April 29, 2013

Vans, No Sleep, and Running Shoes

About a year ago, I received a call from a dear friend.  I can remember the excitement in her voice as she pitched a ridiculous idea to me:  “There’s this relay race in California next April where we will run 200 miles from Los Angeles to San Diego.  It will be so much fun and I think we should get a group together to do this!”  I instantly agreed.  Apparently, what I thought she said was:  “There’s this relay race in California next April where we will run 200 miles.  We will barely have to train and you will be able to rock out 16 miles at a seven minute pace... and then we will be able to walk on water when the race is over.” 

Surprisingly, it was not hard to find eleven other idiots who also wanted to run 200 miles and sit in a van for 36 hours with little to no chance of sleeping.  With our team in place, it was a group effort in organization and logistics as we booked five hotel rooms at the start and finish lines, rented two 12-passenger vans, coordinated flights as we were departing from eight different cities, and each picked our runner positions (based on elevation, terrain, and miles).

Now, before I move on, I need to give a Public Service Announcement on why NOT to be near any social media networks after you have taken Ambien.  The night before we were to fly out, I had taken an Ambien around 9pm because my flight was very early the next morning.  My phone buzzed about an hour later when I had a Facebook message from a team member asking if someone could print off the spreadsheet that listed our mileage, pace, estimated start times, etc.  Here is the conversation that ensued (cut and pasted):

10:04pm Me:
I can print. But when I was looking at the doc, it lists my last leg as 2.9 miles, but it actually is 7.8 miles??

you must not have seen it since they tweaked the legs a few weeks ago...?
it's listing runner #8's third leg as 2.9 on the site now

10:13pm Me:
Oh that sucks!!!!

10:13pm Matt:
Wishful thinking Stacey, I would love a last leg of 2.9 miles...

10:14pm Catherine:
Would you want to switch with me... You want to run more????

10:15pm Me:
I was wanting to run in the 16 mile range.

10:18pm Emily:
Stacey....go to sleep! Your ambien is making you talk crazy! If you want more miles ill give you my last leg...my gift to you!

10:18pm Britt:
Ha ha! And don't miss your flight!

10:18pm Me:
i'm really mad. i went from having a 16 mile total to 10 miles.
it's the shortest distance of all the legs

10:19pm Emily:
Well I have 12 so you can trade me!
Catherine is injured so you can have her 20.6....and be happy again!!

10:21pm Britt:
It's not a contest. But if you want to make it one... If its not hard enough I think you should bong 2 beers and then run your miles. Or, sprint the last leg and see how fast you can get it done! Then you can catch us up on our time lag.

10:21pm Me:
i went to print and i don't have any damn paper. so i can't print now. so now i'm going to bed in a bad mood.

10:23pm Emily:

Britt I love you and Stacey I don't understand you. Please read this in the morning...I'll remind you!

And, boy oh boy, did they remind me the next day when we arrived!  Why in the world I was mad that my mileage had decreased is beyond any rational thinking.  My friends were able to work it out so that I would now have 14 miles (not the originally assigned 16, but also not the newly planned 10), and my body was hating me and my Ambien during my last four mile leg.

The night prior to the race, the entire team stayed at a hotel near the start in Santa Ana, which is in Orange County.  Everyone placed their three running outfits in ziplock bags (BC quote: You know you are not running with real runners when they call their running clothes ‘outfits’) and played real-life Tetris in the vans as the boys organized luggage, food, and coolers.  The last item on our check list for the night was to pick up our van drivers (two friends from San Diego that we conned into driving us) at the train station.  My friend and I kept them waiting about 20 minutes because after driving around in circles, we learned that it is important to realize the difference in 100 Santa Ana Boulevard versus 1000 Santa Ana Boulevard.  Ooopsie.

There were 646 teams competing.  We were team number 43.  Team 12-Gauge... with a 12-gauge shotgun on our tshirt.  Get it, 12 runners... 12-Gauge.  I live in Kentucky and, unfortunately, being around hunting camouflage is a part of everyday living.  However, I quickly learned this is not the case in Southern California.  I got more compliments on my hunting camo running tshirt than I usually do on a new pair of Jimmy Choos.  One guy was willing to fork over money to trade shirts on the spot.  I doubted you on the design, Catherine, but stellar job!

