Sunday, May 15, 2016

Ragnar Cape Cod 2016

My 2017 race season kicked-off this weekend with one of my all time favorite events, Ragnar Cape Cod. 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 five and ran 7.3 miles, 5.5 miles, and 4.6 miles at around 9:00 a.m., 9:00 p.m., and 7:00 a.m. for a total of 17.5 miles, the second longest in my van.

For the third year in a row, I was lucky to spend the weekend as a member of the NE Spahtens' team, the NE Spahten Ninjas. Our team evolved out of the 2014 NE Spahtens Co-ed team. We've had some people cycle on and off, but kept a similar core group. This year, I was luck to once again share Van 1 and the NES Ninjas team with a group of great people.

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

We started off the relay on Friday morning bright and early. A group of us had spent the night at the Holiday Inn Express in Braintree, about a thirty minute drive from the starting line in Hull. At 3:30 a.m. we headed off to Hull and the starting line -- we had a 5:00 a.m. start time. As a group with mixed running speeds, we needed all the time we could get to cover the almost 200 miles between Hull and Provincetown.

When we arrived in Hull it was practically void of people. Check-in, as a result was fast. Could it have been more organized? Yes. I'm pretty sure we didn't get half the stuff that people who checked in later in the day got and there was a bit of a problem finding our bibs. Fortunately, everything worked out. A good thing because this year our team captain, Jess, was not in the van. This meant that when we arrived in Hull we were a bit at loose ends. Based on what must have only been a lack of sleep induced lack of logic, it was decided that I was "in charge" enough to pick up the packets and organize the team in Hull. (As a note, I did not take this very seriously and it can be said I was basically not actually in charge of anything.)

Hull is a lovely place to start any relay. The weather on Friday morning at 5:00 a.m. was mild with temperatures in the mid-50s. The sun was half a blood red orange on the horizon. The sky promised pleasing morning weather, perfect for a run.

After check-in we began to get ready. Our first runner was Cathy. The first run of 6.7 miles would be her longest run to date. We snapped a quick team selfie and went back to the van to collect Cathy's gear before heading back to the inflatable arch starting line and sending her on her way.

After launching Cathy, we hit up a Dunkin Donuts and headed to the first exchange. I've been sticking to tea for most of the last month and a half but decided that if there was ever a time for coffee it was Ragnar and immensely enjoyed a cappuccino. After dropping off most of the group at the first exchange, a couple of us headed back along the running route to check in on Cathy, take her extra layers, and bring her a gel. She was doing great, so we headed back to exchange one where we inflated a small shark inflatable and alligator, Alfred.

Why an alligator inflatable named, Alfred; you might wonder? Because Ragnar. Yes, the question as to the "Why?" of inflatables was asked by your's truly in our NES Ninjas FB group prior to the race and the answer, "Because Ragnar," was the reply. There are aspects of certain experiences that are inexplicable to those outside of that experience. Suffice it to say that there are aspects of Ragnar that fit that paradigm. 

Soon an excited Cathy was finished with her run. She checked her first leg off the back of our van as we send Erick off for his run. 

The decoration of the vans is a Ragnar tradition. It's customary to do a few things: 

1. Check off your completed legs on the van.

2. Decorate your van with your team name.

3. Record your "kills" on your van. In Ragnar speak, a "kill" is anytime when you pass another runner during your leg. I had two kills on my first leg, two on my second, and one on my last.

4. Tag other vans. Teams usually get magnets with their team name on them. At the exchanges you go from van to van tagging them with your magnets. The goal is to do this with the utmost stealth and tag without being seen. At the end of the relay, you get to keep all the magnets that your van got tagged with. Bobby is a tagging ninja and was responsible for all our tagging. (Well, I did one or two, but only under his guidance.) As a reward, Bobby took home the magnets on our van.

In 2014 and 2015 the legs for Ragnar Cape Cod remained the same. For 2016, the first legs for van 1 were switched up a bit, meaning that we had a couple of new exchange points. After Bobby headed out for his run, we headed off to find the exchange where I would take over for him. Alas, some confusion happened, resulting in our van ending up at the fifth exchange instead of the fourth. Poor Bobby! When we arrived at exchange five, I hopped out of the van and ran over to the exchange point where Bobby slapped off to me using the slap bracelet that serves as a baton for Ragnar.  

