Monday, July 27, 2015

2015 Ragnar Northwest Passage Relay - the Ultra Version Part 1

I was nervous. Even though we were all experienced at relays, none of had done one as an ultra team (6 people instead of the standard 12 person team). It was a very different and challenging experience.

1. Less logistics! Instead of figuring out when to expect Van 1 to the major exchange at 6, I only needed to worry about getting 6 runners and their gear to the start. After that, we were a self-contained relay mission! There was no need to worry about contacting another van. Note that we were starting at the same time as the regular Orange Ogre team. That ended up being fantastic for moral support and in my case, i got water a couple of times from Van 1 on my first 12.8 mile leg. That really helped!

2. Relay roulette. Relay courses always have some changes from year to year. That was definitely the case this year and it really affected some of the distances our runners would run. Instead of a 15 mile second leg, suddenly because of a course change, that run became 18.6 miles! We kept legs as is figuring that was just part of the fun of a relay. Ultra teams have the option to run either two legs together for 3 runs total or can run 6 times. Frankly running 6 times just seems appalling to me so we chose to do the longer runs and only run the typical 3 times. We'd heard about other ultra (and even regular teams) switching up the distances a bit so everyone on the team ran about the same amount of miles. That doesn't seem right to me as the course is what the course is and that is part of the challenge. I also think the beauty of relays is that you can have a mix of runners from those who can run much longer and those who need shorter distances.

3.  More gear. I swear we had more stuff. I think the issue is that since there was no down time, we never got a chance to ever re-pack the van. We actually had a larger van than usual but from the very first moment the relay started, it was trashed beyond belief. Everyone was losing things and we by necessity became much more communal. Really, this meant having an easy going group who all got along well was crucial.

4.  Smart runners. If a runner has problems with injury in a regular team, it's not such a big deal for another runner to cover another leg. I've done that with no problems. It becomes an issue with the ultra team. I was slated for 34 total miles. That is the most miles that I have ever run in 24 hours. Could I do more if someone had an injury and could not run? yes, probably but I'd really rather not as that is at my limit. Our lead off runner had had a calf problem a couple weeks out from the start. And on his first leg, he aggravated the calf. And after the second leg, it was swollen and bruised which is a sign of a tear. We iced and wrapped the injury and had the option to sub in runners. He really wanted to finish his legs though so carefully and sensibly made it through doing just what was necessary to finish his runs. It's no big deal in a typical race if you do hurt something and need to drop out. It's a bigger deal in an ultra relay where the team is counting on you finishing your miles.

5. Smart runners repeat. It's easy to get caught up in the competition of the relay. I had a few women come up and pass me before an exchange and ask how i was doing so close to the end of the leg. Well, it wasn't the end of my leg and i was doing just fine thanks. I kept an honest pace and ran to my abilities paying attention to fueling and hydration. I didn't need to get into a pissing contest with anyone. I figured I'd be running at just over my marathon pace and that ended up being correct for me. I was too nervous to push any harder. That meant that at 9:30 pace, i got passed by quite a few guys and some women but also passed a lot of other men and women. I ran smart and really did enjoy the rock star feeling of running through an exchange. My second leg featured an 8.1 mile first leg and then a 5.6 mile second leg (13.7 miles total!). That 8.1 is a long distance in a typical relay! I came running into the exchange and handed my handheld to WC asking for a refill of water. the volunteers started calling my team number and i said that i was an ultra. "running through?" she asked and I said, "yes." At this time someone in the crowd exclaimed, "omg, she is running two legs!" and everyone started cheering. Yeah, that was awesome.

6. No down time. This was the biggest change from teh regular team. We'd originally asked a friend to drive for this team but that friend ended up getting conscripted onto the regular team. A driver would be a really excellent thing on an ultra team. Think about this. There is always one runner. One person needs to drive and one person needs to be awake to navigate and act as "safety officer" as well as support the runner. That leaves 3 people in the van trying to get ready for their next run, recover from their last run, sleep, dig through the van, eat etc. Some people do better with less sleep etc (I'm one of those) and that meant that i did do more driving, navigating and generally monitoring for runner support. It would've been great to have one other person to drive/navigate/runner support. No down time also meant that it was hard to get into the van and dig out food, or clothing or whatever.  Typically in the regular team when the other van is running is a good time to get everythign out of the van so people can grab what they need, repack a a bit and get ready for the next round of running. An ultra team doesn't have that time.

