Tales From the Back of the Pack

Tales From the Back of the Pack

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


188 miles, 36 legs, 12 runners, 2 vans, 1 crazy race. Or something like that. The Ragnar Relay is now over and I'm left with great memories, sore hamstrings and the residual effects of sleep deprivation.

We're gonna have some fun, now!

Our Van consisted of BD, BigBro, my sister in law, my cousin Myra, a guy Steve whom I had never met and me. In the other Van was cousin Dennyse, and her 5 recruits.

BD, BigBro, my sister in law and I, all drove together to Vegas on Thursday, arriving around 4pm. After checking into my brother's timeshare, we went out for a sushi dinner and waited for the rest of our team to arrive. Once we were all here, we went over final race details and settled in for a (at least for me) fitful night's sleep.

We'd reserved a 1 bedroom condo (sleeps 4) and a 2 bedroom condo (sleeps 6). In addition there were 3 air mattresses, so bodies all over the place! The 6 people in Van 1 left at 7am Friday morning for a 9:30am start time. This race would take us from Lake Mead to Las Vegas. With a lot of out and back in between.

Van 2 slept in for a few more hours before getting ready to go. In true Ragnar form, before Van 2 took off we decorated our van, and tried to come up with clever, snarky, slogans for our van that tied in with our team name Original Sinners. Sexual innuendo is practically a requisite at Ragnar but our PG group couldn't think of anything.

That left window was supposed to say Stop Playing with Your Balls and Run but it got lost in translation. The other window says We Upped our Standards so UP YOURS

Cousin Myra was given the job to come up with van slogans. She came through!
The yellow caution artwork in our van sign may be lost on some that don't live in border states. It is a caution sign we see on freeways in So Cal, near the Tijuana border, warning drivers to be aware of illegal aliens ("undocumented" for the PC) who may be running across the freeway fleeing from Border Patrol. It depicts what is obviously a dad holding hands with a mom who is holding hands with her daughter who is holding her doll's hand and they are running full speed, daughter's pigtails flailing in the wind. I've always been disturbed by this sign, especially when I was a little girl. For our purposes, however, we used it to represent that our van was full of Mexicans, which it was. All of us legal.

These people are going to run 188 miles? You betcha! Or die trying!
We headed over to the first major exchange to meet up with Van 1 (as they finished their 6 legs). Our driver (Deanna in the orange shirt above) somehow got us turned around and we ended up about 20 miles off course and driving over the Hoover Dam.

After this dam detour, which nobody complained about because the Hoover Dam was an amazing sight, the recurring theme in our van was "dam". As in: we drove over the dam bridge, our van was pulled over and searched by dam security (it was/we were!) because they thought we might have a dam bomb (we didn't), the dam tourists waiting for dam tours and taking dam pictures were reading our dam van as we drove by, look at that dam view, etc. There was some dam nervous energy in our van.

Van 1 arrived at the 1st major exchange around 1pm, Runner 6 handed the baton to our Van's Runner 7 and we were off. Our team was initially short 1 person, Steve, who would arrive later, so we had to split his first leg between us. Splitting the legs is technically against the rules, but since our van was in no danger of winning this race, we weren't too worried about disqualification. This race was all about personal accomplishments anyway.

After running 2 miles of Steve's first leg, my official leg started around 4pm. It was a fairly easy 3.2 miles which I enjoyed immensely except for the dry desert heat.

The desert was so hot but also beautiful. It was easier to admire it while I was sitting in the van instead of when I was out running in the 80+ weather. My routes were clearly marked with great signage and I had no problem keeping on course although some of my team mates actually got lost and added mileage to their legs. Bummer! The One Mile To Go sign is the most welcome sign on the Ragnar relay.

A lot of what you do in a Ragnar relay is try to sleep. There is a good chunk of down time as you're waiting for the runners in your van to finsh their legs. We rented a 12 passenger van for the 6 of us (plus driver) and had plenty of room to stretch out which was nice. Since I was no Ragnar virgin I knew to claim my bench early and fully.

