Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ragnar Relay

Wow, I can scarcely even describe how much fun I've had in the last two days. Was it really two days? It has kind of blurred into a single event where time didn't exist except when we tried to estimate when our runner would arrive. We might then talk about how someone started their run at 1:00 in the morning but oddly I don't think any of us actually thought about how that was in the middle of the night. It was just a starting time so we knew when that runner should be arriving. Other than that I was scarcely aware of the time. 

I was going to write this post and upload it Saturday night but I sat down to work on the pictures and my mind was mush. No matter how I tried I just couldn't concentrate. I apologize but I had to get some sleep. 

So let me go back to the beginning. While the composition of the team changed many times over the last few months we finally ended up with the following people.

Van 1 (left to right)
Joey Moore, Tricia Sutherland, Maricela Knapp, Itzel Mostert, Kim Garcia, and myself. 

Van 2 (left to right)
Brent Haws, Chelsea Romney, Robin Daynes, Alan Bird (the creator of it all), Scott Spurgiesz, Chris Bird.  

So that was our team. We'd had a couple of training runs together at Miramar Lake but I always had conflicts so while some of us have worked together I hadn't even met some of these people. I now am best friends with all of those who were in Van 1. Of course I still like the guys in van 2 but I didn't get to know them quite like I did Van 1. 

The Team Meal Thursday Evening
As you may have read earlier we had the big team meal on Thursday night. It seemed really weird to me that I was at a team meal carbo-loading on pasta. That is something that my kids have done for years but it was definitely a first for me. Being Van 1 we started the race off. Tricia drove and since her in-laws live in Orange County she really wanted to head up the night before so we wouldn't have to get up so early. Unfortunately the logistics were too difficult and we finally decided to go up early in the morning. I'm glad I got that last night in my own bed though even if it did mean that I had to get up at 5:30 on Friday. 

When we pulled into the parking lot at Huntington Beach I thought we'd arrived on a different world. At least half of the teams dressed in costumes and their teams had themes. One of my favorites was a team of american Indians. The guys all wore breach clothes and the squaws had cool looking indian dresses. They also had the vans all decorated. Even though we cheaped out on our vans I thought we looked pretty good. The name of our team was, "A dozen donuts to go".  

Maricella started out for our team and covered leg 1. About half of her run was along the beach and it was a beautiful run. She then turned north on the river bank and headed inland. When I say river bank it was a huge concrete channel about a hundred yards wide and had a trickle of water in the bottom that was maybe a foot wide. 
We drove down a couple of miles and cheered her on and then we drove another couple of miles where we were going to cheer her on again but then we realized that she was running so fast that if we didn't get going she might just get in before we did. Can you imagine how it would feel to complete your five mile run and there is no one there to greet you? That would be sad so we hustled on to the first exchange point where Maricela slapped the little bracelet thing onto Itzel and off she went to continue the run along the river bank.

The road was too far away from the river for us to cheer Itzel on so we headed up to Centennial Regional Park where it was my turn. I have no idea why but I was very nervous. I didn't need to be though, Itzel ran in, slapped the bracelet onto me and I was off. 
The adrenaline was flowing and I felt wonderful. The sun was bright, the air was calm and the view was actually pretty good if you don't mind a lot of concrete. After a few minutes I found myself getting a little winded. I couldn't figure it out though because I was way past that point in my practice runs. In fact, I rarely got winded in my practice runs and they were a lot more than the mile or so I'd been running. I pulled out my little phone to check out my status and saw that my pace was an 8 minute mile. That explained it all. I've never done an 8 minute mile so I slowed the pace a little and everything was great again. 

5.4 miles in 59 minutes
As the excitement faded and my mind started wandering I remembered that Ben was supposed to be running with me. How could I have forgotten? We'd talked about it lots and he was afraid he might not get the time off work but he was going to check and I'd never followed up. I then pulled out my phone and called him. It's real tough talking on a phone while you're running a race.  He was a little surprised to hear where I was and he felt bad because he thought I was running next week. He checked out where I was on his computer and asked me to call him when I got to the golf course. 

Eventually I came to a water station. I was feeling good and I really didn't want to stop so I blew on by which was a big mistake. At somewhere around the three mile mark the started feeling the heat. I came to the golf course and called Ben again and him and Sharley walked on down the Angels stadium parking lot where we where the exchange was. At one point I run under one of the freeways and the instant coolness was a shock to my system and I started feeling a bit faint. I started worrying because I really didn't want to get sick but I was still OK and kept running. Ben called me worried about the time. This was a brand new job for him and he couldn't be late. I told him where I was and even though we could tell I was going to be very close he finally had to leave but Sharley stayed to cheer me on. Besides, I think we spent enough time on the phone that I can say that Ben ran with me. 

