Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ragnar Northwest Passage 2012 - The Runner's Edition Orange Ogres Van 2!
Remember this is a 12 person team divided 6 people into two rental vans.  Every one in the first van runs once and hands off to the next van who then all run once.  The van that is "off" or not running goes to the next major van exchange and rests waiting for the other van to finish their legs.  Everyone runs three times over the course of 200 miles and usually over 24 hours. 

By Thursday, all I wanted to do was run.  As captain, I think I have even more anticipation with this event than for a just running solo event.   I've been planning it and discussing it and sending out emails about it and answering questions about it and just thinking about it for what seems like months.  Once both vans are checked in, my stress and anxiousness disappears and the rest of the world seems to vanish.  all that matters is getting from Point A to Point B.  Most of the time this happens with driving the van but three times I will run that distance.

And really, people don't seem to realize this, but the running is the easy part. What is more challenging is dealing with eating different foods at odd times. There are limited opportunities to buy food along the course so you have to plan on being self-sufficient.  You have to manage drinking enough liquids and dealing with portopotties and being awake for over 24 hours.  And then you have to run as well as you are able?  it's really easy to run that first leg too fast.  How well you run that last leg almost 24 hours later depends a lot on how well you are able to refuel and recover after your first and second legs.

This is where having run multiple times at these events is really helpful.  I know my legs won't feel like moving but they will.  I know I won't feel like eating in the middle of the night but I will.  I know I will lose some key piece of equipment in the van but it'll be ok.  I know I will spend hours chatting and laughing with my van mates and just having a great time.  And then I get ready to run and focus and run my best because my team is counting on me to get from Point A to Point B as fast as I am able on race day.  Really, i find the whole process just delightful.

Get Ready: K was in Van 1 and they met at our house very early Friday am.  With minimal fuss, the van was loaded and they were off.  I pretended to go back to sleep.  After an hour I gave up and was ready to go!  I had a good breakfast, made some more coffee, cooked my pancakes which i'd have as a post run meal in the middle of the night and just waited to go.  Of course it was dreadful out!  Seattle had thunderstorms and heavy showers in mid-July! Fortunately the thunderstorms stayed south but I knew Van 1 would have some running in rain. I checked to make sure i knew exactly where my body glide was!  Off I went to the Van 2 meet up spot.  Although I'd been in email and phone contact with all these people, i still hadn't met some of them in person.  Without fuss, everyone was loaded and we were on our way chatting away.  Of course i was super anxious at this point.  Where is Van 1 on the course and would we be in time?!  I badgered Van 1 via text to give me updates about when runners took off and breathed a sigh of relief as their times starting were matching the detailed spreadsheet I'd updated to keep track of expected running times.

The Meetup:  Check in and decorate that van and get the first runner in our van ready to go.  It's really fun at the first major exchange as everyone is excited.  Another friend of mine was captaining another team and we happened to see each other.  Fun stuff!  Soon enough we found our other van and knew we had 10 minutes or so to go until we expected their last runner.  What did he look like and what was he wearing?  Who knew?!  And our first runner was off.  This team ended up being fantastic.  We had 6 runners new to this type of event and one of them had never even raced in a running event before.  But I knew from talking to him that he'd be a fast runner although should not handle a lot of mileage.  Sure enough, he came in overall as our fastest runner.  Although we were an "open" team (meaning at least one person is under 30 years old), more than half of us were over 40 and 3 were over 50.  There were relay veterans like myself and 4 returning members from last year.  It was a nice mix.

