343rd Dimension: Ragnar Relay Northwest Passage 2012August 9, 2012 2:10 am Life, Running, Seattle, Stories
Ragnar. The word said aloud sounds beastly. Guttural.
A few friends of mine in the game business completed a relay race called “Ragnar SoCal” which is when I first started learning about the series. Each Ragnar race is a 200 mile relay that takes place in various locations across the United States. Washington DC, Utah, Tennessee, Washington, Southern California, Las Vegas, Wisconsin, and more. Runners come in teams of 12 (or 6 if you’re an “ultra” team) running the entire relay, non-stop, night and day.
That often means little or no sleep for around 20-30 hours, no real meals, and a whole lot of running.
Being a runner who likes taking on bigger and bigger challenges, Ragnar seemed right up my alley. I love seeing new places on runs and this seemed like a scenic race. Running and taking a van tour across 200 miles of the US is a great way to tour the country and to reinforce how safe and friendly the US truly is.
I knew there were a few runners around the studio, but convincing 11 other people at 343 Industries plus finding volunteer van drivers was going to be a challenge of its own.
My first rule was that I’d take the longest mileage, which ended up being 24.4 miles total, across three legs. The idea being, people wouldn’t fear getting stuck with a crazy high mileage leg if they joined the team. My second rule was not to take the race too seriously. I wanted to get people running and finish a Ragnar more than anything else.
I hit up the usual suspects at work, but no go. Finally I asked Armando, our narrative director, who had recently gotten into running. He was up to 3 or 4 miles every few days. When I asked him if he’d be interested in doing a crazy long relay race, he thought I was insane.
Somehow, after a few more minutes of convincing, his bit flipped; he decided to jump in head first… so long as he got the shortest leg.
I had my first runner.
Morgan, a narrative designer overheard our conversation which piqued her interest. I couldn’t tell if she was nervous, casual,or indifferent about the whole thing. In any case, she was down. Runner number 2 was locked.
The team started to grow pretty quickly from there. Another narrative designer had a girlfriend, Stephanie who was into running and had wanted to join a Ragnar team. Some of the artists at 343 Industries, Chin and Chiyo were down to join once they heard I had a few people signed up. Some folks at work knew a guy named Chris who worked at a running store who wanted to join a Ragnar team, and so on.
Time came to name the team. Most of the runners were from the studio, so a 343 themed name was appropriate. Armando was on about running in the 3rd and 4th dimension. Some crazy zen, free range, organic, magnetic bracelet wearing speech. I honestly had no idea what he was talking about. Jokingly I suggested:
“How about the 343rd Dimension?”
Somehow is stuck.
Now that I knew we had some actual runners, I decided to register the team. Click-click-click, there’s some money, congratulations, you’re now the Captain of Ragnar running team.
After signing up I started wondering what bib number we’d get. A few seconds prior, the unthinkable happened.
I looked at our registration number.
“Wait. That can’t be real,” I thought to myself.
We were the 343rd team to register for the race, which meant out bib number would be 343, purely by coincidence.
Any doubts I had about signing up for this race or wanting to organize the team were erased. This was meant to be.
After some trials and tribulations, a person dropping here, person joining there, we had our 12 runners sealed. This was real.
Being the Captain of Ragnar is a stressful and demanding experience. You have to pay a lot of money up front (around $1800) to just register the team. Then you have to start worrying about gathering runners, renting vans that will get everyone to the race and back, learn all the rules and make sure everyone does their best to adhere to them, acquire food and gear to feed and outfit the team, organize team meetings, all on top of training for the actual relay, which takes an hour or two of running a day for months.
Keep in mind, I was also crunching on shipping Halo 4 at the time.
My regular daily schedule was:
- 8:45am: Wake up
- 10am: Arrive at work
- 10am – 12pm: Work
- 12pm-1pm: Lunch
- 1pm-7pm: Work
- 7-8pm: Run
- 8pm-8:10pm: Eat dinner
- 8:10pm – 2am: Work
- 2:30am – 3am: Read Presidential biographies and fall asleep
Somehow I managed to convince people to fit in a couple of team meetings during late night work hours, but left little time for organizing and preparation. My weekends is where I’d catch up on getting gear and such with the help and support of my wife Mandi, our van driver.
Organization didn’t come without some missteps. During one team meeting, only three people showed up due to a communications snafu. A pretty frustrating experience that brought to mind some words George Washington shouted at his troops as they went into a full retreat during the British invasion of Manhattan:
“Are these the men with whom I am to defend America?”
However, Rule #2 kicked in and I went home, relaxed, ran, and knew it’d eventually come together. The next meeting went a lot more smoothly.
On the positive side, Stephanie emerged as a second team Captain and kept things moving where I simply couldn’t. She turned out to be super organized and proactive. I ended up running Van #2, while she ran Van #1. She ended up getting lodging set up the day before the race near the start line which was great. She found a driver for Van #1 as well.
On the day before the race, Nicole another runner and a producers at 343 received the team uniforms that Chin had designed. I thought we might not get the uniforms at all, since they came in literally the day we left work to prepare for the race. The shirts looked pretty sweet. “343rd Dimension” was in logo form with Forerunner racing stripes up the left chest and down the back.
Nicole handed out the uniforms at Giuseppe’s in Bellingham over dinner. I ordered some ravioli and a couple of beers which surprised some folks. I explained that beer is a great carb loader. When I first got into running, a drank a few pitchers with some friends and ran 13 miles the day after, so I didn’t see the harm. Plus, Rule #2.
Seafood on the other hand? I might not eat that the night before a run. You know. Unless I want runs of a different sort.
We took the scenic route back through Bellingham in the Chrysler Town and Country and slept well. It was the last we’d get for a while.
Our van mostly went to bed on time, but didn’t need to be at the exchange (#6) until around 12pm. The exchange was only 2 miles away from where we were staying.
