I ran with a team for the Ragnar Relay: Las Vegas 2015 this past weekend and I'd never seen a recap for a race like this, so I wanted to share with the rest of you to see if you had any similar stories and/or give those considering a Ragnar Relay an in depth (albeit from a probably unreliable first person narrative) recount of events and emotions as they unfolded. I had the idea to do this journal style recap a few days before I left for Vegas. Be warned it was mostly written stream of consciousness style in the notes app on my iPhone during the race (so feel free to berate my grammaspelling/punctuation).
For those unfamiliar with the Ragnar Relay series it is a 200ish mile relay race for 12 person teams. The race is then divided into 36 "legs" and each person is assigned a runner number 1-12 and then run in order. When Runner 12 is done with leg 12, Runner 1 is back up to complete leg 13 and so on. There's a little more to the process involving splitting the 12 runners into two vans and leapfrogging each other and so on, but for this it's not that important. For the bold, there is an option to run the race as an Ultra Team, meaning your team is reduced to six runners. Our team opted for the Ultra version. Conventional wisdom would recommend that for an Ultra, runners simply run legs back to back. This strategy was utilized by most of our team, but I'll get into that later.
The race: Google Earth kmz file of all 36 legs and more Leg maps from the Ragnar website
Me (2nd Ragnar): High school athlete, post college runner (started with Spartan Races, then got into more traditional trail and road races), 1x marathon (4:30) that still keeps me up at night
Jane (7th Ragnar, girlfriend - we met on my first ragnar): Runner since high school (XC and 800m, 2 mi), 2x marathoner (4:13 and 4:06)
Carl (8th Ragnar, BFF of Jane): Post college runner, 2x marathoner (3:59 PR), triathlete considerer
Rachel (4th Ragnar, post college friend of Jane, SO of Buddy): 2x marathoner (sub-4 NYC i think)
Buddy (2nd Ragnar, SO of Rachel): endurance cyclist, got into running by *Rachel asking him to do Ragnar (i think
Captain (6th Ragnar, college friend of Carl): 2x marathoner (PR somewhere around 4:15)
Me: Almost none. was maybe running twice a week from the marathon (7 months ago) until about 3 weeks before we left. To be honest, I fell out of love with running after the marathon. I was dealing with some self diagnosed IT band stuff. My best 10K+ runs were lucky to sniff 9:30 in the weeks before we left
Jane: Ran a half the weekend I ran the marathon. Ran another half in mid september.
Carl: Hasnt run over 9 or 10 miles in 7 months
Rachel/Buddy: Claimed to of not do much training. Buddy had mentioned to me he and Rachel were running 9 miles in the 8:00-8:30/mi range. Its also worth noting that Buddy is very into the nutrient side of recovery. I’d later find out he packed enough powders and chews to open a GNC from the back of our van.
Captain: Probably the most trained. Did some two-a-days 11/5/2015 1730ish
Jane, Carl, and I flew out together and have just arrived in Vegas. Rachel and Buddy we’re going to be arriving around 2200. Captain has been in Vegas for about an hour and just finished dealing with the car (van) rental. We meet up, say hellos, and get on the road. We get groceries/food/snacks/supplies for the race at an Alberstons near the official pre race hotel (Red Rock Casino and Resort). After grocery shopping we get the traditional night-before Olive Garden meal. Service kind of sucked. 20:00ish
After dinner the four of us check into our rooms and go to bed. Jane and I take some Unisom and we’re out before Buddy and Rachel get to our room. 11/6/2015 0530
Everyone slowly wakes. Everyone quickly showers. Our start time is at 0830 and is about an hour or so away. 0655
Leaving the hotel. Another hotel guest tries to board our van thinking we're the shuttle to the airport - "Oh this is for the race? Good luck. Ya'll are crazy." Everyone in the van shares his sentiment. Except Rachel. For some reason Rachel is super stoked. 0658
Hotline bling is already worn out. 0739
Very close to the start now. We’ve started to pass runners that have already started. Where we are driving there's about 8 inches of paved shoulder, and 10 feet of stone/gravel shoulder that blends into the all surrounding desert. Runners are coming down off the mountain at us. We've passed two exchange points. Not sure what #s. 0748
6000' and climbing. We all just realized we didn't prep for any thin air. I had imagined more of running to and from casinos. Casinos have thick air pumped into them right? 0758
8000'. Fun fact: Nevada is Spanish for snowcapped. Makes sense. 0835
