Sunday, September 20, 2015

Funning in the PNW - Ragnar Northwest Passage

This will be long. With lots of pics. But it was a 31 hour race over 200 miles, so there you go.

You may recall I did my first Ragnar in February, when I flew out to Miami to run with ten strangers and one person I barely knew. Of course it was still fun and epic and awesome (all the usual adjectives) and ended with some fantastic partying in Key West. So when I got the option to do another Ragnar in the other corner of the country with two of these ladies (and 11 more strangers) I jumped on it!

I flew up to Seattle the day before and met my teammate Lisa from Georgia, and we took the train into town for a little sightseeing. Very little.

Yeah, that was about it. But then we met up with local Loopster Roger for some pre-race carb-loading.

We hung out there, taking advantage of the happy hour specials on food and beer until the rest of the team showed up. They drove the vans up from Portland, where they all live, and met us for dinner. So, there was time for one more beer. Doesn't everyone have 4 beers the day before racing? For Ragnar, that's no problem. Because, you know, it's not really a race race.

Here is our team name.

I was in van 2, so we got to sleep in and have a leisurely breakfast while van 1 got up and drove another hour to the Canadian border for the 6:30AM start. We eventually headed to transition #6 and decorated the van and commenced worrying about the heat. I acquired the nickname Bradass. OK, I gave it to them.

Here is our van 2 team. The girl in crutches is my other "old friend" from Ragnar Florida and team leader Nicole. She just had surgery so she had to bail, but she still came to be our driver and head cheerleader and organizer.

The bricks made it easy to spot. Note the Kill count (this was from later).

I was runner #7, so I got to go first for our van.  My first leg was my shortest at 4.8 miles and mostly flat, so I figured to burn off two weeks of not running and run close to 10K pace. I jogged a little to warm up and got some nerves like it was a real race! Silly me. Eventually runner #6 arrived and slapped the wrist bracelet on me and off I went!

I think I got about a half mile in before my first red light.
They don't block off the 200 miles of roads, so we have to follow traffic laws. And my leg started off right through a small downtown area with lots of lights. You can see below where I had to stop 4 times in the first mile. But then I started rolling and was feeling good, racking up kills and enjoying running. Until I heard the train.

Ha ha, I thought, I hope we don't cross the track...And then I saw the crossing. And the train engine going through it. There was nothing to do but stop and wait. And wait. Eventually 12 people backed up there and I waited for 2 minutes and 40 seconds. We chatted a little. I tried to figure out if anyone was faster than me. I didn't stop my G, but I used lap to block out all the stoppage time.

leg 1
Once we got going I was out in front of the small pack, although one guy challenged me for a while. Until I dropped him. So that was nice. We cruised next to the water on a nice trail. Almost the whole course was really pretty scenery.
Including all the stoplights I was stopped for almost 5 minutes. But if you take those out I averaged 7:21 for the 4.8 miles, so I was happy with that, as I handed off to runner #8, Lisa.

Once I cooled down and toweled off it was on to the job of team support from the van. We would generally stop once in the middle of each leg to get out and cheer and offer water. Rules said we had to use these flags whenever crossing streets.
We all had good first legs and then we were free at about 4:30PM for 5 hours or so before our next run. So, Chipotle! Well, for me anyway. Most others had more sensible sandwiches next door at Panera. I did skip the beans however. I do have a heart.

At transition 18 there was a tent city where we could chill.

It was too warm inside the tent, so we mostly sat outside. A few napped.

A few found other things to do...

Yes, her pants are around her ankles. This group knows how to party! And we like our cell phones.

We also discovered the hilarity of the Crazy Helium Booth app. I didn't sleep at all. Too early. And no beer. Because I was the next runner. I started my next leg just after the sun went down. 8.7 miles in the dark woods over a few hills.
leg 2

It was cooler and dark and fun to chase the bobbing lights up ahead. Not as much fun were the hills. I dialed it back and just kept it at a good comfortably hard pace. The downhills felt great, but I started to get sore quads already. I don't have enough miles in lately for this kind of racing, but what the hell. Those last two sub-8 miles felt good anyway. Averaged 8:10 for the leg.

leg 2a

Now it was the dark hours, which have their own charm. We couldn't really tell who was who until they arrived at the transitions. But we could see lots of stars. It wasn't too cold. The group got along well and we kept ourselves amused. And ate.

We finished our 2nd legs just as dawn was arriving. With the short nights way up North here in the summer, van 1 didn't get to run in the dark. Too bad - I love those dark runs.

At T24 I managed to connect with another Loopster! The fabulous Fenwick Razzleberry was having her own adventures. Sadly we only managed to cross paths for about one minute, but, we got a pic for you guys. But my van was beckoning and I had to go.

We drove to T30 and tried to sleep. But the high school gym was full, and I had no sleeping bag. Eventually I dozed maybe 30 minutes in the van before giving up and getting coffee. Had some of the worst pancakes and bacon in my life. Yes, inedible bacon! It exists.

My 3rd leg was 6.3 miles. My legs were already sore now. My plan was to just run comfortable. Maybe stay close to 8:00 pace if the body allowed. The first few miles were beautiful as I approached the Sound. Clear skies, big mountains, blue water, and downhill running - it was great.
Until it went back uphill...

leg 3
That hill kind of sucked, but I just took it easy and got over it, and was rewarded with more long downhills. Which were awesome.

I was definitely tiring and the legs were sore, but I was working and still passing people, and kicked it in pretty hard at the end. As you can see in the last split.

leg 3a

So I managed to hit 8:00 average pace for the leg. And my totals for the three legs were 19.8 miles at an average pace of 7:56. Calling that a victory.

