Our team, DailyMile Dozen, met up at an unused parking lot in Chantilly, from a recently closed SafeWay grocery store. The team's two 12 passenger vans showed up, and we all packed the van with everything we would need for the next few days. Snacks, coolers of drinks, luggage, etc. I neglected to pack a sleeping bag, so when we realized that some members needed some night-running supplies (a running vest), I volunteered to go to Target and pick up some supplies.
The Target had headlights and tail lights, but no reflective vests, which we needed for the night running. All of the members on the team needed one. Stacy drove me to the Home Depot, where I found some excellent construction worker yellow vests, that perfectly suited the need.
Nemacolin Resort, my Ford Escape had a mechanical failure. The gas pedal jammed at 100% throttle as I was climbing the mountain on the way to Sideling Hill. While this is a mechanical failure that would cause some people to get on the news with headlines of "panicked driver unable to stop runaway vehicle", I had the presence of mind to put the car in neutral, shut off the ignition, and coast to a stop. I spent that afternoon waiting for a tow truck to show up as I waited patiently on the side of the road on I-68. Since the Ford dealership was closed for the day, I had to spend the night at a hotel in Cumberland. Much to my surprise, our Ragnar vans pulled up to the hotel right across the street from where I had my unexpected night a few weeks prior. I already knew this neighborhood from my unexpected overnight stay in Cumberland.
|Our beautiful artwork for the DM Dozen van
|Starting line for the race.
There was a safety briefing, basically telling us to run against the traffic and always wear the reflective vests, and don't run outside when there is a lightning storm. There was also a safety check-in, where we had to present the headlamps, tail lights, and enough reflective vests for everybody on the team, proving that we were correctly-equipped for the race. Ragnar issued us two reflective flags for use when crossing the street at night.
We headed over to the start line about ten minutes before race time. My stomach was in knots. For reasons that I never can understand, I always get a little nervous before a race. Fellow Skyline Soaring Club member and former student (now private pilot) Carlos was our first runner. I was to take over the running job at exchange #1, 4.9 miles later. After his on-time start, our team headed over to the first exchange, where I was to take over the running duty.
|Van #2 hanging out. Van #1 should
have done a picture like this.
While waiting for Carlos to show up for the first exchange, there was a runner who came in with an escort. She wasn't running particularly fast, but got to the exchange point with a very emotional state. The whole team was there to greet her, one of whom was carrying a dozen white roses. The pretty blonde lady got to the exchange point, and they all hugged, and cried, and clapped, and walked off to their van.
Where are they going? Why are they just walking away? How come there wasn't a runner taking over? All of us at the exchange could not understand or imagine what was going on. I did some Internet sleuthing and later found this link, posted from last year:
And this link, explaining it all, for this year:
|Out of the chute at Exchange #1
I started off my run with two miles uphill. I quickly transitioned from flat-land pace of 10:30 minutes per mile, and slowed down to 12 or 13 minutes per mile, as the hill got steeper. Carlos left me in a good position, passing many runners on his leg. However, with my slow hill-climbing mode, much resembling that of a Winnebago, other runners started to pass me. They would cheerfully announce, "You're doing great!" as the flit by with no effort. I was suffering. My heart rate was maxed. This Winnebago was at maximum throttle, maximum RPM, in the hill-climbing gear, while these little sports cars were effortlessly climbing by. How can you tell me I'm doing great? You should tell me, "pick it up, cupcake!" or "I see you spent too much time eating donuts and not enough time training for hills, you fat-ass!" That would have motivated me better, I think.
After the descent from the mountain, the remaining two miles were more or less flat, or nearly so. There was a brief moment when the lack of a sign had me question as to whether I was to go straight or turn. Earlier in the week, Ragnar had provided all of the map courses in GPX format, suitable for uploading to my Garmin. Once the course is loaded, the Garmin could tell me when to turn, when to go straight, and other necessary instructions. I never got around to uploading the course to my watch. At this moment of indecision (which I used as a chance to catch my breath), I really could have used the directions. I remembered, "If there is no sign, that means 'go straight'", so I continued on that road.
|RE-HYDRATE! And get these shoes off of me!
I don't think I've ever put that kind of effort into a run before. My average pace was 10:57 minutes per mile, but considering that monster of a hill and how many people passed me, I'm quite proud of my achievement, especially since Ragnar listed my course as "Very Hard."
Drive, Wait, Drive, Repeat
|Andy, looking awesome, as usual
The top of this hill was soaked deep from several days of raining. It's also gnat season. I could tell that many people are not used to being outside where gnats reside and fly into people's faces. Some people swatted at the gnats furiously, and others, like me -- just let the gnats go where they wanted. One unlucky runner, who was dripping with sweat from his climb up this monster mountain, while running through a cloud of gnats, was sporting the "glued gnat" look (you really have to follow that link to see what I mean).
|Eric, leaving Exchange #3
The next exchange was also at the top of a hill, with gnats flying all around, and our van plowed into a muddy, sloppy exchange #3. Eric came in, and handed off to Paul. Andy opened a bag of Doritos, and shared the bag around.