My first run was my longest at 7.3 miles. The run was through the town of Marshfield. It started with around three or so miles of rolling hills in a residential area. 9:00 a.m. is a pretty standard time for me to be doing some exercise, so I felt pretty good for this entire run. At first my legs were a bit less than springy from sitting in a van for hours. (I am used to standing at a standing desk at work all day, which I enjoy much more than sitting.) However, after a mile, they felt fine. The rolling hills were not as challenging as I thought they would be from driving along them in the van and the real estate was interesting to watch. I like to think of running as exploring on foot, and new neighborhoods are great for House Hunter-style activity. 

After a few miles, the run transitioned to a main road. For the last half of the leg we were running along a main drag on the sidewalk. This was less than pleasing, but the run was flat and easy. My teammates met me at a midway point where I got a quick drink of water and continued on my way. 

Over the last year, I have started running without any sort of tracking. I don't listen to music, I don't bring a GPS watch, and I have no idea about my pace or distance. All I do is keep track of my time (more or less) on my Fuelband. I run about a 10:00 mile -- perhaps a bit slower. When I go out, if I want to run, say, 7 miles, I'll plan to run for around an hour and fifteen minutes. This strategy works for me. I am very ultra organized in all aspects of my life. Running is one of the only places where I allow myself this flexibility. This is where I relax. Since adopting this strategy, I have been running much more and enjoying my time on my runs much more. Running is training, but it's also, even more importantly, for my mental health. It helps me de-stress. I follow a general guide of doing 4.5 miles on Monday and Wednesday during the lunch hour and doing a long run of 7 - 12 miles on the weekend. This works. In fact, I think it's working pretty well since I had three good runs during Ragnar, covered 17.5 miles in total and did not feel sore.

The stretch of my run that was along the main road was flat and easy. It was unexciting, in terms of the scenery but it was fine. There was one exciting moment in which an elderly man in a truck came far too close to me in a cross walk. (Three runner actually were very alarmed and checked to make sure I was okay.) Fortunately, the run was uneventful. Soon, I spotted the church where I'd be handing off to Paul. I ran in, we did a quick chest bump (a team tradition!) and then I slapped off to Paul, and he was on his way.

Paul's run was the one I did last year and finished at Duxbury Beach. It was also where we passed off to van 2. Any exchange where we get to see our fellow teammates from van 2 is an excellent one. Duxbury is a major exchange where there are also sponsor tents, since it's where van 2 does their check-in. When we arrived at Duxbury, we quickly found our fellow NES Ninjas and did some socializing and, of course, selfie taking. (Ragnar is pretty much an excuse to take a ton of selfies, I've learned.)

After Paul arrived and Aaron set off, our van was off until around 5:30 p.m. It was only 11:00 a.m. (though we'd been up since 3:00 in the morning.) We strolled around and looked at some of the sponsor tents. This past year, Ragnar switched title sponsors from New Balance to Reebok. I love Reebok -- they are super nice to the NE Spahtens, and I product test for them -- however, I really liked New Balance as the Ragnar sponsor. New Balance provided really nice tech shirts for all finishers and did both men and women's fits. Reebok provided a polyblend cotton unisex (so men's) t-shirt. Kind of a bummer. Otherwise, the gear they were selling seemed fine, though I did not get anything. Other sponsor tents were around, such as Nuun and Nathan, but there was nothing too exciting either here or at the final exchange in Provincetown. Ragnar has great brand recognition, but I have yet to pick up any of their swag, which I find a bit overpriced for the value. Others, I know, feel differently, so take this with a grain of salt. 

After we finished up at Duxbury with our shopping, we headed out for breakfast. Last year, we had eaten at a fantastic place called The Blueberry Muffin where people had pancakes that were head-sized. We headed back there for another delicious meal. Again, I opted to not have pancakes but instead to have eggs. (In this case, scrambled eggs on corn cakes with cheese and a dash of salsa and beans.) I wanted the protein for recovery and was feeling like I wanted to be "responsible" with my eating choices. That being said, those pancakes always look amazing -- next year I might have to go in that direction.

