I love to run, obviously, and I generally enjoy people—also somewhat obvious, I guess—so it’s probably not an earth-shattering surprise that I dig long-distance relays like Ragnar. Naturally, there are a veritable shit ton of variables, so many wonderful opportunities for things to go disastrously and horribly wrong, that come with the territory of putting together 12 strangers (or folks who, in general, don’t sleep with each other in passenger vans) in two vans, to cover around a couple hundred miles of running over a 24+-hour period, but from the two, now three, times I’ve participated in a Ragnar relay, the adventure is just that—an adventure.
Ragnar SoCal was an almost-200 mile run from Huntington Beach, CA, down to San Diego, and as I wrote about earlier, a flurry of awesome organizations graciously sponsored our team, which was comprised of social media ambassadors for The San Francisco Marathon:
- The San Francisco Marathon — our vans and gear for the weekend. [PS, get yourself out here come July to run with me ($10 off registration costs for any event by using DSC10TSFM2014A26 … hollllaaaaa)]
- Nuun Hydration — weekend-long hydration wonders (and the fine folks who graciously comped our race entry)
- FitSok — the ever-important socks
- Zensah compression — squeezin’ our bits between legs to recover quickly before running again… and again…
- Gametiime — our ‘between-legs’ attire. Sidenote, they’re recently launched nation-wide, so you should definitely check them out. I have found tons of races through their site
- and last but not least, Skechers — our official kicks for the races
Though I can’t recall precisely when I committed to doing the relay, I know it was a long time ago, I think maybe even in December or early January, right after we moved here from Chicago. I remember receiving a somewhat random text message from a number I didn’t know, asking me if I wanted to be on a relay team in southern California… “ok, that should work. And uh, who is this?” (And yea, that was Chris). Just as it has been my other experiences with running Ragnar, training for it over the past few months wasn’t a priority. That sounds pretty douchey to admit, but this time around, my mind was pretty squarely focused on Oakland in mid-March, and I figured (read: hoped) that I’d still have some semblance of residual marathon fitness that’d do something for me for a relay.
That said, when I initially committed to the relay, I realized that I was playing with fire a bit, since it was only two weeks post-Oakland, which was my A-race, so when I said “yea, absolutely! I can run a relay! 13 miles? 20 miles? Whatever you want! At around a 10k pace and with sleep deprivation? No problem!” I obviously had no way of knowing how I’d feel come relay day. Fortunately, my marathon recovery has been swift, so I felt pretty confident going into the relay weekend that I hadn’t lost any significant amounts of fitness in the two weeks post-marathon (which sounds ridiculous to admit, but hey, I think like this sometimes).
With my mother-in-law in town from IL, and thus, my childcare coordinated (THANK YOU!), I flew down to Orange County with the lovely Paulette from SJ mid-morning on Thursday before meeting up with our team captain Chris; Wes, whom I will probably refer to as Ethan throughout this post because for some inexplicable reason, I just really want to call him Ethan; Alisyn, and Matt at the airport.
It’s really this pretty funny thing because, for the most part, I didn’t personally know hardly any of my relay teammates. I think this is probably pretty common for relays, but I wasn’t really concerned about it. Many of them I had met after living here only a week, when a gaggle of TSFM ambassadors met-up for some trailz in Marin and an adult beverage afterward in SF, but to me, the thing about runners is that, by and large, they’re cool. I realize that that’s probably a somewhat preposterous and sweeping generalization to proclaim, but I really do feel that way. I’m hoping that, since most of my readers are runners, at least one of you is nodding your head in agreement…
Anyway, once we piled into our single mini-van, family-of-six style, and fetched the other grocery-getter that would be our weekend ride, we kicked off the weekend with some lunch in the Anaheim area, checked into the hotel, sorted our sponsor stash, and ultimately decided to run to Downtown Disney for dinner, once our other out-of-town runners, Keith and Bruce, arrived. Staying two miles away from Disney was a lovely surprise, and yeah… al fresco dining in April is a pretty novel idea. (My midwesterners: I did it for you). I think I can still play my “I just moved to California” card here because I had no idea that we were staying, or starting, anywhere near Anaheim, so when someone suggested running to Disney, you can imagine my surprise… and confusion.
