Sunday, May 10, 2015

Ragnar Cape Cod 2015

For the second year in a row, I was lucky enough to get to take part in the Cape Cod Ragnar Relay as a member of one of the NE Spahtens' teams, the NE Spahten Ninjas. Ragnar is a multi-day 192 mile running relay. Twelve person teams take turns running three times to cover the distance. Each "leg" (Note: Ragnar term for each run) is a different distance. You run every twelfth person, which means you find yourself running at crazy times of the day and night. This year, I was runner six and ran 4.2 miles, 5.5 miles, and 3.1 miles at around 10:30 a.m., 9:40 p.m., and 7:30 a.m.

It's interesting the difference that a year makes. Last year, I remember a mixture of excitement and stress about Ragnar. My time doing Ragnar 2014 with the co-ed team from last year was my first with the Spahtens, and committing to 36 hours with some people you don't know is kind of an intimidating proposition, especially for someone like me who has a private tendency towards shyness. Of course, my time with the co-ed team last year was one of the most fun I can think of. As a result, I approached this year's race with only excitement. The NES Ninjas team was a blend of around half of the team from last year, mixed in with a few new folks (some of whom I knew from the bigger Spahtens group.) Like last year, our group was focused on the experience more than completing. The group was filled with fun, enthusiastic, supportive, and cooperative people -- just the sort of folks that you'd want to be with if you were going to spend the better part of two days together. For our team we had:

Runner 1: Jessica
Runner 2: Bobby
Runner 3: Jesika
Runner 4: Paul
Runner 5: Wes
Runner 6: Nicole (me)
Runner 7: Mike
Runner 8: Stephen
Runner 9: Jonna
Runner 10: Aaron
Runner 11: Cathy
Runner 12: Josh

Our adventure began Friday morning at around 4:30 a.m. when we left the hotel where five out of six members of our van stayed over (the last lucky person living close enough to drive from his house!). The running route for the Cape Cod Ragnar was more or less the same as last year, meaning that we were once again starting on the beach in Hull and making our way to the Monument in Provincetown. Because our team consisted of people running at all difference paces, we wanted to start the race fairly early and give ourselves ample time to make it to Provincetown. We were scheduled to start running at 6:00 a.m. and needed to get to Hull by 5:00 a.m. to go through the pre-race safety check and have our amazing team captain, Jessica, collect our materials, such as flags, bibs, and our finisher t-shirts.

The beach in Hull was really lovely in the morning. I snapped a few pictures, and we took an obligatory group selfie.

Jess was first up, as runner 1. She was running the same legs that I ran last year, so her first one was a 5.1 miler from the beach in Hull to Hingham. We crowded up along the chute that led out of the starting arch to cheer Jess on. Since she lined up in the front, we started the relay winning!

While Jess was logging her miles, we grabbed some coffee and bagels from the local Dunkin' Donuts. I doubt that "Dunks" is reading this, but if they are, I would say seriously consider being a sponsor for Ragnar. All of the Dunkin' Donuts we went into that were around exchanges where filled with Ragnar participants and on the end of day two of Ragnar, I was pretty sure that the cappuccino I got at the Dunks outside Truro was the best beverage I had ever had. 

After our quick coffee and bagel pick-up, we piled into the van to head over to the next exchange to meet Jess and see off Bobby. It was interesting getting to be runner six instead of runner one. By this time last year, I would have already been done with my run; here, I was waiting for everyone in my van to finish before I even started. In a way this was awesome. By the time I got to run, I was really really ready to get out and do it. It was also a different sort of challenge because I knew on my last leg that everyone would be done, while I had to keep mentally prepared. I wanted to make sure to nail all three of my runs. If you read my post about last year, you know I was a little bit disappointed about performance on my first leg. I used that to make sure I did a great job on my last two legs; however, this year, I wanted to make sure to nail all three runs and really do my part of the team. I had some pretty modest distances compared to some of my teammates, and I saw that I could help give them a bit of extra time by getting all of my runs done in the time predicted. These were my friends, and I wanted to run well to support them. In a way, that is the huge bonus of Ragnar: You run great because you want to do the most you can for your team. 

After a few more runs by my teammates, we headed over to exchange six where I would be taking over from Wes for my first run, a 4.2 miler from Marshfield to Duxbury Beach. My run into Duxbury, would take us to the first major exchange. At Ragnar, you dive your 12-person team into two groups, each of which have a van. The major exchanges are the ones where your two vans meet up because someone from van 1 is passing off to van 2 or vice versa. After my run, I would be passing off to Mike (aka. my ginger brother) from van 2. 

