Sunday, May 14, 2017

Ragnar Cape Cod 2017

It's less than 24 hours since my team, the NE Spahten Ninja, completed the 2017 Cape Cod Ragnar Relay and already I can't wait for next year.

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 eight and ran 10.5 miles, 5.6 miles, and 2.3 miles at around 11:00 a.m., 10:00 p.m., and 8:00 a.m. for a total of 18.4 miles. As a bonus, my 10.5 miler was the second longest run on the team, which was great considering that I was scheduled for a 12 mile long run as I begin to taper for the Vermont City Marathon in two weeks.

This year, for the first time, I was in van 2. For Ragnar, your team divides into two vans of six that each serve to relay members as you leapfrog from exchange to exchange to meet your runners. For the first three years of my Ragnar experience, I was in van 1 (as runner 1, 6, and 5 for years 1 through 3, respectively). Van 1 tends to start running at 5:00 a.m., making for an early wake-up. Van 2, on the other hand, was scheduled to check-in at Exchange 6 at a little after 9:00 a.m. on Friday so that we could watch the safety video before we took over running at around 10:00 a.m.

Our (half) team of six, met up Thursday night at the Best Western Plus in Plymouth. The group consisted of Aaron, Geoff, Sandy, Sarah, Sean, and me. After a luxurious full night of sleep, we availed ourselves of the free hotel breakfast and headed off to meet van 1 at Duxbury Beach.

At Duxbury, things were just getting set-up by the Ragnar crew. We checked-in and walked around the sponsor tents. (I got a cold brew from one tent to save in the cooler we had in the van for tomorrow with breakfast.) Soon, our comrades in van 1 arrived! It was great to see Bobby, Jess, Josh, Paul, and Wes and to meet the new van 1 member, Peter. We took a few photos as a group (minus Aaron who had taken over from Jess and was out running). 

Then van 1 headed off to breakfast, and we in van 2 got ready to meet Aaron at the seventh exchange. I had a quick snack and coordinated my water bottle and chomps for my 10.5 miler. (Note: My leg had van support, meaning that my van could stop and drop off water and words of encouragement; however, they had to handle some logistics while I was out running. As a result, I wanted to be sure that I had everything I would need. In contrast, for my night run, I decided not to take anything and got to take advantage of the van support. Works well both ways!)

My run started in and ended in Carver, while occasionally taking me across the town line into adjacent Plympton. The first two miles of the route contained some serious rolling hills! The hills persisted throughout but were most extreme in the beginning. In my head I thought, "What is this! The Cape is supposed to be flat!" The entirety of the 10.5 miles was through some residential areas, often along semi-busy roads. Since our team had started so early, there were few other Ragnar runners on the road. I was passed by three other runners, and we shared friendly greetings. All-in-all, it was a fairly standard run. I felt fine about the distance -- I ran 20 miles last weekend in my final really really long run for my marathon training -- and moved along consistently. I averaged 10:29 miles, a pretty good pace for me, and an excellent pace for me considering the distance. The coolest part of the run was seeing a helicopter that was hovering over a farm doing some agricultural work. I texted my team a mile out and was greeted by the team at the exchange. It's always fun to run in and have someone to hand off to (and chest bump in the case of our team -- it's tradition). Our group is also great about coming out and cheering as a runner comes in and the next goes out. What better way to finish a 10.5 miler than to the cheers and well-wishes of your friends!

After the run, we headed back to the van. My teammates generously allowed me time for some stretching and a quick peanut butter sandwich and change of clothing. It was around 1:00 p.m. at this point, and I was hungry. I was glad we had ample snacks in the van. I refueled with the sandwich and some jerky. (I also might have indulged in my favorite race treat, Twizzlers!) I was lucky to have purchased a Dryrobe, an ultra-warm changing robe, that arrived just a day before Ragnar! The weather for Ragnar was cool this year. Temperatures were always in the upper 40s or low 50s. While this was great for running, it was a bit cold for standing around, especially for someone like me who is prone to feeling cold all the time anyway. I wore my Dryrobe pretty much all of the time when I wasn't running, and even slept in it a couple of times. Being cold for a couple of days would have been miserable -- Dryrobe to the rescue!

Our van continued dropping off runners and leapfrogging them from exchange to exchange for the rest of the afternoon. I couldn't believe how different the schedule felt from van 1! In van 1, at this point, I would have been super tired from getting up at 3:00 a.m. and would be napping (for ages and ages) while waiting for van 2. This time I was part of van 2, and I had gotten a good full night sleep, eaten at normal times, and was feeling my normal level of "active-ness." This made me probably a bit more engaged at exchanges, which was fun!

