Sunday, October 11, 2009

Ragnar Relay, Part I: A Seven-Hour Orientation

I'm back home now, resting and recovering from the Ragnar Relay. I wanted to share with you my experience but didn't want to try and get everything into one post. So, in the spirit of the relay race, I'm dividing it up into three parts since we all ran three legs.

Ragnar Relay, Part I

We really had no idea what we were getting into. My brother Jesse and I drove out from Riverside early Friday morning, and during our three-hour drive to Las Vegas, we were a bit anxious and excited but there was no way we could have known what was in store for us.

By the time we arrived to the hotel where the rest of our team, the Desert Tortoises, were staying at, Van One had left. They were starting off the relay race and Van Two, of which we were a part of, wasn't going to head out until the early afternoon.

We went out, had breakfast, got our stuff ready, packed our van with our supplies and at around noon exactly, went out to Exchange Point 6. Now, an exchange point is where one runner's leg ends and the other begins, where the runners hand off the bracelet as well as the responsibility to keep the team moving forward.

Exchange Point 6 was where Van One would complete their first set of runs and where we would begin ours. Until we got to that place, the race didn't seem real, as strange as it sounds. I obviously prepared for it, got all my stuff together, trained for it and everything but it just didn't seem real until we were there with other teams, waiting for our first run to commence.

The sun was beating down on us, and while wasn't too hot (the temperatures were in the mid- to -low 80s), it certainly seemed hotter than that. We were prepared for our runs but again, didn't really know what it would be like. Still, we were quickly bonding as a unit.

Of our six runners, five are related. From left to right: Jon, a buddy of my uncle's; uncle Jorge, aunt Elvia, yours truly, brother Jesse and cousin Alex.

We waited for Van One, but their last runner was on the course so we knew we were close to starting. We were eager with anticipation.

Soon, Van One pulled up.
They were in good spirits, excited about having run their legs and waiting for Runner 6 to finish her leg. Soon, our entire team was up at the exchange and waiting for her. She got to the finish line soon enough...

... handed the bracelet off to Jon...

... and off Jon went.
That was it. Our part of the race was underway. It was about 2:15 p.m. on Friday afternoon. We didn't know it then, but we'd be running for seven hours, suffering, cheering, challenging and conquering.

Jon's run was a 5.6-mile run, which was the shortest of any of our first runs. While the sun was warm, it wasn't the hottest part of the day, so he got off easier than our second runner.

We let him run for about 10-15 minutes while we got some stuff from Van One before we took off after him. We saw where he was on the road, stopped just ahead and got out with water. He took some sips of a water bottle and kept along his path. We repeated this "leap-frogging" technique until we got to within a mile of the finish. Then, we went to Exchange Point 7, and it was Alex's turn. Jon pulled into the Exchange Point after about 45 minutes.

And off Alex went.

A little about Alex. He's 15 years old but in good shape. While he doesn't run regularly, he is a very active and determined kid - soccer is his sport of choice. He was the youngest of our entire group. His first and toughest task was to run an 8.6-mile run off the bat. We didn't expect him to run the whole thing in one shot - and he didn't - but we knew he would finish the run. We all had confidence in him and tried to motivate and cheer him on as much as possible.

The only thing that really dampened everyone's spirits was the sun. It was beating down on us by the time Alex took off, roughly about 3 p.m. or so. We leap-frogged him all the way to the end, giving him water to keep him hydrated, providing encouragement and making sure he was okay physically and emotionally.

An hour and 45 minutes later, Alex was pulling into Exchange Point 8.

He'd just completed what I considered the toughest leg of them all, but he paid the price.

When you combine the distance, the conditions of the road (a lot of loose gravel and dust and uneven asphalt along his route) as well as the dry heat of the Nevada desert, it was a grueling, hellish run. But the Ragnar didn't claim Alex. He conquered that part of it.

Jesse, however, wasn't as fortunate. About two miles into his 7.7-mile run, he said he felt a jolt of pain down his knee. He walked briefly, ran, walked, ran and continued this pattern. He insisted on running so we stayed closely on our leap-frogging. However, it was quite clear that he would not be able to finish the run so Jon ran his final three miles for him. Jesse was visibly upset, both over his knee pain and his inability to complete the race, but we all tried to encourage him and gave him some medicine for his knee pain. No shame in getting hurt, we all told him as we tried to keep him in good spirits.

As Jon finished the run, we prepared Elvia for her leg.

A bit about Elvia: she's in her late 30s, a mother of three, and had never run before in her life. Jorge (her brother) got her into running about three months ago, when he told her about the Ragnar Relay. He asked her if she would be willing to train for and participate in this race, and she instantly agreed. She went from not being able to run more than five minutes at once back in July to having the task of running legs of 6.1, 3.3 and 3.1 miles.

