Pics from Ragnar Relay & why I’ll likely never do an overnight relay again

Yeah, I’m being honest in the title. Though I “survived” the relay and even had my fair share of rewarding/silly/grateful moments, I don’t think I’ll do another overnight relay in the future. I’ll get to those reasons in a moment, but let’s look at some pictures, shall we?

(Yeah, yeah, it’s been 3 weeks since the race … I’m really stretching out this Ragnar series.)

Proof that I was there …

Here’s van #1 at the start line (in the rain). From left, that’s Juan, Brianne, Karl, me, Jesi and Ajay.

ragnar van 1

Downpour!

Cheering our runner on & being really conscientious about the safety flags at the same time:

ragnar flags

Safety first.

Around midnight on the course:

at night

We’re giddy … or sleep deprived.

Jesi passes the slap bracelet to me, and I head out on my last run:

bracelet exchange

I look happier than I remember about running leg #3.

A really lovely moment where I’m missing my bed and hating my sweaty hair:

sleepy ragnar

“I want to get out of this van NOW.”

With the whole team at the finish line:

finish line

DONE!

I’ve come to notice that I’m smiling in most of the Ragnar pics, so you’d think I enjoyed the experience. To be sure, there were enjoyable moments, and it’s a confidence boost to realize I’m capable of running great (for me) times on tired legs, little sleep and questionable meals.

I was also really impressed by my van mates. I didn’t know the people in van #1 very well going into this, but they were super positive, supportive and nice (not even a little grouchy!) the whole time. Observing their attitudes definitely lifted my spirits.

With that being said, here’s why I’ll likely never do another overnight relay:

  1. It jacked up my knees. If you remember, I stopped running for a few years not too long ago because of an IT band injury. It’s taken quite a few months – and really smart training – to get my knees and hips right again. But by leg 3 of the relay, I could feel scary tightness in my IT band, and since the race, I’ve been dealing with knee pain all over again. (It’s definitely not as severe as before, but it’s there.) I’m not blaming the relay entirely, but I am blaming the lack of recovery time. Even though you’ve got 8 or so hours to rest between legs, it’s not enough time (for me) to be properly recovered. I stretched as much as I could, but we were always hopping back into the van, and I never had enough time to stretch, foam roll or ice. And even though my distances weren’t that long, I ran them hard so I needed that recovery. (To be clear, I think some folks have enough of a running base to do a relay without injury, but I don’t think it’s that smart for recreational runners, now that I’ve experienced it.)
  2. I like to get sleep. Some people get super energized when they throw off their sleep schedules, like the unexpectedness of it is fun. Anything could happen. Sorry, friends. I’m not one of those people. I’m at my best when I’ve gotten a good night’s rest. And while I’m not opposed to missing sleep for something super wonderful, I have decided not to count an overnight relay in that super wonderful category at this time in my life. A friend’s going-away party? Yes. A midnight swimming session in the lake? Probably. Dancing to my favorite music? Okay. Running after not showering for over 24 hours? Sorry, no.
  3. There are other ways I like to bond. I feel like I’m going to get flak from runners who love relays, but I’m not really buying the ohmygod-this-is-the-best-way-to-bond-with-people business. Nothing against my van mates, and maybe I would have felt more sentimental about the bonding experience if I’d been good friends with them from the beginning, but I can think of a bunch of other ways we could have gotten to know each other better.
  4. It’s pricey as hell. Beyond all the other reasons – which I think are disputable in one way or another, or under different circumstances – this one is the real clincher. When I added up all the money I spent on motels (we stayed in one the night before the race and another the night after), vans & gas (split among the team), snacks, meals, beer and registration fee, I could have taken a weekend getaway to the beach for the same cost. And we did the race on a budget. Like, shared beds at the motels and rented minivans instead of the enormous vans and all that. But, even then, costs added up, and I would’ve rather taken a vacation. :)

I don’t mean to sound anti-relay (or maybe I do?), and I am glad that I had the experience, but I think I’ll stick to one-and-done races in the future. Of course, you’ll have to tell me to eat my words if you find me signing up for another relay next year.

Until then, I’ll be icing and foam rolling and attacking IT band recovery like it’s my job …

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Ragnar Relay: my legs (3, 15, 27)

I’ve talked about packing for Ragnar; now let’s talk about the running.

Going into the race, I had a general idea of what to expect: 3 legs, the first hilly and long, the second short and flat, the third short & a little hilly (with a big downhill section at the end). I also knew that if the rest of my team stuck to their projected mile times, I’d likely be running in the late morning on Friday, then late at night on Friday and, lastly, early in the morning on Saturday. It worked out pretty much as expected.