Once I saw the big "A" for the stadium I got my second wind and on I went. I missed Ben by just minutes but there was Sharley and my team mates. Sharley gave me a big hug and one of my team mates later commented how she must be a cool daughter in law to hug me when I was all sweaty like that. I agree - thanks for being there Sharley. My time for the race was 5.4 miles in under an hour for a ten minute mile. Definitely a personal best for that long of a run. 

Kim Garcia just got the Bracelet from Joey
and is about to complete Van #1's first turn.
So I slapped the bracelet on Tricia and off she went. As we continued on inland the temperature started rising. According to the van it was about 85° during my run and by the time our van handed the bracelet on to Van 2 the temperature was in the 90's. We all did well but I became very thankful for the run I had. I think someone thought they were doing Joey a favor when they gave him some shorter runs but I don't think they realized how nasty some of the hills were he had to climb. To make it worse the temperature had climbed by the time his turn came. He was runner #5. He did a great job and while I felt sorry for him I kept saying to myself, "better him than me". He did say that he had a great view from the top of the mountain. 

Our first major exchange. Unfortunately Alan
isn't in the picture because he's off running.
When Kim brought in the final run for Van 1's first round it was pretty much unanimous to go back to Sutherland's for a shower. It is rather amazing what a difference a shower, a subway sandwich and a short nap makes. We knew that traffic would be nasty on a late Friday afternoon in LA so we decided to head for exchange #12 early. It's a good thing too. I'm sure it took us two hours to go ten miles. 

Our second major exchange.
This time Itzel is off running.
When Van 2 hands the bracelet off to Van 1 that means that both vans have to be at the exchange. With 470 teams entered in this race and each team has two vans that means there are as many as 940 vans and over 5,000 people in one place at one time. Of course not everyone gets there at the same time but with the slow runners starting early and the fast runners starting later, as the race goes on the fast runners start to catch up to the slow runners and the major exchanges get very congested. It was a zoo. To make it worse as Maricela started out her second run of the race and we finally got out of the Lake Elsinor Campground (which was a very nice campground by the way) we promptly hit a major traffic jam. We sat there for a very long time and were starting to get quite worried about not being at the exchange in time. Since we were out in the boonies we wondered what the traffic jam was all about but when we finally got up to the front of the line we figured out it was a sobriety check point. I'm not sure if they were trying to snag careless Ragnar racers or if it was just very bad timing. Since they just waved us through I think it may have been just bad timing. In any case we barely made it in time for Itzel to take over. 

Itzel was amazing. She had a run that was nearly ten miles long and it went through some very rough horse trails and up some very long hills. I am so excited to do the Ragnar again but my only fear is that I will end up with a ten mile run. I'm not up to that but by next year who knows. We stopped and cheered Itzel on at the bottom of a long nasty hill and by the time we got in the van and caught up to her she'd passed at least a dozen people. I think she loves to run and apparently she's got a bit of a competitive streak in her too. 

2.7 miles in 26 minutes
In spite of how well I ran my first leg I was still very nervous about my second leg. It was a short one but still, would I be all tired out from the first leg? Once again I took off in the dark and it felt great. In this race if you pass another runner they call that a "kill". In my first turn I only had one kill and I can't be too proud of that because it was just a short little fat girl. In this leg there were two runner who were just ahead of me. I promptly got my second kill of the race when I past another girl but this one was young and quite fit looking. I'm proud of that kill even if it was a girl. The other runner however was a buff young man and I saw right away that his pace was just a little faster than I would normally run. Passing him up was out of the question but I challenged myself to see if I could stay with him. In staying with this guy I picked up four more kills in just 2.7 miles and I clocked in at right close to a 9 minute mile. That was a new all time best for me. This run went right through downtown Murietta and while it was nearly midnight it was still quite active. It felt cool to run though crowds of people and with the nearly full moon it had a real cool feel to it. I loved it and I felt good when it was all over. I've been told my whole life that you need to stretch before and after a work out and frankly I've always thought it was bogus. I've never noticed how it has helped and I just never did it. Lately I've been stretching a bit before my runs because when I got that planters fasciitis it seemed to help but I never stretched after. Well I guess this run was a bit more aggressive than I've ever done before. Normally we give the runner a chance to cool off before heading out but I felt good so I just loaded everyone up and headed out. No sooner was I out of the driveway when my legs started cramping up. I suspect that is what they're trying to prevent when the suggest you stretch after a work out. I made it to the next exchange point where I promptly stretched out my sore muscles and things felt good again. 

Running in the dark was tricky however. With the headlight on your forehead you don't get any shadows because the light is so close to your eyes. With no shadows your depth perception is kind of messed up and you've got to be very careful with rocks, curbs and pot holes. On my run there were a lot of driveways and so the side walk kept sloping and if I didn't realize it I would jar my back because the sidewalk was lower than I expected it to be. I finally just gave up and ran on the road. That was risking a violation but it was midnight and I decided to take a chance.

