Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Ragnar Colorado 2013 - Race Report

Three days later and I'm still not sure how I feel about this event.  I'd been wanting to do this race for a year.  I thought it would be a fun way to keep me running.  I could do training runs in the mountains instead of dreary half marathon (or longer) training runs.  I finally found a team (thanks to a facebook friend of a facebook friend) and I was in.  12 women from Denver and we mostly were strangers.

The logistics for this were daunting.  Our start time was 7 AM Friday morning at Copper Mountain, which meant we needed to spend the night at Copper.  Then we needed 2 x 15 passenger vans.  I somehow ended up being responsible for Van #1, I think because no one else wanted to be responsible.  Fortunately I have had experience driving F250 pickups in refineries, so a van wasn't too daunting.  Then there was the planning and emails and team shirts and themes and decorations and and and and!  So much AND!  And the packing.  Ridiculous.  The smart thing I did was to put hot pink duct tape on every bag and labeled each bag's contents with permanent marker (run, post-run, food, misc, cold clothes, shower).  I also put duct tape on all of my electrical cords so I knew they were mine.  (we had a near meltdown at the end over an iPhone cord... it wasn't pretty)

The race was 192 miles, from Copper to Snowmass.  The women on my team were FAST.  I was one of the slow pokes.  And they were tiny.  2/3 of our shirt orders were smalls or x-smalls.  (Will, commenting on seeing photos of us: "you really were one of the bigger girls on your team."  Thanks Will.....)

I got the van Thurs afternoon, picked up some of my crew (either at my house or the Golden light rail station).  We got dinner at Chipotle in Silverthorne and met Van 2 in Copper for check in and decorating.  Upon arrival, they actually had us drive into the ski base on the sidewalk and park in the village next to a restaurant.  That was sooooo weird.  I'm used to tromping around in my ski boots in those areas, not driving a van!  

Our team name was "Your Pace or Mine?" and for decorations, we had a bunch of comment bubble sticker with cheesy pickup lines made up.  My favorites "What are you doing at 2 AM?"  and "Do you believe in love at first sight or should I run by again?".  Fun!  We also had xmas lights to put on the bumpers to make it easy to find our van at night.
Team Your Pace or Mine?
Then we piled into our condo and sorta slept.  I never sleep well in strange places.  And some people were very loud at 5 AM, right outside our open window.

We were up around 5:30 or 6, then down to the ski base for coffee and food at 6:30.  Our leg left at 7 AM and there were maybe 15 other teams starting with us (there were 200 teams total).  Some teams had costumes.  We just got matching long sleeve shirts and called it good.  Besides, sequin running skirts seem itchy.
Van 1 reporting for duty!
I had legs 4, 16, and 28.  We decided Van 1 was the place to be.  We didn't have to wait around half of the day to start and we didn't get stuck with the graveyard run shift.  Liesl was Leg 1 and we drove back over to Frisco and decided to stop part way and cheer her on.  We hopped back in the van (after taking a bathroom break) thinking we'd have plenty of time.  We were WRONG.  She was waiting on us and poor Lisa (Leg 2) had to jump out of the van and run uphill to Breck with no warm-up.  After that point, we stayed on point and pretty much went straight to the next exchange.

My first run was on the west side of Dillon Reservoir and took me up Swan Mountain Road.  I'm so glad I ran this a few weeks ago because I knew what to expect.  My leg was ~9 mi and had 960 ft climbing.  I was smart and got in a 5 min warm-up around the parking lot because you start climbing immediately.  Ragnar has (sometimes) little chutes made of cones and tape that are the exchanges, usually 2 lanes, enough for 2 teams.  We had these rainbow sparkle skirted girls coming in ahead of us (which is fine, other than the rainbow sparkles).  But their runner came in and they just stood there taking pictures, blocking me from view of my runner.  That really irritated me and I passed their runner EASILY on the first mile.  We then made it our team's mission to beat them.
9 miles and 960 ft elevation gain
My run went pretty well.  I went out too hard and ran the first 1/2 mile uphill (mainly chasing rainbow sparkle girl).  Then I got smart and did 2:1 intervals for the rest of the 2 miles uphill (my previous run was more like 1:1).  Then I had a nice long 3ish mile downhill that I pushed, only stopping every mile for water and nutrition.  Then it leveled off for a mile and I just ran.  Then we hit the low point of the run and had to run uphill back to the marina (Exchange 6).  That last uphill sucked.  It was hot and mentally I was expecting it to be flat.  Not hilly.  There was probably too much walking.  I finally got to the exchange (8 min ahead of predicted!) and saw my team off to the side chatting.  They weren't expecting me and thus, weren't looking for me.  That was kinda funny.  We sent runner #5 off (Aimee) and I then went to go sit in the reservoir for 10 min as an ice bath.  Very smart idea.

