Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Race Report - Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago

It has now been a week and half since I did the Ragnar Relay from Madison, WI to Chicago, IL.  I am recovered fully but the race was quite hard.

First let me tell you I was on an "Ultra Team" which means instead of the usual 12 runners for a team, my team had only 6 runners.  This meant about double the distance and I was hoping for double the fun.  Well........ not quite.

The Ragnar Relay is an event that takes place all over the country with many different relays through some of the most beautiful parts.  This is the one that goes right through my neck of the woods and a lot of the course is on trails that I run on a regular basis.  Most teams consist of 12 runners who pile into 2 different vans and run a total of 3 different legs to complete the almost 200 miles to Chicago.  My team had only 1 van.  Since the race doesn't stop, runners run through the night and very little sleep (if any) is had.  Teams start in Madison at different times in order to try to finish close to the same time in Chicago for the post race party.  Some teams start as early as 5 or 6AM while other start as late as 5PM. That is the basics.

 Fat Tire Express:  Brian, Scott, Paul, Bill, Trisha, and Rob

My team was not a fast team.  We didn't go into this as a fast race and just as a bunch of runner out to have fun.  Sure, I had my goals for my legs, but we didn't care to go fast.  Our team started at 9AM and it was already very sunny and getting very warm.  The race already issued warning about keeping hydrated and watching your team closely.  We took this pretty seriously and made sure our guys (when we could find them) were well hydrated.

My team consisted of a friend of mine, Brian who invited me as well as his friend who have run as a team before.  So I met Paul, Rob, Trisha, and Scott too.  Paul was our first runner and was injured in his buildup so he took the shorter total distance.  He started pretty good in the heat but on his second of his 2 starting legs, slowed some.  This would be the case for 5 of our first runner.  It was very hot out, very sunny out, and not much relief.  It was tough.

Rob was second and our first problem occurred.  His first of 2 legs was only 2.9 miles so we drove ahead to the exchange to give him water there but he didn't show up anywhere near on time.  Turns out he and about 15 teams took a wrong turn due to bad marking and ran 2.5 miles down a road he wasn't suppose to.  Then after he and the others realized the problem when someone in a car told them, they had to back track another 2.5 miles.  Rob and a few other teams were going to take a "short cut" to the exchange area making their 2.9 mile leg a whopping 5 miles, some one on another team actually threatened to turn him and the other teams in for 'cutting the course' if they didn't go back to the place they went off course.  Hey, we weren't in this race to actually "race" it and we already went 2.5 mile extra and this guy had to be an ------- so Rob decided to go back and make his 2.9 mile leg into a  7.9 mile leg.

Scott before the heat completely beat him down.

Scott ran next and he had 17.5 miles to run for his 2 legs in the heat of the day.  He ran good for about 10 then the sun and heat got to him and he struggled in too.  Brian ran slower than he usually does too as he ran in the heat too.  Trisha ran slower too as she ran from the evening into the dusk time.

Brian happy to be done with his first run and Trisha ready to give it her best.

It was weird for me at first.  I almost felt like I wasn't apart of the team since I was our last runner and didn't go until about 9PM but I finally got my chance with 12.6 miles for my first run.  The sun went down so it was cooling off but still quite warm.  I ran completely on bike paths the entire way and was able to maintain 8:40's the entire way.  I did pass 1 runner out there but was passed by like 6 others as if I was standing still.  The really fast teams that started later in the day and had very fast runners were passing us.  By the time I was done, our team was about 3.5 to 4 hours behind where we should have been due to the extra miles run and the excessive heat slowing us.  This was a problem.

Paul, Rob, and Scott ran again much better in the cooler night but at exchange 18, we had a big problem to solve along with about 5 other teams.  With the super hot temperatures forecasted for Saturday and how far back we were, there was no way we would make the finish line until 9 or 10PM.  One of the race officials was able to get the race director on the phone (it was like 2:30AM now) and we were told to do what we needed to do to get to the finish line on time.  We could skip legs or double run (2 runners on 2 different legs at the same time).  Like I said before, we were not racing this so we took this in and made a few tough decisions.

Brian and Trisha ran their next 2 legs and I began my second run at 6:58AM.  It was already sunny and about 80F out so early.  I was told that when I started my leg that were were in the last 3 teams on the course.  IT was hot but I did finish the 11.8 miles at a pace of just over 10 per mile.  I did catch up to one team at the end of my leg and we pretty much ran it in the last mile together which was good.