Run #1: I was runner #11 (5th runner in Van 2).  This was a new position for me.  I've been in Van 1 and Van 2 but generally earlier in the running rotation.  I did enjoy running later in the rotation and it worked well for the team too.  This leg was 6.8 miles with a large climb for over a mile in the middle.  After the downhill, i'd have 2.5 miles of perfectly flat roads on the Skagit Flats.  I started running at 4:46 pm after our team had an 8:30 am start.  It was much cooler than expected (mid-60s) but it was 100% humidity and I knew I'd feel that.  i decided to carry a small water bottle.  I filled it up and then promptly lost it in the van.  Dangit!  Fortunately I was able to borrow another smaller one.  And right on time, runner 10 was in passing another runner (roadkill!) just before the finish.  I'd hoped to hit this at 8:15 pace and went out much quicker as it was downhill.  Immediately though I was passed by one guy and dangit, a young gal.  I settled into pace and was surprised to see that i was running faster than I thought.  I expected to slow on the big hill and sure enough I did of course.  My goal was just to stay strong on the hill and not blow up.  Evidently that young gal had gone out too hard.  She was walking on the hill and I passed her back. Once towards the top of the hill, i took some water and uh oh, immediately I started feeling a side stitch.  I slowed down, started the deep breathing tricks and dug my fingers into my side.  Over almost a quarter of a mile I tried this with no luck and it just got worse and worse.  Finally I had to stop to walk and completely dig into my side while breathing deeply in and out.  And miraculously, I found exactly the area which was cramping up. It released under pressure and I started running again on pace.  Just like that!  Van 2 was of course passing me here and must've been concerned.  I'd been passing people here and there and enjoyed the downhill.  The flat farmland is very pretty and I concentrated on maintaining my form.  I finally snuck a look at my overall pace and was shocked to see that I was just under 8:15.  Excellent!  Done!  I was just under 56 minutes for 8:12 pace by my garmin.

The Interlude:  There were some major changes to the course this year.  Runner #7 and #12 had some extremely long legs and a lot of total mileage.  Instead of having the vans run basically even mileage (100 miles each), Van 2 was running 20 more miles.  it had been harder to fill the team too knowing that I needed a couple runners who could handle longer legs and more mileage.  I could do one of the legs as I had consistent 40 mile per weeks of running for a couple months now but I'd be better as a mid-distance runner on the team. This change meant that Van 2 had much less downtime as well and consequently made it tougher on everyone in the van to get any rest especially the drivers.  I really hope this gets changed for next year!  I hadn't realized what a difference this would make.  I personally do not expect to sleep at all on the relay as I am the lightest sleeper ever however the entire van was flagging as we got towards the end of our rotation.  We finished our last leg and headed towards La Connor to wait for the first van.  It was around 9 pm and a little early to be sleeping even though I'd been up since forever.  I rolled out my sleeping bag on a hillside overlooking the valley and just relaxed.  Nope, i didn't sleep but just lying still with no cares really helps.  And unlike last year I was NOT getting a cold and I made sure to have some caffeine after our rest times.  I knew we'd expect our next runner to go out before mid-night and surprisingly i had no trouble getting up and moving about ready to go.

Run #2: The humidity remained although it did cool further during the night hours.  I never really needed to get out the warm clothing though which honestly was nice.  Van 2 was in good spirits and getting the runs done.  There are some sections of this course where you need to be alert and aware of drivers and we did have some concerns with alerts on course about erratic drivers.  Scary!  And I am glad that the race organizers were quick to put out the word.  Really, I saw so many police out on the course and was very glad of that.   The really big change to teh course happened with my second running leg.  Typically runner #12 had run across Deception Pass and we'd med the other van in Deception Pass State Park.  I'd always hated this transition area.  You'd stumble around in the pitch black in the woods and there were very limited facilities.  This year, as runner #11 I'd run across the pass and continue on to a new exchange.  EVen the starting exchange was different.  There was no room to do a warm up and we had little time.  And I was off.  There had been no runners ahead of me so it seemed like i was running alone in the pitch black for miles.  Eventually I did catch up to others (passed around 9 people) and was only passed by 2 guys one of whom shouted "nice pace" at me as he went by.  I was wearing a strand of battery-powered lights and got a lot of compliments about this.  Plus it just added a light source and since it was so dark and foggy, i was grateful.  This leg ended up being a bit more challenging than I expected.  It was overall downhill but had some good climbs and rolled a bit more than I expected.  And the road and bridge was super narrow and has some very large curbs.  I did really slow in places to make sure I didn't trip.  And I admit that I stopped to look around over the bridge and admire the faint hint of sunrise in the east.  Honestly this was a thrilling and exhilerating run and I was grinning the last few miles.  I did not carry water and I probably should've but after the side stitch episode i was a bit concerned about that.  I could feel my hamstrings and calves starting to tighten up and i started to get really thirsty.  I knew the bridge was at 4.2 miles and then the finish wouldn't be for another 2.3 miles.  6.5 miles in 52:54 for 8:09 pace at 3:54 am.  Yahoo!  I'd hoped to maintain that 8:15 pace and I did even with some safety checks and admiring the view.