An enjoyable dinner (vegan pizza FTW) and a shuttle back to the hotel later, wherein the driver decided not to charge us because apparently none of us realized that a shuttle warranted this novel, 21st-century thing called payment (honest mistake), we were back at the hotel and just beginning the waiting game until our late start on Friday at 12:45pm. Of course, gathering a bunch of runners together, who typically run in the morning, who have nothing to do until nearly the afternoon, just meant that Chris, Keith, and I could do another little shake-out run around Anaheim in the morning before getting ready to roll. Post-shakeout, Ethan Wes and I set-up shop in the hotel room with our very fancy breakfast of champions, and shortly thereafter, Keith, Ethan Wes, Chris, and I made our way over to Huntington Beach to get ready for our relay start—and to finally meet our other two vanmates, Kristina (from southern California) and Jordan (whom had driven down from Berkeley). Finally meeting Kristina and Jordan was super—instant runner love all around (I’m telling you, runners are special people, and instant connections are common)–and after a flurry of obligatory pictures for all the sponsors who supported us for the duration of the weekend, we all spread out along the beachfront trail, waiting for Keith to come flying by on his first leg.
In the interim, once we all met and hugged, we had the standard pre-Ragnar start stuff to do—the obligatory safety meeting, the opportunity to pick-up bibs and flags and Ragnar tech shirts—and more waiting around. We sufficiently blinged out our van with hashtags, sponsor names, and Nuun and TSFM magnets (some of which are now surely found scattered over various interstates in southern California).
Before we knew it, Keith was off on leg #1. While many things about this Ragnar were the same as Ragnar Madison-Chicago, the biggest difference was the landscape: lots of coastal running. It made for some gorgeous pictures and surely some really nice running eye candy, if you were lucky enough to run alongside it; it made me pine for the Chicago LFT.
This relay experience, though my third, was also my first time driving or navigating, for which I can only claim partial success. Once our van was up and at ‘em, things seemed to be moving pretty quickly. Even when we got to our destinations (mostly) on time—more on that in a sec—it never felt like we had a ton of down time. Before we knew it, Keith was in and handed off to Kristina, who handed off to Jordan, who handed off to Wes, who handed off to me, and suddenly, I was standing in the parking lot of the Angels stadium in Orange, CA, becoming BFFs with some incredibly nice volunteers (seriously, probably some of the nicest strangers I’ve talked to) while I waited for Wes.
Leg 1 – Orange, CA; 6.46miles (740, 822, 736, 45, 936, 827, 712)
A late start time—I think the penultimate one of the day—meant a lot of sola running for most of the initial miles of each leg. According to Ragnar, my first leg was the most mileage and the most challenging, so I thought that perhaps, for once, I’d be able to figure out how to effectively pace myself for this relay and not go out ballz-to-the-wall hard and die a slow, painful death on my subsequent legs, as I have been wont to do in M2C ’12 & ’13.
Ethan Wes flew in to the Angels parking lot, and so I began my tour of some residential areas of Orange, CA, including some neighborhoods, some downtown-y area, a cemetery, roughly a cajillion stoplights (and luckily, I had just missed a train by about 20 seconds). The stoplights made the run more of a fartlek than anything—and watching my pace on my watch climb from low/mid-7s to 9-10s+ just rocks, beeteedubs—but eventually, about a couple miles in, I started to find some brothers and sisters in humanity. I’d try to genuinely engage the other runners, and even offered to run with a guy who really looked like he was struggling in the unadulterated sun (he rejected me, sad face), so I was on my own for a while.
I eventually caught up to a guy, Stan, from LA, who’s in the throes of training for 70.3 Kona, and it was nice to run with him for a while (and also save him from missing a turn). Selfishly, it was also awesome to have him to chat with over a thousand stoplights and over the final 2, 3ish miles because, true to form for my relay experiences, my guts decided that running in a new-to-me location, where I had absolutely no sense of direction, would be the perfect time to feel the need to shit right here and now… but with the company of my new-found friend, I could think less of my need to “evacuate” and more about my new buddy’s training experiences, his goals, and that sort of thing. Stan, if you’re out there, thank you, from both me and my bowels. He really was pretty cool though. Anyway, before I knew it, it was “one mile to go,” and that meant a bathroom, and, surprise to me, indoor plumbing at a community center. WINNING. A helicopter-arms-style handoff to Chris, and bam—one leg down.