I was excited to get started. We reached the church in Marshfield where my run would start. I was feeling pretty good about a 10:00 a.m. 4.2 miler. I was doing 4.5 mile or more training runs around three days a week leading up to Ragnar, so this was well within my ability. Plus, 10:00 a.m. is my favorite time to exercise. I had eaten a nice mellow breakfast, and was feeling good. I was ready to go. I headed over to the exchange area with the rest of the team to wait for Wes to come and hand off the baton (really a slap bracelet). Wes is a speedy runner, so I didn't have to wait long for him to come, and then I was off!

I am not a person who finds that running comes easily to me. I am a kinetic person, but my build is not really optimized for running. I like to run, most days, but it's always work. A great run is always a special and memorable thing; I don't have that many runs where I feel just fantastic. This run I did. The entire 4.2 miles to Duxbury Beach was awesome. It was one of the best feeling runs I have ever had, and I enjoyed it immensely. The weather was gorgeous -- sunny but not hot. The wind was at my back the entire way, and I was running either on the flats or on a slight downhill grade of no more than a percent. Perfect. For Ragnar, I was treating myself to music while running, and I ran along feeling great and enjoying my tunes. The run had some nice views. The run started with a section that ran along a street with oceanfront properties, and I enjoyed some house hunting. I then turned and ran through some salt marshes. There were some birdhouses set up, but I didn't spot any interesting local fauna, sadly. The course was well marked, and soon, I was heading up a narrow road, watching carefully for vans, as I made my way to Duxbury Beach. I could see the inflatable arch that marked the start of the run for van 2 in the distance. As I came into the beach area, I had to finish the run along a sandy stretch of road, making my way to the beach and the exchange where I handed off to Mike. Coming into the exchange was fantastic since the entire team, from both vans, was there to cheer me on; plus, I was excited to see my ginger bestie.

While I was out running, the team had the chance to take an amazing selfie with the full group (minus me because I was running). When I reached the exchange I got to say, "Hello," to the group from van 2 and meet the couple of new people I didn't know yet. Everyone was super awesome. We swapped hugs and people said, "Great job." I was pleased at my fantastic first run -- much different from last year.

We didn't hang out in Duxbury long, though there were some vendor tables at the beach. It was lunch time, and we were eager to catch some brunch. I sent a quick postcard to my mother from one of hte tables, and quickly changed into clean clothing in the van. I had  earned my awesome Spahtens t-shirt from the #racelocal series I've been doing with the team. Knowing he's see me, Paul brought my shirt to Ragnar, making me the third person (after Paul and his wife, Beth) to get the shirt. I modeled it outside the van, so that Jess and Paul could have a picture for the #racelocal Facebook page. The t-shirt is super soft and the logo is super giant. #racelocal people are in for a treat!

With Bobby's Yelp skills and Jesika's enthusiasm for cute place-names. We settled on a restaurant called the Blueberry Muffin for brunch. This place gets an A+ rating for its great food and service. Honestly, I have never seen such giant pancakes in my entire life. I had an omelet, which was large, but still kind of something you'd see. Paul, Jess, and Bobby got pancakes, and they were seriously giant and without a doubt the size of my head. They were super entertaining to see. 

After brunch, we headed over to the next major exchange, exchange twelve, in Buzzards Bay / Sandwich. We had finished our vans set of legs around 11:00 a.m., and we're schedule to run again until around 6:00 in the evening. We had around four and a half to five hours to kill at exchange twelve. We spent some time wandering around, stretching our legs, and digesting from our big lunch. 

Bobby tagged some vans with our Spahten magnets. (Note: One of the things to do at Ragnar is "tag" other vans. In general, teams decorate there vans and then also get magnets with there team logo on them. At exchanges, people surreptitiously go around an put their team magnet on another team's van. This is called tagging. At the end of the race, someone gets to bring home the magnets.) Bobby was an expert tagger, and did a lot of tagging for our team. 

During our downtime, we also decorated our van a bit. Jesika did a great job drawing the Spahten logo on the side of the van. We also tracked our "kills" on the side of the van. Anytime you pass someone while you're running one of your legs, this is called a kill, and it's Ragnar custom for teams to track their kills. I got a couple of kills on each of my legs, and got to add those tallies to the side of the van. Some of our faster runners would get over a half dozen kills per leg. It wasn't competitive for us; just a fun way to take part in a Ragnar tradition. We also added our names to the back of the van and added checks for each leg we completed. 

