Monday, October 12, 2009

Ragnar Relay, Part II: Best-Laid Plans

Here's the second installment of my Ragnar Relay recap. If you missed the first one, scroll down or click here:

Ragnar Relay, Part II

Once Jorge finished his first run late Friday night, a brisk 8.6-miler he ran in about 1 hour 15 minutes, Van Two was done for a bit. After seven hours and 44 miles worth of running, we felt we sort of deserved a break. However, Van One's runs weren't nearly as long as ours. Their second legs were somewhere around a total of 25 miles, so we were not going to be able to get much rest.

But we needed it. Our next set of runs were supposed to start between 1-2 a.m., which means we likely weren't going get any sleep at all until Saturday morning, after the sun had come up.While not all of us were tired enough to hit the sack, we all were thinking about the early-morning runs and figured we might as well get some sleep while we could.

We set out from Exchange Point 12 and headed over to Exchange Point 18. Along the way, I tried to close my eyes and get some sort of rest. I dozed off, as before I knew it I was lifting my head up and trying to figure out where we were.

Exchange Point 18 was on the edge of Lake Mead. There were marinas all around us, and on a normal day the only people who likely would gather there would have been boaters, as well as water- and jet-skiers. But us runners took over as there were a lot of cars and a lot of people there, and I suspected many were in the same position as us, trying to figure out how to sleep.

Some had. Off to the side of the parking lots were runners snuggled up in sleeping bags, crashed out on whatever patch of dirt they could find. Presumably, they were getting some rest.

I made a mental note.

Supposedly there was food there, some sort of pasta or pizza. I was hungry but still had not shaken off my sleepiness. I embraced that. I wanted to sleep, needed to sleep, so as most of Van Two headed over for some food, I tried to get some sleep in the van. I tried to sleep sideways but couldn't extend my legs. I leaned on the door and tried to stretch my legs in a different position but could not get comfortable. I was growing frustrated.

The other Tortoises came back, opened doors, made noise and I decided my efforts were fruitless after all. The pasta was either a rumor or long eaten as there was none anywhere, so the group dug into some tasty chicken salad that we'd brought along. I decided at that point that food and replenishing my body was just as important as sleep, so I chowed down.

After eating, I mentioned to Jorge that I should have brought a sleeping bag.

"We have some in the van."

"Well, why didn't you say so?"

I grabbed a bag, unzipped it, rolled it out and made a place to sleep on the rocks and gravel next to our parking spot.

I wasn't comfortable at first. No, not comfortable at all. Had to get some rocks out of the way and dig a little niche in the ground with my hip in order to clear out some rocks. My aunt propped me up with a towel and before I knew it I was fast asleep.

It was not a long sleep, not a particularly comfortable sleep either, but it was sleep nevertheless and after about an hour or 90 minutes of sleep, I felt refreshed and ready to go.

Before we knew it, Jon was back at the next Exchange Point, waiting for his turn to start. This time, though, it'd be a bit different. We weren't going to be able to leap-frog him because his run was entirely on trails. Instead, we went up ahead to the next exchange point, and six miles later he completed a run he said was worth the entire trip. I wasn't as fortunate to run on the trails but apparently the lack of roads, of civilization, just the runner and nature under a cloud of darkness was awe-inspiring.

Alex took off afterward, and part of his run was on a trail that ran alongside the road. He recovered from his challenging 8.6-miler and did well to complete his run, a 3.6-miler that started at roughly 2:30 a.m.

Once he was done, it was supposed to have been Jesse's turn but his knee was still bothering him. He was trying to remain positive but he was a bit quiet and was disappointed. He said the run he'd been looking forward to the most was this one, this middle-of-the-night run. Instead, Jorge ran it for him, a four-miler. Elvia then ran her second run, a 3.1-mile run that was partly on trails, partly on the street.

Now, part of the Ragnar Relay was challenging because of the conditions, but another part of the race was challenging because we were trying to navigate through towns and roads unfamiliar to us. We were in Henderson, Nevada, a place none of us knew at all. And we got lost. Elvia got to her Exchange Point before we did, and in fact called me from there. She had taken her phone because she was worried about not navigating the trails properly. Instead, she needed it because we weren't there.