Here’s a breakdown of each leg & how I did (apologies if this is a little dull … I’m just sticking to run performance today):

My first run: Leg 3

  • 8.2 miles
  • 509 ft of elevation gain (though my Garmin said I climbed just 437 ft)
  • Time: 1:08:21
  • Avg page: 8:21 / Avg moving pace: 8:15

Elevation profile:

1st leg elevation

Keep climbing, climbing, climbing.

Splits:

1st leg splits

How I felt: I was surprised by how strong I felt on the first leg. I was really excited to be running and felt really pumped every time I glanced at my Garmin and saw strong paces, especially because it was all uphill (except for two little breathers). I passed a few people, listened to good music and enjoyed myself. (Though I did have a few moments where I wondered if I was pushing the pace too hard, since it was only the first leg. After those initial doubts, I honestly just told myself to shut up and forget about conserving. That it would be okay to focus on one leg at a time.)

My second run: Leg 15

  • 3.5 miles
  • 35 feet elevation gain
  • Time: 26:36
  • Avg page: 7:54 / Avg moving pace: 7:48

Elevation profile:

2nd leg elevation

Splits:

2nd leg splits

How I felt: Halle-freakin’-lujah, I broke 8 minute miles for the whole leg! Granted, it was short. And super flat. But I don’t know that I’ve run splits like this since high school. Maybe not even in high school. I’ve always been slow, and I’ve always thought I was fated to be slow forever. And while 7:54 minute miles are still slow by competitive standards, for me they’re pretty freakin’ good.

It probably helped that this leg was at 11:00 pm at night because I really, really, really wanted to finish it quickly and get back in the van. Running along deserted streets in the dark is scary, you guys. So I pushed my pace partly out of fear. (Whatever gets you to the finish line …)

My third run: Leg 27

  • 4 miles
  • 196 ft of elevation gain (though my Garmin says I climbed 253 ft)
  • Time: 32:08
  • Avg pace: 8:08 / Avg moving pace: 8:02

Elevation profile:

3rd leg elevation

A loooong downhill section at the end, that my teammate had to turn around and climb back up.

Splits:

3rd leg splits

How I felt: I was in NO mood to run when I started. Super tired and a little nauseous. We’d tried to sleep for a few hours on a high school gym floor, but we probably got less than 2 hours total. We left the gym at 4:30 am, drove to the next exchange, and though it was around 8:00 am by the time I ran, my body had no idea what time it actually was.

I also felt some knee pain during this leg – and it pissed me off (more on that in another post). Still, by halfway through, I knew I was approaching the big downhill section and I just wanted to be done, so I really pushed myself.

Now that I look at my splits for mile 3 and 4, I wish I would have gone faster in the beginning. I could’ve PR’d pretty nicely.

++++

Overall, I’m happy with my performance and relieved I got completely manageable legs. The first one was challenging, but the other two were easy. I tried to race each leg, not just run, and I can tell I’m getting tougher mentally. That’s a pretty awesome feeling.

I’ll be back next time with final thoughts on the relay, plus some team pics.

Packing for the Ragnar Relay

I haven’t been keeping up with my blogging very well, so I’m going to split my Ragnar recaps into a few posts and get more, er, mileage out of the topic. (Mileage! Har har.)

So let’s say you’ve joined a 12-person team with the goal to run 200 miles in under 30 hours. First, you’re a lunatic. :) Second, how should you pack?

In two words: lightly and strategically.

I cannot stress this enough: Gallon-size Ziploc baggies are your friend.

If you take my advice, this will happen: While everyone else is tearing their bags apart, looking for that pair of dry socks or that chocolate-raspberry-flavored granola bar, you’ll be sitting fat and happy in the back of the van with socks, bar, music and travel pillow in hand.

I’ll make this super easy on ya …

WHAT TO PACK

running-related

  • 3 running shorts (or tights or capris, depending on the weather)
  • 3 running tops (add a long sleeve running top or two, if you need to layer)
  • 3 sports bras, 3 pairs of underwear, 3 pairs of socks (sub in compression socks, if you like)
  • running shoes
  • running belt (if you want to carry water or gels)
  • headbands & hair ties
  • iPad & headphones
  • visor or hat (if it’s super sunny)
  • headlamp
  • Garmin

other clothes

  • sweatpants or yoga pants to wear in between runs
  • sweatshirt
  • rain jacket (if you’re in the Pacific Northwest … even if it’s July … grrr)
  • extra underwear, bra, semi normal outfit for when you’re all done
  • sunglasses

food-related

On the night before the race (Thursday), we ate dinner near our motel. The motel had continental breakfast, so we were covered for Friday morning. We planned to stop at a restaurant for a late lunch/early dinner during our break on Friday (after every runner in our van did their first runs, and we handed off to van #2 for their first set of runs). So Friday was mostly covered, except for snacks. Then, we needed food for Saturday’s breakfast, and during Saturday’s runs, and finally we planned to eat free pizza for lunch at the end. None of these details really matter, except to say that I ended up over packing food. You have more opportunities than you’d expect to stop, and you really don’t need that much food between runs anyway.

