Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ragnar Cape Cod 2012

I had such a good time with the "No Joke" Crew from the Pennsylvania Ragnar in 2011, that I signed up for the next available Ragnar Relay race that I could fit into my schedule.  I really should have blogged about the PA Ragnar experience.

Fortunately, the team captain of the same team I ran with in Pennsylvania decided to sign up for the Cape Cod Ragnar Relay race.  In previous years, that race was referred to as the "New England Ragnar", with a different route.  So in a sense, this was an inaugural race.   I seem to keep finding these and signing up for them.

Originally, I was set to fly directly to Amsterdam after my Ragnar Cape Cod, but thankfully, that trip got postponed until July.  Planning the logistics for getting from the tip of Cape Cod all the way to Boston in time for a flight to Europe was seriously stressing me out. Once the announcement came that the Amsterdam trip was to be delayed, I was incredibly relieved.

I rendezvoused with No Joke teammate Mariah in Newark, DE (that's pronounced like Noah's New Ark, not like "New Urk"), and team captain Sharon. We set out in Sharon's Suburban to where the rest of the team was waiting for us, at a Holiday Inn in Massachusetts.

That evening, we went out to dinner at the Stone Forge Tavern. I am not exactly sure how one forges stone, but it sounded like a nice enough place. Our table was originally reserved for 13, (12 runners plus one guest), but one of our runners was stuck at the airport, and was unable to get there in time for dinner.  Here: You can notice the empty seat at our table in the next photo.

For a restaurant that seemed to be where all the locals went for a nice dinner, they sure didn't have a whole lot in the way of vegetarian food selections.  I was stuck with the $4 house salad and a plate of cheese balls.  (Not the best dinner I've had).  We finished dinner introducing ourselves to each other, and headed back to the hotel.  Among the conversations at the table, I spent a while explaining why and how I run barefoot, what I do, and some basic ideas about flying gliders.

While socializing at dinner, we were also made aware of the term "Hangry", which is a combination of hunger and anger -- the word is used to describe the situation when somebody gets angry because of hunger.  To stave off hanger attacks, we packed many different types of road munchies for our trip.  And for the person most likely to suffer from hanger, she was packed a special hanger bag of her own.

As we manufactured our magnetic LED lights for the nighttime decorations in the hotel lobby, the members of Van #2 started getting nervous about their missing runner.  Text messages reported that the flight had been delayed by two hours.  Cancelled.  Re-routed. I'm not sure.  I only heard bits and pieces from people I had only met a few hours before. By the end of the evening, it looked like there would be a good chance that the runners of van #2 would be down a runner. The outcome of this is that the remaining five would be required to fill in the remaining routes.  I've never seen a Ragnar where all 12 team mates actually could attend, so this didn't upset me that much.  (Of course, I wasn't going to be running any of the extra miles, so this might have had something do with it!)  We finished assembling the night-lights with pull-out tabs, and headed off to bed. I'm a pretty hearty individual, and slept in a sleeping bag on the floor of a shared hotel room at the Holiday Inn.

Race Course and Procedures

The race starts off at the Miles Standish Monument State Reservation, at a little lake called "College Lake". After a few loops around, including a trip past the Plymouth Rock, route along the Cape Cod Canal. The runners 1 through six ride in the first vehicle, named "Van 1".  At exchange six, van 2's runners take over. Each runner in van 2 cycles through his or her routes until Exchange 12, when van takes over again, and so-on.  As the exchanges and miles go by, the route finishes in scenic Provincetown, Massachusetts.  We run straight through the night until the final goal is met. You'd better not have any fear of running in the dark!

Race Day

As per tradition, all of the team's runners, from both van 1 and van 2 show up for the beginning of the race.  The first leg was run by our team Captain.  Not all of the teams started at the same time.  Some of the slower teams would start earlier, some of the better teams would start much later.  Van 1 runners were required to attend a safety briefing before the race started.  The safety briefing is required by all of the runners on the course.  The van 2 runners would get their briefing at exchange 6.  During the briefing, we were told the rules of running, mostly what could be already learned by reading the "Race Bible". After the briefing, all runners would be required to show the requisite number of reflective vests, flashing LED lights and headlamps.

"You are a strikingly handsome man in that jacket!" I kept telling my teammate, Eric.  I had to have one of those super-cool Ragnar jackets.