Even after lunch and decorating the van, we had a lot of time to kill. We all made a mental note to bring some games for next year. Last year, van 2 had come to meet us at this exchange, meaning that we spent some time socializing with them. This year, van 2 was doing some sightseeing, so it was just us. Mostly, the five of us hung out and enjoyed each other's company. Bobby, Wes, and I played a rousing game of dots. Categorize this under you-had-to-be-there-to-understand. Inevitably (and pleasingly) lots of inside jokes occur at Ragnar as a result of spending many sleep deprived hours with a handful of people in a small space. It's part of what makes Ragnar so special, but it's hard to explain this joy to outsiders specifically, though conceptually I am sure others have had this sort of experience. Either way, we hung out for a while having good times and waiting for Josh to come in and Jess to start the next set of legs for our van, which would keep us busy until around 11:00 p.m.

We were a bit ahead of schedule, so it was a bit before 6:00 p.m., I believe, when Josh came in. His van hadn't quite arrived yet, but we were there to cheer him on and send Jess off. The next set of legs was fairly quick. I would be doing my next run at around 9:45 p.m. 

The 9:45 p.m. run would be my night leg. As time went by and it got closer to the time of my run, I found I was feeling kind of poorly. We had all been up since around 4:00 a.m., and my body felt like it really was the middle of the night. I'd just had a peanut butter sandwich for dinner because I was feeling a bit nauseous. I was not looking forward to my night run. This was one of those times when being on a team is key. If it had been me by myself I would have thrown in the towel and said, "Forget about it. No run today." As it was, I had my team to support. I had to run 5.5 miles, my longest leg, and I wanted to do it well. 

Everyone could tell that I wasn't feeling it, and they were really encouraging. This, plus some nice texts from people back home, helped motivate me. I was still feeling not 100% as I got to the exchange point to meet up with Wes, but I felt mentally focused. 

It was pitch dark when I started my 5.5 run through Hyannis. For the first couple of minutes, I felt a bit queasy, but as I kept running and interesting thing happened, and I started to feel better. About a mile into the run, I knew I would be fine and dedicated myself to enjoying the unique experience of a nighttime run. 

I am not, nor have I ever been, an evening person, and I do most of my exercise before lunchtime. For me, this makes the night run during Ragnar an even more unique experience. Running at night is fascinating. Even with the headlamp and reflective gear, nighttime running seems more like floating through dark space. It's hard to have a sense of movement, and, at times, it almost didn't feel like I was running. I had a sense of flow, and the miles seemed to roll by pretty seamlessly. I could detect some large houses and beaches as I ran along. There were plentiful signs to show me that I was on the right path (much better than for my night leg last year when I feared getting lost). So I went along an enjoyed the experience. Everything felt fine, and even the last mile where there was some slight elevation gain felt like no problem. My tired body was doing fine. I took the last turn and knew that sleep was at the end of it. I sped up and made it to the exchange where I handed off to Mike and then took a quick moment to congratulation Aaron who had completed a half marathon length leg while we were chilling out during the afternoon. 

While van 2 headed out to follow their runner, we went back to the van so that I could change and we could make our way to the next major exchange. The second set of legs for van 2 were all either moderate or short distances, meaning that we'd be running again in a little over four hours. We wanted to get some shuteye before Jess had to run again at 3:00 a.m.

When we reached the next major exchange, I took the opportunity to go into the school that was hosting us and brush my teeth. Paul and Wes took their sleeping bags into the school for some sleep on the gym floor. I opted to stay in the van with Jess, Bobby, and Jesika. I rolled out my bag on one of the bench seats (which was the perfect size for me) and promptly fell asleep. Apparently there was all sorts of action in the van with people coming and going, but I had no idea. I probably got two to two and a half hours of sleep, which felt great. 

I got up when Paul and Wes returned to the van. I was feeling kind of depleted because I hadn't eaten after my night leg. To ward off dizziness, I snacked on a larabar. I really didn't feel like eating, but I knew from last year that sometimes it's necessary to force yourself to eat something. I am glad I did because after the larabar and some cherry juice, I felt loads better and was able to coordinate myself to get out and see Jess off for her last leg. This was the crazy night run I had done last year, so I knew Jess was going to have a very unique experience.