After our van completed our first legs we returned to the condo for showers and sleep. When you're tense and worried about missing a text or phone call from Van 1, it's almost impossible to relax. Besides that, Van 1 was FULL of fast 6-7 minute milers. It took them a few hours to finish their legs while it took us twice as long to cover an equal distance. When Van 1 returned to the condo they had plenty of time to swim in the pool and soak in the jacuzzi while waiting for Van 2. When our Van went back to the condo it was a mad rush of showers and grabbing food before having to head back out again.

My second leg started around 1am which sounds totally ridiculous but at Ragnar it's normal. This leg was once again my favorite because I never ever EVER get to run at night under the moon and stars. It's too dangerous to run at night in the city. Having my support van leapfrogging me for my 5.6 mile night run was fabulous. I thought briefly that I might get eaten by a coyote in between the leapfrogging but that didn't happen.

The view from my 3rd row.

Runners run against traffic. When you support your runner you jump out of your van, run across the highway and provide whatever aid is needed. Deanna snapped this picture from the runner's side of the road after providing aid for Myra. I had taken a turn as the van driver.
Our third and final legs started at 11am on Saturday. We finished at approxiamtely 7:30pm. Runner 12, BigBro, got the honor of running to the finish. We left him at his One Mile to Go sign and drove over to the finish line. We parked and ran to the finish line chutes so we could all run under the orange arch together. Van 1 had come over from the condo to join us here and party at the finish line festival. The 12 of us ran through as a team, whooping, blasting air horns, ringing cattle bells all the way through.

Blurry pic from BigBro's lame camera. URGH!
Ragnar swag is pretty sweet. Never been disappointed by the hardware.
Saturday night there were a lot of sweaty runners in the timeshare resort's jacuzzi. On any other day that would have been disgusting but today it was sheer heaven.

Sunday morning we rewarded ourselves with a Vegas buffet breakfast at the Bellagio before driving 4 hours back home to LA.  

This was my second plate!  
Another Ragnar relay is in the books and it was once again a fabulous adventure.

I love this Relay series. Ragnar is a race that accommodates runners of ALL abilities and really the best part about it is that it turns running into a true TEAM sport for just a couple of days. You still have the challenge of trying for your own PR's, but at the same time cheering on team members so they can do their best as well. You've heard that saying "We can't all be runners. Someone has to sit on the curb and clap as we go by." Well, at Ragnar everybody runs and everybody claps.  

I absolutely recommend this race to anyone who runs and knows a few people who run. And if your team needs an 11 minute miler, count me in.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Countdown to Team Original Sinners, Ragnar Las Vegas!

I got my first taste of the relay June 2010, before I started blogging, when I was roped as a last-minute replacement in the Ragnar Wasatch Back in Utah.

Now, this year I'm on my second team. I've been looking forward to this Ragnar for months and I'm so excited that's its next week already, I'm counting down the days.

Actually that's not completely accurate. I've been more worried than excited for most of these months leading up to the race. Right around the time of the LA Marathon in March, I went a little crazy with a flurry of race registrations, including Ragnar Las Vegas, just before my plantar fasciitis decided to make its debut. I had to drop out of the Orange County Half and the San Francisco Half before seeking treatment. And when I finally went to see my orthotist, all I asked was for her to make me able to run Ragnar. She promised I would.

I felt great when I ran the Divas Half in Long Island last week. And my workouts this week, although no great shakes have been decent and pain-free. Ragnar is a different sort of animal, so I'm still a little worried, but not completely defeated like I'd been for OC and SF.

For any one who is unfamiliar with Ragnar, look up the website! Basically, it's a 12 person relay team, each person completes 3 separate legs between 3-10 miles per leg. The entire distance  your team will cover is usually 200 miles.

at the end of my first leg
Last June I was runner number 8. My team started around 7am, but i didn't start running until around 3pm (after the first 7 runners had completed their legs).

But leg 2 was the BEST leg. I started around 2 am, which sounded completely crazy but once you're in Ragnar mode, everything makes sense.

My 2nd exchange, where I would meet Runner 7

Wating for my team mate, Runner 7 to arrive at my exchange
I ran on a deserted back mountain road for 7 miles with nothing but my iPod and the stars and the moon for company. The darkness around me was thick but I could see directly in front of me thanks to the required headlight I was wearing.

