16 May 2011

Ragnar Relay Race Report And Coming Out Witness Protection

Running in my super cool Trakkers kit and wicked fast
Avia Quest Lite. 

I'm back!!


I know what you're thinking "...sure we've heard this all before. He builds us up with the anticipation of these stellar blog posts—complete with his self-proclaimed witty humor, and over the top sarcasm—and just toys with our poor emotions as we are left stranded wondering if he is going to end up on the back of a milk carton, or need to be relocated to Sioux City, Iowa for a crime he witnessed at a high-profile Italian eatery."

Nope, neither of those. I have just had the busiest year of my life. I had been commuting an hour to work five, sometimes six days a week all year. Twice a week, I did not get home until after 9 p.m., and there were times that I was enjoying my dinner at midnight! Okay, enough of this 'woe is me' me type rhetoric, now on for the good stuff.

About eight months ago I saw one of those advertisements on Facebook that runs along the sidebar that read something about Ragnar Relay. I never pay attention to adds, or so I thought, but on this particular occasion I decided I would check it out. And so I did. Ragnar Relay is a running race series that has teams of up to twelve members compete in a relay that runs for—in our case—197 beautiful miles of New York state. And so, I thought to myself, "197 miles in a van with eleven other runners who are going to be tired, cranky, stinky, and hungry by the end of the experience.... what could possibly go wrong?" Coincidentally, the phrase "what could possibly go wrong?" became my mantra throughout the Ragnar experience. You see, with five children, I have the attitude that you just have to roll with some things in life otherwise you are going to be confined to a straightjacket wondering where it all went wrong. It was right there while reading the Ragnar message and what the race entailed that I decided that this all seemed completely crazy, and was therefore obligated to try to run this thing with eleven of my soon-to-be closest friends (whether they liked it or not). The first thing I did was post a message on The Facebook to four hundred or so of my closest friends asking who was "in?" What I soon realized is that most well-adjusted people with careers, families, and household projects are not easily eager to commit to something this undeniably stupid, er... insane, er... ambitious?   Needless to say, I got a couple of "hey, that sounds like a really cool thing. How far is it again?" messages. The usual suspects: Adam, Scott, and Manuel were way overextended with some other things to be able to commit to this race in early May. Then, I had a stroke of brilliance (yes, I am sometimes struck with the rare brilliant idea). I will ask my Trakkers teammate, Kelly C. and her husband to take part in this. Kelly did a 50 K earlier during the year.... she's crazy... she's likely to do this. Alas, Kelly at first said "yes" then regretfully had to decline because she had some boring wedding to attend... (just kidding Kelly). The first person who committed to doing the relay was the wifey. We have been looking into doing some unconventional races together for some time. More on that later. The next person who committed to doing with was my friend Sarah. Next was my friend Mike whom I work out with at my YMCA. Next came my friend Ryan, another young cat, who I know from the Y. Actually, I know almost half of the team because of my relationship with the YMCA. Below is a picture of the team complete with their official Ragnar nicknames, designated by team captain (me) based on my Ragnar experience with them.

From l to r: Danny "Talker" Vandonginator VanDongen, Terry "Pinky" Christo, Greg "Chef" Christo, Nicholas "Honey Badger" Grenses, "It's not Ryne, it's Ryan" Ryan "Camel" McClean, Mitch "Instigator" Mitchell, Mike "Squirrel" Texiera, Sharon "Sunshine" Mitchell, Me "Gimpy", Sarah "Stealth" Beyler, and Derek "Franchise" Lockhart

Oh, where is wifey?  Yeah, it's been a bit since the last blog post, eh? Wifey decided that on one spring like afternoon she would get on my son Luca's Ripstick (kind of like a skateboard, but with only two wheels) without helmet or elbow pads. Needless to say, this did not end well. After a trip to the hospital, an MRI to look for a concussion and several stitches to close her grapefruit-sized swollen elbow, it was back to the house. As if it could not get any worse, a few days after removing her stiches, her bursar sack ruptured and fluid flew out of elbow in the manner of bad special effects in a B movie. Sadly, wifey will have to wait for the next one. I was REALLY disappointed. I wanted to share this experience with her.

Here is our ex-Pentacostal church van. I am NOT kidding!
I almost did not think the race was actually going to happen for my team. With less than two weeks left to go before the race, we did not have hotel reservations, transportation, any idea of who was going to run what legs, what to bring, etc. Yup, this is just how I roll. What I soon learned is that everyone was up to their eyeballs with work, and like me, this is a group that does not panic, but merely says "okay... how are we going to make this happen?" In one meeting over a few beers a week before the race, we hashed out everything and I ordered the perfect van from a place called "Clover's Clunkers." The official Ragnar race "bible" suggests that teams of 12 have two passenger vans. Their theory/recommendation/take, is that with two vans, you could have your first six runners run while the other six sleep/rest/play crazy eights, etc. Somehow, I had this sneaking suspicion that a relay race that traverses over 197 miles that will last roughly anywhere from 25-DNF hours is not likely to have a lot of of downtime. The other thing is that, it really does not matter if you try to sleep during the day (at least for me), when it's nighttime and you are use to going to sleep at say, eleven p.m., or midnight, your body wants to crash. I knew that it would not matter that I was well rested. This is just a really drawn out way to basically tell you I was too cheap to go with a second passenger van, but instead ordered one 15-passenger van for the trip. When we sat down for those beers, we (the six members of the team that could make it (Mike, Terry, Greg, Mitch, Nick, and me) projected a fairly realistic pace time of about 9 minute miles. If we did this, we would finish the race in just under 30 hours. Unfortunately, our seed times were all based on some pretty optimistic 10k times. The Ragnar committee gave us a 10:00 a.m. starting time. The only problem was that the finish was only open until 5 o'clock. If we miscalculated and actually ended up running slower, incurred an unexpected injury, or our wonderful $60 a day 15-passenger van decided to suddenly not perform up to expectations (running and breaking on steep hills), we might be facing a poor time, or worse, a DNF, or worse yet, death at the hands of a Ford Ecoliner.