8500' and we’re at the start. We missed our 0830 start. 0842
Check in was kind of a pain. Waiting for the 0845 start 0848
I don't think there's an 8:45 start. Jane starts alone. Current temp 20F 0920ish
Jane passes a spot a few minutes ago that we posted up at a few miles in. She's doing well. We go to exchange one to wait for our next sighting. I start warming up. 1015
Been at exchange two for a while waiting for Jane. Everyone else is very casual right now except me. Im about to run and I'm anxious. 7.8 miles ahead of me and the current temp is low 30s 1209
Been back in the van of a while. It wasn't 7.8 it was 9.8 (Part 1 Part 2
- Total pace 9:37/mi). Given my IT band history and the fact the first 5 miles of this double leg is straight downhill, I opt to run on the gravel shoulder off the road. I figured the gravel would provide some more give than the asphalt road. Turns out gravel in the desert is made up of small boulders. I roll my left ankle about 20 minutes in. I still think off the asphalt is the way to go. A few miles in a pass a woman who says “You’re awesome” “No you’re awesome!” is what I should have said, but instead I selfishly point out “I’m doing an Ultra.” I wish I hadn’t said that. I wouldn’t want someone to say that to me. I reach the midway exchange and Jane is there to cheer me on. I mention rolling my ankle. The exchange ends at the bottom of the downhill and makes a U-turn back uphill for about 100 yards and then turns onto a service road. The service road is laid with golfball/softball sized stones. More ankle rolling ensues. I must of rolled my ankles more times than realized because I noticed with about a mile to go my right ankle hurt. Blisters too. There was no water on leg 3 and only one unmanned water station on leg 4 with about two miles to go. I ate a pocket fuel (basically almond butter) from mile 3 until about mile 7. Very hard to eat without water. I finish fairly strong, given the limp, and hand off the slap bracelet to Rachel. The team asks me about the limp. I mention the boulders and ankle rolling. I have a quarter mile limp to the van. 1240
I ate a peanut butter banana and strawberry jelly sandwich. I'm laying down, elevating my foot. I'm not sure if it's the ankle. It's more the foot. No swelling yet. Jane tells me she rolled after her two legs. I've barely stretched. The blister on my arch is in the perfect spot to get to know the thong of my flip flops. Rachel is running now. One 9.5 mile leg instead of running two legs back to back in typical ultra fashion. She'll be handing off to Buddy, who is undertaking the same strategy-no back to back legs. I'm not sure what their reasoning is, but it seems like they're going to run every four hours or so. Not a lot of rest time. We'll see how this works out. I would rate the team moral as apathetic. It’s early. 1306
Van decorations have been completed by adding our names with six adjacent boxes and the mileage under the six boxes. Rachel should be finishing in a bit and Buddy has started stretching. He’s ready to run. I tried to ice the left foot with an instant cold pack. Wouldn't call that successful. Jane is rolling more. I’m laying down. Captain is at the wheel not really interacting. Carl is on his phone. 1324
Rachel is in. We're in the van moving to the next leg. She feels fine. "I just need to hydrate." We'll see how she feels in about 20 hours. 1338
We're kind of lost on the way to exchange 6. Buddy might beat us there. 1347
We’re at the exchange before Buddy. That’s the good news. The bad news is the medical tent at the first major exchange was a joke - I tell the EMT/attendant my symptoms "Could it be your tendons?" "I don't know that's why I'm here" "Do you want some ice and ibuprofen" "I guess" 1401
Buddy handed off to Carl a bit ago. Buddy and Rachel are getting swag from the merch tents. The five of us are going to subway for a proper meal when they return. I’m curious what Captain will do for food, as he'll be running in about an hour. We have agreed that the attitude in the van is very subdued by comparison to the Ragnars done previously. We agree the focus is survival. We’re 6 hours in and most of us have run two thirds of the regular ragnar distance. Buddy wants to stop at Walgreens for coconut water and pickle juice. Buddy is very into the nutrient side of recovery. He has enough chews and powders stocked to open a GNC from his trunk. While he's inside Carl texts us that he's a mile from the exchange. We're 6 minutes away by van. 1505
We should focus less on survival/self preservation and more on getting to the exchanges on time for teammates. Carl had to wait. Side note Captain had a quarter of a bagel with cream cheese right before his run. 1518