Shortly after I finished running and reveling in indoor plumbing, I did a hasty and partial strip-down into possibly clean clothing and drove our van over to the first major exchange zone, where we got to see van 2 for the first time that day and finally meet/see our other two teammates, Meg and Miriam, who had come in later in the day from southern CA and Napa, respectively. I knew that we weren’t as pressed for time to pick-up Chris, since he’d be handing off to Matt/van 2, but I didn’t want to miss seeing him come in, and I wanted to have as much QT as possible with van 2. Relays, at least Ragnars, are super fun in many respects, but probably the shittiest thing about them is the relative non-existent opportunity to spend any time with, or even see, your teammates who aren’t in your van. I really like my van 2 peeps but had very little QT with them. I think that means we all need to hang out for real super soon
Once Chris flew in, we made our way over to Dana Point, pretty near the second major exchange zone, for more (vegan) pizza and to just chill/hang-out/think about snoozing until it was our turn for parte dos, the nighttime legs, my personal fav. Since moving out here, or more generally speaking, I guess within the past year or so, most of my running is between the hours of 3:45-6am, so I’ve gotten pretty comfortable running in the pre-dawn or somewhat absolute darkness. It still is a little unnerving to do it in an unfamiliar area, but it’s also really exciting (for me) and just reeeeeeeeeeally fuckin’ lovely and perfect.
Before we knew it, we were up again, and Keith got things goin’ by running the longest leg of the entire relay. This middle stretch for our #1, 2, and 3 runners was a little jacked because of Camp Pendleton and a last-minute course change, so once Kristina finished her leg, we had to get a card with a time printed on it, drive 30 minutes, and then drop Jordan off for her to begin her second leg. That was a Ragnar first for me, but all things considered, it seemed to go over pretty smoothly. And, true to form by this point, we were ragin’ to run, and before long, Jordan came in super hot, and off went Ethan Wes, and Chris pacing him, into the night, with yours truly behind the wheel again.
Leg Two – Oceanside, CA (6.22 miles, 730, 40, 30, 30, 45 (climb), 37, 6:42 for .22)
My second leg was almost the same distance as my first and allegedly on an easier route. The first one actually wasn’t bad at all, save for the thousands of stoplights and a fair number of turns, and according to the RagMag, this one was going to have fewer turns and an enough-to-keep-things-interesting hill near the end of the leg. Jordan and I, I think the only ones awake by now, were hanging at the exchange, waiting for Ethan Wes and Chris to come in, and of course, everyone looks androgynous in the dark and with reflective gear on. Neither of us could pinpoint an exact time when the guys left, so we had a rough estimate about when to expect them and hoped that’d be sufficient. By this point in the morning, around 2am, the temps were damn near perfect for running—high 40s/low 50s—but just standing around in sweats (if that) made it a bit brisk. I repeatedly thought I saw the guys approaching, would start to strip from my sweats, and then figure out it wasn’t them. Do that a couple more times… Jordan tells me yeah, it’s not them… oh shit it’s them! Take off your sweats! Get into the chute! Go! Go! Go!… and we’re off. Chris had helped pace Wes to run mid-7s, significantly faster than he thought he’d be able to do (YOU GO, Ethan!!), so their hot and unexpected arrival made things a bit more adrenaline-filled than usual for me.
My Oceanside leg was pretty uneventful and actually, kinda ugly. The name connotes that we were by the side of the ocean, but I’m pretty sure I just ran through some commercial areas of town—strip mall after strip mall—and even a little industrial area. I eventually started seeing and chasing the little red blinky lights on runners ahead of me and was able to chat with them before passing. I’m so happy to support other runners because really, pace is not what impresses me most, so I don’t really understand the standoffish-ness I get from other runners when I try to be super encouraging and supportive of them. I’m not patronizing you when I’m passing you, I promise; I wouldn’t do that. I genuinely think you effin’ rock because a) you’re running and b) it’s like, 2am.