We gathered ourselves back into the van and headed to the next exchange, where Paul was to hand off to our sixth runner, Mike. The next exchange, exchange #6 is where we were to hand off to the resting members of van #2. Exchange #6 has to have an especially large parking lot to accommodate all of the participants from both vans. It also was quite muddy and several vans got stuck. While we were waiting for Mike to show up, I served up myself a PB&J sandwich that Ragnar provided. I also got these cool panorama shots:
It was a short drive, and it was clear that we were not the only Ragnar runners there. I met a van #2 of runners whose counterparts had met epic calamity. The team "I should have trained for this!!!" drove up from Richmond on the morning of the race. They were already tired from the long drive, having left the Richmond at 0400. Their first runner got lost, and showed up 20 minutes late to the exchange. Their van broke down, and they had to find a replacement van to drive them around. During all of their hardships, they were two hours behind their projected arrival at exchange #6. The members of van #2 for that team were still waiting to get their first run in, even though they started 30 minutes before us.
The staff at Subway were completely unprepared for the deluge of Ragnar runners. It must have taken 30 minutes to get to the front of the line to order my sandwich. One of the ladies behind the counter was desperately making phone calls, trying to get somebody to deliver bread, to get somebody to show up and help out all of these patient customers.
We left Subway for Exchange point #12, where we would get the hand-off from our van #2 team members. Exchange point #12 was Clear Spring Middle School, in Clear Spring, MD, which had been opened up to Ragnar runners. They sold showers for a dollar, and also sold a spaghetti dinner for six. The gymnasium was made available to us to sack out for a nap, and runners were littered around the floor like the middle school was a refugee camp from some sort of natural disaster. I brought my sleeping bag to the gym, and tried to get some sleep. I dozed, but was awoken by some people walking by with conversational tones not appropriate for the sleeping gym, and by my neighbor with really bad gas. Ugh! It wasn't especially late, so it's not surprising that I didn't get any sleep.
It was definitely after nightfall before the van #2 team member came in with the baton, handing off to Carlos. The night had fallen, and the fog had set in.
My Second Run
One of those things that was mentioned during the safety briefing was that only one exchange point hosted no porta-potties... so plan ahead! Unfortunately, there was no alarm bell in my brain that notified me that this was my exchange for my second run. I sloshed on my second run. Not completely-full-slosh, but I really could have used the pit-stop before hand. Any runners caught relieving themselves anywhere on the course meant that the team could be disqualified. So like I said, I sloshed. I sloshed in the dark. It was pitch black out there, and there were no street lights. The fog had set in, and my head lamp was only lighting up the micro-sized droplets of water suspended in the air.
The first part of my leg was slight downhill, and I managed to crack out my first mile at a 9:02 pace. As the terrain flattened out, I settled into the 10's. Without any scenery going by, there wasn't much to look at. I don't run with a personal music device, so this was actually kind of a boring run. All I could do was run, occasionally check the watch for my pace, run some more, make sure I was on the white line on the left side of the road. It was so dark I could not watch out for pot holes in the road, or I would have had to really slow down. Besides, the head lamp was only lighting up the mist in front of my face, and could not sufficiently shine the ground in front of me. I just had to go and hope for the best.
The final part of my run was into the town of Williamsport. The fog was not settled in the town, and I could see the bar patrons watching the runners go by as they enjoyed their sweet, delicious beers. I did not bring any water along for my short 4.5 mile run, and didn't really need it anyway.
As I approached the exchange point, I heard a runner coming up behind me. I had been passed several times along this leg, but I was not going to let this guy pass me. The final part of my run includes a right turn, starting from the left side of the road. The dude who was trying to pass me started running on the right side of the road about 100 yards before the right turn (he was not supposed to do this), and by doing so, avoided the oncoming traffic that I had to stop for, because I was crossing the intersection properly.
Drive, Wait, Drive, Repeat [Again]
I handed off the baton to Andy, who tore up his leg. These legs were much shorter and easier than our first legs, so there was less waiting between our running legs. When Mike finished his second run, he handed the baton off to Jason, who was acting as a replacement runner for our missing runner #1. This exchange point was the South Mountain Creamery in Maryland. It smelled like a dairy farm. This was because it is a dairy farm.
|On the menu we have:
meat, meat, meat, fried meat
and a side of more meat.
