Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Ragnar Relay Northwest Passage July 22-23, 2011

This might be long! 

Pictures first:

Oh yeah, 39 kills!

Tony Seabolt ready!

Sole Sisters at the finish

Finish Line Photo

On my 3rd was more spectacular in real life

Team Lord of the Ragnar

Don't mess with the Sole Sisters

Supporting our girl, Jeanene.

Lizzie and me

Lindsay, Andria and I waiting for the first of our third legs.

I know where "Slug Club" came from...just playin', Chris!

Tony Seabolt and John Tebb have been around the girls too long.

Our awesome singlet!

My view from under the bridge I would cross as I lie down trying to rest.

This whole running thing has gotten OUT OF CONTROL! It's gone from jogging , running, racing, competing, setting time goals, and mileage goals. I hit the next phase by running an ultramarathon - a 50 miler -and contemplating and finishing 2 marathons or longer in 2 days while also finishing more than 10 marathons/ultras in the year. What could be next?

RELAY! I found myself in a van with 5 other women and one dude - Tony Seabolt - on July 21st, headed toward Bellingham, Washington. We accounted for half of the Sole Sisters relay team aka Van 2. The other half was in the red van. We would be running legs 6-12 of the relay. Team name: Sole Sisters.

I’ve been asked to run a relay once before and gladly turned the invitation down since it was a Master’s team, meaning you had to be 40 or older. I was still clinging to my late 30s and felt the sting of growing older etch one more mark on my psyche.

Jessica Sabo, our indelible team captain, put the word out on Facebook that she was looking for a few more runners in her all women submaster’s team, meaning everyone had to be at least 30 years old. I jumped on the bandwagon and Jessie took hold of me and wouldn’t let me say no despite a few bumps in the road. Thank you, Jess!

We had a few opportunities to meet up as a group for some double and triple training runs as we neared race day. I was able to join in one of those times and trained on my own the rest of the time. During the relay, each person would run 3 different times of varying distances. The relay starts with Van 1, with the first 6 runners. Each person would run a “leg” (that’s their turn at running) and pass a wristband/baton to the next runner at an exchange point. After the first 6 runners completed their legs, Van 2 would take it’s turn running their first legs. I was runner #7. Times between each individual’s run would vary but most would have about 8 of “rest” before they ran again.

My leg numbers were 7, 19, and 31 (out of 36 legs). Jessica had doled out the leg numbers in a very calculated way. Maybe. My total distance would be 21.5 miles, the longest leg of the 12 runners. The elevation chart looked interesting. Jessica apparently has heard of my long-distance running feats and I assumed that’s the reason behind this leg choice. The distance didn’t especially concern me as much as the lack of sleep and being able to “race” so quickly. Any runner who has raced a 10k knows the effort of a faster pace can leave some residual tightness in the legs. I wasn’t sure how my legs would respond to a faster pace in such a short time frame. And my family will attest to my love of sleep. As a child, I slept through EVERYTHING, even a car careening into the corner of our house! I’m more balanced as an adult (having children will change your sleeping patterns) but still find myself lounging on the bed far too long in the mornings.

July 21st arrived and the reality hit home that today was the big day of traveling with the team. Had I packed? Not exactly. I began tearing through my running clothes and threw everything into a pile that I might possibly wear. After rummaging through Mt. Racemore, I narrowed down my options and separated the clothing into 3 race bags, one for each leg of the relay I would run. I also was sure to include comfortable clothing to wear between legs and toiletries. As I exited the threshold of my home, I wondered what I was forgetting, as certainly I would not remember everything. I won’t tell you what I forgot but I will say that I needed it for non-running times and it starts with B.R.A. I was able to be creative and retained my dignity without showing my, um…never mind.

I rode shotgun with Tony Seabolt driving the van and we arrived at our hotel without incidence. We were able to get to know each other during our ride since we all didn't know everyone. The characters in Act II: Tony Seabolt, driver; Me, Sherri Preston Marks, Andria Cole Laws, Jeaneane McCarty, Lindsay Page and Maryanne Tomich.

Act I characters: Jessica Sabo, Kristen Barrett, Kris-Lange Tebb, Marie Spengler Charouhas, Lizzie Lee and Diana Johnson.