From there we headed across the Sagamore Bridge to exchange 13 in Sandwich, Massachusetts. We had a number of hours to kill at this exchange, which provided a nice opportunity for everyone to relax and visit. Bobby and I spent some time decorating the van. Mostly Bobby decorated and I handed him markers and wrote the occasional bit of text. At that point I was pretty tired, so I rolled out my sleeping bag for a quick nap. I slept for maybe 30 to 45 minutes, but it definitely felt good. Soon we had some visitors from some other NE Spahtens on various other Ragnar teams. I spent some time visiting with Spahten friend, Niki.

At this point, as the picture above attests to, it had gotten kind of chilly. By around the time that Cathy was scheduled to run again, rain was just starting to roll in. It held off for most of her run before beginning as Erick took over.

I was scheduled to take over for Bobby at around 9:00 p.m. Bobby and Paul had purchased glowing tutus for their night legs. (Actually, the tutu is a thing to discuss. Bobby's tutu came in the most excellent packaging. The front said, "AvidLove: Here is the Right for you as the Mr. Right beside you. AvidLove make your life better, higher, comfortable!" The product name was written on the back "AvideLove Women Sexy Organza Tutu Multi-layers LED Party Dance Skirt Light Up Dress Petticoat Green." How the tutu purports to makes one's life higher I cannot say, but I am curious...)

 Bobby is quite the speedy fellow because by the time I made it out to the exchange to do my 5.5 mile night run, he was waiting in glowing tutu and in the steady rain. I felt terrible for missing him twice now, especially in the weather, and vowed to not make him wait next time. For the end of his third run the entire team was there to cheer.

My night leg was 5.5 miles of dark wet running. There is something interesting about running, especially about running at 9:00 p.m. soaking wet in a place you do not know where you cannot see anything beyond the rain drops that catch the beam of your headlamp. I don't always like running, but I always love it.

I run for myself. I run because when I run all the things in life that hurt or are hard or are unfair seem a little bit less hurtful or hard or unfair. Maybe that's not true. Maybe those things all still hurt but the way in which they hurt seems manageable because all one can feel is one's legs working and one's lungs breathing and one's feet rapping against the ground. When I run I don't think of anything else but running, or, rather, I think of everything else; however, I can think of it in a way that's not judging or mitigating. I think of things in a way where I don't manage those feelings. The truth is when you run at 9:00 p.m. in the dark and the wet and without any idea of where you are it's all the things one might imagine -- a drag and uncomfortable and the lights from people's windows seem like the glow of something sensible and a place where you should be. It's also wonderfully liberating and peaceful and feels like flying through the void of space.

I got back to the van entirely wet and quickly changed into some sweats and pulled out my sleeping bag. I wasn't cold from my run since it was mild, but I wanted to stay warm just in case. Paul was scheduled to finish his run at 11:00 p.m., from there, was planned to head over to the next major exchange, Monomy Regional High School in Harwich where we'd have until 2:45 a.m. to rest. I must have fallen asleep during the ride over because next thing I knew it was 12:30 a.m., the rain had stopped, and we were in Harwich. Monomy was the last place to get a shower. Last year, I had slept through the stop in Harwich and missed my chance at a shower. I was tired -- I had run 12.8 miles after only sleeping for five hours Thursday night and had been up for almost 24 hours. I knew a shower would be ideal, as I truly regretted not taking the opportunity to take one last year. I dragged myself out of my sleeping bag, grabbed my stuff, and headed into the school where I donated $5 and took an amazing hot shower in the school's new locker room.

The shower felt amazing and would be on my list of must-do things for suggestions for first time Ragnar runners. I headed back to the van with hopes of sleeping for another hour and a half. Unfortunately, the shower had woken me up a bit, and it was as a tad noisy. I rested but sleep was elusive. Soon it was time to go.

Ironically, it was once we were on the road that I fell asleep. After Cathy got off to the exchange, we headed out with me still curled in my sleeping bag. A couple of hours must have passed because I missed Cathy coming back and Erick heading out. I only woke up when Wes was leaving for his 9.5 miler. I dozed for a tiny bit more before realizing that I needed to wake up, change into running cloths, and eat. Bobby had a 5.7 mile run and then I was going to need to be ready for my last run, a 4.5 miler.