I am going to attempt to give you a quick run-down on exactly what happens during a Ragnar Relay.  There are 12-runners.  Runners 1 through 6 are in Van #1 and runners 7 through 12 are in Van #2.  Van #1 starts the journey as runner #1 runs the first leg.  There are supported legs where the vans can meet the runners along their route with water, or just to cheer, or just to give a trademark honk... then there are non-supported legs were vans are not allowed on the runner’s course... and there are partially supported legs where vans can only meet the runners in certain areas along the running route.  Van #1 then drives ahead to the runner exchange, usually located in a random parking lot, where ropes are set up for runner #2 to wait.  Runner #1 passes off the slap-bracelet (just like we wore in the 1980‘s) to runner #2 and off they go.  This repeats until all six runners in Van #1 have completed their first leg.  Then there are larger exchanges called “van exchanges” that occur when the sixth runner of Van #1 passes off the bracelet to the first runner of Van #2.  Van #1 is then on break while Van #2 carries the bracelet.  This whole process repeats itself until each runner has completed three legs.  I could have just summarized this paragraph with “I was dumbfounded at the amount of organization it takes the Ragnar staff to prepare for this.”  
SoCal Ragnar 2013 started on the beach of Santa Ana at 6am.  I have no clue what it looked like or any details because I was in Van #2 and was still sleeping in the hotel room.  The six runners and two drivers in Van #2 were able to sleep in and eat a good hotel breakfast before loading into the van and heading to the first van exchange around noon.  Once we were all loaded into the van, all decked out in our camo tshirts and neon orange shorts, the haunting words of “So, which way?” were uttered as we backed out of the hotel parking lot.  No one knew.  We hadn’t even pulled out of the hotel parking lot and we were already lost.  Not a good sign.

At the first van exchange, Van #2 received their safety briefing and signed off on waivers that pretty much said “I will not sue if I get hit by a car, overheat, or get bit by a mountain lion.”  Our van’s first runner then got the bracelet, and the rest of our van was off to our first runner exchange.  Except we couldn’t find our van.  There were ten parking lots at this large park, and at least 1000 WHITE FORD 12-PASSENGER VANS.  It was worse than trying to find a needle in a haystack.  Somehow we found it in a reasonable amount of time and duly noted to remember where we parked for the remainder of the trip.

Our first legs were brutal.  We were running in the dead heat of the day, with a heat index soaring to 107.  Our routes were all inland as we trudged through the desert mountains and valleys of Southern California... did I mention it was 107 degrees??  I finished my first leg of six miles and my hands were swollen like the Pillsbury Doughboy and I wasn’t even sweating since I was so dehydrated.  And I was stinky... real stinky.  My van quickly learned that we got screwed as far as running times go since we had the legs that were during the heat of the day and the middle of the night.  But we made the best of it... meeting our runners blaring “Eye of the Tiger” from the van, having dance parties to Lionel Ritchie, and discussing the book about rules for dating (which was a huge hit amongst the guys *sarcasm* -- they hated every rule I read).  

After the completion of our first leg, we had about six hours of down time which took us to Olive Garden to carb load (yes, having only showered with baby wipes) and then to the best surprise part of the trip:  Mike’s house!!  One of our drivers had a brother who lived nearby, so the eight of us invaded his beautiful home and forced his wife to consider remodeling since they will likely never use the couches we slept on again.  Entering Mike’s gated subdivision was entertaining as the conversation with the security guard went something like this:

Z:  I’m here to see my brother, Mike
Security:  What is your name?
Z:  Z
Security:  As in the letter?
Z:  Yes
Security:  And what is your relation to Mike?
Z:  I’m his brother
Security:  Does he know you are coming?
Z:  Yes  (to the rest of us:  I’ve never had problems getting in to this subdivision before)
Us:  But you have never tried to enter driving a white 12-passenger van with 12-Gauge painted on the side while wearing a camo shirt with a gun on it.
Z:  True

It was amazing to be able to stretch out and rest for a few hours as we geared up to run our midnight runs.  However, the first van was not too thrilled with us when they found out we were able to spread out and relax in a real house on real couches.  They were even quoted as saying:  “I bet you even had someone there fanning you and feeding you grapes the whole time, too.”

The midnight van exchange was a straight-up party.  I guess the Ragnar people were trying to do anything to keep people awake.  They had fire pits, a DJ, video screen, disco balls, and a lot of runners wearing safety vests, headlamps, and flashing back lights.  Our van rocked out our second legs.  With the temperature dropping to the 40s and most of the course being downhill, I sprinted out my best time ever (my team was shocked I got there so fast that the next runner was still sitting in the van and not ready at the exchange ropes --and she fell out of the van trying to get to me).  Everyone in Van #2 did amazing running in the middle of the night --even though we looked more like spelunkers than runners.