We're stopping at a Starbucks. I’ve assumed driving responsibilities in Captain’s absence and need coffee. Jane wants green tea. Carl is being very vocal about the poop stuff he's going to do in the nearest starbucks. Morale seems higher. Poop jokes = morale. My achilles (both) are also starting to ache. I should start to roll. Carl is out of the bathroom and is heading for Del Taco, an endurance running food staple. 1634
We recently met Captain about 2-3 miles before he ends. He’s going strong. I think we're delirious though. That tired type of delirious. 1645
Captain is in Buddy is out. It’s night hours. He's running 5 miles and Rachel is running the next 4 miles. I don't know when they're going to sleep. My right foot is still stiff, but feels better. I have a moleskin on the blister but it's not helping like i expected. 1720
We're waiting for Buddy in a church parking lot. People are singing fetty wop and drake songs. There's no music playing. Delirium. 1731
Buddy is in. He crushed it. We have to hustle to the next exchange to meet Rachel. So far they seem to be doing better mentally than the rest of the van. 1811
1/3 of the way done. Officially. We need batteries for tailamps. Plenty of time to waste. Jane just left for a 12 mile run. 1840
Everyone is trying to nap. Hard to tell if it's self preservation or if energy is low. I haven't slept and I run after Jane's double leg. Plus I'm driving so I can't nap. 1851
Weather: Low 40s, strong breeze. Feels sub 30. Just got back from watering a cactus. Everyone seems to be resting. I’m trying to meet Jane when she gets to the midway exchange. 1910
The first half of Jane's double leg is down. She's drained emotionally. Physically I think she has plenty. I brought her gatorade, clif bloks, and a tiger tail. She really only went for the gatorade. Moving this crib on wheels to the next exchange to get ready for my run. 2146
I'm writing this at 0211. But I finished my legs (Part 1 Part 2
- 7 and change miles - 10:30 something/mi). Another woman and I finished together "I won't walk if you don't.” We finished strong. I went to high five her after the run, but she was busy so I let it go. I guess that’s what i get for being a jerk to the other woman. The rest of the leg was fairly uneventful. Was passed by a lot of people before the first midway exchange. Not so much after. There were some eyes on the mountain side reflecting from my headlamp. I really hope its not a mountain lion with a taste for human. At this pace it’d be on me in a flash. I try to keep my headlamp pointed at it as I run forward. Like a “I see you seeing me. Let’s be cool” kind of way. I finish and Jane asks me how I feel. I complain briefly about my sore quads, the sharp pain in my left foot, and the stiffness of my right foot. I went to sleep immediately. No stretching. No rolling. Probably not the best strategy. - - - You're never totally asleep in the van. I hear Buddy and Rachel finish their legs and relish their mile splits. Their approach of doing one leg at a time instead of back to back legs seems to be working. That or they are much more prepared than I am. Carl gets back from his legs and Buddy drives as Captain heads out. I’m still trying to sleep. Buddy turns the radio on. He either doesn't know I’m asleep or doesn't care. My quads feel as pliable as iron. My right foot feel like it's bound in chains, my left ankle feels full of glass. The bench seats have seatbelts in all the wrong places. Everything is hate. I sit up in my seat. I stare off in annoyance and Jane tries to console me. Futile effort, but not for a lack of care. We've been driving on the highway for what seems like at least 15 miles. This is weird considering Captain only has 11 miles to go. 11/7/2015 0217
The radio is off and we're at an exchange. I want to get out and roll but were parked on a gravel cliff side. It's so windy. You can hear the wind whipping outside of the van. I need to get away from my team and cool down. I dont think they did anything to offend me, I just need some me space. I opt for a portopotty. 0320
The van whips me awake as we take a fast corner. We're at the wrong exchange. Go figure. Buddy is running next. We pick up Captain. I offer him some $2 cup o noodle I picked up at the exchange. I pray he doesnt take it all. Prayers answered. 0346
Back to the exchange we were just at. On the way Rachel says to me "do you want me to take your second leg" (meaning the 6th of my 5th and 6th legs) "not even a little" "ok. Just I don't want you to injure yourself and I really feel fine" "I'll crawl if I have to" Jane pipes in "thanks though". She knows me better than Rachel. 0432
