Two vans, one course: Cape Cod Ragnar

Start Line

“Why don’t you leave me alone, yeah yeah. Well I feel so broke up, I wanna go home.”
-The Beach Boys

So what did you all do last weekend?

Me? Well I ran a 190 mile relay race with 11 other teammates, didn’t shower for 36 hours and got pretty much two hours of sleep. In other words, I had the time of my life.

Side of Van

“Why would you ever want to do that? I have no desire.” This is what most people say when I talk about my Ragnar experiences. I guess if I were to think rationally about it, I might say the same thing. But there is something about these extreme team races that makes us keep coming back for more. For those that do not know what a Ragnar race is, it’s basically a giant relay race, usually around 200 miles, with 12 teammates in two vans. People jump in and out of the vans when it’s their section of the relay, or leg as we call it, and pass a slap bracelet to the next runner as we all move through the course. When all runners in one van have run a leg, the bracelet is passed to the second van and the process repeats.. Each person has three legs to run, which can range from 3 miles to almost 10 miles. It is an incredible exercise in logistics planning, time management and mental endurance. There is time to eat and sleep, but that takes a back seat to making sure you are at the right exchange and that you don’t let your teammates down.

Team on beach

This was the third time I have run a Ragnar race, but the first time I had done one in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The race actually starts in Hull, on the south shore, continues to the Cape and ends at Provincetown, right at the tip of the arm. We passed numerous beaches and vacations spots and traveled through state parks and neighborhoods. Sometimes we could smell the ocean and sometimes we were smelling something else that was not so great. I was the second runner in the relay, which means I was in the first van to start. The first runner took off at Nantasket beach in Hull and my nerves immediately kicked in. There is so much to this race, it’s hard to stay focused. The anticipation while waiting for your runner to come in can cause a bit of anxiety . You see that person coming for a split second and realize you have to get your watch ready, get your music queued up and shed any extra clothes you may have before you start your run. It’s nerve-wracking knowing you have to do this quickly, while mentally preparing for a distance run in a place you are unfamiliar with.

The Team
The team, before we ran 190 miles.

The first leg: Hingham I hardly knew ye

I grab the bracelet and I take off like a shot – this was mainly because of the nerves. I immediately slow down because I realize, I have no idea where I am going. I see a cop and he tells me I have to wait to cross the road. I haven’t even run 0.1 miles yet! He’s giving me some options on how to cross the road and it makes no sense to me at that moment. “Do I just go over there?” I asked as I pointed to what looked like a path parallel to the road. He said yes. Okay, traffic is stopped and I take off again, but then quickly remember this leg is just about 5 miles and I need to pace myself a little. I see no other runners around me which makes me nervous. I pass through a strange intersection with no signage and I full on panic. Unsure what to do I slowed down a bit, but then saw a runner down the path, far in the distance. I hope and pray he is part of this race and I try to catch up to him. I’m following well behind him for a while but then another cop stops me at an intersection and the runner is long gone. I need to wait for the light. &@#%!! When I get to cross, I start cursing that there are no signs and no runners to follow. I’m on my own and I keep going for the next few miles.

Finally a sign! And other vans! Okay I am going the right way. At some point I turn onto some trail where I actually pass one person. Now I’m feeling stronger and can push a little more. I see the one mile to go sign – success! Then all of a sudden, one giant hill – so cruel to have this towards the end of the leg. At this point, it’s all good and I make my way up, still feeling strong. There is a van parked at the top and one guy cheering. He yells to me that when I turn that corner it’ll be all downhill. Oh thank God! I turn the corner. More uphill. Great! This guy lied to me – I’m not sure if he thought that was funny or if he really had no idea. Small downhill and then more uphill.  I’m almost there and I see one of my teammates cheering me on. This gives me motivation to push hard and sprint the final distance and hand off to runner 3. Leg one is done, 4.9 miles at 9:40 average pace. And I did not get lost. Not bad for having to stop twice for traffic.

A toast to running
With leg one done, we finally are able to get some food and drink at a pub in Buzzards Bay.

Leg 2: Late night Sandwich

It was around 10 PM that I started my next leg in Sandwich, MA. We were definitely on Cape Cod at this point, so moving in the right direction. The nerves are gone. I had a blood sugar crash earlier that evening since the first time I had real food all day was 4 PM. By the time our van started up again, I was feeling refreshed and properly fueled.