The Interlude:  This is the rest period where I have the best chance of getting some sleep. We made our way to Coupeville and it was raining when we got there.  Harumph.  No sleeping outside with that.  The gym was far away and I know lying on a hard gym floor does no good things for my back or hips so everyone just stayed in the van.  I didn't quite sleep but I did doze for a bit.  And they had some good coffee and real bathrooms!  I had the rest of my pasta and some pancakes and actually felt ok.  Van 1 came in and were that wonderful mix of delighted to be done and super tired.  Off they went to the finish to wait for the last legs.

Run 3: It was during our first runner's leg that the sun finally made an appearance.  This was great but I knew it would get warm and humid.  Still, it was better than rain. My last leg was my shortest too.  Just 3.8 rolling miles.  It got warm quick and I ditched the idea of wearing a tutu because I wanted to run in just my running bra and skirt.  Tutu = chafing if no shirt. My goal was to run strongly and at least maintain the 8:10-8:15 pace I'd run for the first two legs. I secretly hoped to be closer to 8 flat.  I was worried I'd run too hard though for those legs and would really slow on this last leg.  I did easy jogging laps around the parking lot waiting for our runner.  And off I went. I expected legs to feel terrible but they honestly were not bad.  I didn't look at pace and just focused on staying focused and not too hard so I'd finish warming up on the gradual uphill first mile.  There were much fewer runners out but I could see some ahead and knew I'd be able to pass some and I made that my goal.  I got a lot of cheering from other vans heading towards the finish and event friendly honks from other cars out on the road.  I was feeling better than I thought and finally snuck a look at my pace after a couple of miles.  Dang!  Under 8!  I couldn't believe it as that was faster than I felt I was running.  Just keep at it.  Soon enough I came to the next exchange handed off to our last runner and i was done!  3.8 miles (but 3.7 on my garmin) in 29:20 starting at 12:53 PM.

The Finish:  We piled quickly into the van and headed towards the finish to meet up with Van 1.  Here is where experience helped.  Bring the wallet, water for myself, water for our last runner and the safety flags to turn in.  Last year I hadn't thought of any of this and had to keep tromping back to and from the van.  Everyone had a blast in Van 1 and right on schedule our last runner was in and we were done!  The official time is 29:33 and we were 68th out of 177 mixed open teams. We had to get the vans back to SeaTac so there wasn't a lot of hanging out at the finish.  And just like that, Ragnar was done and I'd never had one moment of questioning my sanity.  Yep, it was a great weekend!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Ragnar Northwest Passage Relay 2012 - The Captain's Log

This was my second time captaining a 12 person team at Ragnar Northwest Passage.  It does get easier, really.  I had a better idea of when to aim for finish recruiting runners, when to start sending out informational  emails to keep teammates invested and interested (if they wanted the info) and much less stress overall.

I'll admit it though.  I still get to the evening before the race and I'm still not certain that everyone is going to show up the next day.  I needn't have worried with this group.