Instead, I went into the little store where they sold ice cream, and tried to avoid looking at the freezers full of meat cuts. (For a good laugh, you should see me at the meats section of the grocery store, when my wife forces me to buy some sort of animal corpses for her consumption). I waited in a very long line for a coconut ice cream cone that I later found out contained almonds. Maybe I should have gotten the hint when the coconut ice cream was named "Coconut Joy." I am not very smart about these things. I spat out the almonds, and enjoyed the coconut ice cream anyway.
We had a brief time where we could hang out with the van #2 runners, but they had to set out to the next exchange, and could not spend a lot of time with us. The members of van #2 soon set out to their next exchange point, and we collected ourselves to the van. It was around 0130 or 0200, I am not sure, exactly. I wasn't looking at my watch and it wouldn't have mattered much anyway.
|Campers in the field of thorny ivy at
Montgomery County Model Airpark
We had 5 hours until the next van would pass the baton to us, so we had a chance to get a little bit of sleep. I borrowed a bamboo mat from Mike, unpacked my sleeping bag, and found a nice flat spot to set up my sleeping area (pictured right, after the sunrise). I did not pack a tent, but since it had stopped raining, I wasn't worried much about rain. I sacked out and got some good sleep. I woke up a few times, once because there was a tow truck towing out a disabled van, another few times because a mosquito decided it wanted to land inside my ear (boy that will wake you up!) I finally woke up when one particularly loud member of the "High Cloud Dream Team" spoke much too loudly for the environment. I shushed him a few times to STFU, but he didn't get the point. I was giving that dude dirty looks for the rest of the race. I bet he had no idea what my problem was. Next time, I pack ear plugs. They might not be good enough for loud jackass High Cloud Dream Team members, but at the very least, they will keep out the mosquitoes.
|Ragnar tattoo and blood:
I woke to a nice sunrise, with only some high clouds to help the sunrise look more spectacular. As I was walking around in the weedy field, I got tripped up on a vine, which had these tiny thorns that raked across my skin, giving me a nasty, but cool-looking set of scratches. They were especially cool-looking because they were right under my Ragnar Relay temporary tattoo on my right leg.
The traffic getting out of the Montgomery County Model Airpark was terrible, and since Carlos was taking over his run for a very short leg, with his very speedy legs, we decided to abandon him to wait for Marta, who was finishing leg #24. We set off to the next leg, where we waited patiently for Carlos to show up. It was a beautiful morning by then, and it was nice to be out of the rain for a change. We took these moments to snap a cool pic of me standing next to the exchange sign.
My Third [and Final] Ragnar Leg
|Ready to run my final leg
Unlike the previous legs, this was completely civilized suburbia. I had not really planned out this leg very carefully, or I would have known that this was quite suitable for barefoot (skin-on-pavement) running. With my previous two runs being done at 103% capacity, spotty-interrupted sleep in a sleeping bag in a field with an aggressive mosquito with an ear fetish, I was really beat down by this third run, and I didn't have much running gusto left in me. I set out for a satisfactory first mile, but slowed down after that, with a long slow hill for the second half of the run.
I got passed a few times on the first part of my run, but wasn't too worried about it. I hadn't picked off a kill yet. The problem with running in a van with such elite runners like who were running in van #1 is that all of the other teams get left behind, and eventually catch up while it's my turn. Well, that's what I tell myself, anyway. It was down to one mile left on my run, and I see a runner off in the distance. After I crest a second hill, I notice that this runner is closer. I wonder if she's running Ragnar.
When I found Andy had taken my
picture, I said, "Gosh I hope I wasn't
heel striking in that picture!"
Since this run was in "civilized suburbia", there were some of the challenges of street running. This race requires the runners to obey traffic signals, and not to go darting in front of traffic. Unfortunately, there were a few places on this run that required me to wait for a traffic light to cross the street. That is why there are a few stops in my run. There was one final intersection to cross before the exchange, and I sprinted to my finish, handed off the baton to Andy, and collapsed with exhaustion in the grass next to the exchange point. Sprawling out in the grass was an incredibly welcome feeling. Of course, the shoes came off instantly.
Drive Wait Drive... Run?
At one of the stops, I saw what looked like a clown car full of runners get out of a minivan that was maximally packed. This petite young lady contorts herself to get out of the back row of seats. "Looks crowded!" I tell her. She instantly complains about how this was not the van they were supposed to be using, but instead, a van that they had to borrow due to a mechanical failure.
Waitaminute... What was your team name? "I should have trained for this!!"
|Runner #1 telling me her navigational
difficulties on the first leg.
"Um. ... it was me" she said. Jeez, I felt like an ass. She went on to tell me about how she missed the turn, or turned when she was supposed to go straight on the first leg of the race. After 20 minutes, runners from the team came back to look for her, but she found her way to the bridge at the end of the run.
