Monday, September 19, 2011

Ragnar Relay: San Francisco to Napa

24 hours in a van…31 miles running

Ragnar Relay SF to Napa is ~190 miles split between 36 legs. Runners usually run 3 legs. A college friend had asked me awhile ago if I'd be on his team "Sure!". Then I'd forgotten about it til I got an email 10 days before the race. Then the team was short runners, so Matt asked me if I could "double up" and run double legs. "Sure, I'm an ultra runner!"

The race started Friday, so my plan was to work most of the day Friday, then take the afternoon express bus up to Petaluma to meet the team and run legs 11 and 12. The bus, which should have gotten me there an hour ahead of time, was late. John (my other college buddy) scooped me up, but when we got to the relay another runner had JUST left to run 8.9 miles. One van went to go get him and return him. Then I was off.

Leg 11 was 8.9 from the rolling farm country outside Petaluma into the heart of Petaluma. The sun was setting over the fields, and it was a beautiful rural day. Vans would stop along the way and cheer me on. Then I realized they were cheering on their runners coming up behind to pass me. I strategically walked three steep hills, as I knew I had ~30 more miles to go. I met Cory and Marco (my van mates) for the first time when they stopped to give me Gatorade. As we got closer to the exchange, the runners passing me said "C'mon, we're almost there! Pick up the pace!" But I knew I wasn't there, as I had 2.7 after.

Exchange: I felt like a race car driver as I glugged Gatorade while Matt clipped on a reflective vest, rear blinker, and front headlamp.

Leg 12 was 2.7 miles through the heart of Petaluma with numerous stoplights, over the 101 and through some shopping malls. Not very scenic. I handed the slap bracelet off to van 1.

Matt, Cory, Marco and I got an awesome burger & brew at Brody's Burger in Santa Rosa. Then we sacked out at a high school gym from 10:45 to midnight. All to soon it was time to get the exchange from van 1, as we were running through the night.

Marco's leg was in pitch darkness, and Cory was steaming from the cold night when he finished. While Matt was running his double legs, we went to find me caffiene. I bought all the things one buys at an all night gas station--coca-cola, double shots and Reeses. I was trying not to psyche myself out with my back to back 8.3 then 9.0 legs.

Exchange 22: Marco and I waiting in the dark at a park around 4 AM for Matt to come in after 10 miles. There were only a couple other vans. A guy started yelling "You think you're so cool YELLING and SCREAMING while I'm TRYING to SLEEP. YOU GUYS SUCK". It was odd as at the time really the only sound was the guy yelling at us.

Leg 23: 8.3 miles from Howarth Park on the outskirts of Santa Rosa along Highway 12. There wasn't van support allowed, so it was just me running on the shoulder. There were a few gas stations and a 7-11, and then I was really out in the country underneath the near full moon. I loved it. I turned off my headlamp and ran by moonlight. I could see cars approaching way in the distance, and I'd turn on my headlamp so they could see me. Otherwise I just ran. Around mile 5 was a pleasant surprise of a pallet of water as an unmanned water stop. I drank around a half bottle to wash down my emergency Excedrin.

Exchange 23: a most welcome bathroom. When I sat in the bathroom at 5:30 AM, I thought I was hallucinating because I saw flashes of red. Then I realized it was my own taillight. I gulped another Double Shot, grabbed a new pack of snacks. On the next 9 miles, there was van support, and I asked Marco to start meeting me every 3 miles with Gatorade.

Leg 24: The shoulder waxed and waned. I was hoping for a sunrise, but the sky just gradually changed from black to gray. Marco giving me Gatorade helped break up my journey as I felt fatigue setting in. In retrospect, I think I wasn't eating enough. There was a public porta-potty in Glen Ellen, and when I started running again I noticed blood on my arm. My mind flashed through many theories of where this blood was coming from, all of which were fairly gross. Answer? My thigh chafe was so bad it was oozing blood. Gross. Finally I saw the one mile to go sign, and I was at the exchange!

Exchange 24: Until 9 AM, the school auditorium was open for sleeping. I sacked out on the stage in the darkness for about 40 minutes. Too wired from caffeine to sleep, but it felt darn good to be lying down.

Marco, Matt, Cory and I had a great breakfast at Community Cafe with $5 mimosas. Cory is the guy I want in my van, as he led the Mimosa Train.

Exchange 30: The RagMag said there was sleeping here. There was no sleeping, only an open field with some tents. I laid on the ground in the shade of a tent. The day was getting quite warm. Here's where the relay started to fall apart. We'd projected a 5 pm finish. We were running a little behind, and now thought we'd finish at 6 PM, in plenty of time for the 8 pm finish.

But Tammy, our leg 29 runner, was missing. She hadn't come in from her leg. The course officials said for van 2 to start so we wouldn't get behind. We tried to figure out how we could a) run our legs and pick up runners and b) find Tammy. John started running leg 30. Marco started running leg 31. Matt tried to figure out what to do, when we got a text from Marco. Tammy was on HIS leg, and he sent us a GoogleMaps pin of where he'd seen her. Matt said the absolute right thing "I don't care about the race time or finish, we need to find Tammy, NOW." We dropped Cory off and found Tammy, disoriented and thirsty after wandering around for 9 miles.

Exchange 34: We'd dropped Matt for his 7.9 leg. The day had heated up to 86 degrees, and we realized we were almost out of water. We made a quick pit stop at Oakville Grocery, and also bought chips for Matt. Cory and I ate almost all the chips while waiting.

Leg 36: The final 5.2 miles. It was hot, I was underfed, my thighs chafed, my feet were blistered, and there was a strong hot breeze against me. At least the St Helena scenery was beautiful. The ending was anti-climatic--I turned off the road into an ankle turning field, and ran under an arch with the team.

Lessons learned:
Bring bodyglide. always
Running in the dark is fun
Mimosas make everything better
Marco can be my crew anytime!
I love relays

I called it a "hell" of an experience, cause honestly some parts were hellish. Not knowing where Tammy was was terrible. Long stretches of road with a narrow shoulder were worrisome. Getting dehydrated and hungry was no fun. But getting to hang out with friends and see some beautiful roads is a hell of a time!

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