Want to know what it feels like to have a completely surreal, out-of-body experience? Do Ragnar Relay! Our team has been planning and talking about running the Ragnar Tn Relay for many months but, until we actually did it, we had no real idea of what we were getting ourselves into!
This was truly one of the most fun and most exhausting things i have ever done. I have friends who have done overnight relays and have read umpteen blogs on overnight relays and definitely thought i was darn well prepared. Well, i just might have been wrong 😉
People said, “oh, it’s impossible to get sleep” but i thought maybe they just didn’t try hard enough! People said, “oh, it can get really dark, lonely, and scary out on those roads” and i said to myself, “ha! they’re being silly. how lonely can it be when you have 2500 people running?” I also heard, over and over, that you will become closer to your teammates than you ever imagined and my thought was “i’m already close to these people, how much closer can we get?”
Silly me. I was definitely naive! Yes, it is nearly impossible to get more than a wink of sleep. Yes, it can be very dark, lonely, and scary when out on those rural roads in the middle of the night. Yes, i’m closer to many of my teammates than i ever imagined. These are exactly the things that make the Ragnar Relay so incredibly awesome!
Alright, on to my race re-cap (be patient, it was over 33 hours in the making so this may just be a long post!)
Our team, Memphis Misfits, set out on our journey last Thursday afternoon. We met in Memphis, caravanned to Nashville where we picked up our 2 vans, and headed to Chattanooga where we would be starting the race. We had our “last supper” as a full team and made it back to the hotel for bed around 10:30 pm. Alarms were set for 4 am (3 am Memphis time!) and off we went. We went as a team to the race start where we had safety briefings and decorated the vans. (Thanks, Misfits, for going to the start to cheer me on!!)
Admittedly, i was a bit nervous because i was the first runner and this was a complete unknown. Excited, definitely, but nervous too. I believe it was lower 40’s and a tad foggy, if i remember correctly. I lined up with only 9 other runners and off we went for the first of 36 legs. Our run started through a “trail” in a park, very similar to the “loop” in Overton Park. About 5 minutes in to the run, i took my first wrong turn. Fortunately, the other 9 took the same wrong turn so we figured it out as a group and got back on track. Within 15 minutes or so, we were pretty spread out. It was pretty surreal to be running in the pitch black dark all alone in an area i was completely unfamiliar with. Being the first leg, my van didn’t really have a good grasp of how to leapfrog the runner so i saw them only twice. It was a long 7.8 miles but if there’s anything that will make you run fast, it’s being somewhere in the dark where all you can hear is your own breathing and lots of barking dogs! I could see the blinking lights of the safety vests of the 2 girls in front of me (the 2 guys up front lost us right away) and decided my goal would be to “roadkill” them. Roadkill is what you get when you pass someone. The most fun about this was that as i was passing them, my van was passing me which gave me even more energy for the kill 🙂
Each leg (run) ends at an “exchange” and this is where you hand off the slap bracelet to your next runner. Mine was Mimi. Handed off and away she went. It was still dark and cold at this time and she was a “no van support” leg (i think?!) so we went to the exchange to wait and get Keith ready. This was when i finally changed out of my wet running clothes (the last row of the van was “Jimmy’s house” as well as our changing room). Here came Mimi UP a large climb, handed off to Keith, and away he went. As soon as Keith headed off, we got Mimi in the car, clothes were changed while we were driving and cheering for Keith. At this point, we were finally catching on to the whole “leapfrogging” your runner. We knew Keith had a specific roadkill he was after (a guy who ever so rudely passed Mimi in the chute. Come on guy! that’s just rude!) so this was fun to watch. In came Keith and away went Henry. We jumped back in the van, rode up a mile or so, cheered Henry as he came by, jumped back in the van, and so on until we got to the next exchange. This was the handoff from Henry to Jimmy. The same leapfrogging happened while JImmy was running. At this point we were really starting to understand the process and we were having a ball. We didn’t go into the relay with any plan to “race” our legs but adrenaline was really pushing us along so everyone was doing awesome! In between cheering for our van mates, we would ice our knees, eat day old peanut butter sandwiches, drink muscle milk, and just be silly. Jimmy handed off to Teresa for leg 6 of 36 and away she went. This was when we were really getting excited because the next exchange would be the one where we would hand off to our other teammates (van 2). We hadn’t seen them since early that morning when i started my run and while we tried to communicate through texts and tweets, it’s just not the same as being with them! We found our team at the exchange and all went down to the chute to watch the handoff from Teresa to Steve. This meant van 2 was “on” and van 1 was off.