I changed in my sleeping bag and coordinated a Larabar which I planned to eat right before Bobby set out so that I'd have at least something in my stomach. My last real meal had been brunch at The Blueberry Muffin, and I'd just had a bagel, some jerky, and Twizzlers for dinner. Even though I wasn't sure how hungry I was, at least a little bit of food was in order.

My legs were feeling fine. With the long runs I had been doing on the weekend my running fitness was better than it had been for all my past Ragnar races. I had run my first two legs pretty well and was looking forward to putting in a decent third run. I headed out to the exchange plenty early -- I was not going to miss Bobby this time! The entire van came so that we could cheer Bobby in with enthusiasm.

The last run of my day was also the most scenic. The first couple of miles wound through salt marshes. It was 7:00 a.m. The sun was up and the water was glimmering. I made my way up and down rolling hills and through quiet neighborhoods hemmed in by water with driveways of sand and shells. The first couple of miles were a bit of a challenge. I was tired and feeling a bit dizzy from lack of sleep and food and too much caffeine. I pushed on and eventually got my second wind. By the time I was finishing my last mile along the Cape Cod Rail Trail, I was almost sad for the running to be over. I finished strong, slapped off to Paul, and was done!

The van headed to Nauset Regional High in Eastham to do the final exchange to Van 2. I quickly changed and then went to the exchange point to hang out with all of my NE Ninja teammates as well as some of the members of the NE Spahtens men's team. Soon, we saw Paul coming around the corner. We cheered him in. Our van was done! We said, "Good bye," to Van 2 as they followed Aaron and headed off for the finish line in Provincetown with a quick stop for coffee and doughnuts at Dunks.

It was just shy of 9:00 a.m. when we pulled into Provincetown. We had until around 1:45 p.m. to wait for Van 2's arrival. We wandered down Commercial Street until we came to a restaurant called Post Office. There we got some good breakfast -- I opted for scrambled eggs with cheese in potato skins.

Since we still had a few hours, we took time to organize and clean the van. We wanted to be ready to head out and get home once we all crossed the finish line. We all pitched in so cleaning the van went very quickly and soon we were able to go up to the finish area.

The finish area of Ragnar is kind of unexciting. It mirror what you see at exchange 6 with some vendors. They also have some free food and beer up at the foot of the monument. The NE Spahtens men's team was at the monument, so we headed up and enjoyed some sun and beers as we waited for the rest of our group to show up. While being done early and getting to clean the van and coordinate is a perk to being in the first van, the wait at Provincetown where you're finished and tired and waiting on the rest of your team so you can really finish is totally a challenge. It was great to have so much good company to make the wait worth while.

We decided to head down to the finish line area to wait for the rest of the team at around 1:00 p.m. It's Ragnar tradition to meet runner 12 and cross the finish line with him. When Josh was about a mile out, we headed down the hill so that we could see him coming in. We lined up along the race route, all chest bumped Josh in turn, and then fell in step behind him to race across the finish line as our team name was announced.

Jess passed around team medals. The Ragnar medals are top notch; one bonus is that the back of them forms a puzzle. Expert puzzle master Sandy took the lead and we arranged our medals. An awesome last photo with an awesome team.

Ragnar is always one of my favorite events of the year. I am so lucky to have an amazing group of people to share this great experience with. The best part of Ragnar is the people, and the NE Spahtens are, without a doubt, the people to do Ragnar with. Ragnar 2014 was my first event with the Spahtens. I was shy and nervous thinking how was it that I had committed to spending 48 hours with a group of strangers. Now I couldn't feel more differently. The Spahtens are friends. Sure I see them less than I'd like (especially in the winter), a product of distance and my being in graduate school. Ragnar is a great opportunity to spend a lot of time with people whose company I enjoy. As a bonus we get to push ourselves and do some running. Honestly, what can be better than that? 

1 comment:

KHowes said...

This makes me want to run a Ragnar! Thanks for great details about what looks like an awesome race! I live right along the route in Manomet (a village in South Plymouth) so I will go out to cheer runners on this weekend! BTW...the original Blueberry Muffin is in Cedarville (another village farther south in Plymouth). Good luck, stay safe, and have fun!!