Off to my left was nothing but open fields. And then a herd (flock? pack? gaggle?) of horses came gallopping toward me and trotted parallel to me--about 25 yards away--for a few minutes until they turned off and ran into the darkness. I felt like I was having a Jim Morrisson hallucination. The only problem is that because I was alone, I didn't have anyone to share that moment with. Do horses gallop at 2am normally? I belive that they were thinking the same thing about me, "what is this weirdo doing alone on this road at 2am?" To this day, I can't be sure that what I saw was real, but real or imaginary, it was one of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen in my life.

Finishing my LAST leg (hooray!)

Our 2nd half of last year's team
 Last year I ran with a team of strangers that I bonded with during the race. This year, our team is made up mostly of my awesome family. The same people I ran with for Bay to Breakers. We're not very fast, but we are pretty tight.

If anyone out there wants to run a Ragnar, I would positively say, Do it! And if you need a runner, sign me up!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Pt 2 DIVAS Half Marathon at Long Island Race Recap 10-2-2011

I jumped into Des's Pathfinder, hooked up the Nuvi and headed out. I got to Eisenhower Park in one piece but super late and so had to park in an overflow lot (not at the park) then walk to the start of the race. I taped up my foot in the car, strapped on my fuel belt and by now was running super freaking late. I had about 9 minutes to find the starting line and was counting on the usual late starting gun to be my saving grace.

These signs were helpful but also misleading in that I kept thinking I must be getting close. I wasn't.

Runners headed my way as I walked toward the start. I'd have to backtrack everything I was already walking.
I walked what felt like miles before finding the start, and as I approached the big pink arch, it was obvious that the gun had already gone off and runners were pouring past me. When I finally got to the arch, I hopped over a small barracade and joined the throng of runners still working their way up the corrals, making sure to step directly on the timing mats as I ran under the arch.

I'd had a conversation with myself prior to the start of the race to hammer out a strategy. The strategy was to walk a portion of every mile, between the first .10 thru .25 depending on how I felt and still try to break a 3 hour finish. If I could finish the entire race, and not exacerbate my PF in the process, I would accept that as a successful race. Miles 1, 2 and 3 were my warm up miles and I didn't need to walk very much, but the course was very crowded.

Mile 1 no time
Mile 2 11:39
Mile 3 11:54
Mile 4 12:01

The scenery was green and lush as we wound our way through and around beautiful  Eisenhower Park and the surrounding streets. I always forget that So Cal is really a desert until I visit somewhere else and am totally reminded of how little water we have here. I thought of Des back at the hotel and was sad for a second that she was missing all this beautiful scenery and then remembered, DUH, she lives here now and sees it all the time.

logistical problems of an all-women race
Because of all the trouble I'd had getting to the start line, I'd forgotten to start my Garmin when I crossed the starting line. So I turned it on at the Mile1 marker, which meant that the G-man was 1 mile off throughout the course. This turned out to be an absolute blessing because I kept forgetting my watch was a mile "behind" until I saw the next course mile marker and realized I was actually a mile "ahead"! That was awesome every time it happened.

Mile 5 12:30
Mile 6 12:42
Mile 7 12:37
Mile 8 12:35

Around mile 8 we were running through a residential area. There was one house up the street with workers on the roof that looked like they had taken a break from their work to watch the race go by. Until I got close enough to realize they were fake people! Who does this to their house?

This race had tons of crowd support, plenty of water stations, lots o' portapotties and even cheerleader squads every couple of miles. I love that the cheerers were still enthusiastically cheering even for us back-of-the-packers. That helps so much, you have no idea. Thank you, cute cheerleader girls.

I was constantly looking out for the feather boa and tiara stations I'd read about when I registered for this race. Into mile 10 I hadnt seen any of either and I'd wondered if they had run out or if I missed the stations as I've been known to miss water stations. Finally at mile 11 I saw runners wearing boas and tiaras coming my way and that totally perked me up. I was going to get mine soon!

He's rockin it like he's worn 'em before. Right?
Tiaras and boas aren't just for women. I didn't know.

Mile 9 13:38
Mile 10 12:58
Mile 11 13:35
Mile 12 13:44

Everyone runs better in a tiara. A crown turns a scowl into a smile. See?

