Friday, April 25, 2014

Race Recap: Ragnar SoCal

It's been nearly 3 weeks since I returned from the sunny climes of Southern California and honestly I'm still suffering from major #ragover...

194 miles, 37 hours, 12 runners, 2 vans, 1 Tough Chik team.....countless epic memories.

I've been putting off writing my race recap for fear of not being able to do it justice, but given that time is ticking by we need to be talking progress not I'll jump right in...

Ragnar had been on my bucket list for some time. They organize a number of relay running events across the country and really I wasn't too picky about where, but more concerned with the how since there's some logistical magic needing to happen to pull together a team of 12 and organise them to travel with 2 mini vans over the course of 36 hours...When Shannon from Team Tough Chik put a call out for interested people to be part of the Ragnar SoCal team I was immediately on board. I bought my ticket to Orange County way back in the fall of last year and over the course of the last few months the rest of the team slowly came on board and we all got to know each other via a private facebook group.

Finally on the night before the race we all met at Shannon's house for the first time. Five of us had flown into California for the event - I think the rest were all SoCal ladies. We spent the evening getting to know each other, decorating our 2 mini-vans and enjoying some homemade lasagna. It was fairly early to bed since we'd be up at 4am to head to the start line.

Come Friday morning we piled into our van bleary eyed for the drive to start line on Huntington Beach. It was still dark as we checked in, listened to our safety brief, collected our team swag, our race bibs and our t-shirts, then took the obligatory team photo as Lisa - our runner one stepped up to the start line. Due to the craziness she got going just 15 minutes late of our original designated start time at 6:15!

It was so exciting to see her off and knowing that we had a long crazy adventure ahead of us. But really there was no time to waste as we needed to head to our first exchange.

At Ragnar most teams consist of 12 runners (some run it as an Ultra with only 6 runners!) - which are then split into 2 vans. I was in Van 1 along with Lisa, Krystal, Virginia, Valerie and Shannon and was runner #6 - so the last person to run in our van before handing off to runner #7 from Van 2. You get to know your van members very well over the course of the 36 hours as there is no break from it! We were also incredibly lucky to be chauffeured by the incredible Lauren who owned that 15-seater van! Every person from van 1 runs a leg, handing over the 'relay wristband' to the next runner in order. When everyone in one Van has run they hand over to the first runner from Van 2 - they each run a leg and then hand off back to Van 1 - and you do that 3 times through so everyone runs 3 legs and in this particular case you arrive in San Diego!!

I guess everyone gets comfortable and happy with the legs they get assigned. I was super happy to be in Van 1 as runner #6. It was difficult at times being the last person to get going, but when I was done the van was done so I never had to sit around sweaty and smelly! When the van is done you have some down-time whilst the other van is doing it's stuff - we found that this was usually a 5-6 hour break.

Having started at 6:15am from Huntington Beach we'd worked our way down to Tustin. For my Ragnar debut I had my longest leg to run (nothing like getting the hardest over and done with!). It was just short of 9 miles and I started running at around 11:15am so it was warming up nicely - maybe a little too nicely for this Canadian girl who hadn't worn shorts since last September! It was a pretty straight route along a busy urban road and there were a LOT of stop lights. The rest of my team mates had already complained of similar problems on their legs so I wasn't surprised but all the stopping and starting does tend to suck it out of you - just as you get into a comfortable pace you're stopping for sometimes several minutes at a time (and all those people you'd busted a gut to pass are now waiting at the light with you, damn it!) I finished my leg at a huge old air-field and as I ran down through the exchange chute all I could see was Amy waiting for me - dressed in our wonderfully bright purple and teal Team Tough Chik gear she was just stood there front and centre and it made for an easy exchange! After slapping the wristband onto her arm she was off and I was greeted by ALL of my team-mates! (See another lovely bonus to being runner #6 - I got double the cheer squad as I finished my legs since it was a major exchange where van 1 & 2 are both present!!) This was a big exchange point and there were refreshments, live music and sponsor and vendor booths. After I cooled down a little and some shopped the Ragnar merchandise we headed out. Since we'd finished our legs very close to Shannon's house we were heading back there for the afternoon, so after grabbing a bite to eat from Chipotle we could start looking forward to showers and a siesta and even the opportunity to do a quick load of laundry!!