The exchanges worked the same way for Van 2. The runners in that van were Steve, Katie, Toby, Ansley, Stephanie, and Lauri (in the order they ran). We were so excited to hear about their runs and experiences. By then we felt like veterans! (Little did we know, this was hardly even the beginning!) This down time was our first chance at a nap but we had a couple of factors working against us- it was about 1 pm and we weren’t all that tired (just still amped up from our runs) and our next exchange wasn’t open until 3:45 which meant we had to try to get comfy in the van. (This, of course, came as no problem later when we were passing out from exhaustion but at this time of day it just wan’t going to happen!) We finally got into the school at 3:45 where we were able to change clothes (back into our running clothes), roll out our legs, and grab a bite to eat….peanut butter crackers for me. We were so anxious to hear from van 2 because this meant it was our turn to be out on the roads again. We got word that Lauri was totally killing her run and was closing in on the exchange so i headed off to the chute to wait. There she came! Yay!!
This is where the Repeat comes into play. We headed off to repeat what we did for the first 6 legs. While we were running, this gave van 2 an opportunity to rest and eat. Of course, it’s nearly impossible to rest so basically your downtime quickly gets eaten up by who knows what and then it’s your time to run again.
We all felt great for our second legs. We really didn’t know what to expect and, of course, hadn’t really fueled or rested like we would if we were home but that didn’t even seem to matter. When you’re in the zone of the Ragnar Relay, you’re just going on adrenaline. It’s so awesome to have your van come by and cheer you on or to see your other teammates at the major exchanges and you’re just really on “go” the whole time so you’re never really thinking about how tired or hungry you are.
This is, of course, until leg 3! By this time, we had been up for about 24 hours and were gearing up for our 3rd leg. My van tried to get some sleep at one of the major exchange points while van 2 was running their second legs but, unfortunately, this just didn’t work. We had about 2 hours at this one location but being that it was a major exchange, it was loud and energetic rather than calming and sleep conducive. At the time, this didn’t seem to matter too much. We were definitely a little punch drunk at this point and would get the giggles and not be able to stop or would all yell at once where to turn or what to do but, again, this is just the fun of doing a Ragnar Relay! I ate a peanut butter sandwich on the way to our exchange point where Lauri would hand off to me.
We got word that Lauri was about a mile out which gave me just enough time to run to the porta potty and roll out my knees in the parking lot. “Team 3” was yelled out which meant it was time for me to get in the chute. I remember seeing our other teammates (van 2) for a little bit while i was in the chute but i think i was kind of out of it by then. I remember them talking to me but not really being able to compute what they were saying. All i could think about was that i was cold and tired but super excited to get my 3rd run going.
This was definitely my coldest and strangest run. I spent the first 15 or so minutes being pissed off that my glasses were fogging up. Funny thing is that i didn’t have glasses on. I was just running in some fog but my brain couldn’t make sense of what it was. I don’t do well without sleep! This was an awesome run. It was one of the hardest runs i can ever remember having, not because of the terrain but because of my fatigue and comfort zone, but may be one i’m most proud of too. This was the type of run i had heard about. I couldn’t see a runner in front of or behind me. It was cold, dark, and lonely. I could hear howling and barking way off in the distance. It was tough but it was awesome.
Leg 3 seemed to pretty much wipe out everyone in my van. We were feeling beat up but we were still having a ball. It’s amazing how funny some things can be at 5 in the morning on no sleep. We had a ball serenading our runners with Hall and Oats tunes and teasing Henry about his 5 hour energy hallucinations. We counted roadkill and were taken as roadkill more times than we could count.
We saw van 2 one last time before the big finish! Teresa handed off to Steve and the rest of us hung out for a little bit, swapping war stories, and trying to re-fuel a bit. I believe it was sometime in the early morning- maybe 8 am or so at this time- so we had all been up for 29 hours with no more than a wink of sleep here and there. Needless to say, we didn’t look our best!
My van spent the next couple of hours trying to rest up, eat lunch, and re-group before time to go meet up with van 2 and run the finish line with Lauri as she came into downtown Nashville!!
This was the first opportunity that we really had a chance to be a team of 15 which was awesome as we all ran the finish line together! It was certainly one of the most exhausting 33 hours, 28 minutes, and 46 seconds that i’ve ever had but also one of the most fun and rewarding. If you ever get the opportunity to climb into some vans with your running buddies for an overnight relay, do it!
Huge thanks to my entire team for making this such an incredible experience. Memphis Misfits, I love you guys!!