Saturday, August 24, 2013

Ragnar Relay

A few weeks ago Craig Cardinal asked me if I'd like to join a Ragnar relay team he was putting together. If you aren't familiar with Ragnar, its a 12 person, 200 mile relay from Winona to Minneapolis. I promptly signed on, I'm always up for racing and I've been interested in Ragnar for a while, as someone who typically runs alone, the idea of running on a team is intriguing, plus I've been trying to get some long night runs in before the superior trail race in a couple weeks.

I asked a couple friends who had previously run Ragnar for advice and pretty much everyone told me that the secret to Ragnar is sleep. Get enough sleep during the race and the second and third legs will go
well, forget to sleep, and you'll suffer. Because of that advice, I was careful not to forget my sleeping bag and pillow - which made a huge difference in the race.

Before the race, the skiers on the team all decided to take on an extra challenge; do pushups at the end of each leg we ran, one pushup for every kilometer you've run, and one pushup for for every person you pass on the road. I also tried to convince my van to work on track and field style moving exchanges of the baton - I could only get one person (Jeff)  interested in the rapid exchanges, but when we got it to work, it was really effective, and one of my favorite moments of the race was
hearing other teams at the 2nd exchange "did you see that? that looked like a 4x400, that was ridiculous"

Craig gives us an early lead.
Craig gave me leg 9 (which also meant 21 and 33) so I was a part of van 2 and didn't actually start running until mid afternoon. To be part of the team, we went down to the start and cheered for van 1 at the start (we left at 9:30) and got to see Craig run a very exciting first leg, winning the wave and nearly catching some runners who started at 9:00am.

By the time I started my first leg, our team was running about 20 minutes ahead of schedule. I started out at around 4:40pm on an 8km leg that was considered short but hard, rolling hills for the first three km, followed by a 125 meter climb over about two km, then an even bigger descent down over the same distance and a turn onto a bigger road and a slight downhill for the remaining 1500 meters to the finish. I always find it a little tricky to understand a trail from a description like that, so I translated it into a trail I know a lot better, thats roughly the same as one lap at battle creek, with one hill flattened out.

I got the hand off from Mark, who had a nice strong finish passing a woman in the final 50 meters. That prompted some trash talking from her team mate of the "I'm just going to pass you right back" variety - so I was motivated to make him eat those words and went out fairly hard to put some distance on the guy. I'd caught another two people before the start of the climb but the teams seemed pretty spaced out at that point. I didn't see anyone else until made the final turn and had a good view of the road ahead, where I saw a couple teams about half way to the exchange. Being able to see the exchange, I turned on the gas and managed to catch one more runner before handing off to Jeff with a lot of runners in view. My first leg talley was 8 kilometers, 3 people passed, for 11 pushups, and I never saw the guy who was trash talking in the exchange zone. Seemed like a reasonable start to me.
Leg 7, Jeff and I join Ryan up a tough hill climb.

The second leg I ran started at about 2am and was a rolling 16 kilometer course. I again started out and caught two people pretty quickly, before seeing no one on the empty country roads at night. The second leg was my weakest, due partly to the large (not fully digested) spaghetti dinner we'd had a few hours previously. Everyone had been making better time than we expected so I got the hand off about 2 hours ahead of schedule. I caught a few runners early on, but it was difficult to stay focused on moving fast in the dark. I went another 10 km or so before I saw any more runners but there were a lot of other teams on the road cheering, which was quite nice. As the lights of hudson started to be visible in the sky, I started catching more runners, typically in groups of two or three, and by the time I handed off to Jeff, I had managed to catch 10 runners for a total of 16km and 10 runners, for 26 pushups. It was then about 3am, and I'd only had a 30 minute nap after dinner, so I thought of my friends advice and promptly went to sleep in the back of the van.

The last leg was the second to last in the race. We shuffled around the order of runners in Van 2 for the final run, so that people who were hurting could run easier legs. I ended up with an 11km section from
downtown saint paul to just past the ford bridge, which included a nice long gradual hill climb. Jeff ran setup for me and handed off to me with lots of runners in view. I caught about 13 runners on the hill
while ripping off some of my fastest splits of the race. I slowed down a little at the top, but still kept up a respectable pace and caught another 8 runners for a total of 21, plus 11km for 33 pushups. I'll be
honest, I was tired for those pushups, and the last few did not come easy.

Hopping in the van after my last leg, I met our last runner Anna (and Jeff, who was running with her) 2km down the road and jogged with them into the finish. We were far enough ahead of schedule that Van 1 was still eating waffles in south Saint Paul, they joined us eventually and we enjoyed the sunshine and free beer.

The runners of Van 2:
Mark, Ryan, Anna, Rob, Jeff, Christina

I really enjoyed ragnar. Running with people and having a team to cheer for was a lot of fun (which is also something I really enjoy about skiing with Vakava), and having that many teams out on the course meant there was always someone cheering you on. I was surprised at how hard the race was, although I ran fewer miles than a full marathon, my legs felt much more tired at the end, as a result of running the equivalent of 3 short, hard races in 24 hours.

Our final place was 41st overall, 20th in the mixed, non-ultra category. Our total time was 27:59:05., my next race is the sawtooth 100 and my new goal is to run my first solo 100 miler under our teams Ragnar time.

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