This is part two of my Ragnar Washington DC race report – if you haven’t read part one, you should click on this right now to head over there and read that first.
When we left off, we were pulling into Exchange #12 for our first break of the event. The exchange was at a high school, and I have never seen so many white vans in one place in my life. People everywhere. The school had a spaghetti dinner they were selling as a fundraiser, and access to showers, as well, so there were some nice amenities. There was also a big shady area back behind their tennis courts where everybody was taking sleeping bags to go lie down … a sea of runners, in repose.
Van #2 ran well, and it was after dark when Dottie came rolling in and handed off to Michele. The night legs are always an interesting part of a Ragnar … some people love them, some people hate them. They bring their own challenges, to the runners and the support vans. It is easier to get turned around at night if you are a runner, and it is harder to tell which runner is yours if you are in a van. All runners are required to wear a headlamp, a taillight, and a reflective safety vest. One thing I learned this time around is that making that setup as unique as possible really helps your team to be able to figure out where you are. There were people that had light strips around their hands, and you couldn’t miss them. Emily, in our van, had a vest that had red lights on it on the front, which helped us to pick her out. Little things like this make a difference.
Leg #13 did a little winding in the first mile, and then was a straight shot for nearly four miles to the next exchange. This was a no-van-support leg – the vans weren’t allowed to stop on the course to support their runners – so we headed straight to that exchange and settled in. Michele killed it again, handed off to Dave, and we were off. His leg was also a no-van-support leg, so off to the next exchange we went. This series of legs was in a very rural area, and many of the roads were narrow and winding, so they couldn’t have the vans pulling over and blocking roads.
I took over for my second leg at an elementary school in Williamsport, Maryland, and immediately ran into an interesting start. About a quarter of a mile in, I was running on a sidewalk near a drop-off location at the school, and a car came up behind me through the drop-off lane. I thought it was my van, so I raised my hand to wave as they came by … and a guy leaned out the window and yelled, “I’ll kick your fucking ass!” and then they drove off. I shrugged, and actually laughed at them, because … really? The exchange didn’t bother me – it just felt like stupid kids on a Friday night in a small town. I didn’t make a big deal out of it at all, but I did mention it to Dan and Dave when I finished my run. I hadn’t thought about the implications for Emily, who would run after me, and so that kept us extra aware during the rest of the night runs. The neighborhood I ran through in the next half a mile or so was redolent with the smell of weed, too. So … Friday night in America! I will say here that I never feared for my safety or the safety of any of my teammates. But , this was an interesting start.
After a bit of winding, I turned onto one big three mile straight stretch on the highway. After that I made a right turn and then had a two mile straight stretch, for a six mile total run. My first mile I did in 9:40, and then the rest of it settled in to a consistent pace between 10:00 and 10:30 miles. I was passed a few times, but never by somebody that reeled me in slowly – when I got passed, that person absolutely blew past me. Because I was the runner that had the Ragnar leg, all of my fellow Runners #3 were beasts. So that felt good – I held my own. The overall pace I was able to hold for the run was a 10:15 average mile, which is very close to my 10k PR pace. My handoff was at a small church in a small town, and then we were off to support Emily on a run that turned out to be full of drama.
The first fun little thing happened maybe a mile or two into her 5-mile run. We were ahead of her in the van, looking for a place to pull over and cheer her on. At one point, there was a shop light set up on a tripod out at the end of somebody’s driveway, pointing so that it was facing to the eyes of the van drivers. When we got up to it, there were two gentlemen sitting on camp chairs at the end of the driveway, drinking beer. They seemed friendly enough, though the fellow with the shirt that said “Balls Deep” might have rethought his wardrobe if he were going to be headed to the opera or the symphony or wherever you go after you change out of your Balls Deep shirt. We wouldn’t have given these guys a second look except for my experience with the gentlemen at the beginning of my last leg, so we looked for a place as close to them as we could get to pull over. When we asked her later, Emily said she hadn’t noticed them … which was a good thing.
And then we had the real drama. At about mile #2 of this leg, there is a confusing little intersection, and the runners were meant to turn left. When we came through in the van, we didn’t make that turn, and got maybe a half mile down the road before Dave, who was navigating from the first row of seats, called out that we were off course. We spent a minute trying to figure out what was going on, and then we made a realization.
Some assholes had taken the signs at the turn.
At that point, we had three things to do. First was to text race command and let them know. Anna did that, and they got back quickly and said somebody was on the way. Second was to get back to that intersection before Emily got there so that she didn’t miss the turn. And third … we had to turn around all of the runners that had missed that intersection. Since I was in the passenger seat, that was me – every time we would encounter a runner, we slowed down and I yelled at them that they were off course and then explained what happened. There was a lot of confusion, and not a little bit of cursing. But we got everybody turned around, and we made it back to the intersection about three minutes before Emily got there. By then, there were a bunch of vans at that spot, so we left it with them and moved on. That issue would have been figured out by somebody else very quickly – but it felt good to have helped and minimized the damage for those runners that had missed the turn.