Tricia followed me and she actually missed a curb and fell down. Head lights, tailights (we had to wear blinking lights on our backs) and ipods went flying everywhere. Some good Samaritons stopped and helped her out and luckily there was no permanent damage done to her or her equipment. She then thanked her helpers and left them in her dust. She said she was fine but I suspect she's sporting a bruise today. 

Joey on leg 29 ended up running across a golf course. Out on the fareway, away from all the streets there were absolutely no lights so he turned off his headlight to see what it was like. He said it was absolutely beautiful with the almost full moon lighting up the rolling hills and then there was a long string stretched out in a line that went up another very steep mountain side. The hill was so steep that he almost had to go on all fours to get up it. 

Kim then brought us into the Fallbrook into another major exchange that was probably the worst experience of the whole race. I would like to be charitable and chalk it up to growing pains. This is there third race in Southern California and I understand that it has grown so fast that it is now their largest race even larger than the Wasatch Front in Utah where their very first race was. Growing pains or not these guys need to do a lot of work on getting into and out of the major exchanges. We waited in line for a good twenty minutes with out moving at all. We finally gave up and parked on the street somewhere and walked in. 

Robin Daynes ready for her night time run.
By this time it was somewhere around 2:00AM and we had a few hours to kill before our turn at 6:00AM. We drove to Encinitas at the headquarters for Taylor Made and half of us slept out on the golf course and the other half slept in the car. It got very cold and even though I was comfortable in my blanket, every time I rolled over (which wasn't too often) I exposed some part of my body and froze it. My alarm went off at 5:00 and it was cold. Keeping my blanket wrapped around me I made my way back to the van and limped the whole way. My feet were killing me. I got a little bit scared wondering how on earth I was ever going to run. Luckily as I walked it off the pains worked their way out and I was fine. 

Maricela lead off our first morning run. It was still early enough that she had to wear her night time gear. A head light, tail light and reflective vest was required gear between 6:45 pm and 6:45 am. Her husband Chris was there to meet her as she came in. She never bragged about it but I'm quite sure she always had lots of kills when she ran. 

My last leg was my favorite. I loved them all but this one ran along the coast not 20 feet from the surf. How can you complain about that? I started inland a couple of miles and wandered over to Encinitas. We ran right down main street and at 9:00 in the morning all of the restaurants had their tables set up on the sidewalk and for some reason I got real pleasure out of running right through the middle of all those tables. 

5.7 miles in 63 minutes
Once we were out of the down town area I came out onto the beach. I've said before that I think running is as much a mental exercise as it is physical one. My brain was telling me that I'd already run over eight miles in the last twenty four hours and since I've never done that before I should be tired so I should stop and walk. Well with that surf not twenty feet away from me I think I could have ran forever. Besides, the run was a gentle down hill and how could I ever walk on a down hill run? I finally told myself that perhaps I'd stop and walk going up the hill on the other side. Coming towards me were hundreds of walkers with identical T shirts on. They were with some team in training for leukemia I think. One of them was going the same direction as I was and when I passed her she started running with me. She asked what the Ragnar Relay was and I told her and then she asked how far we were running. When I told her 200 miles her jaw dropped. I love telling people I was going to run a 200 mile race. Well we talked all the way up the hill and when I'm running with a young girl how could I possibly stop and walk? I way too proud to do something like that. Well before I knew it I turned at the cross walk and there was my beautiful wife taking my picture. How fun was that? I really wanted to stop and give her a hug right then and there but she was the volunteer that is supposed to call my number (#199 by the way) into the finish line so that they can get my team mate ready. 

Me slapping the little bracelet onto Tricia
I decided to run on by my wife and slap the bracelet on Tricia and go back to see my wife. After a sweaty hug and a kiss we were on our way and I was done running for the day. As it turned out, the leg that I was most worried about was my favorite one. 5.7 miles in one hour exactly. The best part was that I felt great. I also picked up at least six more kills on that run. I won't mention how many people are counting me as one of their kills but sadly one of them looked like he was ten years old and another one was an eighty year old woman. If I keep this up maybe I can be like her. 

Poor Tricia though. The directions told the vans to go a different route to the next exchange point but we wanted to follow Tricia and cheer her on so we risked another violation and off we went. We yelled as we drove by but then on our way we saw that she had to go up a hill that was probably two miles long and it was quite steep. 

Cheering Tricia on after a very long ugly hill
To make matter worse she had no water station and I think it was over 6 miles. I'm not sure what they were thinking. We picked a spot near the top and when she came around the corner we were there to welcome her. We also had water for her. Her husband Mark and their youngest son also joined up with us. As we were waiting for her several other runner came by and some of them were not using kind words. We tried to cheer them all up but I think many of them were beyond that. One guy about ripped a water bottle out of Kim's hand. I think he needed it more than we did. 