I picked this leg because my aunt and uncle lives in Sandwich and I would be running right near their house. Of course I did not pay attention to the elevation gain and that I would be running uphill for over 2 miles straight. Sandwich also forbids the use of headphones, so no music. I was okay with this, thinking it might be good to be alone with my thoughts.  Unfortunately, the thoughts that ended up running through my head were: Wow, this is a big hill. I am still climbing this hill. I wonder if I have ever ran uphill this much at once. Why am I still going uphill? When is this hill going to end? This hill just keeps going. What kind of town has a hill this big?

second leg
My second leg – notice the elevation gain

I made a promise to myself that I was not going to stop and walk any part of it and I was successful with this goal. However, I did notice my pace dropping significantly. I looked down and saw 9:40 and said, “okay I’m close to pace.” But then I started seeing 10, then 10:30, then in the 11’s…I just stopped looking.  A few runners passed me and I couldn’t catch up. I just needed to get to the top.

When things started to level off, I saw a group of people off to the side. I could not make them out in the darkness, but I head a cowbell and I knew. It was my parents and my aunt and uncle who had come to cheer me on! I started waving my arms and I saw them all wave back as I made my way to them. I spent a few minutes speaking with them and cursing that hill I just climbed. My dad gave me a little water and then I was on my way. The course flattened out (not much downhill unfortunately) and suddenly there were street lights and businesses so I could see better. I was able to start picking up some speed at this point and pushed on to the exchange, which ended up being a giant mud puddle that I almost didn’t see. I went around it, almost tripping over a rock as I made my way to the next runner. 5.4 miles running around a 10:18 pace – a bit slower that I wanted, but I can forgive myself because of the 2 mile hill. My night run out of the way, I focused on dancing for my teammates with lights hooked to my fingers and trying to find some food to purchase at one of the community fundraisers.

Bob Ross paints our picture
Some of the other vans are quite creative, like the Bob Ross All-Stars team. So nice of Bob to paint a lovely picture of me and my teammate.

Our van finished up around 1:30 AM, which was to be expected. All of us felt like we could sleep for a week, but unfortunately time is at a premium. By the time we pulled into the exchange to settle in for the night, we had about 2 hours until we had to start getting ready for the next leg. Crunched up in the van and without a blanket, I think I maybe got around 1.5 hours. Sleep is overrated anyway.

Leg 3: Nickerson State Park is the 9th circle of hell

My alarm beeps at 4:30 AM for the teammates sleeping in the van and we are back at it. From the text messages from van 2, we predict our first runner will go out around 6:20. Breakfast is a granola bar and no coffee since I will be running around 7 AM. I don’t need any digestive issues on my last run of the weekend. Since I had gotten that large hill out of the way, I was looking forward to a final easy 5.3 mile run through a state park.

This is the time during Ragnar when everything starts to break down. Everyone is obviously over tired. While there are periods of loopiness, people are more agitated in general. Small things can easily get on one’s nerves. You start to only think of yourself and your own needs. At one point I was told to wait outside the van while someone in the van was getting ready and it had started to mist out. All I could think about was how cold I was – why should I be uncomfortable? But everyone is thinking of their own comfort at that moment, they can’t help it. It’s important to find humor wherever it can be found so you don’t fly off the handle over some mundane problem. This is where your mental strength is tested and you spend a lot of energy keeping it all together.

The air was cool and dewy when I started out early that morning on a very pleasant rail trail. I remember wondering if people would be out on their morning jog or ride, not knowing about this race. Suddenly there was a sign to turn, but I also saw some runners coming back. This threw my exhausted mind off a bit and I paused for a second as the runner behind me let me know to turn right and the rest of the route was for runners coming back. Now I was on a wooded trail and the hills picked up a bit. I saw runners coming back so I figured this might be an out-and-back path. But it kept going. Eventually it turned onto a paved path inside Nickerson State Park and a volunteer shouted to me that I was almost finished. How could that be when I had over 2 miles left? This angered me. On this path, things really took a turn. Steep uphills, then another steep uphill, eventually some downhill, but then more uphill. Another runner that was coming from the other direction shouted “You’re almost there.” “Stop saying that!” I shouted back. More steep hills, they never seemed to end. My body started to feel the exhaustion and I could feel my tendon injury throbbing. I turned a corner and saw another hill. Defeated, I began to walk up some of the hills. The pain in my back and legs were not as bad as the disappointment I felt for slowing down so much. I was not going to be close to pace.

“Keep it up! You’re almost there!”  Grrrrr.

No….pant pant.…More…huff huff….HILLLLLS!!!