After my coronation at mile 12, my body was feeling the hurt from the past 12 miles of pounding but with 1 mile left to go, I tried to block out the pain in my quads and knees and just get myself to the finish line. My foot felt fine which was more than I expected.

Mile 13 12:46
Mile 0.1 11:13

That last .10 of a mile can be brutal. There was still awesome crowd support and enthusiastic volunteers all the way to the end. I heard the MC guy calling out names at the finish line call out mine and that I was from California. That was so cool I didn't even care that he mispronouced my last name. Everyone does.

And then the very very best part: Getting an awesome medal from a hot man with fabulous muscles. I'd run another 13 miles just to come back through his line again.

That's my medal right there!

An awesome medal, pretend champagne and a rose. A perfect ending to a great race.
And the tiara came in SUPER handy when I got home and realized I had forgotten to pick up a souvenir for the Puff. She couldn't have been happier.

My first destination race was entirely a great adventure and so worth the time and expense. I couldn't have asked for a better first experience. It was fun to see Des and now I have a reason to come back this way more often. But I missed my CocoPuff a lot and I don't think that spending weekends away from her is for me. We'll see how soon the travel bug bites again. In the meantime I've got a Ragnar coming up fast, a bunch of 5K's and the LA Marathon will be back around before I know it.

Maybe I'll squeeze in an RnR between now and then or the Krispy Kreme Challenge in NC in February.

Pt 1 DIVAS Half Marathon Long Island Race Recap

This weekend was my first half marathon since the plantar fasciitis diagnosis last spring and subsequent therapy on my foot. I'd had to skip the San Francisco Half in July and didn't know when I might be ready to start entering races again. Taking a trip to NYC to run this women-only event, besides being an expensive leap of faith, was a stellar first step back into the racing scene.

While races of any distance (5K, 10K or half) give me butterflies, this one was particularly nerve wracking with the change in time zones, climate and surroundings. New York is SO not Southern California. Add to that that even though I’ve had twice a week therapy for a few months now, I am still running with some degree of pain from the PF. Some days the pain is minimal, other days it’s debilitating. I had no idea how my foot would fare for this race but regardless of the pain, I knew it was long past time to get myself back in the racing mode again. I’ve really missed it.

I took a crowded redeye out of LAX Friday night and arrived Saturday morning at JFK where I met up with my good friend Des. She had recently moved to upstate New York from Long Beach and was the impetus for my choosing this particular destination race.
Des and Me

Des drove us from JFK to check into our hotel then on to the race expo. We got lost a few times on our way to the expo but once we arrived we took our time going through all the booths before picking up my bib, race shirt and awesome goodie bag.

After retrieving the race stuff, we parked back at the hotel and took the subway into the city. We spent the day in the city doing just the bare minimum of touristy things. Lunched at Colicchio & Sons (Tom Colicchio's restaurant from Top Chef),

browsed through Chelsea Market, walked through Greenwich Village, got caught in the rain and then took the E train back to our hotel on Long Island for dinner and to prepare for Sunday’s race. There was so much more I wanted to see and do but I was paranoid about being on my feet all day and having my PF flare up right before tomorrow's race.

I have something in common with Jesus!

Sunday morning, race day, the alarm went off and all those familiar doubts sprang into my head: why do I sign up for these races? Do I really want to do this? Will my foot go the distance? Did I train properly? To add to my stress, Des woke up with a migraine that wouldn’t let her get out of bed. She handed me her car keys and Garmin Nuvi and wished me luck.

Oh no. I didn’t want to drive alone to the race. I had no idea where the race was located and didn’t welcome the thought of sharing the road with NY drivers. Plus I was counting on Des’s moral support to get me through to the end of the race especially if my foot was going to make me miserable. More importantly, I was counting on Des to console me in case I had to pull a DNF because of my foot. I almost, almost, got back into the bed and went back to sleep. I envisioned us sleeping in til 10am (which, since having a child, I hardly get to do anymore), driving to Harlem for a breakfast of chicken and waffles, strolling through the Met or the MOMA in the afternoon and calling it a great weekend.

But then I remembered I traveled these 3000 miles to run 13.1. I couldn’t not do it, I had to go. So I did. And it was awesome.