Leg 4: 8.95 miles, 11:01 pace, 960 ft of climbing
I made goodie bags full of SunRype for each van
probably the best ice bath ever
The thing with this race is that its a lot of hurry up and wait.  You wait to run, you hurry to drive to the next exchange, you wait, you run, you hop back in the van and drive and wait some more.  

Our last Van 1 runner (Liza) was ending back at Copper, which was a main exchange, #12.  We met up with Van 2 and cheered Liza in.  Lisa realized she had a condo in Avon, which was pretty darn close to our next round of runs.  We went to a cafe near the condo for lunch (curry chicken salad on gluten free bread) and I then got very very sleepy, like put my head on the restaurant table and take a nap sleepy.  We went to the condo (which was AWESOME and so nice of her to offer) and I immediately hit one of the twin beds for a nap.  It was not a quality nap because several other people from my van were very chatty in the main room (and the condo was echo-y) and I left my earplugs in the van.  I maybe got 1 hr sleep.  Maybe.  Then it was 5 or 6 (?) PM and we needed to head over to Exchange 18 to start our next series of runs.  We hung out, waited for the last runner from Van 2 to run and and saw a beautiful mountain sunset.  Really, life was rough.
in the parking lot at Exchange 18.  They make you wear reflective vests after 6:30 PM
at the Exchange with a beautiful sunset
Van 1 and Van 2 reunited
Eating was tricky for this thing.  I was runner #4, which generally meant I had ~3 hrs to wait after our first runner left.  You were hungry but didn't want to eat too much (or not enough).  At this exchange, I opted to have some choc protein powder, and apple, and some SunRype Fruit Source bars.  

We took the wrong directions to the next exchange and Liesl only had 2 miles.  This meant she was waiting on us for a good 10 min and poor Lisa once again had to jump out of the van and run run run with no warning.  

Night time was a bit sketchy.  We were driving a strange van on strange roads with little sleep in the dark, along with potentially 200 other vans in the same situation.  Oh, and there were frequently runners on the same road we were driving on.  There wasn't any police support, no reflective or illuminated signage on the roads ("race in progress") and maybe 1/3 of the time there wasn't anyone staffing the exchanges, which had high vehicle and pedestrian traffic.  Not really safe.  It was as if the race organizers decided "hey, we are making the runners wear all this safety gear so our job is done".  This resulted in the only thing alerting oncoming traffic of my presence was me.  And I am not ok with that.

My next leg was #16 at around 9:30 PM and consisted of 5.9  miles along US Hwy 6 with a net downhill elevation loss.  I was going to try and run it at a 10k pace and see how that went, knowing that I only had 2.1 miles the next morning.  It was oddly warm out.  I had capris on and a long sleeve shirt and made a last-minute decision to change into a t-shirt.
Will said I looked like Tron, another friend
commented that I looked like the green Power Ranger.
I took off knowing that there were a few people a few minutes ahead of me and I made it my mission to catch them.  It was mildly drizzling (and later lightly raining big drops), which meant cloud cover and no stars.  Boo.  With the exception of having (at times) zero shoulder, the run was actually really nice.  I was running comfortably fast with a goal of chasing down this glowing red light out ahead of me.  I finally caught him around mile 3:
guy: how's it going?
me: good, I've been chasing you for miles and I finally caught you
guy: laugh and groan
me: where are you from?
guy: Denton, TX
me: oof, good luck and drink lots of water

This was one of my favorite parts of the race.  Each time I encountered a runner I asked them where they were from.  There were a lot of flat-landers at this race.  I felt really bad for them.