From there, the rest of Emily’s run was uneventful and nice. The weather was great – clear skies and cool at night – perfect for Ragnar night legs. It was peaceful. Dan took over at a little country church for his seven mile run, and I took over as driver with Emily in the passenger seat. Dan hadn’t been happy with his first leg, so he was determined to really run this one hard – and he did. Killed it. His leg was in a very rural area, with narrow, winding roads and open fields. At one point we went through a little community with a couple of one-lane bridges that were scenic even at night. His run was uneventful, and then Anna took over at yet another little country church. Anna’s second leg was short – only 3.5 miles – but featured 2 miles of steep uphill followed by a 1.5 mile downhill bomb to the finish. She lost something like 400 feet of elevation in that last 1.5 miles. Exchange 18 was a major exchange, and was at a big creamery – a major dairy farm that the family had turned into a destination with an ice cream shop and activities centered around the cows. We only really stopped twice for Anna, and on the last one she said she’d meet us at the exchange, so we headed over there to link up with Van #2.
The creamery opened for us through the night, which was cool. We got some ice cream and went around to a booth they had set up for hamburgers and hot dogs, but they were already out, which was unfortunate. The farm smelled like cattle farms do – smells like money! – and was somewhat loud, so we made the decision before Anna ever got there that we were going to move on to the next major exchange immediately. Anna came in flying – she got a kill in the last few yards, which was awesome – and then Van #2 had the slap bracelet and we were off.
Exchange 24 was at a big park in Germantown, Maryland, and we got set up and then all tried to settle in to sleep. I reclined the passenger seat in the front of the van and passed out for probably 3 – 4 hours. Every Ragnar van has somebody that snores. That is just one of those inevitable facts of life. And it turns out … I was that person in our van. I only snore if I’m lying on my back. I know this because if I’m snoring at home I am summarily elbowed and asked (told) to roll over. But lying on my back was all I had this time, so snore I did. They told me after, and I felt bad, a little. But only a little. Next time I’ll bring my ENO hammock and do it that way. I wished for it.
The van began to rouse when the sun came up. We breakfasted on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, trail mix, granola bars, and whatever we had. We walked around to try and loosen up our legs. I went over to the coffee table – but they had just started brewing, and it was going to be a few minutes. We checked in on Van #2, which was going strong, and we got prepped up to go and get it.
Our third set of legs was very different. We were in suburban DC at this point, and the running began to look and feel like running in town. There was traffic, and there were street crossings where we had to wait on lights. And driving the support van became an exercise that required a lot more focus, as well, for the same reasons. But the morning was nice, if a bit warm, and off Michele went. We were able to actually give her some van support this time, and I was able to get a couple pictures that I thought turned out really good. And then she was at the exchange and handed off to Dave.
Another feature of our third set of legs was that they were generally shorter – with the big exception of Leg #30. Dave’s leg was only 2.8 miles, so though we were technically able to support him, we really didn’t have time and headed straight to the next exchange. My next leg was only 3.2 miles, slightly downhill until a decent bump in elevation in the last half mile. Dave came flying in as only someone that knows they are now done running will do, and I was off.
My strategy on this one, since it was only 3 miles and was my last run, was to come out fast and try and hold it. My first mile came in at 9 minutes flat, and my second mile came in at 9:30. I was running without music – too many things to turn on and get right at the exchange – so I was really happy with this pace. The third mile featured the hill, and all of the last 24 hours finally caught up and I bonked. I did that last mile in 11:28 and then the last little bit at a 10:00 pace, for an average pace of exactly 10 minute miles. That one hurt a little, but then I was also done running, and so didn’t really care at all. Emily then had about 4.5 miles through very busy residential and commercial areas, which she really ran fast, and then Dan took over for a 3.7 mile leg that was the first to feature some mileage on some local trails. After he hit the trail we headed to the next exchange while Anna got ready, and then off she went.
Anna’s last leg was the worst one our van ran, with the possible exception of my first leg. It was 8.4 miles in the middle of a hot day – upper 80s – after she had already run two legs. Much of the first part of her run was on trails, so we couldn’t support her with water. And then much of the second part of her run was in areas so congested and busy that it was difficult to support her with water. We did our best, though, and then headed over to her last exchange. When we did see her, she was uniformly positive. We couldn’t have asked for a better runner #6, especially considering she had only signed on three weeks prior and hadn’t specifically trained for this.
As we headed over to Exchange #30, we got word from Van #2 that the Ragnar folks had given teams permission to send the runner on leg #31 before the runner finished leg #30. The heat was pretty bad for folks that didn’t come from Florida, and apparently there were more teams still out on the course than they had anticipated by that time. So in order to make sure we all finished at a comfortable time, they left it to our discretion to send our runner. We were making good time – we were going to finish well ahead of the time that their pace calculation estimated – but we couldn’t come up with a good reason not to do that. So when we got to Exchange #30, Van #2 was already gone. Anna could not have cared less – she got her miles in and was now done running. We took a “Yay, we are done running!” picture, and headed to the finish line.