After a yummy carbo-loading dinner at the Olive Garden, we made our way to the hotel and our lights went out at 9:00 pm (at least in our room). Lizzie would be leaving the room about 6:00 a.m. so she needed to get to sleep. Lindsay and I, however, didn’t have to leave until noon so the pressure of trying to fall asleep was lifted. I lay in bed with my Itouch, hooked up to WiFi and watched a movie on Netflix. My bedtime has been closer to 11:00 p.m. and I couldn’t fall asleep so early.

Lizzie was off to the start with van 1 while Lindsay and I slept and slept. I awoke shortly before 8:00 a.m., our team’s start time, and received a quick call from Tony S. telling me Kris has started her first leg. Lindsay was shocked to see she had slept 11 hours, even without earplugs. Our morning was unrushed and we casually made our way down to the breakfast buffet.

With breakfast finished and some black sharpie tattoos in place, we departed for the first exchange point. My leg was scheduled for approximately 1:45 based on the estimated averages of the first 6 runners. The weather was mild but whenever the sun appeared through the clouds, it instantly felt 10 degrees hotter. The first van arrived and we waited with anticipation for Diana at the exchange. I warmed up with some light jogging and stretching and did a few strides while listening to Nelly’s classic, “It’s Getting Hot In Here”.

Diana came barreling into the exchange point and we totally missed a smooth handoff of the wristband. I didn’t drop it, thankfully. It wasn’t until our third leg that we nearly perfected the handoff. My legs began sprinting out of the gate and a quick turn left before crossing the street which was thankfully void of traffic. As I was just getting into a groove, a parade of crosswalks invaded my path. Six crosswalks!!! I must have lost at least 3 minutes during the first one and a half miles. My cheering squad passed me in the van, shouting encouragements. This first leg was 6.5 miles and that meant there was no time to mess around! Finally leaving the city zone, I ran onto a nicely paved trail which led to a waterfront with a boardwalk. I will be honest and say that I would need a map to tell you where I ran. This section was beautiful and very crowded with people strolling along or fishing off the walkway.

My team met me at mile 3 with a bottle of much-needed water. I knew a little hill was approaching so I buckled down, gritted my teeth and tried not to whimper as I turned the corner and saw IT. Frankly, it wasn’t a super long hill but the elevation gained quickly and I have to admit I took a couple fast walk breaks as my quads burned into melting piles of goo. I rounded another corner toward the almost top and saw van 2 cheering for me and I gave a false bravado with, “Hill? What hill?”

Lake Padden was to my right and I knew I had half a mile to go. And then it happened. Left to the road or right towards the lake. Another guy faced the same issue as we were forced to choose a path since there were no marking arrows as there had been for the entire course. I chose left and when I approached the roadway, big white arrows pointed us down the road. 6.4...6.5...6.6. I finally saw orange cones ahead, veered right and the volunteers tried to send me back the other way. With an expletive, the man realized what happened and told me to go “that way!” 6.85 miles and I caught Sherri, leg 8, by total surprise as I approached from the wrong direction. Poor Sherri.

Each of our runner’s took their turns on their first legs and we were ahead of our predicted schedule. The day was slipping by quickly and soon our last runner was finishing in the heat of the day. Van 2 had been resting (supposedly) during our turn and were ready to begin their second set of legs.

We loaded up and headed to the nearest Subway restaurant to eat some real food. I’ve determined after having 2 meals with other women that I must have 2 stomachs. They seem to get full so easily while I am holding myself back from licking the sandwich wrapper.

We had 3 or 4 hours to kill before my next leg and we set up camp at the exchange point to rest. The goal is to sleep. I did lie down for a bit but definitely didn’t sleep. It was light and since I awoke at 8:00 a.m., I wasn’t tired. Add in that I was the first runner to start our second leg and sleep would not be my friend.

After a failed attempt at rest, I made peace with the porta-potties and used them as my personal changing room. All of the porta-potties were surprisingly clean throughout the duration of the race. 45 minutes before my estimated start and I changed again into shorts and a tank top. I had chosen earlier to wear capris and a technical tshirt and gloves but the weather seemed mild, maybe the low 60 or high 50s.