Thunder, lightning and heavy rain woke me up early. I started having Seattle Marathon flashbacks; running 26 miles in heavy wind and soaking rain. It was the only major race where I ended up with blisters as a result of the weather.
Being wet and running isn’t bad, but the prospect of being wet, running, then getting in the van full of other soaked people and gear, then repeating that without sleep for 30 hours with a high potential for injury doesn’t seem all that great.
The rain came and went in waves and the lightning mostly ceased. I was reminded there were special rules about taking people off the course due to safety concerns about lightning which I had to brush up on at the last minute.
After a shower and getting ready, we slowly met up for breakfast around 9 am. The news was on, and other folks in the dining room looked somber. The weather was really depressing. Maybe the TV will take my mind off it.
It was then I learned a crazy person shot up a theater full of people trying to enjoy a Batman movie.
We were shocked, as was most everyone else. It seemed a little inappropriate to start talking about how many “Roadkills” we were going to rack up today. In Ragnar terms, every time you pass a runner you get a “Roadkill” and get to chalk one up one your van to show everyone how awesome you are.
As we ate quietly and watched the news reports roll in, I texted Nicole, (Van #1) to see if anyone was getting rained on. She reported that she got soaked on an early run. Apparently some other early runners did too. Oy, this could be a much longer race than I had anticipated.
I tried to eat cautiously. Race days are a bad time to get crazy with food. Cereal and some fruit and water. Good to go. I was surprised to see Morgan going after some dodgy hard-boiled eggs.
After sleeping in and having a depressing but relaxed morning, we finished our breakfast, checked out, then hit the gas station to fill up the van for the long drive ahead.
The world was moving fast now.
“Wait, is that a DVD player?”
We discovered the van had a flip down, ceiling mounted DVD player . Suddenly people were scrambling into the gas station to buy whatever DVDs they could find. We ended up with a three-in-one D movie set of disaster films for $6.
On the Scene, Exchange #6
We roll up to the Bellingham High School parking lot, the site of exchange #6. I’m getting nervous since we still need to register our van officially, it’s 12pm, and we need to get people prepared to be on the course in an hour or so.
I remember reading that only the Team Captain needed to be present to get people into the race. Wrong. By now, everyone was scattered to the four winds, buying Ragnar gear, going to bathroom, checking out the exchange and so on. I had to re-collect everyone and get them in line, but time was pressing.
On the way I saw someone wearing a 343 hoodie. What? Someone else from work was here?
Back in line in the gym, two nice volunteers checked our gear and told us to go to safety training. Training was given by another volunteer and was over pretty quickly. A couple of young girls were heckling the volunteer during her presentation which pissed me off. I hoped that these were just a few bad apples and not representative of the Ragnar crowd. I turned out to be right.
On the way out of the gym, we grabbed a package with our bib numbers, the RagMag (a magazine that has all the updated routes and locations for the race) and we were filtered into the free food and drink section that most of these major races have. Oh, and the gear tent.
Which is really tempting, the gear tent. Hell yeah I want a Ragnar shirt. How could you not? I grab a couple of things while I’m still not in a laser focused running mode.
Eventually we make it back to the van. We still have some time before we need to get someone from our van onto the course. Whew.
We find out who the other 343er is. Jacob, lighting programmer that got roped into running the relay for another team last minute. He hadn’t been training a seemed a little nervous. Jacob was taking the whole experience pretty casually. See you later buddy!
Back at the van, we see other people have kill counts on their vans. Alright, it’s on mother f’ers. Time to rack em up. Rack, rack, rack em.
We get quick and dirty car paint art going on the Chrysler. Our names with places to put our kill counts. A cool drawing of Master Chief on the back window. Some Forerunner stripes plastered this way and that along the sides. Yeah, that’ll do.
Oh what? Shephanie is texting?
She alerts us that Kayla is coming in. Probably another half-hour or so, a little later than expected. We gather up as a team and head over to the exchange point.
Everyone is watching and waiting as runners come in, slap the relay bracelet on their teammates wrists, then cheer as the next runner takes off. Chris, our first runner for Van #2 is doing some warming up and stretching. Members from Van #1 arrive at the exchange.
It’s like a family reunion, each team seeing the exchange happen between their vans. Van #1 has already run and seen hell. We were fresh faced, well rested and properly energized. They got rained on and had to get up at 5 am.
A friend of mine from high school saw me taking photos and stopped to say “Hi.” She’s always been a runner, even back in the day. She told me about some technical snafus going into the race and some stuff to watch out for. After a bit of chat and advice, I hear a race official announce “343!” Kayla’s about to come in.
I break off the conversation and swing into photo-mode. I’m trying to get low to the ground so the photos turn out better. Seeing people running from a standing high position is usually a pretty boring shot. Viewing from a lower angle has more potential to make the subject appear interesting.
Kayla comes in. I have a pretty decent lens for distance shots. I start dialing it in and setting it on multiple shot mode. I don’t even bother to check the results. I run over to greet the team as a whole. Chris is already a dot in the distance. Everyone said he was fast, but that was insane.
There’s a lot of excitement and talking. Catching up. Reveling in triumphs and mistakes.
Oh crap. We gotta go.
Because it just set in that we now we have to start our part of the relay.
In a flash, we’re in the van, scrambling things together. Which direction do we go? Do we follow them? Follow the GPS? We decide to get on the I-5, as Chris said he didn’t need support, and we have no idea how fast he’ll really do his leg. He was projecting 5:30 mile times.
We eventually pull into the exchange after a few miles at Lake Padden Park. We get out and start waiting. Our first hand-off as a van. Exciting.
We wait around the gate markers with some other groups. Chiyo starts talking about giant sandwiches that come from WinCo. Suddenly there’s confusion.
Chris is coming into the exchange hot. Last we looked, he wasn’t on the trail, which we could see pretty far downhill. It was at least a tenth of a mile stretch, so we were understandably shocked. Where did he come from? It was like he phased in. Chin dashes out to receive the relay and head out. He darts off in the wrong direction. Volunteers point him in the proper direction. Holy crap. We gotta go. Chin’s got less than three miles. Back in the van everyone!