Of course, this completely unsettled me. I snipped at my teammates, complained that we had wasted time back at the other Exchange Point and now I didn't have adequate time to prepare. I was upset as I started my 5.9-mile run around 4:30 a.m., and for the first mile or so tried to not let it bother me.

I noticed far ahead a helicopter shining lights down on some part of Henderson but didn't really think much of it.

I turned onto the street I needed to take. This path was easy, actually. Run up for about 1.5 miles, make a right and run the rest of the way on that street, on Horizon Ridge Parkway. But about four miles in, a police officer had blocked the street ahead of us and diverted me to the right. I asked him where I needed to go, and he said to make a left on Gibson.

I continued along, tried to focus on my run. I wasn't really upset that we couldn't go the way we needed to go and just hoped that everything was okay.

I ended up running down some residential areas, next to a freeway and finally saw Gibson. I made a left and noticed that the street was a long, uphill climb. I checked The Garmin and saw that my mileage was quickly climbing towards six miles. I got up to Horizon Ridge Parkway, made a right and was back on course. I saw the Exchange Point up ahead and got in after running 6.76 miles, about three-quarters of a mile longer than I'd anticipated running.

I felt good about my run but as soon as I got there, our driver Fausto (who was originally supposed to have run the race with us) asked me if I knew why we'd been diverted. I said no, and he said: "Go rest up and I'll fill you in."

A rock sank into my stomach. I knew something bad had happened, just with the tone of his voice.

"A runner was killed by a drunk driver."

My chest still heaving from the run, I was in shock. Tears immediately filled my eyes, and I was unable to say anything.

While the Ragnar Relay was supposed to have been challenging, it was never supposed to have been deadly. But here we were, facing the sobering reality of the situation. We really didn't know much more details than that. There was a bit of a subdued ambience in the parking lot there amongst all the participants. I wondered who the runner was, if I'd run next to him/her before, if we had crossed paths during the race. This was, after all, a runner who had run Leg 11 with me, presumably.

(A day after the race, we found out that it was a participant who wasn't running at the time but simply handing out water to fellow teammates, although that isn't mentioned in this news report.)

I couldn't help but think that, if circumstances were different, it could easily have been any runner in that position...

But I choked back tears and tried not to focus on the negatives. We tried to get back to the task of seeing our runs through, as difficult as it was. Jorge's last run was a brisk 3.2 miles, and before I knew what happened, we were at the next Exchange Point, with the rest of Van One.

I took my vest off before I had this picture taken, so I didn't look like I was in a long-lost member of Tron. But I'd just run my second run and had run a total of 14.1 miles in the previous 11 hours or so, and physically I felt good.

This time, though, as we faced another brief amount of time before running our third and final set of legs, we didn't just feel like we needed some rest, we needed to get some sleep. And soon. The hard thing, though, was that the sun would come up soon.

And would daylight allow us to get some much-needed sleep?


Amanda said...

Your story is already so inspiring. You gotta wonder when people are going to wake up and quit being stupid only to end someone else's life.

Angie Eats Peace said...

That is so sad about the person who was killed :(
It is awful that somoene who was doing something so positive, was hurt because of someone else's stupidity.

5thsister said...

I am so sorry! A stupid, stupid tragedy.

Willoughby said...

How horrible that someone was killed! I assumed the streets would be blocked off or monitored to keep traffic away from the runners (and presumably from those handing out water).

Your story about eating instead of sleeping made me think of the military. If the soldiers aren't able to sleep during a particular mission or training exercise, they feed them. Apparently your body can use food instead of sleep when necessary (very scientific, Dr. Willoughby!). That's what I've heard anyway!

tahoegirl said...

what an event full of ups and downs. prayers to the family and friends of the person who was killed. anxious for part 3...

Amy said...

We are all so devastated. We ran through there 15 min. before, so we saw nothing. (I was runner 10 and our runner 11 was very fast or who knows?) So, so sad and leaves such a horrible shadow over this otherwise fun event.
I would have felt so much safer if roads had been better marked/blocked off, but I guess they couldn't put signs out for 12 hours over 170 miles. Maybe they will have to in the future.
Still, I don't think anything could have saved this poor man except better decisions by the drunk before getting behind the wheel.

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