Monday, September 17, 2012

Ragnar Relay Napa Valley 2012 - Runner 1 Recap

Ragnar is an approximately 200 mile relay race where you either have a team of 12, a team of 6, or - for one incredibly brave (or insane?) team - a team of 2! The mileage is split haphazardly between each runner and broken into three legs. If you are like me, you join a team of 12 which means you have two vans (6 in each). The relay is held in many locations, but the location our team chose was Napa Valley which starts in San Francisco and ends in Calistoga. The runners and distances were:

Runner        1st Leg       2nd Leg      3rd Leg        Total
Me              4.0 miles     5.7 miles     3.2 miles      12.9 miles
Kasia*        2.7 miles     4.7 miles     8.3 miles      15.7 miles
Ko              5.9 miles     6.7 miles     3.3 miles      15.9 miles
Andreia      5.2 miles     7.9 miles     3.3 miles      16.4 miles
Neal           3.1 miles     9.2 miles     4.9 miles      17.2 miles
Brandon     3.9 miles     8.0 miles     3.9 miles      15.8 miles
Peachy       4.0 miles     6.5 miles     3.1 miles      13.6 miles
Mark          5.1 miles     4.4 miles     2.0 miles      11.5 miles
Bryan         4.4 miles     4.3 miles     8.1 miles      16.8 miles
Tom           6.6 miles     8.3 miles     7.8 miles      22.7 miles
Steve          9.7 miles     9.1 miles     4.9 miles      23.7 miles
Sheri          2.8 miles     4.1 miles     5.5 miles      12.4 miles

*Team Captain

Steve and Peachy picked me up Thursday morning and we drove up to Kasia's house to divvy up the food for each van. Then we picked up Tom and Bryan (Sheri flew up separately). The five of us drove up to San Francisco and met up with Sheri at the hotel. While Peachy and Steve went for a run, the rest of us decided to scrap our previous plan to do a pub run and instead walked around the city and visited Hot Cookie where Bryan has a bar named after him!

Then we met back up with Peachy and Steve for dinner at Chow before walking back to the hotel to meet up with the other six runners.

Once the twelve of us were at the hotel, we went to work decorating our vans. We had previously decided on the team name Thunder Buddies after seeing the movie Ted so we had our logo designed with that theme in mind.

Since van 1 (runners 1-6) starts first while van 2 drives directly to Exchange 6 and waits for van 1, we agreed that everyone in van 1 had to meet at the van at 3:30 am to get to the starting line at 4:00 am for our 5:00 am start time. The start times are done in waves with the slowest teams starting the earliest and 5:00 am is the earliest start time. This is in an effort to have all teams finish in a particular window and allows for a "moving course." In other words, they can't set up and staff 200 miles for two days.

As runner #1, I lucked into the coolest leg of the course: running across the Golden Gate Bridge! Unfortunately it was still dark when I crossed but I still really enjoyed it. It was pretty scary getting there since we ran about two miles before getting onto the actual bridge. Since I was worried about getting lost I ran faster than my typical pace in order to keep up with the group of about six girls leading the pack. Once on the actual bridge I allowed myself to relax since it would have been pretty tough to get lost at that point.

After 4 miles, I handed off the baton (slap bracelet) to Kasia and jumped up front to navigate to our next exchange.

Ragnar requires reflective gear during nighttime hours and unfortunately the camera flash did not like this so you'll just have to trust me.

Once all runners in van 1 finished, Brandon (runner 6) handed off to Peachy (runner 7) at Exchange 6 in Kentfield and van 2 took over. This meant we did not have to run again until their 6 runners finished, so we stopped for brunch at Half Day Cafe.

After brunch we drove on to Exchange 12 in Petaluma to wait for van 2. We were able to sleep a little here and then it was my turn again. Sheri handed off the baton to me and I was on my way. At this point we realized we were the lead team. Not technically first place since other teams started later, but physically in first.