With about 1.5 to 2 miles left, I began the seemingly-forever-long climb that the course map had hinted at, a highway overpass hill-type-of-thing that was about .5 or .75-ish miles long, and with a camber so sharp I felt like my left leg was actually longer than my right as I tried to peg-leg it up the ascent. It was definitely doable; the grade wasn’t that bad, so it made for a slow-and-steady type of ascent, and left me pleasantly surprised to see that I had climbed that at a slow-end MP effort. That’s a +1 for running by feel, folks. Not long after the climb, I was descending and picking up the pace even more (and catching up to more runners), allowing me to finish this leg and effortlessly handoff to Chris not only faster but also feeling stronger than I had in my first leg just a handful of hours earlier. Maybe there was something to figuring out how to pace a relay after all.
Chris’ parte dos was going to be quite short—fewer than three miles—so he kinda-joked-but-mostly-seriously-said that he wanted to beat the van, and unless he had a thousand stoplights, I knew that he would. Jordan and I conferred on the maps and got us to where we were supposed to go and just waited… and waited… and waited. Texts from our Van 2 mates said that Chris had beat us to the exchange, as we expected he would, and that Matt was already off on his leg and that van 2 was about to leave the exchange to go meet Matt. By now, our van had been at the exchange for a good 30 minutes or so and had canvassed the entire area but still couldn’t find Chris anywhere. After a while, we thought for sure that he was fucking with us, so we were beginning to think that it was some sort of twisted “let’s play hide and seek at 4 o’clock in the morning” game that only Chris would think was funny… until we saw van 2 pull up into the exchange. A lightbulb quickly went off between Jordan, Ethan Wes, and me—as well as a string of four letter words and instructions from me to DO NOT LOOK AT VAN TWO! DON’T LET ON THAT WE LEFT CHRIS AT THE WRONG EXCHANGE ZONE!–and we made our way back to the exchange where he actually was… and had been waiting for us, in a running-soaked singlet and shorts, at 4am, for about 40 minutes. Moral of the story: read, and re-read, and re-read course maps. And don’t think that your team captain wants to play hide-and-seek in an exchange zone at 4am because, chances are, he doesn’t. Um, Chris? We love you?
And just like that, we were already mostly done with our turns of the relay. We took care of business at a local gas station, manned by possibly the world’s nicest attendant who was cool and didn’t charge me anything for the hot water for my tea that I had brought with me from home because I’m bizarre like that, and off we went to the next major exchange zone, which was seemingly in a office park’s parking lot and already JAMMED with tons of relay vans. By this point in the morning, we had really begun to catch up to humanity, to other teams who had begun their relays hours before us, so suddenly, we had to start considering how traffic might affect our ability to get us from point A to point B.
We had a few hours here of downtime, probably the most we had had during the relay, but no sleeping was to be had for me. I was actually feeling pretty awake and pretty charged—thank you, tea, at 4am—ready to knock out the rest of the relay, so while I can say that I “rested my eyes,” I can also assure you that I heard every single conversation and bird chirping around me for the 20 or so minutes that I attempted to get some shut-eye. This would mark my one and only relay that I had stayed awake for the entire time—not something I’d brag about, but probably something I can attribute to my toddler for conditioning me to function on sub-ideal sleep.
Soon enough, our #1, Keith, began his journey, and along the drive, we saw tons and tons of runners that we knew he’d eventually pick up, and each exchange zone we drove to, for the rest of our final legs, was thicker and denser with more teams. The upside, though, was that the portapotties finally began having toilet paper again, so that was a win. Once again, some solid running from Keith, and then Kristina (who also had STAIRS on her legs… which, NBD for people who have lived and run here all their lives, but coming from the midwest, anytime I have to run stairs during a LR through a trail or park system, I seriously begin to question life), and then more speedy goodness from Jordan and Wes, all to the quite lovely backdrop of some coastal running along PCH, on a beautiful morning in San Diego, and here we were, my final leg, the shortest of my three and if all went according to plan, my fastest. I wanted to see if I had finally figured out how to pace a relay properly so that I didn’t feel like death by the end.
Leg Three – San Diego (3.94 miles, 721, 634, 708, 656 for .94)
Wes’ final leg was punctuated by some impressive hillz and a thousand stoplights, which only meant that I got to cheer for the other runners in the chute for a long time. Seriously, cheering for other runners during a race is second only to running for me; I probably get as ridiculously endocannibinoid-fueled when I cheer as I do when I run.
