It had been a long day and, although the party was going strong and Bethany snagged an ice cream cone from the creamery, we piled directly into the van to make it to the next major exchange.
In Germantown, MD there is a 7 acre Adventure Playground that opened up its grounds to Ragnar. Sadly, when we arrived, there were people actually sleeping ON the parking lot. That was very scary because we were all really tired and trying to stay alert and not drive over anyone. It was like a living nightmare. Thankfully we found a safe spot to park and three of us grabbed our stuff to sleep out on the grass somewhere.
It was hard to wander and find a place for Sarah, Bethany and me to put our sleeping bags down in a place we had never been before. We managed to find a small level patch of grass just off of the one paved trail that was far enough from the exchange chute and bright lights.
I took off my tutu and slid my smelly body down into my sleeping bag so that I couldn’t smell me at all. I had been awake 23 hours and ran hard twice. With about 6 hours until we had to get going again I was certain that I was going to be able to sleep.
The air was chilly and the ground was getting damp. I snuggled down into my bag and pulled the domed top over the top of my head like a hood. The only sounds in the distance were teams cheering when they made their exchanges, very pleasant and happy noises. The sky still held onto the many sparkling pin pricks I had seen on South Mountain and as my lids drooped I saw a shooting star. I silently made a wish that I wouldn’t die in the heat of my next run. Sleep came quickly.
“Pat! Pat? PAT!?” I awoke suddenly to a woman’s face shoved into the hood of my sleeping bag just inches from my nose, “PAT??!!”
I couldn’t believe this woman and croaked out, “NOT Pat!” She straightened up and I could see the distant lights illuminate her frame again the black sky as she started toward Sarah and Bethany, “They aren’t Pat either,” I directed her. I glanced at my watch, 5:00 AM. Two hours of sleep, swell. I sat up and before the sky started to get any light I washed off with a bunch of baby wipes and got into my running gear for the next day.
I listened to the exchange chute in the distance and occasionally would hear teams trying to gather their sleeping runners from far and wide by bellowing their team name in a sing-song kind of way. Chanted 3 times in a row that way, it rose above the ambient chatter and cheers and was really effective.
I realized the headache I had been battling for over a day was related to lack of caffeine. When we all got moving, I had a diet Coke along with a flavor of Nuun that had caffeine in it. I had been hydrating with Nuun during my training and all the day before and I was dedicated to keeping it up today. The temperature was predicted to be in the 90s and the heat index was again going to be at a dangerous level. Ragnar had sent out a warning email the day before and our final runs were to be in the heat of an even warmer day, along urban roads and sidewalks. I slapped some Nuun tattoos on my calves; I was dedicating my final run to that elixir.
Our whole van had become a close team. We had been together through some intense runs and rides long enough to bond but not to let each other’s quirks start to undermine what we were out to accomplish. We each brought different strengths and that made for a well rounded group that was focused on getting to the finish line.
We ran into Dimity’s team and eventually our own team’s van 2. It made me a bit wistful watching them with their inside jokes; I had wanted to get to know them too and the relay just wasn’t set up to do that. What we were able to share was a final encounter with Charles Manson and Runners on the Lam! We posed for some photos and I pulled out my signature move (clean second pair of Bad Ass shorts) just for some laughs. It was a great reunion in the parking lot before Schuy had to set out in the foreboding heat of the morning.
When we drove to the major exchange the night before it had taken a long while and some of the time had been on an interstate highway. I don’t know why I was surprised that the course had changed from cute back country road to suburbia. My mind had a hard time making that shift as I tried to navigate us through the many twists and intersections on Schuyler’s 4+ leg.
We had a couple of things to accomplish other than making the exchanges. We were low-ish on gas, needed ice and Bethany had put in a request for tampons. After a false turn leaving the exchange, we cheered Schuy as we drove past her and made it to the next exchange without having come across any gas stations.
We made the decision to leave Bethany to get the hand off from Schuy and Jill to give Schuy water and attend to her until we returned with gas and stuff. Nicole was able to use her smart phone to zero in on a close gas station and we got what we needed and returned even before Schuy had made it in. I ran to the exchange so Bethany would know we were back, my hopes being to take that off her mind for her next leg.
Leg 26 – Take the Stick!
Bethany started on her brief leg in the heat of the morning as Schuy affirmed that it was already getting really hot out. We didn’t have long to get to the next exchange and I am afraid I was little help in getting us there.