After the briefing, we had some time to hang around, take some goofy pictures gawk at the decorations of the other team vans, gawk at the uniforms of the other teams, and do some shopping at the Ragnar store.  Even by 0815, the selection was picked clean.  The jacket I was looking for was not in my size, and not in my preferred color.   My selection of jackets to choose from was further reduced because there were many women choosing to buy the men's jacket instead. The women had the choice of wearing the women's style jacket (that hugged the boobs better, had no outside pockets, and had the zipper on the wrong side), as well as the mens jackets.  I found the last "Large" jacket on the rack, even though it wasn't in orange trim, like I would have liked.  Here's a photo of me with the team, (in the middle, front-row) sporting a mild case of bed-head and proudly wearing the jacket that I had just purchased.

As the gun went off, Sharon headed off on her 6.3 mile run.  We quickly got in the van, raced ahead of her, and pulled over on the side of the road, and waited for her to catch up.  The lead runners were incredible athletes, whom we only had a moment to marvel as they zipped by.  Sharon was no slouch, either running her first leg at an average pace of 8:37, a velocity that I can currently only dream of.  As she caught up, we would hoot and holler, clank our cowbells, and shout words of encouragement.  Occasionally, we would honk the car horn as well.  (But this wasn't too welcome in residential neighborhoods).

As the miles ticked by, the shouting and cow-belling never got tiring. We took some time at Plymouth Bay, saw the Plymouth Rock.

  After the first five had their turns, Sharon, Ben, Mariah, Eric, Heidi, it was finally my turn; Runner #6.  My exchange started on Warren Avenue, which runs right along the beach at Plymouth Bay.  I was kind of nervous, and probably started out too fast.  My running route along the scenic beach wasn't for long. Within 200 yards, I was turning off   toward the inland, and headed uphill.

I put in a pretty major effort to run quickly, and didn't disappoint myself with my effort or my pace.  Unfortunately, I think I put in a 100% effort on my first leg, making me not as awesome for my next two runs.  It would be similar to starting a half-marathon at 5k pace for the first 5k, and petering out for the remaining 17 km.  I managed to pass a few runners, but got passed by many more along the way.  As I hit exchange #6, Lenny, wearing short-shorts and no shirt, was waiting for me.   The hand-off went smoothly, and we found some time to get a photo with the remaining 10 runners at exchange #6.

Since we had a runner never show up, the runners of van #2 had some running routes to make up.  Lenny, a super-star runner in my opinion, picked up the first two routes, running a straight 12 miles. From then on, the details of the van 2's runs became less clear to me, as my priority was to get food and rest until my next leg.   My leg was done at 13:15 or so, and I wasn't going to run again until around 11 pm.

One of the most obvious lessons I've learned from experience from my previous 2 Ragnars is to eat or sleep whenever possible.  We found a pizza joint that was jam-packed with Ragnar runners from other teams, and a Chinese restaurant next door that was empty. Can you run with Kung Pao chicken working its way through your intestinal tract?  I suppose this was the reason that the Chinese restaurant was so empty.

One of the recurring themes on this race is the Ragnarians would swoop into restaurants with their 6-people vans, and swarm a restaurant into submission.  Although I didn't personally witness it, a "hangry" local ranted at the restaurant owner as well as Ragnarians who had swooped into a restaurant. "I come here every Saturday, a loyal customer! And I can't get the service I want because of all of these visitors! I brought my son here!"  It's a theme that was oft-repeated on this trip: a restaurant ill-prepared to handle the influx of hungry Ragnarians, and locals being chafed at the overloaded, understocked restaurants.

I found a plate of Kung Pao Tofu (but mistakenly, for reasons I don't understand said Kung Pao Chicken, to shock, confusion and horror from my teammates).  The portions were way too generous, but it was nice to get some food in my system.

We drove to the next exchange, #12, by a beach. Ragnar designates sleeping areas, where you can find many other runners sacked out in sleeping bags.  Try not to be a loud-mouth while walking through the sleeping areas! (Or you will incur the same wrath I have for the High Cloud Dream Team from my DC Ragnar experience).

We laid out a large enough tarp for all of us to lie on.  We had all packed our own sleeping bags, except for Ben. For the few hours before van #2 was finished I tried to get a few hours of shut-eye.  It was breezy and cool, but quite comfortable. I managed to actually fall asleep in this environment.  According to my teammates, the tarp blew over my head and covered me while I slept.  I had no awareness of this.

I was later awoken by some non-Ragnarians at the beach in their motor homes, with two dogs loudly barking at each other.  Later, I was awoken again by a car alarm that honked for what seemed like 10 minutes.