I literally saw 4 people during this 6 mile segment.  It was lonely.

The nice thing around running at night was that you really couldn't see the terrain ahead of you.  I actually ran 700 feet UPHILL (and 900? ft downhill) and never once did I slow down or walk.  You couldn't see the hills ahead of you and so your mind couldn't play games.  You just put one foot in front of the other, in the darkness, and run.  Makes me wonder how much my head gets in the way of my running... I think I get defeated without attempting to just run sometimes.  I need to remember Leg 16 on my hilly runs and suck it up and just run.

My leg ended in Eagle, which consisted of a crappy S-shaped steep hill (lovely) and a run through downtown.  There was a bar with a live band and I'm sure they were all wondering what the hell we were doing, running around in our Tron outfits.

I'm really happy with my pace for this leg, tired and in the dark.  I did 5.94 mi in 56:47 on a 9:34 pace.  That's 53 seconds/mile FASTER than my 10k PR and only 7 seconds slower than my 5k PR.

I hit the exchange and went to the van and we immediately headed to the next exchange.  We got settled and I changed tops and sports bras (a good tip is to put your used race clothes in a ziplock bag) then rolled out my legs with my Stick.  I also made my recovery drink and inhaled a whole bag of beef jerky.  That was dinner.  Drink mix and jerky in the back of a van at 11 PM at night.  I know you're jealous.  I'm amazed I didn't get sick.

We did a few more exchanges and ended up at Exchange 18 in Gypsum, CO at the local rec center.  This was where we would "sleep".  There was also free coffee, hot chocolate, and snacks.  You could also shower and change in the locker room.  Some of our group settled in the corner of the gym and I set my stuff out and then changed into shorts and a t-shirt.  I doubled up my thermarest because the gym floor was hard.  The gym was incredibly warm, so I left my sleeping bag alone.  We were positioned directly underneath a flood light, so I put the hoodie of my sweatshirt over my face, which made things warm, but it also made things a bit dark.  Insert earplugs and my mission was to sleep until 3 AM.
looks comfy, right?  ugh
This was quite honestly the worst night's sleep I've ever had.  Somewhere in the gym-area was a fire alarm, beeping a low battery alarm.  The women's locker room door squeaked every damn time it opened and closed.  And then at 2 AM, so dude announced to the entire gym that he really needed a shower.  I heard all of this with earplugs and my sleeping bag over my head.  After the guy made his announcement, he pretty much woke up the whole gym and people started rustling and moving, making sleep pretty much impossible. I got up and decided to make myself a mocha (coffee and hot chocolate) and chat with people.  Then at 3 AM my team wanted to leave, so I got packed up and we headed over to Exchange 24 in Glenwood Springs.  How I managed to be awake and functional enough to drive 55 mph on a very windy section of I-70 is beyond me.  But I was actually fine, which was the weird thing about this race.  I had 3 hours of crappy sleep in a 36 hr period and was able to form coherent sentences. Amazing.

We walked into the high school there and realized that we should have slept at this exchange (or in our van).  Granted, our priority was to sleep so we utilized the closest sleeping area at the time, but Glenwood was so much nicer.  And they had a scrambled egg and bacon bar in the cafeteria which smelled DELICIOUS.  Sadly, it was close to 4 AM and I had a run around 7 AM so no bacon goodness for me.

The eating thing was a really challenging element to this race.  You pretty much eat whenever you can.  I knew that my leg would start approximately 3 hrs after our first runner, which is enough time for a light meal.  Usually 2 protein bars or a protein shake and some fruit.  Then when runner #3 left, I knew I had about an hour before I had to run, so I'd eat another SunRype Fruit Source bar.  And after my run, I'd have a recovery drink (First Endurance Ultragen, 320 cals) and maybe more fruit or something else (like jerky, because that makes sense....).  You never had enough time for a proper meal and are always walking a fine line between eating too much and not eating enough.