We should have just followed the Ragnar van that was in front of us but I was so pig headed that we were looking for a specific road that I took us off course. I know we were really only delayed a couple of minutes but I felt I had left everyone down. Heck ANY wrong turn I ever navigate in my life I feel this way. Adding the intensity of this event and lack of sleep, I almost started to cry over the misdirection.
We got to the exchange and the chute in plenty of time for Jill to be ready AND to have a little surprise for Bethany. We had cracked open the tampons and Jill had one to hold out for Bethany to take as she slapped the bracelet on Jill’s arm.
Bethany blitzed into the exchange and at first didn’t seem to understand what Jill mean by “Take the stick, take the stick!” She grinned broadly, grabbed it and we roared with unabashed laughter in front of some confused fellows from other teams and volunteering for the race. Bad Ass Mother Runners know how to make the best out of any situation.
Leg 27 – White Hot Speed
I don’t think there was a time that any of our runners didn’t give it their all. None of us wanted to be wasting time out in the heat of the day and as it edged toward 11:00 AM we knew Jill would put it all out there to finish up her last leg.
The exchange was in a tiny little church parking lot and we had to cut through a little hedge row to get Sarah down to the chute. I took a moment to make sure my Camelbak was filled with Nuun and slipped a ziplock bag of ice next to the bladder to keep it cold.
Jill came in so quickly that I almost missed being there for the hand off. She had totally ripped it up with a 5k Person Record, She laughed and said that she had never run a 5k before but her time was amazing for the heat and intersection crossings.
She also warned us that it was getting terribly hot out on the roads. The day was turning into the scorcher it had promised to be.
Leg 28 – Frustration
I was getting a little freaked out with my final and longest run yet to come. I didn’t want to make any more misdirections and asked if someone else could take over the navigating. I was too distracted with getting ready and the roads and traffic were getting confusing and dense.
Sarah’s leg was 4.5 miles so that gave ample time to drive to the strip mall where the exchange was located. We locked the van because of the volume of random people that had access to it and walked to the chute along the road.
Nicole was ready and decided, for the first time ever, to run in just a sports bra for her top. I liked the idea but knew that with 8.6 miles and a Camelbak that it would not work for me without chaffing. She is so buff that I would run like that all the time – great abs!
As we waited to see Sarah’s tutu and to hear our team number I stood in the shade of a little tree. I had filled a hand held bottle with Nuun and ice and was putting it on my neck to keep my temperature down just standing out on the edge of the road.
Sarah came in looking strong and Nicole started off for her final leg. Sarah was exasperated with how long it had taken her not only because of the heat but waiting at the intersections. “I don’t want to scare you,” she said to me, “but I was thinking of you while I was out there.”
Leg 29 – Turning it Around
I was scared. The heat, the unknowns, the length of the run on already tired legs and two hours of sleep were all going to push me to a limit. I decided to push that limit right back and embrace the moment.
As we drove to the school where Nicole would be coming in my team mates asked if they could lend me support on my leg and I said yes. If they could find me, I would take bags of ice. We hadn’t had to support any of our other legs with hydration nor running along with them at night nor pacing them nor (thank goodness) taking over for injuries. It was a dangerously hot day and I was going to suck it up and uncharacteristically admit I needed help.
I embraced the run mentally. I think I even said aloud that it was going to be an “awesome scary and glorious run.” Some photos were being taken in the shade of a big tree. My team mates were all in from having run their last legs so they sat for the photo, I was too nervous and minced a little curtsy behind them.
Heat or no, Nicole is one fast runner and I knew I had to get down to the chute in the sun. I heard my team mates on the shady hill yell that she was coming and it was a bit of a blur for me. I think that another runner blazed past her and Nicole took it in stride with a big relaxed smile. I also think I gave her a hug as I started off. I know I said to her, “You have returned with honor!”
Leg 30 – A Team Effort – 押忍!!!!
Each of the legs in a Ragnar Relay vary in difficulty and they rate them Easy – Very Hard (Jill’s was actually called “You’ve Got to be Kidding Me”) depending of things like terrain, elevation and distance. My legs up to this point had been labeled Hard and Moderate. My final leg was the longest for the entire team and at 8.6 miles was labeled Very Hard. Very hard in the odd October heat of mid day when heat is the one thing that brings me down as a runner.
This was a showdown. I was meeting my nemesis straight on at high noon and I had an arsenal of weapons to defeat it. I had my team, hydration and my head in the right place. I was ready. 押忍!!!!