Loaded up with a 5 Hour Energy, I had a headlamp, reflective vest and flashing light attached to me as I awaited Diana. I’ve done a few 10:00 pm training runs in an attempt to prepare my body for this leg. It was 9:30 and she was already almost at the exchange. As “34!” was called out (our team number), I flipped on my headlamp and waited in the exchange zone. Once again our handoff was sloppy but we didn’t drop it. I headed out into the dusk and quickly made my way onto a bridge with a gorgeous view. Darkness enveloped me rapidly as I headed down the road. I was surprised at how great I felt. My legs were turning over quickly and I was killing other runners. Killing, in this instance, means passing. Women are worth one point and men are two points. Along a stretch of dark road, big attitude sparkly skirt girl was just ahead and said, “On your right,” as I approached. In passing, she remarked, “You are supposed to pass on the left, just so you know the rules.” Wow, okay. I DO know the rules of running but on the left was about 6 inches of uneven gravel and potholes. I refrained from saying what I was thinking and said, “Thanks for the reminder!”.

Tony met me around 3.5 miles with some water and I told him to keep the bottle after I had a few drinks. This leg was 7.2 miles. In the last half mile, I saw Chris Lehmke from The Slug Club team and other male runner and quickly closed the gap with a “4 points!” remark. I saw the exchange up ahead and handed off the wristband to Sherri.  That was a fun leg!  I had two mile splits in the 6:45 range!

The next phase for me involved trying to rest.  My lower back was hurting before my first leg but seemed to be alright during the run.  After the second run, my left shoulder began tweeking like I had a pinched nerve in my neck.  I couldn't get it to stop hurting and rested but couldn't sleep.  During the next runner exchange, I hid myself in a dark pit and changed my sweaty clothing, hoping no one would shine their headlamp on me.  I could not go on another hour in those clothes. 

I took my place in the backseat loaded with pillows and sleeping bags, earplugs in place, and attempted to shut out the race.  The effort was futile as I simply cannot shut off my thoughts or all the activity happening around me.  Our last leg ended about 2:00 and we made our way to The Coachman Inn to get a few hours' rest.  Most of the team took showers but I opted to just rest.  Our alarms sounded at 5:30 a.m. and it's possible I fell asleep for 30 minutes during those 3 hours. 

This was the moment of truth.  Practically zero sleep and 2 fast runs under my belt.  How would my body react?  I downed another 5 Hour Energy and we were off to the last exchange, each of us wearing our matching Sole Sisters tanks.  My legs definitely felt tight but I reminded myself that EVERYONE was feeling the same tiredness and tightness. 

Tony arrived near the exchange wearing a Krispy Kreme hat and held a box of donuts...mmm!   Diana ran around the corner and it was finally my turn to start our van's last legs.  This was my last chance to give everything I had.  I could tell right away my legs were feeling burned out from the previous runs.  These are the moments when those hard training runs and hardships pay off in the race.  I've faced all of this and I knew I could get through it.  7.8 miles isn't that far, right?

The road meandered down toward the water for a short bit before turning up a hill and my last elevation challenge.  I passed Chris from the Slug Club again and made sure to remind him of that at the next exchange.  One guy passed me like I wasn't moving but it was not a big worry for me.  I was running in the high 6's or low 7s at that moment and knew his pace was beyond my reach. 

With only a few miles to go, a flat endless road loomed before me and my legs refused to take advantage of the terrain.  It felt like wanting to drink a cold refreshing carbonated beverage only to find it flat.  I was disappointed to see a 7:43 mile split on this part and attempted to pick up my pace.  Before the leg, I felt that I could get a low 7 minute average based on the elevation.  I didn't anticipate the flat section feeling difficult.

Sherri was up ahead with the team and I handed her the wristband and relished in finishing my final leg.  After cooling down, I eagerly ate a Krispy Kreme donut and my piece of chocolate. 

Our team came in 2nd in our division of all female submasters with a total time of 27:24:57 which is an average of 8:40 over 190 miles. 

My Legs:
Leg 7: 6.85 miles averaging 8:03 miles
Leg 19: 7.27 miles averaging 7:24 miles
Leg 31: 7.66 miles averaging 7:28 miles

Sole Sisters' Video

Each of the 12 legs and their mileage and difficulty factor along with any comments they had about their race:

1 (Kris Lange-Tebb)
6.3 miles
Hard 4.4 miles
Moderate 7.8 miles
Very Hard 18.5 miles
"I don't have a paragraph but my favorite part is that my laughing muscles are more sore than my running muscles. It was insanity in van 1."

2 (Marie Spengler Charouhas)
6.4 miles
Hard 3.5 miles
Easy 3.1 miles
Easy 13 miles
"Seriously, I pulled something from laughing!!"