There was one minor setback during our night run.  There were eight people in our van.  That means there were eight cell phones that needed charged.  And a couple iPads.  One guy even joked that we were probably charging a juicer so we could have fresh juice in the morning with the strawberries, blueberries, and bananas we had in the cooler.  Our van had the mother of all docking stations set up as we were able to charge up to 5 devices at a time.  Unbeknownst to us, when the van was turned off... all the devices still stayed charging.  Not to mention the number of times we turned the lights on in the van when it wasn't running.  You probably know where I am going with this.  We had one runner left and had to get him to the next exchange.  And the van would not start.  So now we were on a mission trying to find jumper cables.  The problem though is that all the other vans with us were also rental vans and no one had jumper cables.  We finally lucked out and we were able to get some juice to get us going.  But that was a moment of a little stress amongst the group.

And then guess what??!?  We finished our second leg and then had an even better surprise!  Our drivers lived close by and we were able to go to their house during our break to sleep and, even better, SHOWER!!  I have never felt so refreshed from rinsing off and only three hours of sleep in a chair, but I woke up feeling like a new woman.  

We were almost done... we each had one leg left.  But I was hurting.  I already ran 10 miles and the breaks between runs were allowing my muscles to cramp up and “the quads above my knees (as opposed to the quads below my knees)” were so tight.  I started my last leg of four miles and was hurting real bad from the start.  The original plan was for my van to meet me at mile two with water, but when my van passed me at the beginning of my run, I screamed out “I need Biofreeze!”  I was assuming they were going to pull off somewhere close by so I could rub my quads down.  So I kept walking, and running, and walking, and running, and walking, and running and I never saw them.  I got to mile two, and they are still nowhere to be found.  I was starting to think I was running the wrong route.  I finally made it to mile three and my van was there waiting.  The conversation went something like this:

Me:  Where have you guys been?
JH:  You said to meet you at mile three.
Me:  No, I said mile two.
JH:  No, when we drove by you screamed, “Meet me at mile three!”

Mile three... Biofreeze... like Nicki Flash... because it rhymes... close?  I lathered up in green gel and it was enough to get me through the last mile and I was done.  And very happy.  We had two runners left and the next runner had seven miles including the hill of death along her route.  We wanted to meet her prior to the mile long hill that was at a 70% incline.  We drove down the hill, then back up the hill, then down the hill, then back up the hill trying to find her.  One of the guys in our van, who will remain nameless, insisted there was no way she was already at the top of the hill because "there is no way she can run that fast."  She was running like the wind and actually beat our van to the exchange, where runners from other teams were booing us for not being there on time.

Our entire team met our last runner about 100 yards from the finish line we all finished together on the beach of San Diego.  The experience was over, and it is so hard to put into words how amazing it was to drive, cheer, complain, laugh, sleep, snack, motivate, calculate, sweat, and run 200 miles spanning 36 hours with the other runners.  Running felt like a team sport for the first time in my life and I was proud to be part of something that was bigger than my individual accomplishment.  However, Catherine, before you ask... the answer is NO to ever wanting to do this again... only because another Ragnar experience will never live up to the memories created during the SoCal Ragnar Relay of 2013.

This blog was already five pages, yet I left out so much.  However, for the other runners, here are some of the best quotes from the trip:

** “I’m glad opposites attract... because if I’m acting like Jason, and Jason is acting like Jason, then we’d be in a fight right now.”

Joel:  That’s why you pack your own bread in your suitcase and bring it from Missouri.

** Joel:  The last race I ran I was hungover and miserable.
Emily:  Yeah babe, but you met me.
Joel:  Yeah, and I was miserable.

** “If runners had trading cards, then you’d be my favorite.”

** “I wonder what the poor people are doing today?”

** Joel likes to sleep in the dark at other people's houses when they are putting their kids to bed:  “If they don’t turn those lights out, I’m going to go sleep on the floor in the other room.”

** “You lost your navigation privileges four beers ago.  You have been demoted to snack boy.”

** On the snacks bought by our driver:  “Cheetos and 5-hour energy drinks would be great snacks if we were smoking pot... but we are running a race!!”

** Breaking Z’s kazoo:  “That is so disrespectful... I can’t wait to break something you love.”

** Van #2 when Van #1 was not on time for Matt:  "AGAIN!!!??!"

** Josh when Van #2 was not on time for Erica:  “This would have NEVER happened on my watch!”

** Joel never being at the start-line on time:  “How many times can you hear them scream ‘TEAM 43!!’ while you’re in the porta-potty?”

** “I am so tired.  I just rubbed lotion all over my body... only to realize it was curl enhancer for my hair.”  --me

** The boys:  We are going to the bathroom.
The girls:  Since when do boys go to the bathroom together?  Must be code for something.
The girls (when the boys return):  So did you take shots or smoke?

** “I want to order a shot four-ways... like a $5 footlong”

** Deep thoughts by Britt:  “You know how all of our information is now in clouds?  Do you ever look up to the sky and just see all those zeros and ones?”