12 Runners.  We brought the last one on in mid-June. He'd never even run in any race before but regularly ran trails at a park with very steep technical trails. He'd not have the mileage to handle a lot of distance but I sensed he'd have speed and a lot of it.  I had two marathoners/ultra runners who although weren't in what they considered their best shape would still be able to pound out a lot of miles (more on this later in the runner's version).  I had 4 total (including yours truly) returning runners.  All were in better shape than last year and had last year's event  experience to draw upon and I could draw on their experience to help me.  I had one fellow athlete who was coming off of great success at a half iron event last month.  He'd recruited his sister (who had the experience of previous marathons even though she'd not been running as much lately) and a friend who had solid running experiences.  Another athlete had joined the training group after initial team recruitment had started.  When I found out her goal event was in June, I jumped at the chance to ask her on to the team and she said yes! One gal had signed up last year but then immediately had to pull out because of a stress fracture.  She was back this year and excited to finally participate in an overnight relay.  It's always an interesting mix of how people get onto a team such as this.  I fully expected to have to replace a runner because of injury or illness or life circumstances.  I held my breath until the very day and they all came with great attitudes and great running.

2 Vans. I've heard some horror stories of not having vans available from rental agencies.  Until we are driving back home with two working rental vans, I am fearful. Last year there was a huge delay in picking up one van enough that we had a rental discounted by half because of pain and suffering. That delay directly cut into valuable sleep time last year and it wasn't worth the discount.  No such problems this year and I was better able to remind myself of what to check with the vans.  Note: take out all that weird stuff they have tucked into a compartment.  We need all of the space!

Tons of Supplies.  Or at least it seems like it.  Each van gets a cooler with two bags of ice and a large water cooler which I fill from our tap and place on tap of the cooler in the van.  It eliminates the need to bring lots of containers of water.  People can still bring their beverages of choice (no, not just beer) and have easy access to water. Each van also has a bin of shared use items such as a first aid kit, extra gels/electrolytes, tp, sunscreen, bug spray and of course some fun items like orange tutus.  I know that if i lose something in the van, i can go get something similar out of the shared use bin. It all fits into the van with a bit of cramming.  All sleeping gear can get squished into the under seat storage until needed later. Within one transition, of course, it looks like a whirlwind has hit and it never fails that if you need something it'll be at the bottom of the pile.  But people tend to sit in the same seats for the entire relay, people can keep track of their stuff well enough.

The attitudes. I find the more prepared I am in warning people what to expect and having them pack and prepare appropriately, everyone else can relax and focus on running and enjoying the experience. I expect everyone including myself to be out of it and less than coherent at times during the event but that's it.  No crankiness or whining ever seems to come up.  Everyone knew that this wasn't an easy event and there would be challenges and of course, they rose to those challenges.

The weather. That was something this year. Thundershowers with lightning on Friday morning in Seattle the day of the race.  It was a lot cooler and wetter than I've ever experienced.  The cool was better for running but the wet had some challenges.  Next year, add some ointments (vasoline or A&D)  into the first aid kit for chafing and even some larger plastic bags for keeping the rain off for when standing about.

One Captain and a strong Van Captain.  Last year I'd needed some guidance with pulling this all off. Coach Lesley was that guidance.  This year I was solo as many of her athletes and herself were in Chelan for the multisport weekend which is Chelanman.  This worked as I could take full control and responsibility.  Those athletes which work with her still contacted their coach, of course but I felt more connected to the team.  I'd also been able to arrange an easy get together with about half the team to go over some safety issues, how relays work and what to expect.  It was really nice to meet most of the team before we all climbed into vans together!

No Volunteers.  Ragnar requires local teams to provide three volunteers or pay a differential. This year, I paid to waive the volunteer requirement right before the deadline.  Next year this will just be a given and it's going to happen much earlier.  As much fun as it was to see our friends on course last year, it was just easier to fulfill this requirement with cash and it is one less thing I have to coordinate and stress about.

And we were ready. I'd held it all together really well and was amazed at how much less stressful it had been to pull it all together. And then it was Thursday afternoon and the butterflies came and punched me down.  I could not sleep as usual the night before the event.  I was ready to get on the road and just wanted to run!

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Sunny Attitude

It's amazing and the biggest secret to living in Seattle.  Just when you think you can't take clouds and rain anymore, we sneak into the second half of July and Summer, it is HERE! And it is glorious.  the rest of the country has been complaining of ridiculous heat for months and finally, we have perfect weather. 