After some short walks, I began to push again, knowing I had less than a mile to complete. Then I saw it – the “one mile to go sign.” My face crumbled. 5.3 was going to turn into 5.5 on this hellish course. I pushed some more, uphill and down again, needing to be done this race. Bad thoughts began to enter my head of how I was letting my team down because I was not as strong as I wanted to be. I am my own worst enemy at this point. I start walking again, even though I am almost 0.1 from the finish. But then I don’t see a finish line. Now I am in a full on panic thinking somehow I messed up the course. I start to think this road will never end and I will have to run forever. But then in the distance I hear some cheering. Then I see a volunteer ahead of me telling me to turn left. There is a parking lot and my team is there and I hand off that cursed bracelet. All my emotions bubble up like a volcano and spill out. “That f#&*!^@ sucked!” I yelled and then burst into tears. All my leftover anxiety, fear and disappointment released at once as my teammates came over to comfort me. My outburst was short lived as I realized that I was now done with my legs! Nothing left but supporting my teammates, resting my legs and eating whatever I could find. I finished up 5.56 miles (not 5.28) at just under an hour at 59:56 with a 10:46 average pace. Ouch.

Checking off the last leg
Last leg done! That moment of relief that it’s almost over.

 

Eastbound & down: reaching P-town

The Beach

As the runners in our van each finished their legs, you could feel the overall mood lifting. The scenery was getting more beach-like and the sun was peaking through the clouds. We began having fun at the exchanges with jump photos and playing “red rover” when switching runners. Soon our van was done and waiting in P-town for the other team. Food tasted better, the air smelled fresher and I almost didn’t feel the exhaustion that had grabbed hold of me earlier. Then the moment we all anticipated finally arrived, and we heard our team name called and we all crossed that finish line together. There were tears of joy, hugs of relief and almost a slight depression that it was all over. The biggest realization of all was that we had all accomplished this as a team – we all pulled through during our most difficult moments and darkest thoughts to complete this goal. We never let each other down.

Metals

So why do we keep coming back? Whenever I look back at these races, the memories are like no other running experience. There is no way to describe the joy of 6 people laughing at the same time until their stomachs’ ache. Or seeing your teammates cheer you on with wild enthusiasm after pushing yourself to a breaking point. Or making new friends by spending time with people you may have run with but never really spoke that much with. This is what I’ll remember when I look back at this race and I will want to do it all again.

 

I’m not sure if a race like this helps in preparing for a marathon. However, I do have an idea of what I am capable of and what some of my limits might be, both mentally and physically. It also made me really appreciative that I will have so many people from my running club supporting me in Chicago. There is no better cure for the race blues than being a part of a supportive team.

Team at the end
A little worse for wear – the team after finishing 190 or so miles!

 

Marathon Monday: Christmas morning for runners

Mystics Crush Boston

“If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.”
-Kathrine Switzer

I woke up just as it was getting light outside. The air was warmer than to be expected on a typical April morning. It was only 7:30 AM and it felt like summer vacation outside. I got out of bed, feeling heavy with anticipation. “It’s today!” I thought, “Boston Marathon day!”

The Boston Marathon didn’t always excite me. Even though it technically takes place on a holiday, I always had to work and I never had the desire to stand in a crowd and watch runners. Even when I first became a runner, I only had mild interest in it. In 2013, I was unemployed and living in Hopkinton, so I decided to walk down to the start of the race. I was taken in by all the positive energy and I started to see why this race was so special. We all know that race ended in a tragedy that I’m not going to get into here, but it did give me a new appreciation for the event. A year and a half ago, when I first joined my running club I found out that the club gets bibs for the Boston Marathon that it gives away via lottery to hopeful members. You don’t need to have a qualifying marathon time and you don’t have to raise thousands of dollars for charity. It was the first time I realized that I could actually have a shot at running the marathon.

The first time I witnessed our club marathon drawing, I had no desire to ever run a marathon. That was until I got caught up in the inspirational stories, dedicated training and send-off parties. For the most recent marathon drawing last November, I did not feel ready to run a marathon. Again I declined to put my name in, but felt so inspired by the club members that were picked and by the other members that got their opportunities other ways that I decided to volunteer to be on the Hospitality Suite committee. On Marathon Day, our club reserves a hotel room, stocks it with food and drinks and provides a place for runners and their families to relax after the marathon. I figured it was a great way to support my teammates and still be a part of this historic race.

City of Boston
Not a great picture, but this is the view from the suite

I work downtown Boston, so I travel into the city every day. But this day was different – it felt like Christmas morning. I got to meet a few friends that were on the committee, rush around last minute to get some party food and set up a pretty sweet hotel room with the marathon on TV in the background. The room was hopping all afternoon, so I didn’t get a chance to go outside to the race. But every so often, we would see a Mystic Runner on TV and everyone would erupt in loud cheers. Runners came in to the room, one by one. We fed them and made sure they could have a shower if they wanted one. We truly wanted to make sure everyone was comfortable after putting their body through such torture.