Night Running

Shortly before night-fall, van #2 handed off to us again.  We were back on the road and back to our routine of drive, pull-over, cheer, drive, pull-over, cheer, drive, exchange, repeat for all runners.  Sharon had a scenic run along the Cape Cod Canal. Ben had a great run crossing the western bridge over the canal, and along the other side of the canal.  He finished on a beach boardwalk after a short run through the sand.

It started to get dark as Mariah was running.  After a certain time, all members must wear a reflective vest when outside of the vehicles, and all runners must have a vest, head lamp and flashing red LED light on the back-side.  This helps drivers see the runners at night.  Unfortunately, it makes for terrible picture taking, as the camera's flash reflects back the reflective vest very well, and not the rest of the photo.  That said, I got a nice picture of Mariah after her leg was done, "the best run she's ever had in her life!"  It took some fiddling with the camera and a steady hand, but I got the shot.

 It was nearly 11 pm and I was rather groggy from my half-nap.  I decided that since I didn't know the road well enough that I would continue to run with my Altra Adams shoes, and not run any of my Ragnar legs barefoot.  When my turn came up as we reached the exchange, I looked for a porta-potty.  There was none to be had.  I really hate running with that sloshing sound. Peeing on the course is strictly prohibited, and grounds for the whole team to get instantly disqualified if pee-ers are caught by a race official.

It was cooler than I normally stand around without a jacket, but warm enough that I run with the jacket on.  I tried to warm up by jogging slowly with my new Ragnar jacket.  As Heidi handed me the exchange baton, I started my leg.  I set out trying to match my 10:00 min/mile pace that I was trying to maintain through the Ragnar.  The conditions of the first third of the run consisted of very poorly-maintained asphalt. There was so much tar used to seal the cracks in the asphalt that this leg was more like a technical trail run than a road run.  With the low light and the cracky road, I had to pick my steps somewhat more carefully than I would if I could just run without abandon.

As I headed up a hill, about half-way through my run, I decided it was time to get some water to drink. I pulled my water bottle from my water belt, and somehow dropped it. It rolled out into the street with traffic racing by.  What an inconvenience!  Right about this time, another runner who had been behind me, but unable to pass me zipped on by.  Grr.

I started to fade about 2/3rds through my run, resigning myself to not being able to keep my pace, due to the darkness and poor road conditions.  By this time, we had moved on to sidewalk concrete, which is my favorite running surface. I saw a blinking light off in the distance and knew I could catch up if I picked up the pace just a little bit.  Within a half mile I passed that guy.

I had programmed my Garmin to show me the route, guide me if I went off course, tell me how many more miles were remaining in the run, and if I was running the expected pace or not.  With this information in-hand, I knew that I was nearing the exchange point with about a half-mile to go.

Footsteps. Loud, clunky footsteps approached from behind.  I'm not letting this guy get past me.  I picked up the pace.  He was on my heels for a good quarter mile.  Not far to go.  He kicked up the pace and passed me. I couldn't keep it up anymore. "Ah you got me" I admitted.   I fell behind about 20 feet.

Then, out of nowhere, I had an extra kick somewhere deep down, and I put it to use.  I caught up to him right at the exchange.  The exchange was right behind traffic of a bunch of vans, so the team couldn't see me approaching.  I just appeared from behind the vans.

Somehow, I managed not to hit the stop button on my watch, and the GPS recorded all of the cool down time and the walk back to the van.  My best guess about the run is that it was 6.66 miles run in 1:10 at an average 10:34 min/mile pace.  It turned out better than I had originally thought, but still not as good as the 10:00 min/mile pace I was shooting for in the beginning.


Sweaty, grouchy -- I had sweated through my dry jacket, I was pretty self-conscious about my stinkiness, even though all of the other runners had finished their legs, and were also stinky.  It was midnight, and we drove to our next exchange where we would meet up with Van #2 at a high school -- exchange #18.  It was significantly colder at this exchange than our beach nap in the sun and light breeze.  Still, we put out the tarp and 3 of us slept in sleeping bags, while the other 3 slept in the van.  The field that we set out our tarp in might have been a designated sleeping area, it was too dark to tell.

I changed out of my wet running clothes into some dry clothes, out in the open, hoping that no van with bright headlights would shine on me as my butt was exposed.   No such luck.  The van either didn't notice or was polite enough not to honk as my "full moon" was lit up by a Ragnar van that happened to be parking at the wrong time.  There's no modesty among runners.