We pass Chin on the road and cheer for him. He looked a little surprised but good to go.
Chris mentions he got 15 kills on his run. Holy smokes. I hope I can get that many.
Exchange takes place at the most scenic gas station at an 1-5 on-ramp Washington has to offer. Okay, maybe that’s pushing it a bit.
Chris does some post running stretching. So does Morgan who is getting ready to head out. She’s got a bunch of stuff with her. Music or a phone, not sure. Some water. She seems to be holding it in her hands.
Running with a bunch of stuff ain’t easy. I always go with an armband on my bicep for my phone to keep it out of the way and to prevent it from bouncing around. Music and GPS contained therein. Water and energy intake is why I plan runs around parks or create loops around my house, just in case. You gotta run free, man.
Chin comes racing down past a parked police car pretty fast. He exchanges off with Morgan who takes off down the hill.
Morgan said she wanted cheering support around one of the major turns on the road. We ended up thinking she wanted support at too early of a turn. We ended up just cheering for her a couple of times and moving ahead to the actual turn.
We saw another runner running the wrong direction at the bend, and went ahead to stop them, but someone was already in the process. Having someone run off course could be devastating to the team, so the van drivers are usually pretty good about helping other teams if they see any runner going the wrong direction. A runner from our Van #1 was actually helped by another team when they went off course.
Back at the turn, we waited until Morgan came by. She looked pretty good but a little tired. Definitely not as good as when we cheered her on the first time. We were a little concerned but she waved us off, so ahead we went.
I try to nibble on bagels and peanut butter in order to maintain a proper energy level. I want to avoid eating in large volumes, but I’m still playing it safe with high energy foods that I know aren’t going to mess with my stomach. Knowing how to eat for running is part of training. I’ve eaten meals then have gone running immediately afterward on purpose to understand how much it hurts and to test certain limits. Stomach cramps are no fun.
We end up on a long stretch near an old fire station and food bank in the tony town of Alger, WA (population 403). Older gentlemen were waving traffic in and out. They’re doing a good job and not getting too frustrated. I imagine it’s stressful to direct hundreds of vans to come in and out of muddy grass fields, non stop for hours on end.
Armando is on deck, getting some coaching from Chris. After a bit, Morgan appears on the horizon.
She’s looking a little beat, but she makes the exchange and Arm is off.
We pass Armando and cheer for him.
Morgan said she wasn’t feeling that well during her run. I have a feeling that carrying so much gear in hand is part of the reason (running uncomfortably, throwing off balance for miles on end), but my money was on those hard boiled eggs that probably caught up with her.
We end up at a cool scene, right next to Skagit Speedway. I have to wonder what goes on here still, knowing what went on at my speedway growing up. Do people still bring their beater trucks and try to get them through mud pits? Does the National Guard come in and roll through the same mud pit with ease in their HMMWVs? Are there monster truck rallies here? Those were some memorable times.
We make our way back across the road to the exchange. Arm should be coming in any second. Chin starts picking flowers while clutching a giant jar of peanut butter pretzels, eating them non-stop as we watch racers come in.
It now dawns on me that my race is coming up soon. Chiyo will be off… then… I’m up for 10.8 miles.
I take more photos, as with every exchange, Chiyo takes the armband races off, and soon we’re in the van again. Not before some photos out in front of the speedway signage though.
Up until now I’ve been navigating for the van while my wife drives it. We’re doing pretty well, but we’re getting to the point where I need to go running. Morgan volunteered to be the navigator in my absence, and I double check this is still the case. It is, so I start prepping.
We needed to meet Chiyo at his halfway point for support. We passed him and cheered along the way, but he didn’t notice. Focused, with headphones in. We go ahead to the halfway point.
I down a Clif Shot energy gel since I’ll be running soon. Chiyo comes by and waves us on. He’s looking good, so we head up to #11.
We park on the edge of another small town, Bow, WA, at Edison Elementary. The exchange takes place at some nearby shops that look like they were built in the 1930s. Pretty. I get out, hit the bathroom and start streteching.
I see a cool, round, one of a kind rock on the ground while I’m stretching. I hand it to my wife and she pockets it. I’m trying to stay loose and not worry too much about the run.
Any minute now.
“Threee fooouuuur threee!”
GPS activated, music on. Dire Straits, Money for Nothing. It’s how I kick off every long race. Nice, slow pacing song that builds up over a fairly long song. It’s around 8 minutes, which means by the time it’s over, I’ve already gone more than a mile. It prevents me from sprinting early on due to racing excitement.
Chiyo is coming in hard and fast, neck and neck with another runner. Neither guy wants the other to pass. Chiyo has to go outside of the exchange to beat the other runner. A moment of confusion, then he slaps the bracelet on me.
I pass a few runners immediately. Oh yeah, kill count. Don’t forget to count kills.
Ironically, trying to remember my kill count helps me take my mind of the competition. I’m up to around six kills before the first major turn, not even a mile in. One guy I call Green Shirt is ahead of the me the whole way so far, getting the same kills I’m getting.
A strong starter, Green Shirt is running about my pace. I’m going a little easy still, saving gas for later. I know when my support is coming, about mile 5, which should be good. Even if they’re off by 3 miles I’ll be fine. If I get no support I’ll still be able to finish. That’s what training is for.
Eventually I catch him and pass. Seven kills, and no one in sight except a chick way off in the distance. The run gets a little boring as it’s mostly comprised of long stretches of flat roads through farmland. I’ve seen a lot of Pacific Northwest farms before, so nothing new here. Paul Simon keeps me company.
Out in the middle of no where, I need to take a right turn. I cross the street and cross back to the right, following the rules of the road and the Ragnar posted signs. Over my shoulder I see Green Shirt gaining on me a bit by cutting diagonally through the road.