Watching the marathon on TV, you get to see all the inspirational stories. The man who ran the whole way holding the American flag after he lost his leg. All the people battling injuries, who just wanted that one shot of finishing this prestigious marathon. I saw a lot of victories as people crossed the finish line and thought to myself “This will be me in six months in Chicago!”

Maybe 2018?

But then I also saw the difficulties – people being carried across the finish line, people collapsing mid-race, disappointment across some runners’ faces. I started to think, “Oh no, what if that’s me in six months in Chicago!” There is no way to know how you will do when you run such a distance. All you can do is listen to your body, run smart for how you feel and hope for the best. I am really hoping for the best in October.

Running the hospitality suite was actually hard work. I was on my feet all day which made my tendonitis flare up a bit. However, it was an honor to help out my friends who were running that day. I was able to feel the energy and be in the city for one of the biggest runner holidays around. I feel proud that I work and live near such an amazing city and that I could actually get the opportunity to run Boston one day. Many people said to me, “This will be you next year.” Well, maybe, who knows. But first, I have Chicago to look ahead to.

Mystics Crush Boston

 

A real sore spot

“Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you.”
-A wise fella

Well it didn’t take long for my whole spring to get de-railed. I’ve been having a really great running winter. My 5K time was slowly improving, I got a 10K PR and I was killing it at track (in my own way). Things were really looking good for me to have an awesome spring, so I signed up for the Providence Half Marathon and kicked up my training a notch.

After pushing myself through a tough hill workout at track, I noticed a slight pain along the outside of my left ankle. That ankle has always been a little off since I sprained it last August, so I thought nothing of it and ran a 5K the following day. It started to hurt a little more after the run, so I took a few days off. The following weekend I ran a 10K and there was no denying the pain after I finished the race. The next day I could barely walk. Being the incredible stubborn runner I am, I rested another week and a half and then ran my weekly 5K. I told myself this was a test to see if the pain increased while I ran or got better. It stayed the same which basically told me nothing about the injury. After I crossed the finish line, I was relieved the ankle didn’t feel too bad. That is, until I started walking. I could barely hobble over to get a cup of water, trying to ignore what I was feeling. The spot on my ankle was screaming and sore to the touch. Obviously my body was telling me something that I didn’t want to hear.

There are a few things you need when you have a running injury that sidelines you. You need:

  1. Plenty of ibuprofen (in some cases)
  2. Friends to talk you down
  3. REST

The last part I’m not so great at. It’s one of those words runners don’t want to hear,  especially now when the weather is getting warmer and I see people running EVERYWHERE. I’ve been trying to do other exercises at home, but it’s hard to stay motivated since I don’t like them as much as running. This just makes me even crankier, and it has gotten pretty bad since I don’t have my main stress release to keep me sane. And no, for the last time I don’t have access to a pool!

I made the decision to see a Physical Therapist for the first time, and was I glad I did! I trust them more than doctors for this kind of thing because they really are experts when it comes to mechanics of your body. And if you find one that also runs, you really hit the jackpot. He told me there was some inflammation in the muscle due to a combination of extremely tight calves, weak glute muscles and pronation of my feet. I was aware of all these issues before, but this was the first time this perfect storm had caused me any major problems. Strengthening my hips and glutes has been a major goal this year, so this works well into my new routine.

He also asked me if I had any races coming up. What do you think? I told him I had a 5K towards the end of the month. That is most likely out. I told him about the Providence Half at the beginning of May. Unrecommended due to very high mileage. I mentioned the Ragnar relay race I have coming up mid-May.  That one is doable, even though it is pushing it a bit. Luckily because I’m slow, the mileage I picked isn’t too high. And I’m already feeling loads better after this first PT session, so I’m very optimistic.

I’m making the decision to drop the May half in Providence, which is a bummer because it would have a been a nice weekend in the city I went to college in. Oh well, maybe next year. It will be better to take this time to heal up and focus on the races in the later half of spring. For now, I guess it’s back to more strengthening and cross-training. I might add in some spinning for cardio and yoga for stability. This means it’s also time to suck it up and join a gym.

This is definitely a learning experience and I’m lucky it won’t throw me too far off my marathon training goals. I could be a lot worse and I’m looking ahead to better times. But until then…I’ll just keep moving.

his-was-supposed-to-be-the-summer-of-george-seinfeld-9534053

So what’s the plan?