We stayed the night in Liberty, New York, just down the road from the famous sight of the 1969 Woodstock concert. In fact, the start of the relay was actually at the historic concert sight! I thought this sign was hysterical. Nothing is allowed onto the sight that actually made this a great experience in the first place. Okay one to the race...

It would take a manuscript the length of the Harry Potter series (which I finished by the way) to tell you about everyones legs, and all the crazy and amazing things we saw along the way. Let's just say that my team surely rose to the occasion and ran their proverbial asses off with a total time of 25:03:46. Not bad, right? That is a team pace of 7:38 over 197 miles. The amazing thing is I actually think that had circumstances been a bit different, we may actually have run it slightly faster. Unfortunately, I was "nursing," "coping," "bearing as much pain as I could possibly withstand" throughout the race. (More on the knee later).  So, taking one 15-passenger van meant being at the next exchange in time for the runner who was out there. Sometimes it was difficult. There were a couple of legs that were only 1.9 and 2.4 miles long. If you have someone running low 7:00 minute miles, you barely have time to drive to the next exchange, get your next runner out and cheer on the next exchange. We gobbled on stuff throughout the trip: peanut butter pretzels, banana muffins, a huge bag of granola (thanks to the large team of runners that stayed at the hotel with us who left it in conference room at breakfast time). We, uh... borrowed it.... forever. I had a peanut butter sandwich somewhere along the way, and a local fire house put together a spaghetti dinner or turkey wraps for dinner when we arrived at one of the exchanges at 7:30 on Friday. It cost $8.00 dollars. My cousin Danny and I had $12 dollars between us when we got to the exchange and some runner offered to make up the difference of the rest of our meal. Very cool. Whoever you were—thanks!

Our team had two Ragnar magazines that had detailed printouts of every leg of the race with their ratings: Easy/Moderate/Hard/ and Very Hard. Personally, I had one moderate, a hard, and then finished with a very hard run. It was a beautiful trail run. The first two miles were  straight uphill. I almost went the wrong way when I set out to run my last leg. I got to a point in the trail that looked like  a pool of mud and said.. "certainly I am not suppose to run through this." I was incorrect in my thinking. So, I ran back down and started to set off on a different trail when I heard my teammates yell, "No... Mark!  You were going the right way!!" Oops.

The one thing that I would warn people of who are considering running Ragnar New York is that you should be prepared to run hills—a lot of them! It was as if the race director went out and said, "...hey, where are the biggest hills to punish these people?"  Well, if pictures tell a thousand words, I guess I am in luck. I have been absent for a while, and I do not think words can really capture the essence of Ragnar race experience.

Here are some pictures from the race:

I called PETA shortly after taking this pic. 

The legend continues. 
I don't know why, but I just think of Bananrama, parachute pants,
Flashdance, and MC Hammer whenever I look at this picture. 
This is one fast viking!
Don't ask, don't tell. 
This takes guts... or underpants.... 
We would have faired pretty well in this category as well!
.. but well worth it!
Showing off her bootie for the camera, these runners
were rocking the 90's metal scene. 
I love this picture! A well deserved rest. 

This race has inspired me to want to try the Rev 3 Adventure Race Series next year. Okay, I hope I did some justice to this amazing race experience.

More soon!  Train Smart!


Caratunk Girl said...

That sounds like so much fun!! Seriously an awesome race for sure!!

I also didn't know that Sex was Sex in Russian. And I am 1/4 Russian, I should know that stuff.

Anonymous said...

Great race report, love the pics! Everyone needs one of those epic races! Great job out there with your team!

Kristin said...

Looks like you had a great time!! Loved the pics! Thanks for sharing!


Boy oh boy! when you come out of hibernation, you really come out. This is 2 months worth of posting for me.... Welcome back.

By the way, I passed 1000 in IMFL thanks to a 1hr 24min swim.....

Jeff - DangleTheCarrot said...

What an awesome time!!! That pic at the end with everyone crashed out is pretty awesome!!

KC (my 140 point 6 mile journey) said...

What a cool relay! There are 2 here in Florida. I think you may have mentioned a menaj, i mean meet up at IMFL 2012? If i'm not going to Hawaii, i'm in! Hope your knee gets uncranky real soon and I can't believe your poor wife. Hope she is feeling better too.

Majid Ali said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Big Daddy Diesel said...

That looks like so much freaking fun

Mer! said...

WOW! You are truly amazing....looks like an awesome awesome adventure...bummed for wifey--hopefully she's healing fast!!!

Awesome post!!!! Great motivation! You racing Quassy?

Sherri said...

Absolutely loved the race report! Sounds incredible! Love that you and "wifey" run together! Laughing...because my hubby calls me wifey....yes...we run together....just shorter and slower than you two! :)

Kelly said...

AWESOME!! I'm so bummed I was at my brother's boring wedding instead of doing this! Next year FOR SURE!!

Jerrica said...

You are right! I set out to create the route and said to myself "Hey, where are the biggest hills to punish these people?", and that's when I found Bethel! Just kidding! My heart and legs actually hurt for everyone as I set the course. But wasn't it beautiful?!?!

Colleen said...

What a great experience! :) Love all the pictures too!