Bastard. I should call that one in. It’s against the rules to cut across traffic like that.
I pass some goats in someone’s front yard which becomes one of the few memorable sights along the course. Soon, I see good ol’ Van #2 stopped up ahead. Break time.
My wife greets me and hands me an opened Clif Shot and some water. I down it as fast as possible, knowing those kills I got could go away any minute.
I give her a kiss goodbye. Just then, Green Shirt passes me. I take off after him. Not long after, Van #2 passes and cheers just as I’m about to overtake Green Shirt again, for what I think is the last time.
More long stretches of farm land. Professor Elemental keeps me company. I pass a pocket of kills, and break 10. I might be able to top Chris’ kill count, which would be insane.
Another right turn, and other cut corner by Green Shirt. Another infraction I should call in.
I cross a bunch of scary I-5 on and off ramps. I wind up on the outskirts of Burlington and have to stop at a crosswalk. Another runner and myself are waiting to cross for what seems like forever. The cross walk flips from a red glowing hand to a bright white pedestrian, and sure enough, Green Shirt comes flying by.
Nice timing, but whatever, he has to stop as the next crosswalk.
Except that he doesn’t. Well, he does for a bit. Myself and the other runner are waiting for the light to change again. The road is wide, busy and near a bunch of on-ramps. It’s a dangerous place to ignore the law, but Green Shirt is antsy. I can sense the rivalry of the situation as I’ve passed him a few times already, and I know he thinks he can out race me to the finish. He’s going to push it, but he hasn’t been fueling.
He darts across on a red light. The other runner and I look at each other, wait for the light to turn and I take off after Green Shirt.
Still, slow and steady, I can catch him running a regular pace like I have in the past. No reason to rush it and tire myself out for future runs. This is only my first of three.
I have flashbacks of when I had to watch his back for minutes before passing him which I now relive. He’s defintely moving faster than before. Green Day kicks in at the perfect time which pushes me to catch him. I’m right on his tail as we pass the one mile marker.
I move to pass and he kicks it up a bit. We’re neck in neck, but with only about half a mile left I decide to start using what’s left in the reserves. I push past and never look back. I’m not letting a cheater beat me to the finish.
Eventually I see Burlington-Edison High School, the site of exchange #12. Welcome to Paradise. It means rest for myself and the rest of our van. I sprint hard to the finish and forget to hand-off since I’m only thinking about Green Shirt being on my tail and making sure I beat him. Eventually I pass the slap-bracelet to Stephanie who takes off.
Green Shirt comes in, slaps me on the shoulder, slips out breathy “Good job,” and disappears into the crowd. The rivalry is over. I don’t call him in on his numerous infractions, although I make sure my team hears about them all later.
I never feel hot until after I stop running.
People ask me how it went. “A little boring, but pretty good.” I’m still analyzing the race in my head and getting hit with lots of questions. I just ran 10.8 miles in about 1:16:00, or nearly a 7 minute flat mile pace. My wife hands me a recovery drink (Endurox R4, my standard), which I down entirely.
After some light stretching, catching up with the other van, we’re off. Time to eat and figure out how to get some sleep.
Food and Rest #1
Tacos? Deli? What does everyone want to eat?
Deli it is.
Fried deli chicken strips and an apple and walnut salad. Unlimited fountain water. A mix of protien, carbs, good minerals, vitamins and some hydration.
I stuff down what I can, trying to regulate intake after a long run. Right after running is the best time to eat for a good recovery, but it’s tough. Generally, my appetite takes a while to kick in after exercise.
The team looks beat. We’re stunned about what we just did, and at the prospect of having to do that two more times. We decide to head to the next major exchange, try to sleep, and get ready for round two.
We pull into #18, which is hosted at La Conner High School. It’s dark now, and the rules specify we need to wear our safety vests if we’re out of the van.
We get our sleeping gear and check out the gym. All of the lights are off, and people are covering the floor in a mix of sleeping and duffel bags. The entire experience feels like something out of an apocalyptic film or if a natural disaster had occurred. People are generally being quiet or whispering in the dark. The echoes of the gymnasium amplify every sound ten fold, and people outside of the gym speaking in a normal voice sound like they are yelling.
The booster team is out front trying to sell a mix of candy, fruit and energy drinks. The bathrooms are getting slammed, both men and women.
Showers. Holy crap, I want a shower. I beeline for the one giant mega shower. Classic public school. It turns out to be the best shower I’ve had in ages, mainly due to my frame of mind, not the state of the plumbing.
After feeling squeaky clean and brushing my teeth, I barely find my way back through the gym. My wife has claimed a sleeping area next to some other folks. We hop in the sleeping bags and try to settle in.
My mind is racing but my body is tired. I try to fold the pillow over my head in a thousand different ways to drown out the light whispers and echoed shuffles, but to no avail. I end up getting no sleep for my mind, but my body feels a little rested. Enough for now anyway, this is way before my bedtime usually occurs.
After my very brief rest, I find Armando and ask if there are any updates. Stephanie tells us Kayla is on her way in, so we gather up our gear, pack the van, and wait at the exchange.
I go over the headlamps and tail light uses one more time with everyone. We straighten out the safety vests, I ready my camera, and suddenly Chris is gone again. Damn, that happened fast.
Meeting with the other van, Tom (runner in Van #1) shows us the damage on the palms of his hands from falling and tripping over some rail tracks on run. Yikes. Luckily, that’s his only injury.
We part ways, but hit the gym again. On the way out to the next exchange, a few last snacks are purchased and people assault the bathroom one last time.
“How long did it take us to use the restroom and buy snacks again?”
Chris has around a seven miler. We get to mile four and still don’t see him.
“Holy crap. He’s not that fast right? He couldn’t already be there.”
We pass thirty something other runners, stunned by the amount of kills he has. Seeing everyone running at night is building team confidence though, as this part of the race was something a few people had trained for. A mile later, we pass Chris and cheer. Everyone in the van is relieved.