Now we decided to take the advise and Paul, Rob, Scott, Brian, and Trisha all decided to run only 1 of their 2 remaining legs and we would skip ahead.  We were all tired as hell already and it was another scorcher out with no relief from the lake less than a mile away most of the run.  By skipping ahead, we finally saw a lot more teams and had people to run with.  When we go to exchange 30, Brian and I were waiting for Scott to finish and heard the race officials encouraging teams to do the same thing we were already doing.  Skipping legs and double running.  Most of the teams at that time at exchange 30 would not make the finish line it time too.  In the end, I would think that over 50 of the the 400 teams ended up skipping legs or double running.  It was just way too hot and humid to run fast.  It was already in the 90's.

When Trisha finally started her final 4 miles, we drove ahead and I got out to start my final miles.  Now I am stubborn at times and I came into this race wanting to do the entire 37.5 miles I signed up for so with my teams blessing, I decided to attempt the final 13.1 miles with the goal of completing it.  Man was it hot out.  I ran most of the beginning part taking breaks every mile, then the breaks came more frequently as all I wanted to do was finish.  By 8 miles in, I was so tired that I went to running a quarter mile, walking a quarter mile and I did that the rest of the way.  I finished my final half marathon legsin a time of 2:48 (ugh) but met my team near the finish line so we could cross together.

We finished (sort of).  Not sure how many miles we ended up running total but we didn't care and neither did Ragnar.  It was hot, it was very sweaty and stinky and I has ZERO sleep over the night.  I walked the 150 meters to the lake and walked in the cold water to give my legs a breather, it felt great.  We have our Ragnar Medal and my team deserved them.  I am not sure I ever felt so tired toward the end of a race before and I have crashed in burned in marathon quite a few times.  But I didn't care.

Scott and I and the finish line right before we sat down for a well earned cold beer.

In the end, it was a fun event.  I got to run with some great people I just met and finished 37.5 miles in a 21.5 hour stretch.  Will I do Ragnar again?  Not sure.  The heat really killed us and soured my opinion even though Ragnar had nothing to do with it.  I suppose I may do it again but would prefer not to be on an ultra team.  I would have liked some sleep but it is very difficult with an Ultra team in 1 van when you need to support your runners.

There were some pretty cool things that happened though.  I was able to see some of my friends who ran on a regular 12 lady team made of of Midwest Bloggers.  I got to see them at 3 or 4 different exchanges since we were close at that time.  They were all decked out in their panty pirate themed garb with vans decorated.  Some of the vans looked really cool while other just looked dumb and juvenile.  (By the way, we didn't decorate at all, yeah I know, party poopers).  Teams really helped other teams a lot out there.  We gave tons of water to other runners and we were offered a lot too.  Runner take care of their own!

Then there were some crappy things like to hot weather and crabby runners bent on making sure all the "Rules" were kept.  And what is with the safety rules on steroids!!!  You have to cross the road with a flag?  What, am I a child?  There was one exchange where a volunteer made sure we had our flag and vests on a 7PM when the sun was still well up and the road to cross was more like a driveway than a road. It is sort or ironic that they were hell bent on these rules but didn't cancel the race due to excessive heat.  Don't get me wrong, I was ll in favor of the race going on in the heat, there is personal responsibility here.

Then there were run teams that had to "kill" as many teams as possible and make sure you knew it by marking it off on their vans.  Yeah, I get it, it is fun to do that, I can see but I wonder how many of those teams removed a "kill" when they were passed?  I am guessing ZERO.  Heck, I got 'killed' like 30 or more times in just my last legs.

If you were at this Ragnar, I hope you had fun.  I certainly did even with the conditions.  A different type of race is always fun to try and I am not completely saying no to future one, but I will be cautious before saying yes.

Keep on Running!!!

1 comment:

Melanie said...

Oh goodness, it sounds like this race was much hotter this year than it was when I did it last year. We had perfect and amazing weather. I've done the TN Ragnar twice as well which is in November when it's pretty chilly here... I LOVE running them. I am sure it's much better when it's not so hot. I also have never done an ultra one so that may make a difference too!