Getting a little more JOLLY, a little more GREEN, and a little less GIANT.

14 July 2014

Ragnarly (My First Ragnar)

When we moved to Utah three and a half years ago I was nine days postpartum with my fourth baby. I was more than 100 pounds overweight, not active at all, depressed, lonely, and lacking faith or hope that I would ever feel differently. Then one wonderful, fateful day I went on a walk with my children and began to "wog" down the hill in an attempt to teach my son a lesson. It was the beginning of something marvelous. I was on my way to becoming a "runner". A few 5Ks, one 10K, two half marathons, and three full marathons later I was ready to take on Ragnar.

Before we moved here I had no idea what Ragnar even was. I'd never even heard the word. As I began to train for different races and increase my running miles I would often jog past one of our neighbor's who would always cheer me on. He would ask how many miles I was aiming for that day or if I'd like a glass of water. His support meant more to me than he will ever know. I found out that he was a runner too and noticed this symbol on his vehicle.

Finally I asked him about it and soon after I found myself adding "Run Ragnar" to my running bucket list.

As of June 27th and 28th, 2014: "Run Ragnar"   BAM! Take THAT, Bucket List!

I wanted to get the experience written down, but I've been having a hard time figuring out how I want to put this particular running experience into words. While running a full marathon of 26.2 miles is pretty dang tough, so is running part of a Ragnar relay. The mileage is lower but the challenge is different. While breaking up your miles into three different legs may seem like a piece of cake, it's not easy. It's hard to run, sit, sleep (or more like NOT sleep) and repeat and repeat again. For 36 or so hours.

I thought I had that "no sleep" thing down after having four kids, but it turns out I've gone soft as my kids have grown older and now sleep a little better through the night. The "no sleep" thing can definitely cramp one's style. So much so that I'm not sure how much of the experience was "not fun" and how much of it can be accounted to just the pure lack of good rest.

Let's start at the very beginning... (A very good place to start. Or so I hear.)

The week of Ragnar, my husband was out of town on yet another work trip. That meant I was on "parent duty" full-time so if any kids needed help during the night it was up to me to be there to help. Between that and just the nerves of going into something new made for a very restless week.

Thursday night, Joe got back into town. We briefly celebrated his return, took his rental car back to the rental place, and hit Sizzler for dinner. My carbalicious steak and baked potato and cheese toast pre-race dinner was excellent. No problems with appetite tonight. I had already packed during the day so when we got home we put kids to bed and then settled down to sleep ourselves.

Joe slept solid. I did not. Those darn nerves. They get me every time. I think I might have slept a few minutes here and there totaling about an hour before my alarm went off at 2 am. The extra early wake-up gave us enough time to wake, get ready, load kids in the truck, and drive to Logan, an hour and a half drive away. Don't I have an amazing husband?! I can't believe he was as willing to do that as he was. I'm a lucky girl indeed!

The dark, middle-of-the-night drive ended in a church parking lot in Logan where I met my team around 4 am. I already knew Heather from high school. She was the one who had asked me to join the team in the first place. And I knew Valorie from my running group. I pulled her on to the team when my sister had to back out. I was really disappointed that Camille wasn't going to be with me for this first time experience but I was grateful to at least have a couple of people I already knew.


It was the three strangers on the team that really had me nervous that morning. While I had a lot of guy friends as a single gal, I haven't spent much time with men since I married my favorite one. And now I was going to load up in a mini-van with three strange ones for the next 36 hours straight? Yikes.

It became clear right away that my worries were for naught. Randy was the owner of the mini-van and our driver for the most part. He was a take-control kind of guy and that proved to be fantastic time and time again. He was very prepared and directed our team effortlessly. I was grateful for his leadership. Clayton was our newlywed (only two weeks!) and a very kind and cheerful sort. Adam was quiet, but speedy. He did the highest mileage in the group and with zero complaints. All three of the guys were much faster runners than us three ladies, but they never complained about it. Everyone was really great at cheering each other on and keeping the humor and conversation going throughout the entire race.