3 (Jessica Sabo)
Very Hard 8.5 miles
Very Hard 3.5 miles
Easy 2.9 miles
14.9 miles

4 (Kristen Barrett)
Easy 5.4 miles
Moderate 4.1 miles
Easy 2.9 miles
12.4 miles
"It's amazing how easy running fast is when your not in hilly Gig Harbor!"
5 (Lizzie Lee)
Moderate 5.8 miles
Easy 3.4 miles
Hard 6.5 miles
15.7 miles

6 (Diana Johnson)
Moderate 6.5 miles
Moderate 6.6 miles
Hard 5.5 miles
18.6 miles

7 (me - Ginger)
Hard 6.5 miles
Very Hard 7.2 miles
Hard 7.8 miles
21.5 miles

8 (Sherri Preston Marks)
Moderate 2.8 miles
Very Hard 7.7 miles
Hard 4.8 miles
15.3 miles
This was my 5th Ragnar and 7th relay...I was SO excited to be on an all girls team, something I had been wishing for awhile.  I always get so nervous before I run, many things run through my mind ad then I feel like I will get sick. My first leg I was feeling this, I was waiting at the exchange for Ginger when I looked up to see Ginger coming from the opposite direction, with Tony and Maryanne all running at me! No time for nerves now, I was off at the end I was elated with an 8:15 pace.  My 2nd leg began about 11:00 PM, it was 7.8 miles. the night was peaceful and I ran hard but my legs did not seem to move faster. I kept talking to myself out loud, "you are strong," "relax" "Move legs!"
My 3rd leg was 4.8 miles, the first 3 were a gradual hill, then ended down. I was worried about keeping going. I could feel my legs tightening but I kep telling myself I was just tired, not hurt and keep going! I was running slower but planned to pick it up on the down. My last two miles were 8:34 last mile, my 15th mile and 24+ hours with 2 hours of sleep I ran a 7:38! I saw the exchange and a girl ahead of me...I ran as fast as I could I passed her and handed off to Andria! Tony was there put his arms around me and said, "I am proud of you." It was AWESOME...I am proud of me too!
9 (Andria Cole Laws)
Hard 6.0 miles
Easy 2.7 miles
Very Hard 6.8 miles
15.5 miles

10 (Lindsay Page)
Easy 3.1 miles
Moderate 4.2 miles
Moderate 4.2 miles
11.5 miles

11 (Jeanene McCarty)
Hard 6.8 miles
Very Hard 4.7 miles
Moderate 3.8 miles
15.3 miles
"Ginger - you coming up to me, wrapping your arm around me and telling me that you had my back was probably the best moment of the weekend for me.  I'm a slow runner- the slowest on the team. So it was truly awesome to be in a van full of strong, fast fabulous women runners. Watching the anticipation build up inside Ginger like a spiral. And then the joy of her running, the poster perfect picture of Ginger running her last leg, and the waves of absolute joy that emanated from her after a completed run. Sherri paced in circles and breathed in and out and you could see her mind telling her body to get ready to spring into action. Then running so strong in her cute as hell Lulu Lemon skirt. Andria, the little blond Valkyrie, kept her pace below 8 min miles for all 3 legs and earned that glistening chest sweat. Lindsay, so long and lean and fast and brave. Going up and down that killer hill with your knee. And pretty Maryann, just a little bird of a thing. The way you just ran in the heat – so fast. All of them beautiful strong women. And Tony. What a dude! Took great care of us – chocolate after every leg. And he tore apart the van to find my tape to tape up my ankle. Me – I fell on my 2nd leg. Tony taped me up and Ginger told me I didn't have to run the 3rd leg, she had my back. I ran it, only 1 min slower than expected and I knew that I had strong women at my back. Pretty f*ng cool.

12 (Maryanne Tomich)
Hard 7.0 miles
Moderate 5.4 miles
Hard 4.7 miles
17.1 miles

Olive Garden carbo load

Van 1 trying to rest

Lindsay's hill

My last hand off to Sherri

Terry Sentinella (recent Badwater Ultramarathon finisher) and Tony Seabolt

Starting my last leg

I should be resting...I'm in the van prepping my night gear.

Andria flying through her leg.

The Wristband

Sherri needs some food!

Sole Sisters symbol

Our bib
Ok legs, here we go!
First leg for me.

Van 2's living quarters

Let's go!

The clean picture.  Mmmm...soap.

What have I gotten myself into?
Oh Diana, maybe next year we can get our handoffs down.