The streets are flooded with outlandishly decorated 15 passenger white vans. That gorgeous inflatable orange arch rises up over the horizon. Reflective vests and LED head lamps as far as the eye can see. Is that a teletubbie running through the streets of Huntington Beach? It can only mean one thing…Ragnar!
On April 19-20, I participated in the Southern California course of the Ragnar Relay Series. 195 miles from Huntington Beach to San Diego with a team of 12 friends, or in my case, 12 ninjas. This was my sixth Ragnar, my third SoCal race and my second race as captain.
Our team consisted of runners from all over the country. Crista and Josh traveled from Idaho, Matthew and Greg scooted on down from Washington and Marcy, Shelby and Bill came all the way from North Carolina to run in the beautiful Southern California sunshine. Shelby injured her foot last minute and had to be replaced by her dad, Bill. Instead, she got to ride along as the designated photographer for Van 1.
Van 2 was filled with my coworkers, Mary, Nina, Mike, Evalia, Katy and myself. Mary was actually at a conference in Colorado when the race started and met up with us just in time to run her heart out.
Race weekend started Thursday after work. After months of planning, it was finally time to pick up the vans and get to the coast. Mike, aka Hung Lo, went with me to pick up the two 15 passenger vans that would become our home for the weekend. Waiting for the vans took an extra long time due to the high volume of rentals. We always use AVR – Airport Van Rental Solutions. It was packed with teams picking up their vehicles. Once we had our vans, I hit up the local Costco for provisions. Trail mix, bagels, lots of bananas and protein bars, along with some licorice and laffy taffy to keep us going through the long night runs. And water. Cases and cases of water. I split the food into two boxes, loaded the vans and I was off to the beach. Mike and the rest of Van 2 would join us at the first major exchange, Exchange 6, where Van 1 would hand off to Van 2. I would be traveling with Van 1 for the first 6 legs, not as a runner, but just to get the team started. Because I’m a control freak like that.
I met the runners from Van 1 in the lobby of the Best Western. I’ve raced with Greg before in Vegas, but the rest of the runners were new friends. I found Crista and Josh through a former Ragnar teammate and I had found Marcy and Matthew on the Ragnar site. They were looking for a team, I was looking for runners and voila! A match made in Ragnar heaven. We piled into the van and headed out for a pre-race dinner, then back to the hotel for some rest. We had a start time of 6:30 AM which meant we had to pick up packets and listen to a safety briefing an hour previous.
We got our goodies: shirts, flags, Cliff Bars, GU and Shot Blocks, and then Crista was off down the Huntington Beach boardwalk! Just like that the madness had begun. We headed to the first exchange where we would pick up Crista and drop off Runner #2, Greg. We saw some teams that were familiar, like Can’t Hardly Run Straight and My Third Leg is the Hardest. And some new teams, like Run4Boston, who sported awesome bumper stickers and shirts in honor of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.
This was the first race I had participated in since the tragedy in Boston and being a part of this running community definitely sparked a few tears during the race. There was this feeling of unity, and we marked our vans with Boston love. The Ninjas were even on CNN.
Oddly enough, during the race, the boys responsible for the bombings were being apprehended. During Ragnar, you tend to disconnect from the world, living in this little bubble of survival, preoccupied with pace and eating and sleeping and portable toilets and ipods and coffee and ice packs. Instead, we found ourselves checking the news and chatting at exchanges about the developments.
Once the race starts, there’s little down time. You’re in survival mode. Drop off runner, support runner, pick up runner, repeat. Runner #3 Matt Attack, blew through his first leg and Runner #4, Josh the Jogger-Not, swiftly followed. So far, we’d had seasoned runners on the course, but Bill and Marcy had never ran a Ragnar before. They were a little nervous to make their debut, but once Runner #5, Bill Kills Hills, took to the course, he was a natural. And quite literally, killed a huge hill right off the bat. Runner #6, Marcy’s Dead People, brought us into Yorba Linda with gusto. Van 1 took care of 26.7 miles and put our team ahead of our projected pace by a whole half hour.
It was time for me to depart from Van 1 and for them to rest. I hopped in with the group I was going to be spending the rest of the race with. It was time for me to run!
Runner #7, Killa’ Katy, took on an 8 miler right away. She took care of business while Runner #8, Evalia aka The Eliminator, readied herself for her first leg of her first Ragnar. We were starting to get into the heat of the day with temperatures reaching into the 90’s. Evalia dominated a 300 foot elevation gain in her first leg and we stopped to support her at the top of the hill. And to make a few friends in the process.