And everyone seems to be smiling and giddy with the light.  I end up not sleeping all that well during this time of year.  It's too light and the clues to be sleepy just aren't there. I want to run and bike and work in the yard and just enjoy sitting outside on the deck. 

All of a sudden the yard is out of control and I easily fill up our yard waste container in a couple hours.  I've been harvesting handfuls of snap peas off our plants and raspberries are copious.  The blueberries are almost ripe and I'm contemplating reseeding arugula, chard and kale for fall crops.

The running attitude is doing pretty well too.  Scotiabank Half definitely did not play out like I'd hoped.  But there was a real difference in my attitude with this one.  By mile 8 and 9, I was ready and knew I'd be able to keep racing.  Unfortunately my body had some different ideas.  That is different than half marathons lately.  I'd get to mile 6 or 7 and think "i can't do this" or my mind would just sort of check out and the legs would follow.

I had a really nice very hilly 11 mile easy run this past Saturday.  Sunday I was planning for some more moderate miles again over some hills.  I'll admit that I was a bit nervous about running another 6 miles at faster than just "slog." But I got out there and had no problems hitting the intended pace and felt great! My legs were tired but it didn't matter.  I think that if i'd gone out there to just run a few miles, my attitude of grumpy, tired and sloggy would've slowed me down and made getting in the intended mileage a challenge.  Attitude. Yep, it's all about attitude sometimes. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Fennel misted over in the garden. 
The garden is mostly happy with this although the raspberries would like some more sun. Wouldn't we all? I don't bother planting those heat loving tomatoes which are probably going to be hopeless this year. And some of the annuals are showing mildew signs.  This year the spinach went straight to seed.  However the snap peas have been fantastic.  Every day I can go and harvest a handful.  The collard was also a great success and it helped that I found a super easy and fast recipe which didn't require (too much) bacon.  Quick-Sauteed Collard Ribbons is my new favorite recipe.  I do think using some bacon fat adds to the dish.  

My main goal this weekend was to get in a short trail run, spend some time out in the yard, watch Olympic Trials and Tour de France coverage and knit Orange Ogre hats.  it turned out to be perfect weather for tv and cooking and trail running, of course! The forest was just lush with all the rain we've had and I marveled at a lot of different mushrooms and some other wildlife.  Trail running is the perfect recovery running for me.  There is something about it that gives me a much fuller range of movement in my hips and legs which really helps recovery.  I always feel better after an easy trail run.  And believe me, i was keeping it easy since I could tell my legs were tired when i was climbing the long hills. 

With the forced indoor time, we also decided to try making skyr.  We had skyr in Iceland and it is a yogurt-like item although technically it is a fresh acid-set cheese, whatever that means.  It's creamy and delicious with fresh fruit with a slight tang like yogurt but not as strong. It's also high in protein and low in fat to non fat since it is made with skim milk.  
Whey drips out. 
they do sell it here in itty bitty containers which are quite pricey.  So after some serious googling, we had to make our own.  Fun stuff. Take a half gallon of fat free milk and heat up to just under scalding.  most recipes give you a temperature which we read with an instant thermometer.  How did the Icelanders do this with no instant read thermometer?  Let the milk cool to a particular temp and then add some starter skyr, some rennet and stir.  Rennet? Don't google this if you are squeamish.  There are vegetarian sources which frankly seem more alarming to me.  Wrap that pot up with some towels and let sit undisturbed (and unrefridgerated) for 12 hours.  Go in and cut the curd and gently spoon the curds and whey (the liquid) into mesh bags or cheesecloth and let sit for a couple hours. Drippy!  
After a while, i rigged up something in the fridge to hold the dripping bags just to clear out the sink.  It's a rather messy process.  But this creamy goodness is what you get!  We were expecting homemade skyr to taste a little more strongly sour but were delighted with this was not the case.  OK.  I am hooked on homemade skyr especially with fresh raspberries from the garden.  

The other good thing to do on a very drippy day was well demonstrated by Keswick and York below.  Meanwhile I am ready for some more sun and as expected it is coming as soon as we are past July 4th.  Happy Summer!  I hope i didn't just jinx it.