After initial meeting and loading up what was to be our "home" for the next couple of days we drove over to packet pickup and the starting line. We went through a short safety training and picked up our Rag Mag, shirts, and various other items. Then we waited at the finish line for our 5:45 am start time. We had plenty of time to get everything done. No added stress in part to tardiness. The weather was nice and cool, but not too cold. The energy of the crowd was pumping. After waiting for this day to come for so long (a couple of years by this point) I was ready to do this thing!

After the announcers called our team name ("We Think We Can") amongst the others that were starting at the 5:45 am time the race finally officially began. Adam started running and we headed back to the van for a little bit of decorating and to drive to our first exchange. All of us were first-timers so it took us a bit to figure out how best to maneuver the van through the course and still be supportive to each of our runners. The course was pretty well-laid out with lots of signage and portable maps in the Rag Mag so it wasn't hard to figure things out.

I was Runner #2 and really this was the "sweet spot". I didn't have to wait very long until it was my turn. No strung-out anxiety to ruffle me. I was able to eat a bit (yogurt and a granola bar) but still have time for it to settle before it was my turn. My longest leg was my first and in the cool of the morning. 8.6 miles listed as "very hard", followed by two 3 milers (3.2 and 3.6) both listed as "easy". As Runner #2 my total mileage was only 15.5 miles, not the lowest mileage but not the highest either. I never had to run during night hours or the heat of the day. Honestly, I couldn't ask for a better set-up in a relay race.

But count on me to find something wrong about it. My "Sweet Spot" actually became a source of frustration for me. As I watched other team mates struggle through some long, late, and seriously hard miles, I couldn't help feeling that I was slacking off and could have done much more to help my team. I was assigned this spot and couldn't really do much to change it especially once the race had begun.

I sure tried by offering to run legs for others. Valorie was injured and had not been able to train much before hand. Heather got some crazy nasty blisters after her first leg. It was so hard to watch others go through rough legs and be suffering while I was feeling pretty good. Even though I offered, no one was willing to switch. Everyone showed up determined to run their own legs and everyone did. I believe that is the sign of a good team. But if I ever do this again, I'm definitely signing up for a higher mileage spot. I guess I expected to suffer a little more and if someone was going to suffer, let it be me. Stupid? I know.

Back to my first leg...This was our first exchange. We weren't sure exactly where Adam was or when he would be coming in. We parked at the first exchange and though I was anxious to get started running, I was also anxious to visit a port-o-potty first. I had just gotten in a very long line to the bathrooms when Adam came running in to the exchange. Luckily, I was encouraged and allowed to crowd. One quick potty stop and then I was able to run out to meet Adam. I grabbed the slap bracelet and headed out.

It felt so good to FINALLY be running. The running isn't the worst part of this race. It's the WAITING. The waiting will kill you. To be finally moving and progressing on your leg is the best feeling ever. Such a relief. That's not to say it's easy. Most of my first leg was uphill. It was a lovely gradual uphill but I was very grateful I had taken the time to do some hill work and cross training in my Ragnar training. I think I would have suffered much more if I had not done those things.

The weather was fabulous. It had rained a lot the day before and I kept having panic attacks remembering the torrential down pour that Ogden 2013 was. But this rain had tamped down all the dust, brightened everything up, and cooled the air down. It was absolutely lovely. The mountains were gorgeous. The sky was beautiful. The smell of the air was rather delicious. It was a perfect run in every respect.

I wore my belt just to be safe but I wouldn't have needed it. My team met me halfway with some water and there were water stations every few miles when the van couldn't drive by me. To start this leg I took some Beach Body Energy and Endurance. Half way through the leg I took a couple of anti-fatigues and endurolytes along with a couple of fruit strips for sugar/calories. My body, legs, tummy, and spirits all felt good.

I ran most of the distance with short walk breaks every mile or two. I felt like I was running faster than training pace and I passed a lot of people. Of course I was passed too, but no big deal. It was fun to chat a bit with other runners and watch the different teams support each other. I didn't end up listening to any music as everything else was far more enjoyable.

Towards the end of my 8.6 miles I hit "the" hill. I guess I didn't study my course layout as well as I thought I had because that took me by surprise. During my first marathon, I hit the wall after foolishly running up a hill. That had humbled me so I walked a lot of this hill with absolutely no shame.