I say that only because I know we ended up at the finish line. I passed out almost immediately when we got back in the van. Maybe I snored again, I don’t know. But it was nap time.
The finish line was at the Navy Yards in Washington DC, which is a cool area. Dan and Emily had a hotel room two blocks from the finish, so we were able to head over there and get showered and drink beer while we waited on Van #2 to bring it home. Leg #36, Dottie’s final leg, was a full 12 miles – she finished up with a half marathon! – and we walked over to the finish to wait. Generally the teams wait for their final runner a bit out in front of the finish line and the whole team crosses together. We were expecting the rest of Van #2 to meet us in that area … when here comes Dottie, flying and focused! I took off to intercept her, and nearly had to tackle her to get her to slow down. By then the rest of Van #1 had caught up, and we all crossed the final bridge to the finish line together. The rest of Van #2 missed it by like a minute – they saw us crossing the bridge, and were at the finish line within a few seconds of the end.
And then we were done. We collected our medals and SWAG, took a few pictures, and hung out. You get free beer at the finish, but the laws in DC don’t allow them to give you a beer outside of a roped off area where they check everybody’s ID. We wound up not partaking, and headed out. A few of us drove Michele to the airport – she had to get to work the next day (!) – and then we headed over to the Grants for some delicious barbeque pork and beer.
Our time was … it doesn’t matter what our time was. Dan told me the first time I did this that these events are 5 teams trying to win, 295 teams trying to have a good time. We were solidly in the latter camp. I had a blast. My fitness level has improved dramatically – I am now probably in better shape than I have been since I played basketball in high school, and I am still improving weekly. I got to meet some great new friends, and got to spend some time with old friends that I don’t see anywhere near often enough. If any of The Orange Line is reading this – thank you. Thank you for agreeing to the craziness, and thank you for running with me (us) and thank you for your generosity and friendship. It was a joy running with you. And you’ll be getting an email shortly … start thinking about the next one.
- Being a captain on one of these teams really is different from being a member. The three responsibilities that are the hardest all involve people – recruiting teammates, assigning legs, and fronting and then getting reimbursed money. When you are a standard runner, you write your check and these things happen. When you are captain, you have to consider a ton of different things – you need the right runners on the right legs, and you need the right people in the right vans, and you have to contend with 12 different travel schedules and training / injury statuses (stati?) and you want to make sure you don’t have anybody disgruntled at the end of the process. You need people who are gruntled, for sure. But it was fun, and I enjoyed it.
- These aren’t cheap, either. I probably fronted $3k – $4k. Divide that by 12 and it gets reasonable; for what it is, it is downright cheap. What makes an event like this one more expensive is the need to travel in. When I ran Ragnar Tennessee, I was the only one that had to fly in – everybody else lived there. This time, there were three people that lived there and another that was only a little over an hour away. Everybody else had to make it a good distance. Makes it even cooler that we were able to do this.
- I can’t imagine the logistical nightmare of putting one of these together and managing it through the night. All of these people went 200 miles, through multiple cities and towns, on state roads and county roads and local municipal roads. They certainly had to get dozens, if not hundreds, of permits, and then staff this thing well enough to be able to manage it. And this on top of worrying about the inevitable handful of idiots you’re going to get when you try to get this many people to do anything – it only takes one stupid van to ruin your race’s relationship with a whole community. My hats off to the folks at Ragnar Relays.
- I really enjoyed the hills. They obviously suck while you are running them, but I love the challenge and the feeling of accomplishment you get when you do them. I really felt like a badass when I topped out that mountain on Leg #3. That feeling was fleeting – I don’t still feel like a badass – but I still liked it. I would love to do one of the big mountain Ragnars, particularly the ones out West – Wasatch Back or Colorado.
- Most of my teammates do not share that view.
- The weather was really an interesting x-factor. For those of us that came up from Florida, we really enjoyed it. It was hot, but not quite as hot as we’d been training in … and certainly not as humid. But for the folks that traveled in from farther north, or west, or even lived there, it was a really hot day that impacted things during the runs.
- Ain’t no SWAG like Ragnar SWAG. The shirts this year are great – great material, great fit, great design. I love mine. We also got 10th anniversary pint glasses, decals, stickers, etc. I still have our slap bracelet, though my intention is to get that framed and present it to Dottie as our team MVP – she ran 29 miles! And then the Ragnar medal is always awesome, bottle opener and everything. And I got a separate medal for running the Ragnar leg, and they didn’t skimp on that thing, either. As I say – ain’t no SWAG like Ragnar SWAG.
- I had planned that to be my last race for some time. I want to spend some time focusing on my deadlifts and a few other things at CrossFit. BUT – it appears that a whole bunch of people are coming to my house and Dottie’s house to run the Celebration Marathon & Half Marathon in January … so I’m signed up for that now. I also wound up running the Pancake Run 5k that I ran last year – that race report is forthcoming. Dave is also now doing that peer pressure thing about getting me to finally run a full marathon. We’re tentatively eyeing Flying Pig in Cincinnati, but who knows. So my next scheduled race is the Celebration Half, January 28th.