Buddy should be arriving any moment. He texted in his one mike warning. Looking around the parking lot I notice a lot of people limping. This is exchange 24. Meaning everyone at this point is 2/3 of the way done. The majority of these people's mile count is where I was 16 hours ago. 0642
Jane is in from her last run. She’s done. She got lost during the second half. The directions weren’t very clear and she listened to someone else. She was about a mile off course, the opposite direction. We put her back on course. As she hands the snap bracelet off to me, we hug. I think I congratulated her. I’m off on my last legs. Physically and for the race (13.8 mi total - Part 1 Part 2
). Things seem as expected going into it. After about 10 mins I remember Jane was telling me how she opted to walk the .15 mi of every mile. I decide to run for 10 min walk for 2, similar to the 5:1 ratio I’ve read about for typical ultra marathons. This goes one for another 10 minutes cycle before the 10 minute run portions become 8 and then 5 and then just walking with little jogging. My feet are in terrible pain. Everything is uphill. At least its a gorgeous sunrise over Lake Mead. Around 6.5 miles in (1.3 mi until the midway exchange) things seem downhill. I decide that I’m basically a 10K away from finishing, if I can gut out a 10:00/mi pace I can be done in a little over an hour, plus after the midway exchange its all downhill, according to the map. This last mile or so seems good. I’m reminded of a Haruki Murakami passage when he was describing an 100km ultra “I’m not human. I’m a piece of machinery. I don’t need to feel a thing. Just forge ahead.” I get to the midway exchange and Jane and Buddy meet with with an energy chew and gatorade. Comcast calls me while I’m at the exchange “Can you call me later. I’m in the middle of a 200 mile relay race.” Buddy and Jane find this amusing. I hate Comcast, so I dont. I turn to head out for my last bit of Ragnar. The last leg doubles back on the leg i was just on, which was downhill, so i know I’m going uphill for a little. But i’ve seen the map. I know its downhill after. 9.6 miles in since i started my Nike+ watch dies. I immediately turn the Nike+ running app on my phone on. Not because i think im gonna PR. Just because i need to know my time when I’m done. The Murakami passage seems like a bad joke at this point. I’m back to a lot of walking. This machinery feels the glass and bound chains pain in my feet. The pain mile 23 marathon pain my quads. About 2 miles to go there is a water station with clif/kind bars. I take my sweet time. A woman passes me. She did an Ultra Ragnar two weeks ago. She seems to be doing great. 1 mile to go. I text my team. I try to give it the Murakami push. This works until I get to more hills. Everyone i pass/that passes me asks wtf is up with this “downhill leg” Finally i can see the exchange. One thing about the desert of Las Vegas, you can see for miles. I give it everything i have. About 200m from the finish i feel myself on the verge of tears. I’m not sure if it’s pain or the joy of accomplishment or just being so happy to be done. I hold them back on the pretense I don’t deserve to be happy with my performance. Anger replaces the near-tears as i think of all the workouts i skipped, the cheat meals i induldged upon, the idea that i could have tried harder or pushed through more pain. As it would turn out the map on the last leg was entered in reverse so it was all uphill. 500 feet of gain for the total 13.8 miles (Part 1 Part 2 - 14:06/mi) 1000
The self loathing subdues. At least I’m done. If i don’t want to feel this way i should try harder next time. 1001-1730ish
I dont really remember anything specifically after my last leg. I was out of it. We ended up finishing in 32 hours and change.
The only other highlights that come to mind are, in no particular order:
The second to last exchange had a proposal (as the fiance to be approached the exchange several people held up “NAME” “WILL” “YOU” “MARRY” “ME” with the M drawn as the ragnar double R).
Rachel and Buddy didnt seem to be in much better shape, physically, than the the runners that did double legs. I, in my un-board-certified-medical-opinion, believe that any advantage they had was from Buddy’s diligent post run nutrition and supplementation regimen.
Captain, Jane, and I agreed that the quad pain was similar to that of finishing a marathon.
I think i was the only one that came away with a real “injury” (orthopedic appointment scheduled for Friday)
Everyone agreed this would be our last Ragnar Ultra at dinner. By brunch we all decided that a regular Ragnar seems like a bore and we should do an ultra again, but with more training.
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