Sunday, October 4, 2015

Happy Birthday, Baby Girl-- Ragnar Race Recap

This weekend has been a whirlwind. I am currently laying on the couch with aching legs and a full heart, longing to relive this whirlwind weekend. Which I will do through a post :)

Josh and I decided to do the Washington DC Ragnar Relay in early May. We saw it was on Sloane's birthday, and ever since she died, we had wanted to do something with the term "Strides for Sloane." After 8 months, we found the perfect opportunity to honor her, remember her, and celebrate her. Ragnar Relays are 12 person, 200 mile overnight relays. So we found 10 other crazy people that captured many different areas of our lives, and we had our Ragnar team. The team included people we know from church, mountain biking, Mississippi, grad school, and high school.
The girls on the team
Josh and I trained all summer in the Mississippi heat with 2-a-days, humidity, and hills. But we knew it was for Sloane, so it wasn't that bad. Planning for the event and training for it gave me something positive to look forward in connection with her birthday--a day that could have been terrible, ridden with anxiety and reliving nightmares.

As the event got closer, my mind was consumed with preparation and last minute details. Despite a few emergencies and changes, it seemed like everything was coming together-except the weather. Reports of Hurricane Joaquin had been coming in all week, and it was unsure what impact that would play on travel and racing. The DC Ragnar Facebook page blew up with everyone wondering what would happen (MITZI!).

After months of excited anticipation, Thursday afternoon, October 1, finally came. We ended up being able to borrow two vehicles, a Ford Transit van and a Toyota Sequoia. A huge blessing thanks to incredible people! Both vehicles left between 4-5pm, with 11/12 teammates between the two. The Sequoia picked up teammate 12 in Baltimore, with both vehicles arriving to Cumberland, MD near the start around 9pm. The team met altogether for the first time, everyone checked into their hotels or campsite without a problem, and we had our last night of normalcy.
Korina ready to start us off strong!
Van 1 (Korina, Melissa, Eric, Tim, Lauren, Chris) started at 9am. Van 2 (Lukas, me, Amelia, Mark, Korina, Josh) didn't start until Van 1 finished their first 6 legs, which was projected to be around 2pm. We all went to the start to cheer on the whole team, and then Van 2 waited...which was so hard! We were so amped up to race, and then we go to the start, and then have to wait at least 5 hours until it's our turn to run. So we went and got a leisurely breakfast at Belle Grove Diner, then made our way to Exchange 6, the first big meet up. Unfortunately, the weather was cold and wet, which made partying at major exchanges less than appealing and meant as much car time as possible the majority of the race. At Exchange 6 though, there was a little restaurant that let us sit inside while we waited for Van 1. They had thousands of dollar bills on the ceiling and so we left our mark.

Waiting at Exchange 6!
Finally, it was Van 2's turn to run! Van 1 did great, with the exception of a minor mix up about which exchange was which resulting in a half hour delay. Now it was their turn to rest!

Our first rotation went well. Everyone was excited and happy to finally be running. My first leg (Exchange 8) is the one I had been most worried about. It was 6.8 miles and was ranked "very hard" due to the first 3 miles being entirely uphill and the last 4 being entirely downhill. Yes, the uphill was challenging, but I ran the whole thing and flew down the second half! At least I think I did, as my GPS watch didn't work for this leg. But I felt great!

During each other's runs, the van would leap frog the runner so you got to see your van and teammates every couple of miles and they checked in to make sure you were doing ok. This helped with motivation a lot, knowing your team was ahead waiting for you.

I think around 730/8pm, van 2 finished their 1st rotation. This put us at Exchange 12 handing off to Van 1 again. At this point, it was now dark, cold, and rainy. Ideal conditions! Exchange 12 was at a high school, where there were promised hot (actually cold) showers, a spaghetti dinner, and indoor sleeping available in the gym. Any type of dry space bigger than the van we had been in for 12 hours sounded incredible. We loaded some of our stuff into the high school to dry off and rest, then I went outside and waited for the handoff between Runner 12 (Josh) and Runner 1 (Korina). Here, I found out Korina was battling an ankle injury and unsure if she would be able to finish. Also, the Sequoia wouldn't start, and they needed to get moving to pick Korina up after she finished Leg 13! Major panic set in for me as I thought of all the possible and impractical solutions we may have to attempt. A huge blessing occurred when a kind van with jumper cables got the Sequoia to start and they were off again.

Van 2 ate a mediocre, warm, but still delicious plate of spaghetti, and hunkered down to try and sleep. I got probably a good hour of sleep on that hard gym floor. I wish we had brought more blankets/sleeping bags because we were cold sharing, but we managed with what we had.

At 11pm, I woke in a panic with 2 important texts- 1 saying Leg 23, Katrina's next leg, was cancelled due to flooding. The second saying Van 1 was making better time than anticipated, which meant we had to get moving to meet them at Exchange 18 at a creamery. Van 2 was great at getting it together and getting moving, and we made it with plenty of time to meet them. As we got ready to start our 2nd rotation, Van 1 got ready to eat burgers and take a nap. Needless to say, at midnight in the cold, dark, rain, Van 2 got a little jealous!

My second leg, which was Exchange 20, was 6.9 miles "hard." I knew it had some hills, but it definitely had steeper hills than I anticipated. I walked up one steep hill, but did run the rest. The first mile felt great, but by mile 2, the novelty of running at night in the rain had worn off and I was ready to be done. Luckily, getting done can sometimes be motivation enough to finish! Seen on this leg was a GIANT chicken statue, and apparently a pumpkin tree that I didn't see but my van did. I finished with a 9:41 min/mile. Everyone was such a trooper in the middle of night. It was so cold and wet, but no one in my van complained once (out loud anyway) and they even said it added to the fun and adventure. Where did I find such crazy friends to do this with me?!