While it looked like a straight shot on the map, I zigged and zagged through the first 1/2 mile of neighborhoods. A few brief stops for traffic then about a mile in I was finally getting on the trail for Rock Creek Park. The ice in my bottle of Nuun had melted during those first 10 minutes and though sipping it was nice I knew carrying a warm bottle would only bring me down as I would have to open gels later in the run.
I heard my team mates cheering for me as they passed me on one of the sections of trail that paralleled the road. The pulled off almost directly ahead to offer me ice. I swapped my bottle for the ice knowing that my CamelBak was full of lemon-lime Nuun, my favorite!
The bag of ice went directly into my bra and after about 5 minutes I switched it to the back. It was helpful but again melted completely within 10 minutes. About 2 miles in, my team was able to hook me up with another bag and offered a mist of water. I rarely like anything like that but it sounded good and was quite refreshing. All of this calmed me. They had my back, I had my head and the trail turned away from the road. The run was mine.
There were a couple of water tables set up at about 2.5 and 4.5 miles on the Rock Creek Park trail and I took a cup at each one. I didn’t worry about over-hydrating or losing electrolytes because I was also taking gels and was sipping my ice-cold Nuun slowly from my CamelBak.
I relaxed into those middle miles for the most part. The signage for the relay was good and only a couple of other runners passed me. The one frustrating part was all of the stop lights the trail had to wait at. I would pound the cross walk button as quickly as I could but know I waited close to two minutes to cross one very busy and complicated intersection. I know the bicyclists waiting with me must have thought I was mad as I paced in tight little circles muttering, “I have to keep mooooving!” When I caught up to them a mile later at another intersection, the light changed immediately upon my arrival and I thanked them for having pushed the button. They warily said, “Yeah you had to wait so long last time.” They were probably scared to have to wait with me again.
During those middle miles I was able to glance down to Rock Creek and wonder if it might have been the place where my parents had taken me as a baby. It was easy to see the black and white photos and see us as a young family in those spots. I was so very grateful that this was my leg.
I also had a surprise as I looked up to the golden and white spires of the local Mormon Temple. I had only ever seen it from the car while riding on the beltway before. I remembered the graffiti on the overpass that wrote out “Surrender Dorothy” because the building looks somewhat like the Emerald City. This witch was flying through the park and she was smiling to remember a conversation about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints just the day before. There was plenty to think about and make me feel happy. I loved my team and their spirit.
I took a second gel and the final water table wasn’t coming as quickly as I liked. I didn’t want to wash it with my cold Nuun so drank some of the warm water from the ice baggie. Soon after, I was able to use the waste basket at the water stop to throw it all away.
Capital Crescent Trail was pleasant and tree lined as had been much of Rock Creek Park. As it turned out, all but the final mile and a quarter were pretty well shaded. Don’t get me wrong, it was HOT out but I was rarely running into the blazing sun as I feared I might be.
An ultra runner joined me for a brief moment as we ground up a little hill in Chevy Chase Village. Ultra teams have 1/2 the number of runners and this fellow was actually taking on more mileage for an injured team mate. I wished him well to allow him to stride out and was energized by his team spirit. Soon I saw the 1 mile to go sign and knew I would be fine.
I sent out a text from my phone ( a rare thing for me to do) so that folks would know I was ok and endured fits and starts of cross walks. Just outside of DC, I turned for the final .3 mile and did some tippy-toeing through traffic because I was getting too hot to wait. I apologized to the Ragnar official who saw me as he called my number to the next major exchange where my team waited.
I know I clocked almost an 11 minuted mile on this leg but I really couldn’t have gone much faster even if I had been rested. My whole team cheered for me like I had just run a sub 6:00 minute mile and Renee stood there holding my burrito out to me with that great smile of hers. I gave her a big hug and handed off the bracelet.
Our van was DONE. We laughed, took some photos and I cooled down a bit before we drove to the finish line to wait for van 2 to run their final legs. I hope to write more about the finish and post those photos too in the near future. I have to travel to NYC today so I will correct my numerous typos and errors as soon as possible.
Thank you thank you thank you to my team, Sarah Bown Shea, Dimity McDowell, Another Mother Runner and all of their partners like Saucony, Nuun, Nuttzo, 110% Play Harder, Larabar, Skinfare, Hyland’s, Sofsole, Ultimate Direction and Knuckle Lights. ALL of you made for a winning team that supported this mother runner on the adventure of a lifetime.
Thank you to ALL my teammates for taking photos that I have used here. Jill, Lorraine, Nicole, Schuyler, Bethany, Michelle, Renne and Sarah took so many great shots and I must give them credit.