24 June 2015

Seek and you shall fly

Last weekend i did something a little crazy. i ran a Ragnar on an Ultra team. It wasn't my first rodeo with Ragnar (here, here and here) but i had always before competed on a "normal" 12 person team. Somehow this year i decided a 200 mile race wasn't hard enough...i needed to do it with half of the people.

Man, that changes the entire story. ONE van, SIX runners, 200 miles. No breaks. Twice the miles.

Our Ultra team was Legs Miserables. Here was our van:

Legs {Ultra} Miserables
Ultra team=one van="On Our Own"
Get it?
God on High...
To pass another person is to see the face of God
Look down and see the blisters on my feet

We started bright and early...at 4:15am. i got to be the first runner.

Zeus, Topher, Turbo, Rockstar, BK and Big B
My first leg was 6 and some miles, up and down a hill. It was my first, so i was fresh and it was nice and cool outside. Cake. i passed a bunch of people, handed off right before sunrise and felt great. i am so glad that i got to run right away instead of sitting there while the anxiety built.

When we finished leg 6, we had gone up and over Avon pass through some beautiful and difficult country. And it was 10:00am and time for me to run again.

It was just under 5 miles through relatively flat country. It was starting to heat up (in the low 80s) and i finished with a great pace and a red face.

It's getting hot in here...
By noon there were only four other teams in front of us...and none of them were Ultra teams.

Our captain bringing us up in ranking
When i started leg 12 (my third leg) it was around 4pm and there were only two other runners in front of me. Both of them were running for the first time that day and their vans had only started 5 hours ago. We had already been going for twelve hours and this was my third time running. It was in the mid-nineties, the sun was blazing and there was no shade. i had 4 miles and change.

i still passed one of the runners and pulled us into the second team on the road. Then i died of heat stroke. (Ok, that was an exaggeration...i just had to rest in the shade for awhile).

Too hot to move
We were on a serious high! We were at the front of the pack. All of the port-a-potties were fresh. We were the only ones at the exchanges. We were putting distance between us and the team behind us. BK threw down sub-eight minute miles. All of us were excited to be there. The sun started setting. The scenery was beautiful. We were watching each other tear it up. It felt AMAZING.

Playing in poppies...they didn't put me to sleep!
Van support
Have we got a long way to run
Then it was night time. We were over two hours ahead of schedule. It was just after 10pm and time for me to start my fourth (and the 19th) leg. i got all geared up with reflective stuff and headed to the exchange. That's when the officials told us that we were TOO FAST and that we had pulled ahead of the set up crew and they were going to have to hold us back.

In some ways it was pretty cool (we are running too fast?!?). But it most ways, it took our morale down a few notches. We were on a roll and they threw off our groove. We had to sit around in the van and just WAIT. Other teams streamed on ahead of us. Since we stopped moving, the fatigue started kicking in. We entered a rut. 

We got permission to start running again at 11:30pm. i headed out to the exchange, ready to get the show back on the road. But unfortunately, i started us off again really rough. First, i got lost! It was dark out and the Ragnar direction signs were unclear. i ended up running up and down a hill in a neighborhood for a whole MILE trying to find my way. There were about 4 other runners that had made the same wrong turns as i did and we were all very confused. It wasn't until a runner familiar with the neighborhood came along that we ended up back on the right track. 

i was frustrated and annoyed because i had run an unneeded mile and put us even further behind. Somehow in this flustered state (and in the dark) i missed a curb and ate some serious gravel. i don't know how i caught my entire weight on my knees (my hands didn't even hit the ground) but i felt immediately that i had scraped them up bad. i wasn't about to stop for a scratch, so i kept running. After all, i only had 3 more miles on that leg. 

i could feel the blood running down my legs and was glad it was nighttime so i couldn't see the damage. Since i was cut up right on the knee cap, it didn't coagulate because i kept bending my knee. When i ran into the exchange, the volunteer said "BLOOD! BLOOD! BLOOD!" My socks and shoes had a puddle of blood in them and i got to pick the gravel out of my knees.

Just a flesh wound
 After cleaning myself up and watching the next couple of runners finish off their 4th legs, i could feel the general exhaustion in the van. None of us had grabbed more than a few minutes of sleep at a time. We were sore and tired. i was NOT looking forward to my 5th leg which surprised me because i usually love my night time runs. However, i didn't want to complain. i grabbed a quick 20 minute nap and set off to the exchange leaving half the team asleep in the van and with the assurance that it would be ok to walk some of it if i needed to.

With the knowledge that my team was ok if i had to walk, i started off the run feeling no pressure. It was 4am; i had started my first leg 24 hours ago. As soon as i started moving, all the things i love about running kicked into place. i felt my body settle into a steady pace, my breathing leveled out with my stride, the cool night air felt great on my recent battle wounds, the music fit the way i was feeling--calm and strong--and thousands of stars opened above me. i was chasing the tail lights in the distance. It wasn't my fastest run (by far) but it filled me with hope and happiness. i was happy to be there. i was glad to be running. i was one leg away from finishing the race.

When i got back to the van, i promptly fell asleep.

A couple hours of mildly interrupted sleep later, the sun wasn't very high in the sky but the energy was WAY up. We were 4 hours ahead of where we had projected we would be. We were headed toward the climax of the run. The longest and hardest leg. And guess who got to run it?

10.3 miles 2800 ft elevation gain

i may or may not have puked {twice} before starting. i was terrified. i hadn't eaten since the night before. i was going on a couple hours of bad sleep. However, i was excited. i was ready to prove that i could do it and be of use to this team that was so much faster than i was. So i hit the "hill" (i really don't know why they don't call it Ragnar Mountain).

What the HILL?!?

It was relentless. The incline never stopped. i puked again at mile 8. i had to walk from mile 8-9.5. At one point i didn't think i was ever going to make it to the top. But the view was gorgeous!

i came from way down there...
There were a few things that helped me to finish. Part of it was that there was no one there to save me and my team was depending on me! Also, lots of other runners were struggling along with me. The best part was that vans driving by could tell i was an ultra runner (because of the color of my race bib) and almost every one that drove passed honked and yelled out the window "ULTRA! OH YEAH ULTRA!" It helped me to feel a little more like a rockstar. Then i slugged up the final switchback and saw a gorgeous flat stretch. 

The most beautiful part is that there is no incline
i started RUNNING again, came around the corner and there was my team at the bottom of a hill. And i was done. 35.5 miles total. Phew!

Everyone who ran leg 31 got a medal just for that. It says "The Grandaddy of them all! I ran the hardest Ragnar leg ever!!!!"

Nailed it!
It was all downhill after that. Literally. i don't know how the next two runners have knees at all after running down the back of the mountain. i thought i would sleep, but i was too full of adrenaline and it was too fun to watch my teammates finishing their final runs. The gorgeous scenery continued.

33 hours after starting (and 32 hours of running...we got held back, remember?) we crossed the finish line as a team. We finished 6th place of our category.

The back of our medals

i still can't believe that just six of us ran the entire race. We were all so sore and blistered and exhausted. Only crazy people would ever do this. 

And we are already planning the next one.

PS: Here is what my legs look like two days after finishing:

But you should see the PAVEMENT!
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