1am on Saturday, September 22
We got lost.
After departing the creamery for Exchange 24, we followed directions to this location, which even from casual inspection on the map is clearly a subdivision, rather than an adventure playground. Which, blessedly, wasn’t far away; we were on the verge of falling asleep standing up.
As we pulled into the lot, one of the kind volunteers explained there was hot chocolate, food, bathrooms, and the “softest grass you’ve ever laid your head on” just over the hill. These people were awesome.
Once we’d parked, I made one quick announcement: “be back here no later than 5:30am”. With that bit of information, everyone pretty much disintegrated: some immediately passed out in the van, others pitched a tent in the grass and slept. I first tried to sleep in the van, but quickly realized if I wanted to fully stretch out my legs, I’d need to head for the grass.
I packed up my fleece blanket, comforter, pillow, and lots of warm clothes, found an empty spot in the grass over the hill, spread out, and laid down. It was a very cold night, and dew was forming rapidly on any exposed surface. Still, my clothes and blankets kept me warm. My mind spun for 15-20 minutes, worrying about getting everyone up on time, worrying about the rest of the team running in the utter darkness, worrying about…
I fell asleep. Very sound, very deep sleep. For about 2.5 hours. I woke up at 5:05am and saw this directly overhead:
It was still pitch black out, but provided the other van was running on time (pending text messages on my phone told me this was indeed the case), The Lady would be arriving around 6am, so we needed to be completely up and ready by then. Plus my blankets now had a layer of dew on them, so it was only a matter of time before I started freezing.
Though there are more physically demanding parts of Ragnar, this, I think, was the most mentally challenging: rousing the troops after nearly 24 hours of being awake and running two legs, with at most 3 hours of sleep. The body is in open revolt.
Thankfully, our leadoff runner Devin was already up and about, revving himself up for his final Ragnar leg. The Ragnar folks were serving hot chocolate and clif bars, which helped immensely to wake everyone up. Matt and Maria were up in short order, and those who slept in our van awoke by virtue of our preparations.
Amazingly (though perhaps not surprisingly), our team was slowly but surely switching back on.
In short order, van 2 arrived, and we were lined up at the exchange and waiting for The Lady’s arrival. The hot chocolate and clif bars being handed out by the volunteers went a long way towards waking everyone up, getting the juices flowing, and keying everyone in on the final 12 legs to run as the sun began its ascent from the horizon.
After a little bit of worry, The Lady came hauling over the exchange and made a handoff to Devin–van 1 was back in business, and van 2 could now enjoy a well-deserved break.
While the evening legs may have been over, a far more important phase of the relay had now begun. Up until this point we’d been following the times predicted by the Ragnar pace calculator almost to the minute; we’d gain a few, we’d drop a few, always hovering right around where we were predicted to be.
We quickly realized the pace calculator did not take runner fatigue into account on the third and final legs.
To be fair: the runners in our van did exceptionally well, far better than I would have thought. Everyone was nailing their paces in spite of the obvious fatigue…at least until I went.
First things first, though: war paint.
And don’t forget our massive kill count we were keeping track of on the side of the van (we stopped counting once we reached 100 during my final leg).
Devin, Tim, Alys, Maria, and Dan all ran fantastic legs. Each of them was an excellent leg to finish on: short (no leg over ~4 miles) and flat. Good for burning whatever energy reserves you have left in a final, solid push.
And mine: another nice 4-miler, right? Not exactly.
At 8.5 miles, it was over twice as long as the next longest distance van 1 had to run for its 3rd and final leg. I was relaxed and pumped for it, but naively so: I didn’t realize just how exhausted I was.
Thankfully, the entire leg was on trails. And well-shaded trails. Even so, I lost just about every ounce of water my body had left in it. From my GPS data, I started off reasonably well (and if 4 miles had been all I’d needed to do, I would have been fine–the stop in mile 4 was a bathroom break, so I was still feeling good). But then the weight of the last 24 hours set in like a dead weight.
Miles 5 and 6 were hard. Mile 7 was almost an implosion, if not for a happenstance meeting with a Marine Corps Marathoner-in-training who provided a nice boost to my otherwise flagging legs. We talked for a bit about marathon training, what Ragnar was all about, and encouraged each other before I kicked it up a bit and passed him, wishing him well.
But then I imploded on mile 8 anyway when my calves and hips all cramped at once. To make matters worse, I was out of water and Gu.
And yet the timing couldn’t have been better: the marathoner-in-training caught up to me and pushed me on, daring me to beat him: “Finish strong”, he told me. So I sucked it up, charged up the hill in front of me as best I could, and even though my ankles (yes, my ankles) were cramping on every single step, I hurled myself into the final exchange and passed off to Keeley, ending van 1’s romp through Ragnar and leaving our team’s fate in the very capable hands of van 2 for the final six legs of the event.
Continued in Part 4 (Friday @ 11am).
[Edit: Sorry all, the week got away from me, I won’t have the final installment up until tomorrow]