We park near a seafood shack in Anacortes and wait in the dark. Chin is geared up and ready to go after a final check. Chris comes barreling in, makes the exchange and Chin sprints off.
Thirty seven kills. Maybe more. Chris said he lost count so he’s being conservative.
Chin said he wanted support half way along his nearly 8 mile trek. We pass Chin who is burning down the road much further than we thought. We find the halfway mark and wait.
Chiyo staying in the van is pretty hurt at this point. His IT band is pretty tight and running is uncomfortable. Chris who also happens to be a yoga instructor is getting pretty burned too, and tries to give some advice to Chiyo some stretching advice to keep from getting seriously injured. I get the street crossing safety flag, grab some Gatorade, and cross the street. I start the waiting game on the dark stretch of road. Runners come flying by and I can only tell they aren’t Chin once they’re right on top of me. The headlamps are fairly blinding.
Eventually Chin comes down the long stretch. I hold out my flag and some Gatorade. He’s not slowing down.
“Chin… Chin… hey Chin!”
He blows right past me. Holy crap, we have to catch him. How did he not see me? He even looked at the van!
I cross back and let everyone know what happened. Next thing I know, we’re trying to get another mile ahead to stop him again.
We pull into a large parking lot across from a well lit store. No way he can miss us this time. Just to be sure, two of us cross with flags, just as insurance.
Chin comes flying down the road again. We hold out our flags and yell.
“He’s not slowing down!”
“I told you!”
He nearly slams into us and we jam the flag directly in front of him. He hits it, keeps going, then slows down and turns around. He looks surprised.
“Get some Gatorade! You’re past halfway!”
He quickly takes a tiny drink then takes off at a sprint again.
I’m worried he’s going to pay for exerting himself and not fueling, but he seems good to go.
Back in the van, Chiyo is staying quiet. Armando is awfully quiet too, having never ran at night. We pass by the giant Swinomish casino, a welcome beacon of light piercing the darkness. It makes me want to run the Las Vegas Ragnar.
The next relay point take place near the waterfront of Fidalgo Bay in Anacortes. We get Morgan ready, who isn’t thrilled about running in the dark. Chin makes a quick hand-off and Morgan heads out.
“Chin, did you know you passed right by us? We were at the halfway point and had Gatorade ready, but you didn’t even see us!”
He had no idea.
Back in the van, Morgan has a short, no support leg. We head immediately to the next exchange.
Another exchange, another school – Anacortes Middle School. Parking is a little nuts. I start feeling bad for the locals, putting up with the sudden influx of vehicles and people driving and running through their small, peaceful, semi-remote towns at night.
More bathroom breaks, and the weather turns to a light sprinkle. Armando is up next, about to run in the dark and in some light rain. What a great first experience.
Morgan makes the hand-off and tells us that her and two other female runners ran together along the trails in the dark for support. That’s what Ragnar is all about.
As we’re about to pass Arm we see a sign that says “Right” which means to take a right ahead. It’s a curve along a main road, so it’s a bit of a confusing sign. We catch Arm a 1/4 mile down past the sign, on the right side of the road.
“Crap, he’s running with traffic, he’s not supposed to do that.”
We circle back around but by the time we come back, he’s back on the left side, against traffic. We give him some light cheering support and he looks like a deer in headlights. He’s moving at decent clip, so we move up to the exchange.
This one is crazy. Flood lights positioned in the middle of a a country road. A rutty road going up a hill and behind some trees is being directed by some very stressed out volunteers. The exchange is at the bottom of a hill down a windy road.
“Only your runner can come down, the rest of the team has to stay up top.”
Welp, time to head up.
Up top after some masterful van maneuvering, we drop of Chiyo. We double check, but he says he feels like he’s good to go. Once he heads down the hill, Chris and I begin making plans in case he gets injured. Chris volunteers to take Chiyo’s next leg, but not this one. He’s burned from tonight’s races. I volunteer to take anything Chiyo can’t take during this leg, if he’s in too much pain or doesn’t want to finish.
Armando eventually shows up, panting like he just ran for this life and looking like he just witnessed a murder.
He has a come to Jesus moment with quotes like:
“That was the more incredible experience of my life,” and “I saw snow. I swear I saw snow.”
It wasn’t snowing.
He won’t stop talking about how amazing that run was. I’m glad he had a good first night run experience. I love night running, it’s just you and the road, it’s incredibly peaceful. The cold air keeps you cool and fresh.
I take the dripping-with-sweat headlamp, use a spare set of clean socks to dry it off, and get my gear on. I’m up after Chiyo, or maybe in for Chiyo.
We head a few miles in and check on Chiyo. He’s running and kicking his leg out, not a good sign. It’s not fun to run when half your body isn’t functioning like it’s supposed to. Throws you off, slows you down. Mentally and physically, you’re in pain and you just want it to be over.
We ask him how he is and he waves us off. Back in the van, Chris asks if Chiyo is the type of person who is going to push it and hurt himself. I say he’s pretty fit and takes care of his body. He’s not going let any ego get the better of him. He’ll throw in the towel if he needs to.
We cross Deception Pass in the fog. One of the most scenic views in all of Washington state, blanketed by darkness and fog. We’re now officially on Whidbey Island.
Up ahead, we stop one more time just to check on Chiyo. He’s running more fluidly now, thank goodness. We breathe a collective sign of relief and we move to the exchange point. I down another Clif Shot, drink some water and start focusing on my run.
A large gas station and mini-mart along a stretch of highway 20 is where we park. I get out and start stretching.
The night run was the one I was looking most forward to. The second run on Whidbey Island, 8.9 miles across a hilly and winding stretch of scenic Highway 20.