My first run was 4.9 miles at 1:00 pm through Corona. I ran this exact leg last year and though it was hotter last year, I made it a point to have plenty of water with me this time. I asked to be supported at 2.5 miles and Mike and Evalia were just in time as I dumped the rest of my water over my head. It was freaking hot but the good people of Corona stood on their sidewalks and handed us waters and oranges. One team passed out wet towels which I promptly shoved in my bra. I finished my third bottle of water just as I came upon the One Mile to Go sign, the most beautiful thing I’d seen all day. Mike was waiting at the chute and I pushed up the small incline to the exchange. I gladly slapped that bracelet onto his wrist. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Pink for getting me through those 4.9 extremely hot miles.
Mike, Runner #10, finished up his leg right on time and then #11, Ninja Nina, started her climb through Temescal Canyon, 5.4 miles uphill in the heat of the afternoon! She handed off to Katy because Mary still hadn’t arrived from Colorado. Katy ran another 8.5 miler like a boss but by the time she arrived at Exchange 12 in Lake Elsinore, she was hurting. At the end of our 36.3 miles, we were a half hour behind schedule and down one runner.
After handing off to Van 1, we were finally able to get a real meal. We feasted at Chili’s and used their bathroom to take a Wet Ones bath and change our clothes. We set out for the next major exchange so we could maybe get a little rest before our early early morning runs. Van 1 had 42.6 miles to run and we wouldn’t see them again until around 1:00 AM at Exchange 18 at the Welk Resort in Escondido.
The Welk Resort was one of the best exchanges. They had a market, fire pits, a large screen projecting tweets about the race and a camera so you could see the runners coming in. It was very crowded but everyone donned their head lamps, reflective and DayGlo gear, making the scene look like a huge party. The music blared and the teams cheered and we waited for Marcy. Katy couldn’t run again so Nina took her leg, another uphill battle. But by then Mary had finally found us! And she was ready to run. Evalia kicked out her miles and then I was up.
Night runs are always my favorite. I have limited depth perception on account of my sexy astigmatism so not knowing what is coming, how far I have to go, whether there’s an incline, it all works in my favor. The less information for me to psych myself out on, the better. My night run was amazing. Cool weather, just under 4 miles and all downhill. It was glorious.
I handed off to Mike and while the others rested, Mary readied herself for back to back legs. Since Nina had taken Katy’s run, Mary was going to do the next two. Mary took off out of the chute…in the wrong direction, earning her the ninja name Wong Way Mary. She finished up our 22.2 miles in Carlsbad around 5:30 AM. Luckily, she had a hottie Ultra runner to keep her company on that long 7 miles.
We drove to the next major exchange to try to rest up for our last legs. Van 1 had 36.2 miles to run and hopefully that meant we could get some sleep. Katy was still hoping to run her last leg after resting but in the morning, she decided not to push herself and risk further injury. Matt Attack came through, finishing up his 8.6 miles and then taking on Katy’s 7 miles. His mileage totaled 29.4 miles! Obviously, we crowned him King of Ragnar.
With Van 1 done and on their way to check in to the hotel, we started in on the home stretch. Evalia finished her first Ragnar and triumphantly handed off to me for the last time. The second day is always the hardest for me and this race was no exception. I had 6.2 miles around Mission Bay with a nice mile long, 300 foot climb which I walked shamelessly. I stopped to use the bathroom and refilled my water at the park twice. Then I finally glimpsed that mile marker and my fellow chick Vic’s motto rang true in my head. “Anyone can run one mile.” It was just the inspiration I needed to get me through that last, longest mile of my life. When I finally got to the exchange, I discarded that bracelet and whooped with joy. I was done, another Ragnar in the books, and now it was time to party!
My phone buzzed in my pocket. Guess who? Wong Way Mary strikes again!
“I’m lost!” she said. “Someone must have switched the signs or something because I took a wrong turn.”
I put her on the phone with Katy who guided her back to the course. Finally, we saw her coming down the stretch. We fell in step behind her and crossed the finish line together. We finished almost exactly 36 hours from our start time.
We took pictures and laughed and chatted but there was only one thing on our minds…showers! Well, beer and then showers. A few of us hung out at the Ragnar after party at the Hard Rock Hotel and we had big plans to party it up in the Gas Lamp!
Which lasted about an hour.
One glass of wine, and we were all ready to crash. I party’d hard…in my sleep.
It was a whirlwind weekend. It’s amazing to me how it always seems such a daunting task at first, the build-up damn near gives me anxiety. I always think, “I can’t do this, this is way out of my league.” But then suddenly, I’m doing it. And I just go. And I run. And I finish.
And then I can’t wait to start planning the next one.
Northwest Passage, anyone?