12pm on Friday, September 21
We pick up right after Van 2 activated and we in Van 1 were given respite. We found our way to the nearby country general store, where we rested, showered, and generally relaxed. There was even a lake with a family of ducks.
I can’t describe how nice it was to sit on a bench swing in the shade of a country general store, sipping on drinks and nibbling on Clif bars. After a go-go-go of six consecutive runners–which was incredibly enjoyable–it was equally satisfying now to simply take in the forested, mountainous countryside in the company of our teammates.
We had performed well in our first activation: we came in one minute under our total projected time. Even though we were hardly 1/6 into the event, so far we were kicking tail.
After a little less than two hours, we decided to make our way to the next major exchange (it would take us about 45 minutes via the most direct route to get there). It was located at a high school in Clear Spring, Maryland.
We made a slight navigational error going to the next exchange, somehow accidentally swapped Exchange 12 for Exchange 13. It wasn’t far away, but the result was that we got a glimpse of what Devin’s second leg would be: a net-downhill, along a straight, wide, and open country road, most likely under the stars of night. He got pretty excited.
We turned around and stopped for an early dinner (~3:30pm) at a nearby local restaurant with a gas station next door, refueling our van and our stomachs. It was during dinner that the exhilaration of the event started wearing off, and the extent of what remained began to weigh on us. Eyelids started drooping, so we finished quickly and made our way to the high school with a few hours to spare, giving us time to rest and possibly nap before being reactivated by the arrival of the other van.
Waiting at Exchange 12 (Major Exchange 2)
Once at the high school, we still had nearly 2.5 hours to spare before the arrival of Van 2. There was plenty of green space to spread out; the sun was just starting its descent towards the horizon, but plenty of other Ragnar Van 1s were taking the opportunity to relax under the trees, even nap on the grass. Devin sprawled out in his sleeping bag and promptly fell asleep.
As we relaxed, Van 2 made steady progress, updating me via text as each runner came in and went out. Keeley rocked her leg, and handed off to Michael who did the same with his. He handed off to Megan, who handed off to Heather, who handed off to Rose, who then handed off to The Lady, the team anchor.
At this point, the sun had all but vanished, and the light was rapidly dimming. I received a text message from the Ragnar HQ at 6pm sharp, notifying everyone that nighttime rules were in effect: anyone outside a van was required to wear a reflective vest, and anyone actively running not only needed a vest, but also both a headlamp and a rear flashing light.
Ragnar doesn’t screw around with safety, and I commend them on that (with one exception, which I’ll get to).
Van 2 soon arrived, and everyone got in place at Exchange 12 to cheer on The Lady as she anchored her van’s group and passed the baton back to ours. We introduced the folks of Van 2 to the high school’s cafeteria, open all night specifically for the event.
Soon enough, the sun set entirely, and I spotted a runner whose gait looked like that of The Lady. Sure enough, she came rocketing down the exchange, passed the baton off to Devin, and suddenly Van 1 was active once again, giving Van 2 a well-deserved evening of relaxation.
Exchange 18 (Major Exchange 3)
Things got interesting on this stretch. We were still largely in the Maryland country, mountainous and wild, but we were starting to hit populated areas. Throw in the utter blackness of night and there are bound to be some missteps.
Devin’s leg went off without a hitch; we arrived quickly at the exchange we had mistakenly driven to a few hours before, and watched as Devin came charging in a few minutes ahead of schedule, having thoroughly enjoyed his smooth, nighttime run.
Tim took off, and the trail got steeper. We stopped near some cornfields to cheer him on, having to cheer for everyone that passed by just so Tim could recognize our voices; the total darkness and blinding headlamps on the runners made it nearly impossible for us to identify them until they were already passed.
Alys took over in a parking lot that we initially blew right past. Her leg wasn’t difficult per se, but she ran along sidewalks that crossed freeway onramps; we received a phone call from her just as we were arriving at the exchange. Alys informed us she’d nearly been hit by an exiting semi, and wasn’t even sure she was on the right path. We immediately backtracked, finding her running along the correct path, and followed her to the exchange where Maria took over. Alys was pretty shaken, but she’s a tough runner and kicked some serious ass.
This was the one event had that us all scratching our heads regarding runner safety: why on earth would a nighttime leg cross a freeway exchange? It seems like you’re just asking for semis, barreling down the exit ramp, to blow through the stop sign (it was a somewhat secluded offramp) and right into a hapless runner coming out from under the bridge.
Maria did a phenomenal job as well, passing off to Dan in front of a Lutheran Evangelical Church. Dan had a reasonably long leg, so we stopped off along the way to support him.
Unfortunately, the darkness almost beat us. We completely missed him running by, and if not for Maria catching the silhouette of Dan’s penguin tied to his waist, we may very well have waited several more minutes before realizing he’d passed us already.
Me: “Did we miss Dan?”
Teammate: “No, we passed him. He’s coming.”
Maria: “No he definitely just ran by.”
Me: “Are you sure it was him?”
Maria: “I’m 100% certain. I saw his penguin.”
Everyone: “…ok, we missed him! Let’s go everyone!”
We piled back into the van, located Dan en route and cheered him through the windows, then pressed on to Exchange 17. Unwilling to repeat the last Dan-Me exchange, I prepped myself entirely for my run before we even arrived at the exchange: iPod, GPS watch, Gu, clothing. This was a short run: a “mere” 3.5 miles, albeit a steep one. My plan was to crush it.
Dan arrived right on time, and I was waiting. I set out at a reasonable 7:45 pace…and was almost immediately blown backwards by some of the strongest headwinds I’d ever encountered. In spite of the headlamp, the pitch black night seemed to accentuate the ferocity of the winds; they were whistling so hard I couldn’t even hear my music.
Nevertheless I pressed on. The hill was steep. I love hills, and even this was taxing my patience with them. I encountered my van, cheering me on at one point near the top, and another van at the very peak cheering every runner that reached it.
On the way down, a curious thing happened: my side erupted in sudden pain, so much so that I couldn’t exhale and had to walk. A side stitch, more painful than any I’d felt, wracked my right side. As I approached the next uphill section, it suddenly vanished, and I resumed my climb. Cresting over the top, the stitch immediately returned, suggesting it was related to the recent food I’d eaten in the van: too many bagels, goldfish, and pop tarts too close to this run must have adversely affected me. I was getting upset.
Two ultra runners passed me. True, they were ultra runners, but it was no less frustrating, given they were running no faster than I had been. I managed to regulate my breathing enough to put in a respectful final 0.5 miles as I closed in on Exchange 18.
All in all, I managed to pass a total of three runners on this leg, and though I was passed by two, those were the only five I ever encountered on the run. Things were starting to thin out; the night was getting pretty lonely. My run started just before midnight and ended just after. I passed off to Keeley, and was greeted by a still-enthusiastic team. I apologized for being late, but was told I really hadn’t incurred much of a delay; we were only 1 minute over our projected time.
Van 2 soon departed for their graveyard shift, and we stuck around for a little while to indulge in the creamery at the exchange. I had an egg nog milkshake, and it was delicious. I remarked it was “Christmas in September”.
We were definitely starting to fatigue; the morning’s enthusiasm was giving way to longer faces and slower motions. But at that moment, we all enjoyed a well-deserved break and some tasty ice cream.
Continued in Part 3 (Monday @ 11am).