Before I knew it I was running into the next exchange and passing off the slap bracelet to Randy. I cleaned up with baby wipes and changed clothes in the port-o-potty at that exchange. It was kind of tricky, but I managed it very slowly. Changing clothes felt good. I appreciated not having to sit in my wet, stinky clothes. After that I had to wait for 11 runners before I could run again. It was a huge relief to have my first leg done and still feel pretty good. My nerves calmed quite a bit as I sat in the van for the next several hours chatting with my team mates and helping to support our individual runners.

Our team walking away from the second exchange. Gorgeous, no?

As well laid out as the course was the traffic was terrible. We spent a LOT of time waiting in traffic. I understand that they made some changes this year hoping to help with congestion that only made it worse. That's a shame because it really cut down on our rest and eating time. Hopefully they get that figured out next year.

I guess if you're going to be stuck in traffic, it doesn't hurt to have scenery like this.

At our first major exchange we waited awhile in a HUGE crowd for the other half of our team. We didn't even end up seeing most of them until the finish line the next day. It was funny to me that we didn't know our own team very well. We probably became more familiar with other teams' Van #1s than we did our own team's Van #2.
Van #2. Or so I've been told. ;) The girl with the smiling stance is Chelsea, our fearless leader.
I'm not sure if I will ever do Ragnar again but if I do there are a few things I would do differently next time. The major exchanges were mass confusion and we often didn't have phone coverage to contact each other. Some teams had made tall signs that they carried above the crowd. Smart! The night time exchanges were even worse. There were teams that had special glow-in-the-dark bracelets or necklaces or other wearable items that helped them find each other quickly. Brilliant. There were some vans that had very unique and bright decorations. Genius.

After we passed the baton off to Van #2 we met up with the men's wives and slowly made our way down to Ogden where we ate at Subway. Subway is soooo not my favorite but by that point in the day I was ready to eat just about anything. My ham and veggie six-inch was delicious. We tried to rest as we made our way back to the next major exchange but it was darn near impossible with music playing in the van and just the anticipation of not really knowing what was coming next. I had been worried about being bored in the van, but that didn't really happen. We seemed to always be moving and going which made things not boring, but not very conducive to rest either.

Before long we were through all twelve runners' first legs and were ready to start our second legs. As my second leg drew near the nerves began to set in again, churning my stomach a bit. Finally my turn came again and, again, it just felt good to be moving. I could tell my legs weren't as fresh but they still felt pretty good and I tried to push my speed as much as I could without puking.  3.2 miles of a very gentle uphill stretch. I passed several people this leg and was passed only a few times. It felt good to be moving along steadily.

The way the exchanges worked, our team would wait for the runner to come in, send the next one off, and then drive the van to the next exchange where the just finished runner would clean up and change, the next runner would get ready to go, and the team would wait for the current runner to come in. It was definitely a goal of mine to not be caught walking by my team as they drove by to the next exchange. I would run from the start of my leg and make sure to keep running until my team had passed and was long out of sight. Then I could walk a little. But again, on this second leg, I ran most of it, with only a couple of little walk breaks.

As the night approached we prepared to send off the last couple of runners in our van. They had to wear safety vests, lights, and head lamps. While it was probably nice to not have to run with all that on, I was kind of bummed to not have that opportunity. Night runs can be a lot of fun and a nice change.

Heather was Runner #6 and after her first steep downhill leg her feet were totally hashed up. We walked over to the First Aid Station where they proceeded to pop and drain blister after blister. They cleaned and dressed her sores with moleskin and put panty hose on under socks. And then she prepared to run her middle leg: 8 miles, all uphill, in the dark, and late at night. Oh, I could hardly keep from crying just thinking of her doing that. But she earned her medal that leg. It took her about two hours and we anxiously waited at the top of the hill, literally praying for her to show up alive and well. I felt so bad for her but she never complained, never showed any weakness. I was so impressed with her!