  • bars
  • nuun
  • water bottle
  • dried fruit
  • peanut butter
  • English muffins
  • pretzels
  • animal crackers
  • fruit leathers
  • string cheese
  • chocolate milk

sleeping-related

  • large towel or tarp or sleeping mat
  • sleeping bag in compression sack
  • travel pillow (bed-size pillows are too large, if everyone in the van brings one)

other

  • roll of toilet paper or small kleenex (I didn’t end up using mine because all of the porta-potties were well-stocked)
  • baby wipes & Shower Pill wipes (lifesavers!!)
  • small ziplocs for ice & snacks, large ziplocs for running outfits
  • Advil
  • bandaids
  • sunscreen
  • deoderant
  • hair brush, dry shampoo
  • small toothpaste & toothbrush
  • cell phone
  • wallet/ID

I’m pretty sure my van mates thought I was weird for bringing dry shampoo, but I’m so glad I had it. After every run, I immediately cleaned up with a Shower Pill, took off my sweaty clothes and threw on my next running top with yoga pants, and sprayed my hair with the shampoo. I didn’t exactly feel fresh, but I felt dry and didn’t smell bad.

HOW TO PACK

Beyond what to pack, the most important part of race prep (other than, you know, training for the runs!) is packing strategically. I saved myself so much time by putting almost everything in Ziploc bags. Here’s a breakdown:

Ziplocs 1, 2 and 3: Each running outfit (including the sports bras, underwear and socks for each)

outfits for legs

Of course, the best part of having each outfit in a separate bag is that you throw the clothes back in the bag right after running so they don’t stink everything up.

Ziplocs 4 & 5: Dry snacks & wet snacks

Yes, I split up dry and wet snacks. As if I am a cat. Roll your eyes, but it works! I individually bagged things like pretzels and animal crackers and bars and then put them in one large ziploc together (dry) and then did the same for things like cheese & chocolate milk (which I’m considering wet because they needed space in the shared cooler). It was so convenient to have all snacks in one place, rather than spread out all over my bag.

snacks

Ziploc 6: Repeated items, used for running

It was also super handy to have my iPod, Garmin, headbands, headlamp, etc in one place. Basically everything I needed to reuse and grab quickly, without digging around at the bottom of my duffel bag.

gear

Ziplocs 7 & 8: Toiletries

I split up my toiletries into two categories: things that would make me feel clean & ready for the next run, and other things. I used a Ziploc for the first category and my regular, small toiletry case for the other.

In the Ziploc: toothbrush, toothpaste, Shower Pills, baby wipes, deoderant, comb, dry shampoo, small sunscreen, hand sanitizer

In the small toiletry case: stuff I used the night before the race & in the hotel after the race, like a razor and some makeup, plus the Advil and bandaids

I know it’s a little crazy to go so far as to split up toiletries, but this simplified process really worked for me. It would have driven me crazy to be weeding past a mascara brush or something when I was in the middle of race legs and only needed deoderant.

toiletries

Lastly, I split everything up into 2 small duffel bags: all of my clothes and running-related gear in one bag, all of my sleep- and food-related items in the other. This made it easy when changing because I obviously didn’t need to grab both duffels. And when we got a few hours of sleep on a high school gym floor in the middle of the race, I knew which bag to haul inside.

IS THERE MORE?

As a group, we also needed 12 reflective vests (everyone has to wear one during night hours, whether running or just stepping out of the van to cheer), plus sets of clip-on blinky lights to clip to the runner’s back. We also had one big shared cooler per van, plus a water cooler (we only had to refill it once, I think), which we used to fill our individual water bottles. (One teammate also brought powder Gatorade – takes up way less room than bottles of Gatorade.)

So, to summarize, friends:

  1. Ziploc bags are a necessity.
  2. Snacks are not. Just bring a few of your faves, and stop along the way for sandwiches.
  3. Your van mates might think you’re crazy, but when it’s 2:00 am and you can find your headlight in less then 5 seconds, you’ll be glad.