I had studied my directions beforehand and even carried them with me for fear of getting lost, but still managed an error almost immediately. Ragnar almost always has you run against traffic so I kinda figured I was doing something wrong when I was on the right side of the street, but when I came out of the exchange there was a big sign saying not to cross so I was forced to stay with traffic. I ran along until I came to a fork but luckily my suspicion of being on the wrong side of the street kept me from veering off course. I was later told that there was a sign at a stop light indicating that I should cross the street, but I didn't see it (or maybe it wasn't there yet since we were first).

Thankfully this was my only directional error and I was able to stay on course. This was my longest leg at 5.7 miles but still well within my comfort zone. What I was not comfortable with was running along stretches of highway and busy streets that had no sidewalk, shoulder, or anything close to what I would call safe to run on. At some points I was convinced I was off course because there was no way any race coordinator would allow people to run on these streets, especially since some would end up running in the dark. I stopped a few times to let vehicles pass and avoid falling into the ditch on my left. The picture below was the widest shoulder I had, for most of it the ditch dropped immediately after the white line.

I finally finished and handed off to Kasia. Again each runner in my van ran their legs and we met up with van 2 at Exchange 18 in Santa Rosa. We went to dinner at Mary's Pizza Shack before driving on to Exchange 24 in Sonoma.

This exchange was a rarity in my experience because it was at a high school. This meant you could shower in the locker room and sleep inside the gym. I didn't take advantage of the shower in order to maximize the potential 3 hours I could sleep but unfortunately the anxiety of needing to wake up around 2:00 am prevented me from drifting off completely. Peachy called me at 2:02 am to alert me Sheri was on her way. With a 4.1 mile leg this meant I didn't have much time to pack up and get over to the exchange to wait for her. At this point there were only about 2 or 3 runners ahead of us which meant I was in for a very lonely, dark run.

Sheri handed off to me and I was on my way. Luckily I only had 3.2 miles to cover but it was still very scary. I focused on my directions which I had brought with me again and I carefully watched my Garmin to tell me when it was time to expect a sign. Thankfully all signs were in place and due to the absolute pitch darkness, I could see the flashing light from about a mile away. I ran in the middle of the street through the neighborhood of what I think were vineyards but really tough to say. I didn't want to get too close to any bushes or risk injury by falling in a ditch. I just ran as fast as I could and prayed for my safety and the safety of anyone else in my position. I made it safely to the exchange and handed the baton to Kasia, marking the end of my third and final leg.

Once each runner in my van had completed their final leg, we met up with van 2 at Exchange 30 in Napa. It was just barely breakfast time so we stopped at Gott's Roadside before driving on to the finish line at Exchange 36 in Calistoga.

It was pretty amazing to arrive at the finish line to find only a handful of teams there. My only previous Ragnar experience was So Cal where we were firmly in the middle of the pack so the finish line was jam packed with vans and people. It was so peaceful here and we got to chat with the vendors and I even requested the DJ play Gangnam Style when our team eventually crossed the finish line.

While we waited for van 2, Kasia and I bought matching jackets which were inspired by Brandon and Neal who already owned them.

We also made sure everyone donned their Thunder Buddies shirt for our grand finish as a team. We were the fifth team to cross the finish line out of more than 300! Although I did take video as we crossed, it (as well as the professional pictures) will be added later. Once we finished and got our medals, we headed over to pick up the Gold Rush medal that many of us earned by running both So Cal and Napa Valley in the same year.

We also got a corkscrew souvenir and a free wine tasting in the beer/wine garden.

Once we had soaked in our glory we finally had a meal together as a full team of 12. We ate at Boskos Trattoria which also offered us 10% off as Ragnar participants. While there we planned a wine tasting and settled on Chateau Montelena which was featured in the movie Bottle Shock. It was wonderful and a great way to end the day. 

Sunday both vans left around 8:00 am and we tried to return back to reality, but with one thing on our minds... When is the next one??