Since this was another short leg with a fast runner, we had to pile back into the van and head off to pick up Paul. I told the rest of the van mates about how we found team calamity that we ran into back after exchange #6. Carlos replied that the first leg was quite difficult to navigate, and getting lost was completely understandable.
This was our last set of exchanges for van #1, so as Mike finished out his run, we were waiting near the border between Washington DC and Maryland, not far from Bethesda. There was some drama as the Susan G Komen charity walk was going on at the same time. Some of the signs for the Ragnar had been stolen, misplaced, or misappropriated causing some of the Ragnar runners to get lost. Mike had to take a map with him; the exchange officer wouldn't let runners go without one.
We met up with Van 2 at the final 2 van exchange point, and we waited for a longer period than we were expecting. Mike had a long run to do, and with the unease of the missing signs, we were starting to get worried about his lateness. I could no longer tolerate wearing shoes, so I was unshod at this point when Carlos suggested we run up the street to escort Mike in if he shows up, or go looking for him if he doesn't. Carlos was wearing flip-flops and took them off to run barefoot with me.
|Taking it to the house with Mike, Marta
Carlos (way back there), and me.
He was late because of traffic, had misjudged how much fuel he needed to bring along with him, and ... maybe he was a bit tired, too. I'm just glad he didn't get lost!
As I was walking back to the van, somebody recognized me (this is rare, nobody recognizes me). It turns out that the dude who recognized me did the basement finishing in our house about 8 or 9 years ago. Amazing, since nobody ever remembers me, much less from such a long time ago. "Why are you here?" Ahh, my wife is running. I looked over to the wife. "I'm sure you've seen me running around."
She couldn't place me. We both live in South Riding, but it wasn't clicking. I pointed to my bare feet: I'm that crazy barefoot runner guy.
"OH YEAH! I see you running all the time!" Yeah, that's more like it. Her friends start asking the typical first 15 questions barefooters hear all the time.
I proudly exclaim, "I've stepped on: nails, bolts, pebbles, gravel, rocks, glass... And NEVER got cut!" yeah, I'm kick-ass. This is totally true. "YEOOOOOW WHAT THE HELL!" I look down to my left foot that now hurts like the dickens. At that very moment of me crowing about how nothing can penetrate the awesomeness of my feet, I stepped on a bee or a wasp or some sort of yellow and black striped insect, that managed to sting me between my big toe and second toe.
Of course, my audience was amused, first thinking that I stepped on a pebble or a stone or something. Serves me right. Pride goeth before the fall, right? W
As the van #2 gang headed off to the next point to catch up with Marta, we just hung around for a while, talking, chatting, while Mike shotgunned a can of PBR (while nobody was looking) ...including the video camera that was supposed to record this shotgunning event, but the cinematographer pressed the wrong button, or pressed the right button twice. Nobody will know. "I have to rehydrate!" Mike insisted. Well, what's the harm. We were done running.
Finish Line National Harbor, MD
We had to wait around for the runners in van #2 to close out the race. We got our special running singlets on, and went in search of some beer near the finish line. Thankfully, we found some. I had a Blue Moon. Mike was looking for a PBR, but they didn't sell them at the restaurant at the finish line.
|Hanging out with beer at the finish line. Mike, Piet, Andy and Paul
We waited for the rest of van #2's team show up, so we could all meet Marta and run to the finish line together. We managed to contain our need to rehydrate, and had only one beer before van #2 showed up. We did have an entertaining show to watch, though. Oktoberfest was being celebrated next door to the Ragnar Relay finish line. There were local pretty girls hired to wear German authentic Biergarten outfits and sit there and look cute. They didn't speak German, though. So this was terribly disappointing for me. We were also entertained by some hoodlum who tried to break into the Oktoberfest without paying. The security guards were roughing him up pretty good, but not good enough to actually subdue the guy quickly. It must have taken them 10 minutes to finally cuff the guy.
Finally, van #2 showed up. We waited for Marta only a little bit longer. We all ran to the finish line together. These final 100 yards of running were BY FAR the most difficult and painful miles I had run in the whole race. After sitting around for a while, sipping beer, my legs had gone into repair mode, and were not interested in doing any more running. Thank goodness it was only another 100 yards!
|Here's the bling! It also serves as a bottle opener.
It's only a month away before my marathon. It would be absolutely insane of me to do another one of these, especially only 2 weeks before the marathon. But I'm doing just that. I signed up for the Ragnar Pennsylvania coming up just a week from now. Insane, crazy or stupid. I'm not sure which. I'm looking forward to that Ragnar Double Header bling. I signed up to run with a group of people I don't even know, with a team named "No Joke". Yeah. No Joke. Seriously!