But I wasn't done yet. Our #12 runner turned her ankle on her 2nd leg. She toughed it out and finished the leg - over 4 miles on the sore ankle. But now it was swelling, and she couldn't do the last leg, #36 to the finish line. It was 4.7 miles. So I volunteered, along with our other strong runner Lisa, to split it.

This was totally not racing now, so I told myself to just jog. Because my legs were shot, and I was tired. But, you know, racing! It was hot and I was out of clean running clothes, so I decided to go topless.

The first mile was an easy 8:29, and the 2nd mile was all uphill and I gave in and walked a few times and ran/walked a 10:13. Then we got this classic photo at the hand off.


NOT staged! Ha ha. Enjoy.

Then it was on to the finish where we met up with van 1 and all crossed the finish together.


Then there was beer and pizza and medal jigsaw puzzles. And more beer.

It was a great time with a wonderful bunch of people. You know, runners!


The dear wife arrived at the finish to collect me. And then the rest of the team all headed out for the long drive back to Portland. No post-race debauchery this time. Instead I started a nice 3 day vacation with the wife and some of her friends who live nearby. After I slept 13 hours straight anyway.

What about the sore feet, you ask? Well, after leg #1 they hurt. I was peeved and worried. But after leg #2 they were no worse. Just a dull ache. And by leg #3 I hurt everywhere else worse - mainly the quads, but also the back and the shoulders. So that I wasn't even thinking about the feet. I swear they felt better after leg 4 then they did after leg 1. Not even a factor. By the next day it was better than before the race started. As if the prescription was just "more miles". I don't know. Pain is not gone, but it is better than last week when I wasn't running. Still taking two weeks off and we'll see. But I'm optimistic.

Hobnobbing Here, Among the Elite

We all know it's cool that we get to run in the same competition as the top athletes in the world - even though they are way up front and we may never see them. Still, we often get a glimpse before the race, or get to see them at the expo. And they are usually very normal, nice people, about the same size as us, with the same nervousness and fears and dreams. (well, bigger dreams)

And I've met a few.
102911 339 - Copy
Me and Kara at RNR LA
Me and Jen Rhines at Cherry Blossom

Me and Ryan and Sara Hall at the LA expo.

But this year I got to actually know a couple elites (OK, sub-elites) that ran in LA.

First I met Cheyne. He works at Skechers which is close to where I live. He just moved down from San Francisco, and met up with our Tuesday running group. I found myself running with him at 8 minute pace and we started chatting. I found out he is running LA and told him I was too, and was shooting for 3:25. I thought maybe he would have a similar goal since, you know, we were running at the same speed...

"Oh, I'm shooting for an Olympic Trials Qualifier, under 2:18"



He ran with us most Tuesdays (as his 2nd run of the day after a hard morning workout). He was banking 110 mile weeks. Nice guy, fun to talk to. He was genuinely interested in my assessment of the LA race course. Turns out his PR is 2:25, when he got 3rd at the Napa marathon.Six weeks before LA he ran Surf City as a training run; Easy for ten miles, and then MGP for 16. He won in 2:35.

We became friends, and when he needed a way to get to the race, I offered to pick him up, and we drove to the shuttle bus pickup area together. Until he went off to his elite bus...

He also scored me a free pair of Skechers, so there's that.

So that's one. Now here's another story.

I went to the race expo on Friday before LA. This was the day after I got laid off, so I was still kind of shell-shocked. I had the whole day to kill, so I figured I'd hang out there for a while. I saw Ryan and Sara Hall would be speaking, so I sat in the speech area and listened to some guy tell us how to properly run a marathon. Then there was 20 minutes to kill. I sat in the front row and started chatting with some girl named Cassidy about Ryan Hall. It was the usual running talk. She's from Chicago, so I told her about the race course, etc.

Then I saw her bib. Number 132. "Um, are you in the elite corral?" Turns out, yes! Her PR is 2:49 and her goal is also to get an Olympic trials qualifier (2:42). But, you know, just a regular runner who happens to be really fricking fast.

We got along well, and sat through the Halls' interview, and then waited in line for photos with them (see above). We both had no other plans for the day, so we grabbed some lunch next to the expo. Lots more runner talk about the race and strategy and goals - the usual.

Had to get my "elite" shot...For when she becomes famous...

She was without a car, so I gave her a quick tour of part of the course so she could see the hills before dropping her off.  We talked about race strategy; Whether it made sense for her to start with the elite women, or to start with the main pack later and run with some fast guys instead of by herself behind the faster women.

So race day came. It was hot and I bonked, but then I touched base with Cheyne afterward. He didn't have a good day (like most of us). By mile ten he had dropped off of goal pace and was considering quitting, but he hooked up with one of the women who had started ten minutes ahead and ended up running with her for the whole second half of the race. Called it a training run. He finished in 2:49.

Then I checked Cassidy's result. 2:58:56. Hmmm. Given her ten minute head start, that meant they must have been very close at the finish. You guessed it. She was the woman Cheyne ran with! They ended up running together for over half of the race. Somehow my name never came up. I had already told each of them earlier the story of how I met the other one. Now I got to tell them that their new race partner was my friend. Cool. Here they are in the race.

So now Cassidy is training for Grandma's and another shot at 2:42. Cheyne is shooting to qualify in a half. Both are still hoping to be in LA next Spring for the Olympic Trials. Maybe we can have a reunion.

Running is cool.