Before long, Wes arrived, and off I went. I noticed that another runner just a handful of strides in front of me, already haulin’ ass, had missed the first turn (which was literally still within the exchange zone), so I started to yell at him to get his attention—by yelling things that made sense like hey! You missed your turn!; Ragnar! Turn around! You missed your turn!; and eventually dude! You’re going the wrong fuckin’ way! Other teams, parked in the parking lot at the exchange zone, saw me running after him and also started to yell at this dude, but it was worthless. He had headphones in, and apparently he was listening to the voice of God or something equally fascinating and life-altering because he had no effin clue what was going on. I don’t race, or even train that much, with music on, nor do I necessarily care when people do; however, this kinda pissed me off.
I didn’t care so much that I had veered off course, only by about .4 mile total, to try to be the Good Samaritan to fetch this guy and get him where he was supposed to be; I was just pissed that he was that fuckin’ irresponsible and so totally oblivious to his own personal safety that a girl (me), running literally steps behind him, and downright YELLING AT THE TOP OF MY LUNGS (or as much as I could muster while effectively sprinting to catch up to him), resulted in little-to-no response from him. If anything, he only slightly looked over his shoulder at me once, and likely saw that a girl half his age and size was on his heels, and that somehow jeopardized his Manhood card, so he decided to speed up and completely ignore the fact that he was going in the wrong effin’ direction. Whatever man. I tried.
Soooooooo…. once I did eventually turn around and begin the official course of my third leg, the other runners, all congregating at the stoplight that Oblivious Dude missed, commended me on my efforts, and the adrenaline was already coursin’ hot and heavy through me, so I decided to just go with it. Without question, this was my prettiest leg of the three I ran; San Diego is just unabashedly gorgeous. It also helped that almost all of my third run was downhill and short—just over a 5k—so I wanted to try to get this at or near 5k effort, depending on the obvious factors of how I felt and how many stoplights would sabotage me. It was a blast to hammer through these final three miles, and I got such a huge pick-up from seeing another non-Relay runner father, pushing his two kids—a toddler and an infant so young that he/she was still in an infant carseat carrier—in a BOB Duallie ascending one of the hills that I was flying down. Solid fistpump and “you rock, man” to another parent runner there, for sure.
More neighborhoods, more commercial/highway hills running, and eventually, an arrival into a park area, adjacent to the ocean, where I’d hand off to Chris. I had passed tons of people by now and was feeling really strong, with my watch telling me I was going around mid-6s on the downs and non-stoplight portions of the run; it was on these stretches that I began to wonder what a sub-6 mile feels like and mentally wrote that down on my “running to do” list. On the final throes of the run, I seemed to be entering a park area where lots of runners and cyclists did their Saturday LRs because tons of people were running/riding against me, cat-calling and high-fiving, and it was just a nice little lovefest. I was especially floored to see so many women (non Ragnar runners) give me the time of day as we ran against each other—usually in the form of “yea girl! You look good!” or something similar—because my experience has often been that women don’t go out of their way to support other women mid-race; in fact, I can probably count on one hand the number of women to whom I said some sort of encouraging remark, and who then reciprocated to me, during this relay. I find this very puzzling. Judgment is overrated, ladies. Let’s move on.
At any rate, my third and final exchange with Chris ended on a very slight downhill, which was a total fuckin’ blast to finish my fastest leg on, and I had just barely squeaked in a sub-7 effort on the leg with all the stoplights (and the .4 mile bonus at the beginning). I felt tired—the good tired—and felt like I had finally learned how to properly pace and race a relay for me, in a way that I could still put in an honest effort on each leg but also get progressively faster over time. Mission accomplished.
With Chris off, and me again behind the wheel, I knew with almost 100% certainty that he’d beat us to the next exchange again, even with all his hill-climbing and the duration of his run. Traffic wasn’t necessarily bad by this point, but each exchange lot was getting progressively busier. Once we finally did get to the exchange—after driving through some to.die.for hills and views—we had been walking outside the van, toward the exchange area, for maaaaaaybe two minutes before Chris magically appeared in front of us and thanked us for not stranding him (again) …and then we were DONE!