Because Exchange 23 was cancelled, and Korina was hurt, Katrina ended up running Korina's last leg, which worked out perfectly. This had us finishing Leg 25 about 6:30am. At this point, we were exhausted from no sleep, two runs, and being out in the rain all night. Plus the vehicle was a disorganized mess from everyone throwing their stuff around all night. The great news is that Van 1 had the brilliant idea to get a hotel around Exchange 24, so they rested there while we ran, and then it was our turn to rest while they ran.

Let me tell you, a hotel room has never looked so good. It had 2 beds and a pull-out sofa, a fireplace, and 2 showers. We buckled down and showered and got settled for some sleep pretty fast. After another hour of beautiful sleep, I woke up in another panic to another text with an update from Van 1 about their imminent finish with Exchange 30. So at 9am, we headed out for our last meet up before the finish!

Time was so strange. It felt like we had been doing this Ragnar race for months, even though it had only been 24 hours. It felt like the people in our van were the only people that existed and everyone back home was a distant memory. That race became your life for the hours you were in it, because it took all of your mental and physical energy to focus on what you had to do.

Food was also so difficult because you were forcing yourself to eat in the middle of the night because your body needed fuel, but nothing tasted good. Plus, in the rain, it was difficult to access the food we brought since you didn't want to stand out in the rain to get anything.
Waiting for our last rotation at Exchange 30
My last leg, Leg 32, was 6.9 miles "moderate." Again, much more difficult than anticipated. The first 4 miles were flat, on a trail, and halfway through I had a water station with a Snickers bar. This part was great... and then the last 3 miles or so were in a neighborhood with major hills! After running two other legs with big hills, my shins were on fire. I had to walk up 1 hill and down 1 hill. I finished at a 10:04 min/mile, and was never so happy to finish running (other than my marathon). When I finished, I couldn't stop laughing. I blame it on the lack of sleep and physical exhaustion, but I couldn't stop laughing at the thought that I had survived! I did a Ragnar!
Just a little excited to be at my LAST MILE
After me, we only had 4 more runners until we were done altogether! It seemed like everyone in my van thought their last leg was harder than anticipated, but that seems normal given what we had been through. Everyone still crushed it. I was smart and put together a team of people faster than me!

After exchanging Josh for Karina (runner 12 for 11), we made our way to the finish. We stopped and got some hot food on the walk to Yards Park. I had broccoli cheddar soup, Sun Chips, and a Pepsi. I think my stomach shrunk, because I could only eat and drink half of everything, but it was so good! I felt guilty for eating such deliciousness while Josh was still out suffering, but my body was saying "it's ok, you deserve it!"

We had two incredible friends come down to the finish, Jessica and Heather, with their kiddos. They stood out in the cold to celebrate and cheer us on. Also incredible were our volunteers, a friend I work with and her family, who stood out in the rain from midnight to 5am to direct runners and cars. These people are amazing!!

When we saw Josh coming in close to the finish, we made a tunnel for him to run through and started running, trying to keep up with his finishing race pace with our sore, tired, cold legs. As we crossed that finish line, I was overcome with feelings of joy, completeness, pride, accomplishment, and gratitude. Finishing meant so much more than just running 200 miles. For me, it represented the journey Josh and I have been on this past year-and we made it. We came out stronger, although sore and beat up, and we came out together, with so many friends around us. In the time since we finished the race, it has felt like I really will be ok. And lately, it has not been feeling like that. But this proved to me that I can do hard and seemingly impossible things. I can keep going when it gets tough. And there is so much more strength available than I am capable of by myself. I couldn't have done the race by myself, and I couldn't have survived this year by myself. We hugged, we got our medals, we ate pizza, and stocked up on Ragnar gear. No one wanted to sit around too long, so we sorted out vans and who was going where, and headed home!

I knew it was Sloane's birthday and the day we held her and loved her, but that was not what was on my mind. I thought of her and I ran for her, but I was not overcome with feelings of sadness or flashbacks. Which is HUGE on such a potentially rough day.
Overall, it was a huge success. Everyone had such a positive attitude and meshed so well, considering most of them did not know each other! Plus they were incredible runners and toughed out a Ragnar in a storm. I have so much love for everyone on this team because only they know what we survived together this weekend! We ended up finishing 35th out of 202 teams in our mixed open division. We finished 200ish miles in 29 hours, 33 minutes, at an average pace of 8:52 min/mile. Not bad for a group of first timers!
Things to think about for next time...
  • Food. I would put one person in charge of food and supplies for each vehicle, because then they know what there is and where it is. I think we had a lot of food that didn't get eaten because I packed it all, so the van I wasn't in didn't know what they were digging for in the cold dark. 
  • Spirit. I would put one person in charge of spirit stuff, whether that be car decorating, costumes, team magnets, etc. 
  • Organization. I think it would help for each person to have one big bag that they can keep the bulk of their stuff in, and one small bag that they can keep with them in the car. This can hold their next running outfit and/or their next non-running outfit. 
  • More blankets and warmer clothes! (hopefully that only applies to this race)
  • I spent unnecessary money printing out all of the leg maps and race bible, which we didn't use because the Ragnar App was great. 
  • Take off more time from work (if only!)
  • Stay in a hotel after the race.


  1. That is so awesome! Way to go! What a cool experience and way to commemorate Sloane's birth. I just wish we could have come and ran it with you guys!

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  3. I am so proud of you and Josh for organizing this amazing tribute to Sloane and you guys did awesome!! Being surrounded by loving fun friends and working through something hard together as a couple and as a team will hopefully keep reminding you that you CAN do hard things and you do not have to do them alone. *big hugs*