I settled into my sleeping bag. It got cold.  Much colder than my "rated to 50F" sleeping bag could handle.  I was fully dressed in jeans, shirt, my fleece jacket and my sleeping bag.  I was quite comfortable with the cold temperatures, until it got too cold for my arm to be outside of the sleeping bag.  Later it got so cold that the tip of my nose woke me up from being too cold.  I put my face back down into the sleeping bag to warm up. WOOOF! Too much like a smelly runner smell in that sleeping bag, so the nose came out again.   This repeated a few times until I gave up at 02:37, when the last-quarter moon started to rise and shine on the whole field, giving it just enough light to see.

I got out of my sleeping bag and found the porta-potties after a short walk. When I got back to the sleeping tarp, the condensation that had settled on my sleeping bag had frozen.  I was too cold to get back in, so I just walked around for a while.  This would be a perfect time to get some hot cocoa, which was available, courtesy of Ragnar.  Unfortunately, the generators circuit-breaker kept tripping, and there was no electricity to power the heaters to make warm water.  So you could have a cup of hot cocoa if you had your own water heater, or if you could pour the chocolate powder into your cold water and get it stirred in well enough. Getting cocoa powder absorbed in a cup of cold water is about as difficult as the cinnamon challenge.   No hot cocoa for Piet.

As I was packing my sleeping bag -- a non-trivial task during the day, even more difficult when only lit by last-quarter moonlight, I heard this loud sputtering, then hissing noise from the far end of the field.  The field's sprinklers had come on!  Ragnar sleepers on that side of the field got drenched, instantly woken up by a shower of high pressure water spray. Many bad words were shouted.  I feared that the two teammates sleeping on our tarp would soon be under a deluge from the next activated sprinkler, so I woke them up.  The flood never came.  It was nearly time to go, anyway. Van 2 was scheduled to show up around 3-ish.

On the Road Again

Despite the fact that van #2 was down a runner, they were still making incredible time. They showed up on the time that we had originally projected within a few minutes.Sharon was up for her final run.  From Sharons through Heidi's run, the Ragnar route was on the Cape Cod Rail Trail, with no or few opportunities to cheer the runner along the way.  For reasons that aren't quite clear to me, there were many course changes along this part of the route.  While I think Sharon's route remained intact, other runners routes got significantly shortened.  Ben's route of 3 miles got turned into 2 miles. Ben's no slouch at running, so at a 7:30 pace, he's going to finish his 2 mile run in barely enough time for us to get into the van and get to the next exchange.

No! Not that Road! 

We drove to Ben's exchange and waited nearly 20 minutes. "Ben's not that slow. He should be here by now" I was getting changed into my running gear, a fresh set of clothes that weren't as warm as my jeans and fleece, but my turn was coming up in a short enough time that I needed to be ready to go.  I changed in the back seat of the Suburban.  No moons here!  Sharon and Mariah raced back to the van, "We're at the wrong exchange!"  We were waiting for Ben at the wrong exchange, one stop ahead of where he was done running.  The next stop was 0.8 miles further along the road than the stop from where we were supposed to be waiting for Ben.  We left Eric at the exchange just in case Ben decided to "run through"

The volunteer at the correct exchange wanted to talk very slowly about where we needed to be.  Leaning into our window, hanging on the side view mirror, making it impossible to drive in and find Ben.  We finally met up with Ben, and there he had waited patiently for 20 minutes.  Oops!  Mariah took over, and started her shortened leg, running back to the exchange where we were already waiting (in the wrong place).

While waiting for Mariah to show up (at the correct exchange), many 20-something year-old lady Ragnarians finished this leg in tears.  They were quite upset about the darkness of this Rail Trail.  Maybe they were scared that some bear or bogeyman was going to jump out of the bushes, "It was just like the Blair Witch project on that route!"  My unvoiced reaction to this whining could be summed up with: Suck it up, chickey!  Night running was something you knew you were getting into when you signed up for the Ragnar.  Trail running was something you knew you were getting into. This isn't your average 10k run.   If you're so worried about the imagined perils of night running, ask for a pacer to come along with you.