Our first 2 runners had really tough segments.  I was thinking I had it rough with my 9 miles, where 2 miles of it was up a 6% grade.  Nope, these girls had it really rough.  Each had 5-6 miles of pretty much straight uphill.  We drove it and all of us just felt so bad for them.  I had fresh legs for my "very hard" run.  These girls had no sleep and tired legs for theirs.  Wow.

This segment was really the prettiest, though.  We were on some dirt road, somewhere out in the country between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, with the sun coming up.  It was beautiful.  And a bit chilly. During our previous run sets, we were pretty team-spirit oriented. Everyone would get out of the van to keep the next runner company and to cheer in our incoming runner.  This last set of runs was less enthusiastic as most people just stayed in the van.  We were tired and it was cold.  We dropped off runner #3 and made our way downhill into Carbondale for my leg, #28.

This segment started at a strip mall near this place called Gringos.  You had to wear your reflective gear until 7 AM (even if you weren't running) and I was projected to run right around the cutoff.  One girl in my van was a little bossy (she has little kids, I'm sure its habit.... and we were sleep deprived) and told me literally 3 times in a span of 5 minutes that I HAD to wear my safety gear.  Of course I wasn't going to break the rules but if I started after 7 AM, I was ditching the Tron outfit. Also: it was full on daylight by 6:30 AM.  I ended up wearing my vest and holding my stuff, with a towel over me.  Because it was cold, but it also covered up my reflective vest.  (I was going to run in shorts and a t-shirt b/c it was in the mid-50's and I knew I'd get hot.)  Anyways, my garmin clicked to 6:59, I headed back over to ditch my Tron outfit and was met by another teammate.  At least she got it.  A few other runners were there, and I was thankful because I literally had no idea where my run went.  Our runners came in off the highway.  It turns out I had to take off onto a trail behind a strip mall - not very obvious.

Nancy came and and I took off.  I had 2.1 miles of what I thought was flat and I just wanted to run HARD.  It turns out it was more like a false flat (100 ft gain).  I ran on trail, then through downtown Carbondale, then again on trail.  It was beautiful with fog in the valley lifting and sun hitting the mountains.  I was trying to take it in but I was also sleep deprived and my main focus was to RUN.  I wanted to run hard to test myself, to leave it all out there.  No excuses because this was my last leg and I had pancakes waiting for me in 2 exchanges.
this looks hilly but it's really because the scale is small.
I'm really happy with my run on this leg.  2.1 miles in 18:37, or a 8:56 pace.  That is faster than my 1 mile repeats a month prior to CDA.  The real kicker?  I haven't done a lick of speed work since May 30th.  I'm not completely sure where all this speed came from (I have my suspicions, CDA training and acupuncture to work on my bad lungs).  I was limited by my legs, not my HR or my lungs, which is exactly where I need to be.

I did a quick cool down walk around the parking lot and back into the van I went.  My Ragnar was done and I was really proud of my performance.

We did a few more leg exchanges and met up with Van 2 at Exchange 30.  Our final van swap.  Also: $5 pancakes.
Van 1 is DONE!
I ate 4 of these.  They were delicious.
We were in need of coffee and decided to just head to the finish, at Snowmass, figuring there had to be a latte at the base.  From there, we pretty much spent 4 or 5 hours milling around while Van 2 was making their long and uphill journey to the finish.  Our final runner had 8 miles and 2,000 ft climbing.  At the end!  Not cool!

We had a lot of time to kill and the finish festivities were really, really crappy.  The only shade was 4, 10x10 pop up tents (with chairs) - not nearly enough for the 200 teams of 6 people waiting for their other 6 people to come in.  Finish line food was ridiculous - apples, bananas, and some generic unlabeled Shot Bloks. Oh, and we got ONE Bud Light.  Embarrassing.  There were other vendors handing out samples of Nuun, Iced Tea, and Ice Cream Sandwiches.  I've seen better spreads at local charity 5ks.  We were starving so some of us wandered down the hill to a pizza place that the gondola liftie told us about (Torchies) and it was really seriously good pizza.  Why they couldn't cart pizza up the hill (for free) to the finish is beyond me.  We also used some of this time to clean out the van, which is always fun on 3 hrs sleep.

