Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ragnar Napa Valley: In Vino Very Fast


Another year, another Ragnar relay. This time we ran amidst the lovely surroundings of Northern California, working our way from San Francisco to Calistoga. One would think that doing this three years in a row would be enough, but I'm eagerly looking forward to running another relay. It's an absolutely fun, miserable adventure that you have to experience firsthand to really appreciate. On the way back from Napa there was discussion in our van about maybe doing an out-of-state race. We'll try for Hood to Coast, but there was also talk about something in the Northwest or even New England. We'll see what happens.


As for the race itself, I wound up taking one of the 20 mile leg(s) for no other reason than the fact that I've been running fairly consistently and had no injury. Any other time that wouldn't be a qualification, but it was enough. I acquitted myself well. My first leg was my longest at 7.8 miles and made tough by a big hill halfway through. It was scenic, though. It started in what was possibly the mosty idllyic-looking location, complete with a white church and a gorgeous background of brown hills and oak trees. Davey told me the other night that Skywalker Ranch was only a few miles away. The first half included a scenic view of a reservoir. I also encountered three deer bounding across the road. I didn't ask them why they crossed. I started off well but immediately got passed by a very fast runner. That always sucks. Then another runner, faster than the first, zoomed by me. Damn you! I maintained a strong 8 minute pace up until the hill. I slowed down a bit as I made the ascent. I could hear footsteps behind me but the runner didn't seem ready to pass me. I kept thinking to myself that he should just pass me and get it over with. Finally he did when my cummerbund fell off.

Oh, I forgot to mention that our teamn name, My Big Fat Ragnar Wedding, a remnant of a plan by Scotty, who organized the last two Ragnars, to run as three teams under a wedding theme. Scotty had to drop out and the other two teams never materialized, but our team held strong, left with a team name we weren't too enthusiastic about. We made the best of it, though, propelled by a couple of energetic teammates who gathered together costumes for the runners complete with veils, bow ties, garters, and the aforementioned cummerbund. We even decorated our van for the first time! My concern with the name was that people were going to ask us who was getting married, but the questions never materialized. People just seemed to buy the fact that we're a wedding-themed team. Next time, though, we're going with a better name.


Back to my first leg, as soon as I got over the hill I fell back to a good pace. I kept my eye on the faster runners that had just passed me and made a plan to not let them get too far ahead. Thanks to a slight downhill finish, I averaged about an 8:15 pace for the 7.8 miles.

My second leg took place in the dead of night. I think I started it at 2am on a dark country road. The leg was 6.2 miles and probably my easiest thanks to a flat route and nice cool temperatures. Even though I started in what felt like a dark, country road, I was soon in the middle of suburbia. The rest of the run was along a commercial thoroughfare and through some residential streets. Since it was dark anyway I didn't care that it wasn't scenic. The leg was mostly uneventful. The same fast runner who had passed me in the previous leg passed me again. Drats! However, I did pass a total of six runners but only got passed by that fast runner and another runner later on. My pace was a bit over 8 minutes per mile, which worried me that I was exhausting myself with one more long leg the next day to go.

While I wasn't completely out of gas, my third leg was definitely a slog. It was 6.8 miles straight down Silverado Trail. Within a mile a side stitch developed and bugged me the rest of the way. It didn't help that it had warmed up and had to deal with rolling hills. I held on as best I can but it felt like I was just walking. Early on two runners running side by side passed me. A short while later a zooming guy draped in what looked like the Brazilian flag flew by me. I kept seeing runners in front of me who looked slow enough to catch, so I focused on them. I passed one, then another, but then got passed by someone else. By the end of the leg I had an eventful run where I passed five runners but got passed by six. This was a tough run where I just had to suck it up and keep moving. I kept checking my newly acquired Garmin to see how far I had gone--4 miles left! 3.5 miles! 2 miles! Surprisingly, even though I felt like I was barely moving, I was actually keeping up a good pace. Granted it was all over the map. At some points I was at 8:00/mile then I'm up to 9:15/mile. I did take two walk breaks, but I think at the finish my average pace was around 8:30/mile. It definitely didn't feel like I was running at times. I caught a second wind near the end when I realilzed that my agony would soon be over. I should probably also credit the two giant apple fritters Donna bought me as a birthday present. I would nosh on a big chunk throughout the day, especially before my legs. I'm sure the sugar rush powered me through some difficult moments.


As a team we finished the 186 miles in just over 27 hours. Official results aren't up yet, so we'll see, but I don't think this garnered us any special awards. We ran last year's course in about the same time and that one was over 200 miles.

Surprisingly I wasn't too sore from the experience. I was tired and smelly and probably couldn't run another leg if my life depended on it. When we got to our hotel in Santa Rosa I showered and promptly took a nap. I really couldn't string together a meaningful amount of sleep in a cramped van. The nap helped and the team celebrated with beer and greasy food at Third Street Aleworks. We were hoping for Russian River Brewery but there was no way we could fit in there.

Ragnar is really an event I should dislike for reasons other than the actual event of running a long distance relay. It's a very corporate event, lots of promotional items, and many of the participants I would probably find obnoxious in the normal course of life for being douchey and frat boyish (albeit frat boys with incredibly nice physiques). Yet I always have a good time. The participants are generally friendly and easy-going and friendly rivalries develop. It's a big event, but at its core is the team of running friends you have chosen to spend over a day riding in an increasingly malodorous van. You laugh, you goof around, you cheer each other on, and you eat, eat, eat. By relay's end you don't want to leave the van and you're filled with such positive vibes that it's a shock to have to return to your normal life. I'm sure there's a life lesson in there somewhere, but even if there isn't, Ragnar--or any other relay--is at the very least a fun, silly adventure. Fun is something we could use more of in life.

More pictures on my Flickr page.

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