Sunday, April 29, 2012

Ragnar Relay 2012

The Ragnar Relay is, among many other things, a marvel of organization.  597 relay teams, mostly of 12 runners each, run 203.5 miles from Huntington Beach to San Diego.  It takes most teams well over 24 hours to finish, and every team runs through the middle of the night, so every turn on the entire course must be marked with a sign placed where the runners can see them at night time, e.g., under a street light.  The race is divided into 36 legs, ranging from 2.9 to 11.1 miles each, with 35 exchange points along the way, each with a parking area for the teams' vans and almost all with port-a-potties.  Typically, each participant runs three legs, several hours apart.  Most teams use two vans, each carrying six runners, for a total of nearly 1,200 vans.  The Ragnar staff did an excellent job of organizing all those people and vans, over all those miles.
Each of the teams faces its own organizational challenges, but with Jack and Andee on our team, we were well-equipped in that area.  Teams must find the next exchange point and park the van in time to meet the incoming runner.   There is always some uncertainty about how long each runner will take, but one must err on the side of caution and get there early -- throughout the race, we saw several runners finish a difficult leg only to discovery that their teams had not yet arrived!  The incoming runner needs a few minutes to change into dry clothes before the van can depart for the next exchange point.  This means the vans are almost always in motion, and there is little time to stop for food or gas, let alone to pick up clean laundry!  The team vans are a chaotic collection of food, running gear and sweaty runners.

Our team competed in the "ultra" division, and thus consisted of just six runners, rather than the usual 12, with each of us running a total of six legs.  We elected to run two legs at a time, so we each had three separate runs, several hours apart.  Some of the other ultra teams tried running one leg at a time, meaning that each runner had six separate runs.  That wouldn't have worked well for me, as I brought fresh clothes for each of my legs.

Neil, Meganne, Steve, Dennis, Andee and Jack
This was the first time I had the opportunity to run with Andee and Meg.  They are both quite small, and not particularly swift.  Nevertheless, they attacked the course like pros.  They're up for any challenge, do not even think of complaining, and run hard from beginning to end.   I was proud to be on their team.

Neil and Dennis both had tough days.  Neil sprained an ankle early on, but hung in there to finish all his legs -- then missed his next two races.  Dennis, who had gamely agreed to fill in at the last minute, felt sick, but also hung in.

Jack, as usual, managed to exceed my high expectations.  He ran longer than any of us, including a tough leg in the Corona heat, similar to my first leg, yet somehow he resurrected himself to fly through his final leg in San Diego on Saturday morning.  And, as always, he did it with a smile from start to finish.

My first leg was a challenge, 12.5 miles in 95 degrees through Corona.  I felt ok for the first mile or two, but then the heat started to take its inevitable toll.  Running along at about 7:00 per mile went from feeling quite comfortable to moderately difficult, and, by mile 10 or so, quite difficult indeed.  I even walked a bit on two of the final uphills, and my overall pace was closer to 7:10 by the end.  Thankfully, the Ragnar staff compensated for the heat as best they could be providing three extra water stops along the way.

I also had two wildlife encounters in my first leg, one with a bee and one with a snake.  Most folks would much rather deal with the harmless bee rather than a potentially deadly snake, but not I.  I've always been mildly afraid of bees, and have often made a fool of myself by taking extraordinary evasive measures to avoid their tiny stingers.  Usually, my efforts are successful; this was only the third time in my life I've been stung.  Snakes, on the other hand, fascinated me as a young boy, and I've never been afraid of them, even when I probably should be.

But on this day, neither the menacing bee nor the not-so-menacing snake caused me any real trouble.  I didn't notice that the bee landed on my neck until it stung me.  The sting only hurt for a few minutes, and it gave me a great excuse in case I didn't run well, so I wasn't terribly bothered by it.  A short while later I saw the serpent, a harmless 1.5 foot gopher snake, slithering across the bike path.  On another day I would have stopped and had a look at him, perhaps urged him to move along into the bushes before some less snake-tolerant individual caused him some harm.

My second leg was at about 3:45am, by which time the temperature had dropped by 40 degrees.  I think I ran from Carlsbad into Lake San Marcos, based on my watch data, but all I remember was how cool, foggy and pleasant it was.  I ran 6:46 pace comfortably for 8.5 miles.

My final leg was just short of 17 miles, starting around noon in Fiesta Island and finishing in Chula Vista.  A couple of hours before I ran, I was wondering how I could complete 17 miles, other than at a jog.  I had decided to run no faster than 7:30 per mile no matter what, and was targeting 8:00 per mile average.  But then I saw Jack running his final leg, right before mine.  He blew through the midway point, looking great and close to 7:00 minute pace.  I have to admit that, as much as I love Jack and enjoy watching him succeed, I do get competitive with him.  Or maybe I don't want to be left behind.  Either way, I upped my expectations, and started out at 7:00 pace once again.  It wasn't until about 11 miles that I started to struggle, but I was able to maintain more or less, and finished at 7:07 average.

Ragnar took at least as much out of me as the American River 50 Miles.   No damage, but I was drained for an entire week.  Nevertheless, I'm already looking forward to the next one.  In the meantime, that idea of competing in a 50 miler keeps recurring.  I ran 38 miles at about 7:10 pace average in 24 hours.  Maybe I'm ready.

Monday, April 9, 2012

American River 50 Miler, April 7, 2012

I had never run 50 miles in a single day before this past Saturday, and I wasn't completely sure what to expect at the American River 50.  Most importantly, I was not sure how my body would react.  In the event, however, it was all rather straightforward.  Many ultra marathoners have trouble with their stomachs, but I was able eat and drink what I needed.  Jack ran with me the whole way; Phil and Paul crewed us.  I got into a good rhythm around 15 miles or so, and felt very comfortable until the last two or three miles, when Jack pushed me a bit on the final climb into Auburn.  Even then, however, I was ok, just a bit tired.  I felt fine the following day, not as sore as after the Napa Marathon, and was able to run three easy miles without too much trouble.

The strangest thing about running that far is trying to control the pace for so long.  I'm used to running shorter distances, and when I get to 15 or 20 miles, I am almost always approaching the finish.  There is no need to control the pace at that point; it is ok to spend whatever energy I have left.  No so in a 50 mile race.  You have to hold back for 30 or more miles before it is safe to let that competitive feeling take over.

The bigger question for me is how I would do if I ran 50 miles more competitively.  Up until now, I have not run over a marathon as a true race; the few times I've exceeded 26 miles I've focused on finishing and staying within myself.   After American River, however, I'm starting to consider racing at 50k or even 50 miles.  I still haven't decided, but it is starting to seem more reasonable.