Ragnar is often talked about as a rough and ready race - it's 36 hours with no major downtime. There's normally a lot of sleep deprivation, not a lot of showering and lots of smelling. It's quite normal to just sleep in the van or just out on the ground in a sleeping bag at one of the exchange points, and often no showering opportunities, so having someone live nearby and being able to head back to Shannon's house was quite the luxury and it was most definitely appreciated! After a couple of hours of quiet, cool snoozing (I'm not sure I could really call it sleep - adrenalin wasn't letting me sleep for real!) we hung out, chatting and waiting for the text from van 2 letting us know that Casey -  runner #11 had set off. We gauged that allowed us enough time to jump in the van and drive to the next major exchange to meet them. The exchange was at the beautiful Doheney State Beach (a place very dear to my heart - somewhere Chris and I spent some time at when we were travelling and where we had a wonderful photo-shoot by Tara Whitney for our fifth wedding anniversary - which was poetic in itself since here I was 7 years later ON my actual anniversary running Ragnar and 'celebrating' our first anniversary apart).

Left - the view at Torrey Pines and the end of my final leg. Top R - the views we had to deal with whilst tracking our runner! Bottom R - watching the sunset at Doheney State Beach

Night had fallen by now and finally at around 8pm runner #12 - Tina ran into the exchange, handed back off to runner #1 - our Lisa and she was off into the night. During official night-time hours everyone needs to be wearing a head-lamp, red blinky lights on your back and a reflective vest - so it was a crazy dark mess at the exchange! After a few minutes of hanging out with Van 2 we needed to head off to our next exchange. Lisa was running the mother of all legs - the longest of the entire relay at nearly 12 miles, at night and it was officially un-supported which meant that the vans were unable to drive the same route the runners were running - which meant we couldn't stop to support; be that collect unwanted clothing, hand over refreshment, and just generally be an on-the-go pep squad. We did sneak in an impromptu cheer station in San Clemente where we stood on a street corner for 1/2 hour screaming and cheering and forming a celebration arch for everyone who ran through! - Since it was getting late it seemed to be well received, and finally Lisa came through and we could top up her water and send her on her way again.

The rest of our night time legs were a bit of a blur - obviously it was dark so I have no real distinction of where we were and what it looked like! We had a couple of crazy messed up exchanges where things were disorganized and no-one knew what was going on, and we even missed the finish of Lisa's epic leg since we were snarled up in traffic. my night-time leg was just a shorty - 2.7 miles through Oceanside. It started through the town itself - so even at 1:30am I was still getting caught by stop lights!! My final mile was along a cycle trail and then along the beach path and before I knew it Amy was there waiting for me! Since it had been such a short leg my van hadn't made it from the last exchange in time so I hung out with Van #1 until my crew could find me!

It was shortly after this exchange that Van #1 could officially crown ourselves the Team Tough Chik 'Princess Van' - yes, we had decided back at Shannon's that we liked our luxury and had reserved a hotel room for our second 'downtime'. Hilton here we come!! We took the drive down to Carlsbad (near to where the next major exchange was) and within a matter of minutes we were in our room and fast asleep (it did not go un-noticed that the room we were assigned was #148 which was our Ragnar team number - seriously it was a sign that this was meant to be!!). It was sadly way too short lived - less than 3 hours later we were up again and getting ready to head to the exchange for what would be our final legs. It was 6am and we were (surprisingly!) raring to go!

All too soon I was getting ready to run my final leg through the gorgeous Torrey Pines State Park. It was a (nice?!) solid uphill for just short of 2 miles which was fairly brutal (but satisfying when I was passing guys that were walking!). Then when I finally reached top it was a nice flat and then a small downhill to the cliffs where my exchange was. It was a little emotional running into that final exchange - it was over for me! The scenery was stunning - it was a gorgeous day and by Noon it was a wrap for Van 1.

We said our goodbyes to Van 2 as they headed off to track their runner. And we headed to a local day spa for a sauna and showers.  We kicked back and took our time, headed out for lunch at Dirty Dog with a couple of cocktails to wash it down. Slow time we headed to the San Diego waterfront where the race finish was, got out some blankets and got comfy lounging on the grass for the finish. Due to some injuries in Van 2 they were going a little slower than planned and Tina - runner #12 picked up some extra miles making her final leg to the finish line around 10 miles - it was a toughie for her for sure.

The sun set over the ocean and finally in the twilight we caught sight of Tina heading around the final corner and towards the finish line. We all crossed the finish line together as a team (most of us hobbling by now since the adrenalin that had kept us going was slowly fading and the aches and pains were settling in with a vengeance!). We celebrated with cupcakes and hugs and all too soon we were saying our goodbyes.

It was the most incredible and fun experience. I think I came home and bored the socks off Chris since everything out of my mouth was Ragnar memories - so much to remember and so few words that can do it justice.

Check out this awesome video that Jessy - runner #9 put together of our experience - it gives me goosebumps just watching it and re-living our Ragnar moments!

And within the week the #ragover was hurting us so bad that we've agreed to meet back in California in September for Ragnar Napa Valley!! Yes - my flight is already booked!!

Linking up to Jill's Fitness Friday!

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