“A man who does not think and plan long ahead will find trouble right at his door.”
-Confucius

Well lucky for Confucius, I’ve had a long time to plan this marathon.  I knew I was in last fall, which gave me all the time in the world to not think about it.  When January rolled around, I knew I should take the time as a gift and figure out a plan for the year.  As a business person, I tend to think in quarters.

Quarterly plan

Well at least that MBA didn’t go to waste right?

I live in New England, so the first part of the year is cold and snowy.  I still run in this weather, but I wanted to focus this time on getting stronger to prevent injury and prepare myself for the training to come.  Getting my muscles in shape was something I really needed anyway since my strength & cross-training had fallen off a bit last year.  Starting the year off right now would help with those long runs later.

Right now, we are in the beginning of Q2 and I am currently training for a half marathon.  I’ve just started increasing my distance with long runs on the weekends.  I’m also committing myself to going to track practice once a week, when my schedule allows of course.  This will help me work on my speed, which needs improving.  Luckily my running club offers track coaching, free with membership.  I want to add in more hill work too, because I think it is helping me become a stronger runner overall.

The real marathon training starts in June and that will carry me into Q3.  I will eat, sleep and breath training. Well…we’ll see how it goes anyway. I also need to get my head in gear and mentally prepare for running this distance.  This is almost as important as the physical training.  I’m not sure yet how I will get into the right mindset, but that will be a new learning experience.

The marathon just happens to fall at the beginning of Q4.  After I complete my goal, I can spend the remainder of the year in rest & recovery mode.  I’ll still be running after a much needed break, but my concentration will be on learning to enjoy the run again. This might mean limiting myself to slow easy jogs or maybe I’ll throw in some fun and interesting races to switch it up.

So this is what I have planned for 2017…wait what is it they say about relying on plans too much?  Oh well, I’m sure it will come to me eventually.

fudgical
Scenes from my winter running, faces have been blurred to protect the innocent.

FOMO gone mad

“Do one thing every day that scares you”
-Mary Schmich

I started running at the ripe old age of 34 as a way to create focus in my life when everything was chaos around me. Because I started a little on the late side, I had many assumptions:  I was never going to be fast, I was never going to win a prize and most importantly, I was never going to run a marathon.

There are some things that remain true for me as I approach 38 years.  I am definitely not fast and winning prizes has never been my focus.  However, this year (2017), I will be running my first marathon.  I remember finishing my first half-marathon and thinking “This is it, I did it.  And I never have to do it again!”  I remember training for my 2nd half-marathon and people asking me “Would you ever do a marathon?”  My response was always, “No way!  That is not what I am doing this for.”  I couldn’t even imagine it.  Running a half put my body through so much, why would I then run another 13.1 miles?  Right after?  What if I got a cramp?  What if I had to go to the bathroom?  What if I just wanted to quit?  What if……

A little over a year ago, I joined a running club.  It was strange for me because I am not really a runner, but everyone in the group was so supportive I couldn’t help but be a part of it.  A lot of these people run long distances.  A lot of them run marathons.  Some of them have started to have marathon trips…and that is kind of how I happened to be running in the Chicago marathon.  It’s FOMO (fear of missing out) gone mad.  Friends were signing up left and right for this race and my head was filled with thoughts of how they were all going to have this amazing time in an amazing city.  They were all going to be able to train together and support each other.  If I ran my first marathon, it would be nice to have all that…and so then it happened.  I wanted in so bad that I didn’t even want to take a chance on the lottery and signed up with a charity where I could get a guaranteed entry.  Fees were paid, an Air B&B was secured with a friend, money was raised…there really is no turning back now.

My feelings go from this fantasy of running through the Chicago streets, smiling and soaking it all in to this feeling of absolute terror, wondering “What did I get myself into?  I can’t run a marathon!”  Some days I’m really scared and picture it will be some anxiety dream where I wake up on marathon morning and I forgot to train.  I have to remind myself it’s good to do something that takes you out of your comfort zone, something that terrifies you.  It will make crossing that finish line that much more meaningful.  And to have the opportunity to run a marathon in a major city with so many friends there for support – well what should really scare me is not being able to run it.

So this is it, I start my journey at the beginning of 2017.  The race will be run the beginning of October.  The real marathon training won’t technically begin until June, but physical and mental preparation begin now.  This blog will be my motivation coach, my therapist and my reminder of where I was before I became a marathoner.  Join me as I do the unthinkable, all in the name of peer pressure.