After a trip to the bathroom I’m waiting at the exchange. Gear is on, headlamp is set to maximum brightness. I start the GPS and queue up the music early. Sweat from the previous run is causing the touchscreen not to work through the plastic on the arm sleeve I run with. This happens from time to time, so the only recourse is to pull the phone out, gets everything on, slide it in and hope I don’t have to touch it again.
I hear “343” over the volunteer’s walkie-talkie and I get ready to go. Chiyo slaps the bracelet on me and I’m off.
Huey Lewis and the News’ Heart of Rock and Roll hits my ear drums for a great upbeat start. I pass a few people early on and break away from anyone else. I end up running mostly alone for long stretches, then catching pockets of people for some multi-kills. I hover around 7-10 kills for a long time.
A truck towing a large boat gets pulled over by a cop right in front of me. The truck pulls over right into the runner’s lane, which is right on the highway only protected by traffic cones spread out every 25 yards or so. Keep in mind, our backs are to traffic for this stretch, one of the few places this happens during the entire relay.
I see people going out into traffic to go around the police car, the boat and the truck. I take the inside which is way safer, and find there’s enough space to maneuver through the gap between the truck and railing. I press on without slowing much.
Metic’s Youth Without Youth comes up on the playlist, a spooky, pounding song that puts me in the perfect mood for this foggy night run. I push it up hills, and try to conserve downhills. This run is far more interesting that my previous leg. More terrain changes, more to see, a new setting I’ve never been in. I’m not neck and neck with anyone so I’m just enjoying the run without worrying about racing.
Just then another runner goes flying past me, running probably a 5 or 6 minute pace. I don’t have a chance keeping up, so I watch in amazement as he takes off down a hill, then up another. The first time I’ve been killed. More of a slaughter, really.
I make a turn off the highway and I’m greeted again by my wife who offers me some Gatorade this time, a last minute switch I asked for on the way over in the van. I give her another kiss and I take off once more.
Another amazing event occurs that I’ve never experienced. The sky begins to brighten. It feels like lightning, but it’s not going away. The light from the headlamp becomes less important as everything around starts glowing slightly.
I’ve never been running during the moment the sky transitions from dark to light.
As I keep going, I’m feeling great. I’m 3/4 of the the way done, and about 3/4 of the way done with my total miles for the relay at this point. Killing in the Name of comes on and catching people and passing them after seeing them in the distance for so long. I get passed one more time by a chick, running only a little faster than me, but enough to set some good distance between us.
Into a small town, Oak Harbor, I go. The country roads transition into sidewalks. Trees turn into small buildings. Running through anything man made goes by much more quickly than out in nature.
I hit every crosswalk button which instantly switches to let me cross. Around the one mile marker, I’m finally feeling some fatigue. My quads are seem heavy from the amount of hills. Nothing major, they’re just getting tired and need a break soon. Fort Minor gets me through it. 100% reason to remember the name.
Schools are now welcome sights. Rounding the corner at Oak Harbor High School, I pop out my earphones in case I need to hear the race officials on the way in to the exchange. Lots of people are out and cheering, some people are doing funny dances along the sidewalk. I pick it up and sprint to the finish.
Always sprint to the finish.
I take the bracelet off mid run, slap it down on Stephanie’s wrist with power and precision this time, and she takes off in a flash.
Bed and Breakfast, Food and Rest #2
Members of both vans reconvene. It’s pretty light now, around 5 or 6 am. Everyone looks tired. Some people are injured. People are hungry. I’m feeling great all things considered, but I know I’m about to hit the wall. Around 20 miles in 24 hours with only an hour of bad sleep is about to sneak up on me.
Van #1 is now on their last set of legs. Ragnar is almost over.
Learning from out last break, we don’t waste time getting to the next exchange. We all part ways on arrival, some people getting food, some showers, some rest. I get all three, starting with breakfast.
It’s a pretty low end breakfast but it does the trick. $7 for high school cafeteria scrambled eggs, pancakes and paper thin bacon. Two small orange juices help the food go down. The lunch ladies are really nice, but you know, cafeteria food isn’t the greatest.
I take another shower, but leave my soap and other sundries in the van. Or maybe I left them at the last shower? I’m starting to lose my mind due to sleep deprivation. I hop in the shower which blasts me like a fire hose. So much pressure, it actually hurts. Better than no shower.
I give Chiyo and Chin some ear plugs that I forgot I had at the last exchange, and use them myself to fall asleep comfortably this time around. Nothing but silence. An eye mask keeps any low light out as I pass out in another dark high school gym.
After an hour, my wife wakes me up.
“Armando is texting you. Van #1 is on their way in already.”
Something must be wrong. We must have miscalculated the times? We were supposed to get more sleep, another hour at least.
We gather up our stuff in a hurry, then find Chiyo who is hard asleep. I shake his leg. Nothing. I kick at him. Nothing. He can’t hear me and shaking him isn’t waking him.
Did he die?
More vigorous shaking brings him out of it. He clearly has no idea where he is. I’m talking but he forgot he had ear plugs in.
Eventually we get Chiyo moving again and find Armando who seems a little stressed out.
The team reassembles at the van. No one fell asleep buy Chiyo and myself this time around, which means there’s a high potential for people to be tired and possibly cranky for the duration of the relay.
As we gather, more texts come in from Stephanie. Matt is still on the course, which means Kayla isn’t even running yet. Still, she’s got a short run, only 3 miles or so.
Alright, so we could have slept in a little more, but after some straightening out of the van, we head over to the exchange for the final Kayla to Chris hand off.
We see Jacob, the other 343 runner that isn’t on our team out in front of the school. He looks disheveled and lost.
“Hey man, how’s it going?”
He looks at me and smirks, then loses the smirk quickly, flitting back and fourth between numerous facial expressions.
“Uhhhmmm… hmmm… uhhhh… haha.”
Then he wanders off. Oh boy.
Ragnar officials text me that we need to keep our safety vests on until further notice due to fog.
Chris is feeling a little out of it. He hasn’t been sleeping well and his legs are sore. He’s our fastest runner by about a full or two minute pace wise, but he won’t be gunning it this time around.