My Final Leg

While waiting for Heidi, I looked around exchange #30 for some porta-potties.  No potties to be found.  Ragnar must hate runner #6.  No Joke!  I predicted more slosh-running in my near future.  There's no way I could duck into the bushes for this one, the sun was coming up, and there was a traffic cop right there at the exchange.   To make the time pass by, I started a conversation with a fellow minimalist runner. This guy wearing VFF KSOs was waiting for his turn, along with his girlfriend, wearing an ankle brace.  She was supposed to be a runner for this race, but sprained her ankle when she jumped off the road to avoid an oncoming car.  Seeing at least one pair of VFFs during races is quite common these days, but seeing a pair of Altra Adams is quite rare.  In fact, I've never seen anybody else run in them.  I find them much more comfortable than the Five Fingers.  Here's a picture of me showing them off. I'm probably saying something like "It's just like wearing Vibram Five Fingers, but I can wear cheap socks with them"

The Ragmag (the magazine with the latest course changes along the route) did not indicate any changes to the route.  I fired up the GPS, and set off on my last leg after Heidi handed off to me.  I spent about 10 feet on the Cape Cod Rail Trail, and then off to the streets. At about mile 1.5, the watch beeped at me. "You're off course, dude!"  C'mon Garmey (that's the nickname I have for the Garmin), I followed the sign that was clearly labeled, "turn here" .

"Nope, I'm sure that you're on the wrong course" Garmey responded.  OK, maybe I anthropomorphized this part of the conversation.  I continued on, anyway.  I suspected that a really-late-last-minute course change was possible.  I just didn't know if I was going to be running 4 miles like I had planned on, or something shorter.

I wasn't able to run a good pace.  I had finally gotten warmed up at mile 2, and was able to get to my projected 10:00 pace at that time.  I passed the "One Mile To Go" sign much earlier than I had anticipated, and sped up to as fast as I could manage.  In retrospect, before I started my run, I should have spent that time warming up instead of talking about my shoes. I got to the finish line, pretty wiped out.  The bummer of it all is that the extra mile that was snipped off was going to be the most scenic part of my run for this trip.  The other runners got some great scenery.  I didn't have all that great of a scenic set of running routes, and the one route that was going to have anything interesting to see got cut out for the interesting part.

Fighting the Hangries

After my last run, Van #1 retired, waiting for Van 2 to finish the race for us.  It was some time around 8 or 9 AM, and everybody in the van wanted some breakfast (except for me).  We found a breakfast joint with all you can eat buffet and a swarm of Ragnar vans.
"We had no idea there was an event going on" the waitress said.  The line was pretty long, both for the bathroom as well as for the wait to be seated.  Some of the other Ragnarians were rather impatient about the food shortages that this poor restaurant suffered.

The Pennsylvania Ragnar had much better participation by the local churches along the way.  At several of the exchange points that were churches, the local churchgoers had a bake sale on church property -- one even had a bonfire to help warm up between running legs. This was awesome! I don't know if it was a matter of the locals not wanting to participate, or them not being notified, but I never saw any such participation at any of van #1's running legs.

Finish Line Festival

We checked into our nice beach house that we rented for the weekend, with enough room for all of van 1's inhabitants to stay overnight in a comfortable fashion. I took a long shower to detox, brushed my teeth and enjoyed the clean clothes I changed into.

When van 2 finished their legs, we were waiting for them at the finish line, and ran in together as a team. We got handed our super-cool medals and headed to the beer tent.

At the finishers festival, they served clam chowder and beer.  It was so crowded that if there was anything else, I couldn't find it.  Since I'm a vegetarian, and allergic to seafood, the clam chowder wasn't quite my thing.  But the beer was nice!

Once we left the festival, we headed back to the beach house.  A few of us headed to the shoreline for a swim (which was about as cold as you can imagine).  I fell asleep at about 1730 and didn't wake up until 0115, after all the bars closed. (what a party pooper).  So I went back to bed, and didn't wake up again until about 0730 the next morning.  By then, van #2 had already left, driving back to Maryland.

On our departure that morning, we took a minute to stop at the tip of the cape, where I got these nice photographs:

Return Trip

One word: Awful! Even though we left an hour earlier than our projected departure time, leaving at 0900, we found ourselves in traffic jam after traffic jam. We had a significant traffic jam 8 different times on the trip back to Delaware.  Two traffic jams were in Massachusetts, both trying to get across the Cape Cod Canal.  Once into Connecticut, we found a traffic jam backup caused by a truck fire -- a tractor trailer caught fire and billowed thick smoke onto the westbound lanes.  I finally got home at 0120 on Monday morning.  What a long trip!

I had a really wonderful, memorable trip; and I'm really glad to have met the new runners along the way.

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