After she finished it was after midnight. We were all exhausted and starving, but stuck again in Ragnar traffic. It took us quite awhile to get out of the congestion and to the next stop. By this time it was well after 1 am and we were losing hope of finding anything substantial to eat. Fortunately, we found a Subway that must have stayed open just for Ragnar. Subway. Again. Ugh. But I was able to order a bacon and egg sandwich which satisfied. It was a toss up between being too tired to eat or too hungry to sleep. I believe I ate that entire sandwich with my eyes closed and half conscious.

At this point, we had lost Adam and Clayton and gained Randy's wife. Adam and Clayton's wives followed in their own cars which allowed those two to sleep some. This is another thing I would probably change. I want a wife that will do that for me next time. (IF there is a next time.)

After Subway we drove to a local school that was open for sleeping. The parking lot was crammed full so we pulled off on a side street trying to figure out what to do. While I wanted to check out the school option, Randy, wife, and Valorie decided to just sleep in the van. They settled right down for the night with very little time for me to figure out what I should do.

I was sitting right behind Randy in the driver's seat and he had adjusted his seat so that I could hardly move in mine. He had been driving almost the entire time so I was more than happy to let him get as comfortable as possible and catch some ZZZs. But I could not get comfortable enough to sleep. My legs were restless and jittery and I had to keep them moving. I kept trying to stretch them out without making too much noise, but after awhile I thought I was going to go crazy. I wanted to get out of the van but if I did the lights would come on and the noisy door would wake everyone who was lucky enough to be asleep. So I sat there, growing more and more frustrated.

Throughout the night several car alarms of other parked Ragnar teams went off. At one point everyone stirred when a car alarm went off so I seized my chance. I opened the door with a maniacal "I've gotta get out of here!" and bailed onto the sidewalk with my sleeping bag. I stretched out on one side of the sidewalk for the next hour or so? It was really hard to tell time by this point. While the pavement was hard it felt so good to stretch out and not be in such a small enclosed space with people who aren't my family. Don't get me wrong; I loved my team! But I had just met a couple of them only hours before. Several times, people walked by almost stepping on me. I kept having panic attacks thinking about snakes looking for a warm place to curl up. But still...better than the cramped van.

Finally it was time for us to exchange again and we packed back up in the van and drove. By this point, the lack of sleep was getting to me. I was tired and grouchy and sore and hungry and nauseated and gross. I kept thinking: This was supposed to be fun, right? Adam quickly finished his leg and reached the exchange before we could get there. We were briefly lost thanks to unclear signage. He only had to wait a couple of minutes before I took the bracelet for the last time. 3.6 miles in the cool of the morning in the beautiful farm country.

It was harder to enjoy this leg. My own mortal legs were definitely not fresh and my attitude was less than enthusiastic. I took several walking breaks and was passed over and over. I didn't even care. I reached the exchange, passed off the bracelet to Randy, walked to the van, posed for a picture, sat in my seat, buried my head in my pillow and cried as quietly as I could.

The emotions were very mixed. I was just so dang tired and all of my emotions were right at the surface. Largely thanks to nerves, over the course of three days I had only had about 3 hours total of sleep. My legs were tired and achy. I felt guilty for even thinking whiny thoughts since I had had one of the easier running spots. I was frustrated that I wasn't enjoying this more by this point. I was very relieved to be all done with my legs. I was anxious to be done with the whole thing, to shower, to sleep, to see my family. I felt a great sense of accomplishment for completing something I had in my sights for awhile. It was a very bittersweet moment.

At that point I decided to bail on my team for a bit. Hey! The guys had done it. I wanted a turn. I called my husband around 8:30 am, waking him up, and asked if he would be willing to come get me so I could shower and sleep while the rest of the team finished their last legs. Bless his heart, he did it! He gathered all the kids again and drove almost an hour to come get me near Heber. While I felt bad for leaving my team, I was so tired I could hardly string words together much less care.

At home I showered and crashed in bed for a couple of hours. Then we headed back up to Park City for the big finish. My dearest husband was grouchy by this point. He's not very crazy about all this running business anyway and now he had driven back and forth multiple times. I felt so guilty for asking this of him but I didn't trust myself to drive. I almost thought about skipping the whole finish line bit but I honestly wasn't sure I would ever do this again and didn't want the regret of not seeing it to the very end. So while it was a hassle we made our way to the finish line, which involved getting lost, loading on a school bus, and lots of walking to find the rest of my team. All with four kids in tow.