On our way to meet our Sean at exchange 12 in Buzzards Bay, we accidentally took a wrong turn that left us going the wrong way. This wasn't a problem -- we realize right away -- however, on our detour, we ran into a runner who had accidentally strayed several miles off course! Sandy quickly pulled over and Sarah jumped out. The poor guy had run over 10 miles (much of them uphill on a major road and in the wrong direction!) for his planned 9.6 miler. We quickly collected him and brought him with us to the exchange to meet his team. We were, sadly, late to meet Sean as a result. Fortunately, van 1 was there to cheer him on. We quickly collected him and were off to grab a 5:00 p.m. dinner at the British Beer Company before having to start our next set of runs around 10:00 p.m.

After a solid dinner, we headed to the next exchange where van 1 would hand off to us at around 9:30 p.m. Following a disappointing trip across the street to a Dunkin' that was already closed (at 7:00 p.m.! Seriously!) We all did some light resting / napping in the van. At this point, we were about half an hour or more ahead of schedule, so around 9:00 p.m., I got up and began or organize myself for my night run, which would start around 10:00 p.m. (instead of the originally scheduled 10:30 p.m.). During your night runs at Ragnar, or any time during the evening that you're out of the van, it's necessary to wear a reflective vest for safety. Headlamps are also mandatory for the night legs. Leg 20, my night leg, was 5.6 miles through Yarmouth.

In the past, I have had a kind of floating feeling on my night legs. This year, however, I felt much more grounded (better sleep?) and was pretty mindful as I ran. I was able to keep up a good pace as a result, at 10:30 per mile again. The marking were not as good as one might have hoped on this leg. As a result, I was very grateful when my team met me at around the 2.5 mile mark to cheer me on and give me some water. It was wonderful to see them and good to know that I was on the right track. I finished my night run in just under and hour and must have then gone into the van and crashed because the next thing I remember was that it was 2:00 a.m. and we were stopped, apparently having just passed off to van 1! More importantly, apparently there were showers to be had.

Shower! What? I woke up quite a bit when I heard this, especially since I had recalled learning there would be basically no shower service during Ragnar this year. (To which I had mentally replied, "Nooooo!") I hadn't brought a towel, but my teammate, Sandy, super super generously allowed me to use her towel after she had showered. After running 16 miles, I can assure you a shower is most welcome. I also grabbed an extremely delicious cup of soup from one of the volunteers at the school where we showed. Yum -- a 2:00 a.m. snack!

From there, we headed to the next exchange in Eastam where van 1 was scheduled to pass off to us for the final six legs at 7:00 a.m. When we arrived at Nauset Region High School, I decided to head into the gym to sleep. For all my past Ragnar races, I had crashed on the bench in the van. Other on my team has spread out on the long benches this time. (The same benches I had no doubt slept on during much of my team's legs over the previous hours.) My hip flexor was feeling very tight, and I didn't want to sleep scrunch in a chair, so I tagged along with Aaron and headed to the gym. There I caught a few hours of excellent sleep on the gym floor. It was chilly with the doors open, but it was great to stretch out. After that, I definitely felt better!

When I got up, I learned that van 1 was running a little bit behind. They had arrived at one of the exchanges to find that it was disorganized and lacking in volunteers. As a result, they had been delayed for 15 minutes. Other matters delayed them a bit further, meaning that I'd be running my final leg closer to 8:00 a.m. than 7:30 a.m.

At this point, we were getting farther out on the Cape. Beaches and dunes were in evidence. I was tired but certainly much less so than during other Ragnar races, mostly in part of having had a good night sleep Thursday into Friday.

My final leg was 2.3 miles in Wellfleet. It ended up most definitely being the most lovely run of all three legs of Ragnar 2017 for me. With such a short distance, I ended up running fairly quickly and finished with an average pace of something like 9:29 per mile. The run started with some rolling hill with the ocean on my right. It ended with a third to a half mile of downhill running, which let me run quite quickly into the finish. What a blast! "Comin' in hot" to finish my last leg of the relay was such fun. I passed off to Sandy and my running was done.

Van 2 still had a bit of running before we hit Provincetown. Aaron was schedule to run the last leg. Over the past three years, Josh had always run that leg and it was time for us to mix it up. Aaron kept up a good pace, even while running into a strong wind while carrying the American flag for the last four or so miles. Meanwhile, van 2 headed into P-town where we parked and went to meet up with van 1 and wait for Aaron to head in.

Josh and I headed down the road a little bit so that we could see when Aaron rounded the bend. He ran up the hill and the entire team joined together so that all twelve of us could cross the finish line together!

As always, Ragnar was an amazing time. Key to success is having an amazing team, and I'm lucky in this regard. How fortunate that the NE SpahtenNinjas took me on! I am already excited for our Ragnar Trail New England event next month and Ragnar Cape Cod 2018.

(Note: Photos are courtesy of Paul Jones and Josh Chace of the NE Spahtens. Team photo from Vince Rhee. Some are even taken by me!)

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