She was up for it.

Soon, she was off. Since it was after 5:30 p.m. when she started, she was required to wear a reflective vest and headlamp during her run, which explains her gear.

From the time she started to when she finished - she ran her six miles in about 1 hour, 10 minutes - day turned into night.

All the while she ran, though, I was mentally preparing myself. I was slated for a 7.3-mile run after her, and it was going to start at about 7 p.m. or so. I don't like running in the evenings or at night, but somehow that didn't matter this time. My team needed me, and I needed to do this. Everything else was secondary.

I prepared myself mentally, stretched, filled up my fuel belt, slung my iPod around my arm, taped up my nips, got my Gu ready and took deep breaths. I threw on the vest and headlamp (we had a spare set) and waited for Elvia to finish. I also took some of the markers we'd used to decorate the van to draw some inspriation on myself. On my shins, I drew a pair of Ts (Mrs. LB's name starts with T), on my left calf I drew a Y and on my right calf a K.

Funny, but when you take pictures of yourself wearing a reflective vest at night, you look like you belong in the movie Tron.

When I saw Elvia approaching, I knew it was show time. I couldn't let my team down, couldn't let myself down and knew I had to get through my run. I felt like Jon and Elvia had set a high bar with their runs and Alex had reached deep down to complete his run so I felt like I had to follow suit.

I grabbed the bracelet, slapped it on my wrist and off I went. Running with the headlamp wasn't bad; in fact, it helped because the road we were on would have been pitch black otherwise. We ran this entire course in the Valley of Fire State Park, near Lake Mead, so there weren't too many lights or anything - actually, none at all. The only times I saw lights were when cars passed by.

It was an eerie feeling, but I was enjoying it. When there were no other runners in front of me, and no cars on the road, it was just me and the stars. I was soaking up every second of it, just a magnificent and wonderful experience. It's times like that that I am so grateful I took up running. I could never have experienced something like that otherwise, and I am happy that I didn't cheat myself out of this opportunity just because I wasn't disciplined enough to put down the junk food and get off the couch.

Physically, I felt great during my run. I never felt any discomfort, never felt like I was struggling through any part of it, and remained focused on finishing. With a mile left, there was a sign saying "One Mile to Go" and I knew I was going to finish strong when I saw that.

It was quite motivating to see the Exchange Point, to see Jorge waiting for me to finish, to see the other Desert Tortoises there cheering me on. I was about 50 yards from the finish and I picked up my pace. I couldn't help it. But I heard footsteps. Someone was about to pass me. It actually wouldn't have been the first: about seven runnes passed me on my run but I didn't care. Many of them said "Good luck" or "Great night for a run" or something like that when they sped past. They had their pace, I had mine and that's that.

But when I was clsoe to the finish, my competitive spirit caught up to me. I sped up, felt the other runner speed up too, and then I stepped on it. I was in a dead sprint, running as fast as I could, and got to the finish before he did. I sent Jorge along on his 8.6-mile run. I finished my run of 7.34 miles in 1:11:09. Afterward, I tried to recover.

As I drank some chocolate milk and ate trail mix, Jorge was on our final run and we were trying to all prepare for the end of our first batch of runs.

Jorge sped through his run, finishing in about 1 hour, 15 minutes. He was the strongest runner of the bunch and did well to close out an overall strong effort from Van Two.

Exchange Point 12, where Jorge finished his run, was where we met up with Van One once more. They were waiting to go through their second set of runs. As Jorge passed the bracelet on to David (Runner 1), we felt a great sense of accomplishment. We'd done it. We'd gotten through our first set of runs, and the toughest of any set, without any major problems. Jesse's knee was still giving him fits but he was in good spirits, like the rest of us. About seven hours worth of running, a total of 44 miles, and some camarederie will do that to a team. Van One would hand off the bracelet sometime between 1:30-2 a.m. so we had some down time.

Still, as it approached 10 p.m. we wondered... how are we going to rest?


Willoughby said...

It sounds like a great experience. I can't wait to read part II!

Holly said...

What a fantastic experience! Looking forward to Part 2.
Holly @ 504 Main

5thsister said...

I love the way you write. I felt I was running alongside with each and every one of you! Looking forward to part 2

Jephy's Mom said...

I'm enjoying your tale. Give us part 2 already!

ChristineM said...

Wow! Great post! Very inspiring! Can't wait for the next installment!

Tattoos and Teething Rings said...

I'm so proud of you, how exciting!

Angie Eats Peace said...

Awesome! You all did so good.

Mark Dacoron said...

wow, looks like an experience. I'm planning on doing this in 2010 in southern california.