Kayla comes in, her last run. Chris takes off sprinting, looking strong. I know he’s not feeling that hot, but he’s putting himself in a good mental place to get to the end.
Mind over matter. Almost there.
Some people have their longer legs coming up. For me, all I can think about is the last 4.7 miles and the finishing leg. I want to finish strong. A fellow 343 mission designer lent me a GoPro head cam as well, and I want to run with it. If I don’t feel great, I tell myself I’m going to skip the cam.
We putter through beautiful Whidbey Island country side. Scenic view followed by scenic view. Early morning, sunny views across the island, down hills and into the sound. It’s a little overwhelming, or maybe it’s the lack of sleep enhancing the visual effects.
The van makes its way through some windy, hilly roads and eventually we catch Chris. He’s not as far as long as we’re used to, but his stride looks solid. We cheer, pass, and head to the exchange.
Number 32 is a bit of a mess. Tightly packed in like sardines, the volunteer directing traffic is loud and terse. She’s also wearing a giant plush hotdog hat, so it’s hard to be mad at her. Maybe that’s her trick.
We get a great parking spot right near the exit, and watch as runners come through the exchange. Team number 55 gets called, and their runner comes in. He stops. No one is there to take the relay.
I can’t imagine the frustration. Where was their van? Did he finish so fast that the van was still waiting behind somewhere to give him support? Minutes pass. Eventually, Chris comes through and makes the hand-off to Chin. As we leave, 55 still hasn’t made their hand-off. Sad.
We hop in the van and head right to the exchange as this was a “no support” leg. Chris laments his performance.
“I actually got killed on that race.” The man of steel is as human as the rest of us. He’s pretty sore, but at least he’s done now.
Upon arrival at the next exchange, Chris gets out and starts stretching. Sitting on the pavement, he starts wincing.
“Ooooh, oooh ow ow ow!”
His foot started cramping up. Running in Vibrams the entire race, Chris talks about how he raced in them to see how far he could push it. Generally, Vibrams aren’t made for long distance running. Chris works at a running store though, so this was a test of his, and the product’s limits. He said he found the limit and now.
Chin comes barreling down the hill, even though he mentioned his calves were sore the previous day. Morgan, who wasn’t feeling well on her last two runs is a little shaky. Her run is one of the longer for her, and involves some major hills. We agree to stop and give her some Gatorade and Clif Shots about the halfway mark for a boost.
“I’m just going to walk if I need to. This won’t be my fastest leg.”
Rule #2. Go run and enjoy it, it’s not about time.
She takes off at a decent clip down the hill, and we move ahead to give her support.
At the halfway mark, we stop and wait. Getting a little bored, my wife gets out the sidewalk chalk burning a hole in the glove compartment since we started this crazy race.
Chin suggests we draw a hopscotch pattern on the road. Mandi takes off across the street and draws one out. Then the fun begins.
The first two runners that come by skip across the hopscotch course to our cheers. I get the camera ready, excited to record people joining in our silly waiting game. We all get back to the van and wait for more runners.
Without someone near the hopscotch course, runner after runner goes by. We’re disappointed.
Then, we’re delighted when a guy comes by and skips across the pattern. Then another. Then another. Ragnar runners are such good sports.
For some fun, click on all three videos below to play at the same time.
Morgan eventually comes in fast. She said shes feeling great. She takes some Gatorade and takes off. I’m relieved that she’s feeling better and is going to have a strong finish.
We head to the exchange which is right near the waterfront in a tiny town. Old houses, weathered from years of abuse by salty sea air provide a scenic backdrop as scores of runners come down the hill to the exchange. A few other groups are hanging out by the water, cooling off as the sun is beating down hard now. The full weather sampler of a Pacific Northwest summer: Rain, overcast, fog, then hot sun.
Morgan makes her way down the hill and hands off to Arm. He’s got his longest mileage ahead of him, and the most hills. He decides to go sans music and support. Maybe he’s a glutton for punishment.
We relax for a moment at this particular exchange since it’s near the water. Some good photo ops present themselves. Morgan splashes around in the sound a bit, then we’re off.
We head to the exchange and get Chiyo stretched out. Everyone ‘s a little worried that he might not be able to finish. And now that Chris is hurt, I’m stressing that I may have to run that last two legs of the race. If it happens, it happens. We’ll finish this no matter what.
Chiyo seems fine, and ready to go, but he’s awfully quiet. The rest of us lay in the grass under the sun, which is probably a bad idea. I have another 30 – 40 minutes of running in the sun coming up soon.
I’m worried a bit about my hamstrings. I can feel them tightening up now. I haven’t been properly stretching them, and again I have Marathon flashbacks when they seized up on me around mile 21. I spend most of my time stretching which Mandi helps me with.
Arm eventually makes his way down the hill to the exchange looking like he’s about to pass out. Heat and hills, heat and hills. Chiyo heads out. Chris stuffs a bottle of water in Armando’s hands and he drinks from it as if he’s dying of thirst. The hills and the sun made the run harder that normal.
Chiyo is on the course. We gotta move. I’m starting to get nervous for him.
We catch up with Chiyo and cheer as we pass. He shoots us a look of pain and terror. Uh-oh.
We pull over, flag across the road and check on him. He wants to finish, and it’s only a 3.8 mile leg. He’s already a mile and a half in, which we inform him of. He wants us to check up on him in a mile or so.
After a mile, he’s still running with a broken stride, kicking his leg out a bit but still smoother than before. We let him know he’s almost there. He tells us he’s going to finish and to head to the exchange.
Whew. Alright, he’s got it. But man, I gotta bring it home. I’ve been sipping Gatorade and other energy drinks all day, so I decide to skip the Clif Shot and go in with what I got. Again, learning from past mistakes of over-sugaring before a race.