Would I do it again? Of course! Would I have said this during the relay? No! Ha! I'm really proud of how well everyone did including me. I wish i could've been better prepared but I was as prepared as I could be given the limits of training I've had in the first part of this year. I ended up running pretty much exactly what I predicted. I suffered through my first leg because of heat and wind and lucked out with better timing and thus better temps for my two other runs.

With 4 men and 2 women who were all older, we ended up being a men's masters team and we were about 45 minutes faster than I expected. Why so much faster? When I put together the spreadsheet, i really did not want to pressure anyone and kept my timing very easy. I was pretty sure we'd be faster than expected but we'd subbed in one runner who was significantly faster. Also one runner who is notoriously hard to predict ended up running way faster than predicted.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Captain Ogre on steroids

Captain's Hat
Done! How does it feel captaining two Ragnar Northwest Passage teams with 18 runners total, 3 vans and a humongous pile of Orange? Fantastic!

I'll admit it. I was a little stressed the last couple weeks. There are a few things you can count on when captaining a Ragnar team:

The aftermath. Relay gear disgorged from the vans.
1. Inevitably, you will have to replace a runner last minute. In this case, I had to replace a runner on both the regular and the ultra team. Now we did have a back up runner in place for the ultra team because those were the bigger shoes to fill. So five days before the race, this runner was registered onto the team.  And fortunately we were able to grab an excellent replacement runner for the regular team too. That meant though that i was dealing with a lot of new to the team runner questions while i was still figuring pace charts, confirming runner order and setting our drive times. Yes, this changed because all of a sudden on the regular team, we had a replacement runner who was much faster than the runner she was replacing. Mentally I was prepared to shuffle the vans around so the regular team could run with 11 runners instead of 12 but fortunately it didn't need to happen.

2. Difficulties while picking up van rentals. I was lucky. I'd had my van rental agreements in place for at least six months prior with a known company and a good (corporate backed) rate in place. I was actually a little more confident that we would have no problems getting our vans this time even though we picked them up late Thursday. I was hearing reports of teams not having vans available through their rental company even though they'd had reservations. It always makes me so nervous.  Really, what are you going to do at that point? How many people plus gear can you fit into our Toytota Corolla? It still seemed to take forever to pick up the vans but at least we had them!

3.  Oh yeah, the running. As captain, I never ever get a chance to think about what I'm going to be running. I don't really look at my legs or even think about food. And I realized the last couple days that since i was running on the ultra team and was going to be what would considered Van 1, it was completely different timing than what i was used to.  I really think this is a good thing. I was nervous in general about running this relay as an ultra but not nervous about my legs in particular. I knew I'd complete the distance, end of story.  I hoped to at least maintain close to marathon pace but was prepared to be a lot slower and that was ok.

It all went smoothly overall. Race day ended up being hotter than expected and we all suffered for it.  Some suffered more than other and felt some pretty severe effects of dehydration. Fortunately we had a couple of nurses in our vans and they were able to give some very good, professional advice which helped our runners out.

I felt brain dead and just annoyed with the continual neediness at work on Monday (so two days post race). And I realized that after handling 17 other runners with a lot of needs that I was done with neediness. Haha! And then I got another very good night's sleep and felt a whole lot better. Physically, I was less sore than I expected. I'm taking it easy this week though for sure.

Next Up: The Ultra Experience.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Heat Wave

June. That was a hot one. it was record breaking hot for a sustained amount of time. I feel like we've already had summer and then some.  Fortunately we'd given our house a 90th birthday present last year (it was built in 1924) and that was a fancy new ceiling fan.  And wow has that made a difference. Yes, it's hot but with that new, extremely quiet and super controllable fan, we've been sleeping well even when it's been close to 90 in the house.  The raspberries were coming up all over and we were picking off a quart every few days. It was too hot to be out there picking though! I did try making raspberry jam and it was a great success. I cannot wait to do this again next year. I only have one small half pint left because i gave it all away.

We finished the month off with a fun trail race. Yes it was still hot but that was the first day it was below 80 (just) and it felt relatively cool. I got into a pissing contest with another woman on the hills in the first lap of this two lap race. That was dumb and I paid for it the second loop.  But that didn't matter because that woman was only doing the 1 loop course. Ha!  K even came out to run again as well. This was him finishing looking good even though he said he was "gassed."  Those trail races are pretty sneakily hard!

It'll pay off though. Ragnar relay is this week. Two team, 18 runners and a whole lot of stories. I cannot wait.