I've been thinking about how I would recap my little excursion since the night I rode into Miami. I knew it would be difficult, as so many components make up this relay-race adventure. So in Lee fashion, I present to you a list.
The Ragnar finishing results have been posted, and the Flatwoods Degenerates placed 10th out of 246 teams, with a final time of 27:42:49. Woot-woot!
I'll say up front that I had very little navigating to do, but navigation--both for drivers and for runners--was a HUGE part of this trip. Driving around Miami is no easy task on an ordinary day, never mind the added pressures of a timed race, rush-hour traffic, and 500 vans in town for the same event. Several group members were talking about how differently the race might have functioned without the aid of smart phones. Van navigation aside, runners also had to navigate their courses based on maps that came in the Ragnar Bible (yes, this exists), and stories of getting lost began ruminating across teams after the first couple of legs. Luckily, I had mostly straightaways; but I think some of the exchange points were confusingly set up for runners, who had to sometimes make a U-turn or wind around a structure to get on course.
I wasn't entirely sure how to approach these runs. I knew I needed to race, but I wasn't sure if I should give them my all or try to preserve energy for other legs. I pretty much gave my all and ran about three 5Ks in 20 hours. My first leg, a 3.6-miler, was probably the most enjoyable, as it was cold and dark out, and I was almost completely alone along a gravel trail next to a pasture. It felt very adventuresome. On my second run of 2.9 miles, I ran my fastest race ever; although, it's impossible to make comparisons to it because there aren't many 2.9-mile races out there. But I did it in 23:36, and I think that I could have maintained that pace for another .2 miles, which would have been a PR for a 5K distance. But that's all projection. The last run--3.5 miles--was horrid, as it was around 4:00pm in the Keys with the sun blazing on my face with no cloud cover, and my body was just exhausted from the two previous runs and the lack of sleep. I got a little bit of bridge time, though, which made me happy.
I loved these parts of the race. Each exchange between runners was new and exciting for me. Not only was it fun to witness the literal transition of energy among teammates, but knowing that your teammate made it through his or her portion of the race successfully was reassuring, as it was not always a given that he or she would do so. And when it was my to receive the slap bracelet from the preceding runner, I felt pumped full of nerves and energy, while preparing to pass on the bracelet to the next runner brought great relief that I'd finished my leg. Also, the exchanges were where the majority of cheering occurred--not only for our own teammates, but for all of the runners coming through the exchange points. It was a fun race to witness as well as to partake in.
These things were so much a part of the race that an actual porta-potty culture developed. It's not difficult to imagine the amount of bathroom breaks needed for six runners (per van), each of whom is trying to stay hydrated and each of whom has his or her own unique bodily rhythm, if you will. So every exchange point, for the most part, had a cluster of porta-potties where racers could do their business. But because these toilet closets tended to run out of toilet paper quickly, runners brought their own tp rolls or sheets or sani-wipes to the porta-potty clusters. And because much of the race took place in the dark, runners also wore their head lamps so they knew what they were--or hopefully were not--getting into. And because we were usually far from running water and soap, hand sanitizer was another popular item to carry the clusters. I know many people are squeamish about using porta-potties, but you get over that quickly in this environment. When you gotta go, you must use a porta-potty.
I don't like running in gear. I don't even like wearing headphones because they constitute gear. However, for safety reasons, each team had to remain in a reflective vest from 4:30pm to 7:30am--regardless of whether we were running or not. And each runner during these hours had to also wear a headlamp and a butt light (usually a small, flashing light that clips onto clothing). I'm not saying these items were not warranted--I'm very thankful that I had mine during my one night run; but maintaining all of the pieces and keeping track of them in the van was sometimes pesky. And we each had to wear our race bib for each leg of the run, and changing clothes for each run made that a bit difficult as well. Neglecting to wear any one of these things could have resulted in a penalty for the team. But we all got through it without incident, except for a couple of broken pieces here and there.
Or lack thereof. It's not that we didn't have any opportunity to sleep, but I'm not that person who can fall asleep anywhere under any circumstances. I unfortunately require certain conditions to fall asleep, like room to stretch out my legs, room to roll over from side to side, the ability to rub my feet together without bothering anyone, cool air with a comfortable blanket, peace . . . to name a few things. I wish this weren't the case, but it is. So, during the four-hour block of time we had at night while van 1 was running their second legs, my attempt at sleeping in the cold on a van seat with no room to stretch and commotion from other van activity around me was not successful. I must have fallen asleep at some point, though, because I remember I had a dream (which escapes me now). Once our van started running our legs again around 4:30am, there wouldn't be another chance to sleep until about 10:00am when we were at the next major exchange point (the "major" exchange points were schools and the like with real restrooms and sometimes showers). I tried again there, even after a shower, but sleep escaped me. But I knew to expect this, and it didn't seem to bother me too much until after the race was finished and I became a diva for a moment, demanding food and a shower. Apparently lack of sleep can cause crankiness in some people.
I knew that our access to food would be limited, so I came prepared with plenty of snacks and a couple of meal-type foods, like soup. I'm a snacker by nature, so I didn't mind eating this way. The problem was knowing when or whether to eat after the night of hardly any sleep, aware that I still had two legs to run. The digestive system is not made for this type of activity, and I think several of us suffered from improper digestion or lack of sufficient or the right nutrition. My stomach is temperamental anyway when I run, so adding this odd mix of sleeplessness, anxiousness, and continual races made it all out of whack. But nothing too detrimental happened; after all, we had all of the porta-potties to visit.
- Competition, or "kills"
While I call the other teams competition, they really were a great part of the fun. We knew many runners on the other teams from other Tampa running groups, and we made some new friends along the way. A couple of those teams were neck-in-neck with us at the exchanges, so it gave us (or at least me) even more of a reason to want to excel. Okay, I'll admit that there was a cute guy I'd met at a New Year's Eve party who happened to be on one of the Tampa teams, and beating him was enticing. I think we did, in the end. But aside from team competition, apparently it has become custom among Ragnar regulars to keep track of how many runners an individual runner passes on his or leg. These are "kills." I think I had a total of nine, but someone on our team had around 44, if I'm not mistaken. She ran a lot more miles than I did, though :)
Supporting our team's runners came in several forms: cheering them on at exchanges, meeting them halfway through their runs to offer water (and more cheers), and generally watching out for their safety and well-being. Our van was big on the first two forms, as we didn't really have runs through sketchy parts of town like the other van did and therefore didn't have to be as vigilant about safety. And vans were allowed to "leapfrog" their runner if they desired; they just couldn't shadow the runner and follow behind. I think part of the reasoning is that the burden of directions was meant to fall on the runner. I think that for the most part all of our van members went to all 18 exchange points and hailed in one runner while sending off the next with plenty of yelling and whooping. And in the middle of some of the longer runs, we had water or sports drinks ready for our runners, often running along side them so they didn't have to carry the bottle. On one of the later runs, we became more creative and started doing the wave for each runner who passed, while we waited for ours. Some of the runners appreciated it and even partook in it. But it was a way to keep ourselves entertained as well.
This was what made it all worthwhile. There's no way to avoid growing closer with your van mates in particular, but also with your team. You spend continuous hours with each other in less than comfortable circumstances, and you must all trust, help, and rely on each other to meet a common goal. My team certainly didn't have me in mind when they first registered for this race; in fact, they didn't even know me then. And one of my biggest hesitations before committing to the race was whether I'd be a good fit for the team (as noted in my earlier post). But I'm now incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to run with these folks, each of whom differs in personality and athleticism. I can honestly say that I had one of the best experiences of my life during this race.