The van agrees that Chiyo is the team MVP. He’s suffered through some pretty terrible runs to finish this thing. Running is fun when everything is working properly. Running when you’re injured feels like a death march. A single mile feels like twenty. Mentally, you feel like there’s no end. Putting yourself through that takes an iron will.
We park and exit the van. With little time to prepare, I grab the GoPro because “Hey, why not?” I dart over to the exchange without waiting for anyone. I want to make sure I’m ready to go.
I notice a pretty attractive runner, Hot Chick with a stunning body waiting at the exchange. I’m judging by her looks that shes going to do a 6 mile pace or so.
I start the camera and cross the street. Runners are gathered in pack, ready to finish. The team is across the street, and they belt out cheers when Chiyo comes around the corner with a hobbling stride.
Quick, GPS and music on, one last time.
Chiyo makes the last hand-off.
To the Finish
The world was moving and he was floating above it and he was.
Talking Heads “And She Was” kicks off the last leg. A nice, easy song with a good starting tempo to keep me out of trouble in the heat.
The camera feels heavy. I’ve never ran with a GoPro before, even on a test run. Camera weight, fatigue from previous runs, the heat and wearing all black are taking their toll.
Not long into run I catch up with Hot Chick and pass her. So, she’s probably more of an 8 mile pacer. She tells me she’s going to catch me later. She might be right.
Within the first mile I’m heading up some pretty big hills when my mouth becomes dry. Uncomfortably, bone dry. Ironically, Baby’s on Fire hits my eardrums which I laugh about in my head. I’m a little worried. I can’t summon up any saliva even though I’ve been drinking water and Gatorade all day. Come to think of it I hadn’t used the bathroom much, which means I’m probably getting dehydrated. Breathing becomes harder and swallowing is nearly impossible.
A brief moment of panic as I told my van I didn’t need support, which normally I wouldn’t on a sub 5 mile run.
I keep going and reflect on my training. Running in 90+ degree weather with no water for 8 miles. Running 9 without any water in the mid 70s. I’ve done this before. It may not be pretty at the end, but I’m crossing that finish line either way you slice it. A sub 7 minute mile time is probably out of the question at this point, but the rest of my body feels great.
Pushing myself and testing limits on previous runs builds my confidence on this one. I power up the hill and bless the shade along the route. I end up passing seven or so other runners along the way. Then the hill turns into a much bigger hill. I eek out all I can from my quads to keep up the pace. Once I’m up and over the hill, they serve no use. It’s all downhill to the end. The hammys are doing overtime.
I pass a group of folks waiting for their runner who all give me high fives as I pass. A dude with his short off blazes past me. Another guys passes me at a much slower pace. It’s the last two people to pass me for the rest of the race. A mix of LMFAO and The Offspring keep me moving. I chose mostly high energy songs to push to the end.
Once again, country roads turn into streets. Trees becomes sparse and I start running past people’s yards. I enter Langley, the final stop on this wonderful journey. Having run through Langley last year as part of my marathon training, I feel at home.
I see the last one mile marker of the race. I can’t help it.
“Fuck yeaaaaaaaah!” I apologize to the good people of Langley. J-Lo and Pitbull is right there with me. Don’t stop, keep it moving.
Running through town, I pass a bunch of people, but many of them are grouping up to run through the finish together, which throws off my kill count. At this point I don’t care any more. It’s probably ten or so.
I look left and see the scenic view over the Saratoga Passage. I pass another group of girls, heading up the last small hill to the Island County Fairgrounds. I’m really pushing it now, breathing more heavily than ever before, feeling close to passing out, legs finally feeling tired all around.
Sirens. Are those police sirens?
Nope, some other Ragnar runners had set up outside of the fairgrounds with some sirens for people coming down the finish.
I see a group of folks wearing all black up ahead on the last corner leading to the finish line. Is that them? Sure enough, the entirety of the 343rd Dimension is ready to run in together, which I totally didn’t expect. It was a great surprise.
Everyone is cheering. I yell “Yeah! Let’s go!”
One last sprint to the finish.
Ragnar is finally over.
Finishing feels amazing. Someone thrusts some medals into my hand for passing out to the team. Stephanie and I go about placing finishers medals around our van runner’s necks. The medals are heavy and huge, bigger than any other race medal I’ve won. Plus they have bottle openers built in!
Thirsty. So Thirsty.
Lots of free drinks are being offered from various vendors. I grab two, down them immediately, then get some free pizza, another perk for finishing the race. Then it’s team picture time.
I really want a free massage too, which is being offered, but the time to wait is a few hours and the length of the massage is only 15 minutes. Screw that, it’s beer time.
Georgetown Brewery is hosting the beer garden. We sit around a large round table and drink some good brew, reminisce about the race, relax, and finally enjoy the sun.
Armando seems pleased with himself. I ask him why he’s smiling.
“It’s the meeting of the titans! I love it!”
He means Chris and I, both avid runners. Chris comes from a sprinting background and can do 5:30 miles. He does tons of trail running including a 50k. I can do 6:30 miles and I’ve done a marathon a plenty of halves. I think I’m outmatched by more than a little.
“You’re a great runner, I think you’d like trail running.” Chris tries to get me to hit the trails with him, which would be a totally new experience for me. Running up 5000 foot elevation gains for 50 kilometers doesn’t seem that appealing at the moment, but I tentatively agree for some trail running in the future.
Between Chris and I, we racked up over 100 kills. We lost count. We were pretty close (each with 50 or 60ish), but I think he edged me out a bit.
After a while it’s time to go home. The fairgrounds are beginning to empty out, and the sun is losing its light. Back in the van, we take the scenic route through Whidbey Island, skipping the long ferry wait and saving a little bit of time off the trip back.
Deception Pass looks way more impressive on a gorgeous sunny day anyway.
The next day, upon cleaning out the van, my wife moved some of the carpets aside on the van floor.
“What are these handles for?”
We then discovered the van had plenty of extra storage underneath all the floorboards.