After Jess's run, we were on the move again. It was dark for Bobby's run and for the start of Jesika's 9.4 miler. Her run, one of the toughest, in my opinion. Brought us into the daylight hours. When Jesika got back to the van, I realized that it was time for me to get ready for my last leg. Paul had a 5.6 miler and then Wes had 3.5 miles to run. I knew that they would both be pretty quick, and I wanted to be ready. I got out of the van to see Paul come in from his last leg, and then we had to move quickly to get to the next exchange before Wes. We booked it, and it was a good thing. By the time we got to the van and I walked down to the exchange point it was a short wait for Wes.

One does not really feel all that motivated to run 3.1 miles after running almost ten miles already and sleeping very little. I just wanted to get this finished! A 3.1 mile run is a pretty short on for me. I usually run 4 or 4.5 miles during training and, as I mentioned before, had been doing regular 4.5 milers for Ragnar training. I knew I could just bang this run out.

My third leg went through Eastham. My legs felt pretty tired and my right ankle was bothering me a little bit from a pothole I had stepped in wrong during my night leg, but overall I felt physically okay. It was only 3.1 miles. I willed myself to keep moving. This was a bit more of a challenge than on some of the other legs, but I was determined that I would not walk -- not once -- during all of my legs. I focused on supporting the team and putting one foot in front of the other. I made deals with myself  of the sort that one does when one is tired and running, such as, "Do this, and you never have to run again." The third leg was almost entirely on a gentle uphill. It was only a percent or two grade most of the time, but cumulatively it got a bit challenging feeling. When I'm having a bit of a difficult time during a run, I like to count. If I'm doing slightly over 10:00 miles then I know a mile takes 600 seconds. For the last mile, I began to count down from 600. I only had 549 second to go. Now only 466. I kept counting. It was only second, and I could do anything for a few seconds. I focus on getting to the finish line, slapping off that bracelet on Mike's wrist, and being done, knowing I had done a good job and my part for the group. I kept moving, going as quickly as I could. "Let's get this done." I made a turn and could see Nauset High School where my run would end. I put on a final burst of speed and turned into the parking lot. I slapped off to Mike and was done!

Almost everyone from vans 1 and 2 was at the exchange point. We had a little bit of time before van 2 had to go off to meet Mike, so we headed back to van 1 so that I could change. Our van was done, and we were planning to get some Dunks and then head over to the final exchange in Provincetown where we were schedule to finish as a team by around 1:20 p.m. I was eager to change into comfy clothing, but allowed for a quick photo by a team van for Ginger Strong. (Dear Ginger Strong team. I don't know who you are, but you have competition -- our team had a statistically significant number of gingers!) 

We headed out to Provincetown with a brief stop at Dunkin' Donuts for that earlier mentioned best cappuccino ever. In P-town we took the ample time allotted to us before van 2 was schedule to arrive to start cleaning and organizing the van. We also explored the finish line festival area. This was similar to the exchange 6 area with sponsor tents, a Ragnar store, and hopping dance beats. We took the time to sign our names on the finishers wall before heading up to the Monument to have some lunch.

The lunch area had a "beer garden" and a lunch of chowder and wraps. It was pretty weak fare all around. There was no water up in the lunch area for those of us who don't really feel like a post-race beer and the sandwich was kind of inedible. This was made up for by the amazing views and the plentiful oyster crackers for the soup. 

Post-lunch, we headed back down to the the finish line area to wait for our last runner to come in. Van 2 arrived, which was nice, as it allowed us to hang out with the full group. Last year, van 1 and van 2 definitely interacted more than the two vans did this year, so it was a special treat whenever we were all together, especially since some of my van friends from 2014 defected to van 2 this year. (Mike. Aaron. You know who you are.)

One of the fun parts of Ragnar is running in with you final runner for the last few feet of the final leg. We spent some time waiting at the bottom of the hill for Josh. We'd been waiting a while when we got a text that said he had one mile left. Thinking I had some time, I stepped away for a minute and ended up missing the finish. The text had been delayed and he was actually just 200 yard away. Very very sadly, I missed crossing the line with the team. Fortunately, we had video footage that Paul took.

A video posted by Paul Jones (@nespahtenspaul) on

The medals that we got for Ragnar all had the same front, but on the the back contained puzzle pieces that together made the Ragnar logo.

There is not much more to say than that Ragnar proved to once again be a once-in-a-lifetime amazing event. Your team will make or break your Ragnar experience. I was luck enough to have a fantastic group to undertake this adventure with. Jess, Bobby, Jesika, Paul, Wes, Mike, Stephen, Jonna, Aaron, Cathy, and Josh, same time next year same place?

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