Thursday, June 16, 2016

Ragnar Relay Madison to Chicago 2016 Edition

Once again I got roped by Mo into running Ragnar Relay. This year we joined some of her Milwaukee based friends on a team and thus were the only Chicago based runners. I had to pack even lighter this year since we'd be taking Amtrak up to Milwaukee the night before the race. It was my first time on one of those trains since I was a kid, but it was a short fun ride with a couple of beers. We were picked up in Milwaukee by Renee and another teammate, Erin, who I was meeting for the first time. We immediately headed to a local bar for some beer.

Race morning wasn't too early. We were in van 2 so we casually got ready and then the rest of the team picked us up in the Van for our trip to Lake Mills for our exchange point. The heat and humidity were already starting to hit pretty hard. The drive consisted of jokes on how we weren't allowed to take the van to Mexico according to our rental agreement. That later turned into the theme for the van with "Mexico Bound" splayed across the back. I contributed a "Donde est la biblioteca?" on one of the window panels. We also had to comment on the weather with a "[Redacted] This Weather!". It's worth noting that we were Team [Redacted]. Soon enough the runner from Van 1 rolled in, Renee was off, and our adventure began.

I was runner 12 so I still had quite awhile until I had to run. I demolished a 12 inch sub and some chips from Subway where as everyone else opted for a 6 inch and some saved their sandwich for after their run. It was already evening by the time it was my turn. I took the hand-off and bolted out a bit too fast. My leg was 6.8 miles and I dropped a 7:24 first mile. The heat soon caught up to me and I had a hard time cooling off. I slowed down more and more each mile, finally opting for short walking breaks the last couple miles. I wound up posting a pace a little below 9:00 min/mile and was fine with that given all the running and heat we would still have to deal with. We parted ways with van 1 and went to get dinner at Noodles and Co. After a bit of re-hydration I started to sweat a bunch during dinner before finally cooling off.

After dinner we headed over to the high school that hosted the next major exchange for some sleep. We initially set up outside and were there for about an hour before one of the volunteers came over to let us know that a lightning hold was started and that runners were going to be held at their next exchange. We looked at a huge storm on our weather apps and decided to head inside to the air conditioned gymnasium for more sleep. This sleep would be interrupted by what became referred to as erector set guy who dumped all sorts of metal poles on the floor and then proceeded to noisily put together a cot to sleep on. Some people are just so self centered and oblivious to everything else that is going on. Close to midnight we received word that the hold had been lifted and that the team would skip 2 legs. This meant we had 3.5 miles from runner 6 until we were on duty again. We packed up our gear and got ready to go.

The night legs got interesting as the exchanges and directions didn't match between sources. Multiple teams were getting lost. The running routes were also changed at times, but luckily there were signs on the course. One of the route changes proved fortunate as a shooting had occurred on the original route. We witnessed all the police vehicles fly by. The sun was starting to rise by the time I was up to run again. I had a nice 6 mile route through some neighborhoods and then along the lakefront in Racine. It was still slightly warm and humid, but much cooler than the previous evening. I flew along and finished this leg with a 7:58 pace. Next was a much needed stop at IHOP for breakfast.

After breakfast we headed over to North Chicago High School for the next major exchange. We weren't allowed indoors here so we camped out where we could find shade. We had a little shade tent, but it wasn't enough to shelter the whole team. I shifted several times as the shade moved along with the sun. It also didn't help that every time I started to fall asleep that ants would start crawling over me and wake me up. The heat and lack of sleep were really starting to get to me. We did learn that we could double up runners and skip some legs for our final leg of the race. Between the hold and the heat slowing us down, we needed everything we could get to finish before the 8PM cutoff.

My final leg started at 4:30PM. It was a bit odd in that no one was handing off to me since we had skipped the prior leg. I showed up at the exchange and told the officials I was starting and we just skipped. I then started my 9.7 mile journey towards La Bagh Woods for the finish line. Early going was ok. I knew I'd be taking it easy and taking walking breaks to avoid overheating. There was supposed to be 3 water stations on this route, but no one knew if they would actually be there. I conserved the water I had just in case. The first water station was there about 1.8 miles in. Shortly after while still in the forest preserve I got a nice scare as a deer jumped out of a creek towards me and was about 10 feet away. The doe seemed startled by my presence as well and we eyed each other as I kept running and she darted off into the woods. The next water station was about 4 miles in after a long sunny stretch through a park. I was already running more than walking and couldn't get enough water into my system. I took a salt tab to try and help, but it was a losing battle. I started jogging a bit more until we got to the final water station just before mile 6. We then hit a long sunny stretch down Devon where I just felt done. I walked the entire way. I knew my water wouldn't last until the finish. Luckily lots of teams were out there handing out water and gatorade to those who needed it. Someone even propped a spray hose up in their driveway. The last few miles of my run are a big blur. I got dizzy, took another salt tab, and just tried to stay cool and finish safe. I was able to get an ice cold bottle of water from another team than I put on the back of my neck to cool off a bit before chugging it. There was another spot where a team had a hose and sprayed runners with cold water. Finally, after about 30 minutes after my predicted finish time, I rolled into La Bagh woods and wondered where the heck my team was. I stumbled closer and closer to the finish before I finally spotted them and we all ran across together. I then just hunched down and tried not to black out. Water was fetched and a team photo was taken while everyone asked what I needed. My answer was shade.

We found a spot in the shade and I laid down for a few minutes. A team mate brought over a bottle of gatorade which I downed pretty quickly. I also ate a slice of pizza and finally started to feel a bit normal. Just like that it was basically over. A couple of team mates left, van 1 gave some of us a ride to van 2 and we parted ways. The remaining team members dropped me off while accidentally side swiping a car in the process. We waited 45 minutes for the police to show so we could file a report. I finally went in to my air conditioned condo and took a much needed shower and warmed up some leftover pizza. I think I caught up on social media for about an hour and called in a night and slept for the next 11 hours.

The theme for Ragnar this year was "Inner Wild", but it should of been "Embrace Chaos". Things just didn't run as smoothly race-wise as with prior years. I get that they can't do anything about the heat or storms, but communication was horrid. There also weren't any improvements over prior years and existing problems still remained. Poo mountain anyone? One would think that they would take extra safety precautions with the heat, but all that we got was a text at 3pm on Saturday saying to stay hydrated. Yeah, we've been trying to do that since 5AM on Friday. Ragnar hasn't done anything to help matters. There's no extra hydration stations. No misters. No extra shade constructed. Nothing. I think this race has left me burned out and turned off from Ragnar for the time being.