Arrivals: Thursday, September 20
Thus it began: The Lady and I awoke early Thursday, September 20 to drive to the airport and pick up three of our teammates. The morning and early afternoon were mostly spent getting the arrivals comfortable, driving back and forth between the airport, and trying not to trip over all the food and supplies in the apartment and prematurely injure ourselves.
By 4:30pm, all 12 of our teammates (13 if you count our dedicated driver) had congregated at The Lady’s apartment, which were using as a staging area, and the vans were being prepped for departure. By 5:30pm, we began our journey to Cumberland, MD.
The drive to our hotel was largely uneventful (unless you count some members of our team inappropriately touching an elephant), but it served as a nice dry run for how 15-person van transportation would work. Our drivers got some experience driving the behemoths, their navigators developed some rapport, and the passengers worked out exactly how they’d be able to sleep in the rows in between all the bottles of water and boxes of Pop Tarts.
We arrived at the hotel unscathed, somewhere in the sprawling metropolis of Frostburg, MD, which was conveniently a 25-minute drive from the Ragnar starting line. We checked in, unpacked, tried not to get overly competitive at the sight of numerous other 15-passenger vans parked in the hotel lot, and generally got ourselves organized for the morning (and days!) ahead.
I can’t speak for my teammates, but I didn’t sleep well: I’d never done anything like this before, and as the one official team captain (we had four within our own team to help with the various planning aspects, but from Ragnar’s perspective, I was the only one), I kept running over our preparations and trying to pick out ambiguously-planned spectra of time over the course of the entire event to try and anticipate where things might go wrong.
There are a ton of places where things can go wrong. But I had three other captains, not to mention a whole team full of immensely reliable people; in hindsight, I had absolutely nothing to worry about.
Ragnar Day: Friday, September 21
Start waves ran almost the entire day, starting at 5:30am and going through the evening. Generally, slower teams started earlier, in an attempt to have everyone finish in a reasonable window of time. Our starting time was 8am.
Van 1 was required to arrive at the starting line no later than one hour before our assigned start wave. Here is Van 1’s personnel:
- Devin (our leadoff runner)
- Tim (co-captain who ran this Ragnar in 2010)
- Alys (co-captain who also ran this in 2010)
We also had a dedicated driver, Matt, whose services were indescribably invaluable over the course of the event: his efforts allowed us runners to do what we do best without having to worry about who to conscript for driving.
Soon enough, 8am rolled around, and Devin took his spot on the starting line, and the rest of us lined the sides to cheer him and the rest of the 8am wave along to start what would surely be a long, taxing, and incredibly rewarding relay race.
Once Devin took off, we meandered back to our vans for a bit to finish preparations, before heading to the first exchange. The first leg was a loop around the lake, finishing hardly a quarter mile from the starting line, so the entire team could be present, the only time the entire team could be present at a non-major exchange (“major” exchanges involved switching active vans).
This is where the vans parted ways: Van 2 headed for Exchange 6 (the first major exchange), where they would undergo their own check-in process and wait for us to arrive. We, meanwhile, would head for Exchange 3 and wait for Tim to arrive.
We arrived well ahead of Tim, so Devin and I pulled out our baseball mits and played catch for a bit in the shade. So far, we were having a lot of fun: everyone was relaxed, excited, and enjoying one another’s company. And while the first two wavered at times during the event, the third one never did (and that made all the difference SPOILER ALERT).
Tim arrived right on schedule, and made a flawless exchange with Alys, and soon enough we were on our way yet again.
Then things started getting interesting.
Take a look at the image on the right: this was Alys’ climb. In fact, here are the exact leg specifications: no less than a 1200-foot climb over 3 miles. We pulled off along the freeway at the start of the climb to cheer on Alys.
Devin then decided it would be a solid idea to pick up some cacti that we found along the side of the road. Not seeing any visible needles and apparently unaware that things like this exist, he picked one up and immediately recoiled in pain, now seeing dozens of little needles in his fingers. Thankfully they were neither poisonous nor particularly difficult to remove, so after chiding him and educating him in the ways of microscopic needles, we recovered quickly from this little mishap and formally adopted an emerging mantra for the rest of the weekend:
Everything is fine, nothing is fucked.
Which, when appropriate, could have the positions of “fine” and “fucked” swapped.
Alys crushed her run, coming in at Exchange 3 only four minutes behind schedule and handing off to Maria to continue onward. We pulled out of the exchange and stopped a few times along the way to the next one to cheer on Maria.
Exchange 4 went like clockwork, which was a relief given that these exchanges tended to be crammed in small country roads. This portion of the relay wound through the mountainous back roads (sometimes unpaved) of Maryland, and as such were often barely wide enough to allow two vans to pass by, much less support an entire exchange.
Dan’s leg is where I would say we made our first (and probably only) mistake: the roads were getting really narrow, and it was actually getting difficult to keep up with our runners. Still, we stopped at a gorgeous overlook for a few minutes and waited for Dan to come by, cheering him as he passed.
Problem: the overlook was barely a mile from the next exchange, and things were getting really crowded. We piled into the van and passed Dan along the way, but got caught at Exchange 5 in a parking fustercluck: suddenly nobody seemed to know how to drive.
I cannot describe how fortuitous it was that I (and I alone, as it turns out) happened to hear one of the volunteers announce “225!” as we were still parking, so I lept out of the van, immediately saw Dan hardly 10 steps from the exchange, and ran alongside him, taking the baton and carrying forward.
My first mile was tough: my mind was racing from what had just happened, and reeling from the fact that in my haste I had completely forgotten my GPS watch on the dashboard of the van. As such, I was entirely in anaerobic mode and burning energy way too fast. I spent the next while reining in my pace, slowing my breathing, and settling my mind into a 10k mode.
It worked very well. My van came up alongside ~1.5 miles in, passed off my GPS watch, and I kept pounding away at the 6 mile leg. I passed all 9 runners I encountered, being passed by none, and maintained a 7:20 min/mi pace on a rolling, net-downhill leg. I arrived at Exchange 6, the first major exchange, and handed off to the first runner in our second van, ending Van 1’s first run and letting Van 2 show off some of its stuff.
Welcome to the first major exchange! Go Van 2!
Continued in Part 2 (Friday @ 11am).