For the rest of the afternoon, we hung out at or near the finish line area, waiting for Van 2 to bring it on home. The finish area was by a big convention center, and on the water, so things got pretty congested pretty quickly, though it was initially quite chill when our van arrived.
Van 2 blazed through their final legs and before long, some of our Van 2 mates decided to jump out of the van, since they were wasting away in traffic, so they could accompany the rest of us as we ran across the finish line with Alisyn. Much like Madison-Chicago, SD’s finish area was a bit of a clusterfuck between relay traffic, parking instructions, and (I’m guessing) typical Saturday-morning-in-beautiful-SD-by-a-convention-center-and-waterfront traffic. Fortunately, it was merely minutes after Alisyn and those of us present crossed the finish line that the rest of our van 2 mates arrived, and so we swiftly began a flurry of team pics, beer-ing, and sharing tales of some of the ridiculousness or accidental entertainment we had laid witness to, or contributed toward, on our legs over the past 24 hours.
We later learned that our team had actually fared pretty well in both our division (mixed) and in the open team competition, which was pretty cool and not something that any of us were (seriously) pursuing: an overall time of 26:40:57, enough for 8th in the Regular Open Mixed Division and 24th overall.
And then, just like that, just a mere 26 hours later, we finished our RagnarSoCal adventure as a TSFM ambassador team. When I think about my recent races, it downright befuddles me when I think about how quickly time seems to pass by when I run (and particularly during marathons, when I’m out there for over three hours), yet when I think about my relay experience with this group of people who, save for Chris, for all intents and purposes, I really didn’t personally know very well—aside from what I had gleaned from social media over the past couple months—honest to freakin’ god, I have to wonder if there was some sort of hole in the galaxy’s time continuum because that was the fastest 26 hours of my life.
I guess, in a way, much like marathons, a lot of things happen over the course of a relay that amount to lots of small punctuations in my mind, little seemingly-inconsequential moments or conversations among teammates that, collectively, make the race much more than a race but a real lived and shared experience. I totally get that that sounds like hippy-dippy runner shit—my god, how Northern California is rubbing off on me—so maybe it’s a post-relay high that I’m still riding, or maybe it’s through rose-tinted glasses that I’m recalling my relay weekend, but so rarely do I have the opportunity for uninterrupted, unadulterated, quality time, wherein I’m not responsible for anyone or anything, that when I do have an opportunity like what Ragnar gave me—an opportunity to really and truly just get to know other people and, in the process, establish some new friendships and cultivate those pre-existing—that I just eat it up. I went into the weekend with few expectations for my performance and, like I said, with no fear that somehow my teammates and I wouldn’t jibe. At the same time, I didn’t expect to come out of the relay weekend necessarily feeling like I had finally or firmly established some friends—and not just “California-based friends,” but legit friends—that when it happened, it was both so humbling and so very richly and deeply gratifying that I’m at a (rare) loss of words about how to convey it.
Much like my Oakland experience, then, when I think about my third relay, I promise you that I won’t be able to tell you anything of substance about my runs or my times or anything like that. What will stand out most to me was that one conversation that Keith and I had, or the time that, on a whim, we all ran to Disney and got some rare inter-van QT, or when Jordan and I were the only ones awake and talkin’ big dreams and goals or when Paulette and I were figuring out what makes the most sense for her to run this year, given her dreams or whatever; it’s too much to list here and probably too personal, if not also a tad obnoxious.
Two of my three relays I’ve run have resulted in some extremely valuable-to-me friendships, not just “running friends” but again, legit friends, folks whom I talk to almost every single day, folks who collectively make me a better person and folks to whom I turn when I need to be supported or validated or even just ridiculously or stupidly entertained, when I can’t do that for myself. In fact, I guess I could argue that prefixing my “friends” label with “old” or “new” or “California” or whatever cheapens the relationship and experience a bit and, consequently, isn’t worth doing. Friends are friends are friends.
That that happened for me again on this relay, that a bunch of seemingly inconsequential moments in time, together with some bouts of running, collectively and ultimately resulted in some newly-emerging or newly-deepening friendships, was a complete and welcome surprise, but as someone who still every day feels a longing for the familiarity of “old” friends and “old” home, being presented with “new” friends in “new” home couldn’t have come at a better time.