Here's another thing I would change: all my running clothes were used up during the race so I just wore street clothes to the finish. Not a single other person was dressed in street clothes. I felt pretty dumb for not having my Ragnar shirt on or at least some running clothes. I crossed the finish line in jeans and flip flops, but by golly, I finished. And with my team, minus Valorie and Adam who had had to bail early for various reasons. It was great to cross that finish line as a team, to get our medals, and to take those finishing pictures. While it was a pain, I'm glad we made the effort to go back and finish "the right way".

"We think we can...we think we can...we think we can..."

Heelllooo beautiful running hair, smile on face, and missing jiggly thigh! This has to be my favorite running picture yet!

We thought we could...
I'm grateful to Heather for pulling me on board. It was a great way to reunite with her after so many years. Long live the Class of '99!
They forgot the other "C" words: cramping, chafing, crying, crazy, and Coke
After pictures we parted ways and I rejoined my husband and children. We made our way back to the truck with a quick detour on the free sky lift. After a hearty dinner at Johnny Carino's we went back home and I crashed hard. I slept from 8 pm to 8 am. I woke up feeling exhausted but so happy and relieved it was over. It took several days to feel like I had caught up on sleep again. My legs were pretty sore too, not quite "full marathon sore" but more sore than a half. Now if I could just stop having nightmares. Each night, for an entire week and even several random nights since, I have had bad dreams and restless sleep thinking I was back in the race trying to get through it. I thought that was only supposed to happen before.

One of my fantastic cheerleaders. Tired and huuuungry.

On the skylift

I keep trying to get my thoughts in order, to sift through them and figure out just what Ragnar was. Everyone keeps asking me how it was and honestly I'm not sure what to say. I'm equally unsure when they ask if I'll ever do it again. I just don't know. I am very glad I did it. But gosh, am I glad it is over. I think it was fun. I know there were several parts when I was having a lot of FUN. It was FUN to meet new people, to try something new, to conquer a new challenge, to take a break from being "Mom", to cross something off my bucket list. I loved the team aspect of it. It was a lot of FUN helping each other get through legs, cheering each other on. My team was awesome! Everyone was very good at supporting and encouraging one another. We chatted about tons of fun topics. There was lots of good humor and good company.

I hated all the guilt I felt. Guilt for inconveniencing my husband and children. Guilt for not having as heavy a load as others did. Guilt for leaving my team early. The sleeping/NO sleeping situation was frustrating. If I did it again I would do my very best to get more sleep. I think my spirits would be a lot more cheery by the end. And that's what I'm hoping my negative feelings boil down to is just lack of sleep.

*Do it with family or close friends who I would feel more comfortable saying "Hey! I need this or I can't sleep like this or No, I hate Subway."
*Get more sleep. Bigger car? Sleeping aids? Hopefully the Ragnar people improve the traffic situation?
*Plan more portable meals so we don't need to go anywhere to eat.
*Not rely on my phone for pictures. My battery died very quickly and I had no way to contact my husband. Or take pictures.
*Decorate the van and runners more so we can find each other easier in a crowd.
*Wear running clothes at the end.
*Take on a higher mileage and train more.

But other than that...Yes. I believe it did go well. And I think I would consider doing it again, especially now that I know what I'm in for. I'm proud of our team for what we accomplished. And I'm grateful for the support and strengths each team member shared. And I love being able to cross another goal off my list!

To sum it all up: I'm glad I did it. I'm glad it's over. It is finished and it was...Ragnarly.

P.S. This little baby was awesome. Will never do another race without it.

1 comment:

Shannon said...

Finally getting around to reading your recap Evelyn, I feel bad it took me this long! I appreciate your honesty on how this went for you and I think thing like this are better to help people prepare for what a big deal Ragnar is. I hope to cross it off my list some day too, we will see! I am proud of you! PS. I really don't like Subway!