Joey Moore after cooling off in the ocean
Joey got a break on his last run which did have some up hill but a lot more down hill. His wife Tiffany and kids came to meet him at the end of his run which was right at Torrey Pines beach. Joey slapped the bracelet onto Kim and then ran right on past her to the water. he didn't quite dive in but I could tell he really wanted to. He did splash water all over himself. 

Kim then completed the last run for our team and ran up the Torrey Pines hill. That was a nasty climb and was we drove by her cheering her on she was doing great. As we drove up the hill there was one girl who looked like she was going to need the ambulance. People were helping her but she was in pretty bad shape. 

Our final major exchange and the end of Van #1's
running. Once again Alan isn't in the picture
because he's out on a ten mile run.
This major exchange point was actually pretty good. It was at the San Diego glider port on cliffs that over look the ocean. You can ask Kim and she will assure those are some very high cliffs. After all she literally ran from the sea to the top of the cliffs. 

Alan handing off to Scott
Our van was now done so we went for a Jamba Juice and some Mexican food and then we got a call from Alan. Alan was the first runner for Van 2. He'd apparently arrived at exchange point 31 but nobody was there to meet him. That is kind of the worst nightmare for a Ragnar runner. He'd tried to call some of his team mates but he either didn't have their numbers or they weren't answering him. I called Robin and apparently they were waiting for him at exchange 32. It is kind of confusing because if someone is running leg 31 does that mean he starts at 30 and goes to 31 or does he start at 31 and goes to 32? Well Van 2 was at 32 and Alan was at 31 so we lost a half hour there but the only one who was upset was Scott who was navigating. I was navigating for our van and that was my worst fear but I always got us to where we needed to be when we needed to be there so no one fired me. They only threatened to once or twice. 

Scott Spurgiesz
Now that we were free we decided to follow van 2 and cheer then on where we could. Scott was the runner to follow Alan so he was so upset that he was determined to make up the time he'd lost. He might have just done it too except that he missed a sign and went a mile in the wrong direction. Two Ragnar people found him and told him that he needed to go back. Scott just hoped onto the running board of their golf cart and told (not asked) them to take him back. They reminded him that doing that would be a violation. Scott wouldn't get off and they didn't push it. We're allowed three minor violations and I think that would be a good use for one of them. I guess they felt sorry for him because we didn't get any texts. 

Robyn Daynes finally going down hill
after a very long climb.
Robin then took her turn which ended up being well over eight miles with a nasty hill in the middle of it. She had some nice scenery along the coast running past the Star of India and ending up in Sea Port Village. I don't know now those people do it. Brent then ran under the Coronado Island Bridge. I was really hoping we'd get to run over it but nope, we had to go the long way around the south end of the bay. We cheered Chelsy out fo the exchange and then decided to head to the finish line. Lisa and Connie had showed up at the finish line by 4:00 because that was when we were scheduled to arrive but with the heat and the hills we were now more than two hours behind schedule. 

At the finish line we saw the Biggest Loser Blue Team come in but I think we were able to beat the Black team. Finally Chris appeared and we gathered as a team about a hundred yards from the finish line and ran in together. What a cool feeling. By this time we were like family and people that I scarecel knew before were now like brothers and sisters. What a fun time. 

Brent Haws running under the Coronado Bridge
My biggest fear now is that I'll stop running. My goal is to keep running. I've got to be ready for next year so I plan to run at least ten miles a week.

Finally I want to take at least one line to thank Lisa. She's been very supportive of this thing by encouraging me to train, volunteering her Saturday and especially for being at the finish line to take pictures. Thank you dear.

What a great weekend. Let's do it again!!!
Chelsea Romney just starting her last run.

Here we are at the finish line 200 miles in 34 hours. 
Besides some wonderful memories, after 200 miles of blood, sweat
and tears, this is what I got to show for all my work. It's getting
a prominent spot in my house.


Lisa said...

What an amazing experience for all of you!! I can't believe you stayed up until 3 a.m. to get this post done!!! I was so proud of all of you :)

Alycia (Crowley Party) said...

LOVED staying up to date on the whole race through that facebook page! SO COOL :) I am so doing this next year!

Brent Haws said...


Sutherland Family said...

FRED!! I loved it!! And I would never have fired you, really :). You were the best navigator ever! Thanks for the play by play. I loved your perspective. And I loved getting to know everyone. We've got to get together soon to plan our next adventure!

weplusthree said...

What a great post! Thanks for the great recap. And your pictures were great. I had a lot of fun with you guys. I totally agree with what you said about losing track of time! That was a perfect way to explain it.

sarah said...

you rock by the way!!!! woot woot!!!

Lynn said...

Wow! Incredible! Not sure how I missed this post the first time. Amazing. Way to go! To you And to Lisa. Good job!