Friday, October 11, 2013

Ragnar Relay Ultra - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

So this past weekend, I ran the Ragnar Relay DC race, a 200-mile relay race from Cumberland, MD to Washington DC. I’m no stranger to relay races; this was my 7th over the past two years.  

Our team was featured in the Ragnar Magazine
Usually these races are run with two vans and twelve people. Van 1 runs the first set of legs, then Van 2 takes over and Van 1 gets a break for about 6-7 hours. Then the process repeats two more times. Each person runs three legs, each leg 5-6 miles, for a total of 15-18 miles per person. The entire race takes about 30 hours (it took us 30hrs, 44 mins, 21secs).

I love the Ragnar Relays. They’re well-organized, safe, and fun. Think: hard-running meets block-party. Ragnars are about running under non-normal (and often, non-optimal) circumstances: an unfamiliar location, without much sleep, without good food, regardless of the weather, and maybe in some crazy costume.

It’s about working together as a team in a sport that is known for its individualization.

The race this past weekend was different than others because we ran it as an Ultra – only six people instead of twelve. That meant we had double the miles (I personally ended up with 30), and no down time while the other van was running. We were the other van.

If you want a little taste of the silliness, here you go:

I’m doing this postmortem of the race in case any future Ragnar Ultra teams want to learn from our experience, and because I’m sure I’ll end up doing something this stupid again. That’s how I roll. So here it is, Ultra Team Fast Girls Have Good Times: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

The Good
1. All of our personalities meshed together well. When we first were getting our team together months ago we knew we wanted two things: 1) All women and 2) All drama-free people. If you’re going to be trapped in a 6x10ft moving box with five other people for 30 hours, make sure it’s with people who click. Having just one person who is cranky or whiney can make 30 hours feel like 30 days. Not so for us – everybody in our van was fabulous.

Our van
2. We went with a 15-passenger van rather than a minivan. Even up to as late as the day before the race we were undecided on this matter. Cost vs. Space. We decided to go for comfort and the ability to sleep/stretch out over saving money. It was a great decision.

3. We took the back seat out of the 15-passenger van (note: we had someone’s house in DC, where we could leave it). In a 15-passenger, the back seat comes all the way up to the door which leaves very little room, and basically making the back area useless. Moving this seat gave us a 6x5 space in the back for food, suitcases and all our massive amounts of stuff.

4. Two words: electric cooler. It was an absolute miracle. Plugged into the lighter and kept stuff awesome cold without having to mess with ice.

5. We packed our own food. And we actually thought about what we would want to eat ahead of time, instead of the usual mad dash through a grocery store a couple hours before the race started. And it’s a good thing too, there was neither place nor time to stop at a restaurant for real food.

 Our packed eats included: pasta salad, quinoa & feta cheese salad, PB&J sandwiches, hummus, apples, bananas, peanut butter, wheat thins, cheese sticks, Lara/clif bars, brownies, and orange slices.  I never want to run another Ragnar without orange slices. They were perfect after a long run

6. We had one person pay for everything, then just split the cost. Simple, efficient, effective.

The running spreadsheet
7. We decided to each run 3 long runs each rather than 6 shorter runs. This gave us more down time between legs (10-12 hours). We also brought our spreadsheet with us. I thought we wouldn’t look at it much, but we were studying that stupid thing all the time. It was great to be able to see all the running details on one piece of paper. Especially when it was 3am and we couldn’t remember who was running next.

8. As always, we brought large ziplock bags and stuffed our sweaty running clothes in them immediately upon finishing each leg. That kept the smell in the van bearable.

The Bad (things we couldn’t control)
1. The weather.  The heat index for both Friday and Saturday was in the 90s. It was brutal hot, especially for the first weekend in October.  It made everything more painful. Especially those 200 miles.

2. No driver. We lost our scheduled driver the day before the race due to an emergency. This ended up being both a bad and good thing. A driver (especially who could navigate for him/herself and is familiar with Ragnar) would’ve been welcome addition, but I think the particular one we had scheduled would not have fit well with our team vibe. So I think that worked out for the best.

3. The DC craziness. The government shutdowns forced rerouting of a lot of the legs in DC. It was a hassle, and ended up changing everybody’s mileage at the last minute.

4. Almost all of us were battling some injury or residual illness. Just made something already hard, that much more difficult.

The Ugly (things I could’ve controlled)
1. My overall lack of training for this race. I was doing so terribly after my first legs, I started to make a joke about it: If only I had known this race was coming. I could’ve trained for it!!!

Of course I had known it was coming for at least six months. But I just didn’t make time for training the way I should have. It was summer, it was hot, I had a ton of writing I needed to do, I have four kids who were home, I had a lot of trips, I was bored with running and needed a break, I had over-trained for my spring races and needed a break.

Whatever. All of those excuses may be legitimate, but still didn’t change the fact that I wasn’t prepared for this race the way I needed to be. It was downright painful. Mentally and physically.

So there you have it: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in my first ever Ragnar Ultra experience. As you can see, the good far outweighed the bad and the ugly.  We had an absolutely fantastic time, except for maybe all the running.

I can’t think of another group of women I’d rather do something so stupid with.

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