did a monumental and stellar job getting us into the event, filling all the slots, ensuring that we had a place to sleep, the van's, pre-race dinner reservations, and coordinated getting everyone's arrival and departures. This is a great group of guys and I hope to be invited to participate with them again! It was a blast. Many thanks to them.
Next up: Ft DeSoto HM Oct 30.