Our final runner was plagued by debilitating leg cramps (at one point she was lying on the trail screaming profanities, wanting to die). Poor thing.  Van 2 had arrived and we were all super supportive of her when she came through.  We saw her at the top of the ski hill and ran 2/3 of the way up to meet her, do a little bridge thingy (think the kid's London Bridges song) and followed her down the dirt switchbacks to the finish.  I was in flip flops, which was pretty precarious.

We got our fake medals (our real medals had a transit issue and weren't there... so we got generic medals with a sticker on them.  yay?).  And then we posed for a finish line photo.  And then it was done.

Time: 32:19:55
Place: 129 our of 194 teams
8th out of 18 all women's teams - pretty solid!

Lodging was ridiculously expensive ($100 for a motel) so I decided I'd camp out on some random forest service road.  I took a shower at a teammate's hotel room and then headed back to Basalt, where I turned onto Frying Pan Road and drove past Reudi's Reservoir.  I was mad I didn't have my fly rod on me because the Frying Pan River is a gold medal stream and it looked NICE.  I found a nice little dirt road (FR400) and settled in under a tree at 7:15 PM.  I had a dinner of protein bars (I wanted a sandwich but couldn't find one in Basalt) and had a goal of staying awake until 8 AM.  I made it to 7:50 and zonked out on the floor of the van.  I woke up once in a while because my hip would go numb (from the hard van floor) and didn't really wake up until 7 AM.  My teammates were a bit horrified of my camping adventure (they were worried about my personal safety), but I felt that there were better odds of someone snatching me from Hwy 6 during my run than on this random, isolated road in the woods.  Also, I was being cheap and I really just wanted some peace and quiet.  I got up at 7 AM, changed into cleanish clothes and headed back into town.  The sun was coming up and it was beautiful.  Then I drove the van back to Denver.
a random lime kiln in Thompson, CO,
a few miles away from where I camped
Colorado sure is ugly....
Good things about the experience:

  • No one in my van got very sick.  There were some stomach issues but they were easily resolved.
  • No one backed the van into anything.  Yay!
  • No one got injured!
  • Everyone from my van ran really, really well.  We were ~30 min behind pace at the start of our last set of runs and we caught ourselves up.  Really awesome.
  • Everyone got along, which is pretty remarkable for a bunch of strangers
  • I'm really happy with my performance.

Overall, I'm not sure I'd do another one.  I wasn't very pleased with the lack of safety measures.  They pretty much put all the safety responsibility on us and walked away.  The race support was also pretty crappy.  I really have to wonder where the $1200 entry fee (x 200 teams) went.  Ironman is expensive but you see where the money goes (off duty police officers, support, road closures, etc).  For the money, I just expected more.  But even with better support, I'm not sure I'd do it again.  It might be better if I was in a van full of close friends but there's still the logistical challenge.  You never quite know when you'll sleep or eat, and the quality of eating and sleeping is questionable.  It's barely managed chaos with 3 hrs sleep over a 36 hour period.  And the planning (and packing) was a pain in the ass.  I really think I prefer Ironman, where you know where you'll be at what time, what you'll be eating, what support you'll be getting, etc.  From a effort/reward ratio, I simply get more out of Ironman.  I'm glad I did Ragnar but it wasn't life changing, or even really all that great.  It was ok.  I was hoping for a lot more than that.  I even feel guilty that it wasn't more.  Most of my teammates thought this was an amazing, indelible adventure.  Granted, I have a larger endurance resume, but I pretty much feel "meh" over the event.  Basically a bucket list type of thing for me and that's it.  And now its back to Triathlon because I have the Oilman 70.3 in less than 8 weeks.  Time to get focused. :)

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